Behind the piano

Behind the piano: The Aquaerials

I have up until now had the chance to feature two tunes by The Aquaerials, and now it’s about time to get to know the man behind the mask a bit better.

What’s your real name?
My name is Mark Swanson.

Where are you from? And where do you live?
I’m from a town called Muskegon, Michigan. I currently live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

How did you come up with your artist name?
An Aquaerial is sort of a made up hybrid creature. Like a bird and a fish combined. I came up with it years ago. It was never really meant to be a band name, and looking back now, it’s a pretty terrible name.

How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
I’ve been playing piano very casually for about 15 years. I’ve only been more seriously playing music for the last 5 years. I also play guitar, but I definitely spend most of my time at the piano.

Tell us about how you started playing music!
I took a few guitar lessons when I was 7 or 8 years old, but it never really stuck for me. I also played trumpet for a few years in school. But aside from that, I started pretty late in life. When I was 24, I moved into an apartment by myself. I had wanted to learn an instrument again for years, and once I had a place to myself where I could be as noisy as I wanted, I bought a guitar. I became obsessed with learning how to play music and writing my own songs. The songs I wrote were horrible, but I ended up recording some of them on piano 10 years later. They’re slightly less horrible now.

How long have you been making piano music?
I began releasing music on Soundcloud about 5 years ago. I had actually sold off all my instruments while my wife and I were saving our money to buy a house. I sold several guitars, a drum kit, bass guitar, etc. The only thing I wasn’t able to sell off was my keyboard. I had bought it for $300, but the most anyone offered me was $100, so I decided to hold onto it. Once I got the itch to start playing music again, the only instrument I had left was that keyboard. So I dusted it off and that’s basically how this entire project started.

Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
I started writing songs within a few months of buying a guitar back in 2004, but it wasn’t until about 10 years later that felt like I was able to write music worth sharing with other people.

What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
I honestly don’t listen to a lot of piano music. I’ve always been more into punk, indie and folk music. I’ve only started to discover more piano music in the last few years. I like a lot of the modern players like Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Max Richter and Eluvium. I’ve also discovered a ton of lesser known, yet equally talented players through your site and the playlists my music has been featured on. Some of my favorites at the moment are Andrea Carri, Andy Feldman, Anna Yarbrough and yourself.

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s? 
Not really. After I record a song, I basically stop playing it altogether. I don’t perform my music live, so I like to work on new songs rather than play old ones. When I sit down at the piano, I’m usually playing whatever song I’m trying to work out at that moment or just improvising until I stumble upon the next one.

What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
It’s not necessarily a rule, but the “genres” thing needs to be broken. It seems like most people decide the genre they want to be in and then try to write music that fits into it. I really have no idea what genre my music is, because it isn’t just one. It’s kind of been lumped in with the modern piano music, but my music only loosely fits that description. It contains elements of pop, rock, classical, folk and electronic music, but it isn’t any one of those things.

How do you record your music?
I do it all from my house. I’ve put out 13 albums and EPs over the past 5 years. The first 9 were all recorded using that old Casio keyboard I mentioned earlier and GarageBand on my Mac. Since then, I’ve upgraded to a nicer digital piano and Logic Pro X.

Whats your take on sampled instruments?
I think they’re amazing. I run my piano through a sampled Steinway Grand Piano in Logic, so my music sounds the same whether I record it on a $3,000 digital piano or a $300 keyboard. I also use a of strings, brass and synths in my music. These samples allow my piano to become a violin, trumpet, drum kit, bass guitar… probably even a kazoo if I wanted it to. I haven’t tried that yet, though.

Anything else you want to share? 
I just released 3 new EPs between September and October. Empty Orchestra is a collection of atmospheric piano pieces. Dead Sea Symphony is a genre-bender of dark country, rock and poetry. Learning to Fly is a collaborative Post-rock record with my friend Mike Harrison from The Anthropophobia Project.

And, as always, the questions one of my sons once asked me:
Where do all your songs come from? 

Your son’s question is the only one I can’t answer. I honestly don’t know where they come from and it makes me afraid that every piece of music I create will be my last.

Thank you so much for you participation Mark! I’m happy you find new music through the site!

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