Roland Users Group
Keyboardist, songwriter, and producer Myron McKinley is a pro’s pro, enjoying a successful career performing with top artists like Whitney Houston, Stanley Clarke, Doc Powell, and a long list of others. Since 2001, he’s worked with the legendary group Earth, Wind & Fire, and is currently the group’s musical director in addition to holding down the main keyboard duties.
Myron has relied on Roland keys for a very long time, from the early SH-101 synth to the recent V-Piano®. Recently, he got his hands on the JUPITER-80 and instantly found a rush of new inspiration, praising the flagship synth as “a creative beast.” I sat down with Myron recently to discuss his thoughts about the JUPITER-80, his views on creating music, and much more.
What are your initial impressions of the JUPITER-80?
My initial impression of the JUPITER-80 is that it’s a creative beast. I think there are a lot of things that you can delve into [to] come up with new sounds that you’ve probably never even heard before. The capabilities are pretty astounding, with [all the] patches that you can [combine] and layer together, and each one having their own effect. It can lead to some amazing sounds that you can create. I really like it so far.
Will you be adding the JUPITER-80 to your live rig?
We will definitely add it to the arsenal. For Earth, Wind & Fire, there’s so much stuff that can be done with it. I’m playing pretty much all that stuff, so this would be great to layer each sound in certain sections, and to be able to play this one keyboard. And also the capability of [audio] playback is great, too.
What Roland gear are you currently using, and what Roland gear have you used in the past?
I’ve used Roland gear for a long time. I think one of the first things was when I was trying to be a George Duke clone, and I got a little Roland SH-101 way back in the day. Right now, we’re using the V-Combo organ, [and] we’re using the V-Synth®. I’m going to be using the V-Piano for recording for myself.
We use a lot of Roland gear because it recreates everything really good. [The JUPITER-80] is kind of, for me, a branch out for them, because it’s using more of the analog [sounds], and it’s giving you a lot of creative stuff that you can do. Whereas before, [Roland gear] just recreated everything so perfectly, that’s what we used it for. If you want a piano, a Roland piano sounds just like a piano. This one, it has that as well, but also with the layering aspect of it and the capabilities of maneuvering the sounds around, you can kind of get into some craziness with it. So, I’m looking forward to working with it.
What do you love about what you do?
Music to me is the ultimate medium. You can connect no matter where you are: different continents, different cities. Different people, you can tell they feel the music. That’s what makes people want to be a musician. When you hear something from somebody and you hear them play, you get connected from that. So when you go to Japan, you go to China, you go to Istanbul, you go to Turkey, they don’t speak your language; but as soon as you start playing some music, you can instantly feel a connection with the people. And the love they give back is amazing. We went to South Africa, and to see so many people singing “That’s the Way of the World” in their own accent was just a beast. It’s just crazy. So, you get a lot of love back from that, and the creativity.
How do you think gear helps with that?
I think gear helps in expression from the artist and from the player. The better the artist can express [themselves], the more people are interested in the gear. We can look at this and say, “That’s pretty,” but until you delve into it and make it really speak, that’s when people are going to go, “Oh, I want that, because he can do that with it.” So, the more capabilities it has, the better you are to be able to express yourself with it. With [the JUPITER-80], it’s like you’re going to need a couple days to just sit here and live with it to really bring out what it can do, because you can make something that has never been heard before.
When you sit down to write, what sparks your creativity?
Other music, other artists, things that happen in life; all those things become a part of it that makes you feel some type of emotion. To me, music is the transfer of emotion in a musical form. So, anything that happens like that that sparks you...it can be anything: anger—I’ve written things out of being mad at somebody—or you know, happiness, joy. What’s funny, all these things can be given to somebody in a music form, but how they receive it is still different. You know, I can write something from an aspect of apathy for myself, but you might hear it as something of love. Music is just this whole thing that, depending on how you look at that picture, everybody’s going to see something different.
How would you describe the JUPITER-80 to someone?
To me, it’s a “canvas” keyboard, because you can actually create a lot with it. And you can’t do that with everything. Some things are just dedicated to one thing. This one has so many dimensions that you really have a canvas sitting in front of you to decide what you want to do with it.
You’ve got a lot of things in here. Just the fact of how you can layer [so many] things together—that alone is just something that is astounding. That means you can really make a big, fat sound. And you have arpeggiators in here. You have all these other things that add to it, that can control and sustain...it’s a lot to deal with. That’s why I say it’s a canvas: you’ve got to start with strokes. The cool thing about it is that as you hear each stroke [plays a sound on the JUPITER-80], they sound great all by themselves. When you add them together, you get this beautiful sound that becomes this culmination of sounds. They’re beautiful…really nice. [They] definitely transform emotion when you hear it all together. You don’t know exactly what you’re feeling, but you’re feeling something. And that’s what I think music should do.