Derek Schmidt

Meet Derek Schmidt.  He has been in the Bay Area for 17 years, and his last three have been dedicated to taking tarot cards and transforming them into dreamy musical compositions in a project he calls Major Arcana. Really cool, right? But how did this all begin?

It all started with The Moon, the first tarot card he wrote music about. He says he’s been using tarot for 15 years, but didn’t truly realize how much it meant to him until it suddenly “just clicked” that he could use them to challenge his songwriting. He admits, “I just really enjoyed delving into the symbolism of the tarot card and it just kept holding so much resonance for me.”

Tarot Cards
Tarot Card Spread, by aquarian_insight via Creative Commons

His attraction to the cards may not be an accident — he was a Religious Studies major at UC Berkeley, grew up in a fundamentalist household, and “

[has] always had a leaning towards spirituality, mysticism, and symbology.” He meditates on this intense personal interaction when he sits down to write the music.

“I love ruminating on the visual imagery, reading other people’s books about the symbolism, seeing how these things become tangible in a song, in a description of imagery or of personal feeling.”

To write the musical aspect of these songs, he combines the ukulele, his main acoustic instrument, and a whole slew of electronic samples. Case in point, he was gleeful to mention that he used NASA recordings of Kepler star sounds in “The Star.” The addition of electronic sounds gives him a level of control that he hasn’t experienced before in writing music, but his lyrics are “still so grounded in the simplicity of the ukulele.”

To date, Schmidt has recorded, produced, and released one volume (five songs) of the Major Arcana project with Different Fur studios mixing and mastering the cuts, who he believes is “really dedicated to engaging with local musicians.” He plans to have the songs released in four volumes, “representing fire, air, water, earth.”  (In true tarot fashion, he says.)

Something that has kept this project alive for Schmidt is sustaining a long-term commitment to it. He explains, “I’ve…really enjoyed working on a long concept project. Like a short story writer who wants to write a novel kind of thing.”

While most of his energy is spent on Major Arcana, Schmidt has a variety of other musical projects he’s been involved with. His most “social project” is the folk band All My Pretty Ones, where he’s been a co-arranger for 13 years. With friend and fellow artist Danyol Leon, he writes beat-driven electronic music as Adonisaurus. He even hosts a queer songwriting showcase at piano bar Martuni’s for the past four years. And another thing he’s passionate about: “I’ve been really trying to get into composing and scoring too!

Keep a look out for his second volume of tarot-tinged composition later this year, but for now, enjoy these parting words from the Major Arcana soundman.

“What really inspires me is this comprehensive collection of human traits and how I can look at them and have them inform my life and decisions. Maybe it is a little bit of the synchronicity of what I pull, but it’s also just so inspiring to just think about a card and its many meanings, how it can translate to imagery and personal impact.”