In conversation with Aki and James of Nu House Studios Part 2
by Interviews

Earlier today, Nu House Studios announced that they will be releasing their third benefit compilation album called Trans Rights II: WE ARE NO LONGER ASKING. They released their first comp, Nu House Studios Trans Musician Fund Compilation, in 2022 and their second one, Trans Rights Or Else!, in 2023. Trans Rights II: WE ARE NO LONGER ASKING features tracks from 13 artists including The Holy Ghost Tabernacle Choir, Deafening, bottom surgery, rotting in dirt, Vi Viana, Yagrum Bagarn, and ameokama.The base $10 from the comp will go to the Doctors Without Borders Emergency Relief Fund with any additional proceeds going into the studio’s Trans Musician Fund, which was touched on in part 1 of our interview with Aki McCullough and James Goldmann (read that right here!). The Trans Musician Fund aims to make recording and audio engineering services more accessible for trans musicians and you can read more about it in our conversation below. The comp will be out on July 12 and you can pre-order it right here.

Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with Aki and James to talk about the upcoming comp, the Trans Musician Fund, manager Raven (R.I.P), mixing the live sets from New Friends Fest 2023, nu-metal, and so much more. Read part 2 of the interview below!

This interview between Em Moore, Aki McCullough, and James Goldmann took place on March 5, 2024 over Zoom. This transcription documents their conversation and has been lightly edited for length and clarity. All photos used in this interview are credited to Sheri Furneaux except for Aki holding Raven which is credited to Jared Shute.

Is there a story behind the studio's name?

Aki: There’s a reason we’re called Nu House. When we first moved in 2019, Facebook events were still a thing so I was like, “We should have a housewarming party! What do I call this?” I just put “Nu House Warning Party” as the name. [laughs] After being friends for 10 years we were finally living together and we were working on a playlist to play at the party. James wasn’t working yet so we were at peak degenerate brain. We were just broken.

James: Full degenerate brain and the fact that I took at least a month off from work because I was just burnt out. A day would be: go out, get a 30 rack of Busch, come back, and basically do nothing except music and drink cheap beer.

Aki: I feel like that month is part of the reason I don’t drink anymore. I have done all the drinking I needed to do. [laughs]

James: And the gluten intolerance probably. It was me, you, and Mike from ACKOD. We were like, “We’re going to make a playlist for the party” and we ended up calling the playlist “Nu House Warning” as well. It ended up being a 6-hour and 45-minute playlist of nu-metal and things that were nu-metal adjacent or stuff like nu-metal would not exist unless this existed. Rage Against the Machine ended up on it. Rage is not nu-metal but I think it’s pretty fair to say that if Rage didn’t exist, nu-metal wouldn’t exist.

Aki: I feel like this playlist was our main creative project for maybe a solid week. We would be drinking our Busch at night and we’d be having serious discussions about, “Does this song belong on this playlist? Does it fit the nu-metal genre? Does it fit the creative spirit of this playlist? Does it fit in with the influences? Does it fit in the context of a party?”

James: We were super nitpicky and we still ended up at over 6 and a half hours. I think since then we’ve only modified it one time and it was just to throw on three more tracks at the request of Mike.

Aki: We also had to remove a few. I think we had to remove Trapt from it. [laughs]

James: We did have Trapt on there but that was before all the bullshit so we did have to take off “Headstrong”. [laughs] I think we did have Manson on there too and had to pull that off as well. We were like, “Nah, this won’t fly”.

Aki: There were some deliberations about which songs by artists do you include. For the most popular nu-metal artists we only want to pick two or three so what best represents them? There was a lot of creative deliberation behind this playlist. We’ve been so busy that the only parties we have now are my birthday party every year. So we’re good neighbours 364 of the year and then the other day we blast nu-metal in the backyard for 6-10 hours. [laughs] Luckily we only have the time to party once a year.

James: But it still comes out, every year!

Aki: Same playlist every year.


James: We set up two 2000-watt PA speakers in the backyard and just start blasting. Most bands we have on there are just one song each but there’s a few where we threw on three like with Disturbed, System of A Down, and Slipknot. For whatever reason it loves to play the same band three songs in a row even if it’s on shuffle just like, “We’re playing ‘Down With The Sickness’, now we’re playing ‘Stricken’, now we’re playing ‘Dropping Plates’”. “We’re dropping plates on your ass, bitch”. You gotta drop that song on there. [laughs] They’re literally talking about vinyl. That’s what it’s about.

Aki: What is running a studio if not trying to drop plates? That is the ultimate goal of what we’re doing: we’re trying to drop plates on people’s asses. That is a sign that we’ve been successful. [laughs]

James: Nu House Studios: Dropping plates on your ass. That’s our new mission statement.


Does it play for the full 6 hours?

