We were just talking about the record y’all just put out, and the kind of tedious recording process…
Houle: Yeah, it was…tedious on our own parts, as well. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make it the best it could be.
Delaware: (On recording Iowa City’s Magic Barn) It was something I’d always wanted to do my whole life, I know Clay wanted to that too, you know…When you have artists you’ve looked up to your whole life that are recording on gear that makes their shit just sound professional…It’s inspiring, it makes you want to do that. And we’ve been recording, you know, through interfaces and computers in… just studios that most people wouldn’t really know of. This was a studio that, I think, is gonna be famous someday. And…David Bowie recorded his last two albums on all this gear, I think it’s good enough for us… We were lucky to land the opportunity.
How was working with the whole team [at Magic Barn]?
Delaware: It was a… self-produced album, we had our friend Wolfgang Zimmerman help out a little bit , but mostly of the work was us and the engineers putting it together to make it sound the way the album does…I’ve helped record other people and produce in the past, Clay [Houle] has been in other projects…where he had a lot to do with the art…It’s fun, when you make songs, You kinda can hear the production already and it was an easy thing.
Houle: That’s really true, once you’re writing it, you have a vision in your head of what you want it to sound like.
Yeah, and y’all keep it pretty organic in terms of production.
Delaware: We put as many roto-toms on this as we could
The sheer diversity in your instrumentation was really interesting. What makes you choose all those different elements?
Delaware: Yeah, all the exotic instruments… I’ve always loved Indian music–I guess I haven’t always loved it, it’s been a thing in the last couple of years…There’s guys like Christian Adas, there’s exotic instruments over there that I can’t even pronounce the artists so I’m not even gonna give it a go. It’s something beyond what I’ve heard here in America and it was just really cool to put, like, any touches of that into our Americanized songs. It’s different, too. We could have gone a lot further with it but it’s just really hard to track down those instruments. The koto thing was really cool That happened to, like, land in our lap because one of the engineers had a friend who had a koto that was only like an hour away so he ran to the studio And then our co-producer, his friend plays the sitar really well… and he created a nice intro
Houle: A lot of those world instruments, maybe it’ll be because we’re writing some of our stuff on Garage Band So we’ll have all these different instrument patches and stuff, and we’ll play with some of that. We really didn’t know what the sitar was gonna sound like, but then we heard it and it was like, “Wow–holy shit, that sounds cool”
Delaware: He sent over two different tracks of them and he harmonized the parts. Once we blended them and put the effects on that were needed..it sounds awesome.
That’s one of the things that stuck out to me about your album, it blends a lot of different stuff. Because everyone’s going electronic, I love talking to people about organic stuff.
Delaware: I love it too. Those guys out of Atlanta that did like at the R&B, hip-hop stuff in the 90s for TLC and [Organized Noize] that was what was so cool about those guys, they were creating music that was usually made by machines and doing it with like, actually bass guitars and real guitars and that’s why it’s so different. Everything’s kinda become a bit more synthetic, nowadays.
Houle: And it’s weird, like if you ask us the kind of music we listen to… We gravitate more towards more organic sounding stuff.
Delaware: You create the song first, then when you’re doing overdubs, like for the song “First Time” the demo version has a really Chinese sounding guitar that Clay played…And we were like: “yeah that sounds great” The koto happened out of nowhere, so that kind of took place over …the style of guitar that Clay played, that guitar part. There’s bands that have kinda done that lately, it is the future, all these cultures are gonna unite…In like five hundred years If we’re still on this rock hanging out… culture and tradition are just gonna be one, or two, or three things.
Getting back to the tour a bit, how does playing so much affect your relationship to your music?
Houle: Your relationship can get affected–like with a song you play repetitively, maybe you lose your love for it a little bit…Some of the songs we’ll play, we haven’t even recorded, we’ve been playing them for like six months. You just have to remember how you felt when you wrote them.
Delaware:It can get a little pedestrian, playing them over and over…We’ll do like 130 shows this year, an we took time off…It’s interesting, you gotta dig deep and remember how it was when you wrote it.
Houle: Sometimes you’ll write a song and you’ll be like “This is my favorite song” and as the year goes by maybe [your favorite] is a different one you wrote in the same period.
So thinking about the future, what’re you guys doing to move forward as a band?
Delaware: We plan for the future, we keep pounding the rock. It’s like the Spurs…that’s what their coach [Gregg Popovich] says…Perspective is huge, too in life…We’re worried about our goal, and not making it–
Houle: We’re just bitching about, you know, enough people don’t like our band…There’s so much more important shit.
Delaware: It’s about getting your head out of your ass (Houle laughs). You move forward, and you keep doing what you love
So to get back to the new record, what are y’all listening to and pulling from?
Delaware: I’m excited to do a completely different mix for this next album…I’m excited to get down to the heartland rock thing, but to do it in a classy way…It was really big drums, and we were into that at the time but now we’re ready to go back even further, 70s instead of the 80s.
Houle: Yeah, 70s and even the Americana of the 90s, it just sounds really real. It’s not overproduced, it’s all about the song writing.
Delaware: I want it to feel like it’s one or two takes, I don’t want it to feel overprocessed…I want it to feel human, I want there to be mistakes, blemishes all over. Some of my favorite records…there’s mistakes all over them, but you never notice…like the bass isn’t even hitting the right note. We’ll immediately get insecure if that happens, like: “we gotta cut that” but I don’t think we should. Unless it’s really bad. You couldn’t have made a perfect record, back in the day. And now you can. I don’t think that’s human. The songs are telling a neat little story, about trying to escape your life and find something new to grow towards.
Any words on those greater themes?
Houle: [Delaware] really got it. I mean we recorded that album almost two years ago. It’ll be nice to record again…to produce ourselves again and see what happens.
Delaware: Yeah it’ll be awesome to record again, it’s been too long.
