Sunday, January 30, 2022


We start 2022 with a post about a musical project that, I am sure, will not leave you indifferent. An emotional, deep, complex project that captivated me from the moment I met it. mtf8 (Empty Fate) has been developed over several decades. The people who have worked on it have invested a lot of feeling and passion. Each song is grounded in something very deep and an honest attempt has been made to express a dark journey through the music.

Not long ago someone contacted me asking if some of his songs could be added to my Noctis Voyagers Vol.1 playlist (you can listen to it if you want, haha). I replied, "if the material fits the style, no problem". Adam, the musician behind the mtf8 project, sent me the link to his song "Grotesque" and, wow, I was blown away by what I heard.

What is mtf8?

mtf8 is based out of New York metropolitan area, Adam started writing his material in the mid 90's. In 2018, he was joined by musician and producer, Charlie Nieland. mtf8's musical influences include The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, Christian Death, and Fields of The Nephilim. Aside from Adam's creativity and talent in songwriting, Charlie’s talents are audible not just in the beautiful production but in some of the incredible synth sounds, dark organic bass lines, and breathtaking guitar work.

Given the raw emotion and deeply personal nature of his music, I've asked Adam to explain his creation in his own words. In addition, I've reached out to Charlie with a series of questions. What follows is a deep dive into the music of mtf8 from the 2 people who know it best.


"mtf8 was born both in and from ruin. The apartment had been emptied except for the computer desk used to prop up my computer, stereo, and a recently acquired MIDI controller. There was no other furniture, no decorations, or indicators of anything resembling a home. 

It was the mid 90's and the last 5 or 6 years of being kidnapped, homeless, abandoned, and psychologically abused had become too much. This barren setting felt well deserved and quite familiar. There was no taking of drugs or drink; the usual underpinnings of a scene like this. In fact, I don't remember eating. I don't remember how I managed to raise funds for the cigarettes smoked and the never out-of-sight cans of Arizona iced-tea that had been stacked all over my desk. Rent wasn't being paid and I knew it was only a matter of time before I'd be homeless again. 

That wasn't going to happen. 

Eventually, I realized this thing, this project, this experiment I was calling "mtf8" was more than the musical recruitment tool it had started as. It was a letter. It was a chance to say and express things once and for all. I wasn't going to be homeless again.

I remember the distinct curiosity I felt when working on the intro to what would eventually be named "Imperfection". Despite coming mainly from a metal and (now) classic goth background, I found myself enchanted with pianos, strings, and even brass. My tools were so limited but not knowing what I didn't know was a powerful asset. 

All the sounds came from a Roland SCC1 sound card which included both a General MIDI (GM) and General Standard (GS) sound bank. I read the card's accompanying thin yellow manual many times over in order to learn how to properly connect the cables and explore the various features. Nowadays, these banks wouldn't even be considered for basic gaming but all those years ago, having the ability to trigger a cheesy horn, sawtooth, and even the airplane was the coolest thing ever! Actually, that airplane sound provided a key ambient backdrop on "Goddess", a track I personally consider to be one of the project's core songs. 

"Confessions" was also written during this era. It features some of those early samples like footsteps, maniacal laughing, and a woman screaming. They're all synced in a way as to convey a horrible scene being played out repeatedly until all the madness becomes enveloped in a wash of reverb symbolizing an overall acceptance. A new lyric is introduced: "All I've ever wanted won't bring me yesterday". On the surface, the line was written as my take on "you can't go home again". Underneath, I suspect it represents much more.

I was learning how powerful music could be. Not as a listener, or as a drummer in a band hellbent on "making it big", but as a means to express something that words alone can not convey. By themselves, words have been compromised. Through all the media we consume, we've heard every variation of every story. We filter our speech in order to maintain the facade needed to navigate our cutthroat society. Even the "poetry" I had written over the years now seemed to call out for a voice. The words were honest and pure but they wanted to be expressed! 

At some point, I realized it wouldn't hurt to start retrofitting some lyrics to the music. At times, I'd even mumble-sing them aloud. Songs like "Grotesque", "Rebirth/Regress", "Salvation", and others were born. Regarding song structure, I had no desire to mimic the cookie-cutter formulas I knew so well from all my years of drumming in various projects.