James: We just turn it on and let it go and it pretty much makes it until the end of the party before it starts playing other random stuff. Most of the time we will either get to the very end of it or the party will end before it gets all the way done.

Aki: Two years ago we took a short break because we had Hayley from Thotcrime DJing in the backyard. She drove up four hours that day and drove back the next day. She was just DJing on her laptop and on one of those Launchpad things in the backyard.

James: It was the tiniest Numark DJ controller and an old one too. I was still working at Guitar Centre and I was like to her, “Hey, are you interested in a new controller?” I actually ended up using my discount to get her a new one.

Aki: Nice!! You worked the next day?

James: I for sure worked the next day. [laughs]

Aki: This was when we still had Raven, R.I.P. manager Raven. Always with us forever. We definitely need to shoutout manager Raven while we’re talking about the studio because we do this all for her.

James: Stinky baby.


Aki: We had her out there while Hayley was DJing. I was holding her for a while and eventually, she got too overwhelmed but she liked people a lot.

James: Because she was cold all the time.

Aki: She was hyped to be hanging with us. She was probably hearing everyone outside like, “Mrrow! Mrrow!” [laughs]

James: And the sound never bugged her either so she’d be in the studio just chilling while stuff was going on. My dog Angelo, rest in peace to him as well, also never had any issues with sound. So pre-pre-Nu House when I was still doing stuff at Struck House - which was the house that I lived in with the Struckout people and some others - we did some live sets in our living room with some notable bands such as Just Friends. We did one with Kississippi as well but that never came out and we did one with GILT with Tilley at the time from Home Is Where. Angelo was chill as hell. He would be hanging out with the crew and just sitting around. He hung out in the studio and Raven hung out in the studio. They kinda got along. [laughs] They didn’t love each other but they tolerated each other. I feel like Raven wanted to be friends.

Aki: Raven wanted to cuddle with any warm being and Angelo would kinda just side-eye her but he was also old so he was like, “I don’t really wanna move”. [laughs]

James: He was a very docile, elderly corgi who just did not care about anything. He was a great dog.

Aki: He was like, “I guess this large, naked rat thing is cuddling with me now”. [laughs]

James: BOGO on pork chops.

Aki: One of the best pictures of all time. We’d just be tracking drums in the other room and Raven would be passed out on the chair or the couch, dead asleep and super happy. If you’re just there because your bandmates are recording and you don’t need to record that day, it starts to get kinda boring so we had people fall asleep on that couch a lot. Then sometimes Raven would also fall asleep on them. [laughs]


James: You’d wake up with a naked cat on you, can’t complain.

Aki: Good studio cat vibes. We still have the sphynx cat logo and stuff because of Raven.

James: I imagine that will remain in our branding for the foreseeable future.

Aki: Sphynx cats are all just good. They’re pretty metal too, it’s just a good little thing. [laughs] I have a Raven-inspired sphynx cat tattoo on my leg.

Image Do you have any memories about Raven in the studio that you’d like to share?

Aki: The one time I’ve seen her scared as fuck was when I was tracking the Dreamwell album. We had a cable snake running down to the basement to record and I couldn’t close the door all the way. So I was starting to get frustrated and lose my shit because I was alone tracking this album and I was like, “Urg, I feel like shit! I need to step outside and go on a walk”. I came back and I was like, “Oh god, where’s Raven? The door’s open to the basement. Oh no”. She was on this shelf that’s higher than I am just screaming and looking terrified. She’d gotten herself up there and then she was too scared to get down. [laughs] I think she was scared of heights because I put her food on the stairs which were a two-foot jump over and I was like, “Come on, you can do it! You’re a cat” and she was like, “No, no”. I was like, “OH you’re not jumping for the food you’re scared scared”. Eventually, I had to pull her off of there and she was not happy about that either and clawed into one of my guitar fingers. After that, we drilled a little hole in the bottom of the door so we could actually close the door and have the snake down there all the time so she wouldn’t get into the basement anymore. Other than that, it was a lot of her hanging out with people, sleeping in their laps, sleeping in the guitar cases, sleeping on people’s jackets, that sort of thing. Oh, [turns to James] didn’t you sample her?

James: I did! She was very vocal and also very tickle-ish specifically right at the base of her tail so if you’d scritch right at the base of her tail and kind of her butt, she would go like, “Rarow rarow rarow”. I was working on my solo record that I put out a couple years ago and she had hopped up on the studio chair that Aki’s sitting on right now. I don’t think Aki was home and I grabbed this mic and put it up near her and started scritching her butt. She was very mobile so it was hard to get a good one but there was one where she just whipped her head right into the mic and was like, “Rraaaoooww!!” I took that and threw it through the Isotope Trash plugin and a whole bunch of reverb and delay and let that go for a while, let it do it’s thing. Then I hit record and made this absolute wall of sound atmosphere behind one of the tracks which I named “Raven’s Nest”. It was literally just a wall of noise and distorted very far away screaming breaking into chill acoustic guitar. But the majority of that track is just a Raven scream from me tickling her butt.

