Zak Downtown has been slowing climbing the ranks in hip hop for a few years now. The New York native released an extremely successful mini-mixtape, Always Down Vol. 1,that showcased his talents and his own unique sound. State In The Real recently got totalk to Zak Downtown over the phone about his upcoming music and events.
SITR : What separates you from other artists?
On my first project Every beat kind of sounded different, which at first I thought sounded pretty cool. I don’t think many artists can take any beat and make a track out of it and make it sound unique. A lot of the new hip-hop today is infusing different sounds like trap music and dubstep. I’ve always wanted to combine different sounds but still keep my hip-hop roots.
SITR: What was the feedback like from Always Down Vol. 1
It was the first product that I put out that almost every track had over 15000 plays. The music was probably the best stuff I ever done. The tracks hit hard, they don’t have to be party songs, but the record itself it just knocks hard.
SITR: What are some are your influences?
New York is pretty much my first major influence. As I started growing up and getting out of high school, I kind of realized there were so many different music scenes in the city. I had the pleasure of linking up with a lot of the club DJ’s who played my music for clubs with like 300 people in them. It was a great way to see peoples reactions to the music.
SITR: We see lyrics playing a major role in new music, it’s no longer about Snapbacks and Tattoos, but instead lyrical value. How much value do you place on your lyrics?
I ‘ve always tried to focus on the lyrics a lot, but I think people need to realize we’re making music.The point of the music is all about creating a feeling. I’m working on creating a sound while at the same time, saying what I want to say is great. It doesn’t mean lyrics aren’t important but having the music sound a certain way is just as powerful.
SITR: How would you describe a Zak Downtown Fan?
Someone who is always down, create stuff, don’t be afraid to do shit. Just go out there and get whatever the fuck you want. I like to consider my music a mixture of ambition music and stuff you can play a party. I want people to get hyped and motivated when they hear my records.
Zak is working on several new projects including Always Down Volume 2 and 3. He also has an upcoming EP for his fans. The up and coming rapper hopes to one day be headlining a national tour, and he is not too far off. He has a mini tour coming up in April. Zak will be releasing the video for “Catch Me” at the end of January as well as a new single in mid-February. Be sure to follow Zak on twitter, below is his latest mixtape Always Down Vol. 1.
Borgeous has continued his ascension up the ranks as Los Angeles’ hottest new talent to hit house music. The Miami-born, L.A. transplant is making waves as a music producer and DJ. Borgeous’ beats are an energizing fusion of electronic dance music and bass-heavy remixes of crowd favorites.
Borgeous’ immersion and familiarity with the nightlife industry through Boulevard Nightlife Group, coupled with his affinity for house/electronic/dance music, have paved the road for his break into the music industry. His keen ear and innate talent to produce a provocative, textured sound have made people take notice, and allowed him to collaborate with great artists such as The Cataracs. He has already begun to establish himself on the local forefront by garnering a solid following and regularly performing at high-profile venues across the US.
To further his brand, Borgeous released his podcast, I AM BORGEOUS — showcasing his vision and creative style in remixing music. Solidifying a new generation of house music, his latest song, “Serenity” debuted in early November to much acclaim. Music enthusiasts and club-goers alike gravitate to his blast-worthy beats. Borgeous aims to satiate discerning music cravings with his work behind the decks and in the studio, and is quickly becoming a name synonymous with high-powered, unique mixups and a great time. Make sure to keep up with Borgeous’ music and upcoming events.
SITR’s Interview with Borgeous
SITR: How did you get into music?
I’ve always been involved in the entertainment world in some way or another and have always loved all genres of music. I started out with a blog I had and then transitioned into producing and deejaying. House music is the genre that I can say I feel the most and gives me the most energy but I like mixing hip hop and rock into house sometimes because I grew on that.
SITR: Do you think your latest track ‘Gangsterous’ is your hottest beat thus far?
This track Gansgterous is for sure is the best production I’ve done so far. I have another track coming out in February that should be bigger.
SITR: Who or what are your biggest inspirations for your music?
There’s nothing really that compares to performing in front of people and playing your music and the music you love and seeing them loose their minds to it. I love that feeling. That’s what keeps pushing me and gives me the ambition and the drive to keep going and not stopping, and that’s what intend to do.
SITR: What are your plans for 2013? Any shows? Things we should be on the lookout for?!
In 2013 I have 2 -3 or more free downloads coming out within the next couple months and then I’m releasing a big one through a label and through beatport and iTunes etc. I have a couple shows lined up in February at Supperclub in LA and some other venues and then a 2-3 day tour in New York in March. But primarily I’m focusing on just producing original material.
