Even though you might not realize it, the music of Klayton (Celldweller) surrounds you. The native New Yorker and multi-instrumentalist has become widely known for the music he has created for film, TV shows and video games, in addition to his countless remixes and albums released under the banner of Celldweller.
Having moved to the Detroit-area while in search of his first lucrative record contract, Klayton has established a home for himself in the Motor City, one that includes an incredible studio space. Discover more about the man behind the Celldweller name by watching our latest Make Your Mark feature and read our expanded interview below to learn of Klayton’s love of gear and his recording space.
Talk a little about where your drive to create comes from.
I don’t know where the work ethic or the drive comes from, I just know that I’ve always had it. Something a lot of people don’t know is that I was studying to be a doctor. I was Pre-Med and it was mainly because I thought there was no way I could ever make music for a living. How does one make music and survive? It’s impossible. While I was in college doing that, I was finally like, “Alright, I’m going to switch to music,” and I became a music major for one semester and I found out I hated that too. I didn’t want to play Beethoven, I didn’t want to play Bach. It's great that they did what they did, I respect that, but that’s not what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to play somebody else’s music. While I was there trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life, I ended up getting a very small record deal. I instantly left school, I said, “I can come back to this later, but this is what I want to do.” So with that drive, if you crack the door open for me, I will pry it open and will jam myself in that opening so you can’t shut that door on me. That’s just kind of how I was built.
What brought you from New York to Detroit?
I needed a record deal. At the time, the late 90s/early 2000s, that was still how things were done. I’d done some things independently, but I didn’t know how to manufacture discs, manufacture merchandise and promote and market my own material. The thing you did back then was look for a record deal. A friend of mine, Grant Mohrman, had just opened a studio out here in Detroit and my manager, Tyler, who’s also friends with Grant, said “Why don’t you go out and you can be his guinea pig. He’ll give you a really good rate on the room because you’re going to work out all the bugs.” So I came out here for what was supposed to be three weeks and I ended up staying six months, sleeping on couches, squatting, eating ramen and five for five burgers at Arby's, whatever I needed to do survive and I made the demos that would eventually land me a record deal.
I ended up landing a big record deal, the biggest one I had ever had, paid off all the debt I had put myself into to get where I was and started working on a record. In my mind, this was it. This was the beginning of my career. Circumstantially, 9/11 happened and the economy also tanked and the label said, “Hey, you know what, we’re not doing this. Not only that, but you’re going to have to give us back all that money that we gave you.” I went from paying off my debt and thinking I was on my way to going back to being completely broke and having my wages garnished. It’s one of those points in my career where I say if I was smarter, I would have quit, but I’m dumb. I just kept going.
I had to finish the record on my own dime, so I came back out to Grant’s studio and spent more time here finishing the album, going further into debt so I could figure out how to independently release my album, which was the debut Celldweller album. I did that, exactly that, and while I was here during those six months, a few circumstances presented themselves where it kind of made sense to me to think about moving to LA. I was doing a lot more in film and television and thought maybe LA was my ultimate destination. Then I found an affordable house out here, I got a place and I started growing roots here, and the TV and film licensing really took off and I started making some good money. Fast forward a few years, I’ve relocated to a better place, built my facility, have artists signed to my label, the business has grown and I’ve moved forward.
The work space that you’ve created is truly unique. How did you go about setting it up?
I bought this place based on the space that we are now in. I thought this would be a great room for a studio. I never really foresaw this at all, in fact, when I built the studio, none of this modular gear existed. I have some analog synths that I’ve had for many years and I’ve used, but really the synthesis bug kind of just happened. It bit me, it had been working on me for awhile and it grew. So I’ve been trying to find room to fit it all and I’m kind of running out.
The aesthetic of the room overall was something I saw visually in my head that I thought would look really cool. I was trying to create an environment that I wanted to walk into every day because I loved being here. People will see in my videos there are a lot of toys in here and a lot of them have red mohawks, with the exception of Godzilla. I’m having one made for him. There are some pretty decent size models of me and, aside from Godzilla, almost all of this was created by my fans. This stuff just has shown up and has been mailed to me directly over the years because I’ve made myself accessible that way. It is amazing to me that I have a fanbase where my music and whatever I do has affected them enough to want them to take their creative skills and dump them into something that relates to me and then actually send me that product.
Would you say you have a gear addiction?
I’d love to say I’m not addicted to anything, but if you look around it does seem like I’m slightly addicted to gear. I went a large portion of my career thinking that everything I was doing was wrong. There was no way I could be right because nobody taught me, I was just learning the stuff by trial and error, so clearly it wasn’t right and with extremely limited funds, I couldn’t buy gear.
When I finally started making money and was paying my bills and could start to afford to buy gear, that’s what I did. These things represented the sounds I heard on other peoples’ records growing up that I had always tried to get, but couldn’t get with one sampler and a Mac Classic computer. I needed a million dollar room, but I didn’t understand that at the time. Then I started hearing that come through the gear, my Neves, my APIs, different outboard gear that I had been buying. Obviously, I had synthesizers and drum machines, but when I really dove into modular synths, it was intimidating at first, but once I figured out how they worked, I started creating sounds I had only dreamed of creating. Once you get it, you just can’t stop. I’ve tried, but it hasn’t been working out.
What do you love most about the recording process?
For me, my favorite part of recording is the creative process. I don’t really enjoy mixing, I don’t really enjoy getting into the nitty-gritty. I have a bunch of friends who love being given a session with a bunch of stuff and they can kind of figure out what to do with it and how to make it sound great. I love the creative process. I love walking over to my modular synth set-up and starting to make sounds. My last main Celldweller album is called End of an Empire. That’s the first album where all of my sound design, all of my synth work, was done in the modular spectrum, along with a lot of the organic stuff. I was processing live drums, bass, guitars and my vocals through my modular set-up. I’m in a room by myself giving myself the chills based on the stuff I’m doing, mostly because the machines are doing all the heavy lifting, they’re doing the cool stuff. That is the most enjoyable part.
If you're interested in learning more about Klayton's various musical projects, in addition to the synthesizer demos he does for Vintage King, please head over to his official YouTube page. If you continue on below, you'll find three tracks from Klayton's latest Celldweller release, End of an Empire, including the album's title track, "Heart On" and "Down To Earth."