One of those songs written during that early era is a track named "Fate Takes a Bow". To this day, I remain slightly terrified of it. The track is probably 15 minutes long. At the time, it most definitely represented everything I felt; all the sadness and doom expressed as a quite intricate journey; finally exploding into something I intentionally did not want a listener to enjoy. 

In a "mad scientist" kind of way, it made perfect sense. I still have an mp3 of it which I recorded a few years later. Even now, the song intimidates me though I realize the reasons have somewhat changed. There is definitely a part of me that wonders if the piece can "stand up" to what mtf8 has evolved into. 

Then there's the (obviously) self-imposed guilt felt when I consider never bringing it to light. It's been this way for years and I still haven't made a decision. There have been other tracks I know I'll leave abandoned. I'm OK with each of those for various reasons but there are a few songs in the mtf8 vault which have this "baggage" attached. One such song, "November", was inspired by my escape from a particular cult-like institution. I know it's an important chapter in story that is mtf8 but I have also accepted how difficult it can be to get inspired by a song you've heard for over 20 years. Basically, there's an entire album's worth of material that will probably never be heard but I think I'm OK with that. The classic songs were resurrected, tweaked, and released on the "Rebirth" and "Regress" albums. Everything after those 2 releases is actually newly written material. 

Enter 2018. It had been more than a decade since I retired the project. All the gear had been dismantled and packed away. I hadn't listened to the mp3s in many years and rarely thought about mtf8. The thought of trying to stitch it all back together again was just too overwhelming. More importantly, I felt the project had served its purpose. I just didn't want to open that can of worms again. That changed ever so slightly when I heard Ronan Conroy's music. 

Sure, it exists in a different space but I recognized a particular conviction which inspired me to share an old song, "Fade Away", with him. I remember listening to the mp3 and thinking to myself "this is a great song, it should be heard". I basically just let Ronan know he was free to do what he wanted with it pending any inspiration. To my surprise, he let me hear his studio rendition a few weeks later and I was just shocked. Not only was his voice and overall execution extremely moving couldn't get over the degree he (and Charlie) had stayed true to

the song's arrangement. The fact they didn't just chop it up to use only

the "good" parts confused me.. The fact they didn't just chop it up to use only the "good" parts confused me for a moment. 

Put simply, I was amazed to discover these guys had gotten so firmly behind something I had written. Ronan thought it might be interesting to invite me into the studio to discuss some particular aspects of the track. That's when I met Charlie. It was a really strange and incredible experience. 

On one side, it was like stepping into a time machine; back to a time I felt really comfortable working with musicians and hanging out in a studio. On the other hand, I felt like a complete imposter who didn't want to overstay my welcome. Charlie had a way of putting that anxiety to rest as we got into some really interesting conversations. Before I knew it, we were actually collaborating on the drum part; making various changes here and there. I left after 4 hours and started to wonder about the possibilities as I drove home.

I remember the first session I booked with Charlie following the brief collaboration on "Fade Away". I had emailed him a MIDI file of "Imperfection" which I had recovered from a backup made sometime in 2003. Prior to this session, I had endured a few weeks of torment as I learned about the collapsed hard drive as well as the non-existent tape backups I thought I was in possession of. The only thing I managed to come up with was a single CD-ROM labeled "mtf8 backup". A look at the contents revealed I had lost roughly 4 years of improvements and new material. 

Songs like "Scars", "Portrait", "Cold", and others were just gone! Sure, I had the mp3s but I didn't have the actual scores of each song. Given the fact I don't understand music theory (I do know what an octave is though, yay!) there'd be no way for me to ever reconstruct them. Had I not found that collection of dated material, I would have called Charlie and just canceled the session. Even with the backup in hand, I had to do a lot of work to prepare.

First, I had to decode the proprietary .wrk and/or .bun files since mtf8 was created using a very old version of Cakewalk Pro Audio. This first meant obtaining and running an old version of Windows 98 on a VM since all my computers run GNU/Linux nowadays. Once that was in place, I found that old version of Cakewalk 8 on piratebay and managed to get it running. Honestly, as much as I've developed a sincere disgust for all things Windows and proprietary software in general, seeing Cakewalk again was like reuniting with an old friend. I spent all night loading files and looking for any traces of the lost data. I probably reconnected and searched through all the hard drives again in the hopes of locating the now lost material. It was a long night but I finally just accepted the win of exporting each of the songs I had into standard .mid files. These would provide the foundation for Charlie and me to begin our work.

