Today I have for you an interview with the masterful Akira The Don (@akirathedon), creator of Meaningwave and producer extraordinaire. If you’re not familiar, he’s currently the only artist with an entire album on the MasterSelf playlist, which is all the more notable considering it’s not a metal album. Without further ado, let’s meet The Don himself.
Garrett Dailey (GD): How did you get your start making music?
Akira The Don (ATD): Earliest thing I remember doing is making mixtapes with cassettes when I was about 7. I used to copy parts from one tape to another and back again, and cut the cassette tape up with scissors and stick it back together to create loops and sections.
Actually, my little brother recently reminded me I had violin lessons when I was at school but my teacher weirded me out. And a lovely old lady who lived next door to us when I was about 8 gave me a few piano lessons once, I remember being amazed by her ancient hands.
GD: How long have you been producing for?
ATD: I made my first beat on Fruity Loops in 2000AD and never looked back.
GD: What program(s) do you use to produce?
ATD: I started on Fruity Lops and Acid on PCs, then switched to Logic and Macs after Stephen Hague, who produced my second album, gave me an hour long crash course on it sometime around the end of the 00s.
GD: What’s your favorite VST? Favorite sample?
ATD: Right now my favorite piece of music making software is a new dum sampler called ATLAS by a wonderful company called Algonaut which has completely changed my life, it’s something I always wanted to exist and suddenly it does. There have been some huge advances in music software this year, people are finally starting to think beyond merely emulating previously existing analogue ideas in digital, and starting to scratch the potential of what we can do beyond that.
GD: Did you invent “meaningwave,” and if so, how did you come up with the idea?
ATD: Nas once rapped, “No ideas original/there’s nothing new under the sun/it isn’t what you do but how it’s done”
I’m obviously not the first person to sample spoken word and put it over music. But this kind of spoken word? Over this music? With this level of song and album structure, intertwined and interlinking and telling vast, cosmic story across multiple projects? Each one working on its own and as part of the whole? At this volume of production, at this quality, with this purpose? We have the sonic equivalent of the MCU over here, and I am unaware of anyone ever doing THAT before.
So yeah, I did invent Meaningwave. And it probably started when I was 15, revising for the last exams I’d take before I quit school. I’d record my notes over ambient music and play them as I went to sleep. That was all the revision I ever did. And it worked incredibly well.
ATD: I definitely aim to make sure everything I do has meaning, purpose, and utility.
GD: What are your thoughts on the state of lyrical content in the music industry today?
ATD: I don’t think it’s highly dissimilar to how it’s ever been. My grandmother pointed out to me once that “rock” had the same slang connotations as “fuck” when it emerged. So “Rock Around The Clock” was as coarse and degenerate as anything you might complain about in modern music.
Pop music has always concerned itself with the perspective of teenagers for the most part. Falling in love, partying, rejecting authority and so on. And at the same time there’s always been music that told stories, and considered what lies beyond that earlier experience. You might have to dig deeper for that stiff, but it’s there. And there’s a place for all of it. Sometimes I wanna listen to something complex and transcendent, like a Wu record, or something archetypal, like Johnny Cash, or something entirely ignorant and fun, like Lil Pump.
There must be balance in the force.
GD: I was introduced to you with your (phenomenal) album “The Path,” featuring the legendary Jocko Willink. Did Jocko participate in the production of the album at all? If so, how did you get in contact with him, and how did he react to the idea when you approached him with it?
ATD: I did a few songs sampling Jocko last year. He retweeted them, and we got in touch… I hit him with the idea of doing a full album, and he gave me the go ahead.
GD: Did you produce all of the music for The Path yourself? How long did it take?
ATD: Yeah, I produced the whole album. It took most of a month. Half of that was probably spent just on the first song I made for it, which was GOOD. Once I’d got that nailed, everything else flowed pretty easily. It’s often that way. I spend a bunch of time honing the sound of the speaker, get into their zone, then everything flows like magic.
GD: In Discipline Equals Freedom, there’s a sample in the background that says something that I can’t make out- what is the lyric?
The little vocal samples? “Why you keeping me waiting”, which is your potential greatest self speaking to you and “Don’t wanna hear it”, which is that self again responding to your excuses.
GD: Do you have any major musical influences?
ATD: The music I listened to as a child is always hugely influential. A lot of punk, rap, grunge, R&B, Motown, indie stuff. But I’ve stayed in touch with popular culture, and am hugely inspired every week by the new music I listen to. It’s one of the superpowers you get from being a DJ – you stay in that inquisitive, hungry, permanently excited and thrilled state of musical discovery you had when you were say, 14, that people often let go of, hence the top comment on every music video being “this is REAL music”, because people associate “real music” with the stuff they were listening when they fist started kissing girls or boys or whatever.
GD: What are some of your favorite motivational songs?
ATD: The Rocky theme is the first thing that comes to mind. All I Do Is Win by DJ Khaled. Word’s Greatest by R Kelly.
GD: Do you have any other albums planned?
ATD: HAHAHAHAHAHA, do I! At least one a month all year. I’m working on a David Goggins album right now.
GD: If you could collaborate with any motivational speaker in history, who would you pick and why?
ATD: I answer this differently every time its asked, but today I’ll say Alan Watts, because that would necessitate him coming back from the dead, and I’d love to see him interacting with the people who would be his peers today.
GD: Are there any living people you’d like to collaborate with?
ATD: A thousand and more. And I will. Meaningwave ensures I will.
GD: What’s your favorite song that you’ve produced so far? Why?
ATD: I don’t have one. I don’t listen to my music once its finished, I’m too busy making new music. I have fond memories of all of them. This will change when I start doing live Meaningwave shows I’m sure, so ask em again then.
GD: Who is your favorite producer, from a technical standpoint?
ATD: This is another one of those questions that will have a different answer depending on the day you ask it. Today I’ll say [bsd.u], one of the new generation of lofi producers. Literally everything I’ve ever heard him create is entirely gorgeous and magical, and I don’t know how he does it. Or Jeff Lyne, from ELO, who did Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever, which is an exquisitely produced record. I look forward to reaching that level of sonic excellence.