Sreym Hctim’s (Mitch Myers) Visual Music

Mitch Myers who goes by the name Sreym Hctim, tucked microcosms of formidable sounds inside each of the five irrefutable pieces in the EP – Turn Tail. The brooklyn based artist first started writing music some 15 years ago. Upon the release of the new music video for Jigsaw Piece Flaw, primarily influenced by the 3D “cartoon-like” graphics on Nintendo 64, we talked to Mitch about his life during the pandemic, artistic influences, Turn Tail, and experimental/ambient music.

Anuranon Magazine: Hello Mitch, how are you doing during this pandemic?

I have to say it’s a polarizing time. I’m nervous. I’m feeling for everyone. I wish we all could come together and find a way to take better care of each other, in our surrounding circles and as a global community. I feel like every day I have a choice in changing the world based on how I spend my time. So I’ve been trying to do some reconfiguring. I’ve been fortunate to have stability in this moment and to be able to reconfigure.

What first got you into music? When did you start writing/producing – and what or who were your early passions and influences?

There’s a VHS of me singing into a toy microphone to The B-52s when I was only a few years old. I can remember some photos of me with a toy guitar too. So there was definitely an encouragement by my parents, especially my dad. He had been a singer in some bands when he was younger and told me he always wanted to be a great guitar player. So he had some guitars around the house as I was growing up but he didn’t play them much. Then in middle school I started a band with my friends and when we were calling our instruments it was sort of a given I would play guitar.

What artists and/or works do you cite as your most influential?

This is a tough question because there’s so much I appreciate out there and feel shaped by. Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir comes to mind. I really loved this album of hers Apotropaíosong Armor when she went by the name Kría Brekkan. Pullhair Rubeye, her album with Avey Tare had deeply impacted me at 17. Last year she released I Must Be The Devil, which she said had been in the works for 15 years, which blew my mind. One of her songs “Place of You” from a decade ago was re-recorded and everything just sounds so intentional and truly unique. Last summer she performed the album at The Kitchen in the city. I was a dozen blocks away having dinner at my girlfriend’s mom’s apartment. I had just found out about the show and I deeply regret not getting up from the table and rushing down there. Yeah, I’d say she is an influential artist for me. I look up to artists who are distinctly themselves—that you can’t mistake for anyone else. 

How did the name Sreym Hctim come about?

I felt like it was too much to go by my name in a straightforward way, so I just spelled it backwards. There was something more magical about it, and felt like it could exist as its own identity outside of my personal realm.

How has your musical journey progressed over time?

I started writing songs about 15 years ago. The first songs I wrote as a kid were silly lyrics and powerchords on guitar. In my high school years, I was simultaneously learning how to make electronic music on the computer. Over time I’ve swung back and forth on this spectrum trying to strike the right balance between performance and mathematical approaches to music creation.

What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work?

I had this band Hear Hums and our third album Opens feels like an incisive moment for me. Kenzie really made that album what it was. She had more forward-thinking ideas than I did. I was trying to keep up. We lived in this tiny house in Gainesville and would work on it every day after our “real jobs”. We both worked at this ridiculous transcription center a five minute walk away from our house. We could sort of make our own hours there and I really pushed that to the limit. Some nights I would stay up all night, reschedule my hours to later in the following day, and just mix and tweak stuff for like 14 hours. I really lived and breathed Opens the entire time we were making it and it feels like a special highlight in my life.

What do you usually start with when working on a new piece? do you always work on a new track with an album in mind? Or do you just work on an individual track?

Without being too restricting I like to have an idea of what I’m doing with a piece of music. It has sort of splintered me into these somewhat distinct different personalities as I go about divvying up my creativity to different projects. 

In terms of noise/ambient/experimental music, are they what you listen to as well? What do you listen to?

I listen to those genres of music and I listen to a lot of conventional styles of music as well. 

What do you think what makes a music an experimental/ambient piece? What do these terms mean to you?

With ambient, I think of long drawn out notes, the way these interact with each other, and the ways they interact with atonal sound as well. I sort of see rigidity and restraint in ambient music, whereas experimental feels like a more ever encompassing term. To me, experimental is to try things outside of self or otherwise imposed parameters. 

How would you describe your experimental music? 

Thematic feels like the right term. I used to call it visual music.

Do you always have a visual in mind while working on music? 

In so many words, yes. As I’m forming a song, I’m seeing something and I’m also looking further toward a horizon of where I want to end up.

How is the experimental music scene in New York right now? What do you think is the future of these genres in 10 years?

Obviously things are at a standstill with the pandemic we’re facing. It’s become hard to think too far ahead ever since quarantine. Things feel everso uncertain to me, especially with the acceleration of technological advancement. Some days I feel like we’re living the apocalypse and some days I feel like a golden age of immense transformation is upon us. So I think the future of these genres is something I can’t yet imagine.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you?