Houle:Yeah, we enjoy recording–it’s fucking fun.
Delaware: The only thing that hold us back is money, it’s expensive…We wanna have this new album out in 2019…it took so long to get our dots connected and get this first record out, so now it’s just like: ‘Let’s get going’.
Houle: And all of our favorite artists are putting out music… Unfortunately, in our day and age, it’s more about ‘let’s keep people’s attention’. It’s so true.
Delaware: It’s neat because back in the day they managed to put out so many records anyway,too because that was a way to make a living…The Beatles and The Stones were putting out like–what, two to three a year? Yeah, we can go back and do that again.
Who are y’all listening to nowadays?
And are you guys really in touch with the southern music scene?
Houle: Well I’d say we are, because that’s where our band started. We knew a lot of venues in the south…Athens, Charleston…
A producer/DJ who is currently attending NYU for music recording, Beshken, from the start of his performance at Subterranean opening for Gus Dapperton, made sure his music was felt, not just heard. With booming bass and soundscapes that he hopes create what he described as a “digital forest,” I spoke with Beshken after the show and found out how he can create so much sound with so little help.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Slade Warnken: How did you start playing music?
Beshken: I started playing Led Zepplin and Jimi Hendrix on guitar when I was like 11 because my best friend was taking guitar lessons. I got really into music production because I wanted to be a DJ…LA is cool because there is this beat scene there. It’s kind of dying now, but from 2008 to 2014 Low End Theory [and] that whole scene really influenced me. [Low End Theory] was like a club–it’s an Alphapup run thing. Alphapup is a record label, Daddy Kev is the guy who owns it…it was a lot of beat makers, there was an outdoor area, it was a community. People said they would go there as church every Wednesday night. I would go there with all my friends, and that was really influential to me.
SW: How old were you when you started producing?
B: I was 14 years old.
SW: When you’re performing, what is that process like for you?
B: So I produce all the music, this is our first tour and this is the first time I’m playing with José. There are a lot of backing tracks. Most of the backing tracks are just drums, and then José is playing on bass and keysynth, and then I’m playing guitar on top of that with a lot of effects.
SW: In a lot of ways, especially with your live performance with the heavy emphasis on bass and drums, music is felt, not just heard. When you are approaching your live set, what are you trying to create for the audience?
B: I want it to be really enthralling. During a lot of my sets, I notice people are just standing there watching it. I’m totally cool with that because I feel like I make dance music, but only music I would personally dance to in my bedroom, not necessarily what people would dance to in a club. I call it a digital forest. A lot of the sounds are field recordings. A lot of the drums are field recordings I’ve taken and recorded as samples and manipulated, so it has this organic feel to it. When I was in Italy I recorded a lot, or when I was in Japan earlier this year I recorded a ton of sounds. I went to these shrines that have these speakers that play a lot of traditional Japanese music, so I recorded a lot of that. You can literally use anything and make music out of it. That’s kind of my thing, or what I like doing. Not just limiting myself to instruments.
The world-renowned producer and electronic music household name started his day with the release of Neon Future III, the third installation of his most recent album series. With a list of featured artists that boasts Bill Nye, blink-182 and Lady Antebellum, the series is based on Aoki’s fascination with our current age of technology. Taking a break from his touring schedule, Aoki spoke to me over the phone to talk about Neon Future III, streaming culture, and his roots in radio. We also discussed his upcoming Dim Mak Neighborhood show in Chicago, which will be the release celebration for Neon Future III and feature supporting talent from the label he started over 20 years ago. I will admit — answering a phone call to, “Hey, it’s Steve,” was a way cooler than I was prepared to handle on Wednesday afternoon.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
RK: With the Dim Mak Neighborhood show coming up here, what’s special about the cities you chose to bring the showcase to – specifically Chicago?
SA: When I think of crowds from all across the US, the most memorable crowds definitely are from Chicago. It has historically been one of the most important cities for supporting my music since I started touring across the US. And I should actually research how many times I’ve played at the Aragon Ballroom. I really want to know the exact number, but a wild guess is that this will be my fifth time. It’s always been a big moment for touring. Whenever I do a bus tour, we always have 3 or 4 shows on the map that are very very integral shows of the entire tour and Chicago is such an important marketplace for me. And also, Neon Future II was premiered in the streets of New York. Neon Future I was in the streets of LA. The only difference here is, of course, that I had to pick a different city, but also that we’re not doing it on the streets this time. We’re doing it in one of my favorite venues in America. I wanted to pick a city that was first on the list as far as really crazy crowds and amazing, amazing fans. At the end of the day it’s really about the fans. They dictate why I come to this city.
RK: Bringing that full circle a bit and focusing on the “neighborhood” aspect of the show, what’s important about touring with artists from your label?
SA: It’s a family. We’re our own neighborhood. We’re a family. Dim Mak’s been around for over 20 years now. It’s a big part of my identity as an artist. Being able to grow as an artist would have been very difficult if I didn’t have this community, this “neighborhood,” to build and develop my sound — and now the sound of young artists. That’s the whole point of a label, is to help and develop new artists with incredible talent with something the world hasn’t heard yet. I really believe in these young artists we have fostered and in helping get their sound out into the world. It’s also not just about EDM. We definitely help to curate artists in different genres, like Bok Nero, the hip hop force of Dim Mak. I also wanted a diverse lineup from the Dim Mak belt because we don’t just put out one kind of electronic music. Bear Grillz is more dubstep, Max Styler is more house. Brohug represents the more future house sound. It’ll be good to bring in all different sounds from the Dim Mak family and throw a big party.
RK: Particularly in today’s streaming culture, what power do you believe there is in a label today – and in you as the founder and frontman of Dim Mak?