I remember someone asking if this meant I was going to start writing again. My response was instant: "I have nothing to write about" followed by a laugh to try and cover my disgust of the idea. All I wanted to do was work with Charlie to get 1 or 2 songs recorded. I tend to go "all in" on things I'm passionate about and by the 2nd session, I remember explaining my very detailed "3 album chronology" to Charlie. All the material would be from the original catalog even if we had to reverse-engineer specific songs entirely from scratch. It would be an enormous multi-year project requiring lots of time, work, and money. The sheer magnitude of the vision was almost too much to think of as a whole. The only way to move forward was one step at a time. 

Charlie and I continued to book our 10 hour sessions every 1 or 2 weeks. These first few sessions were paramount in terms of us learning how to collaborate; each of us having to learn the other's language. After all, I had never worked with anyone else on mtf8. I knew I had to drive the project but wanted to invite his ideas and inspirations. Charlie is extremely talented, knowledgable, and creative. He maintains an unteachable ability to hear music in the grey areas; the things that don't fit perfectly together. I quickly came to understand he was the perfect producer for a project as nuanced as this. The only real problem I saw was the overall pace of working these sporadic sessions.  

I wanted to find a way to contribute more in order to help move things along at a faster pace. Even if it meant just "cleaning" the MIDI files prior to us starting our work, that would save many hours. By "cleaning", I mean removing all the irrelevant MIDI controller and/or SYSEX messages, separating drum tracks (though I was always pretty disciplined about that), and rearranging tracks so they didn't rely on Program Change messages to change sounds (a classic work-around to the now dated 16 MIDI channel limitation).

There was so much to learn as I started building the system I now write on. First off, all the hardware I once used to write the early mtf8 material was no longer applicable. Gone are the days of external sound modules, effects, and mixers. Sure, I tried setting everything up and getting, well anything, to work but the ordeal quickly revealed itself to be one of the worst ideas I've ever had. After a few weeks of fighting to trigger my Roland SC88 module reliably, I admitted defeat and put it back into storage along with my Roland TD7 module, an old Alesis Midiverb 4, and a few other things. 

It wasn't just the hardware vs. software thing that presented the challenge. I had never "DAW'd" on GNU/Linux and it took some time to get a sense of things. Over the years, I've grown to detest freedom-restricting software so I certainly had no intention of using things like Reaper or Bitwig Studio regardless of how popular they were. Before settling on Qtractor, I spent a very long time looking at the usual suspects like Ardour, MusE, LMMS as well as getting up to speed on the various plugin formats, protocols, best-practices, and worthwhile resources pertaining to the overall topic. It was during this phase of experimentation that "The Smile" was written. In fact, that song was written in MusE with the drums arranged via DrumGizmo. Somehow, I even managed to create drum stems which were brought into the studio for poor Charlie to contend with. He had to do quite a bit of work to get them to sit right. Maybe it would have been better to have gone down a different path but I liked what I was able to do with the various hi-hat samples in the kit. More important than the drum contribution however, was the fact that after all this time, I had written a new song. 

It happened rather quickly, perhaps a day to write the lyrics and vocal melody. I brought the exported MIDI file into the studio along with the drum stems and Charlie worked his magic to bring it to life. This session occurred somewhat early into the work we were doing on "Rebirth" and I think we both valued the chance to strike while the iron of inspiration was hot. He added the perfect bass line and some "shoe gaze" inspired guitar. I was nervous but confident when I sang in the vocal booth. The song was legitimate and I was starting to realize I was wrong to think I had nothing else to express.

Work on "Rebirth" had been completed. It was a real accomplishment as certain aspects of the original material had been reworked and elaborated on. For example, the original ending of "Imperfection" had been dropped in order to build something which, in my opinion, turned out to be far more emotional.  A variation of sorts, inspired mainly by Charlie's guitar playing, was spun off from "Grotesque". 

