An Interview with Keith Rankin AKA Giant Claw

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Giant Claw, real name Keith Rankin, is an Electronic/Abstract musician, graphic artist and founder of Orange Milk Records, who has been in the game for several years now. In that time, he’s released a few studio albums, some of which are absolutely essential to any collection regardless of which format you collect. Albums like Soft Channel, Deep Thoughts and Dark Web are some of the finest the genre has to offer. Today, I’ve got none other than Keith Rankin with us. He’s a great guy and I was happy to get to know him better. If you’d like to learn more about Giant Claw, head over to Keiths’s Bandcamp here. Once you’ve done that, give this interview a read. Enjoy.

Andrew:
Keith, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us here. How are you holding up during this seemingly ever raging dumpster fire?

Keith:
Definitely not the best I’ve ever been!

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. How did you get into music? What was your musical gateway so to speak?

Keith:
I heard songs on the radio that had basic chord changes, like major chord to minor, and the feeling it gave me was really powerful and mysterious, I fell in love with music and wanted to learn how to make those feelings happen myself.

Andrew:
While you are often lumped in Vaporwave, do you consider yourself a Vaporwave artist, or do you merely use some elements of it within your music? What are your thoughts on Vaporwave?

Keith:
I loved Vaporwave when it first started solidifying as a genre, but then a strain of alt-right and edgelord personalities became loud voices within the community, which made me want to reject the association. I don’t really have an internal dialogue that’s like “you are part of this or that genre” though, but sometimes I’ll be aware of using certain genre tropes when I’m recording music.

Keith Rankin | Big Urges

Andrew:
Dark Web, Deep Thoughts and Soft Channel are sign markers for me within your discography. They’re a pretty special trio of albums. Tell us about the recording and making of those albums. Looking back, what does do those albums mean to you? What do you feel their lasting impact is?

Keith:
In the early 2010s, I was playing a lot of live shows with synthesizers, it was a setup I had gotten good and comfortable with, but mentally I had moved on and become interested in different sounds for a while. Recording Dark Web is when I decided to finally abandon my comfort zone setup and try new ways of working. I became focused on the idea of cultural artifacts or era-specific cliches becoming new compositional tools, replacing more traditional fundamentals in some cases. Originally, I had planned on making a double record, with the first half, Dark Web, containing only sparse rhythm and vocal material, contrasted by a second half, Deep Thoughts, containing traditional instrumental harmony and melody. I eventually abandoned going all in on that idea but you can still hear traces of it in those two albums. After that, I actually recorded another full album of what I thought was Pop music, but ended up scrapping it as well. I felt like the music I was making at that point was sort of on auto-pilot, it wasn’t exciting my own internal standards. Rather than put out something I didn’t feel great about, I started over and made Soft Channel to try and satisfy and excite myself, using more bold methods of interruption in the music.

Andrew:
What are the origins of the Giant Claw moniker?

Keith:
I can’t quite remember to be honest, I think if I didn’t speak english I would like how the words Giant Claw sounded though. Like the sound of the words feels soft and flowing, but the imagery is more rigid.

Andrew:
Who are some of your biggest influences musically?

Keith:
The Boredoms and Bjork got me into Abstract and Electronic music. I think as a kid I subconsciously absorbed a lot of music from RPGs and anime, I loved the Akira and Ghost in the Shell soundtracks, which still seem relevant to music I make now. I mean, I went through so many phases, loving like Prog Rock, Whitney Houston, plenty of radio stuff, a lot of things…growing up in America, you’re just sucking up these disparate corners of media until they eventually diarrhea out into what we have now.

Soft Channel | Giant Claw | Orange Milk Records

Andrew:
There are a lot of misconceptions and confusion regarding how your music comes together. Can you tell us a little bit about your process? How does your music come together?

Keith:
I’ve had different processes, but currently I’ll find a sound I like using one or several digital instruments, then I improvise on a MIDI keyboard, recording hours of music, and pick out little parts that have some excitement in them to be the basis of a piece. I spend a lot of time arranging and adding small details to the music, it’s like composing, arranging, and improvising in close proximity, because one harmonic or melodic decision will lead to a more engineering or sound-focused decision, and so on, they keep bouncing back and forth.

