Shael Riley has made waves both as a solo artist and through his various collaborations over the years. From his 2005 debut album Toybox to the seismic Double Ice Backfire release Ultimate Songs from the Pit – not to mention a certain Castlevania arrangement by some guy named Diskmastah Smokabitch – Shael has worked his way into the consciousness of the video game music community and beyond. I asked him a few questions regarding compo, his musical background and the upcoming Grammar Club EP he’s a part of.
He admitted that he had trouble pinpointing the exact moment that music first came into his life. “My dad was in a rock band and my mom was into musical theatre and opera, so there was always music on in my house. It was probably that. Or maybe nursery rhymes.” Regarding his more recent methods of composing, Shael said that, “I used to use a lot of software synths and junk, mainly in Reason, so VSTs were never much of a thing for me. These days I usually just write chiptunes or do MIDI pre-tracking and let Ty Guenley handle the instrumentation. I haven't written full-fledged-DAW music in a couple of years, barring a few experiments with Reaper. I'm happier focusing on the essential elements of songwriting and letting Ty handle the production.”
Shael had first heard about compos in 2003 through Kwakfest, and participated in one sometime later. He expressed the virtues of composition competitions: “Compos can be a valuable exercise and they can be fun. They can give you some needed time-pressure to create something, when you want to create something but don't know what, and don't care if it isn't very refined.” He eventually started his own series of compos called Doubles’ Dash (DDC), in which participants team up in pairs to create songs with at least one team member providing vocals. After a couple of loosely organized rounds, it later returned as part of Compo: ThaSauce and has been run more or less consistently on a monthly basis. One particular round required both team members to sing for their submission, leading to an inspired duet between Shael and diotrans called “Radio Unts Tiss”.
He explained that his interest in DDC faded after the first year or two: “I'm not too big into compos at all these days. An OHC once in a while is fun, but that's all I'm up for. I feel like I'm pretty well self-directed right now, so I have my own projects to work on whenever I feel inspired to make music.” The responsibilities of organizing DDC were transferred over to Level 99, who continues to run it to the present day. Regarding Shael’s solo material, a collection of his compo entries can be found at a site that may or may not contain Russian spyware. One of those compositions, “Rarest of Elements” went on to become a Shael Riley and the Double Ice Backfire song on their debut album, released in 2011.
Another DDC track, “A Team by Myself” by Ty was reworked as Grammar Club song included on their 2010 EP MC Horse Rides Again. Shael is currently working on new Grammar Club release, out this year. He described his progress and the experience of collaborating with other artists for the EP. “This is our third time around, so everyone pretty much knows how to make a Grammar Club album now. The guest vocalists we're working with are pretty well experienced too.” He also noted that the tone and theme are closer to that of the Grammar Club debut Bremelanotide. Whether through compos or other collaborative efforts, Shael’s work leaves a lasting impression.