We love doing that. We love doing weird, dumb samples that we take and make into absolutely incoherent things that only we know what they are. It’s a very fun little extra thing we can do in our personal music and in other people’s music if they want weird stuff. We won’t necessarily do the same stuff we do in our music. We’ll desecrate our albums with some pretty horrendous samples and make them into fun noises. We won’t do that on other people’s stuff.

Aki: Unless that’s what they want!

James: Unless that’s what they want. On the first ACKOD record, there’s a little background noise that’s just a light switch being flicked.

Aki: Percussion!

James: We just flicked the light switch and got that “tick” noise and recorded that. Threw on some processing and reverb and just made it kind of, “Do-do-ka-do-do-ka” and that “ka” noise is a light switch.

Aki: I was listening to a lot of Flying Lotus at the time and wanting to do a lot of that glitchy percussion. Personally, I’ll get option paralysis really bad like I’ll open a fucking sample pack and be like, “I can’t do this, I’m gonna have a panic attack. There’s so much stuff!” Then at the end of all that, I find a sample that’s not mine. I get a lot more satisfaction recording little bits or using an analog synth and making something using stuff for things it wasn’t supposed to be for. One of the ones that you did on that Blade of Marrow album was the baseboard heaters too, that was a good one.

James: It was during winter so the baseboard heaters would just click on and off. I put a microphone right on the baseboard heater and waited for it to turn on. I sat in the room quiet while it recorded the crackly baseboard-heater-just-coming-on sounds for 15 minutes and used that as a background sound. I originally wanted to have the noise of somebody walking through the snow but I couldn’t find a good sample for that. Then I realized that using the baseboard heater gave that almost crackly, fireplace, snowy sound that I wanted that was really dark and kind of ominous. It worked super well.

The other really fun one that I remember us doing was back in California - this was years before Nu House - when Aki was visiting. We took her laptop and a Scarlett - because it was bus-powered and we didn’t need to plug it into anything - and we went to the skatepark because I was skateboarding at the time. We had basically half of a mic stand with a mic on it cabled to the Scarlett and we followed me and other people at the skatepark around. We got the noise of people doing ollies, that click noise that comes off of the pavement, the rolling wheels, and kick-flip noises. We were also hitting the trucks and boards with sticks and spinning the wheels. We have this huge sample pack of just skateboard sounds.

Aki: I literally used one last week. [laughs]

James: We use it all the time and it’s so fun and so raw. Nobody else has those noises because we recorded them ourselves. It’s not like we have to go out and buy a pack of them. Sure, I spent $600 the other day on a huge sample pack of stuff because I don’t wanna go record an entire choir, but having those fun little things that you can transform into anything with enough processing - nobody else will ever have those sounds, just us. It’s really cool.

Aki: It’s a sure way to know that you’re creating something that has its own unique sonic profile. I did another one where we were in a very foresty area in the summer and there was just a constant background of bug noises. It gets really loud, especially at night. I feel like that and the baseboard heater are the two sounds that are the most linked to what time of year it was. If I heard one of those two sounds I can get in the ballpark of what time of year it is because if there’s bugs it’s June-September and if it’s baseboard heaters it’s October-March or April. I feel like you’re creating a sense of place in your music with these little samples that maybe the listener isn’t conscious of but they still get a feeling of it.

James: Yeah, and different people take different things from that too. When you put rain in music some people think of rain in the summer because you get lots of humidity and showers and stuff like that but other people think of rain as spring because that’s when it comes around. Some people think of rain as winter because there are some areas where you aren’t quite cold enough to get snow but there’s still a lot of precipitation. It makes it a very personal experience and also goes into the death of the author idea where you might have had an intention for what you wanted this to sound like but at the end of it all, it’s really about how the listener perceives it. It can really make or break how human your music sounds to one person or another.

Aki: When I was doing Lux’s album, I put some rain that I’d recorded in the backyard on it. I knew the album was coming out in November and the song had a very moody, dark, cold, fall-y type feel. I it was still August-September so while it was raining outside there were also bird sounds. I was like, “Not now! I gotta get a dark, moody rain! Oh god, I gotta try to filter out the bird sounds because I need this to be moody, cold rain. It can’t be warm, there’s-birds-out rain!” [laughs] It’s not something that someone would notice but it’s important to get the vibe right.

James: And it’s even harder in Massachusetts where it’ll downpour for 30 minutes and then it’ll be sunny. [laughs] And then do it again.

Birds either be gone or make your tweets sound more metal!

James: Like Hatebeak! Hatebeak is a real metal band and their vocalist is an African Grey Parrot. They’re great! I love them because they specifically say they don’t tour because it would stress the parrot out too much so they’re like, “Yeah, we’re not going to do this. We’re just going to do this recorded”.

