In the past few months, Evan Duffy has gained a lot of attention on YouTube for his piano covers of popular dance tracks. Although he does not produce electronic music himself, he has become embraced in the community for his keen ability to recreate originally synthesized music and has even garnished the attention of several popular producers who frequently use his covers in their sets. In my mind, Evan Duffy’s transcription of electronic music helps shine an important light on the musical elements of the genre in a more traditional sense. It not only reveals a deeper beauty in the music, but also reveals a different side of the music to both non-believers and lovers of EDM alike. Luckily, I had a chance to catch up with Evan (who happens to be an incredibly genuine guy) to ask him a few questions, and this is what he had to say:
I wanted to start off by saying thank you for taking the time to do an interview with us here at Techibeats!
No problem, man! Happy to speak with ya!
You have become widely popular on YouTube for your piano renditions of popular EDM songs. What made you want to create and record these covers?
I’ve always enjoyed doing arrangements of my favorite songs for piano even back before I was listening to EDM. Once my friends and I got into EDM, that was the natural progression of it. I started by doing the arrangements as a kind of party favor (friends would pull up songs on YouTube and have me figure them out on the spot – trying to stump me). A buddy of mine suggested I put some of them on YouTube to see what people thought, and the rest is history!
How long have you been playing the piano?
Give us some insight into your process. Do you just listen to a song and start playing or is there a significant amount of thought and planning involved?
It really depends on the track and what I’m trying to get out of it specifically. Some tracks I will hear and think of certain things I want to include in the arrangement. One that comes to mind is my upcoming arrangement of Zedd’s track “Clarity.” I immediately knew I wanted to feature a lot of extended acoustic piano techniques (plucking, muting, and bowing the strings, standard playing, hitting the piano, etc). Other times I’ll just sit down and play along with the track, then add some of my own elements and beef up the part to make it a little more technical.
Is it difficult to transcribe the heavy electronic synths, such as a Skrillex bassline, into a working piano melody?
It can be, for sure! It’s always really fun to experiment with how to interpret the non-melodic elements of EDM on the piano… distorted basslines are such a prominent element in dubstep, etc. that it can be very necessary to include in the arrangement… I’ve found that huge double octaves usually do the trick! I think listeners are often surprised at how much musicality is actually buried in these tracks though. When people tell me EDM isn’t music my general response is “ok, well how did I just do this then?” and show them my arrangement. People like to hate on things they don’t understand, and EDM sometimes isn’t the most accessible style of music.
The first time I heard your covers, that is literally the first thing I thought of. Do you think most artists are fully aware of this musicality when they produce the music? Why do you think it is so easy for people to discredit the genre?
I definitely think that the artists are aware of the musicality behind their tracks… having spoken with a bunch of producers on their process, etc. I would say most approach things from a very musical standpoint at least at some point in the process. Some producers may begin with a more technical approach and then focus on the musicality, but I’d say they’re definitely aware of it.
Well, it’s so easy to discredit any genre that is different and popular… there are always haters who jump on the bandwagon just for the sake of it. But I guess digging deeper beyond just “people like to hate,” I would say that the sonic palette is definitely more adventurous than most people are used to. Guitar, piano, and other acoustic instruments are the comfort zone for the vast majority of people. It’s easy to group unfamiliar, synthesized sounds into the category of “noise” if you’re coming from a different background. I was a stuck up classical snob when I first heard electronic music, I so I guess I can’t really say anything bad about people who aren’t into it… just give it a try and see if it grows on you! And that goes with any new music.
After thousands of requests from your fans, you finally uploaded your cover of Deadmau5’s “Strobe,” which has reached nearly 3 million views. What was the reason for the initial hesitation?
This one was a long time coming! From about the first week my channel was up I was getting requests to do the arrangement. To be honest, even though I absolutely love Strobe and think Deadmau5 is a genius, I didn’t want to just put out something uninspired by immediately doing it for everyone. I only perform music on my channel that I feel I can bring something new to, and for a long time I didn’t get that feeling with Strobe. I know it was very frustrating for some my fans that really were chomping at the bit for it. I think if I put the arrangement out any sooner, people would see through the performance and realize I wasn’t totally invested in it. In the end, I’m happy it worked out the way it did. The support for the arrangement was unreal and turned into a great Christmas gift for me – it got between 1,000,000-2,000,000 hits on Christmas day!
Of all of your covers, which is your favorite to play?
That’s a hard one. I love to play “Make Things For Smile” by Skrillex. Any of the Madeon arrangements, too… I always go back to “Raise Your Weapon,” when I’m in the mood for some dark, rich harmonic stuff.
Artists such as Porter Robinson have been known to feature your music in their sets, often even opening with them. What is it like having some of the biggest artists in the EDM scene recognize your work in such a massive way?
As a huge fan of Porter Robinson (and all the other guys who have featured my arrangements in their sets), this is so unreal. Seeing YouTube videos of my arrangements being played to crowds of thousands of people is truly an incredibly humbling experience. Guys like Porter, Zedd, Kill the Noise, Deadmau5, and others have always been so supportive of what I’m doing and I credit the growth of my channel to them. To hear that your interpretation of an artist’s music actually inspires them is hands down the best part of this gig!
Have you had any major artists, electronic or not, want to work with you? Who would you like to work with the most?
Yes! I’ve recently worked with Kill the Noise, Shermanology, Candyland, and a handful of other artists. I’ve got a couple really big collaborations in the works that I can’t exactly expand upon at this time, but it’s been a blast. Getting to work with artists I’ve been listening to for years is insane. I’m so grateful for the opportunities. I would love to work with Deadmau5, Feed Me, and Madeon.
In addition to your EDM covers, you have uploaded several of your own original classical compositions. Not to mention you occasionally introduce your own musical style to your covers, often infusing classical elements into the existing melodies. Do you have any interest in producing electronic dance music in the future?
My main focus as a musician is my film music. I’m an aspiring film composer with and that’s my main gig. The YouTube stuff is great and fun, but it’s all for the end goal of producing film music full time… I’m getting there!! As for electronic music, I’ve been co-writing with some big producers and 2013 will be a great year for these releases. I’m not doing that much actual producing in the EDM realm, but a solid amount of writing/co-writing. Stoked to share these projects once they’re ready!
What is your ideal musical career/path? In other words, where specifically do you want to take your musical talents?
On a small scale I am already fulfilling my ideal career! Scoring films, television, games, etc. is definitely the end goal for me. I’ve already got a solid amount of independent projects under my belt, so I really just want to keep building up my portfolio so I can continue to get great projects to write for. I guess to be cliché I’d say I want John Williams or Hans Zimmer’s job… but no one could ever replace those guys!
Thinking more “short-term,” I am continuing to focus on growing my channel and making great music with artists whose work I’m passionate about. I love collaborating with artists from all musical backgrounds, so I imagine I’ll always be doing a bit of that as well!
Thanks again for the interview! I wish you the best of luck in the future!
Thank YOU man! It was great chatting with you.