SITR: Have you gotten to work with any big artists? Collabs?
Yea, The Cataracs. Niles is basically my brother, love him like family. Make sure you check out all of his stuff he’s doing he just came out with a bunch of new tracks.
SITR: What are your words of advice for any aspiring artists on getting heard?
I would say just believe in yourself and everything your doing 100%. You have to devote your life basically to this and have all the ambition and drive in the world to make your dreams come true. With those things there should be nothing that stops you.
SITR: Do you want to make any shout outs? We’d love to hear them.
Shout out to The Cataracs, Boulevard Nightlife Group, all the blogs and websites that have supported any song or anything I have done, and everyone that has stuck by me and has showed support & love for the BORGEOUS movement.
Mad Feather Group is a gang of some of my very good friends, who are as precious to me as a velvet painting of a whale and a dolphin getting it on. I deeply care for that painting and I share that passionate love with these fine gentlemen. That being said, being away from my home town has left me with only periodic chances to see the progression of their band and overall sound. The times I do get to see them, I am pleasantly surprised by the new feats they reach as a group. Their music is truly indescribable and since I conducted this interview I received a new understanding of the a group of guys I thought I fully understood. They were able to donate a large amount of time to deliver this fruitful interview to me, so take some time to read it. Afterward, listen to a sound that you’ve never heard before and discover a band that’s truly on the rise.
Our band was a brotherhood of 3-4-5-6 New Jerseyans like two years ago, and that still accurately describes us. However, there’s always room for addition and subtraction when it comes to our band. We’re all from Jackson, except for Brandon who’s from Toms River but moved to Boston and then to Asheville, NC and now is in Ocean, NJ. Membership: Mad Feather Group has always featured Roshane Karunaratne, or the Lone Flower on Mt. Jupiter (bass, keyboards, etc.), Santo Rizzolo, or Steamboat Shaman, formally Sailor Shaman (drums), and me, Dave Colon, or Big Perverted Wind (vocals, guitar, keyboards), and almost always Matthew T. Hess, or a Punch-bowl Full of Feathers (occasional lead guitar). Matt was out of the band for a month for being a bad boy, but he was, and still is, much too integral to our way of being to have him out for very long. All is forgiven. Our first bassist was James Black, or the Leftover Locks of Samson, currently of the local folk revival sensation, Thomas Wesley Stern. James is a coy gentleman who is filled with hundreds of yokel catchphrases, and he’s one heck of a time-keeper. Terrific upright player. Great guy. After James left in the spring of 2010, Roshane started playing key bass with his left hand and chords and leads with his right, kind of like Manzarek from the Doors. We were gonna have Matt pick up the bass but I think he just got a new amp, so we felt bad. We went on a few months with this instrumentation delegation until Jake Valentine, or the Great Adobe Treehouse joined our ranks. He mostly played bass but would switch over to rhythm guitar when Rosh would do synth bass on select songs. Then Jake moved to LA first quarter 2011 and Roshane subsequently played bass full time. To make up for a lack of keyboard sound we started using backing tracks live, first manipulated with Ro’s laptop and then with a sample pad Santo triggered. Although not ideal, and its mechanical nature later developed into a form of artistic slavery, we did learn how to metronomize. During Winter ‘11-’12 we were regularly joined onstage by the Elastic Lullaby Funeral Horns: Steve Tambone, or the Gentle Smokestack (trombone) and Chris DeSaye, or the Deafening Tea Kettle (trumpet), two rival drummers who we convinced to become our horn section after we sang drunken Christmas carols with them at their after party. Our current, and to date most sophisticated lineup was finalized by the addition of two old friends: Brandon Tuzio, or the Evaporating Brushstroke (keyboards, sound effects) and Charles “Buck Lee” Krautwurst, or the Gung-Ho Confetti Cannon (percussion, beats, sound effects). We’ve been playing with Bran and Buck since July and they surely were the missing ingredients all along. They liberated us from the chains of the live backing track. They are the perfect amendments: Mad Feather Group’s Bill of Rights. All the aliases I mentioned are completely superfluous, and are never actually used in practice.
How did you come up with the name of Mad Feather Group?