Aki: Do they do local shows?

James: No, they don’t do shows period. They will not subject the bird to that. It’s all just in-house.

Aki: They could live-stream.

James: I guess they could live-stream. This was before that was really a big thing. I think the last record they did was probably - I don’t remember enough about Hatebeak to definitively say - but it was a solid 7 or 8 years ago.

Caninus was the same thing but they had dogs. They had two pit bulls and they would basically play with toys to get them to growl and bark. They never toured because of the dogs and I think both of the dogs have since passed so it’s not a thing anymore. It’s just a very cute, fun thing you can do that’s just so outside of the realm of what’s considered normal music even by people who listen to music that is not considered normal music. That’s way out there. [laughs]

You mixed the New Friends Fest live sets from 2023. What has this process been like? What does mixing these sets mean to you?

Aki: James wasn’t there but I was and Dreamwell played. I was in the front at a lot of these concerts so it’s been really cool reliving a lot of that and also telling James, “Oh this part was awesome!!” The HIRS set was straight up one of the most important sets I’ve witnessed. I’m in mosh retirement and doing-dangerous-things-at-shows retirement except when I’m not. I stage dove during that set. I was like, “I can’t not. I have to!” During the HIRS set when Jenna was like, “This is for the t-slurs!” I was like, “If any of you cis people are moving right now, I’m throwing hands! Get the fuck out of here, this is for me! You cannot take up any space. I’m gonna drop you!” [laughs] I stage dove in Demonias during Pageninetynine too. I was into it so it meant a lot to be trusted to mix the HIRS set and for us to be trusted to mix all of those sets. I think this was the first time that I mixed a live set for real.

James: For me not being there I got to experience so many new bands through having a dozen sets to work on all at once. It was an overwhelming challenge. All those sets were at least 30 minutes long, some of them almost an hour. Having that many of them at once with a deadline was like, “Ok, I’ve gotta speedrun this”. It very much started leaning more on the instinctual side than it did on the technical side because I literally did not have time to be technical with those sets, especially with analog emulation or straight-up analog. A lot of that stuff is done in real-time when I’m mixing and mastering. I'm doing my bounces in real time so every single one of those sets takes at least an hour and a half just to export from start to finish. Then you multiply that over a dozen sets and that’s 20 hours of just exporting on its own. So it really came down to, “I really have to get these done and I gotta get them done fast because otherwise, this is never going to get finished”.

It was a completely different process from doing a song at a time or one record that’s 30-40 minutes long where you have more wiggle room to really get things down pat. You had to go raw with what was there and there was so much bleed from all the other mics because they were all small stages and huge crowds. You had to work with what you got. Even though the recording was done very, very well it's still a completely different animal than doing something that was done in a studio. That coupled with the fact that I wasn’t there and had no visual knowledge of what anything looked like to try to figure out where everybody was standing and where to place the instruments. Figuring out how to separate everybody so everybody is coherent and getting it to sound good was definitely a huge challenge.

It was another level of rewarding when the videos started coming out because we didn’t see any of that footage beforehand, we were only working with audio. We did the audio, sent it over, and then they did the synching with the video after the fact. When I heard some of these sets I was like, “That was really cool! That was really awesome and I like this band”. Then seeing it with the actual visual presentation was like, “Oh shit, these rocked! This went crazy!” .Gif From God was awesome to mix!

Aki: Did you see the part where I got my shit rocked? [laughs]

James: Yeah, I did!

Aki: I was front row and I had a bruise on my thigh for 3 weeks after that set. I got pushed into the subwoofer. [laughs]

James: That was nuts! It’s silly doing just the audio and hearing the vocalist hyping people up like, “What you got?? What you got??” and making sure that’s coming out really clearly and retaining all of that energy in the audio. Then you see it and it’s like, “OH”. People were going crazy and were super into it. Looking at bands I had never heard of statistically on Instagram or Spotify or whatever and seeing decent numbers but nothing too crazy, I was like, “Oh this band’s really good! I’m surprised that people, at least on paper, aren’t that into them”. Then seeing the footage of their sets and when the camera pans to the crowd, there’s so many people screaming along to those songs. I was like, “Oh wow, that’s a whole other level of respect and appreciation for what this band’s doing”. It’s just another reminder that what you see on the internet and what you see on paper and all of these statistics about plays and followers, that doesn’t mean jack shit. None of that matters. ACKOD plays shows where people are going absolutely HAM.

Aki: We have like 5 fans in person. [laughs]

James: On paper, we have 2, and in person, we have 5. Looking at our statistics and seeing sub-500 listeners on Spotify, sub-1000 on Instagram, and sub-500 on Twitter but people come to the shows and they go bonkers. We have people coming up to us afterward and being like, “I came out because I saw y’all had been around forever and you’re finally playing shows”. It was the same thing for New Friends Fest. Seeing those numbers and being like, “This band’s smaller” but you see the footage and it’s like, “No, people love this band!” It’s incredible. It’s just another reminder to not take things at face value. Don’t look at them like it’s just a numbers game.

