Roland Users Group
Far East Movement—also known as FM—has bridged the gap between underground party records and mainstream music. Blending elements of hip-hop, pop, electro, and dance, the group has created an original sound and lifestyle they call “Free Wired,” which is also the title of their major-label debut. The song “Like a G6” from that album was a recent multi-platinum smash, reaching Number One on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and selling over three million copies to date worldwide.
Keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Kanobby is the musical director for Far East Movement, anchoring the group’s live sound with Roland Fantom-G7 and V-Synth GT® synths. He also prominently employs the VP-770 Vocal & Ensemble Keyboard for the group’s impressive vocoder-style vocal effects. In addition, Kanobby has just started working with the JUPITER-80 synth and VP-7 Vocal Processor, and he’s begun to incorporate them into his rig as well.
Kanobby and Far East Movement are currently on the road touring with LMFAO. During a brief break in their schedule, I caught up with Kanobby to discuss music and Roland synths.
What do you do in your role as musical director for Far East Movement?
I’m a jack of many trades when it comes to working with my guys. Of course, I program the show for the live spectrum. [I also add] the synth elements for certain songs, and I pretty much [build] whatever they need for me to build on a sonic level.
What did you do prior to joining the group?
I’m a producer and audio engineer. When I’m not on the road, I’m in the studio. Before I got on tour with the guys, I was in the studio making records, mixing records, just going forth on that. That’s definitely one of my passions.
Describe what makes Far East Movement particularly special right now on the music scene.
Their music is, first of all, incredible, and they like to [call] it “free wired.” You hear it a lot if you come to our shows. To explain it on a musical side—because they have a whole lifestyle of it—but on the music side of it, it’s very gritty yet clean, edgy but still upfront, and also left field. It taps into electronic techno, but it brings a hip-hop [element], you can still ride to it. It’s just amazing. It's very free, and a very eclectic sound. It’s really unique to them. The songs and the arrangements and how they deliver them, you can’t really compare to any artist who’s out there right now.
Tell me about your keyboard rig.
The bottom piece would be a Fantom-G7. [On top is] the V-Synth GT, and on the side I have a VP-770. I believe it will keep growing as we elevate. Finding new ideas and brainstorming with them, it’s like, okay, I need this sound, or I need this, or I need that. Mainstage and Logic, as well, I bring that and incorporate that into what I use, when it comes down to Roland products. That’s the majority of what I’ve been working with.
What is your working method as the musical director? How do you go from taking tracks on the recording and turning them into a live show?
First of all, I work very close with their DJ, DJ Virman. He’s part of the group. In a normal sense, when you work with an artist, it’s a band, and it’s all about the musicality of it. When you’re dealing with Far East Movement, you’re dealing with a DJ who has a musical side to him, but he also has an ear for mixing certain records together so it all coincides. It put me up to another level, how other people think about music. I come from a more musical background. I think I’m going to go here with it, but DJ Virman [will] go there with it. [Laughs.] So, it’s like putting the two together, and we get crazy ideas. We call ourselves the “can doers,” because we can pretty much put it all together and do anything with it.
I’ll sit down with him; we’ll go over the songs that we want to use, in no particular order, and we’ll just start brainstorming how can we make the transitions. And then he’ll pretty much break it down—I want to do this, I want to work with this. And I’m like, “Show me what you hear.” And he’ll play some records for me. We’ll sit down, and we’ll put it together.
They’re very hands-on when it comes down to their show, which I really love. It keeps me on my toes, because as a musical director, you think, I’ll just do this and get away with it. But they’re like, “No, let’s listen to it.” Not so much because they don’t trust me, but that’s how heavily they’re involved in their music and the creating process, which I really do appreciate. We’ll listen to a rough layout of the songs, get a good vibe on that—okay, we like it. Then, it's my turn. I’ll throw it in my computer and start adding what I do, and then start finding patches that probably the record already had, but I’ll take them out so I can play them and give a live feel to it. And we’ll just go from there, and it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger every show we do.
After you go through that process, what are the main boards you’re using for the sounds and textures of your show?
A lot of my synths come directly from the G7. I love what it brings to our songs. Our songs are very synth heavy, and it really adds a certain texture to parts that wasn’t really there on the record. Their songs already have a certain drive that pretty much you can’t find anywhere. So, tweaking and finding…sometimes I just scroll through patches, and it’s already there. Not because the producer used the same patch, but that’s how on point Roland synths are. It’s just like wow.