SA: I think streaming allows for artist-run companies to have much stronger influence than ever before. That’s why you’re seeing that any artist with any sort of influence is starting their own label with their friends and putting out records. It’s working, it’s effective, and it actually really does help out younger artists that wouldn’t otherwise have a voice. At the end of the day, even for me, as I developed my sound, there were certain artists I looked up to and followed because I really liked their whole sound and concept. If they’d come to me and said, “Hey, I’m going to help you out,” I would find that to be more meaningful than a bigger institution or company coming in. I’d rather work with an artist that gets my vision and the intricacies and details of what I care about, and put it out there to the world in a way that makes sense to me. Streaming culture has absolutely allowed for more power for artists and artist-run companies. And what happens in the end is that it allows for more diversity. It allows for more growth and expansion of the culture. It’s not just the highest ones that sell the most mattering, which is how I feel big labels work. It’s statistically driven, and it’s not necessarily for the culture but for the bottom line. With artist-driven companies, or at least with Dim Mak, it’s always been more about the company’s culture instead.
RK: Since WNUR-FM gives particular attention to “underrepresented” music, what are some genres or artists we can pay better attention to within electronic music? Where do you see the future in electronic music?
SA: Electronic music as we can see it has spread its wings really far. It’s a big part of pop culture. When you look down the Billboard Hot 100, you see a lot of DJs that are part of the music-making of what’s popular in America, even outside of EDM. It’s come that far, so that with electronic music we have a large say in the music cultural space. Artists from our world can really go into every genre. That then makes it really exciting for producers in EDM. I didn’t start with EDM, but with rock music. My dream was always to collaborate or work with my favorite bands. But that would have never happened if I’d continued down my rock road. As I built my electronic career, one of the first things I wanted to do was get in the studio and make music with Linkin Park. Make music with Fall Out Boy and Jim Atkins and blink-182. Even now, farther down the path, I’ve done a song with a country artist. Earlier in my days I never thought I would do something like that, and I’ve always wanted to. It was just a question of how I could get across this line, and electronic music has built the bridge so that I can work with artists that want to do something unique. It’s really exciting to do that. The genre is just constantly spreading its wings and hybridizing. There’s so much exciting stuff happening in the electronic space.
RK: Continuing within that vein, where do you see opportunity within EDM? What do you think up-and-comers, especially my college student audience, can bring to the table? (for context, student and community DJs have shows through WNUR’s Streetbeat segment every night.)
SA: You have to have the passion and the heart. It lies in you. And that’s always been the case, not just for music. When I was in college, my heart was full of passion. I still have that same fervor, but it’s something unique when you’re young. You’re going to do what you need to do, get no sleep, handle your business and then you get to play early in the morning. I was on a radio show when I was in college, called KCSB. There was a training wheels program that was only broadcasted on campus. No one listened to it. And I was like, “I wanna be a radio DJ.” I would play at 2, 3 in the morning, and I never made it from the training program to KCSB. But in any case, there were thousands of other kids like me. You have to start somewhere. And when you have the heart and the passion, all you need are the tools. You then can develop your skills, and hone into what you’re good at and find your knack. That’s how it all started for me, was when I started DJing. I developed a curation program and said, “Hey, I’m gonna put on these parties and focus it on a specific genre targeted at a specific person.” And that original indie underground thing spread to other genres and became something very groundbreaking for LA. Kids and teenagers can start developing and honing skills and building a little community – a little neighborhood in a way.
RK: Even beyond that, do you think there are opportunities within the actual music of EDM – unexplored ideas or things that haven’t been explored enough?
SA: If you want to go into unexplored sound, you’ve got to get into the studio and start making some music. It just takes time. At the end of the day, you need to surround yourself with the culture of the music. You don’t have to have a college degree, you just need the passion and the drive to get in front of a computer and figure out what kind of music you want to make. I remember when I first started making remixes. Most were horrible, and eventually I made something people cared about – 3 years later. If you love it, you’ll spend the time to do it. And you can’t think too big, and want Drake or Post Malone to listen to your remixes. You need to start in Soundcloud and start communicating with smaller artists with a very specific sound. If you get the respect from them, that’s how you’ll really learn and get constructive criticism. Honestly, the bigger DJs who have influence are going into smaller pools. We’re looking at where communities are being built and seeing, “Who’s chopping it up down here?” I want to hear it. But you have to start small with a community of people who get what you’re doing. There are so many different genres that you don’t need all this training. Like you could start a whole thing with weird sounds crinkling water bottles. You can build it up. And someone will say, “I really like what you’re doing with the water bottles. I’m going to do it with Pepsi cans.” And then all of a sudden, there’s something happening. That’s how culture gets created.
RK: Finishing up, you’re now headed toward Neon Future III. Since the first Neon Future, which you’ve previously said was inspired by the intersections of humanity and technology, there have been a ton of new tech developments — how do you view those changes, and are they relevant to this newest installation?
SA: Neon Future is becoming more and more real. For me, it’s the intersections like you said. It’s really the conversation of science fiction becoming fact, and that’s the conversation I want to be in. I want to know how close we are to these “impossible” ideas, these imaginative ideas that we think of in movies and in cartoons and in our imagination. It’s about where we want to go and where we’re afraid to go. And there’s a lot happening. It’s an exciting conversation that happens mostly in smaller circles. I have a fascination and obsession with it, so I like to put myself in those circles and see what the hell is going on. It’s very exciting, meeting up with these scientists and researchers. It’s a big concept for me. I don’t just name one album Neon Future, but a whole series, because it’s a whole ongoing conversation. Who knows, soon we’ll be able to telekinetically make music and share it without having to open up a computer.
RK: Is this album more of a projection, then, for what you’re hoping to see in technology? Or is it more cataloging and processing the changes as you see them?