Andrew:
Thinking back, how have you evolved as an artist today, compared to where you were when you were just getting started?

Keith:
I’ve definitely learned the technical production side of music over the years through trial and error, when I started I knew close to nothing. I think it takes years to just become comfortable with your skillset and process, so that there’s less resistance between an idea and its recording. I like that so many elements that go into making electronic music now would feel alien to someone in the past, like a fresh artform that combines many disciplines.

Andrew:
Two of the biggest issues in the Vaporwave/Indie Electronic community are FOMO and scalpers. These releases are all so limited, and the prices get insane in the aftermarket. What can be done better to help thwart the scalpers that plague the community? What would you say to the scalpers out there?

Keith:
Those might be unavoidable tenets of capitalism. It’s hard for me to be mad at people for taking advantage of the system that we’re all living in for their own benefit, but I acknowledge that some people who buy a ton of tapes or records with the sole intention of flipping them have a weird aura, especially if they aren’t particularly interested in the music. I think the aura comes from the reminder that, when money is exchanged, anything including art can fall under the curtain of capitalism, and when you wish that things were set up differently on a structural level it can be a sore spot.

DARK WEB 007 | Giant Claw

Andrew:
We know about all of your classic albums, but tell us what you’re working on now. What have you got in store for us going forward?

Keith:
I’ve recently finished an album called Mirror Guide that will be out in a few months. I took a long time off from music to try and make a living as a visual artist, so it feels good to be able to do this again.

Andrew:
Shifting gears here. Is there anything within the industry that you would like to see change for the better? What improvements would you like to see that you feel would be beneficial to us all within the vinyl community, and music community in general?

Keith:
In the USA, we have ridiculous inequality and our institutions don’t put much value in art. I think we’ve amassed enough wealth and developed enough technology that people hustling or scraping to get by shouldn’t exist as it does now, so if that problem is solved then other problems seem much easier. Even looking to Canada and some places in Europe at their artist grant programs is a place to start, anecdotally it seems that when institutions put money and value in art the rest of society follows.

Andrew:
A lot of people try to define what genre you’re associated with. You seem to like to disassemble genres in a way. What are your feelings on that? What are your thoughts on the idea of genres in general?

Keith:
I think genres are helpful organizational guides, but they can only go so far standing in for an artist or albums’ idiosyncrasies. Also, people shift culture in large complex webs, I think we’re very connected in that way, and genres usually try to identify shared points on that web. Sometimes the points of connection are really strong, and outline a real community or shared mental space and sometime they’re tenuous or partially fabricated by a writer or something.

Music | Giant Claw

Andrew:
The way I initially discovered your music was through Bandcamp and Reddit. In your opinion, how important has both Bandcamp and Reddit been to the Vaporwave scene, and Indie music in general?

Keith:
Places like Bandcamp and Reddit basically centralize information and allow user friendly access, which is always useful. Those places are similar to past sources of curated content, like even a newspaper or MTV or whatever, but the curation is user generated, so it’s really just the centralized platform that is great to have.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? If so, what are some albums that mean the most to you? Where do you like to shop for music?

Keith:
The majority of what I hear is digital, but I still buy vinyl, tapes and CDs here and there when I really like something, usually through Bandcamp.

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How does your art and passions influence your music, if at all?

Keith:
The arts in general still excite me, the act of creating something that activates an almost intangible sense of taste is amazing. I love science fiction and science too, but it’s hard to go really deep there when you don’t have many math fundamentals.

Andrew:
Last question. You’ve always embraced the DIY approach to music. What advice do you have for young musicians trying to get their start?

Keith:
I would say don’t necessarily look at someone else’s path to success or definitions of success as your own, like there’s no real right or wrong way to make music. Also, if you’re mean or bitter people will probably remember, and same with kindness.

Stream Giant Claw Deep Thoughts

Interested in diving deeper into the work of Giant Claw? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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