Sometimes I tweak, sometimes I don’t. The majority of the time, I really don’t have to touch much, and I really appreciate that, because that gives me time to finesse other things musically when putting the set together. It really saves time for me to move onto my V-Synth, and I can be technical on that. Or it gives me time to actually set up the structure for our background singer, where she needs to come in and what she needs to do. Certain things like that really allow me to move faster than I’d move in another way.
How are you using the JUPITER-80?
In so many ways: I’m using it as a side piece for myself to structure up pads and certain soft synths, piano, other stuff that we use—piano on certain parts of the breaks of the songs, and a couple of the synths that double up some of the sounds I have programmed in the G7. It’s been an amazing add-on to the set. I can’t even elaborate on everything I want to do, because we’re coming up with new songs and new ideas for our new album, so we’ve come to that opportunity to start finding those sounds.
Are there any specific elements about the JUPITER-80 that have helped you or benefited you on the road since you’ve had it?
As a side note, I get a lot of compliments [on how it looks]: “What kind of keyboard is that?” [Laughs.] I say, “This is my spaceship.” [Laughs.]
I really use a lot of the filters. When you were telling me about the [Version 2] add-ons, I was really excited about that. I really do a lot of EQ; I do a lot of shaping for the tone. Our sound, the Far East Movement, is very synth heavy—a lot of electro synths, trance synths, and everything else. Using this, I’m able to go in and tweak the sound I’m going to use on the JUPITER for the audience and for myself. With that being stacked on top of the G7 I’m using, I do a lot of tonal shaping when it comes down to the sounds that’s in the JUPITER. It’s really fun diggin’ in there.
So, the JUPITER-80 allows you to take and shape those kinds of sounds in ways that would be different from a Fantom or another synth?
Yeah. It’s a hands-on thing—it’s like the buttons are right there. It’s easy. Since I have the touchscreen in the JUPITER-80, that’s perfect.
Talk a little bit more about the specific JUPITER-80 sounds that you use.
It’s more of the synth pads. [Also] the brass sounds. Not only do they cut through, but they give a live effect. And what I like to do with the Far East Movement, because they’re so synth-heavy, synth-driven, and I do use those synths. [But] sometimes I’m like, okay, we need to liven it up with a little live version of how it could be. So, I’ll use some live horns or stabs [that are] built in just to give it that “wow” factor. So, using those certain stabs or certain horns—the J-Pop Brass and a couple of them—that I stack upon stack and EQ …it’s a whole orchestra. And everybody thinks, “Well, those are crazy synths,” and I’m like, “No, this is some regular brass.” [Laughs.] It’s like my secret weapon. It comes down to that definitely.
You use a lot of VP-770 vocoder. How does that fit into the sound of the band?
The VP-770 I would like to shout out! [Laughs.] That’s my baby. Everybody asks me, “What are you using?” No, it’s not Auto-Tune—it’s the VP-770. The way they rap, and even sometimes sing, is being brought through vocoder effects, and sometimes Auto-Tune. And when I came on, they were like, “We want you to bring your element.” And I’m like, “I’ve been dying to use this board for so long.” [Laughs.] Here’s my time to use it.
The first song I started playing it on was “Girls on the Dance Floor.” It comes with an 808 boom, and it has [speaks in monotone] “girls on the dance floor,” like the biggest vocoder ever, and I’m like, there it is. When we do the show, the first thing [I play] is the VP-770, holding down one note: “girls on the dance floor.” [Laughs.] [I use the VP-770] throughout some of the other songs, [such as] “Like a G6.”
It honestly comes from them, from the music that they make. All I did was say, “Hey, I know a board that can not only emulate that sound, but give it something that the audience can actually see you doing.” That’s what we like to incorporate. We don’t hide anything. We’ll have the pedals right there—they’re pressing the buttons, going in on their microphones when it comes down to vocoders, changing their vocal effects, because we want the audience to capture exactly what we’re doing. For me to actually have a board there to do it instead of a computer and typing or dialing it in, they can actually see, “Wow. That guy just did that sound.” That’s amazing, and that’s across the board for the majority of all the effects that we use.
