Ryan: Band and project names are hard to settle on. What is the story behind Totemic?
Doug Penny: A few years ago, I was experimenting with shamanic journeying and other practices after getting home from a festival (Envision) in Costa Rica. I had one particularly interesting session where I came across a spirit animal that was an amazing rainbow tiger. I knew that I wanted to base my musical name on that experience, but didn’t want to make it such a narrow focus. Spirit animals like that are sometimes called your animal Totem, so I decided to use that idea for my project name. Hence, Totemic.
Ryan: How long have you been playing music?
Doug Penny: I’ve been playing musi
c for my whole life! My family was always musical (both of my parents play classical music) and I started out singing and playing a guitar when I was a year or two old. I began violin lessons when I was 5, and have been playing music for the 22 years since in one form or another.
Ryan: Your current single “Falling” is a great choice for a single, but then again all of your songs would be. What made you choose this particular song to showcase?
Doug Penny: I felt like the introduction to “Falling” made a particularly strong impact. The strong percussion and hectic shouts in the intro leave a strong impression, whereas some of the other tracks are a bit more subdued at the beginning. I really wanted the single release (and first track of the album) to make a big impact right off the bat, so this seemed like a solid choice.
Ryan: At this point in your musical career, what are some of your highlights?
Doug Penny: My highlights are always going to be live performances, because that is where I thrive. My favorite performance so far was at Solstice festival in Ontario, Canada last summer. The festival has a real community feeling and I have wo
rked on setup and stage crews there in the past, so getting to rock the main stage with most of my favorite people there, on my favorite sound system (40hz crew!) was definitely my favorite musical experience so far.
Ryan: Where do you gather inspiration from?
Doug Penny: I regularly gain inspiration by looking at amazing art and listening to fantastic music by other artists! Today my inspiration happens to be coming from Culprate’s “Deliverance” album for example. Absolutely my biggest source of inspiration though has to be attending and performing at music festivals. Bass Coast 2013 was where I decided to take making bass music seriously, and inspiration abounds in our Ontario festival scene as well. Something about being out in the forest with nothing to focus on except the experience does wonders for my brain’s creative potential!
Ryan: What does your songwriting process look like?
Doug Penny: For me, a new song usually starts off with either a cool bass sound or an interesting synth. Though I make the majority of my sounds from scratch in synthesizers, or from foley (field recording) samples, often a song idea will start from messing around with synth presets until something catches my ear. One of my favorites for this is Signal, by Output Audio. The sounds that plugin can make are some of the most inspiring things ever for me!
After the initial idea comes about, I will fill out a drum beat and a bass line with some of my favorite drum samples as well as sound design from foley or whatever other source of sound I happen to have, starting with a short loop but quickly expanding it to the full track length. A lot of producers tend to sit on an 8- or 16-bar loop for a long time to get it just right, but I feel that a lot of my production process involves slow builds and creating atmospheres which can be better done by laying out the whole skeleton of the track early on and working from there.
If I am going to record a violin part for the song, that usually happens last (unless it was the initial inspiration, which happens sometimes…“Shroud” for example started with the violin). I mix as I go, but also have a concentrated mixing period at the end of the process where I sit on a song for several weeks and try to play it out a couple times to fix any kinks.
Ryan: I am looking forward to the release of your new EP, any idea when we can expect a full length album?
Doug Penny: A full length album is definitely in my sights within the next couple of years, but for now I am happy to continue releasing singles and EPs. An album, to me, has to come from great inspiration and have a very strong concept behind it, so I will not be rushing one out.
Ryan: Do you have any advice for musicians looking to create an album as high quality as yours?
Doug Penny: Practice. Produce a LOT of music. Finish everything you start, and reference it against the best sounding thing that you can find! If you are a DJ as well, mix your music ruthlessly with your favorite tracks and figure out why they blend well…or not. If you feel like you’re starting to get good find something that will make you feel like shit about your own music and aspire to that.
I am nowhere near the level of production that I want to be yet, though I feel like some of my latest works are starting to get there. I find it very hard to be satisfied with anything that I make and that inspires me to work harder.
Ryan: Your artistic vision seems to run deeper than just the music, the visual art side of your art is also impressive. Who does your album artwork?
Doug Penny: My friend David Brett designed my logo, as well as the album art for the “Falling” EP. We worked together closely on these and he basically lived at my house for a couple weeks! Other than that, the artwork for my various mixes and tracks, as well as my Youtube videos, are all made by me through photo and video manipulation. I’m kind of a control freak about my art, so I have to do most of it myself!
Ryan: How many instruments do you play?
Doug Penny: Aside from the violin, which is my main instrument, I also play the guitar, bass, viola and keyboard at a decent level, and have played the cello and double bass a bit in the past. I pick up stringed and percussive instruments quite quickly, at least for basic things, so it’s hard to pick an exact number!
Ryan: Lastly, and thank you for your time. Do you have any news that you would like to share with your fans?
Doug Penny: I’ve recently started a weekly mix series, Totemic Tuesdays, which you can find on my Soundcloud page. Check it out for a regular dose of the musical vibes that I’m feeling that week.
As well, I’m going to be touring the West Coast this summer so stay tuned to my Facebook page for tour dates, and if you’d like to see me in your town, get in touch!
Thanks for the interview!