360°Sound caught up with up-and-coming indie rock/pop singer-songwriter Rhett Repko. Since 2017, the 27-year-old Annapolis, Maryland native has released 26 original songs and four EPs. Repko has notched five Top 100 college radio hits. His latest single, the catchy, uptempo “Late Nights,” dropped in April.
360°: For the people who aren’t familiar with your music, what would you like to say about it?
Overall, I kind of brand myself as alternative and pop for my genres. Every song is kind of its own thing. Each song has its own inspiration. Certain songs have certain sounds from the ‘90s. I’m super into ‘80s and synths right now. Sometimes I want to write more of a pop song, and sometimes I want to write more of a ballad. It really depends on the song itself. I’m trying to build a world around each song, especially if it’s a single with a music video. I think very visually when I write songs. I’m always thinking about where it’s going to be played live, or what kind of movie I could see it in.
As you write a song you’re thinking about the music video and visuals to go with it?
Yeah, it didn’t use to be like that, but for the past few years, I’m thinking about all that kind of stuff – the mood it’s saying, what kind of characters. Because it helps build the world behind the song and it helps you really see how the artist is envisioning it and what kind of mood you want to be in when listening to it.
Have you had some songs placed in TV shows?
I’m not sure if anything has been placed yet but I do have licensing deals with Netflix, TLC, OWN, and about a dozen other networks.
Tell us about your new single, “Late Nights.” I understand you worked with the Nashville production studio Zodlounge (Twenty One Pilots, Ross Ellis) for it.
I’m been working with a few Nashville producers the past couple years. It was kind of a referral and domino effect. I did one song with them, and I just really liked the way they worked. I felt like we just kind of both collaborated really well together. They kind of take my sound and kind of put it in that box and shine it up. They’re not adding a crazy amount to it, but that’s kind of what I like about it.
I build my demos all myself. I pretty much build the arrangement of the song and record the drums, the bass, the guitar – pretty much everything. We’ll always re-record the vocals, so we get a clean vocal sound. The whole sketch is already there. We just look at it and see if there’s anything that needs to be touched up a little bit.
The recording sessions have been getting faster and faster. My demos are more and more complete each time. I think the song was pretty fleshed out when it got to them. I love the way it turned out because it has a very natural sound to it. I’m not trying to put in trendy sounds. And I have nothing against trendy sounds because sometimes I want it to be more modern and pop. With this one I wanted it to be a clean melody and let the song be its own thing.
I understand you have classic rock and classic alternative influences, such as The Beatles and Nirvana. You studied music production in college. Tell us about how the George Martin and Butch Vig production styles influenced you.
The music doesn’t just end with the song itself. That’s obviously the bulk of it. The way you record it, how you decide to capture it and color it, it’s the same way you film something. It depends on the kind of lens you shoot it with and what kind of angles. People obsess over guitar tone and stuff like that. That’s all important, but as soon as you put a different mic on the guitar amp, that sound changes. The pipeline doesn’t end at the guitar.
I got super into different microphones, pre-amps, and the consoles you record on it, whether digital or tape. I got pretty nerdy with studying The Beatles and Abbey Road and all the gear and techniques that they would use. Some of those techniques I emulate and really enjoy and other ones I like to do it a different way. It also comes down to the song itself. If a song has a certain ‘60s vibe, I might want to record the drums with a certain kind of mic and use a certain placement. It’s really interesting. The production possibilities are endless.
Some say the four-track and eight-track era was a golden age for production. Now, with digital recording, you have an unlimited number of tracks. Can you speak on the value of the earlier methods?
I think the main takeaway is that by having less tracks, it forces you to work harder and better and more creatively. You can’t be careless and say, ‘We’ll just fix this later and add another track.’ You had to know the band arrangement as you’re recording. You really had to record, as with The Beatles in their early records, all at the same time. The drums, bass, and guitars had to all be cut at once. There’s no room for error on the band’s part or the engineer’s. It kind of has to be perfect. It’s limiting because you can only make certain kinds of music and art with it, but you are getting a very damn good product because you have to be that strong of a musician.
In college, I limited myself to only using four tracks. I recorded songs in just mono. I said I need to learn how to make something sound good in mono before I give myself the option of stereo. I went down the decades and kind of opened up new recording techniques as I mastered the early ones. I thought that was a cool way to go about it. I know when I can use certain recording techniques to color a sound a certain way, but I don’t want to be limited by them. Overall, I do like and prefer the digital world that way, but if you start there and start throwing everything in randomly it’s probably not going to be as focused of a song as it could be.