SA: It’s definitely a projection. Of course I catalog as I go through. Each album is a timestamp, in the essence of what the music is. It’s a timestamp of my creative output on a musical and production level. And I like that. It’s like looking back at baby pictures or teenage pictures. But they’re all so integral in developing who you are now. The cataloging is part of a whole musical package. But the hope is, and the vision is, a projection for sure. I look forward to the future. I’m a techno-future optimist. I’m a junkie when it comes to science, information and that whole space. I don’t know how long this Neon Future series is going to last. I thought it was going to end here. But I already have more coming, and more music on the way. I won’t get ahead of myself, but it’s not over yet.
RK: How can we look forward to seeing that tech junkie enthusiast embodied in this album? What can we look forward to seeing?
SA: There are a ton of songs. My song with Bill Nye about the collaboration between science and music. There are very diverse collaborations in the rock and country space. And then there’s this incredible song that Mike Posner wrote that I collaborated with him on. I’m really proud of that one. And one of my favorite songs was what I made with Era Istrefi. She did an outstanding job. There’s a big conversation in regards to Neon Future III. It’s a stacked album.
Today I am providing you with the first interview from the series of conversations I had with artists at North Coast Music Festival last week. This was a special interview for me since I had the privilege of talking to a guy I have admired as both a producer/DJ and a tastemaker for quite sometime. The artist’s name: Barclay Crenshaw.
It’s hard to know where to begin when introducing Barclay Crenshaw. The producer and DJ who often performs under the alias Claude VonStroke has created his own brand of funk-infused techno and house records and toured the international circuit playing many of the hottest venues and festivals on the planet: from headlining Movement Festival in Detroit this year to appearances at Coachella, Creamfields, and Tomorrowland (among many others over the years). Crenshaw is prolific and seemingly tireless. In 2016 DJ Times named him the Best DJ in America. And beyond his own productions and DJ sets, he has also established one of the most respected labels in the dance music industry, Dirtybird Records, which was named label of the decade by Mixmag just last year.
From the get-go, Barclay Crenshaw has done things differently: Although he had been making his own music for years, Crenshaw launched his music career out of a film project. In the early 2000s he worked on the documentary Intellect: Techno House Progressive with the intention of getting into the minds of successful DJs and producers and figuring out how they operate. After finishing the film, he subsequently began to produce and release his own records and DJ across the U.S. He established Dirtybird Records in 2005, released his debut album Beware of the Bird in 2006, and created a Fabric mix for the illustrious Fabric club in London in 2009, all the while quietly building a steady and loyal following in the American underground techno and house scene. Now, Crenshaw’s meticulous productions and distinctive style have made him an internationally recognized name in dance music and a respected tastemaker both at home and abroad. Moreover, he’s brought his own events to cities and towns across the country: his Dirtybird barbecues-which often feature street food, outdoor games, and of course, music-have helped solidify his brand and his label’s prowess-from LA to Brooklyn. Yet in spite of his many achievements, Barclay’s ethos has remained down-to-earth and unpretentious: based on the performances I have seen and the time I spent talking with him, it appeared clear to me that he focuses on presenting his listeners with danceable music that does not take itself too seriously or masquerade as something it’s not. It’s about having a good time and truly enjoying the atmosphere and mood music can create for the audience or even the casual listener. So without further ado, here is my conversation with Barclay following his evening set at North Coast Music Festival:
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Brennan White: Alright this is Brennan White with the Sonic sanctuary show for WNUR 89.3fm Chicago, Northwestern’s radio station. I’m here with Barclay Crenshaw, also known as Claude VonStroke, the Dirtybird label owner, the man behind it all! Barclay, how are you doing?
Barclay Crenshaw: I’m doing great, thanks for having me on the show!
Brennan White: Of course, we’re happy to have you! So, you grew up in the Midwest, right?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yes, I did.
Brennan White: So you’re originally from Cleveland and you had some of your roots in Detroit. What’s it like being back in Chicago and being in the birthplace of house? How does that feel?
Barclay Crenshaw: Chicago’s always been a really fun city to come and play. It’s always been a little more wild than other cities. I don’t know why, I can’t really explain it. It gets a little crazy here, so I enjoy it.
Brennan White: Ah, Yeah, for sure! So, I read that you had a radio show in high school. Is that correct?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yes that is correct.
Brennan White: I’m wondering how that show influenced your perspective on music from an early age, and how did it affect how you think about music and presenting it to an audience, or a crowd, or anyone else on the other end?
Barclay Crenshaw: I haven’t thought about that show in a really long time, and when I think about it I did the show with this kid Derek Ordway who is now deceased. Rest in Peace Derek. He was into punk rock and new wave and all that kind of stuff, and I was only into rap. So the radio show would be like I play Eric B. and Rakim and he plays Nitzer Ebb, and I play a Salt-N-Pepa track and he plays Depeche Mode.
Brennan White: Was that back to back?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah! the show was very eclectic.
Brennan White: So it was jumping around a bit?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah, but we both talked, and the way we would get people to listen to it is we would order a pizza every night and we would give the pizza away outside the station to the winning caller. So if you listened to our show you could always get a free pizza.
Brennan White: [laughs] Did you find that helped your show out a little bit?
Barclay Crenshaw: No, it helped the calling in but it didn’t help the show [laughs].
Brennan White: Because I was gonna say, in the 21st century sometimes it feels like radio is a bit of a dying art form.
Barclay Crenshaw: If it’s live then you should just give away some pizza!
Brennan White: That’s a tactic I’ll have to adopt because I certainly need some more people calling in on my show!
Barclay Crenshaw: People love pizza… But not only do they love pizza but they love hanging out with the host of the radio show while they eat their pizza.
Brennan White: You brought them into the studio sometimes? Or…
Barclay Crenshaw: No we would hang out outside.
Brennan White: It was a nightly show? once every week?
Barclay Crenshaw: Weekly, weekly.