Me and Daniel talked about this back in Struckout. Struckout was never huge. We played some pretty cool stuff. We went on tour and we opened for Glassjaw once. We did some cool things but we never broke into huge popularity or anything. I remember after our record What You Deserve came out, we played a record release show where we played the whole album and afterward, our friend Nina came up and was like, “Seeing y'all play ‘Don’t Do What You Love’, made me cry". After hearing that Daniel and I were like, “You know what? None of this numbers shit matters”. The fact that we were able to touch even just one person with that level of intensity is enough. Seeing those New Friends sets really reignited that memory in me. It doesn’t matter how many people you’re playing to or how big your band is or how much money people give you for merch and what you’re doing. If you’re touching people in that way, so deep that they’re getting that emotionally invested in what you’re doing, then it’s all worth it. It doesn’t matter if it’s one person or 10, 000 people, it’s worth it.

Aki: That was the vibe there too. Being there that weekend felt really significant just on a personal level for a lot of people. That was also the first show Dreamwell ever played where we started a song and people were like, “Yeah!” and I was like, “What?? You know this song from the drumbeat??”

James: That’s a sick feeling.

Aki: Yeah! [laughs] That was crazy. There’s people there who are super invested in the bands which is really cool.

James: Especially when you don’t know those people. That would happen with Struckout sometimes when I would start certain songs with specific drumbeats and people would go crazy but that was our local scene. There were four bands and when those four bands were on a bill, everybody was showing up and you knew everybody at those shows. So of course everybody was hyped because they’re your friends and they love your music - they love it not just because they’re your friends, they love it because they actually enjoy it. It’s another level when you’re going to a show somewhere and you don’t know anybody there and people are hyped as hell to hear you play. It’s so cool. It’s such an otherworldly feeling. It also feels that way when we do a mix or a master and it comes out and you see people be really hyped on the bands we worked with like Victory Over the Sun. Seeing how much people loved that record and how high of ratings it got on RateYourMusic was super fulfilling. As one degree of separation from it, you still get that feeling. It’s very, very nice.

Aki: It was really interesting to have to rework my process in real-time as I was working on these sets because it was a lot of information. We were running into problems with the amount of data we had on our computer. [laughs] Each set was 58 gigs because it was 30-minute sets and then 20 tracks of 30 minutes. Data-wise it was as if we were mixing 40 albums at once and we kind of were. Usually, I have mastering sessions where I have all of the songs on the album, this time I had a mastering session that had every set I was working on in it which was like 7 hours. [laughs] I would dial in the settings for a couple minutes of a song and then it’d be like, “Ok, I’m keeping these except in any emergencies” which was usually crowd stuff. Usually in between songs, I had to tweak my settings. I’d listen through this once with my settings and do my automation on the fly. I can’t do multiple full listens because then I’m going to be working on each set for 12 hours each.

James: I don’t think I did a single full listen to any one of the sets.

Aki: Ohh bad!! [laughs]

James: I had to hop around to the main parts and be like, “Does this part sound good? Does this part sound good? Ok, we’re good”. But on the data thing, when you mix down an album in high quality, a full 40-minute record is probably about half a gig - you have half a gig for the mix and half a gig for the master. If all of the multi-tracks you have are that length, they’re gonna be the same size. When you multiply half a gig times 32 tracks times 20 or 30 sets, it adds up really fast. We had to do a deep clean after we were done and archive a whole bunch of stuff just so we could keep working.

Aki: I think we killed probably at least a terabyte. [laughs]

James: Not all of it was just from that but it was the proverbial straw that broke Aki’s camel back. [laughs]

Aki: My camel back is having a rough time! [laughs] I have a lot of appreciation for Sunny of Hate5Six who does this hundreds of times a year. I know he has a crazy data management system for that reason.

James: Video is even worse! Video is huge files!

Aki: He probably has a mini data center at his place. [laughs] All mixing takes some compromise, especially in live settings. Producing something the exact way I wanted versus dealing with a ton of bleed was difficult, especially with those vocalists because they don’t wanna stand still.

James: Or be consistent. They’ll be here singing and then they’ll be here singing. You have to make that sound good no matter where they are.

Aki: The most important thing was that the show was good. I don’t expect that anyone was like, “Oh is this gonna sound correct on the recording of the set that comes out in six months?” They had to perform for a live audience and then it’s our job to take what were probably some of the most striking moments of the sets like KZ striking his head with the microphone - I wonder how that sounded? - or Jenna jumping off the balcony. I could hear the crackling because of the mic cables being thrown up there. I was like, “This is going to happen! This is the part! I can hear this mic cable going crazy right now!” [laughs]

James: You’ve got to capture that energy.