I even wrote some new synth parts on that track as well as extended the vocals on "Scars", a track we (and by "we", I mean Charlie!) completely reverse-engineered from the original mp3 version. "Scars" also afforded me a chance to make use of my somewhat in-place home setup where I reconstructed all the drum tracks. In fact, one of the very last additions we made to that album was adding the audio sample to the intro of "Scars". It's taken from the 1996 film entitled "The War at Home". It's a story that touches such a nerve in terms of my own ordeals many years ago. I remember wondering if Charlie would cringe at the idea. He got it. It's one of those moments that I recall as being so valuable in terms of the trust and rapport we've established.

Work on "Regress" started immediately. The album wasn't so much of a follow-up as much as it was a continuation. After all, the songs were already written as they were part of the original catalog. By now, we had ironed out a pretty reliable work flow. I'd cleanup the MIDI files at home, bring them in, and we would being the process of mapping sounds. This "MIDI mapping" step was necessary since we weren't yet sharing any common sound sources (this eventually changed). Once the music was mapped, I'd lay down a rough vocal track as soon as possible. I came to both understand and appreciate this is how Charlie went about learning a song. 

Once the track was "up and walking around" as he'd put it, that's when things would start to get interesting. Depending on the track, we might add real bass and/or guitars, tweak or embellish the arrangement, or any number of other things. Very often, this space we granted ourselves for exploration resulted in new ideas being introduced. Some specific examples of this include Charlie's thunderous fuzz bass on "Goddess", the reworked drum tracks I prepared for both "Beyond The Gates" and "Drowning in Flames" meant to complement Charlie's killer bass performances. Every track had new ideas applied. 

Despite knowing this music like the back of my hand, our collaboration made me see each song in new light. It was during "Regress" that I started to understand myself more as a vocalist. Armed with Charlie's guidance and a bit of autotune, I pushed a bit more on this album and even surprised myself a few times.

With "Regress" completed and having established a solid setup at home, I found myself writing new material. It's never been a case of sitting down with the intent of writing a song. Instead, it always seems to be born from a small seemingly insignificant thing. I don't like to try and explain too much about any given song as it feels redundant. After all, if a song "explains" a bunch of words, then explaining it becomes a bit like translating the translator. That said, the time taken to finally express the 1st chapter of mtf8 gave me the insight and confidence to open the door to the 2nd. In retrospect, I now see the former as the question and the latter as the answer. It took me getting honest with myself and realizing I had more to say. The scenery and reasons have changed over the years but my constant remains; There is only Fate."


As I said before, I think Charlie's part is more appropriate to develop based on questions and answers....

Q- Charlie, first of all, thank you for your kindness and agree to tell us about mtf8 in this interview.

A- Thank you for asking me.

Q- To start, tell us a little about yourself Charlie. How were your beginnings in music, your influences, your career…

A- I started with bass guitar as a teenager, learning Yes bass parts by ear and playing in bands. Then I started writing songs and figuring out how to make layered recordings with two cassette decks and a DJ mixer. When I was in college, I studied electronic music and by my final year, the first affordable drum machines and midi synths became available. Using early samplers and a PC-based sequencer I started delving into a hybrid of songwriting and production for my band Her Vanished Grace. I started producing other people's music in the 2000s and it really opened me up creatively. I'm influenced by artists and producers who paint a picture; who can create a story between the listener and the music by making a sequence of experiences where, the more you listen, the more you hear something new. Endless discovery. The Beatles, Bowie, Eno, Peter Gabriel, Cocteau Twins, The Cure, Flaming Lips, PJ Harvey, Interpol, Animal Collective; the influences list is long.

3 Q- Moving on to mtf8 now, Adam has already given us his vision and details of the project, which you joined as a producer a few years ago. Tell us, how did you meet each other exactly, and how did the idea of collaborating with him come up?

A- I work with an artist named Ronan Conroy. He played some of our music for Adam. Adam liked it and asked Ronan if he wanted to record a cover of an mtf8 song called Fade Away and so we did. This led to Adam asking me to work with him in 2018 and we've been making music ever since. 

Q- Adam has told us about the difficulties that existed at the beginning at a technical level for collaboration, did you have different studio and software setups, how did you deal with it at the beginning? How was the process at a technical level?

