Will MacNamara Interview - ROLI Has Your Production Covered

Have you heard of ROLI? They produce a series of forward thinking production tools and gear unlike anything on the market. We had a chat to ROLI’s Head of Communications, Will MacNamara about the company’s revolutionary design philosophy, product line, and the organisation’s stance in the industry.

Futuremag Music: Hey Will, how’re you going?

Will MacNamara: I’m good, thanks for asking.

Futuremag Music: Can you talk us through your relationship with music over the years? How has music influenced your life?

Will MacNamara: Like a lot of folks, I played piano when I was young. I more or less stopped when I was a teenager. I thought that piano would be the only instrument I would ever know how to play, since it took so many years of effort to learn even one instrument. Now I play the Seaboard and Lightpad Block! I love music and listen to a huge variety of it — it's gotten more eclectic since music streaming opened me up to new sounds. We're really living in a golden age for access to music. It's infinitely easier to discover new music than it was 20 years ago. But the barriers are still really high for creating music. ROLI is trying to lower that barrier — and do its part to speed up the tech transformation of music-making devices, so people can make music in a totally new way, just like they listen to music in a different way than before. 

Left: Roland Lamb (Founder and CEO) Right: Pharrell Williams (Chief Creative Officer)

Left: Roland Lamb (Founder and CEO)
Right: Pharrell Williams (Chief Creative Officer)

Will MacNamara (Head of Communications)

Will MacNamara (Head of Communications)

Futuremag Music: How does ROLI fit within the music scene? How has it evolved the production and performance realm?

Will MacNamara: ROLI is a true inventor. Nothing like the Seaboard existed before it was launched in 2014. ROLI is perceived in the music world as an innovative disrupter brand. But it's moved more towards the mainstream in the past few years, as more and more accessible products — the Lightpad Block, the Beatmaker Kit, even our free iOS app NOISE — were released. There are more ways to get into the ecosystem. And while most people view the tech as mind-blowingly new and cool, they're coming at it with different mindsets. For some people, the Seaboard Block might be a fun learning tool, and for a professional composer the Seaboard RISE might be this incredible tool for replicating a 100-pieces orchestral swell for an action film. 

The company is changing the production and performance worlds by letting music-makers do way more than they could before, on surprisingly small and portable setups. A good example is the Lightpad Block. It fits in a pocket, and all you have to do is connect it to one of our sound engines on a phone or tablet. Then you can play drum beats, play acoustic sounds like a flute or guitar, change scales, record loops, and build a basic track. And you're doing that with one little square Block and your phone. So you can make music anywhere. And that magic of expressiveness plus portability is really opening people's eyes to what ROLI could do for their music. 

Futuremag Music: How do ROLI products work compared with traditional mediums? Are there audible differences? Do traditional instruments play a part in ROLI's position within the production space?

Will MacNamara: ROLI's instruments are all about touch. And in that way they're similar to traditional instruments like the violin, guitar, or piano. You touch the string, or the key, and slight changes in pressure or position will alter the sound. But ROLI replicates that sensation on a 100% digital instrument, and makes the experience of touch much more powerful. You can bend the pitch by moving a finger to side to side, or deepen a sound by pressing into the surface, or change the resonance of a sound by how quickly you lift off — or do all these three things at once, with different fingers. Because it's a digital instrument, you have as many sounds to choose from as you would with a synthesizer. So that's where it gets mind-blowing: you can instruments that combine the expressiveness of acoustic sound with the variety of electronic sound. If you close your eyes and hear a guitar or flute sound played on a Seaboard, you probably won't hear the difference. 

Futuremag Music: Who are some musicians fronting the electronic music space who use ROLI? Anyone we should keep an eye out for?

Will MacNamara: Grimes is a huge fan — check out some of her films where she talks about the Seaboard Block. Pharrell Williams is so into ROLI that he's an investor as well as our Chief Creative Officer, and he's helping us design the next generation of ROLI instruments. In Australia, Flume uses the Seaboard RISE in his studio and apparently loves it! RZA from Wu-Tang Clan is a superfan of the Lightpad Block and ROLI BLOCKS in general. He even created a soundpack of vintage Wu-Tang and kung-fu sounds for our sound engine, so he could play them on the Lightpad. Ryan Gosling is not an electronic music supremo, but that's definitely him playing the Seaboard GRAND in La La Land.

We're also excited about the up-and-coming Australian artist Sippy, who's one of the most talented live performers with Lightpad Blocks and Seaboard Blocks. She's part of a trend of our instruments moving more into the techno and EDM space, as electronic artists discover how versatile they are. 

Futuremag Music: A funny one to wrap it up. If 'ROLI' was a cocktail, what would be in it to best describe the product and its capabilities?

Will MacNamara: A flaming espresso mezcal martini? Espresso because we're all about the color black ... and we're often overcaffeinated. Mezcal because we make things that will bend your mind, in a pleasant way. Plus, we spend some of the London winter dreaming of beaches in Mexico. And the whole cocktail is flaming, obviously, because we're trying to set the world alight. It's called The ROLI.