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Arithmetic & Music: Aaron Liang & Felix Robbins - CFMU Artist Sketch

Blog/MusicNovember 7th 2018
Hayley Mullen

Hailing from Toronto, Ontario, Aaron has been songwriting on guitar, piano, and drums for 10 years, a staggering half of his lifetime. Whether playing solo or collaborating with his many friends, Aaron has developed his own unique approach with music-making, citing musical influences such as The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, and Bloc Party.

We got a chance to interview musicians Aaron Liang and Felix Robbins to get their answers to the above questions, as well as anecdotes about their debut album, How to Be, which has been holding steady in the top 10 of our Top 30 charts since its release this September.

What got you into writing music?

AL: I’ve always been a numbers guy. I love math, love analyzing and solving problems. For me, music and songwriting is just another problem to solve, but one that can take you in endless directions. There are so many variables to consider and balance when writing; timing, key, instrumentation, volume, and many others. When it all comes together, and you get a song that just works, when you find the right note for the melody or the perfect sounding tone for the part… it’s the same type of satisfaction and bliss as when you solve the hardest problem on a test.

For me, music and songwriting is just another problem to solve, but one that can take you in endless directions. 

I love math, love analyzing and solving problems. For me, music and songwriting is just another problem to solve.

FR: I started when I was about 16-17. I had just been dumped by my first love and was desperate for some way to express myself (that’s always how it starts, isn’t it?). So, I opened the notes app on my phone and started writing. I used my guitar to come up with some chords. The final product was angsty and pretty mean, but genuine. I didn’t record it until my second year of university ‘cause I was scared to death of her hearing it!

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How to Be is a collaboration with you, Felix, & the band Afterthought. How did that relationship come about?

AL: I met my friend Matthew Lam in grade 7 when we were both selected to be part of the school rock band, him on keyboard and me on guitar. It was a blast. We decided to form our own band with some friends after that: Emmett on vocals and Isaac on drums. We rented out the gym of a local community centre around the end of grade 7 and invited all our friends and family. We were all so nervous, we huddled up backstage and gave a sort of pep talk. But in the end, the show turned out great and was the first of many performances for Afterthought over the course of six years.

If my brother hadn’t invited Felix over that one day by chance, I’m not sure the songs would have ever been finished.

FR: I first got to know Aaron through his brother, Michi. I linked up with Aaron when Michi and I decided to jam this past summer. I guess he liked what he heard, cause about a week later he asked me to help him record some vocals for his project. He and I recorded “How to Be (Minor)”, which Aaron had previously recorded with Afterthought. We also touched up and recorded “Next to Me”.

It’s funny how music finds a way to bring people together.

AL: Last summer, when Afterthought had already disbanded, I was going through all our unfinished songs (and writing some new ones). For us, the vocals were always the last thing to get done, so the recordings were all instrumental at that point. If my brother hadn’t invited Felix over that one day by chance, I’m not sure the songs would have ever been finished. It’s funny how music finds a way to bring people together.

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The album notes for How to Be say the EP was “written, arranged, recorded, and produced in three different basements, in a period spanning five years.” What was the process like, and how did it affect the overall album?

AL: We normally practised at Matthew’s house, and I think that’s where we came up with “I Want it All” and “How to Be”. After rehearsal, I’d stay an hour or two later. Matt and I would sit in the basement and just mess around, trying to come up with ideas. But for these two songs, Isaac and Emmett were the ones who came up with the original ideas. I don’t even think they meant to. On two separate occasions, they were just fooling around in between songs, and me and Matt both looked at each other and said: “Hey, that sounds cool!”. And so we wrote two songs from those ideas.

We were out at the bar that night, talking about music, when suddenly we both shouted at the same time, “Let’s start a band!”

I actually came up with the original riff for “Next to Me”, while I was jamming in my dorm at Western with a friend. We were out at the bar that night, talking about music, when suddenly we both shouted at the same time, “Let’s start a band!” So we went back to my room and started jamming at 2 AM, and that eventually turned into the riff for “Next to Me”. Unfortunately, the new band never materialized, but I finished the rest of the song when I returned home for the summer. With the other songs, I was always writing with someone else, so I didn’t overthink anything, and just tried to get simple structures and chord progressions first. 

When I wrote “Next to Me”, I really had the freedom to analyze and evaluate every little note, cause the only person I had to answer to was myself. I feel like this led to a much more complete sounding song and one which really demonstrates my process and structure as a songwriter most accurately.

I really had the freedom to analyze and evaluate every little note, cause the only person I had to answer to was myself.

Aaron plans to release another EP by end of next summer, with possible future collaborations with Felix and Afterthought. In the meantime, check out his Bandcamp and Spotify and give his EP a listen.

BANDCAMP

SPOTIFY

WATCH: Incredible rendition of "A Real Hero" originally by Electric Youth and covered by local indie-shoegaze group, Basement Revolver.

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