I once said that naming a band is like naming a baby; you don’t want to pick a name that’s gonna scar your sweetie pie, and once you pick it you know it’s gonna be a pain in the ass to change it to something else. So, you got to pick wisely and strategically, but you also gotta choose something everybody’s gonna like. In most cases, two people, the mommy and the daddy, have to agree upon the baby’s name but in our case it was five indecisive guys. Three Men and a Baby, and Two Other Dudes. It was tough, but we had to think fast because we were using this horrible temporary band name: You Know Them. I hated that name. Anyway, somehow during our like hour long name choice session I came up with Mad Feather Group. It had this mystical American Indian vibe going on with it and I don’t know how this fit with us but we all seemed to like it enough to use it. I still like the name but I don’t know what it means. I like the group part of it. I remember my girlfriend at the time didn’t like it. I don’t talk to her anymore, so I guess it worked out.
How long have you all known each other? How did you meet?
For years. Sam and Rosh have been playing together in different groups since the end of middle school I think, so at least eight or nine years for them. When Roshane moved to Jackson from Staten Island Buck apparently was his first friend, so its actually quite cute that he ended up in the band. Brandon was one of my best friends from high school and we were in all the music programs together. We always wanted to start a band with each other, so it’s pretty magical that its finally come together the way it has. He’s actually a better singer than I am, and was always the lead in all the school musicals. I was more the class clown. Ro went to our high school, too. I started playing with Santo and Ro at the end of high school (so 6 years ago), when I joined our friend, Joe Mackoviecki (also now in Thomas Wesley Stern)’s band, the Boy Judas, on keyboards. After high school, Brandon moved to Boston to go to Berklee, and I joined a band with Ro, Santo and Bobby Jackson (formerly of TWS), called Love Child, or Love Child. When Bob became estranged, we called up our friends Matt Hess and James Black to fill in on guitar and bass, and so on.
When did you form your band? What inspired you to make music together?
January 2009. We’re coming up on our four year anniversary, which is kind of ridiculous to think about. Although we essentially had the same members, I don’t consider us becoming the real Mad Feather Group until maybe 2011, when our songs and arrangements developed to a certain quality. Our major inspiration to make music is our friendship. We are each others’ best friends. How sweet is that?
What genre of music do you consider your work to be? Who are your major influences?
I made up these genres to classify us: Freak-Adult Contemporary, Fashion Twang & Heterochromia-Eyed Soul, and we certainly fit in all these categories. Our band’s influences are so eclectic it’s almost unethical. It’s evident that we have a strange affinity for “smooth” music of the 80s and 90s. We love Michael McDonald, Hall & Oates, Phil Collins and R&B singers and groups from this time period. “Sailing” by Christopher Cross is a favorite of ours. We are aware of the cheese-factor but we don’t take it seriously. This music is fun to listen to. I also have an appreciation for dweebish, genuine musicians who aren’t caught up in their image, so while others will put Phil Collins down for his lack of rock n’ roll irreverence, I can’t help but fall in love with the guy. Classic soul and rock n’ roll is an influence but that’s a given. We did our research. Some artists that have significant influence on all or part of our group include: Prince, Michael Jackson, the Band, Radiohead, Wilco, Francis and the Lights, Kate Bush, Harry Nilsson, the Beatles, Elvis Costello, Justice, Steely Dan, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Grizzly Bear, White Denim, Electric Light Orchestra, D’Angelo, R. Kelly, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Tom Waits, Neil Young, Television, Olivia Newton John, the Smiths, Kanye West, the Roots, Peter Gabriel, Herbie Hancock.
What are some of your favorite songs to cover?
We love/ hate covers so much that we started a cover band with our best friend, Danny Stinson. For Mad Feather purposes, we sometimes like to play “Something” by the Beatles, “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel, “Let’s Dance” and “Life on Mars?” by David Bowie, “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” by Neil Young, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. We’ve done an instrumental version of “On a Train” by Francis and the Lights a few times before. We’ve also done a mashup that could theoretically be called: “You Dropped the Pig on Me, Satan” which combines the first half of “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath with part of “You Dropped the Bomb on Me” by the Gap Band. One time we played that in Seaside and a fight broke out.
Who writes your songs? How would you describe your process of making music?
I usually write the frame of the songs first. What I mean by frame is melody and chord progression and sometimes a basic rhythm pattern, too. I’ll “frame” a song on either a piano or a guitar, sometimes starting a song on guitar and then finishing it on piano or vice versa if I get stuck. Then when I’ve come to a point where I feel I’ve written something good enough to bring to the group, we will start working out arrangements from there. We’ll jam a song a few different ways until we arrive to a structure and rhythm we all like. Then we’ll just hone our individual arrangements. This is highly collaborative, and we’ll often share ideas with each other. A lot of times Ro or I will have a drum idea, or Brandon will have a guitar idea, etc. Lyrics rarely come until after this process has already begun. I write my lyrics to my melodies, rather than the other way around, not because I think lyrics aren’t important but because I think melodies can come out weaker if they are attempting to cater to the lyric. When I write a lyric, I try to visualize a scene the music conveys to me, and then try to come up with words that project this scene. Writing words to melodies requires you to be economical in your choice. It’s always difficult for me at first. Sometimes it takes me weeks or months to start writing lyrics for a song, but once I get a resonating line out, I’ll get encouraged and usually finish the whole thing in a couple of hours. I recently found that singing in the car helps. It must be the forward motion.
