It has been said that every end has a new beginning. Xander Singh can attest to that. He formed the eclectic chamber-pop duo Pepper Rabbit, toured with the likes of Ra Ra Riot and Passion Pit, and soon after deciding Pepper Rabbit’s demise, joined Passion Pit. He traveled the world, performing with the acclaimed synth pop act for three years, and reached the end of that road recently when health issues forced him to resign. While the change of pace and necessary spinal surgery brought on challenges, Xander has found his new beginning and he’s showing no signs of slowing.
The Seaboard has allowed me to be so much more expressive than I ever thought I could be with a keyboard.
Xander Singh, former Passion Pit keyboardist
Check out Xander’s “Live at the Getty”, created with his Seaboard GRAND:
We sat with Xander to talk about his current projects, podcasting, the Seaboard GRAND and more.
ROLI: First off, we hope you’re feeling well. How has your recovery from spinal surgery been?
Xander Singh: Doing much better! Most of the pain I was in is gone, and I should be able to start physical therapy in the next few months. What I’m really looking forward to is getting back on the golf course. It’s a huge relief to just be more comfortable sitting down in front of an instrument, as it was nearly impossible for the better part of last year.
ROLI: Great to hear. So speaking of instruments, how did you get started with creating music?
XS: Well, I did a lot of musical theater growing up, and always loved singing. Eventually, I grew tired of singing other peoples’ songs and started writing my own on guitar and piano. From there, I started listening to more and more genres of music and gathering the tools to create a wider array of styles. Getting my first laptop with recording software was when I really started to create music, instead of just writing songs in my bedroom.
ROLI: Do you remember what kind of computer and what software it was?
XS: Ya! It was a MacBook Pro that my parents got me after graduating high school. I started out with Logic Express 6, I believe…totally skipped over GarageBand.
ROLI: Are there any artists or albums from that developing period which you would consider influential to you?
XS: I’ve always listened to a bit of everything and tried to draw influence from all aspects of the genres of music. So I can honestly say that while my favorite band of all time is Coldplay, I’ve never written any songs that sound like Coldplay songs. Back then, I was listening to a lot of records with “big sounds”, like pop music from the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s…Chicago, Supertramp, Queen.
ROLI: So was it from your bedroom to Pepper Rabbit? How did that come together?
XS: I spent about two years playing coffee shops and open mic’s and the like under my own name. Then, I went to New Orleans to make a record which turned out to be the first Pepper Rabbit record. It started out as a bit of a writing exercise, and eventually the project kind of snowballed and turned into relentless touring and another record.
ROLI: Some great music came out of that. You joined Passion Pit in 2012, right? Are you able to tell us about that next chapter?
XS: Sure! I got a call from the guys, who I’ve known since I met them all living in Boston in 2007, a couple months after I decided to end Pepper Rabbit. I jumped right into touring and did that pretty non-stop for almost three years. Unfortunately, I had to leave the band at the end of last year, but it was quite an incredible few years.
ROLI: When you announced that you were parting ways with Passion Pit, you mentioned that it was an amazing three years of making music with best friends. Are there any moments from your time performing, touring, etc. with Passion Pit that stand out in your mind?
XS: Certainly, too many to count. I got to do so many things with those guys that I never thought I’d be able to do. Definitely the highlights were selling out Madison Square Garden, and playing on Saturday Night Live. Traveling and going to a ton of places I’d never been to was amazing, as well.
ROLI: What was the most interesting place you got to travel to? Any you’d rate at the top?
XS: Anytime I get to go to Asia is always amazing. I love going to Japan, but also going to Singapore for the first time was really amazing.
ROLI: What was it about Singapore that was amazing?
XS: Singapore was awesome! It’s such an easy city to just walk around in and enjoy. Also, great food and some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had.
Sometimes I’ll just be messing around with a keyboard, or one of my modulars, and just find a melody that I’ll want to keep building on. Other times, I’ll spend hours making a simple drum beat, but slaving over picking the right samples before I get inspired to start writing the song.
Xander Singh, former Passion Pit keyboardist
ROLI: You started a podcast on your SoundCloud called Teach Xander About Music where you speak with musician friends like Isom Innis (Foster the People) and Kelcey Ayer (Local Natives) about songwriting, your history together, and more. Can you tell us more about that?
XS: Throughout some of the troubles I’d encounter last year with my health, I found myself completely unmotivated to write music, and was feeling so burnt out and worrying if I had lost the love of writing music. I wondered if any of my other friends had ever gone through similar things. So when I decided to ask them, I felt I might as well record the conversations so I’d always have them. I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from other musicians that have gone through similar things. It seems like we’re all afraid to either talk about it or admit it when these days the most successful artists are constantly churning out new music all the time. That’s amazing, but I think it’s important as well to take a break and step away from the keyboard every now and then to just live a little bit outside of writing music, and come back to it when you’re ready.