Aki: It was definitely a learning experience on the fly. It made me want to explore that realm more.

James: Doing live sound, yeah. It’s a completely different animal.

Aki: It’s a whole other animal doing live live sound which I did do in college a bit. Both for the actual on-campus concerts and when we had house parties. [laughs] I’d be the one who knew how to set up the sound system and get it to sound ok. I think they were just running it in chained mono until I was like, “You are hooking up the two monitors together so this is all in mono. If you run two cables out of the board into each monitor, then you can hear it in stereo which will sound better”. That was the fancy shit I was learning with my expensive college degree. It was like, “Stereo audio has two channels”.


James: The one thing I remember you telling me about audio engineering was learning about circuits. I was trying to get any semblance of real knowledge about it and you were like, “I don’t know, it’s just kinda like wizard magic” and I’ve just never forgotten that. [laughs] That and wiggly air. It’s all wiggly air and wizard magic.

Aki: Yeah! Acoustics, speakers, circuits. I remember doing a circuit project at five in the morning. I was doing a parametric EQ and I was showing the frequency response on a bunch of LEDs. For some reason when I was doing something in the lows it was fucking with the other LEDs because somehow they were connected. I was like, “What’s going on?” Then I was trying to comb my brain for how to fix it and I was like, “Coupling capacitor!” So I took a capacitor out of the box, stuck it on there, and fixed it. I was like, “….I can’t believe that worked!!” It was 6 am and I was like, “Is this real? Did this concept I learned actually work in practice?? That’s weird”. [laughs]

James: Or was it wizard magic and you just got the spell right?

Aki: It was probably that.

The wiggly air lined up.

Aki: That was in the spicy metal domain - electricity. [laughs]

You’ve put together two compilation albums so far with all of the proceeds going to your Trans Musician Fund. In 2023 you were able to fund several projects through this fund. What goes into putting the comps together? What has it been like to see the Trans Musician Fund grow?

Aki: We have a lot more that we’re either working on or have finished that are being released. The Sludge Bunny album that just got released was also largely funded by the Trans Musician Fund. That’s a band of four trans women and a lot of the songs are about being trans and stuff. That was another big recent project. The Trans Musician Fund came out of what I was saying earlier about how do we increase access for the people whose voices need to be heard the most? Who have the most important things to say about, “fuck the system”?

Recording is expensive and music is essential but it’s not a basic survival need compared to food and bills. So many trans people are living paycheque to paycheque. So many trans people have to work multiple regular jobs because we’re not allowed to work so many jobs, we just won’t get hired. So many trans people I know struggle to find a basic service job even when they have experience as managers and stuff. Trans people make somewhere around 60 cents on the dollar for what every cis man makes. When you meet any amount of trans people you see how that mechanism plays out.

We’re a studio who is working primarily with trans people. So many people who we’re working with will have unexpected financial difficulties - it’s just a part of life for everybody living in capitalism in 2024 - but that 60 cents on the dollar plays out meaning that it’s so much more pronounced. I was like, “How do we work with that? We’ll take money from cis people when we can but that’s not who is generally reaching out to us to work with us”. We want to encourage trans people to work with us. We want to give them an opportunity to work with us. We’d been talking about it for a while and created it at the beginning of 2022. It’s been used for covering portions of projects or sometimes complete projects depending on what we can do for trans artists.

James: The compilations have been cool because they double as a showcase of those musicians as well. The first comp we did was just stuff that was already out and that we got permission to throw on as part of the Trans Musician Fund but the second one ended up being all stuff that wasn’t available anywhere else. We sourced it from trans musicians we worked with and our own bands as well. There’s a couple ACKOD remixes on there and stuff like that. By and large, it was designed to be something to give a platform to that community as well as promote the studio and the Trans Musician Fund all in one. It worked incredibly well. We had so many amazing artists on that comp and we’re gonna keep doing it. We’re working on the next one now.

Aki: The first compilation was like, “We’re putting these shirts up on Bandcamp” and that was our main idea. Then it was, “I guess we need music on Bandcamp. We need to put together a compilation”. I hit up a bunch of people that we’d worked with so we could have some music and it wasn’t like, “Why doesn’t this Bandcamp have any music on it?? It just has merch”. I’ve only ever sold shirts on Bandcamp, I don’t know how anything else works. [laughs] The second one felt like releasing an album.

James: We ended up mastering all of them and we mixed a fair portion of them.