Brennan White: Gotcha. Cool! So I know you have a background in film. You worked on the film Intellect: Techno House Progressive. So you learned a tremendous amount from the dance music scene from that film, right?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yes I did.
Brennan White: So you learned some of the benefits and glories as well as the downsides. Can you talk about how working on that project impacted the beginning of your career and what [ideas, concepts, information] you took into account when you were launching your career as a DJ and as a producer?
Barclay Crenshaw: I did that film basically to launch my career. I interviewed all of the most famous techno and house DJs to kind of find out how they got famous because I had been making music since I was 11 but I couldn’t figure out how to get past the stage of just making music. And I couldn’t get to the getting it out there and getting gigs stage. So, I basically just asked everyone how they did it and made a movie about it.
Brennan White: Are there any key elements of advice that stuck with you? Some of our listeners are aspiring producers and DJs.
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah, I mean one of the best interviews on that whole thing is a guy from Chicago named Derrick Carter who really told me how when the outside public looks in at djing they’re like “oh it’s so easy you don’t really have to do anything,” but Derrick Carter told me “it’s really hard, it’s only gonna get harder, and even when you make it, it’s only gonna get five times harder.” So you have to work your ass off.. Like every second.
Brennan White: And would you say some of those difficulties come from, I mean, obviously increased pressure, but also just larger crowds, you have more scrutiny from people in the audience or if you have a radio show, or if you’re releasing records with Dirtybird you’ve got a large audience?
Barclay Crenshaw: It’s like time management, doing everything, and being able to be on when you’re supposed to be on. Like playing six gigs a week and every single person that books you, pays you money, wants it to be the best set that you’ve ever played…
Brennan White: Absolutely. So there’s that constant pressure. So another question I’ve got for you is with the Dirtybird barbecues. With Birdhouse Festival next week in Chicago, you’re taking your brand to all these different cities, and I’m wondering how you decided to focus on cultivating this grassroots house movement within America, and it seems also that you’re not preoccupied with Europe: labels like Defected, Diynamic. You’re doing your own thing!
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah, I really feel like the opportunity is in America. And we’re one of the only people actually taking advantage of it and really building the community properly and getting the data and making events for people to go to outside the massive corporate rave system.
Brennan White: Definitely.
Barclay Crenshaw: We’re doing our own thing. If you look at the market, it’s so obvious that we should be doing what we’re doing. Like no one else is doing it. It’s crazy. I don’t understand it. Like why isn’t anyone else doing it? It’s so weird!
Brennan White: Yeah, for sure. So I want to ask you about one of your recent remixes. You were tapped by Mark Ronson and Diplo for the remix on Silk City’s “Only Can Get better.” Can you talk a little bit about how that remix came together?
Barclay Crenshaw: I originally went in the studio with Mark Ronson to be a writer on that track, and then I kind of just hung out there for a little bit, and I’ve been friends with Diplo. He remixed “the Whistler” before he was Diplo. He was Diplo, but he wasn’t “Diplo.”
Brennan White: [laughs] Was his name Wesley or something?
Barclay Crenshaw: No, his name was Diplo but you know what I mean! He wasn’t like Megatron Diplo.
Brennan White: Yeah.
Barclay Crenshaw: So [Mark Ronson and Diplo] were like we didn’t really use your bits on the track but we want you to do the remix. It was kind of a weird flip flop, but whatever. I did the remix and because of it Mark Ronson’s playing at Dirtybird Campout, so it was cool!
Brennan White: really! I didn’t even know that he was playing there. That’s amazing.
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah. It’s like a good thing. You know who always says yes to everything? You will never believe it.
Brennan White: Who’s that?
Barclay Crenshaw: William Shatner!
Brennan White: No way, seriously?
Barclay Crenshaw: [laughs] Shatner’s like, “that’s the secret to my life. I always said yes to every request.”
Brennan White: He’s a yes man, I guess!
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah. Don’t say yes to every request…Unless you want to be William Shatner.
Brennan White: It would make you insane. I don’t know how he lives his life [laughs]… So another question I have for you: we see pop music is now embracing a little bit of the house music style: if you look at Calvin Harris’s recent records and Diplo and Mark Ronson linking up with the Silk City project, what do you make of that and how do you think, especially in America, house is moving?
Barclay Crenshaw: I still wouldn’t call that like house house. But…
Brennan White: Yeah, I agree with you. But you can see the house influences at least?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah.
Brennan White: And What do you make of that?
Barclay Crenshaw: Really smart highly successful producers just get on whatever’s going. Like Whatever’s the hot shit. And I feel like this is starting to be the hot shit like for five minutes and that’s what’s gonna happen.
Brennan White: Yeah.
Barclay Crenshaw: Who knows if it’s going to be a long-term thing? It’s something rappers have been good at for ages. They find out what’s good-or not what’s good-what’s smoking hot, and then they just sample it or get that producer in to make something for them. It’s just an intelligent way to work.
Brennan White: yeah, I mean we saw that with the most recent Cardi B record, right?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah.
Brennan White: And I even saw Don Diablo had a recent record that sampled am old house song from the late 90s, or not that old, but… [this was a reference to Don Diablo’s record “Momentum” which samples Fatboy Slim’s 1999 dance hit “Right Here, Right Now“] Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah, that’s old. That’s pretty old!
Brennan White: yeah. So I guess my last question for you is: with Dirtybird, you’ve managed to curate a specific sound, but it seems like there’s not really any compromise on the parts of the artists that contribute to your label.
Barclay Crenshaw: No there isn’t!
Brennan White: So how do you go about being so specific and scrupulous with picking tracks but still allowing people to have that energy, you know?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah I don’t actually sign anyone, sign as in contractually-
Brennan White: So you sign tracks?
Barclay Crenshaw: I just sign individual pieces of music. And that gives me so much freedom. Because when you sign an artist you’re committed to everything they make and sometimes I don’t wanna go that direction.
