The Hustle and Clarity of Cloudchord [Exclusive Interview]

Photos provided by Pivotal Agency

If you browse the Instagram account of Derek VonScoten, the Austin-based musician behind Cloudchord, you’ll notice a couple of things. In addition to pictures from his shows, his page also features jam sessions with other musicians, tips for producers, and a plethora of creative daily riffs—often accompanied by the dance moves of his daughter. But what stands out to me the most is the sly little smile resting on his face in every post: the kind of smile that only comes with the confidence of truly knowing oneself.

Wildly multi-talented and passionate, Derek has discovered his voice with a zen-like balance of his ambitions and laser-focused inspiration. From scoring an Emmy-award-winning movie to collaborating with Soul Food Horns on their album Koi Pond to his remixes for Clozee and Of Monsters & Men, it doesn’t take much to see that every project is approached with a full heart and authenticity.

Cloudchord’s Taken By The Sky is out as of February 13th. The four-track EP features his new single “Hustle Dust,” which is full of just as much charm and positivity as everything else he gets his hands on.

Festival Squad: Your new EP Taken By The Sky comes out on February 13. “Hustle Dust” especially is a bit of a shift from your typical production. What inspired the new sound? Do you see this being something you continue to explore?

Cloudchord: Variety is the spice of life. I wouldnʼt say that this is a hard departure from my sound, but more like that one meal that has some extra sauce. Iʼve found my stylistic voice, so whether itʼs something really chill or a funky slapper, Iʼm confident that people will recognize it as Cloudchord.

FS: You have previously spoken on the importance of “finding your lane” by channeling your inspiration and “focus[ing] on your greatness.” What guidance do you have for someone trying to achieve this? For example, how do you work with your students in this sense?

CC: The answer is pretty simple: keep showing up, every day. It may feel like itʼs taking a long time, but eventually youʼll arrive.

FS: As a classical guitarist, where did the idea to incorporate hip-hop and electronic influences into your production come from?

CC: Jurassic 5 was my gateway drug. Their album Quality Control converted me, and I was sold. I think that because they sampled so many instruments in their beats, I could really relate to it.

FS: You scored the Emmy-winning 2015 film In Football We Trust, which centers around Polynesian football players in Salt Lake City as they take a shot at the NFL. How did you get involved with that and what was different in your approach to scoring a film compared to producing EPs?

CC: They couldn’t afford Pretty Lights and heard about me. Seriously, thatʼs a true story. I think it worked out for all of us because I ended up having a wider variety of sound than what they initially wanted. At first, they wanted just a couple of short electro-funk pieces, but I ended up doing about half of the movie and the trailer.

The trick with scoring is that the visual always wins, so itʼs much different, and in some ways easier, than making EPs. Your hand is forced.

FS: Your Instagram is full of amazing content. Jam sessions, daily licks, production tips, stories and the inclusion of your family all seem to be a very intentional way to connect with people. What do you think the role of human connection plays in music?

CC: I think folks resonate with simple honesty. People come up to me a lot and say, “Your videos are so wholesome and I love them. Your daughter steals the show.”

FS: Teaching in college, running workshops, continuing to teach students todaymusic education has long been an important part of your life. What role has it played in making you a better musician?

CC: The ability to teach clearly allows me to also produce and perform with clarity. I see a lot of artists who are their own worst enemy with issues like too much gear or too much free time. Sometimes simple boundaries, like a schedule, or just one instrument that allows you to go deep and not wide. Because we live in such an abundant society, I think itʼs a natural tendency to keep wandering through endless choices. Ultimately however, I think that doing just a few things well leads to a sense of accomplishment and inner satisfaction.

FS: You’ve had your hands in a lot of different projects, from scoring a film to producing music for the NBA & McDonald’s to solo jazz performances at Whole Foods to any of the collaborative productions you have been involved in. So far, what part of your career has stood out to you the most?

CC: I started my touring career as a guitarist in a 10-piece Latin band and now Iʼm here, so thereʼs a lot of stories. I think that the 2010-2015 era of East Coast electronic music was a really fun thing to be part of.

FS: You have also mentioned that making lists is a big part of maintaining your creativity. Is this something that extends outside of your music career, and if so, what are some of the lists you keep?

CC: Iʼm a list keeper for sure. A few examples are: new guitar video ideas, potential song names, what friends I have in each city (touring pro tip).

FS: 2020 is off to great start for you already, so what comes next for Cloudchord and what comes next for Derek?

CC: I just became an Ableton Certified Trainer, which opens up a lot of ideas and opportunities for me. Iʼm excited to dig into that and continue to release music at a fever pitch.

FS: And lastly, I know that so much of your inspiration and energy comes from getting to create and being surrounded by music, but what is something that you are currently passionate about that doesn’t involve music?

CC: I love comedy. I truly enjoy watching and studying a lot of comedians. It really helps with my pacing as a performer and teacher.

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Check out Taken By The Sky on Cloudchord’s Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Spotify, and give him a follow on Instagram. It really is as wholesome as he says.

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