Computer friendly: The music of Loam

Since the '90s, James Warchol -- who has been in Milwaukee bands for 20 years now -- has been exploring different methods of songwriting through various means of instrumentation.

As a guitarist in his band, Sometime Sweet Susan, foundations were laid which eventually expanded into his broader style of writing evident in his current project, Loam. Using the computer as an instrument has opened new doors for songwriting in general, and Warchol has carved a niche as someone who uses the device to connect melody and rhythm in new and refreshing ways.

Read on to learn more about how he approaches electronic music, and how Milwaukee plays a role in his work.

OMC: How did you begin working as Loam?

JW: As my band, Sometime Sweet Susan, was winding down, I started working on more experimental material on my own. SSS had explored some experimental territory, but not to the extent that some of the band really wanted to. So really, in 1995-'96, I started searching out old gear -- keyboards, sequencers and such, and just started messing around, trying to figure out what sounded good and what didn't. It took awhile, and many unfinished tracks, to really feel confident about what I was doing. I'd always liked electronic music a lot, even going back to early house music and before, like Kraftwerk and some early techno-pop stuff. But I had always considered myself a guitarist first, so part of what I had to work through was using different tools to create music.

OMC: What does the moniker mean?

JW: It is a type of soil. Dirt! I was scrambling to think of a name since I had two tracks that were going to be on the early Topscore compilation, "Gain Structure." My wife Beth was a geography major, and she came up with the name.

OMC: What is your view of electronic music in Milwaukee? How do you think the reception for it is here based on other larger cities?

JW: I think it is surprisingly healthy in Milwaukee. You've got Topscore, Crouton (the author's label), Zod, Wobblyhead, etc. ... all have stuff distributed by Forced Exposure and Bent Crayon. Plus you have guys like Casino vs Japan, which is a pretty recognizable name to people who follow electronic music. I think for a city as diverse as Milwaukee is, and considering its size compared to Chicago, people who go see music here are pretty receptive to electronic music in a live setting. I think something like Absorb (at Redroom) helps expose people to it more as well. Plus, clubs like Redroom, Onopa, The Commons and The Social are receptive to hosting such events. Though every once in awhile, I'll still get somebody who needs to come up to me at my laptop, as I'm playing, to ask me if I'm playing solitaire. Just like being in a band and some jerk yells "Free Bird!"

OMC: Describe your approach to making music.

JW: I usually start with an idea, probably a looped sample, and I try to build upon it. It varies if it is a rhythmic loop or a textured loop. Everything I do is sample based now, whether it is me sampling myself or me taking a recorded piece and manipulating it. I'll build a song using several tracks, adding layers and effects as needed. I try to structure them in such a way so that they will be able to be recreated live.

I try to play with the tonality of my samples as well. Sometimes added certain effects will create a whole different tonal range. Otherwise, adjusting the actual sound quality will create some drastic results as well.

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