Railway's Tristan Rodman

Railway is sound art that combines the personal creativity of Tristan Rodman ‘15.5 and the influence of visual and interactive audio formats online. This kind of indie, 8o’s synth pop is music made for moments in transit, so turn up Railway’s most recent EP, Synecdoche, on headphones while riding a moving vehicle for optimal experience.

Has your music changed since your online debut in 2012? Yeah its changed a bunch. I would say when I started out the only way I knew how to make music was sitting down by myself at my computer, which is a very classic way people my age start making music. Affter beginning to play with other people, especially with drummers and other people playing things that I didn’t have the number of arms to play totally opened me up to new possibilities like arrangement and palette.

I think the older I get, the less interest I have in things that sound deliberately electronic. I’m trying to move towards – I find myself more often saying that I play in a rock band.

How old were you when you started experimenting with music? I’ve been making music since I was 15. I would say everything from then till the first stuff I put out as Railway is one section of my musical life.

How did you come up with the name Railway? I had to find a name. For some reason naming projects is a big deal. I was starting something new, so I called it something different. I really liked…I love trains. I’ve always loved trains. I love traveling on trains and I always like looking out the window. I like the really soft but consistent rhythmic pulse of a train going over the ties of the tracks, and it felt appropriate.

Do you take the train home? No, I live in Los Angeles. I fly all the time and have terrible anxiety. Whenever I can, I take trains. When I was young, I traveled a lot with my parents, took a lot of trains, and was fascinated by them.

Having spent the past four years in Providence while making music, do you feel like Railway reflects your life in Providence or Los Angeles? Strangely enough, I think I still get a lot of musical inspiration from the time I spend in Los Angeles, especially the time I’m alone in my car. For me, that's the clearest place to be alone with my thoughts that I’ve found. I’m still trying to find the equivalent of that in Providence – that place where I can be meditative and calm but also like, Holy shit that’s a good idea, let me get out my phone and start recording it, which is sometimes dangerous when you’re driving.

The stuff I’ve been writing recently is more reflective of that than everything else before it. I think the songs in my first Railway EP were about being in LA after breaking up with my high school girlfriend. The only way I had come to know that space was being with her. [The first EP] was about trying to figure out who I was in that space. Everything else after that has been more about Providence or other imagined locations.

What do you think about the way people consume your music? For the Railway EP, I built a website. I realized, that if you’re going to be listening to music for free, the one thing you [as an artist] have absolute control over is where and how people listen to it. You can build the most unique listening environment you want and if you’re putting music up for free, you can make people go there and give them a bunch of stuff they wouldn’t necessarily get from buying a CD or downloading something off Bandcamp or Soundcloud. So, I’m really interested in forcing a context onto people when listening to music for free.

Who worked on the Railway website? I worked with a Brown grad in Computer Science to build it out. I’m learning more programming stuff, so I’m trying to build stuff like that myself and keep working on that. I definitely envision every release as its own website I guess.

How do you listen to music? When I’m in LA, I listen to music in the car wherever I go. I play it too loud and sometimes my ears hurt afterwards. But that’s a weird process because I take things and download them off the internet and then burn them into my CD and put it in my car because the car has a CD player and that’s the best sound you can get on a car which his weird. When I’m at school, I listen to music on headphones wherever I am on my phone.

How do you make your music now? I work a lot in the Steinert studio at Brown. I’ll bring my guitar or a keyboard and just sketch out a track and work with other musicians like Cody Fitzgerald '15 a ton, with Matt Marsico '15 who plays drums and Connor McGuigan '15 who plays guitar to fill it out. I work with other musicians too, to get people who are way more competent than I am to start bouncing ideas back and forth and play some things.

Tristan Rodman '15.5 debuted as Railway in 2012 but has been making music since he was 15. In his last semester as a MEME concentrator at Brown this upcoming fall, Rodman hopes to explore his interest in the way technology and design shapes his listeners' music experience. 