What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs? Do you think these topics will change over time?
Common themes and topics: death, anxiety, religion and/or spirituality, time, BABIES, dreams, dysfunctional romantic relationships, the artist’s relationship with his/her audience, insanity, the writing process, self-image; and to a lesser extent, love and sex. I always try to write allegorically and ironically. Sometimes it comes out very cryptic-sounding, other times just very sarcastic. It’s hard to find a balance but I’m just really developing my writing style into it’s own thing. I think I’ll always be writing about death and anxiety and religion and time and babies, haha. These are the things that really interest me for whatever reason. It’s in the titles too, I have a song called “Dead” and another one called “We’re Having a Baby”, haha it’s very obvious. Evidently, I suck at coming up with song titles. We have a song right now called “Steel Madness” and another one called “Sanyo’s Song”. They’re just stupid inside jokes.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Do you have a set time each week in which you practice or are rehearsals more spontaneous?
We’re making sassy jokes the whole time, and then we break three or four times for cigarettes. With the six of us it’s hard to get a set time, but we try to practice as often as possible. The ideal is three times a week.
How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together?
We started out as this strict roots rock revival rip-off, and now we have the capabilities to play a cornucopia of styles. I don’t know why, but for the first eight or nine months of our existence we thought we could only play this folky country rocky thing, and only that. But it didn’t reflect what we listened to or even us as people. I remember this enlightening moment for us: we were at this rehearsal with this guy named Chuck, who Sam worked with at Nordstrom. Chuck had this studio in his basement and he had us over to hear us play, I guess to see if he could produce us; and so we were playing these horribly written Neil Young knockoffs, and I remember, he asked Ro what kind of music he liked. So Ro of course says, funk and disco, and Chuck then asks, “so why don’t you play anything like that in your guys’ songs?” Roshie was caught off guard and he said, “well it doesn’t fit what we’re doing.” Chuck said, “well you can’t really think like that, you got to play what you like.” It’s very obvious looking back on it now but we really thought we could only stick to one territory. After that we started experimenting with funkier rhythms, more overtly groovier sounds, to the point that people claimed that we “went disco”. We’ve balanced out since then, but it took us awhile to get to that point. Maybe we had too much water in our ears. I think our sound really meshed when Rosh switched over to bass permanently.
What has been your biggest challenge as a band? Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so, how?
Our biggest challenge is probably getting a recording together that we’ve liked enough to put out hahah. That and confidence; we always think we sound like a sack of pure shit. It’s silly. I think we’re at the point where if we were put in the right recording environment we could finish something fairly quickly.
What’s your ultimate direction for your band? Are you seeking fame and fortune?
Yes to both. Moneys and babes. We just really want to tour. And have our likenesses made into action figures.
What advice do you have for people who want to form their own bands?
Haha, I don’t think we’re in any position to give advice! I guess the only thing I can say is make sure you’re playing with people who you actually like, or at least tolerate. It’s not gonna be very fun if it’s the opposite.
How can fans-to-be gain access to your music? Do you have a website with sample songs or a CD? (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
We have music videos on youtube that our good buddy Anthony Yebra has shot for us. Actually, Buck, before he joined the band, was the main camera operator on those shoots! For the time being that’s probably the best way to check out our stuff. We’re trying to get a Christmas single out, at least a day before Christmas, so hopefully that works out. More to come in 2013!!!
Critically acclaimed singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Larry Hess has been around the block a few times as a musician. He began creating music at a very early age, and from that point forward immersed himself completely in the art. His first solo project in the 90’s, titled Radio Nine, lit up the NY underground music scene. With each subsequent band and project, Hess further molded his talent and musicality. Roughly two decades after Radio Nine, he’s created his most profound and musically diverse solo effort yet under the moniker of Calotype. Calotype’s debut release, Coastal Preferences, contains an entire slew of genres, melding folk, rock, and electronica together in whimsical and fantastic ways. Each track is a journey, weaving through misty acoustics and clicking electronics, Hess’ emotive vocals flowing with the complex instrumentation. From the burning backdrop and quiet hooks in “Cast Your Wild Eyes,” to the folk-house undercurrent in “Don’t Lie,” to the solitary softness in the title track, Coastal Preferences is a must-hear release. Stream the EP at his website here.
