How Patro Gaston Dove Head First into Synthesizer Music

Patro in action!
Patro in action! RaySquared Photography
In Pound For The Sound, we get technical with local musicians about what gear they use to create their signature style.

Paper Foxes keyboardist Patro Gaston hasn't been playing music all of his life, but you would never know that by seeing him play. He's a down to earth and amicable fellow with a great ear for music and awesome stage presence. In 2006, Gaston moved to Tempe from Clarksville, Tennessee, to pursue a career in art and game design. He was a Fruity Loops, soundscape design, "I dabble in music" sort of person back then.

Gaston was always serious about his art, it just didn't start with music.

When he first arrived in Arizona, Gaston attended a small school called The University of Advancing Technology. That's where his musical journey took flight. As he got deeper into the journey, he taught himself music theory, how to read music, and started a band called Zodiac Bash, which is still active today.

After working with Zodiac Bash for several years, the creative kind of fell into his current main project, Paper Foxes. And Gaston feels like he's started to hit his stride. In May, the band released a new music video, and he masterminded the work. He has also been doing video work for others with the goal in mind that one day he can quit his day job and follow his artistic visions. The man has dreams.

Gaston and the rest of the Paper Foxes are performing this weekend at A Stoneypie Pool Party, which features a stacked lineup of local talent. They'll also release a new single on KWSS called "What Are You Afraid Of." New Times talked Patro via phone and email about his gear, music video making, and his upcoming show.

New Times: What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone?
Patro Gaston: Experimentation and exploration...and documenting them.

When I started developing my signature sounds, they were based a lot on me learning how to use a synthesizer. And I mean actually learning the theories behind synthesis. Understanding waves, lfos, arpeggiators, everything. I did lots of research, lots of trial and error and ultimately found that the best way for me to develop sounds was to experiment, document, and later recall my findings. Almost like some kind of mad scientist.

Any time I would come up with a concept in my head or hear of some type of technique, I would immediately begin experimenting, developing, and exploring from my knowledge, or the knowledge of others, and blending and pushing those concepts steps farther. I have a pretty open mind when it comes to synthesizer sounds. I love how crazy they can get. Combining previous knowledge and techniques, and tracking how I did them all steps of the way, led me down some some crazy synthesizer paths that ended at some of my favorite sounds. Tracking all the steps works for me because I can recall my path and emix it up and bridge from it in completely different directions and come up with more creative sounds.

What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?
I definitely love my Casio collection. Namely the Casio XW-G1 and Casio XW-P1. I learned how to synthesize on these synthesizers. While I now realize that was probably an “expert difficulty level” setting level for learning synthesis, I’m really happy with them in the end.

Once I was able to really understand what I was doing and then further understand these two synthesizers, they came well in handy as I’ve always been a fan of Casio sounds. Those tones will always hold a special place in my heart. They really give me those synthy, ripping waves of sound I’m so fond of when I write, especially for Zodiac Bash.

click to enlarge Patro's Synthesizers and such. - PATRO GASTON
Patro's Synthesizers and such.
Patro Gaston
Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?
The first one to mind is definitely the Moog Theremini. CJ, leader of Paper Foxes, sent me an article about the soon-to-be-released theremini and thought it should be something in the “Patro arsenal of synthesizers.”

Upon its release, I bought the theremini and it instantly became an addition to Paper Foxes. Everyone loved it. It added strong dynamics and furthered the emotion of our songs. Remarkably, a ton of people have never seen or even heard of a theremin, and so when they would see me waving my arms, their eyes would light up with fascination. It has [become a] solid staple in the band ever since I got it. Even if it’s not at every live show, it’s on nearly every Paper Foxes song we record.

On your track “Strawberry Lashes,” there are some pretty swimming, synthy sounds just crawling and bouncing all over place throughout the song. How did you go about recording your parts for this track?
There’s lots of exploration and experimentation that can be done with a synthesizer, especially when you start adding in the massive capabilities of midi control. Nearly every synthesizer has the ability to export midi data from any performance and we took full advantage of this with "Strawberry Lashes."  With the Midi we were able to record my performance and then change the synthesizer tones while still using the same performance.

During the recording process, we would take several different synth tracks based on the midi data recorded, and would blend them together. The blending technique we used here was the genius of Ari Leopold, the producer of "Strawberry Lashes."  Setting up several different synth sounds to sliders and automating them through the song, or even selecting which of the sounds fit best for particular parts, all played a role in how the synths came to life on this track.

Just watched your most recent music video for your song “Indica Feels.” What an awesome and trippy video. You told me that you made this video and have been starting to make videos for other artists as well. Can you please expand on your vision for music videos?
My vision for music videos comes, again, with a basis for experimentation and exploration. I have always been interested in coding, editing, and 3D modeling, especially the concept of green screen. I love that you can take anyone or anything and envelope them into any scene you can fathom. When I started really looking into all of these things I realized I had a knack for them and they allowed me visually express myself.

Concept-wise, I love the “gif culture” that is harbored on many blogs and social media networks. I see people making a lot of beautiful and illuminating six second visuals on repeat and when I stumble upon them I stare for a while. I wanted to really push these concepts into larger universes. If anyone has seen how I dress, I love lots of color and controlled chaos. I want these pops of color and psychedelia to be expressed in the videos I make.

Paper Foxes are performing this Saturday at “A Stoneypie Pool Party.” What are you most excited about for this special show featuring some monster local talent?
I’m so excited about the Stoneypie Pool Party. I feel like it’s going to be the kick off for summer 2017. Especially in the Phoenix music scene. The line up has so many good acts and they come from a range of different genres and scenes. I love when people from many different circles can come together and celebrate the music that brings us all together. It shows strength and camaraderie within our scene. I feel that events like this encourage participation for everyone, and form connections that probably wouldn’t have happened before. In my opinion, they are what we need to build a great music scene.

click to enlarge The Paper Foxes perform this Saturday at A Stoneypie Pool Party. - DAGAN SASSARINI
The Paper Foxes perform this Saturday at A Stoneypie Pool Party.
Dagan Sassarini
You have a new single premiering today on KWSS. Care to offer comments about the new single?
Paper Foxes has been in the ever-going process of defining and reshaping our sound. This single is the first to demonstrate where we are now. In our newer body of work, we really want to convey emotion and movement. The title “What Are You Afraid Of” reflects that we aren’t afraid to grow musically and emotionally, and show that we have a vision in our heads and in our music.

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Henri Benard
Contact: Henri Benard