A few weeks ago we had a chance to chat with the composer behind the project Be Still the Earth, Marshall Usinger. If you haven't listened to Marshall's music yet, you can do so here while you read along! Enjoy!
Marshall! It's good to catch up with you today. For those not familiar with you and your music, tell us a little about yourself. What's your story?
I’ve been a musician here in Denver for about 15 years now. I’ve spent most of that time playing in bands in the area and making records with them. Over the past couple years, I started becoming very drawn to instrumental music and how it can connect with any type of visual piece. I took on writing ambient and post rock stuff on my guitar and things just kind of spiraled from there! Ever since then I have been trying to hone my craft of writing and producing cinematic music.
So your artist name is "Be Still the Earth." Does it have any meaning behind it?
A buddy of mine helped me track the first few songs I wrote, and he and I were trying to come up with a name for whatever this thing was going to be. We were literally rattling stuff off together and I think originally it was somewhat of a similar but longer name than this one... “Be Still The Earth” really resonated with me and my hope was that it would lend itself to the idea that we can’t fully grasp the vastness of the universe and all its mystery; I love the fact that our perspective is just so small. I try to write emotional music that brings hope and beauty in those moments of wondering what is out there… that through it people might sense something greater.
So what's your writing process look like? What inspires you to get your creative juices flowing?
It usually starts with me finding a very simple melody on the piano or guitar. Once I have something I like I’ll layer and layer until the melody builds something that sticks and can stand on its own. If it’s not all coming to me after a while I take a couple days and try to hear where I want the song to go in my head… getting that down is not always easy! There’s also times I just hear random melodies in my head and I have to stop what I’m doing to get them down, my wife can attest to that one. After I’ve got the base of a song I will typically listen to it the next day and if it doesn't strike me emotionally I’ll just start from scratch. As far as inspiration goes, I was living in Lake Tahoe, CA for about a year recently and that is where this music came to life. I found so much inspiration in the simplicity and beauty while we were living there, the music just came naturally being surrounded by that.
What are some of the recording tools you use to make music?
I use Logic Pro X to produce and record everything, even mixing and mastering for the most part. I find it very intuitive and easy to experiment with. I have a fairly basic setup that consists of my iMac, a MIDI keyboard, my guitar and Vox AC15, and a Roland interface. I’ve used an Alesis synth on some stuff that has some pretty cool sounds too. I run Omnisphere 2 as my primary plugin and it has become essential for my sound. I get great atmospheric pads and textures using Omnisphere. I’ve always been one to encourage to make use of what you have and what you can afford. I don't have my own studio with tons of gear but I try to make the absolute best of what I do have.
What do you think of the music industry today? Do you have any thoughts and opinions?
Things are different then when I was playing in bands, to say the least. I think it’s awesome that people have access to tools out there to just create music that sounds amazing from their bedroom. But I really feel for up and coming bands who are trying to make a living making music and how much they have to rely on touring, that life isn't easy. I try to just buy records and support the bands that I love, that’s about all we can do I think. Working with Soundstripe and this outlet for me has been such a blessing so far. I love that I get to create music and have creative flow and inspiration while being around my friends and family.
How do you feel about the marriage of film and music? Why in your opinion is music so important to the film as a whole?
I love it! I absolutely love it. That’s the main thing that drew me into all of this and still really brings me a lot of motivation and excitement. I think the coolest part is that I can watch any type of film whether it’s drama, horror, or even some romantic comedy and when it’s done right the music just jumps out and grabs me. I can be watching the cheesiest movie but if there are some chord progressions working there I will lose it!
It’s important to me though because I think it sets the tone or feeling for pretty much the entire movie. It can keep me on edge, or emphasize a moment, it might even play on the smallest details in the film. That’s the part I love. Sometimes I will rewind parts just to catch those perfect moments where the music meets with what’s happening visually. One of my favorites is “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” I love what Jose Gonzalez did with the music. It sucks me right into the film and I feel like I’m totally immersed in the characters and what is happening.
Anything coming up for you in the future?
Right now I am just focused on consistently writing and releasing music while getting better as a composer. I like the rhythm of releasing music every few weeks. I’ve been throwing around the idea of putting together a live set for “BSTE”, which I think could be really cool! I miss playing with my friends and I think bringing some of these tunes to a live setting could be really powerful and a lot of fun to play in that setting. Hopefully that will happen soon. Thank you guys!