The Strafing Run: A Deep Talk with Talented Local Musician, Deathbeforedigital

Hello, dear readers.

I confess, I was worried about this issue. I didn’t think I’d find anything to write about in time. I couldn’t get ahold of any of the musicians I wanted to get in touch with, I’d already done a top 25 of 2012, and there were no huge shows going on that I could tell you about. All seemed lost, until I ran into Nick Toma, aka Deathbeforedigital, at the local coffeespot Webster’s.

The great thing about covering the State College music scene is the sheer number of talented musicians in the area. I’ve already shared with you a few of the musical masterminds living in the area, but there are countless more that I either haven’t been able to tell everyone about yet, or just plain missed thusfar. Nick Toma falls into the latter category.

Sitting outside of the coffeeshop on a surface-of-mars hot day, we talked for a while about music. Toma mentioned offhandedly that he made music himself, and had a Soundcloud up. I gave him my email address, not knowing exactly what I’d hear, but confident that it would be interesting, considering what he had to say that day about music.

When I finally got the link and listened to Toma’s Soundcloud profile Deathbeforedigital, I was embarassed for not knowing about such a talented local musician earlier.

Listening to the tracks Toma has up, it’s obvious the guy is on to something. Robust soundscapes, solid beats, music you can get lost in. “Polar Escapades Into Outer Space” sounds like sonic ocean crashing against an electric desert. “Thin Mints” starts out like your average 8-bit inspired video game sounding track, then adds drums and layers, three and a half minutes of twisting, turning music that’s more theme song than chiptune. “Don’t Do Crystal MetH” is an urgent electroscramble, a minute-long chase through an angry killer computer.

“Pits,” one of the newest tracks posted, is a structurally beautiful ambient grind that would feel perfect in a sci-fi film. “Eyelessthroughspace” has a similar alien vibe, like walking through a tall techno-organic forest on some distant planet. The quality and feel of the tracks presented shows off Deathbeforedigital‘s musical range. Toma even throws in an Beatles remix that turns the fab four into Portishead.

After being blown away by Toma’s Soundcloud, I had to know more about this great local musician. To that end, I sent him five questions, along with a special bonus question. Those questions, and his answers, are here provided for your enjoyment and edification, my dearest readers:

THE BOMBER JACKET: When did you first start making music, and how?

Toma: I’ve played trumpet since about age 10, guitar since age 14 and I began gigging and teaching with guitar around age 16. I’ve had an appreciation for rock, blues, jazz and classical for a long time from my family, but once I started listening on my own I really got into music from the ’60s and ’90s, which I feel have a similar emphasis on songwriting.

I messed around with recording and sequencers from a young age, but didn’t really get deep into electronica and production until I was 19 or 20. I still do jazz and rock gigs and teach guitar, but most of my free time from school and work is spent producing and writing music.

What do you listen to when you’re not making music?

These days I’m really appreciating Flying Lotus, Paul Baribeau, Daath, Them Crooked Vultures, Puscifer, Gorillaz, and Electric Wizard. Daath has an amazing guitar player named Emil Werstler that everyone needs to check out! If you like guitar, look him up on Youtube.

I’m always listening to the ultimate guitarist, Django Reinhardt and one of my favorite bands, Massive Attack. I just got a collection of Bach Cello Suites by a guy named Pablo Casals that are really fantastic, and I’ve been really digging music by Mr. Squirrel, a friend of a friend. So much good ambience and grooves.

What is the role of music in our society (as in, what SHOULD it be?)

This is a tough question. I think everyone is qualified to answer this in his or her own way, but without getting too poetic, I think music is an outlet and a catalyst for functions nothing else can perform. Music can cement memories to sounds, influence our emotions and moods, and provide a creative way to express feelings we can’t get out otherwise. To nerd out for a bit, I study neuroscience at school and I find nonlinear acoustics, binaural audio and music psychology in general really fascinating. They’re all concepts that examine these influential effects on a scientific level. Naturally, I’ve experimented with introducing some of these concepts into my own music.

Some of your tracks sound like they would make great soundtracks for films. If you got a chance to do the soundtrack for a film, what type of films would you want to work on?

I get the “film music” or “cinematic” description a lot and it really pleases me. Film composers like Eric Serra, Cliff Martinez, Vangelis and Zack Hemsey have been big influences on me, as well as the way some films use music by other artists–Massive Attack in the Matrix comes to mind. “Epic” scores are great and all (who doesn’t love massive timpani and string sections?), but I’m really impressed by composers who can create a unique vibe and atmosphere for the film in a more subtle and defined way.

I’m a big sci-fi and art house fan, so I think it would be great to work on anything like that. At this point in the game I’d be happy to put my work in anything cool and well done though. I was working with an indie film maker for a bit, but the project sort of fizzled out.

Where do you see music going in the next ten years?

If I could answer this well, I’d probably be making more money! I think the idea that major labels are going to disappear is pretty silly; they just need to get acquainted with the new and evolving model, as everyone does, and they’ll be going strong again. I think sites like Bandcamp are doing something really great for indie musicians by giving them a great amount of the profit and control.

Additionally, I think a lot of people have this perspective that oversaturation in the indie world with music/writing/whatever, is a bad thing. Though the tools are easier to use for everyone now and there’s less entry barriers, the real talent will always shine through and it’s easier for artists to connect with their fans and vice versa than ever. So hopefully the next ten years will show more success for the indie models and a refinement of what they are. And hopefully the next albums by Portishead and Tool will be out by then!

And the bonus question: Skrillex, Brian Eno and Kraftwerk walk into a bar after going to see Can play. They sit down next to you at the bar and start talking about music. Who would you spend the most time talking to, and what would you talk about?

I would most definitely be fascinated by Brian Eno first and foremost. I’d probably pick his brain on ambient music, composition techniques and nerdy musician stuff. I couldn’t ignore Kraftwerk either! I’d have to wax philosophical and let them do the talking. Skrillex, I’d probably say hello and be on my way. I suppose I could ask if he needs help picking up all that bass he dropped too.

(If you liked what you heard, Toma is available to teach guitar, both in person and via Skype. Here’s a link to his promo videos…)



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