A- I consider them challenges rather than difficulties.They create interesting pathways as we re-interpret material that he wrote 15-20 years ago. Some midi files have survived, allowing us a starting point, while others require elaborate reverse-engineering. Years ago, he used an old Roland sampler and I believe Cubase (?-I could be wrong about that). I work mainly with Logic. Even now, he uses different software than I do, so we share midi and/or audio files to get a song started. I make sure to have many of the same virtual synths that he does (plus lots more) so it's all pretty easy to develop things on a technical level. 

Q- What was it that seduced you to try to produce the old songs of mtf8, that caught your attention and made you do so much of your part? Those songs had been buried so long…

A- The night Adam came to the studio to give Ronan and I notes on our version of his song, he learned that I could keep up with his attention to detail. The next day he asked to do a session with me. As we got down to work, I showed him how I could augment his keyboard parts with textured real guitar and bass. And when we started recording vocals, I gave him space to open up, explore and find new ways of singing. I feel like I help give more dimension to what he already has going.

Q- What is your studio setup right now, what hardware and software do you use? (If it can be known…)

A- I use Logic Pro X and a wide variety of other virtual plug-ins and real instruments (guitars basses, synths, drums), mics and mic preamps. For his vocals, we usually use the Neuman TLM-193 through a Vintech-Neve 1272 Mic Pre and a DBX 166X compressor.

Q- Tell us about Adam. How is he as a musician? What do you think are his best abilities as a songwriter and vocalist?

A- Adam creates music that defies categorization. They're like 3D landscapes as much as they are songs, with emotional topography rolling past you. Each detail of the environment is obsessed over so new things are revealed with each listen. As a vocalist, he's an emotional excavator, digging deep for things hidden. He can really deliver a range of feeling, from vulnerable to passionate to disturbed. It makes for an exhilarating ride.

Q- What does the mtf8 project mean to you? What has your work as a producer and collaboration with Adam meant for you?

A- When I hear mtf8 songs in their embryonic state, I get ideas on how to expand the impact of Adam's carefully wrought ideas. The trick is to do that and stay true to his vision. When that happens, it's very satisfying to me. To help him achieve his musical dreams. It's very personal work.

Q- Apart from mtf8, what musical projects do you have right now and for the future?

A- I have an ongoing relationships with several artists who make album after album and continue to come back to me to do them. I feel very grateful for that. I put out my own album, DIVISIONS, last year and I'm working on the next one now. My music is a mix of dream-pop, postpunk and prog rock. I'm also putting together a band to play my songs live.  I co-produce a monthly performance series here in NYC called the Bushwick Book Club, where a book is selected each month and a rotating group of artists write a song inspired by it and then we all perform our work at a show. It's very inspiring to be part of a community of great musical artists and authors and it gives me the opportunity to do a lot of songwriting.

Q- I can only thank you again for your kindness to complete the portrait of mtf8, something you want to add about the project and that you consider interesting?

A- Thank you. mtf8 started as a resurrection of a very personal set of older songs and has now sparked a whole new beginning, with new material coming all the time. Keep an ear out for it...

Final reflections

I am sure that knowing the mtf8 project will have enchanted you, and at some point you will have felt the emotional and artistic complexity that it has inside.

On a personal note, I can relate to many aspects of the story that has been laid out above. I found myself shaking my head as I acknowledged the strange transition from hardware to software and more importantly, the attempt to write music as a means to explain a life that has not been easy. The passion that Adam, Charlie, and I have for music seems to complete us as people. As a musical experience, I think mtf8 offers a lot of depth coupled with a unique style and remarkable sound quality.

Adam seems to me like a guy with enormous talent, with a life marked by difficult stages but who at the same time knew how to channel artistically, in a creative and awesome way. His voice is majestic, magnificent, elegant, and his songs have what I always try to put in Enimatik's ones, feelings. Please listen to this, you will understand:

I think Charlie is a great musician and producer, able to see beyond numbers and appreciate talent when it comes his way, to work on his artistic passion on a Saturday night. I highly recommend you listen to his work, below I put links.

I can only thank Adam and Charlie for allowing me to delve into mtf8 in this way, it has been a privilege for me that they are already part of the Enimatik community. The truth is that now, more than ever, I think that there is only fate...

In this link you can know more about mtf8 and listen to his music:


You can follow to Adam on Instagram:


This is Charlie´s bandcamp page:


And his Instagram: