Finding the right mix
By Walker Sacon
Senior Michael Erickson has been making music for most of his life. Eager to create music from a young age, Erickson played various instruments his parents scattered around the house.
Since March, the music, which Erickson creates under the stage name WMD, has been featured on VICE and Spotify and continues to gain momentum.
Erickson adopted his stage name in middle school and began performing “chiptunes,” a genre where artists use a Gameboy or similar device’s sound chip to generate sounds, at school and church talent shows, his father said. The stage name matched the EDM-style of his chiptune songs at the time, and he continues to use it as an interesting contrast to his music, which stands out among aggressive acts using the same name, Erickson said.
Erickson was first exposed to professional audio technology around the same time he began composing chiptune music, chiptuners like Erickson often modify the devices for better sound quality, he said.
Music was a part of Erickson’s life long before he started chiptuning and joined a youth group band.
At 2-years-old, Erickson would pick up on Beatles’ songs and follow melodies on a toy keyboard, his father Dave said. When Dave taught him the intro to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” at 6 years old, Erickson realized he could really make music.
“That sort of opened the floodgates,” Erickson said.
Last spring, a VICE music intern took note of Erickson’s work when it was featured on Bandcamp, and brought it to the attention of VICE music supervisor Jackie Palazzolo [Palazzolo email] who contacted Erickson.
Palazzolo said in an email that her team usually knows right away if a song is “VICE material.” The network will use multiple tracks from an artist if they fit a desired mood.
VICE has featured eight of Erickson’s songs in the shows “Epicly Later’d” and “States of Undress” since March, he said.
The first time he heard his music on TV was pretty crazy, he said.
“Coming from a small town, with everyone telling me music wasn’t a viable career and looking at where I am now, it’s just the wildest feeling,” Erickson said.
Realizing he could play songs drove him to learn more. He began learning chords on piano and guitar, with the help of his father, who played guitar in a band called the Pathetic Earthlings in high school.
The family lived in Ferndale until he was five, before moving to the town of Cashmere, about 20 minutes outside of Wenatchee.
In middle school, he joined the band at a youth group run by Christ Center Cashmere after the youth group leader saw him with a KORG Kaoss Pad sampler.
Erickson said he then had to find his place in the band, which at first meant drumming on found objects in support of the band’s existing drummer. Dave remembered one instance at the Chelan County Fair where Erickson played with a drumstick on a traffic cone.
By the time he had settled in behind the drum set in the youth group band, Michael was also in charge of sound for the band and had his first experience with audio technology.
“Routing all the cables, running the board sometimes, that was my introduction to that world,” Erickson said.
Western junior Keegan Townsend first saw Erickson perform at an eighth grade dance and said almost everything in the act has changed since then. His music has continued to evolve, Townsend said.
Erickson said in middle school he was exposed to the chillwave artist Washed Out’s EP “Life of Leisure” and began to think about producing his own electronic music.
This exposure occurred right as he was beginning to feel limited by the simplicity of chiptune programs, he said. He experimented with a series of music production programs leading up to his discovery of the music software Ableton Live, which he said he immediately decided was “the one” for him.
Erickson said his chiptuning experience translated directly into Ableton’s session view, which allows users to edit clips and loops individually before sequencing them into an arrangement.
“That’s the primary way I compose. I sketch out the skeleton of a song and then record it,” he said.
Erickson knew he wanted to study music in an interdisciplinary program after high school which left him to decide between Western’s Fairhaven College and Evergreen State College.
“Ultimately, I chose Western because I resonated more with the environment up here,” Erickson said.
Bellingham’s electronic music scene, and Olympia’s lack of a similar scene, also contributed to his decision.
“There isn’t much of a music scene to my knowledge in Olympia, for electronic music at least,” he said.
The Bellingham area hasn’t let Erickson down, as he said he continues to perform once or twice monthly, with most of his recent shows being at the Wild Buffalo. His last show there saw the venue sold out as he supported K. Flay on Oct. 7.
“It’s been pretty awesome,” Erickson said, “Every show I’ve done, the audience has been really supportive.”
Erickson’s latest album “Reminisce,” which he wrote and recorded while living alone in an Everett mobile home last summer, was released last month, his second release of the year. His January release “Still,” has steadily gained popularity since release, but Erickson believes his latest album shows notable improvement.
“There were a lot of ideas there I didn’t really get to express fully [on “Still”]. With this album I really focused on taking my time and exploring more. I feel like it turned out way, way better,” Erickson said.
Dave Erickson isn’t surprised by his son’s pursuit of a career in music and is proud of his music and the attention it receives, as well as of the features on VICE and in a short film.
“It gives you goosebumps, it’s really cool,” Dave Erickson said about hearing his son’s music on VICE.
Townsend, who met Michael Erickson in middle school, said knowing his friend’s music is on TV is incredible and almost surreal.
“I saw him grow up and I knew his music would go and do something someday, but I didn’t realize I would be close to him when it happened,” Townsend said.
Michael Erickson hopes for a career creating music full time, but said teaching is a goal which he knows he can attain. Currently, he is a paraeducator at Shuksan Middle School and teaches a class on music production with Ableton Live. Paraeducators work with teachers to develop and carry out lesson plans with a specific academic focus.
He will graduate from Fairhaven this year with a bachelor’s degree in music education and a minor in audio technology and immediately return for a master’s degree in teaching.