Qrion on her favorite synths, cooking, and nostalgia

Qrion, alias of Japanese DJ and producer Momiji Tsukada, is a study in dichotomy.

Her music blends lush, hazy, and reverb-drenched synths and melodies with the head-bopping grooves of her hard-hitting drums. She left snowy, quiet Sapporo for sunny San Francisco, and fostered collaborations and remix work with the likes of Ryan Hemsworth, How To Dress Well, and Giraffage along the way. Her cocktail of choice is a tequila and cola – a smooth, refreshing soda with a kick of smoky liquor. Although brimming with duality, her new sample pack is singular in its quality and distinctive sonic identity. We sat down with her to discuss her favorite synths, cooking, nostalgia, and more.

To start, can you give us a rundown of your studio setup? What software, controllers, monitors, interfaces, etc. do you use?

For making songs, I use Cubase. I use Massive and Serum in it, and love using Steinberg’s VST (HALion Sonic has a huge library which sounds super close to real instruments). Yamaha refaceCS as an analog synth and MIDI controller. KRK’s ROKIT8 for monitors, NI Komplete6 for audio interface, PHONIC’s AM85 for mixer, and Audio-Technica’s LP1240-USB for sampling from vinyl.

Your pack contains tons of lush synth work. What synths (digital or analog) do you like to use? Do you have a preferred synth plugin for leads vs. pads or chords, etc.?

I like using Serum. It is really easy to see sounds visually. I like how they put a neon color on it. I didn’t grow up with analog synths when I was young, so I think I’m pretty much new to that. It’s really convenient that it’s easy to understand what’s going on visually if you’re not familiar with analog stuff. I wish I knew Serum before I started using Massive – I love both though!

Your songs have a dreamy, airy quality, yet fit perfectly on a dance floor. Do you envision your tracks within a certain setting? While producing, do you write with the mindset of your songs being heard in a DJ set?

To me, feeling and a deep mind are really important for making music. The reason I like music is it always make me feel great, chill, sometimes sad… and nostalgia is the most important intention to me. So I really hope when people listen to my songs, they’re stuck in their head with some of their own feelings or memories! I try to keep that in my mind when I make a song and it makes it really dreamy and floating, I think. It’s the same for DJ sets – I like the set to have a story, so not fully bangers or something. I add a few ambient parts to make a set wavy.

Chopped vocals play a large part in your textures. Can you talk about your vocal samples, where you source them, whether you record them yourself, etc.?

When I was 16 it was my first time I listened to Skrillex and he used vocal chops a lot in his earliest works. And I noticed he always uses different vocal chops, even though it’s the same scale. I remember I recorded my voice on my iPhone and tried to copy that on some music apps. And gladly it became my style now. In my songs, I always use some random a capella sample from the web or vocal sample packs like “Progressive House Female Vocal Sample pack” and chop, copy, and figure things out. I don’t like to do automatic audio slices on Cubase, so I always slice by hand which makes offbeats and sounds so unique.

Do you have any practices to keep you focused or help you fight writer’s block? Do you find yourself ever feeling stuck while working on songs? Do you have any non-music endeavors to keep you inspired?

I think I always have writer’s block. When I feel so down because of that, I completely stop making music and leave my desk. I watch aesthetic structures on Tumblr and get ideas visually, or I cook something. Cooking and making a song are super similar, I noticed. We prepare ingredients, cut, boil, and sauté, and finally the meal is ready. But some people add hella spices so it basically looks similar but tastes so different like acid house and Detroit techno. I also started working out as a daily routine – jogging and yoga. One of my good San Francisco friends, Spencer Brown, told me how important exercise is. It actually blew my mind… I hope some DJ will write a book about the relation of muscles and DJs.

Walk us through the pack – what sounds did you decide to include, and what kind of music do you hope people create with it?

It has a lot of pluck sounds and percussion, which I really love using. And I made a bunch of sounds which have vibes and a huge atmosphere. I hope people will create a song which sounds wavy and a song where when we listen, we can imagine a thing visually in our heads!

In 5 words (or more), can you share with us the things that embody your creative process and give you inspiration? Whether it’s technical, emotional, etc., we want to know what you need to stay inspired.

Mood lighting: It’s so important for me to make myself moody, as you can read from “mood” lighting. I love how the nightclub has neon lights and lasers and how they can change the color. It’s not exactly the same of course, but I can try to make my home look clubby and that makes me feel calm and inspired.

Record stores: There are many cool record stores in San Francisco, and one thing I really love about vinyl shopping is that we can dig so deep, more than using Spotify and Apple music. I could hear new music from the 90s randomly, and sometimes I hit random $4 1980 R&B records with super unique sounds. And it usually does not happen if I try to dig online. It inspires me a lot.

Cubase: For making a song, Cubase. It has so many options on how to use it. I especially love the system they have called VariAudio. It’s so easy to pitch up and down vocal stuff and it makes cutting stems visually easy. You can make a new melody from a vocal sample without any sampler and stuff!

Tequila and cola: When I order this cocktail at a bar counter, at every bar people are like “wth  ̄\_(ツ)_/ ̄“ – but I still love it. I used to go to a club called SoundLab Mole super often in my city, Sapporo, which is the place I grew up. The first cocktail I ordered was tequila and cola and it became my favorite in my entire life. I met a bunch of crews and learned many things, many dramas when I was at a club…. but there was always tequila and cola with me. Since I started this career because of that memorial place, tequila and cola is my inspirational and favorite drink.

Snowy island: The city I grew up in is a snowy island. The weather is similar to San Francisco but in the winter, there’s a lot of snow and roads become super icy. Somehow it affects my sounds too. I unconsciously choose pluck sounds that sound cold and I really like to imagine an icy lake, a huge snow dome, or a puffed snowy mountain when I listen to my song. I miss snow!

Explore Qrion’s lush, duality-packed sounds in her first sample pack.

August 27, 2018

Ken Herman Ken Herman is a producer under the name Exitpost and is an editor of the Splice blog.