Pro File: Paul Mac

10 December, 2007
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Aside from his highly successful solo career and history as half of Itch-E and Scratch-E (aka Boo Boo and Mace!), Paul Mac is also part of The Dissociatives with Daniel Johns, regular keyboard player for Silverchair and in-demand composer for film and TV. Paul is a self-proclaimed “moron” on technical specs, more concerned with using his MacBook Pro to create music — lots of it.

AMW: How do you approach composing and recording a song?

Paul Mac: The most recent example was a fun one. I had to write a song for an Australian film that’s about to happen. I had a week to do it but I was also on tour at the time. I quickly sat down at my piano at home and whipped up a chord progression that I liked and remembered it then next time I took my laptop and I was in Adelaide and I just pulled up a piano sound and wrote the chord progression in. I then pulled up a bad drum kit and whacked the beat out and put what the shape of the song was and worked it all out. And then when I got home, went to a big studio and replaced the drums, replaced the synth bass and replaced the piano. That’s more the song-based stuff. At the moment I’m having a more techno phase I think and I’ll often just go for a walk for an hour or a motorbike ride and a bass line will come to me and then it’s just pull out the laptop and quickly get the idea in before it disappears. And then that leads to a melody line and then I write words, then I find a vocalist and build it from there.

AMW: What audio software do you use?

Paul Mac: Logic is my preferred program for creation and recording. For me it’s a better thing for creation. Pro Tools is probably a superior program for proper audio “everything” but Logic is better for coming up with ideas and creating sounds. Plus, it’s just one of those things where I’ve been using it for so long. I like where it’s evolved, it’s a really good program — it suits me.

AMW: Are you an audio loop sort of guy or do you use a bit of MIDI?

Paul Mac: Definitely MIDI. I try not to use loops and I try not to use [sound] libraries to be honest, because there’s the risk you’ll use some loop that’s important to your track then later on someone else uses it and it gets a bit generic. Having said that, it’s really good for a quick sketchpad or you just need something small. I make my own sounds and samples. I’ve still got millions of outboard synthesisers that I prefer to use than just plugins. There’s something about the hands-on feel with a physical piece of gear that you can’t get with a plugin.

AMW: What are the common pitfalls in making electronic music that you’d advise newer musicians to avoid?

Paul Mac: Trying to sound like anyone else. I’ve always tried to have the headspace of “I wish I could write a track as innovative as that one”. A lot of musicians think “I want to write a track that sounds like that one” and then suddenly you’ve got ten tracks that sound like that one and then you’ve got a genre (laughs). For me it’s always been to try and create a genre rather than to fall into one. It’s pretty arrogant (laughs) but it’s a good idea to strive for.

AMW: Speaking of genres, how would you describe your music?

Paul Mac: Emotive, soulful, electronic … funkiness (laughs). It’s got to move your hips, your heart and your head.

AMW What Mac software couldn’t you live without?

Paul Mac: Mainly iTunes. That’s my kind of saviour, being able to take your whole collection around the world. When I’m in a hotel the first thing I do is pull out the docking station and put the iPod in. I’m a bit of a moron when it comes to computers, I don’t fully explore everything. Someone set up iChat last week and it was the first time I’d ever used it and it’s been around forever.

AMW: What keeps you passionate about the work you do and what excites you about the future?

Paul Mac: I’m one of those people who don’t have a choice to be honest. When I was a teenager I just knew that this was the only thing in the world I wanted to do. Fortunately, I’ve somehow made a living out of that. It’s just been this passion that has never gone away — it’s just what I love doing the most. Making music, listening to music and coming up with new ideas for music. Therefore in the future, I like doing as many different things as I can, from Itch-E and Scratch-E to The Dissociatives. Working with different people and learning more about what music can be. Van Dyke Parks came up with a quote “a good piece of music is a series of wise decisions”. It’s really true because it extends to even if you have [poor quality] gear and you’ve got a really small computer with limited tracks, you can still commit to an idea and bounce it down and go further. It’s like what The Beatles did with 4-track tape machines. It’s not the gear you’ve got, it’s making a decision that is good and sticking with it and building on top of that. So a piece in the end becomes a series of really good decisions.

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