From VST’s to NFT’s, with indie-folk artist, Huxley Sun.
“The main idea for my NFTs is that in the near future, because the technology is not there yet, people will be able to buy a piece of a song (represented with an NFT) and have the ability to make money out of the streams that song will have.”Federico Carpi (aka Huxley Sun)
My introduction to Huxley Sun, the solo project of Federico Carpi, came courtesy of his popular indie-folk track ‘Always Come To Me’; a delicate finger-picking style acoustic, dotted with simple bass notes and flowing, breathy vocals which deliver that melancholic, intimate and fragile feeling you get from listening to the likes of The Paper Kites, Husky or Sufjan Stevens. Whilst the simplicity and purity of this track appealed to my sensibilities, the Argentinian-born creator takes a more critical view, considering it to be somewhat ‘forgettable’ and not quite up to his exacting standards – “I do understand why is the song that has the most streams but also I know I can do better than that. I feel it’s too simple”, he states.
Federico demonstrates maturity and precision in his approach to songwriting. He is a modest multi-instrumentalist with an eye for detail, high standards and solid background in musical academia. Having been introduced to music from an early age, his journey began with guitar before developing an interest in piano, which became his focus throughout teen-hood, and led to his move from Argentina to Warsaw to attend music university. Following a number of years dedicated to piano, Federico branched out with his indie-folk solo project as Huxley Sun in 2016, freeing himself from the stresses and strains of live piano performances, to deliver a more emotionally charged approach to music making.
His first two single releases came in 2020; ‘Always Come To Me’, followed by ‘Migraine’, where he introduces shimmering strings and celestial synths, underpinned by delicate piano and rounded off with his airy trademark vocals.
He went on to release a further three singles in 2021; the dreamlike ‘Waves and Walls’ which wouldn’t be out of place on Bibio’s Silver Wilkinson album. ‘June’, returns to more of a stripped back folk style, with intricate finger-picking guitar and viola accompaniment. His latest single, ‘New Land’, lures you in with the familiar acoustic picking and folky-vibe before breaking off with Radiohead-esque percussion and electric lead guitar.
Huxley Sun’s recent singles have been years in the making, and with little in the way of promotional effort, he has found his way onto a few hundred playlists, gaining thousands of listeners across the globe. A very promising debut for an artist who tells us this is just the beginning, and one yet to fully map out which direction his music will take. With a new EP on the horizon, Federico expects that, in time, things will become clearer.
We managed to speak with Federico recently about his musical upbringing, his passion for music and his adventures into the world of NFT’s! Let’s get into it.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Federico. For any of our readers who haven’t discovered your music yet, would you like to give us a brief introduction, and some background regarding Huxley Sun?
First of all, thank you for reaching out! It was a very pleasant surprise to be contacted by you and your team.
Huxley Sun. Yes. Well, my music background goes a bit beyond this project. I’ve been involved with music since I can remember. Huxley Sun in particular started around 2016, it was an idea that was in my head for a very long time. It took a while for the music to become good enough for me to release material. I just used those years from 2016 until 2020 to learn, analyse and try out different things. There’s a big road between and idea and a final result. Luckily, it’s all working out as planned.
You mentioned you’ve been involved with music for as long as you can remember. We hear that a lot from artists, usually it’s thanks to another musically inclined family member. Is this true for you, and what was the role of music in the early years of your life?
It is in my case. I do have two fond memories from my early childhood that relate to what I’m doing now. The first one is my dad buying Queen’s ‘Jazz‘ album, and passing forward to track 12 to make me listen to ‘Don’t stop me Now’. I think I was like eight or nine years old. Perhaps it’s a very simplistic way of showing my attachment to music, but for me that moment still feels as if it were yesterday.
The other one involves my grandparents’ house. My grandmother used to have an upright piano and it was always with the lid locked. So I would sneak out to the room where the piano was and search for the key so I could open it and play a bit. The thing was my grandmother, as careful as she is, didn’t want me to open it and hammer on the keys… It was like a mini adventure and I always got to play it. A few years later, when I started studying, she gave it to me as a birthday present, and now it’s at my parent’s house.
“I think people might think I’m a guitar player because is the first instrument they can distinguish in all songs released so far. But, in fact, I’m not good at it. I just learn what I have to record and if I have some time I might play some scales and things like that, but nothing much.”Federico Carpi (aka Huxley Sun)
I read somewhere that the first instrument you’d learned to play was actually guitar, and from there you took to the piano when you were around 12 or 13? You’ve previously described that you felt a ‘need to learn piano’. Can you tell us a little about those early days?