That sounds very organic.
Definitely. I’m from a programming world, because I’ve been sitting behind a desk under Pro Tools and Logic, but the reason why it’s so organic is because it’s right there on the spot. I’m dialing things in as you see me. For some people, it’s hard to do, because they have so much goin’ on, but you see me moving this or dialin’ this or touchin’ this, not because I’m unorganized, but it’s because we want the people to see exactly what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.
In general, how has the Roland gear been working for you?
Roland has been great. Ten times over, I can’t thank them enough for allowing me to participate in so many great products that they’re making.
You guys play a lot. How does the gear stand up on the road?
The gear’s tough. I actually travel with my VP-770 everywhere. I mean everywhere. [Laughs.] That’s my workhorse, and it stands up. Not only that, we had a mishap. [Laughs.] We were on the Wayne tour; with the regular routine, after we’re done, I unplug all my stuff and they roll it off to the back. But this time around, my V-Synth, I have it on top, and it totally fell flat on the ground. And they were like, “We have a problem. Your V-Synth fell and it’s got a deep gash.” So they plugged it up in the back and I put some headphones in it and checked everything and it’s still working. And I’m still using that same V-Synth! [Laughs.] So, it’s durable, and I can honestly say that. I don’t wanna drop it anymore, but if you drop it, it works. [Laughs.]
Tell me about your AX keytar playing.
First off, because I am a guitar player, it’s like amazing. [Laughs.] Playing the keytar brings a whole other vibe to a live show. But, even if you’re in the studio playing, it’s amazing. And the patches on the keytar, they sound incredible. A couple of times, I’d surprise the guys and just whip out the keytar at the show, because we have a lot of high-energy songs that we do. The patches are great. It’s easy to go through. It’s in the sounds. I can talk about the sounds all day. That’s my thing. I love the sounds of it.
Do you get a reaction from the audience when you come out with a keytar?
Who wouldn’t get a reaction when you come out with a keytar? [Laughs.] Our last show that we did on the Wayne tour, we were just kind of goofing around. I’m like, “I’m gonna bring this thing out and walk up to the edge of the stage. Why not?” [Laughs.] We like to have fun like that. And I did that, and everyone was like [mimics the sound of applause]. I was like, ”Whoa!” You don’t expect reactions like that. For someone else to see the visual and hear that you're actually playing it is great. It rocks.
Would you say that a keytar is an essential piece in any keyboard player’s rig?
Honestly, if you’re a keyboard player, you have to have one. Like, it's a must. If you don’t have one, I hope you’re just playing like classical music everyday and you’re playing with a 50-piece orchestra. But other than that, you need a keytar. [Laughs.] Hell, if I was playing with an orchestra, I’d probably bring it up. [Laughs.] So yeah, it’s great, man.
We could commission you to write a concerto for keytar and symphony.
I would do it. It would be great! [Laughs.]
What things are inspiring you right now?
Being on tour with Far East Movement and LMFAO. [Laughs.] Dance was already around, but it’s just becoming bigger now. You hear it in the Top 40 all the time on the radio: you hear that music. I love it to death because of the sounds. You have your software programs now that young kids and myself are digging into, to not only find the old sounds, but to create new sounds. There’s certain stuff that I’m looking at on the web like, “What is this 16-year-old doing?” [Laughs.] They’re creating new sounds for the future, and that’s what’s happening right now. That’s what’s amazing. That’s what I’ve picked up.
What do kids tell you about where their musical headspace is right now?
I kind of grew up in a place where I got to get a little bit of the old school and the new school. It was about trying to create what the other guy already did, and then make your own, which is cool, because it got a lot of people to where they are. Now, kids are really sitting down, listening to all kinds of sounds and really experimenting. It might not be music to our ears today, but later on it’s gonna be music coming up. So, they really experiment with it. But the programs we have out are so easy to experiment with. That’s what they’re doing.
What is it about what you do in music that you like the most?
I’m sure you’ve heard this one, but it touches everybody: [music is] the language that anyone can understand. I’ve been to so many countries, even on my own, just to play music. I don’t have to say anything—I just play music. You can look at someone and they can understand exactly how you’re feeling right then and there. That’s the communication of the world, the language of the world. To be a part of something like that is amazing to me, so that’s something I really take treasure [in]. That’s why I do music.