I’m still figuring it out.  I think there’s a way to tap into creativity on command. People really connect with the idea of making art of the mundane, however, I think some of my most honest and moving expressions have come out of my own personal suffering. I think music is a great tool for many to process trauma. I don’t believe in relying only on that though. I’ve recently cut out alcohol and other substances in my life that were causing harm to myself and others, and I think that believing I can only make art when I’m as depressed and manic as I was before my sobriety is irresponsible and counterproductive. I believe I can make great work while taking care of my mental and physical health as well.

What’s more important to you as an artist: a visceral creation/reaction or evoking some sense of imagery or imagination?

I can’t rank the two. I think they’re equally important and each have context specific importance depending on the purpose of a piece of art’s existence.

Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music?

It’s important if that’s what that audience wants out of the experience. For me, that understanding is not an inherent necessity. 

In how much, do you feel, are creative decisions shaped by cultural differences?

Quite a lot. I think it’s wonderful we live in a time where we have instant access to everything being made from all corners of the world. With this comes the ability to sift through entire cultures and pick apart what you like. This is cultural appropriation and it’s not okay. So I try to navigate this space as carefully as I can. I’m trying to better understand why I make the creative decisions that I make and how this could help or hurt anyone else. I do believe in cross influence and fusion of genres to be the future of music. We need to find the least harmful way to appreciate each other’s work and create this future, and this calls for, at the very least, amplifying the voices of those cultures that people take inspiration from.

The relationship between music and other forms of art, like painting, photography, video art and cinema has become increasingly important over the decades. Do you feel that music relates to other senses as well than hearing alone?

Yeah I think it’s all connected. I feel moved by all different mediums. I definitely see things when I’m listening to music, and there are times I hear sounds related to visual art or other sensations like touch.

A still from Jigsaw Piece Flaw music video

How do you see the relationship between the ‘sound’ aspects of music and the ‘composition’ aspects?

If by sound you mean tone, I think consideration of both is crucial. Composition is what tells my story, and I need to have the right sense of tone to clarify or obscure that story. 

Have you ever experimented with binaural beats?

I don’t know enough about binaural beats, but I’m interested. I feel like having the same tone of slightly different frequencies in each ear is something I do with certain layers of audio when mixing. I haven’t ever set out to make an ambient album, but I think it could happen one of these days.

Do you think it’s important that artists don’t feel constrained by a genre or expectation of a genre?

Yes I do. I wanna tear it all down, at least for myself. I think I can be reluctant to really let in something new so I use conventions of genres as anchors to dip my toes into appreciating different sounds while not venturing too far off from one point. I’ve never been very good at conforming to expectations of genre but still find myself facing these hurdles of reward for familiarity in my brain.

Do you ever feel that music of these sorts should not reach to a wider audience so the original value that makes these genres so authentic never loses its norms?

I most definitely don’t feel that way. I wish more people could be exposed to lesser appreciated, less commercialized styles of music. 

Where does the title Turn Tail come from? Tell us about creating Turn Tail… What was the motif behind the mood of the EP?

The name Turn Tail is a reference to the idiom, which is basically turning around and running away. I didn’t really force a motif, the mood of the songs just came from how I was feeling during that period of my life. The songs on the EP slowly took shape over the course of a year, other than “Curfew Calls”, which was a few years old and was originally meant to be on Split Ends, but I didn’t like it in the form it was in when I was finalizing the track list for that album. All of the songs on Turn Tail are in a drastically different form than what they sounded like in demos. “Armadillo” was made out of this loop from jamming at my practice studio. It was a little offbeat, but I kept building the song around it because it had such a feeling to it that I wanted to express. Then that loop I was so attached to ended up not making its way into the final version of the song. So there were instances of that all over the EP. I sort of encouraged myself to be patient. I would put the songs away for weeks at a time only to return to them later and gut most of it or make sweeping changes. 

Turn Tail EP Artwork

What does Turn Tail mean to you?

I’m more interested in what meaning the listener can derive from Turn Tail. For me, I was running away from myself and my problems. It was therapeutic to get out some of these pent up emotions. 

Your latest single output, a music video for the EP’s opening track, Jigsaw Piece Flaw, seems a bit more classical driven. Can you tell us more about creating it? What was the idea behind the project?

I knew pretty early on in making “Jigsaw Piece Flaw” that I wanted to make a music video for the song. I had been wanting to get into 3D animation for a while, but had no spare time to sit down and really dive into it. When quarantine started mid-March, I lost my job. I had more free time on my hands than I’ve ever had. I began learning how to sculpt and eventually build scenes and light them, and finally how to animate motion and work cameras. I was kind of just experimenting and overproducing assets and sets to sift through later. I’m not anywhere near as comfortable with any other medium that I am with making music, so it was a really activating challenge to make a video I felt good enough to release.

Is there anything you are working on right now? What can we expect from you in 2020 and 2021? Do you have any more projects coming up?

I have a lot of projects in the works. I’m working on a bunch of songs with two different groups of friends that I’m beyond excited about, as well as working on the next Sreym Hctim album. I definitely want to continue video work, but it’s too early to say what exactly. Hoping I can share more with the world in 2021.


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