I did have guitar lessons when I was like 10 years old but I wouldn’t consider the guitar as my first instrument. Those lessons were in some way fruitless because the teacher wanted me to learn the technical aspects of it and I just wanted to play songs. There was a misunderstanding in what ‘playing the guitar’ meant for each of us. I think we were both at fault there, me for not being a bit more responsible and he because he couldn’t understand what a 10 year old wants which, I can tell you, is not technique.
I think I always, in one way or another, wanted to learn piano. There were pianos always around me, in primary school we had a music teacher who made us sing while he played an upright, then some of my friends started playing instruments, and I was there inbetween the locked lid at my grandmother’s and, as you said, this need to learn.
I think people might think I’m a guitar player because is the first instrument they can distinguish in all songs released so far. But, in fact, I’m not good at it. I just learn what I have to record and if I have some time I might play some scales and things like that, but nothing much.
A ‘one-man-band’ might be a fairly appropriate term for Huxley Sun given you write, play and produce almost every aspect of the songs yourself. However on ‘June’, you were joined by another musician, Paulina Synoradzka, who plays the viola so beautifully. Do you think this experience has opened up the possibility of collaborations with other musicians in future, or do you prefer the freedom and control of being a solo artist?
With Paulina with had a great time, it was a short session though. I think we managed to record everything in an hour and a half. We were in a very cosy recording room where I keep my drum set. We shared choir lessons back in the day, so we’ve know each other for ten years, at least. Besides, she is a great musician… and tap dancer!
Before starting on my own I did try to gather a few people but they were not commited enough and I don’t have so much patience with indecisions when it comes to setting your mind into something. I do hesitate a lot when I’m writing but I know I’ll write it anyway and I will finish whatever that is.
The thing is that I expect the same from anyone I could be working with. This doesn’t mean the atmosphere is full of tension or anything like that, on the contrary, but if someone starts feeling ‘lazy’ I just can’t stand it. I could stay up all night trying to figure out whatever is needed.
There’s also a lot of freedom when writting music in this way but at the same time a lot of limitations. I have to do everything, I have the freedom to decide whether I want such instrument or section or effect but then it’s just me. Two brains are better than one. So I have to deal with a lot of work and sometimes that becomes more like a job.
Huxley Sun is so far my only project, so I take a lot of care and I put a lot from me. As long as someone wants to do the same they are always welcome.
On the topic of collaborations, music lovers naturally have eclectic tastes spanning multiple genres – of all the musicians, bands, composers that have influenced you in some way throughout your life… who would you most like to collaborate with?
I can literally name you a thousand. It’ll be the longest interview you would ever read! Interestly enough, whatever I’m listening to at the moment, that’s the particular style I want ot be using on my music. Maybe it’s Hall and Oates and I want to know what kind of synth they are using or Rachmaninov and I feel like I want to write a piano concert.
Something interesting about all of this, is that the musicians I trully like listening to have almost nothing to do with the kind of music I write… It would be great if one day I could share a studio with any of them. The thing is that answering this question with band names and musicians puts me in a place of importance that I really don’t belong to (hopefully not yet) So, bearing that in mind, how great it would be to share a studio with St. Vincent, Kevin Parker, Pond, King of Convenience, Damon Albarn, James Blake, Melody Prochet, Thom Yorke and so many more. Really, like a thousand.
Similarly, of the bands and artists that you enjoy listening to, is there a particular song of their that you wish you could’ve written yourself?
I don’t think it is about the songs, but the resources they use when writing them. St. Vincent in that aspect is amazing. She uses motives and harmony is such a clever way, and that’s what I wish I could understand better. I think that any artistic expression belongs only to the person who came up with it and there is a better challenge in feeling satisfied with the ideas that come from my own creativity. If I release a song it means there were another fifty to chose from, so this search for something greater is always there.
Prior to moving to Poland, am I right in saying that you’d played classical piano for some live performances? Have you played any live shows as ‘Huxley Sun’, or has there not been an opportunity as yet, given the pandemic? Is this something you’re planning for the future?
I mean, I was studying piano getting ready to enter to the uni here in Warsaw so eventually I did have some concerts. Those concerts were and are super stressful for me because there is this idea that piano performance is about being 100% accurate and you feel that somewhere among the audience there’s someone counting your errors and missed expression while preparing an excel sheet of what you are doing on stage. I am extremelly relieved that I don’t have to do that anymore.
With Huxley Sun, at the moment, I need catalog. Right now I think I have enough material for an EP and a full album but it’s not just about coming up with the melody or the lyrics or the instrumentation, but rather having all those elements merged in a way that is satisfying. Unfortunately, that takes a lot of time.
I’m really looking forward to the EP, which I know is currently in the process of being mastered. You’ve also alluded to there being additional material, maybe an album. Given you’d embarked on the Huxley Sun project back in 2016, what has prevented you from releasing songs until recently?