Aki: Yeah, you mixed the ACKOD one and I mixed five or six different tracks. I was trying to get people motivated to do this so I offered free mixes for the songs and that kicked my ass. I got to mix a lot of really cool artists but it was a lot of work. I mixed Jisei, the grindcore band - Leda is one of our friends and did vocals on the ACKOD album - and getting to mix one of their songs was really sick. I early leaked one of my solo project songs. That album is not even anywhere close to done but I finished one of the songs for it and put it on there. I was trying to be weirdly quiet about it too because I wanna do a bigger reveal for it. There’s a lot of really cool stuff on there. I finished the masters for that album the same week James finished the masters for ACKOD’s Dissecting A One-Winged Bird and the same week we got the masters back for In My Saddest Dreams, I Am Beside You. We got all three of those back in the same week in April last year. It was really wild that three things we’d been working on for so long came together in the same week on their own unrelated trajectories. It was really weird.

James: We learned a lot about networking with the community to source the songs for this project. For the second comp, it was very much like, “Hey, who wants to be on this?” and just throwing it out into the ether. Some people got songs to us right away, some people took a lot longer, and it kinda dragged out a little bit longer than we wanted to and put it off a bit longer. We definitely learned a lot from doing that second one. I think with this one, it’s been just a little more curated. We’re being a little bit more intentional about making sure people who want to do it are held accountable for getting us things in a reasonable amount of time to make it more reasonable for our time as well. It’s tough to really invest yourself in it when it starts feeling like it’s pulling you back to focus on something you really should be putting a lot of effort and care into. It’s something we care a lot about doing and we really don’t wanna feel that way about this next one. Like I said, we’re being more intentional, doing more curating, and really trying to stay on a harder timeline so we can put something out that’s high quality in a reasonable amount of time and continue uplifting the community, continue promoting the Trans Musician Fund and keeping up with everything else we’ve got going on.

Aki: I’m getting a track from a band called Deafening. I’ve become friends with them in the last year. They do really cool atmospheric black metal but that doesn’t even do them justice, they’re into a lot of cool stuff like post-hardcore and electronic. Havyn from Deafening is also submitting a track for her solo project, bottom surgery. Havyn did my Raven tattoo when I was out in Las Vegas. She’s a really talented tattoo artist. Daniel basically had an extra song for his album and he was like, “Don’t worry about this one, it’s a B-side”. I was like, “If I mix it, can I put it on the compilation?” and he was like, “Yeah!” so we’re gonna do that. My doom metal band Necroplanet is on there and rotting in dirt have submitted something.

James: There’s going to be a song on there that’s one degree of separation from ACKOD. It’s got Aki, it’s got me, it’s got Ari, and it’s got our friend Mara on bass. It’s called Yagrum Bagarn and it is an Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind-themed death metal band that we’ve been working on for a while.

Aki: Speaking of Ari, she does really good bird calls.

James: Yeah, she can sound like a bird at any time. She’ll be like, “Do you wanna hear what a Red-Tailed Hawk sounds like??” and just start screaming. [laughs]

Aki: Did she do the bird call on stage during the ACKOD tour?

James: I think we had her do that once. I’ll usually say a bit or something before we play. There was a point in the tour where I threw a bunch of the bits that we had into a raffle ball and it landed on Ari bird call so we cut, I whipped my head back at her, she screamed like a bird and then we went into the next song.

Yagrum Bagarn is all about Elder Scrolls because we had a falling out with another band that myself, Mara, and Aki were in and one person who will not be named ended up treating us massively like shit. We were like, “Well, we like doing this!” So we were talking and Mara was like, “I’ve always wanted to make an Elder Scrolls band” and I was like, “I’ve got some death metal riffs!” Then we grabbed Aki and started doing it. [laughs] Literally the only differences between that band and ACKOD is I play guitar instead of bass - Mara plays bass -, we don’t have Aaron, and it’s just straight-up dumb death metal riffs about Elder Scrolls and not weird dissonant death metal about killing cops and TERFs.

Aki: It felt liberating to really do whatever the fuck we want. We threw some nu-metal riffs on there just because we can. I mean we’re also doing that in ACKOD…

James: We’re doing that on new ACKOD. It’s gonna be real dumb.

Do you have anything that I didn’t ask that you’d like to add?

Aki: There’s a few things that go to the Trans Musician Fund. We have a ko-fi profile that’s just to donate to the fund directly. We have a Bandcamp where you can buy merch and the compilation. Any money that doesn’t go to the artists on the compilation will go to the fund. For the shirts, anything that doesn’t go to shipping goes to the fund.

James: All profits essentially go to the fund. We’re not taking any money for ourselves. Everything that’s left after the cost of the shirt, printing, and shipping goes straight into the fund.

Aki: Also we stream on Twitch sometimes and sometimes we make money from that, not very much but a portion of that goes to the fund as well. That goes back to what we were saying about not holding secrets.

James: We wanna show people how to do this so we’re on Twitch, we’re mixing, we’re mastering, and we’re going through the process step-by-step. Sometimes we’re not super detailed about what we’re doing but at least you can see it. I think if we were, we wouldn’t get anything done.