Brennan White: Yeah.
Barclay Crenshaw: So I’m like a purist in that sense.
Brennan White: that makes sense.
Barclay Crenshaw: So we’re only signing tracks. But there are people who have made a lot of tracks that come out on Dirtybird, like Justin Martin…People I think that are amazing that I sign a lot of records from. But I never actually sign them. And the other thing I notice is, this is a big life lesson that I learned, the more you try to clamp down and tell people what they have to do for you the less they want to be involved. And the more you just let them do whatever they want and tell them that they can be involved just if they feel like it, the more they want to do with you.
Brennan White: Uh huh.
Barclay Crenshaw: Which is like counter intuitive; You think you have to control everyone but really you just have to be like “I’m just having a fun party do you want to come?”
Brennan White: Yeah, and I think it was Richard Branson, who had some part in that thinking. With his work with Janet Jackson, I know it he didn’t sign her to a [long] contractual agreement, it was like we’re gonna release this song and these couple records but I’m not gonna own everything that you do next and you’re not obligated. It’s kind of an interesting way to free up the artist but also allow yourself to continue to produce what you want.
Barclay Crenshaw: Everything is based on relationships anyway so if the artist feels good about working with you, then they’ll work with you. If they don’t feel good about working with you then it doesn’t even matter if they have a contract. They’re just going to tank it or figure a way out of it or just fuck it up.
Brennan White: Absolutely.
Barclay Crenshaw: It doesn’t do you any good to have bad vibes going down.
Brennan White: For sure! Alright so I think that brings us to the close of this interview. Barclay I appreciate you spending time with us!
Barclay Crenshaw: Thank you. Come to the Birdhouse Festival next week in Chicago!
Brennan White: Birdhouse fest!
Barclay Crenshaw: It’s at the plumber’s industrial toiletries Union! [sarcastically] Brennan White: [laughs] You’re kidding me!
Barclay Crenshaw: I don’t know where it is!
Brennan White: Everybody should be there regardless of where it is.
Barclay Crenshaw: It’s in a great spot. It’s where the Dirtybird festival was three years ago.
Brennan White: Okay, we’ll post that on the website [CLICK HERE FOR TIX!] . This has been Barclay Crenshaw, AKA Claude VonStroke. Thanks again Barclay, this was the Sonic Sanctuary show with Brennan White!
Barclay Crenshaw: Cool!
A complete version of the audio interview will feature on Sonic Sanctuary on the website on Sunday September 9th and on air from 12:00am to 1:00am on September 14th. Thanks for reading!
And grab your tickets for Birdhouse Festival right here! I will be there so you know it’s gonna be a fun time 🙂
Brennan White (Landon Sea)
ES: You just finished your set at the festival. How was the experience for you?
PC: It was very bizarre. I have been coming to this festival for like the 8 years I’ve lived here I think. I’ve come every year and I never ever thought in a million years that I would play this festival. Even just opening it up, it was so special. It felt so amazing. It was so surreal. I saw so many friends in the crowd. It was just so fucking cool.
ES: How did you prepare for the festival?
PC: Basically, I saw on the advance info that I could just put however many band members I wanted down. So I have rotating members – people that come in and out – and I just wanted all of them to be there, so I got as many of them on stage as I could. And my friend Kevin Krauter, whose got amazing music, hit me up and he was like “Can I play with you at Pitchfork?” and I was like, “That’s bold of you to ask, but hell yeah, come on.” So he did backup singing and it was really fun. We practiced all week long and I took the week off of work. I took it pretty easy last night and didn’t go to any after parties or anything because I had to play early and didn’t want to fuck up. But now it’s my time to party.
ES: How did you first get into music?
PC: Well I went to music school here, at Columbia College, for composition. I started taking guitar lessons when I was 10. It was never a question of what I was going to do with my life. I feel like I said when I was 10, “I like music. I want to do that,” and then my mom was like “Okay, you like music, we’ll do that now.” And then I went through guitar lessons and orchestra in middle school and high school, and then it was time for college and I was like, well I just want to keep doing music. So I did that. I think life is about just picking one thing and doing it, like it doesn’t really matter what the one thing is to a degree. When people can’t figure out what they wanna do, I’m like, just pick one thing and then do it for a while, and do it really hard, and see if you like it. So I just did the one thing for a really long time, and now at age 26, it’s starting to really pay off.
ES: How would you describe your sound?
PC: I would say it’s very happy music that sounds pretty drugged out.
ES: Do you record your songs yourself? Do you subscribe to the whole “bedroom pop” craze that’s going on right now?
PC: I record all of my music myself. I do it with some friends too, but I’m the head engineer on all of my own things. And yeah, it is basically bedroom pop style. I recorded all of Flavour in my apartment with my friend Matt. We had this big, open space and recorded it all there.
ES: Who have been your biggest personal inspirations?
PC: I’d say Paul McCartney or Todd Rundgren. At this point, Mild High Club is probably my favorite band, and I’m getting more into house music right now, so I think the music I make for my next album is going to sound a lot different with some house influence, which is weird.
ES: You definitely shifted your sound between EP On Top and Flavour. What brought on this change and how did you execute it?
PC: Well that was a four year gap [in between projects], which is so long. And that first EP, it was weird that people liked it at all because I made it so hastily in my apartment in Bridgeport just for funsies, and then it got a lot of plays on Soundcloud. But then I thought, I wanna make good music. Like, I don’t wanna make hasty music, I wanna make extremely good music. It took me other four years to make Flavour. I recorded two albums that I scrapped and I took some of those songs and revamped them. It took me a while to feel like what I was doing was cool. And then seeing the response off of that, the wait was worth it I think because the response I have been getting has been really crazy. It’s really bizarre to watch.
ES: What does being a Chicago artist mean to you? How has being from and living in Chicago influenced your music, if at all?