ROLI: And you’ve been diving back into creating with film scoring, right?
XS: Yeah. Before I got busy touring so much, I did a lot of scoring commercials which I really enjoyed. I recently started scoring my first feature film and it’s been amazing and tons of fun so far. I’ve never done it before, so I’m learning as I go, but it’s been great to discover a new venue of music that I enjoy and seem to be good at. I really hope to do more scoring in the future. As soon as I got the Seaboard GRAND, I remember thinking it would be great for film scoring, so I’m glad I get to use it for that!
ROLI: Awesome. Are you able to tell us which feature film this is?
XS: I can tell you a bit about it! It’s called That’s Not Us, directed by a wonderful director out of NYC named Will Sullivan. It’s about three couples that retreat to Fire Island for a weekend.
ROLI: What synths/sounds are you using with the Seaboard?
XS: Mainly, I am just using Synth Squad from FXpansion. Since I got the new set of sounds from you, I’m still finding new ways to use it. That’s what’s so impressive about the Seaboard. There is so much you can do with even just some simple sound, it’s easy to do something fresh every time. I saw a video of someone using the Seaboard with Sample Modeling’s orchestral plug-ins; I really want to get into those. The mixture of the quality of those sounds and the expressiveness of the Seaboard nearly had me in tears. Also, I’m definitely going to be getting Omnisphere 2 when it comes out and will be looking forward to using the Seaboard with it.
ROLI: You performed at the Getty Center for their Friday Flights series pretty recently and the set was awesome; a beautiful mix of soothing, bittersweet synth sounds and uplifting, danceable bliss. How was that experience for you?
XS: It was amazing! My friend Mikael Jorgensen of Wilco invited me to perform something. I had just gotten the Seaboard a couple days before, and he and the other musicians performing told me that if I didn’t bring it and use it, they would kill me. [Chuckles] So I performed a somewhat improvised set with some drum loops, my Buchla 200e and the Seaboard. After the show, I had to give Seaboard demos to all of the other musicians!
ROLI: Thanks for that! What is your music shaping process like? Is there a path you typically take, or does it vary from one piece to the next?
XS: It’s really different every time, depending on what I have around me. Sometimes I’ll just be messing around with a keyboard, or one of my modulars, and just find a melody that I’ll want to keep building on. Other times, I’ll spend hours making a simple drum beat, but slaving over picking the right samples before I get inspired to start writing the song. And every once in a while, I go back to basics and just sit down at the piano or with a guitar and simply write a song the old fashioned way.
ROLI: For film scoring, do you always start with fresh ideas based on the film direction, or do you ever repurpose older musical ideas you’ve had that you feel fit the film? Has that been an adjustment from writing music for your own output or for bands you’ve been in?
XS: For the film I’m doing right now, I watched the first cut and then wrote for about two weeks without seeing it again or working to the picture. I wanted to first develop a set of sounds and instruments that would carry throughout the film. And that has been somewhat similar with albums I’ve made. I’ve always come up with some sonic themes I want to base a record off of before I start writing.
ROLI: Interesting. How has the Seaboard GRAND affected your creative process?
XS: It’s been incredible. When I first saw it, it struck me as an instrument specifically built for a musician like me. As someone who is not trained or incredibly proficient at any one instrument, I’ve spent most of my time practicing the manipulation and progression of sound rather than the ability to rip out a three minute solo at a show. So an instrument like the Seaboard has allowed me to be so much more expressive than I ever thought I could be with a keyboard. It’s really brought out emotion in my playing that I never thought I would be able to express with a synthesizer in real-time.
ROLI: Are there any other projects that you’re currently working on?
XS: I’m always writing my own music, and hope to finish up some things and release them this year. But I’m focusing more on writing and producing other other artists recently and have some exciting things I’m hoping to finish up after I’m done with the film score. And I certainly hope to work more in film, as well.
ROLI: Are you able to say which artists you’re working with?
XS: Last year, I had Kimbra and Selena Gomez’s records come out, both of which I did production on. Other than that, there are a few things under wraps, but I’m working on a song with a new artist from the UK named Iris Gold who is brilliant. I’m also trying to get a few collaborations with friends of mine going. I just sent a track to my friend Charlie from the band Miniature Tigers for him to sing on. This year is all about collaboration for me.
ROLI: What advice would you give to an artist who is new to being a touring musician?
XS: The best piece of advice I can give for someone starting out touring is to do your best to develop a good routine schedule on the road that’s easy to keep. I’ve found out the hard way that doing the “sleep when/where you can” method for a couple years can really do a number on you. The other advice I would give is to actively keep in touch with your friends and family back home. It’s easy to lose track of either part of your life and it can be very disorienting coming home sometimes and getting back into a non-touring schedule. That and always bring wet wipes.