Well, I dedicated my 20’s to a different kind of field. Since I was 14 I knew piano was my thing and I was going to study that after highschool. And I did. So during those years I put all my effort into it. This sort of education allows me now to have the possibility of understanding music from different perspectives, the musical, in terms of emotions, but also the theoretical.
What took a lot of time was the transition from one sort of language to the new one. Not everything that works on Debussy will work on an indie-folk song. So, you need to know how to work with the same material but differently and that take years to master.
Speaking of learning new languages… regarding your move to Poland, I imagine that would’ve been quite a challenge initially. How have you settled in there, and what do you miss most from your home in Argentina?
I’ve been living here for 12 years now, almost 13 so I’m quite settled. When I think about it, I could live anywhere I would have to. It’s not about the place but people. I don’t miss my house but my home. Perhaps the pandemic put this sort of invisible wall around countries which gives you the impression of feeling out of reach or further away than what you already were. The first week in Warsaw was awful, that I remember. But I knew some people already so it didn’t take long for me to start feeling welcomed.
Ok, as you know I discovered you, and your music, thanks to a chance encounter with your song ‘Always Come To Me’ on Spotify, which pulled me in right from the opening. Can you tell us about this track and what it means to you?
Yes, this track was completely different when I first started it, and I think I will re-record it in the future because I’m not at all satisfied with it. Actually, that song made it till the end because of the feel from the first chord to the second. And that’s all. The rest is quite forgettable, at least to me. I do understand why is the song that has the most streams but also I know I can do better than that. I feel it’s too simple.
That’s really surprising to hear! I’ve since listened quite heavily to your releases, and felt the same attraction to ‘Waves And Walls’, another wonderful track which builds from the soft acoustic guitar and piano opening to the beautiful orchestration and synth adds. I’m interested in your song writing process here – did this song develop in a different direction to your initial concept as you were recording it, or do you typically have a pretty clear vision for the songs which you adhere to?
Most of the music, in my case, builds up while you are layering each instrument and you find something new that works. Anyone that says ‘I wrote this song in 5 minutes’ is not being realistic. Perhaps the idea appeared fast in your head but the complete process takes more than that. This song in particular was a demo I had on my phone with just a guitar and me mumbling some nonsense. I have tons of those and I’m quite picky with them, but this short demo caught my attention. It was just two chords, but you start building from that.
Before the 2:50 mark everything was more or less sorted out, with the ‘ooohs’ and all. But then the song had a horrible continuation and I had to change that, so I started layering my Yamaha and adding as many effects as I could. I think the idea I had was to create a sort of sphere of sounds where they all connect somehow. The result wasn’t that far away from it.
Following ‘Waves and Walls’ you added ‘June’ and ‘New Land’ to your catalogue. Of the five singles you’ve released so far, which would you say has given you the greatest satisfaction – and also, which is the most precious to you, and why?
I think there are bits of each one of them that I like. The guitars from ‘New Land‘ or the second piano section from ‘Waves and Walls‘. Also the viola from ‘June’. But these songs are just a warm up to be honest. I haven’t discovered yet what kind of music I’m gonna be making, and I cannot really categorise what I’ve done so far. Hopefully, after the EP and perhaps after the first full album, things will be clearer.
You describe on your Spotify bio “Huxley Sun reveals a melancholic world of its own”, which is something I’m particularly drawn to and really comes through in your delicate and often vulnerable vocals. When did you discover that you could sing, and what is it about this fragile vibe that appeals to you?
I don’t really know if I can sing… really, I’m being super honest. I need a lot of practise still. I think that the fragile vibe you mention comes from my insecurity as a singer. Most of it all is just a technical problem rather than a particular idea behind it. I try to keep it as truthful as possible, I don’t autotune unless there is a mistake and I can´t record it again, or if something sounds odd and needs correction. I use autotune more like a tool rather than this fake idea of what I can do. The first single released is the one with the most of it and you can tell the difference.
When it comes to recording and producing your work, is this something you take on entirely yourself, and how much of what you’d learned at University in Poland has helped you with those aspects?
Actually, zero. The university period belongs to a different kind of me I might say. There, I only focused on piano perfomance but nothing more. Of course I had some other things to do but they were all happening around that main instrument. So it was just the interpretations of what you would call classical composer like Prokofiev, Ravel, etc, with five or six hours of practise every day. Not much of a social life but I did make many friends and meet people that to this day are fondly remembered.
The production side of all of it I had to learn it by myself. It took me a while. Imagine that I didn’t even know what was a digital instrument or a VST, or a controller. Basic stuff. I actually tracked how long it took me; around 8,000 hours within four years to figure out everything I know so far, which is not that much and still I have to learn so many more things!
