Billy Collins, Corpus Colosseum

Interview, 2/4/14


Billy Collins: Phew. I’m in the hot seat.

Bates Review: It’s a lot of pressure.

Billy Collins: Do you have a lie detector?



Bates Review: Ok, so the first thing is that you put on an awesome show. In a genre that’s dominated by sampling you sound very organic, kind of “anti-sampled,” do you sample?


Billy Collins: I do use vocal samples that I find online, but I think it has that “sound,” first of all because I use a lot of guitar and I’ll manipulate the guitar to sound different ways. And also because I didn’t really know what I was doing and my EQ set-up was not quite correct. So it has a garage-y feel. In those songs, when I look back, I wish I took a little less reverb. It has a little more of a live band sound even though it was all done on a computer just because i use more guitar, recorded in my room with not very good equipment, and I didn’t know what I was doing.


BR: So the guitar is your sound…


BC: Yes. I usually start with a riff and then build off of that.


BR: Do you play any other instruments?


BC: I play a little drums, and piano, not that much though.


BR: When you take your riff, do you start from the middle and build out or do you conceive of it as an intro or outro and work towards the end?


BC: It depends, usually the riff becomes the foundation of the song, and then I’ll make an intro and a chorus. And that will becomes the verse, or something. I usually don’t have a plan. You just fiddle around and sit there for a long time, and eventually something happens.


BR: You don’t have a plan, but you certainly know how to structure songs and you have a very good sense of timing. It doesn’t feel amateur, what do you attribute this to?


BC: Well I took a class, called “Music In the Mind,” and we talked about musical expectation. There is sort of like a…we’re getting meta [Laughing]…there’s a fine line between creating something that is original and creating something that sounds familiar. Things that sound familiar are what people like, so creating a song that follows that similar pattern will be something that people enjoy listening to but you also have to create something new, and not have it be so new that it just sounds terrible. So with the song structure, a lot of electronic music like Deadmau5 goes forever with one thing and I hate that so you have to play with musical expectation. I start a new part, that deviates from the original part, and put it in a place where someone wouldn’t expect it but it in a way that it flows together. I don’t know, it’s a hard balance, it doesn’t just happen. You go through a lot of trial and error before you find that.


BR: So you balance what people like and what they expect, with what you want to create differently.


BC: Yes…I think that any good musician does that, within his own genre: takes what already exists and changing that a little to make it their own. There a people way on one side (like the pop stars) and people way on the other side who appeal to a very small group of people.


BR: You mentioned Deadmau5, but not positively…


BC: No, no, I like Deadmau5 but you have to be in a certain mindset. [Laughing]


BR: Is who inspires you who you listen to, or do you draw inspiration from things that are outside the Top-25 Most Played on your iPod?


BC: Pretty Lights is the first one that comes to mind. You can probably tell. Online, people are like, “this is just Pretty Lights, create your own music!”


BR: Are you okay with that?


BC: Yeah, because I didn’t make that much electronic music [before listening to Pretty Lights]. I just had to think of what was out there and make something that sounds cool. The feel of a lot of the songs was inspired by Alt-J. The Doors are a huge one as well. And I really like a lot of dubstep. So I kind of put all those into one thing.


BR: You’re kind of all over the board. You definitely feel it though, your songs move around. You’ll be listening and it will be very much in the “Pretty Lights genre” and then take a sudden turn. All of the sudden the guitar will be more prominent or something.


BC: In the future I want to put live guitar on it, like play guitar on top of the songs, but I haven’t practiced that yet.


BR: What sort of equipment are you using? Is it primarily your computer?


BC: Yes. I have a computer, an external microphone that I bought last year with the goal of making folk music. [Laughing] I tried that and I didn’t like any of it. I have a little thing that you plug the mic into, it’s barely an equalizer. And then I use Logic, it’s not the best program but its got enough. You just sit and record a bunch of stuff, and try to make something out of it by patching it all together.


BR: So how do you find things to sample? I noticed there was a Churchill speech in one…


BC: The speech is actually from a video I made last year, in a totally different context, but most of them I just go on websites that have vocal samples, and sometimes you can find them in the right key. I do this in every song: you chop up the sample and put an echo effect. I do this in every single one, it’s kind of a cop-out. [Laughing]


BR: Are you trying to break out into the new things, or just perfect the method you have now?


BC: Right now I’m still trying, because I’m still an amateur. I don’t know how to EQ everything. I just started another song, I haven’t make a song in months. I think if you force things it’s not worth it, you sort of just have to do things. If you have a goal it usually doesn’t work out. So you have to keep an open mind and see where it goes.


BR: Are you mainly learning through trial-by-fire? Or do you have forums or people that teach you how to do certain effects or techniques?


BC: The first song I made was Illusory Control. I just knew some stuff about the program from working in folk music. And I worked with Garage Band and a little with a program called FrootyLoops. But I watched awesome videos of Avicii and Swedish House Mafia in the studio. They give subtle hints [as to their technique]. There are a few YouTube introductory videos on how to get certain sounds, but primarily its trial-by-error.


BR: Do you find the folk every leaking in?


BC: I guess in some of the acoustic guitar. Most of my stuff is in a minor key, whereas most folk music is in a major key. It would be cool if I could work it in there, but it’s hard for something to sound folk-y with a drum beat and bass. [Laughing]


BR: How did you choose the name Corpus Colloseum?


BC: I was originally going to be called Ape [Laughing], but I didn’t think it suited the music very well. I went out running, thinking of a name, and Corpus Callosum came to me. It’s a part of your brain, but what if I changed it to Corpus Colloseum. I’ve taken a lot of Psychology classes and some Neuroscience, and I liked the play on words. Classes like “Music and the Mind” make you think about how music affects the brain. For example, your left and right brain perceive music in different ways. Your left hemisphere focuses on the meaning and content whereas your right hemisphere focuses on emotion. The corpus callosum is the network that connects them.


BR: Your album cover also looks like the neural pathway.


BC: Yeah, I was going for that. I paid 100 dollars for that picture, it’s from a canyon in Arizona. I also spent 300 dollars to put the album on iTunes and I’ve made 15 bucks. I’ve lost like 400 dollars on Corpus Colloseum but I have no regrets. [Laughing] If you’re going to go for it, go for it. I just don’t know how to put music out on blogs. The fact that it was well received by people at Bates was enough to make me want to keep doing it.


BR: The show that you put on was incredible.


BC: Yeah, that was a lot of fun.


BR: Seeing your face, you could tell how much it meant to you and how excited you were.


BC: I was so nervous, because my computer had crashed that week and I lost everything. My computer woke up for 5 minutes and I was able to get the music out which is why the EQs were off. If I had time I would have gone back and changed some things.


BR: You couldn’t tell at all.


BC: I had planned the show and then my computer just died, with none of it backed up. [Laughing]


BR: Are you going to be doing more live shows?


BC: Yes, later in March with The Fuzz and some other band that’s coming and maybe [another] at the end of spring term.


BR: Are you working on any more projects, or just seeing where this goes?


BC: Yeah I’m working on a new song now. I didn’t do anything in November or December. I started one song over break but I didn’t like it at all.


BR: How disciplined are you? Do you set times to work or just go off of inspiration?


BC: If you’re in the mood, you’re in the mood. [Laughing]


BR: Are you putting yourself out there?


BC: I’ve done some connecting through SoundCloud. I’m looking forward to doing live shows wherever I live next year, which I think is going to be Bozeman, Montana. Hopefully, they will receive it as well as people at Bates did. It might not go anywhere, but I enjoy making it. That’s what matters.


BR: You said you’re a psychology major? Is that going to be a part of your future?


BC: No, it’s just an interest. I was way interested in film production before music production. I always played guitar and stuff but not seriously. Hopefully I’m going to go to school for Science and Natural History Filmmaking at Montana State.


BR: What does that entail?


BC: Like documentaries. The ultimate goal is to work for an NGO like National Geographic. Can you imagine dubstep with wild animals? [Laughing]


BR: Well that’s the future! The world isn’t this orchestral place…nature is crazy, has its own beat.


BR: How do you name songs?


BC: I hate naming songs. [Laughing] A lot of them play off of psychology, like Serotonin is the one that people go crazy for, makes you feel good. Illusory Control is what I wrote my thesis on. Warpaint, I like that one, with the marching drum that symbolizes war, the song will go crazy and kind of rise and fall [like a battle]. I can’t even remember the other names. [Laughing]


BR: So a little bit of inspiration from the song, a little bit of working from your headspace.


BC: I hate naming songs though. When people see the name of the song it gives an impression for how they’re going to view the song, instead of just hearing it.


BR: Did you see Moon Hooch when they came to Bates? They don’t name their songs, they just give them numbers. They would probably agree with you on that.


BC: No I didn’t, I wish I did. They’re so good. I mean if a song has lyrics, yeah thats a name, but none of my songs have lyrics, so it makes it harder.


BR: Anyway, you should definitely do more shows.


BC: Well each song takes like three weeks to make, to find the time. I guess I could condense the process into a couple days but in college you’re being pulled in so many different directions. I’ve been also working on my Psychology senior thesis.


BR: Oh yeah, respect for doing this [Corpus Colloseum] on top of writing thesis.


BC: This took the place of thesis. [Laughing]


BR: Were any of your sound inspired by what you were studying at the time?


BC: Oh totally. I walked out of class, from Music and the Mind, at 11. I would get so pumped about all the stuff we talked about. It got me amped be anti-social for like 7 hours and put theory into practice. [Laughing] My music is also inspired by skiing, in that it’s music I would want to listen to while skiing.


BR: Very cool. Thank you for your time.


BC: Thank you.




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