Insaneintherainmusic Interview: Carlos Eiene on his Brand, Influences, and the VGM Community

Carlos Eiene, more commonly known as insaneintherainmusic, is undoubtedly one of the biggest names in the VGM cover community. His jazz arrangements are second to none, and he’s collaborated with more artists than I can count. I interviewed Carlos a few years ago, but after he reached 200,000 subscribers just this morning, I thought now would be the perfect time to hear from the man himself about his music, brand, influences, and why he thinks the VGM world is so special.

I love that the VGM cover scene is so DIY-focused. Nobody told us to make these covers, let alone HOW to do them, what instruments to play them on, what style… it’s all up to the artist.
Carlos speaking before a concert at MAGFest.

Carlos speaking before a concert at MAGFest.

How would you describe your music, your personal brand, and your musical philosophy?

I take the styles and arrangement techniques of all types of music (mostly jazz), and mash them up with video game songs. That’s basically it! A short book I read a few years ago titled Steal Like an Artist has a section on it that touches on the idea that all great ideas are just combinations of previous ones. I totally agree with this. Most of my arrangements are just combinations of things that I’ve heard before from different sources. For instance, one of my latest videos “New Wave Bossa Nova” is pretty much just a Pat Metheny tune mashed up with the New Wave Bossa Nova melody and form. I love doing this - it’s such a great exercise to get to intimately know lots of different styles of music, and it produces great results.

Describing my personal brand on the internet is definitely a hard task. It’s interesting being a creator on the internet since you have to balance:

  • What other people think of you

  • What they want you to do versus with what you think of yourself

  • What you want to do

This is a balance I’ve struggled with over the years, and I’ve made a few videos here and there talking about my stance on the matter. Overall, though, I’d say I like to be responsive on the internet! I read and respond to most of my comments fairly often, though it does get harder and harder as the volume of comments continues to increase! I try to respond to all messages that come my way, and try to be of service to others in the best way I can.

I think the job of any person in the world is to make a positive impact on the world that they live in. There are of course nearly infinite ways to do this, but as a musician, I believe the best way I can be of service to others is by creating the best music I can. In order to do that, I’ve got to be working on projects that I am motivated by and personally interested in. That’s what I’m trying to do right now.

What non-VGM bands have had the biggest personal influence on you?

Snarky Puppy is by far my biggest influence. In my view, they’re the band that took jazz and made it a lot more fun and accessible to a weird group of people. “Normal jazz” (which I define as jazz played by some form of jazz combo that goes through the structure of Intro, Head, Solos, Head, Outro) can get boring after a while, especially with too many solos. Snarky Puppy, however, took that traditional formula and amped it up with many more interesting orchestration techniques and simple grooves. They’re the reason fusion jazz is my favorite style of music! Saxophone artists include Michael Brecker, Ben Wendel, Bob Reynolds, Joshua Redman, and Dexter Gordon, all these artists have shaped my mental concept of what I want to sound like.

What's something unique about the VGM world that you enjoy?

I love that the VGM cover scene is so DIY-focused. Nobody told us to make these covers, let alone HOW to do them, what instruments to play them on, what style… it’s all up to the artist. Video game covers emerged out of people paying tribute to games that they loved. One of the earliest VGM covers I can think of is David Ramos’ performance of several Ocarina of Time songs on his own ocarina. To think that much of the video game music cover world evolved from something like that is crazy.

What non-VGM bands would you recommend for people who enjoy your covers?

The same bands that have had the biggest personal influence on me (Snarky Puppy and its members’ individual projects, Michael Brecker, Ben Wendel, Joshua Redman, etc.)

What non-VGM musicians would you love to collaborate with?

I’d love to collaborate with other musicians who are present on the Internet and have an awareness of video games! Jacob Collier, Adam Neely, Louis Dowdeswell, to name a few! Additionally, playing with some of my saxophone heroes would also be an awesome experience.

I don’t think calling the type of music I put out “jazz” is entirely accurate...I think exposure to lots of different genres is incredibly important for musicians, since that’s what expands your aural mindset.
Carlos and his saxophone. A match made in heaven.

Carlos and his saxophone. A match made in heaven.

What non-VGM bands are you enjoying right now?

Currently, I’m listening to a lot of the Yellowjackets! I love the complexity that group is able to draw out of a simple instrumentation of tenor saxophone, piano, electric bass, and drums - it gives me a lot of inspiration for my own music. I’m also interested in a lot of Japanese bands, such as H ZETTRIO, fox capture plan, Hidetake Takayama and T-SQUARE. Something that’s always interested me about Japanese composers/musicians is the strong emphasis on melody they all seem to have. The melodies in so many anime openings and Japanese games are SO GOOD, and this is also reflected in other styles of music from Japan!

What genre would you like to try/explore if you could?

I’d love to play Bluegrass music. Specifically, the “progressive bluegrass” style of bands like The Punch Brothers and The Hit Points. I’m nowhere near skilled enough at any stringed instrument (yet!) to play that type of music at a reasonable level...someday!

What's the biggest misconception about you or your music?

I’ll list 2!

1) I don’t think calling the type of music I put out “jazz” is entirely accurate. There are a lot of elements in my music that come from a wide variety of genres like metal, rock, bluegrass, pop, funk, disco, etc. I listen to a lot of music in these various styles, though jazz is still certainly my primary ear food. I think exposure to lots of different genres is incredibly important for musicians, since that’s what expands your aural mindset. In my view, you can’t really write a piece of music if you’ve never heard it before. I don’t mean things like notes and rhythms - I’m speaking more broadly in terms of concept. When we create music, we’re taking songs that we’ve heard before and blending them together to create our own unique spin. That’s the beauty of music; there are practically infinite possibilities with what you can create, since there are so many different ways to interpret things. I think that strictly confining yourself to a single genre can be creatively stifling. (Though limitations often do breed creativity in other ways!)

2) I don’t think my music works particularly well as background music. This is a perspective that I haven’t seen many people share with me, and I think that’s totally reasonable. Nobody else thinks about my music the way I do, which is the way things should be! Helpful or harmful, we’re all our worst critic. I try to make my music very dynamic and have a lot of surprises/changing elements, since I think there’s nothing worse than a stagnant, unchanging piece of music. I try to structure my arrangements so they’re constantly playing with the audience’s attention. So naturally, when I try to do work while listening to my tracks, or when I check out creations that other people have made with my music, there are times where I think the music might poke out a bit more than it should in that context. And that’s totally okay; that’s just my take on the situation. I don’t think other people feel this way at all, nor should they, but that’s just something I’ve noticed about my own work.

Step into the light with Carlos

Step into the light with Carlos

If you’re interested in exploring some of the artists mentioned in the interview, I’ve made a playlist for you to enjoy below. Thanks for reading, and thank you, Carlos, for all that you do for the VGM community!