`This time, we get to know 12 Below, Genre-busting art rock project “12 Below” is the brainchild of German-American composer, multi-instrumentalist, and lyricist To’Be (pronounced “Tobi”)
The track "About Love" is featured in the New Artist Spotlight Family of Playlists.
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1. Tell us a little about where you are from and what you are currently doing.
I am a German-American composer, multi-instrumentalist, lyricist and producer, working under the moniker To’Be (pronounced “Tobi” - a short form of my rather complicated real name). I currently divide my time between Wellington in South Florida and Princeton, NJ, although I have also recorded in London, UK and in Hannover, Germany, where my brother has a recording studio.
12 Below is one of my projects that I started in mid-2020. Since then, I have released 3 albums, each of them very different, ranging from progressive rock over cinematic and psychedelic soundscapes to pieces for solo piano. I also produced two singles for Kate Stanton, a fantastic singer I "discovered" last year.
Finally, I am very interested in the role artificial intelligence can play in music (when I am not making music, I am a researcher in AI and especially human-AI interaction) - and I have experimented with AI in composition as well as mixing and mastering.
2. What inspired you to start playing and making music?
I come from a very musical family - we always had some music playing, a lot of that classical music. However, I got into rock, especially prog rock initially, in high school. For some reason that I no longer recall, I felt attracted to the guitar. I owned an acoustic, but my parents refused to buy me the electric one that I craved.
Being a rather stubborn guy, I embarked on building my own - I built two, actually, and the second was reasonably decent (I played it through a converted radio as an amplifier). Seeing that I couldn't be stopped, my parents finally relented, and I became the proud owner of a telecaster and could join one of our high school bands.
Later, during college, I wrote, performed, and recorded as a guitarist and singer with a number of obscure New Wave and post-punk bands in Germany. But the big breakthrough remained elusive, and I needed some money (I also had married). So I had to put my musical vocation on hold to pursue a career in management consulting.
But the desire to make music always stayed with me, until in 2020 I decided I was done with consulting. Now I am back full circle where I started many years ago, and I LOVE it.
𝟯. Who are your biggest influences?
There are so many, and for me, it's hard to tell, as I am not trying to emulate anyone in particular. People tell me they spot influences in my music ranging from David Bowie and Brian Eno over Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails to Simple Minds and some go to the more "gothic" bands in the 80s. There is probably also a lot of Pink Floyd in there, and I suspect some classic music from my childhood. It's very eclectic, which probably makes it super hard for the algorithms.
4. What are your goals in the music industry?
Having been "on a musical hiatus" for so many years, I have so many ideas in my head that just want out. Some may even be good, who knows? Beyond realizing my own songs, it's been so rewarding to collaborate with other singers and musicians, helping them as a producer to polish their "diamonds in the rough", so I would love to do much more of that.
As mentioned earlier, AI is a hot (and controversial) topic in the arts, and through my background, I seem to be in a great position to explore and push the boundaries in this respect.
5. Tell us about your creative process when you make new music.
I often wake up in the middle of the night, say 4:30 am or so, with an idea ruminating in my head. This could be anything, a chord progression, a melody or a piece of lyric. I keep working this through in my head (it will be impossible for me to get back to sleep), and when I get up, I make an initial draft in Garageband. Later, I will refine and refresh, sometimes in many iterations. I typically have about 10-20 half-finished sketches of songs at any one time.
6. What is your all-time favorite song?
That must be Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. A buster of convention in so many ways - the style, the length, everything outside the norm. I loved it the first time it came out (I was a kid) and I still love it despite having heard it hundreds of times.
7. What is the best advice you have either given or received in terms of music?
Don't try to write to a formula or emulate what is already there. The process should be inside-out, not the other way around, or you will always just be a copy (and probably not a great one). Just do what feels good to you at the moment.
8. Proudest accomplishment?
To learn to play the piano late in life - and without lessons. And then to manage to put a piano solo album out that is not too bad. A number of my songs are now piano-based rather than guitar-based, and that has increased my musical range quite a lot.
9. Just for fun! What's been your most embarrassing moment so far?
In college I was the lead singer and guitarist in a New Wave band to was (locally) reasonably well known and successful. But to finance my studies, I also had to do a number of odd jobs, including as a subway sweeper (yes, cleaning up with a broom). Per se, not thing wrong with that, but being seen (and recognised!) holding the broom did not go well together with the image of the guitar hero on stage that we were trying to nurture. Blow to self-image for sure!
𝟭0. Tell us about your lowest and highest points in music so far.
Lowest point: having to give up music after college, and leave the band. I really missed the feeling of jamming together and especially the thrill of playing live.
Highest point: appearing with my band at the time on a TV show in Europe (alas, a long time ago and only once)
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