Aki: We’re showing technique and what’s happening in this particular mix. But every mix is its own adventure. It has its own set of circumstances and its own goals and way of getting into the creative mindset. We can stand up there and talk about mixing all day and everything we’re doing and what we’re using and give away the presets or whatever but that’s not going to make a mix sound the way it does because the most important parts are the experience, the care, the critical thought, and the listening. You’re listening to the wiggly air but you’re also listening to what the artists are saying.

James: It’s also important to say that you don’t have to go on Twitch to find that. You can just email us or DM us if you have questions, concerns, or things you wanna know like, “What’s your favourite x plugin? How did you get this particular sound?” We’re more than happy to answer those kinds of things. If you want to get into a four-hour consultation session, that’s another conversation. We’re happy to provide advice and have a silly, goofy little time talking to people about whatever they want to talk about. Hopefully, spread a little bit of knowledge and good vibes from the community and be as uplifting to trans and queer musicians and engineers as much as we can.

Aki: If you want to talk about how to go about gender-affirming transition and obtaining hormones, that is also a free consultation. I’ve talked about that stuff with people I’m working on projects with because that’s part of what goes into making that music a lot of the time. I’m in the stages of planning to work on a really exciting album right now with a decently well-known trans songwriter. This is something where I’m really trying to know everything that’s going into what she’s writing. So I’m like, “You want to rant about your breakup? You can send all of that to me because I want to know all the lore for what’s going into this album”. I don’t know how every single piece of knowledge about that will be important but it might be how to emphasize one word in the song or how to emphasize a certain mood because it’s calling some sort of detail up or some theme that’s associated with everything that’s happening. That’s all important.

We’re really just trying to destroy the music industry by providing more accessible services and also teaching people how to do things on their own so they don’t have to rely on record labels or having a ton of money to throw at things.

James: If you don’t want to give your money to our Trans Musician Fund, just give it to trans people directly. They need it more than you.

Aki: Trans people creating music is very important but if you know any amount of trans people, you know people who are desperately in need of aid for basic survival. It’s fucking heartbreaking to have to share and donate to fundraisers for people I’ve worked with before who are at risk of homelessness but that’s the reality that trans people face.

James: Or to hear from people who want to work with us and then can’t because of these things. They’re like, “I’m literally about to be kicked out of my home. I want to work on this record with you but I have to sell my microphone”. It’s fucking heartbreaking.

Aki: That’s more important than donating to us. Donate to aid for trans people because we’re all fucking suffering. I’m one of the lucky ones to be able to be here doing any of this and not worried about if I’m going to have a roof over my head or where my next meal is coming from. World’s fucked but music is cool.

James: In the immortal words of Fred Durst, “Everything’s fucked, everybody sucks!”


Aki: Fred Durst invented being non-binary.

James: The ladies, the fellas, and those who don’t give a fuck.

Aki: The three genders! [laughs]


Art created by Nat Lacuna

Trans Rights II: WE ARE NO LONGER ASKING Tracklist 1 Sylvia Haynes - Once Where I Am Now

Sylvia Haynes - Music, Lyrics, Mixing

Evan Lynn - Mixing

2 Braindead Puppy - Keep Me Clinging to Your State of Decay

Stefania Galletti - vocals, mixing, songwriting

Marnie Morgan - guitar, songwriting

3 bottom surgery - Afterbirth

Havyn Alice - Lyrics & Music

Aki McCullough - Mix

4 The Holy Ghost Tabernacle Choir - Psycho Killer (Talking Heads Cover)

Produced and Mixed by Chris "Scary" Adams at Hidden Audio in Savannah, GA

Originally written and performed by Talking Heads

5 Deafening - See You Soon

Aki McCullough - Mix

6 Yagrum Bagarn - Path of the Incarnate

Mara Knocklein - Engineering, Production

James Goldmann - Mix, Production

7 Necroplanet - The Fatal Grasp or Eternity

Mike Snow - Bass, Rhythm Guitars, Noise

Aki McCullough - Lead Guitars, Vocals, Noise

Mae Shults - Drums

8 Margot Dogwater - Id

Margot Dogwater - Everything

9 Vi Viana - THE BUZZ

Everything performed, programmed, and mixed by Vi Viana

10 rotting in dirt - Confirmation Bias

Vocals and instrumentals written and recorded by Lark Schuster.

Mixed by Jacob Beeson.

Original track, "Memory Bias," written and performed by rotting in dirt.

11 pathological function - Advanced Persistent Threats

November Jones - Everything

12 Arón Speer - Backwards Stare

Written by Arón Speer

Mixed by Aki McCullough

13 ameokama - Whitetail (Low Cover)

Aki McCullough - Guitar, Bass, Vocals, Mix

James Goldmann - Very Important Hi-Hat and Cymbal Swells

Originally composed by Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker