With just over a year of active involvement in the Dungeon Synth scene, Elminster has managed to rack up quite an assortment of excellent albums. Whether released under his flagship moniker – Elminster – or other incredible crafts such as Anadûnê, The Owl Knight or DCCCVIII, it’s apparent that Elminster is in it for the long haul and is quickly becoming a “go to” artist for all of your Dungeon Synth needs. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Colin Bacon – the maestro behind all of these amazing projects – to find out what the driving force is behind all this talent, how he got into this genre of music, and what the future hold. Please enjoy this very detailed account for all things Elminster!
1. Thank you so much for this interview opportunity. Elminster hit the Dungeon Synth scene just over a year ago with the ‘Making Of A Mage’ series. Since then, you’ve been on a relentless spree of new album releases, other projects and splits. How did you get started in the genre and where are all of the fresh ideas coming from?
As much as I wish that I could say that my introduction to the genre was by finding a cassette hidden in the middle of a stone circle or castle, I actually found the genre via Youtube’s recommended function. I had checked out a few before, but the first handful to grab me were the Blood Tower/Apothecarium split, Barbaric Frost’s Against The Darkness, Coniferous Myst/Owlbear/Scrag/The Herbalists split (which Isaac was kind enough to sell me their artist copy of), and the Druadan Forest/Uruk Hai/Bannwald Split. All of these albums are magical to me and, even though I now know the basics of songwriting, I still am not entirely sure how each was made. Pivoting to the second part, I get a bit restless with my hobbies and often feel like I am climbing the walls if I am not able to indulge them, in a rather compulsive sense. As for the variety, I read a lot growing up, especially fantasy novels. Each of my projects is an attempt to capture a specific feeling within a wide and varied genre.
2. I want to go back to the ‘Making Of A Mage’ series of releases. Can you talk more about the inspiration for these EP’s and do you have a plan for anymore “Mage” albums?
The inspiration for TMOAM was a novel of the same name by Ed Greenwood, never has a book captivated me with such ease. My brain created a picture of every scene and ran wild with how I would make a movie for it, how it would be scored, etc. etc. (It would be animated similarly to the 1970s LOTR movies, if I had my way). When searching for what the alias of my project would be, Elminster just felt right and I decided in that same moment that my favorite novel required a soundtrack. Each of the EPs is named after a part of the book (part 1 was brigand, part 2 burglar, etc. etc.) and each of the song titles are referential to plot points. Seeing as I created a product that accomplished what I wished it to, there likely won’t be any more albums of that name, but I would certainly consider doing soundtrack albums for the other books in the Elminster series.
3. Earlier this year, you released the Crypt Hop EP, ‘Beats To Dungeon Crawl To’. This was definitely a seamless transition to another one of the fascinating Dungeon Synth sub-genres but was this something that had been planned all along or just an experimental effort?
When first creating the Elminster project, I did not know of Crypt Hop, it was only through the Vandalorum episode of Midnight Ambience and murmurings on facebook that I learned about it. I had been into the concept of beatmaking ever since discovering the grime artist JME during early lockdown. Through him, I got into UK Drill artists such as Digga D, Kwengface, Teezandos, Abra Cadabra, and Pop Smoke (an american who laid down NY Drill vocals over UK beats, rest in peace Bashar). I saved up my money and got FL Studio and began to learn how to make those types of instrumentals. While getting into each of the aforementioned genres, I began to realize that I enjoyed the fact that they borrowed from carribean dance rhythms and blended said rhythms with darker instrumentals. A practiced ear will likely notice that most trap artists put the snare on beats 3 and 7 while using a steady rhythm hi hat pattern, but these genres (drill especially) like to put the snare on beats 3 and 8 while using a nonlinear hit hat pattern, which gives the beat both bounce and swing. From there, my selfish desire to marry crypt hop and drill produced the EP in question.
4. I have to talk about ‘Antipaladin’ as it’s one of my favorite efforts by you. How does your albums evolve from one epic story to another and what do you think makes this one stick out amongst your ever growing discography?
My albums usually get named near the beginning. I am usually on a nature walk and think “It would be awesome for an album of X name to exist. Alright, Colin, what would it sound like? What would the songs be called?”. The reason it stands out could vary from listener to listener, but the reason it feels different to me is that it was the first time I had had a mythological topic in mind and that I really pushed myself to learn a new songwriting style, which I’ve heard get called Berlin school (I’m a bit of a genre tourist with that genre, so I won’t claim to have a great understanding of its hallmarks).
5. You also did a very unique thing with this release by giving download codes for those that donated to the Shelter House Domestic and Sexual Violence Center in Fort Walton Beach, Fl. What was your decision to release this on a “give back” like scenario?