We had the opportunity to interview Larry Hess on his past as a musician, Calotype, and more. Check out the article below!
Interview with Larry Hess (Calotype)
SITR: How would you describe your musical background?
I was infatuated with recording before I ever learned how to play any instruments and I think that aspect still informs much of my music. From a very early age I was writing and making recordings. It wasn’t until much later that I focused on playing. I have gone through many stages as far as what I was into and what I wanted to make. I’ve been in punk bands, indie rock bands, I’ve made dance music, experimental noise, etc. I guess the singer-songwriter and electronic elements are the most prevalent in the Calotype project but to me, it’s mostly about experimenting with different sounds and instruments.
SITR: How would you describe your overall sound as a musician?
With Calotype I am trying to make something very crisp and clear. I’m obsessed with the quality of 1960’s and 70’s singer-songwriter records. In my mind what I’m doing is some sort of modern version of that by wsing more modern and distinct lyrical themes and mixing up electronic and organic sounds.
SITR: You’ve been through several different projects and bands. Which one was your favorite?
Obviously what I’m working on now has to be my favorite or I wouldn’t be doing it. I really love the freedom of Calotype in that I can do it all myself on the recordings and I get to just focus on singing when we play live. and i can just trust the live band to do their thing. I felt that Hunters, Run! was a really special band that was much more than the sum of it’s parts. The Feud was special to me as it was a really interesting experience to have at a young age. I guess I love all of them for different reasons.
SITR: Which one was your least favorite?
I wouldn’t pick one project as my least favorite. Just as there are elements of each project that I love there are elements of each project that I hate. Calotype can be a lonely experience. Hunters, Run! was a very alcoholic experience and difficult to manage sometimes. The Feud was a little too collaborative for my tastes sometimes.
SITR: What are your biggest influences, musically and otherwise?
David Bowie, Neil Young, Buckminster Fuller, Kurt Vonnegut, NYC, Mickey Newbury, Insomnia, Daniel Johnston, Graham Greene, Lou Reed and Air Travel.
SITR: What has been your most enjoyable live performance?
It’s very hard to pick one. Every time I’m performing it’s better than anything else I’m going to do that day. I really loved the first time The Feud played at Lee’s Palace in Toronto. I really loved when Hunters, Run! played the basement of a house party in Indianapolis, and I really loved the benefit show that Calotype played the other day for an arts program for homeless kids in my neighborhood. It’s all the same to me, I guess.
SITR: What made you decide to begin the Calotype project?
When Hunters, Run! was making “Crows & Cranes” we had bought a lot of studio gear and had recorded the whole thing ourselves for the first time. When the band went on hiatus at the end of 2011 I decided I might as well use that gear to record some other stuff I was working on. I had used the Calotype moniker for some remixing projects I had done previously, but this new material seemed to fit that name really well. I had released one single under the name a few months before and decided this would just be the new thing.
SITR: What was it like planning, writing, and recording the entirety of Coastal Preferences?
I wrote half of it at home in NYC and I wrote half of it in San Francisco. I recorded the drums at our space in Williamsburg but that space wasn’t quiet enough to do the acoustics and all of the softer vocals I was experimenting with. I ended up doing 3 sessions with Alby Cohen at Rough Magic in Greenpoint. He’s great at getting very clean sounds and has some really amazing mics. I then mixed the whole thing at home. It was actually a really quick process even through there were so many spaces and studios involved. I think I wrote, recorded and mixed the entire thing in about 3 months. It took 3 years to make the last Hunters, Run! record, so this seemed like light speed to me.
SITR: If you had to choose your favorite song on Coastal Preferences, which would it be and why?
I love “Cast Your Wild Eyes” because it was the first one I wrote for this and it convinced me that I could actually make the record myself. I think it’s the best recording and the arrangement of the bass and synth on the chorus really gets me. Although I have some issues with the recording, I do think that the song “Coastal Preferences” is really my favorite song. It’s a very raw song that I wrote in about 5 minutes alone in a house in SF. I have the tendency to labor too much on some songs. When something comes together as quickly as that did it really strikes me as something special.
SITR: What do you see in the future for yourself as a musician, in terms of goals?
