Getting in touch with ‘Out of Touch’
Miko Malabute | Monday, January 26, 2015
Things that are “homemade” or “handmade” are always interesting, paradoxical in their intrigue. The consumer is usually after a product that doesn’t go through all of the processing and insincerity that comes with “refined” products. Meanwhile, the artist looks at that same product under a completely different light. To him, that product is raw, and because he knows it inside and out, he knows all of its flaws — or what he perceives as flaws, anyway.
Yet therein lies the beauty in the homegrown, homemade product. What one sees as a potential flaw, the others clamor for, the raw emotion in art that constantly eludes them. Everyone wants to see and appreciate the beauty in the blemishes — the same blemishes that the self-conscious artist knows the story behind.
This interesting, paradoxical nature seems to sum up my friend Mitchell Abraham, who — under the oxymoronic name “Retro Youth” — is releasing his own handmade EP, “Out of Touch EP,” on Tuesday.
“Personally, ‘Retro Youth’ refers to the youth of another time … the kids in the 60s and 70s and how they perceived the world around them and dealt with it,” Abraham said. “Retro Youth refers to finding yourself in the midst of great change. It’s about feeling out of place in the present in music but also in a time’s culture and society.”
Living in the same dorm as Mitch for the past couple of years, I’ve always found him an interesting, if not an enigmatic, character. Though very friendly, there always seemed to be multiple facets to his personality — at times outstanding bravado, other times a bit more reserved and, when trying to get a deeper understanding of his project, self-critical and never complacent. And this is very indicative of Retro Youth’s style, a bit nu-disco but with “too many guitars for the leads,” or, as he would much rather put it, “Foster The People combined with Daft Punk but sh*ttier.”
As all great things come about, “Out of Touch EP” happened because of a girl. After a breakup with his longtime-girlfriend, Abraham invested in Ableton Live, a digital audio workstation, to occupy his time. And what started as a hobby quickly evolved into a full-fledged project, one that he envisioned his ex-girlfriend could take part in and sing over his instrumentals. When that idea did not come to fruition, Abraham took the entire production of his project into his own hands — and thus, Retro Youth came to life.
Abraham writes, composes, produces and sings his own songs, all things that he has an innate talent in, though he didn’t have innate knowledge of the entire process.
“I took a 6-week online class covering the technical side of Ableton, but other than that, I’ve never had help,” Abraham said. “I was learning on the fly though, so there was quite a bit of trial and error, which is why it took so long.”
“So long,” in fact, meant about a six-month process to finally finish the four-song-long EP. If anyone ever wondered how difficult it must be to carefully make an EP from out of your dorm room: it’s very difficult. Abraham admits that he still has a bit of wavering confidence in his vocals and drumming.
“I think I improved my singing a bit as time went on, but it’s hard not to be self-conscious about it,” Abraham explained. “It’s like watching yourself on camera, which is excruciating by the way. At some point I stopped caring though.”
This constant self-critiquing creative process was not the only difficulty in producing his EP. For example, in putting together his first single “Freaks,” he had to build the entire song around this piano riff he found from when he was 5 years old. Then, on his way back to his room, he’s singing bass lines and parts of his chorus into his phone, saving them as voice memos for a later reference. And of course, all of these challenges and tasks came with the other responsibilities Mitch has to pay attention to as a student at Notre Dame. After all, just like the rest of us, he still had assignments and projects due.
As I’ve mentioned, full-disclosure I am a friend to Mitchell Abraham, and therefore I might be predisposed to a bit of bias when I say that “Out of Touch EP” was a very solid project. However, what I believe anyone can be objective about is how impressive it is to put together a project such as this while still maintaining the rigors of daily student life. The classes, the grades, the various relationships and heartbreaks, all of these played a huge role in developing this handmade, quite literally homemade project.
Homemade things are often sought after, for their imperfections as much as for their perfections. Yet, the artist will be self-critical, knowing his craft inside-and-out after working with it intimately for so long.
“It’s hard to stay confident about a track once you’ve heard it 500 times,” Abraham said. “I think about going back and rescuing those [old] remixes daily. Just tweaking them a bit, improving the drums. The struggle is very real.”