I think that being a musician and being a music producer is the same thing. You need both of these things to get something done. A specific way of production can completely change the way a song will sound, so you have to be very careful.
So you’re predominantly writing and recording at home? Can you tell us what your equipment and recording set-up looks like, and what your most precious piece of software/ hardware is?
I record at home but I also have a small studio 20 minutes from where I live. There I can record drums and be a bit louder. Also, if I need to record guitars I prefer to go to that studio because it’s quiet and spacious there, and I can place the mics the way I need them to be, and sort out other technical problems. Also, one of my friends works in another studio, and I did some recordings there as well.
I don’t have so many instruments with me. Just bass guitar, one acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and an electric Yamaha piano. The piano is excellent because it feels and sounds like a real grand. The rest are VST’s and effects from my laptop plus some small synths. From all of those gadgets and instruments, my favourite is the electric guitar. I bought the woodcut and then added all the electric parts from different companies. So it’s sort of a hybrid. I painted it with the help of my dad so it has also that special feeling. To that, I also like the Arturia VST’s a lot, and Labs (from Spitfire).
When it comes to the DAW I’m a Reaper fan. I use it for everything, I tried other DAWs but they are not so flexible and Reaper gathers all the things those different DAWs lack. The only thing I regret not having are the native VST’s from Ableton.
I wanted to ask about visuals also as it’s clear you place a lot of value on those aspect and also the ‘branding’ of Huxley Sun – is the artwork of your own making, and is there any significance to the fact each of the figures on your single releases are missing their faces (just an observation)?
I do pay a lot of attention to it. I would say that both the visual aspect and the music itself are part of the final result even though the music is more important. I don’t see it as a marketing strategy but rather as a complement to the music. For me, the artwork of an album, a song, a collection, etc, has to match the music, or at least it should in a way represent the music as a graphic expression. If you think about it, the greatest albums ever written have iconic imagery.
I hadn’t noticed the lack of faces until this question… It’s an interesting remark. But unfortunately I have no answer for that, or perhaps I do but it might be burried somewhere in my unconscious and I can’t figure out the meaning.
I agree with you regarding the audio and visuals being one, that really makes sense to me. I also note that you’ve created a set of NFT’s which is fascinating! I haven’t yet worked out whether there’s any significant purpose for them… it’d be great to hear your thoughts. Can you tell us about the thought process behind that, what it means to you and how it’s working out?
NFTs are brand new and the general public most likely heard about them during last year, but their public awareness started maybe some four years ago. Basically, an NFT is a digital certificate of authenticity. To put it simple, it’s a code that says that whatever you bought with it is yours and can’t be copied. And instead of having a contract on paper you have it as a digital asset. Most of the times that code is represented by an image and, since you are the owner, holding that image with the code gives you access to benefits. Of course, as in every business, there are products that are just simply a waste of time and money.
It’s still a bit complicated to grasp but I can tell you that in a couple of years NFTs will be a necessity for almost everyone. A few days ago, a music festival announced that they will be selling perpetual tickets as NFTs. So anyone holding one of those NFTs will have access for life. Another important thing is that you can resell the ticket, so you could go to that festival for a couple of years, then sell it and maybe make a profit.
When it comes to me, the idea at the moment is very simple. Since I’m not releasing merch or vinyl, NFTs allow people to support this project and in return they have access to more material like demos, artworks, pre-releases, etc. Whenever they feel they had enough, they can resell the NFT for a higher price (that actually already happened).
So far, I have two collections on Opensea. One is from my acoustic guitar, and the other one is different artworks from the single ‘June‘. I put a lot of dedication to it because I want to give my followers something of quality.
But, for me, it doesn’t really end there. The main idea for my NFTs is that in the near future, because the technology is not there yet, people will be able to buy a piece of a song (represented with an NFT) and have the ability to make money out of the streams that song will have. It’s like selling a % of my copyright to a fan. So that fan not only supports me, but could be able to generate passive income from my streams. At the same time that fan can encourage people to listen that song in particular not only because he likes it, but because he can make some money out of it.
Wow, that’s really interesting! I’d not considered that possibility, it’s almost like a referral scheme. How would it work in practice?
So, lets say I can give away 10% of my ‘copyrights’ (actually I’m just granting streams royalties) to 50 people on my next song instead of having to give a label 50% or 60% or more from my streams… I still own 90% of digital royalties and if possible I could buy back the other 10%. It’s a new way of understanding how things will work in the near future and this is something that will be happening not only in music but in any other form of art.
Interesting times and looking forward to seeing how that pans out! That’s all from me Federico, and thank you very much for taking the time once again. Is there anything else you’d like to mention that we’ve not covered – any shout outs?
Perhaps, just to say that my first EP is almost done, and to pre-save it in some streaming platforms. Also a big thank you to anyone following my music!