I’ve been slowly coming to the realization that I want to be involved in activism. I naturally lean a bit more introverted so I figured that leveraging my music would be the most effective and most comfortable way for me to do some good. On top of that, I figured that a DV shelter is something that pretty much anyone could get behind, so people would be willing to give more freely. I’d like to thank High Mage for being so willing to help me make this a reality and I’d like to thank the community for raising a combined $250 for those charities from that run, it really warmed my heart. I would also like to mention here that the split I have with Maiden Hair and coming out through Weregnome this October will also be giving its proceeds to (I believe 2 seperate) wildlife charities, please consider donating if you have the means to. I would like to make this type of release happen a few times a year.
6. In July of this year – almost a year after releasing albums under the Elminster moniker – you started a new project called, Anadûnê. Other than the music being a tad more cinematic than Elminster, what influenced the creation of this project?
This project was created because I was lucky enough to land a spot on the dev team of the Medieval II Total War Silmarillion Mod as the in-house musician. I felt like a project of that theme should be separate and approached with a different writing process.
7. ‘The Rise Of Gondolin’ (by Anadûnê) is probably one of your coldest albums to date, but there is so much dreamy melody happening at the same time. How do you manage to incorporate these distant facets in order to create something so amazing?
Thank you! I’ll be honest, I don’t know. With that album, I didn’t let myself think too hard about it and just let myself write. I often find that it is pretty obvious when I overproduce a release and usually find that I enjoy trusting my instincts. Gun to my head, the patches I used were not as in your face and I leaned into them.
8. The Owl Knight is another fascinating project that draws upon chip tune, retro experiences and classic RPG theme songs. How are you able to make this sound so refreshing without being as whimsical as other chip tune recordings?
If I had to guess, the reason it doesn’t share a lot of the tropes with other chip tune recordings is a combination of hardware (I use toy keyboards as opposed to synthesizers/console sound cards), growing up after the era of 8 bit music being the de facto game soundtrack, and by being primarily inspired by the album Sunken Dungeon by Longsword. I also have listened only to a little bit of chiptune DS. It’s definitely good music, but there’s only so much time in my day.
9. You have another Crypt Hop project out called DCCCVIII. First of all, what is the meaning behind the name and secondly please tell me that this is a long term project because it’s freaking amazing!
DCCCVIII is a nod to my love of using crazy 808 patterns in my beats, it is the roman numeral spelling of 808. I have no plans to stop that project, it has been both incredibly fun to write for and has been extremely good for me to have a new challenge, genre-wise.
10. In August alone, you’ve released 5 albums including two splits. Where do you find the time to stay this busy and what’s behind all of the musical motivation?
I get incredibly restless and I don’t sleep a whole lot haha. On top of that, music has been a very rewarding hobby to get into. I love the dopamine hit I get when I hit the publish button or when I see people receiving their copies of my tapes.
11. The split release with Baerdcyn is so tantalizing that it’s quickly becoming one of my most listened to albums at the moment. Do you record music specifically for split releases or are they leftover tracks from previous efforts?
Thank you! I usually create them specifically for splits, I generally don’t keep a lot of “overhead”. When I finish something, I release it in most cases.
12. I think split releases are very important as they show artist solidarity and help promote from within. What are your thoughts on this and do you have any more split releases in the works?
That is absolutely how I view them! I love the work of so many artists and selfishly want to have an opportunity to work with them and splits allow me to do that in a less invasive way. I also got into the genre through several splits and from doing so gained an immense appreciation for them. I have 2 more in the pipeline that are finished, 1 that I was doing the vocals for before I blew out my voice from screaming, and handshake agreements with a few artists for more in the future.
13. Do you have any plans to share your craft in a live setting, specifically during one of the Siege events?
I am certainly interested in playing live, but would probably only do so if reached out to. I would really want to do something fun for it if so.
14. What do you have in store for the rest of 2021 and what are your musical goals/dreams for 2022?
For 2021, I am planning on continuing to have fun writing different types of music. I have plans to try my hand at black metal and might give black ambient (think gonfanon but without being a fascist) once my 4 track arrives. In December, High Mage and I have agreed to do an event called Magemas, where they will be doing an entire month of my releases, so keep your eyes peeled for that (I hope they don’t mind me mentioning it here haha). For 2022, I plan to release an Elminster box set through them as well.
15. I really appreciate your time and thanks for all the great music! Do you have any final words or thoughts for those that may be reading this interview?
Thank you so much for having me! This has truly been an honor. My parting shot would be to ask the community to keep their eyes open for releases of mine with the charity element involved as their donations will be able to impact the wider world and allow our beautiful genre to do good for others. Stay safe and love each other. – E