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Where Is My Mind?: Cheap Dinosaurs' Dino Lionetti & Paul Weinstein

- by Adam G. & Q.D. Tran

Since forming Cheap Dinosaurs following the demise of his previous band Chromelodeon, Dino Lionetti and his bandmates have been broadening the chiptune horizons with epic, spacey, transformative jams. They are able to create expansive soundscapes despite challenging themselves by using potentially restrictive tools like a Game Boy. We sat down with Dino Lionetti and Chipocrite, a.k.a. Paul Weinstein, who is performing at North Star Bar tomorrow night at 8static and plays bass in Cheap Dinosaurs, to talk game soundtracking, backing tracks, why chiptune is the punk of the electronic genre, and much more below. 
 
The Deli: Why did you name this project Cheap Dinosaurs?
 
Dino Lionetti: Well, first of all, it has my name in it, and it started out as just me, and I eventually formed the band. Also people used to call me “dinosaur” in school, and it pissed me off real bad. And it relates to inexpensive toys, old antiquated computers, and since I used a Game Boy, it’s one of them. You could call it a Cheap Dinosaur.
 
TD: Dino, you were in other bands before this one. What inspired you to start making 8-bit music? Was there a specific goal for Cheap Dinosaurs when you started the project?
 
DL: I guess when I started, it was a continuation of Chromelodeon, which is the first band I was in. Just because I was using the Game Boy toward the end of that band in the same way, I use it now in Cheap Dinosaurs, and when we broke up, I just continued making Game Boy music and eventually formed a band around the Game Boy again.  
 
TD: Can you explain, in an elementary way, how you compose music on a Game Boy?
 
DL: It’s not that complicated. It’s really just like any other music composition software. When you’re thinkin’ of e-music being made with a computer sequencer or something, you are not really limited to anything, but it is more akin to using a sequencer and one synthesizer, only to draw your power with a limited number of voices.
 
TD: Is some of the fun the challenge of working within limited parameters?
 
DL: It is a different mindset than being able to just pull in any amount of voices to stack it up and make these harmonies. It is kind of a challenge to arppegiate the sounds; instead of stacking up these sounds, you have to flip through them like an animation.
 
TD: Do you like being defined as a chiptune band, or do you find it pigeon-holing?
 
DL: I like the fact that there is a community of people doing it and paying attention to it. I guess it is not something that needs to be mentioned to everyone, because not everyone is hip to it, but I guess certainly everyone who listens to it understands that there is an influence of video games.
 
Paul Weinstein: Cheap Dinosaurs, now that we are a full band, with so many guitars and amplifiers, I think we transcend just the Chiptune label, especially the new album. It is much more of a band album. The first one sounds very much like what it was, which is just Dino and a Game Boy. So you listen to the new album now and you don’t just think chiptune or video game music, you hear a band with a video gamey synth if you don’t know anything about it, and I think that’s awesome. As a band, I would rather have that as my audience. Otherwise, you run the risk of the Game Boy coming off as too much of a novelty.
 
TD: How did you approach the making of Triangle Trash differently than your S/T LP?
 
DL: It’s more cohesive rather than being a set of songs I happened to come up with in a set of time. We all were working together to make it work, rather than I just had these song in the studio and these people came by and played on it and put their two cents in. We were all basically together in the same room together trying to figure out all the little details, and ran them by each other.
 
TD: What kind of non-musical influences did you have for this album?
 
DL: 80’s television commercials. Fractals definitely - it reflected it in album art on the cover. I kept trying to put pieces of one song into another song and insert them subliminally in each other.
 
PW: It seems to me that numbers in general are an influence.
 
DL: Yeah, math without being math-y.
 
TD: What is it like translating a finished song into a live setting?
 
PW: It’s almost the opposite for Triangle Trash. Even before I joined the band, most of the songs were being performed live, and I think of this album as kind of the definitive recordings of them. 
 
DL: You hear the sequence, and you kind of get the idea of how it should sound. And you play on top of it live over and over, and it seems like each time we played it there was something different about it.
 
PW: And that is something really unique, because most of the time you are playing with a backing track so the performance is exactly the same. That’s just the nature of it. But somehow the songs are always different, and I couldn’t even explain how we pull it off.
 
TD: What do you think are the best chip cities in the country/world? Are there any surprisingly lush/supportive cities for chip music?
 
DL: I’m just going to go ahead and say Philly. It’s the best one. It’s my favorite. 
 
PW: I don’t know what it is, but everyone in Philly has the same mindset of not using the Game Boy as just a standard electronic. Maybe because the first chiptune music people hear is just house or techno, so they think of using it that way, but for some reason, people in Philly are just more progressive. And in terms of other cities, I would say Rochester.
 
