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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

rgz Interview with Melissa Kaplan, "Ring of Fire"

rgz diva Holly Cupala interviewed Melissa Kaplan of Universal Hall Pass, who created the haunting sounds and style of the "Ring of Fire" cover for our Teen Read Week Trailer. Watch it here:

Holly is a long-time fan of Melissa's from the days when she was with Splashdown and now her own band, and is very excited to get to share the interview with you!

Your songs all have a beautiful narrative quality to them, like poetry but with the story arc of a short story or novel. Where do you get your ideas?

Thank you! My ideas come from feelings and anything with a strong image. Short stories, mythology, historical stories. On Subtle Things it was the first time I tried outlining a full story over three songs. It gave me a deeper appreciation for story writers. It was a challenge. Now that its finished its more like pieces of a story over three songs.

Can you tell us about the process of making a song, from idea to finished single?

In the most traditional way I'll express myself with the keyboard. Words only express certain parts of what I try to say with music.

The words are like dots on a map. An outline. Sometimes I'm inspired by sounds on a synth or the character of rhythm or just experimenting. Very rarely, do the words come first. When the lyrics are done, I can relax and have fun with production. Its always a relief to finish the lyrics!


I’m fascinated by the how’s and why’s – what are some of the instruments you use to create the unique sounds of Universal Hall Pass?

This is my favorite part. I was fortunate enough to work with a pro (Bryan Carrigan) for a while who had lots of great toys and from this I've really taken a shine to old analogue synths. One of my favorites on Mercury is the ARP 2500. We also used an Omni-chord, which is an auto harp that sounds like one of those demo buttons at an organ shop you find in the mall or at your great Aunt Ida's house. I'll probably use that one again. The rest of the instruments are pretty straight forward, drums, piano, guitar. Various programs are used to "tweak" the sounds. Kasson Crooker of Freezepop always has amazing sounds in the songs we work on.


What are some of your influences, literary and otherwise? 

Literary: Tom Robbins, Umberto Eco, Philip Pullman, Shakespeare, Maya Angelou

Otherwise: Life, Love, my imagination.

Music: ever changing!  Genesis (the Gabriel years), Raymond Scott, Joanna Newsom, Air and David Sylvian.


What other musical projects have you been involved with?
My previous project was Splashdown (1995-2001).  I was part of an electronic pop trio with Adam Buhler and Kasson Crooker.

Splashdown was brought to Los Angeles to record for a bit and I was given the opportunity to sing on a film score which turned into

more film work later on. My favorite project for score singing so far has been Assassin's Creed. That was a great project to work on.

What is up next for you?
Currently, I'm working with Kasson Crooker of Freezepop on his Symbion Project CD, as well as an acoustic project with UK composer Simon Swarbrick.  I'm really excited for both projects! I've also got some video game singing down the line which I'll announce on my myspace page if it happens! We'll see! New Universal Hall Pass music is also in the works, but will be a while due to some setbacks.

Where can we find your music?

You can find UHP on iTunes, and Cdbaby.com. Dragonfly Remix is on the soundtrack of the iPod game, Phase. So that's another place you can hear UHP.


Things to know about Melissa Kaplan: 
On the nightstand:
I don't have a night stand! (Starving artist).

Favorite drink while you write: Tea with honey and milk, hot cocoa, and in the summer time, pink lemonade.

Favorite library: Boston Public Library, Providence Public Library.

Pets: My cat Mr. Aitrus - aka - Mr. Space Invaders or sometimes, "Hey Kitty".

Place to write: At home where its quiet. Sometimes its good to get out. I often find I get ideas when I'm driving. Something about motion, but mostly at home.

Dream tour: Europe and Japan.

Cure for writer's block: There's a cure? For myself I know if I just keep writing even if its trash - I just muddle through it and hope to find a diamond. I also find reading books of authors I enjoy helps. If I'm really stuck, I just do something else and come back to it. Sometimes, you just need a break.

Favorite outfit: skinny jeans and a  t-shirt and mini dresses.

Stilettos or Uggs? My comfy track shoes and stilettos.  (I'm on the look out for a stylish casual shoe).

Website: www.universalhallpass.com

Partial Discography:
Universal Hall Pass
Mercury (LP, 2004)
Subtle Things (EP, 2006)

Stars and Garters (LP, 1997)
Halfworld (EP, 1998)
Redshift (EP, 1999)
Blueshift (LP, unreleased)
Possibilities (LP, unreleased)

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