I’ve been immensely lucky throughout my life as a musician. All I ever wanted was the freedom to put out whatever I want and to play whenever I want. I have a studio, I have a band and I can book shows whenever I want. I don’t really know what else I could ask for. My vision for the future is just for it to continue and hopefully continually get more people interested in what I’m doing.
SITR: If you could collaborate with any artist and/or producer, who would it be?
Do they have to be living? If not, I wish I could write songs for Roy Orbison to sing. I’d have Phil Spector produce them. It would be a really great, really weird time.
SITR: What’s next?
I have been working out a few new songs with the live band that I am planning on recording soon. I just got back from a longer than expected stay in New Orleans, where I wrote a bunch of new material. I think I’m going to L.A. in a few weeks and might demo some of that stuff out there. I’ll be putting out either a new Calotype EP or full length early in 2013 either way.
Hip-hop artist Chyron, or Kobbie Turkson, has just released a new mixtape, ‘Sound & Soul’ today. Before you read any farther, scroll down and press play. When I first heard some of Turkson’s music, I knew he was destined to do great things. Being able to sing and rap, he’s got the upper hand on other artists in the game. Don’t expect the generic lyrics you hear from so many young rappers trying to make a name for themselves. Chyron’s wordplay is proper, as he incorporates metaphors and smooth rhymes to make music about subject matter relevant to everyday life, sending out a bigger message than to just ‘FBGM.’ I sat down and talked to Turkson a little bit about what he’s been doing lately and about ‘Sound & Soul.’
Interview with Chyron
It’s been a while since I’ve seen you. What exactly have you been doing this past year?
Well, working on the mixtape is probably what I’ve been doing the most. Then, people have been hitting me up for clothing shoots so I’ve been in contact with this company called Vrnaqlr. We’re working with them and trying to get work done on the videos for the mixtape. My sister’s gonna help me out with the styling in those. Really, I’ve just been making music and have been in the studio working.
What can you say about the development of your music over the last few years since you started doing the music thing?
Since I got to Pittsburgh, I’ve just been trying to hone in on my sound. Everything’s starting to sound alike, not uniform, but more and more like me and what I’m trying to portray through my music. I’m really liking that, so I’m just trying to go with it and perfect my style.
You can sing and rap. Do you think that gives you an advantage over other artists?
I don’t know if it’s an advantage but there are some things that are cool. Like, a lot of rappers like to have hooks in their songs, and I don’t have to go find anybody to do that. I can try to do it myself so then I can write it and there’s no conflict. There’s more I can do and a bigger variety of music I can make.
What are your strongest influences?
My favorite rapper of all time is Lupe Fiasco, but the people that I’m into now are Kendrick, J.Cole, Curren$y, Wiz; all people doing it now and influencing hip hop to be better than what has been coming out lately. All the people doing it good in hip hop, and obviously Jay-Z, 2pac, Biggie, all the people that established this; you can’t ever deny them their right to be your influences.
What went into the production of this upcoming mixtape?
It was the first time I went into other studios to record tracks. I made ‘Fantasy’ and ‘For You’ with LaHarrier, which is a production company out here in Pittsburgh, and then I made the title track, ‘Sound & Soul’ with Will Brown here in Pittsburgh. It was the first time I did that, usually I just do it myself, which is how I did the rest of the track. This time, I learned a lot more about the engineering process behind it, though. A lot of the songs turned out a lot better than any of my old stuff, so I’m excited about that. And yeah, I’ve just been trying to keep going, networking, and finding other people to work with to make the best music I can.
How long have you been working on the album?
I started before this summer and worked on it throughout the summer and figured out exactly what I wanted to do with it.
So, what are you doing on the daily to help your music career?
Really, just writing. I’m pretty bad with the promotion and all of the auxiliary things that come with being in the music industry and I just hope to get better with that and grow with that as this gets bigger. All I know I can do is just write songs, keep doing it and loving it and trying to perform.
What are your goals for the future?
Goals for the immediate future are to try and get shows and open for as many people as I can and try and spread this tape. Then, work on another one and do it again until you build a fan base and get famous.
EOTO is the improvisational duo of Michael Travis and Jason Hann. If you like to get funky, these are the guys for you! EOTO is a livetronica band with influences from almost every genre of danceable music. Every show they play is completely improvised, and in itself, an unforgettable experience. They bring it all together, and through their creativity and phenomenal musical abilities they truly make it their own. The duo’s goals are to keep developing their sound, and to really maintain a wide variety of influences and moods. Michael and Jason play for their crowd; just as their music is fueling our dancing, our dancing is fueling their music. This past week, I got a chance to call Jason and talk to him about EOTO, the Bass Invaders tour, and what they’re trying to do in the future.