DL: Detroit is the shit. Obviously NY, they came before us.
 
TD: Do you find chip followers to be supportive of new music/new acts, or are they generally hard to please?
 
PW: As someone who came in in the middle of it, I felt welcomed right away. I went to a couple 8statics, and was like “I can do this.” So I put a few songs together, and I was ready to do it, and I talked to original organizer, Don, and he could have been like, “okay just show up with a Game Boy.” But he was genuinely interested in what I was doing. When I played the first song the next month, I got instant awesome feedback. Actually, one of my favorite artist, Bitshifter, who is probably to this day my favorite chiptune artist, he was at the show, and he said it was a great song when I talked to him about it on a message board. And if I had known he was there, I probably wouldn’t have even performed. So to get immediate positive feedback like that was awesome. And I am always excited to hear a new person.
 
DL: It’s great to find someone interested enough to actually come out and do it.
 
TD: What’s the best video game that you’ve played recently?
 
PW: Samurai Gun is like a lo-fi version of Smash Bros. All you can do is slash someone with your sword or shoot them with your gun, and you have three shots per life, and if you play with four people, it is just a non-stop brawl killing each other. I can’t even explain it, but everyone I’ve seen play it has loved it. It’s pretty rapid fire. I like that one round someone can be really good, and another round someone else is really good. I mean, you can get really good, but sometimes someone is just on fire.
 
TD: If this album was a soundtrack to a video game, what kind of game would it be?
 
DL: Hmm…I always think I should be a really surreal shoot ‘em up, like a spaceship flying through space shooting pieces of candy and lobsters.
 
PW: A non-violent shoot ‘em up.
 
TD: What’s your favorite video game soundtrack?
 
DL: Fez was amazing. Going back to Rich Vreeland, a.k.a. Disasterpeace.
 
PW: In terms of all time stuff, I would say Pinbot.
 
TD: Chiptune seems to have a similar DIY aesthetic to punk. Would you say that there are any similarities between the two scenes? If so, what would they be?
 
DL: I think so. We don’t have the luxury of feeling secure in what we are doing because you can find it anywhere. It’s definitely not mainstream. There are some people out there doing it that are getting into the mainstream, but you are definitely not going to find it at the Spectrum, or whatever it’s called now.
 
PW: There obviously isn’t as much of an attitude-y or political agenda. On the other hand, other people like the chip aesthetic, because it’s like, “oh, you are using a three thousand dollar computer to make your set?” Fuck you, I’m going to use this Game Boy I got on eBay or found in my basement.
 
DL: It’s the equivalent of a 50-dollar guitar.
 
PW: It still sounds awesome; it’s still lo-fi; it’s still achieving a lot, so from a tech-punk aesthetic, there is that. And there is definitely an underground comradery. Everyone doing everything they can to help it. That goes back to the punk thing. We are all in this together; we are all building something together, which is really nice. A lot of other scenes I have been a part of were really competitive, but this scene is much more friendly. No one is really competitive, and I feel like old punk scenes were probably like that.
 
TD: The game you are soundtracking, High Strangeness, looks really cool. How did you get involved with it?
 
DL: I talked to my friend Alex Mauer, who is another chiptune artist, who lives just outside of Philadelphia. He is actually a professional video game soundtracker. He doesn’t play many shows anymore, but I was just talking to him about what he does, and he said, “Why don’t you talk to my friend Steve Jenkins?” And I got involved with him, and it turns out he was part owner of the label Paws, which was the label that Chromelodeon put their last album out on, so it turns out we had already worked together indirectly, and he was a producer on this game and so we just got to talking, and we settled it then. And Rich Vreeland, who is Disasterpeace, had also worked on it, and our two styles were a little similar, so it worked out that we could use both of our music for the soundtrack
 
TD: Do you approach video game soundtracking differently than composing for Cheap Dinosaurs? How so?
 
DL: It’s really nice to be able to know what a song is going to be about before I compose it. You know the atmosphere of what it’s supposed to be, and I can just work in those confines, and I can make it sound as much like that as possible, instead of just putting stuff together and hoping it comes out okay. Most of the time, I’m writing. I’m not thinking about it aesthetically much, but focusing more on the form of the tune and making it sound more like anything, and with soundtracking, there is already a story and a script, and I can already think about what the next tune is going to be like without having written it. I can say since I put these elements of the music into this one tune, I can take this other tune and make it in contrast to that in another specific way, so it’s really fun actually.
 
TD: What’s your favorite thing to get at the deli?
 
PW: A giant tuna melt.
 
DL: Tuna sandwiches - that’s good. I actually really like Tuna Melts also.

 

 

 

 

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Cheap Dinosaurs
Triangle Trash