The FADER's longstanding series Beat Construction interviews crucial music producers.
“It got to a point where producers are making ‘Meltycanon-type beats’ and like, they just sound so recycled,” says 23-year-old producer Meltycanon over the phone from Alabama. “It’s like my sound is put in a blender, and then dumped out all over the place.” While he’d prefer you called him a composer, Meltycanon (real name: Zachary Whitman) has clearly started to establish a style that reflects the unmistakable influence of the retro video game generation — think single digit bit ‘90s Nintendo. It makes sense then, that his producer tag, a squeaking “Meltycanon saved the game” refers not necessarily to the idea of saving the rap game (which I initially assumed), but has a double meaning stemming from the very crucial act of “saving” your status in a given video game, so as not to lose your progress.
His most well-known beats carry Studio Ghibli anime-level cute melodies combined with drums hard enough to compete with the menacing 808-ear assaults saturating the trap scene. This unique kind of fusion is perfect for someone like Atlanta rapper and Awful Records founder Father, who on the Meltycanon-produced “Heartthrob,” raps in a singsong, endearing sweetheart manner about robbing people in Atlanta. “[Meltycanon’s] work has a way of sounding like an abandoned child's toy box that you found in a trap house on the southside of Atlanta,” the rapper told me.
But Meltycanon’s ambitions extend far beyond forging new sounds for rappers — he seems to have an appetite for almost all roles that a musician can play, experimenting both with his own voice and with the multi-instrumentalist skill set that he developed as a pre-teen. He’s released a full vocal project of his own entitled soft & wet, and his real aspirations lie in soundtracking movies and video games. Becoming a proper composer, then, seems like a goal well within reach for him. What he’ll end up doing with his combined skills of digital production and physical instrumentation remains to be seen, but let’s hope he remembers to save his gameplay at each new level he reaches.
Tell me about where you’re from and how you got into music in the first place. Was there exposure to a local music scene or did you find everything through the internet?
I honestly did not know how music worked until I was out of school — like, how to get your music out there. I didn’t know what SoundCloud was until I was out of high school, and that was like 5 years ago. But I haven’t been making music that long. I was 20 when I decided to try and learn how to make music. It took me like three months on Ableton and I just did not close Ableton. I just stayed in it. Like, no-life Ableton, until I was able to do something that sounded kind of cool. And then I stuck with that. Then, I learned how to plug in my guitar, because I started learning how to play guitar when I was 12 years old. I was really good at it, it was easy. I could play Jimi Hendrix stuff, or Red Hot Chili Peppers stuff. I learned it really fast, that’s all I remember. There’s a wall kind of; once you learn one thing you can learn a bunch of things. Another thing is if, you start on the hardest songs, then you can play the easiest stuff easy, and that helped me out a lot, too.
So are you into that kind of music, are you into Jimi? Classic rock-era music?
Yeah, to a certain extent. I really like math rock if you know what that is. Just super radical guitars and a bunch of melodies that sound really cool together.
So do you feel like that’s an important part of your sound?
Honestly, yeah. When I was in high school, that’s when I started listening to everything. Before high school, I just listened to radio. I didn’t really use the internet or YouTube back then. I just didn’t care for it yet. But then I got to high school and I was like, “Yo, the internet is lit.” So I just started looking at other stuff, finding artists and downloading everything.
You have an unreleased song with Lil Yachty and Father, right? What’s the story behind that?
I honestly have no idea. It’s a similar story to “Heartthrob.” I just sent him a bunch of random little beats that I made and then he sends me a message saying he had Yachty on a song and I was like What, turn up.
“Heartthrob” is probably your most well-known song at this point, and a turning point for Father’s own sound. How did that happen?
Father has been listening to my music for a while I guess, because he sent me a message saying that he really liked my music and sounds. He had just messaged me about wanting a beat or something, so I sent him something random that I made called “ghosts” and he loved it. That instrumental evolved into “Heartthrob” and that’s basically how our connection started.
Father told me he went to visit to you in Alabama, and that you two have a whole project coming out. What else are you working on?
I am working on a lot of songs, I wanted to make like a little summer album thing or maybe an EP to drop soon. That and I’m not sure what Father is doing right now. He said he’s already finished that album though.
Who would you like to produce for?
Who are some of your favorite producers?
Terio is my favorite producer. He produced a lot of Lil B songs.
What do you like about Lil B? Why is he special to you?
Because of how he literally forced himself into being the biggest influence to almost every new rap artist that’s popular today. He didn’t even do much, but he did enough to change everything. Kind of like SpaceGhostPurrp but in the proper way.
Do you think there's anyone out there that's making music like you?
Definitely, but I’m more so copying older artists, and even people who make background music and original soundtracks for movies and video games. I try to go beyond my imagination when I’m making beats, I try to do different things. Like, there’s beats, and then there’s the music behind beats that makes [them] stand out a lot more. I’m more interested in being a composer more so than a producer. Like I always say, I’m a composer first, and a producer second. But, it all plays the same role, I guess.
What is the main difference between a composer and a producer to you?
A producer is more in the background, but a composer is more in the front. A composer can come up with the entire thing on their own. A producer is just kind of like, listening to, I don’t know —
Making it work for someone else.
Is that why making soundtracks appeals to you?
Yeah, definitely. It’s that, and, I wish there was a word to describe it, I guess synesthesia — that’s the closest word. Visually, I mean hearing by going by how it looks. It’s where you see something beautiful, you would hear something beautiful at the same time. If you see something tragic, then something tragic would play at the same time. I really like looking at art, and then making music after.
You mentioned wanting to be in front, coming up with entire compositions by yourself. But you did release your own vocal project, soft & wet, last summer. Do you see yourself ultimately transitioning fully to a solo vocal artist?
Not at all. I kind of hate my voice, because I can’t sound the way I want to sound. I just want to make music that changes moods while remaining on the quieter side.
Before any type of vocal work, do you remember the first beat you ever made? What did you make it on? What did it sound like?
I do, it was a Pokémon sample, actually. It was terribly mixed because I didn’t know what I was doing. But I was able to arrange it into something pretty cool. I still have it somewhere.
What programs and equipment do you use to produce? What did you use before?
I only use Ableton and my laptop touchpad. You don’t need a lot of gear to make good music. I started with nothing and I still use nothing to this day, pretty much. I have a knock-off mic that my sister bought me and an old guitar that I’ve had for over 6 years.
How do your parents feel about your choice to focus on music?
My mom doesn’t want me to make music, really. Or, not music with people who use bad lyrics. She would rather I did everything on my own, honestly, so I don’t have to rely on other people. She likes my music though, I think.
What motivated you to start producing in the first place?
Video games. I started playing video games at like, 3 years old and it was so cool. It was a way for me to escape the boring life I had. It became more than just a game to me at times, and the soundtracks that were made for them touch me deeply. I could feel myself be entangled into the scenes that I watched. So I wanted to make music with that same feeling.
What are some of your favorite games, and which have your favorite soundtracks?
I really like [Japanese role-playing games] old and new, they are all inspirational to me. Fantasy has a big influence to me because it’s a big “what-if.” Games like Chrono Trigger, the Final Fantasy series, Kingdom Hearts. Anything made by Square Enix, really. Ni no Kuni and other open world games that dive a little deeper than just warriors and dragons. I like games that make me think a little more about what I’m playing.
Your tag, Meltycanon saved the game clearly has a video game origin, but what exactly is the source?
A girl that I know made it for me. Well, me and her [made it]. The little sound effect that plays is the sound Pokémon games make when you save the game. That one specifically is from Gold version. Gold and Silver were next level. Crystal, too.
When you do something important, you want to save your progress or else you risk having to struggle or waste time trying to do it again. Saving the game is the most important thing you can do in a video game besides beating it. I just want to inspire people to make positive things and spread that energy through their personal music community and whatnot.