Michael Travis & Jason Hann of EOTO
Where are you guys headed now? We just landed in Seattle, we play tonight for City Arts Festival, and uh tomorrow we’re in Ashland, Oregon and then Arcata, California on Saturday.
You guys do hundreds of shows a year, and you and Michael have to spend a lot of time together. So, I’m curious, what’s that relationship like?
Oh, that’s a good question. You know, basically it’s like a ton of fun on the road and after a while it’s just like the whole family traveling together on a group trip somewhere. Everyone knows everyone pretty well.
How do you two communicate on stage? What cues do you give eachother?
Basically, what we used to do, we used to have all kinds of hand signals almost like baseball signals on stage where we had certain cues for what each other was getting ready to do with the music. We used to have a bunch of those, but after playing almost 800 shows together, we’ve kind of narrowed it down to very few because we get so busy and in our own world.
Whenever you go to add something, how specific do you have to be with each other?
Oh, not at all. If there’s anything that really happens on stage that feels kind of weird that the other person’s doing, we’ll just sort of mention it after and keep that in mind; either stay away from it or do that more next time, but it won’t be something that we go through during the show. When we’re musically going with our instincts, you know, we improve on the stage. Everything happens and you deal with it but we know how to make things that even we think are mistakes into some of the coolest parts.
I know that The String Cheese Incident doesn’t play as many shows as EOTO, but you guys are both still committed to both things. How does having the commitment to SCI and EOTO affect you guys?
Basically, I think String Cheese has a little bit further look ahead type of thing. We have our meetings months and months in advance to see what summer might look like or what the holidays might look like. Then, we factor in rehearsal days and after that we go back to our manager and say we want to do these certain amount of days with EOTO. We basically fill our schedule up, but right now we’re getting better at leaving some weekends open and also some days during the week open for family’s sake and having a little home time.
What does SCI think of EOTO?
I think there’s a general feeling that they’re glad that we’re working and doing stuff outside of it since we’re addressing that part of us musically. We definitely have our things though, like when we do a SCI weekend, it’s preferred that we don’t try to do EOTO as part of it, except for something like Rothbury where we play on a completely different day. That goes for everybody’s side projects, not just for EOTO. They expect that for the little bit of time that we do get together with SCI, we’re completely present for that.
What do you feel is the biggest reward from being in EOTO?
Oh wow, there are all kinds of things that go along with that. There’s a lot of musical satisfaction. We can just make our music on a night-to-night basis, and we can just play hours of music and keep an audience captured and dancing really hard all night, and hit so many different areas and moods of music as well. The only thing it does, really, is get better; you know, how we’re comfortable with our instruments and new things that we’re trying to do. There’s a lot of things that we try to do that don’t necessarily work out but if we keep doing them more and more they get better and better.
You’ve played at venues of all sizes. Which do you prefer, crowds of thousands of people like Electric Zoo or smaller more personal ones like Catskill Chill or venues you play on tour?
It probably sounds predictable, but it’s all good. The intimate crowds are great because you just see faces. Through the course of one evening, I’ll definitely try to look at whoever’s face I can, where the lights aren’t shining in my eyes, even if they’re not looking back at me. I like to see where everyone’s coming from and it’s so great to see all the different personalities and you know, try to connect like that. Then, at a big festival, where you know there’s probably a few thousand people that you can’t see, you just try to take in the energy that’s coming at you and transfer that into the music and get it back out to them and you see a general sense of the sea bubbling [hahaha] on how people are dancing and that becomes a little bit more of what we feed off of.
Okay, so does someone play the lotus stage to what you guys are doing in the same way lights are played to a show?
Absolutely, we have our guy, Zebbler (Peter Berdovsky), who used to do the video stuff for Shpongle, and he’s been with us for about a year and a half now. He’s flying by the seat of his pants at the same time, you know, where he’s got this layout for the lotus with all his projections and all his themes. When we hit certain moods, he tries to find a theme that matches what we’re doing. He’s got his own thing going on as far as trying to match up his videos with the music but also thinking like, “Is this the part where you really turn up the crowd or is it not enough to drop the monster face on the lotus, or is it playful enough to have the EOTO pinball game, or now are we going underwater or going into steampunk kind of vibe?” So we just let him go off on his own with whatever he’s feeling too, and that’s why he’s very interactive with the say and changes in our mood as well.
I know that you guys are influenced by STS9 and Lotus and recently Skream with dubstep. Is there any new genre or artist that you guys have been feeling lately?
