An amazing electronic musician who is also a virtuoso guitarist, and an astute and innovative business man.
How did you first learn guitar? Self taught?
Upon seeing a kid-sized nylon-acoustic at the age of 6, I threw a fit until my Grandfather buckled and bought it for me. I’ve never had a lesson in my life. This isn’t because I’m confident, bold, and tough. It is because I started playing “inverted” style and nobody ever wanted to teach me. I suppose now I’m thankful for this because it has allowed me to play much more uniquely.
What caused you to get involved with electronic music?
Convenience, at first. I admit that when I was a teenager, I thought of electronic music as “cheating”. I guess I still think it is sometimes. I’m cheating now by using a computer to make my words seem much more legible than my horrible penmanship. Anyways, it was the easiest way to turn my ideas into recordings. Then I started realizing that you could do more with a drum machine than you could with a real drummer. And it seems like electronic music (in all of its shapes and sizes) has the most room for innovation. At least until some more acoustic instruments get invented or people start thirsting for microtonal symphonies.
How did you start scoring commercials?
I guess I always felt like my style of production was molded nicely for picture. I didn’t really have any desire to compose for advertisements until I started working with Vapor Music Group in Toronto. Not only did they give me spots that I enjoyed working on, but they treated me as more of a partner than just a source of music or income. Now I’m often in a position as a producer where I’m able to get friends involved as composers, which is great.
Any offers for films yet?
Sure. I’ve done more licensing than anything, at least in Hollywood. I seem to have a major problem with patience when it comes to a lot of things coming out of that city. After wasting so much time poolside or in a cafe, I’ve learned that working is much more valuable than talking. So out of Hollywood, all of the offers for composing I’ve had have been either insufficient monetarily, or the opposite of what I want to be working on. I must not forget that the way the industry works is very plagiaristic, routine, and judgmental. If I scored one movie about penguins, then the only jobs I’d ever get would be penguin movies. I did do some work on Secret Life Of Bees a few months back, and I have a couple of tentative things happening in the air while films are being produced.
I definitely want to compose for big feature films, but it only makes sense to be discriminatory until the right one comes along.
Do you ever plan on producing for bands?
I’ve worked with bands from time to time, but usually only on a one or two song basis. I wouldn’t be against producing a whole album if I was enthusiastic about the project and paid fairly.
What current artists should people know about?
Loaded question, so I’m going to name off a few electronic guys.
Kettel, Secede, The Great Mundane, Bartel, Jeswa/Josh K, and Polyfuse.
How did you get on the tour with The Dillinger Escape plan?
Ben Weinman was initially exposed to me directly through a Nine Inch Nails mix I did, and he’s also big fan of the genre I reside in. We met up a couple times, and perhaps due to my general apathy, he asked me if I could recommend him an artist who sounded like me who’d be willing to open for them. I haphazardly volunteered and ended up hopping on half-way through after negotiations.
Did you find it hard to connect with the audiences on that tour?
I was afraid it would be, but it wasn’t at all. I was imagining the audiences I saw in the 90′s at Pantera concerts…skinheads, stoners, and bikers. But DEP’s audience is really diverse and really open minded. There were of course a couple kids in the audience that didn’t want to hear anything but screaming metal, but it was genuinely well-received. I think the bigger problem was the press, who….as always, stun me with their ignorance and lack of attention to what they’re writing about. In a couple of the shows, my live set would be billed as “DJ Flashbulb”, or even “DJ Flashlight” in one of them. I remember reading a review describing my set as “a man pretending to play guitar over a prerecorded synthesizer mp3″. I guess MIDI pickups aren’t common knowledge yet?
Any good road stories from that tour?
Nothing too incredible. I got along with everyone well, but most of the time Ben and I would stay up until 7am when everyone else was sleeping and have the big room on the bus to ourselves to work in. Traveling on a tour bus, while far more convenient and comfortable, doesn’t even count as traveling for me. The tours I’ve done in the last 2 years have been in an SUV, usually avoiding freeways and interstate highways. Unless it is an emergency, I refuse to fly unless I’m going overseas…there is simply too much to be missed.
Favorite venue to play at and why?
Good question. The factors are usually sound, turnout, and amenities/backstage/staff. I’m going to stick with the USA since Europe’s worst venues are often better than the best ones on this side of the pond. The Abbey in Chicago or Mr. Small’s in Pittsburgh are probably the closest to having it perfect.
What inspired “These Open Fields”
Way back in the day I did this mix/performance for a radio station in York, UK called “Me Touching Dead Air”. To this day I still think it is some of my best work. I was trying to recreate that vibe in These Open Fields, but ended up making something entirely different. Most of the album was made while drifting around the US and Central/South America and not at home.
Do you ever plan on releasing stuff that’s more singer-songwriter orientated rather than electronic based?
Releasing, maybe. I’ve made a lot of stuff that never seemed to fit into albums. I could probably compile it and release a vocal/folk album, but I guess I’m really controlling over the direction my releases travel artistically…and that isn’t on the plate just yet.
What business advice would you give young bands?
I suppose I’d tell them not to separate what their doing from any other business. Bands tend to make horrible business decisions because of desperation caused by competition or the eagerness to validate their artistic voice. If people are coming to see your show and paying cover, then you should get paid too. If people are using your music on television or in a film that is making a profit, then you should be getting paid too. There is no exception to this, especially since the standards you set for yourself will ultimately define your value. The more shows you play, the less of a new or unique experience it is for your fans to see you play. So wouldn’t it make more sense to play less, play better, and ask for more?
How have your legal problems with itunes panned out?
I really, really loathe that company. They’ve played ball with me, of course, because they were getting a huge pile of bad press as a result of not doing so. But even the higher level reps they’ve sent to deal with me are condescending. Their whole iTunes business model is proprietary and no different than the sunken ship the major labels set to sail 20 years ago with overpriced CDs. Apple makes a lot of money at the expense of your freedom to listen to music on whatever device you want.
What is your creative process like?
It really depends what I’m working on. For my own music it has gotten much slower and a bit more mature. I used to work out of a bedroom studio and just drink coffee and chain smoke through the nights. Now I have a 3 room studio on my lower level, and my living area upstairs. I set an alarm clock and live by a pretty set schedule. I even have dry erase boards with ideas and goals scratched out on them. Maybe I’m getting old?
Ideally how do you think record labels should behave?
In a way it is kind of like asking how a floppy disk drive distributor should behave. Should they try and invent reasons to bully people who use CDs or thumb drives? Or should they change their business model?
The record label is entirely obsolete. Some will argue that they are still required for promotion, but surely you don’t need an entire company to link an artist and publicist. I would say that every indy label should do business the way I do with Alphabasic (entirely non-profit to everyone but the artist), but you can’t expect people to do that unless they’re really passionate about their artists.
What effect do you think the Internet has had on independently released music?
Artistically, I suppose time will tell. Part of me believes that music will finally be subjected to a more Darwinian approach where bad song writers won’t get heard. Another part of me fears that perhaps Western civilization is more thrilled with fads than actual hard work and dedication when listening to an album. I suppose both are true.
The important thing is that the internet has separated copyright and tangibility. An artist no longer needs a major label record contract to have his or her music widely distributed, but at the same time, if savvy enough, a child doesn’t have to have parents well-off enough to afford premium cable to watch an HBO documentary or the History Channel. A huge part of what keeps the poor starving and the rich wealthy is control of information and education. I think part of this aggressive battle over copyright has more to do with than than anything. When information is free, they can no longer decide who stays ignorant.
Did that get too Sci-Fi?