PC: It means lots of homies that make music. It means every time I go out I know that I’m going to see X, Y, and Z and I know we’re gonna talk about A, B, and C. Being a Chicago musician means having an arsenal of people that are so overly joyed to work with you and overwhelmingly accepting of who you are, and just ready to help you. Like everyone’s ready to help each other and nobody wants anyone to fall. The Chicago scene is special for that because the bigger bands help out the smaller bands and it just feels like everyone’s lifting each other up and it’s really, really tight.
ES: You recently announced that you will be touring Europe in the Fall. What are you most excited about in regards to these shows?
PC: What I’m most excited for is that I’m going to some really weird countries, like Croatia, Serbia, and Hungary. It’s really, really weird that I’m playing there, but it’s so tight that I get to. I’m super stoked on that.
ES: Could you describe your songwriting process?
PC: Lots of times, it’s very long and drawn out and exacerbated, like just listening to something over and over and being like, “This isn’t good yet. I don’t know when it will be good either. Fuck.” I feel like a lot of the songwriting process I make torturous for myself. I don’t know why, I just make it really hard on myself. But watching the pay off has been worth it in the end.
ES: In your lyrics, you talk about millennial culture and dating in the age of the iPhone. What do you hope to communicate about this topic through your music?
PC: I think that is part of the cultural zeitgeist of today, actually, and I don’t feel like that message is unique to me. Like, listen to somebody like Clairo, it’s the same thing. I was even listening to Jojo the other day, that song “Too Little, Too Late,” and a lot of those lyrics are about being on your phone. So I don’t think that it’s very unique. One of my songs [“I See You”] is specifically about being on your phone and looking at someone who broke up with you and being like, “Damn.” And that’s a thing! You know, when you get broken up with, you can still look at their Instagram. So, I don’t know if my lyrics are going to continue to be about that, but that’s what they were at the time.
ES: Who are some of your favorite artists of the moment?
PC: Lala Lala is so tight. Post Animal is super tight. Kevin Krauter – really sick. Clairo, love her. All my friends. Divino Niño are coming out with a sick record.
ES: What’s next for you? Is there another album in the works?
PC: Yeah, I’m working on a new one right now. Kind of changing up the sound a bit. Sitting on an album for a while and then touring it, you get to meet a lot of people that you respect. And then when you notice that people are giving a shit about your music, you get more liberty to say “Yo, will you work with me on a track?” So now, I’ve been just like, who do I really like and who do I want to work with, and will they say yes? I’ve been going out on a limb and being like, “Can we work together? I’ll come to you!” So, I love the band Hoops and I’m recording some songs with those dudes, I’m recording a bunch of songs with this band Shy Boys in Kansas City, I’m gonna go out to New York and record with my friend Adam [Intrator] who’s in the band Triathalon, I’m gonna go to LA and work on a track with my friend Dent May. So I’m like doing this friend collab thing where I just get to say, “Yo, let’s hang out, let’s make songs,” and everyone’s just been like, “Yeah, that sounds sick.” Everyone’s just into the music. So it’s been exciting. Really freaking chill.
PC: So you guys are from Northwestern?
PC: Well, have me play Dillo Day or some shit!
Although musician Ian Ruhala – better known as Hala – may be young, what he lacks in age he makes up for in experience. The 21-year-old has been playing and recording his own music from his bedroom since high school. His EP Young Alumni was released in 2015 after graduation and full-length Spoonfed soon followed, produced during his first semester of college. This summer, he recruited band members and embarked on a 16-date tour, co-headlining with fellow indie favorites BOYO.
I crossed paths with Hala at their last stop of tour in Cleveland, Ohio. The basement of a bowling alley called Mahall’s Twenty Lanes served perfectly as the venue, complimenting Hala’s vintage vibe. The specific corner of the basement in which they played was dubbed “The Locker Room,” presumably due to the row of old beige lockers placed behind the band.
Sporting a grey Tommy Hilfiger shirt and a shoulder fanny pack, Ruhala took a seat on one of the vintage bowling benches to discuss his sound, tour life, and balancing college with music.
Ruhala said of his music that although he gets lumped into the “bedroom pop” genre, he doesn’t like to restrict himself to just that.
“I don’t really know how I feel about that term [bedroom pop], but I do record in a bedroom,” Ruhala said. “I don’t know if it’s really poppy. It’s just like guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll through the lens of recording at home, so lo-fi is sometimes attached – but I don’t know, I’m not purposefully trying to sound like shit.”
This tour being his longest and first time headlining in the U.S., Ruhala said that it has resulted in close friendships between the two bands – and surprisingly, a lot of nudity.
“Everybody gets naked, really,” Ruhala said. “We were in the car the other day and my guitarist was just playing his gameboy and then he felt the urge to get naked, so he stripped down.”
Other tour antics have included (sorta) trashing a hotel room.
“We kind of – not really – trashed a hotel room the other night, but we got really drunk and busted one of the beds,” Ruhala said. “It wasn’t like a Van Halen kind of trashing where things were actually destroyed; it was more like ‘sorry about this clean up that you gotta do.’”
However, Ruhala doesn’t always live such a lifestyle – he is also a college student, having graduated near the top of his high school class. A type A student in high school, he said that he has learned to relax in college and as a result, has been able to focus more on music.
“If you really wanna pursue music, in the moments that you have free you’ll find yourself gravitating toward your instrument and just playing it,” Ruhala said. “That could be at 2 a.m. after you study, it could be during the day, it could be playing a show. There’s always time.”
However, Ruhala said that instead of sitting down and trying to write a song, the songs tend to come to him.
“I’ll get a chord progression or I’ll have a sentence that could be a chorus line, and it kind of just happens. Usually it has to do with experiences and the song will find me. And sometimes you gotta do some weird stuff to find it,” Ruhala said. “You can’t write a song about heartbreak and not be heartbroken; you can’t write a song about drugs and alcohol without partaking in it. You don’t want to be a poser. And that’s what I’m big on, I just want to write songs that mean something to me and I don’t wanna write fluff, you know?”