Well, one of the things that’s cool that we’re able to do and that we’re really proud of is with whatever genre that we’re really into, Travis starts sound designing stuff and I start to get into different beats and a lot of times those influences translate into other styles that we happen to be playing. So, if Travis has this really killer bass sound that he created for dubstep, all of a sudden he might try to use that same sound on something that’s electro or that’s kind of funky or glitch-hoppy. Then, all of a sudden it becomes, “Wow that sound isn’t normally associated with that style, but it’s working and it’s new.” I think one of the things that we’ve tried to go into is doing some of the trap music that’s live and that’s kind of become quite the rager. It’s a different style of music and we just figured out a way to make those huge 808 bass sounds work in an improvised way, which if I got into it’d be weird and nerdy and technical but we just kind of made it be able to work. So now, the last couple of sound checks, we’ve sort of tried to go into that mode and to make sure that if we go into it, that it sounds nice and big when we hit it because if you try to play one of those styles and you’re not really hitting it, then it comes off looking pretty wimpy. We just try to get better, and that’s the thing that we’re struggling with right now, but we’ll play that a few times and try to get used to what it takes to play that style and then we’re good to go.
Since you guys kind of came up in the underground electronic scene, I’m curious as to what your opinion is on mainstream EDM music like Aviici and Skrillex.
As far as Skrillex goes, there’s not a single producer that I think I’ve talked to that hasn’t been like, that dude changed the face of so much electronic music. The way he came up with his bass sounds and how he started messing with melodic sounds and vocal stuff and drum programming and putting it all into one package got every producer to be like, “What the hell just happened? How did this little screamo kid just change the face of bass music?” So he gets a lot of respect like that from other producers and I know the general feeling is that there’s equal amounts of love and hate for that guy. Anybody that I know that I’ve ever talked to says he’s the nicest guy. When SCI did the Hangout Festival last year, he was side stage being all into us and you know, he’s just a really nice kid. As far as the music in general, once anything that big comes out, then you have the clones just following it up like, “let’s all sound like Skrillex.” Then it becomes something else and there’s a lot of bad and boring stuff out there and Skrillex has kind of repeated himself to the point where it doesn’t necessarily sound as fresh but anytime music gets that big, you’re gonna have some good music that you really have look for and a lot of really bad music that you have to wade through. I just search for the good stuff and try to keep up on music that’s come out in the last two months or so and, you know I hear a lot of bad music but I also hear a lot of young producers where I’m like, “Oh my God, they’re really hitting it.”
So how would you describe EOTO’s sound to someone who has never heard and knows nothing about you guys?
Yeah, for someone that’s not either around it or not into EDM, I just say it’s an alien disco dance party. If you’re on a UFO and you go to the UFO disco lounge, we’re probably set up trying to do our stuff and it’ll be fun; you’ll get all your tentacles and webbed feet dancing [hahaha].
So what are some of the goals you guys have set for this tour season and the upcoming year?
Well this tour season, it was to really hit these weekends hard, let people know we’ve got our lotus sculpture projection mapping with us and that our style continues to evolve. If you haven’t seen us in a year we already sound really different. We went through a phase where we were just trying to get our gnarliness out and trying to really nail how gnarly we could get and now we’ve really gone back to trying to hit all these different styles so that throughout the course of the evening it’s kind of this journey of like, “Wow that’s really different and that’s really different,” but it’s all groovy and working together. So if you haven’t seen us in a while, then you should definitely see us again. We just keep playing and keep getting better and hitting more variety.
What, out of all the gear you use, are your favorite mics and plugins and compressors?
Ah, that’s great! Well, we can’t do any of this without Abelton Live, and that lets us record everything. All the effects we use are just Abelton effects because if we used any other effects, it would create too much latency in using live microphones. Then, Travis uses an iPad with Animoog, and as one of my iPad programs, I use Lemur. That allows me to control my computer and Travis’s computer to control different effects on Abelton for the overall mix. Travis also uses a Korg Kaosillator, which is kind of an effect type of thing that we use on a lot of different sounds.
Is there anything else that you’d like me to include that I might have missed?
Well, we try to record as many of our live shows as possible, and they get released on this site called livedownloads.com, and we just recently released our 500th live show (for free!!). We’ve probably played almost 800 shows but have recorded about 500 of them, so we’re really proud that we’ve been able to release that many shows. All of our shows are different, so you can really hear our music progress.
EOTO will be in Stroudsburg, PA on October 25th and Pittsburgh, PA on October 26th. State In The Real will be at the Pittsburgh show, so see you guys next Friday at The Rex Theater!