Tristan Rodman '15.5 debuted as Railway in 2012 but has been making music since he was 15. In his last semester as a MEME concentrator at Brown this upcoming fall, Rodman hopes to explore his interest in the way technology and design shapes his listeners' music experience. 

What does sketching a track look like? It looks like not caring about what it sounds like and just getting the idea down, which is really hard for me because I come from a recording background where I have to fight the temptation to make everything sound really good before the full song is in place. So, just not caring about the guitar if the tone is way off and caring about if the idea is there, the feeling is there and most importantly the structure is done before I redo everything. It’s like sketching something in pencil before going over it in ink.

Do you ever color it in? Yeah, and that too. It’s sort of like erasing the marks before and afterwards.

How do you decide to start a new song or create a mini compilation like Part 1 and Part 2 tracks on the Synecdoche EP? Sometimes I feel guilty about writing songs on the same theme, so if I call them the same thing and parts of the same thing, then it’s intentionally redundant.

How long does your entire process take? Too long, I’m trying to get it faster. The song, "Champaign, IL," I put out in March took six months, but I’m a student and doing course work. Music is a huge passion of mine, but I’ve put it on the side a lot and I think I’m less inclined to do that now.

What else do you do other than music at Brown? I was managing editor for the Indy for a semester so I didn’t work on music at all for four months. I was still doing a ton in MCM and doing reading, critical theory, and writing papers, and that took a lot of my brain energy. It was great and it totally influenced my other classes this semester. I’ve been taking two courses, an independent study in writing and recording music, and a class in graphic design for the web at RISD. Everything is coming together and I finally feel like it’s good.

What are you taking next semester? I might take two RISD courses and keep doing music on the side.

Any ideas on where you’re going after Brown? I’m going to be here in the fall because I’m graduating in December. I think a lot about that. I’m probably looking to apply for MFA programs in digital media arts to keep the music thing and to keep having a rock band. I really like making art pieces that have a technology element.

Any upcoming releases? I put a recent single up out of nowhere because I felt like it was time to release music. I’m trying to finish a four-song project by the end of this summer and put it out this summer and just keep working. The new stuff is going to sound different and fuller. Lyrically, I’m still trying to figure out how to sing which is still hard for me because I feel clumsy when I use my voice in a musical context, so I’m getting more comfortable with that.

I think there’s going to be a lot more fiction and a lot less of, I’m overwhelmed with these feelings and I need to let them out and a more, What can I do with this story and how can I write a piece of music that carries without being so deliberate or over the top with it? I never thought of myself as a singer. Still every time I play music for someone, they tell me I have to put my vocals up because they can’t hear what I’m saying.

What have you been listening to lately? Chromatics, Harriett (my best friend from high school is the drummer), Angelo Bandalamenti for Twin Peaks, and Everything on the Italians Do It Better label.

So, what’s your big vision for Railway in the future? I think a ton about the way the musical form influences the way music is made for that format. To give a 30-40 years ago example, a 12-inch record is bigger, the grooves are deeper, the volume is higher, especially in the base. You can grab it and scratch it. And, out of that record comes four or five different genres, you get house, techno, and hip-hop.

Everything is because of the way that technology was designed. A bunch of music comes out of the way that technology was designed and what people could do with it. We listen to music in CDS, we put them into our computers, then put our mp3s on our iPods, but now everyone listens to their music on the internet, on their phones and in web-browsers. So what does it mean to make a piece of music that is maybe not an mp3 that you can listen to on the internet? I don’t think it’s an mp3. I think it’s probably something like a website and it probably takes on characteristics of the internet that are collaborative, networked, and distributed. I’m still trying to figure out how to build that into a piece of pop-music, but it’s coming together.

Check out Railway's most recent drummin’ edit of St Vincent’s famous Cruel and stay updated for an upcoming four-track release at the end of this summer via Railway's Facebook, Twitter and Bandcamp.