Recording and production also play a large part in Ruhala’s creative process. Spoonfed was recorded entirely in an attic, which Ruhala said played an important role in the final product.
“I’ve done stuff in a studio with other bands, and I can just tell, when you bring an engineer in and pay them, most of the time they’re like ‘this isn’t my own stuff’ so they don’t really care,” Ruhala said. “I want to give [an album] the time that I think it deserves. I’m not too much of a studio wizard but I’m learning every time I do something, and I feel like if I’m happy with it, then that’s really all that matters.”
As the show approached, The Locker Room filled up with around 30 people. BOYO was on first, impressing the crowd with crisp guitar riffs and moody vocals from singer Robert Tilden. As they played, the band members of Hala placed themselves front and center, dancing wildly as a form of encouragement.
A few moments after BOYO’s set ended, Hala took over, and the members of BOYO replaced them in the crowd. Although suffering from a slight cold, Ruhala delivered great vocals and strummed his Epiphone Casino guitar with ease. Hala played six songs in total, contrasting “Problems” from his first EP with recent single “Keep on Loving” and of course, “What Is Love? Tell Me, Is It Easy?”. Midway through the set, Ruhala announced that his parents were in the crowd, having driven from his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. This just added to the already present feeling that being at his show was like being welcomed into a tightly knit group of friends. It was just the right amount of laid-back and intimate, and one couldn’t help but notice the smiles on the faces of almost everyone as they watched Ian Ruhala and his friends play music.
As for what to expect from Hala’s future, there is another album in the works, hopefully to be released next summer. Ruhala said that it will be recorded with all new gear in a different bedroom, and he is looking to change his direction stylistically as well.
“I just want to genre-hop as much as I can. I want it to be the most confusing and incoherent string of songs, but I still want them to blend in some way,” Ruhala said. “I wrote a country song, a sludgy hip-hop song and then I’ve got some poppier songs and some guitar songs. So I just want it to be a mixed bag of pretty much everything because that’s what I’m listening to right now.”
And what exactly is Ruhala listening to right now? Twin Peaks, Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground, and Mason Ramsey (yep, the yodeling Walmart boy).
“I really appreciate [Mason Ramsey]. I don’t get why they’re recording him like they did on ‘Famous’ because if they were to record him in a way that was old school like he is, it would sound so cool,” Ruhala said. “I think probably when he’s like 20 and having a mental breakdown, he will make a fabulous record. And like, it will sound so sick.”
Well, if Ruhala’s prediction comes true and Ramsey does end up making that great record at 20, then I suppose they will have something in common.
In preparation for their Chicago show tomorrow at Metro, I got the chance to talk to Echosmith about their inspirations, upcoming album and how their music has changed since “Cool Kids.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for publication.
ES: As siblings, did you always grow up playing music together? How did the idea of starting
a band come to fruition?
ECHOSMITH: Growing up, we all picked up our instruments fairly early, and at a different times played with at least one of our siblings , but surprisingly, it took us a few years to finally all play together as a band. Our dad got us our first show around 11 years ago. Someone was looking for a young band to play a benefit concert, and our dad volunteered us.
ES: What’s the hardest part of being in a band as siblings? The best part?
ECHOSMITH: The hardest part of being in a band with family is the same as the best part. We know each other SO well, which can obviously cause a whole lot of fun, and sometimes some frustration. Siblings always know just the buttons to push to make you upset, but thankfully that doesn’t happen too much anymore.
ES: Who were your biggest influences starting out? Who are your biggest influences now?
ECHOSMITH: Starting out Coldplay and The Killers were some of our biggest modern influencers. We also grew up on music from artists like The Smiths, Peter Gabriel, the Police, and especially U2.
ES: What is the origin of the name “Echosmith”?
ECHOSMITH: Echosmith was a word we created to mean “shaping sounds”, just as a blacksmith shapes metals. It also helped that the website was available!
ES: You hit it big with “Cool Kids” back in 2013. Do you feel the pressure to live up to that success with your new music? How are you tackling that?
ECHOSMITH: We haven’t necessarily felt the pressure to make something as “big” as cool kids in a negative sense. We’ve mainly just tried to focus on making music that accurately represents who we are, and the way we see the world. Cool Kids communicated our character quite well, so we are always trying to continue in that mode.
ES: How have you changed as a band since your first album?
ECHOSMITH: A big change was our brother and guitar player Jamie leaving the band to be at home with his new kid. We suddenly had to figure out how to make music as a trio. We also have grown quite a bit since we wrote the first record. We were all young teenagers at the time (I think graham the youngest was 13/14), and now it’s been about five years, and we’ve all developed a lot. So we’ve worked hard to try and represent that in our new music.
ES: Now being in the music industry for half a decade, what’s the most important lesson
ECHOSMITH: I would say the most important thing I’ve learned since really working in the music industry is that songs are incredibly important. The messages contained within can mean a whole lot to people, and it’s important to keep that in mind. Just about everyone on the planet loves music, and it’s cool to see it truly act as a universal language, especially with our fans around the world.
ES: Your new single, “Over My Head,” talks of being in a situation that seems impossible to
fix. What advice would you offer to listeners struggling with such a situation?
ECHOSMITH: I would first suggest taking some time alone to analyze the situation, and to prepare to begin the conversation with your loved one. It’s important to tell the people you care about how you feel, and to also desire for good to come out of it.
ES: Is there a new album in the works? If so, what can we expect from it?
ECHOSMITH: There is! And we are actually in the final stages of it now. I would expect a more progressed version of Echosmith. Many of the songs from our EP we released last year will be on the record, but we also have some new songs that we are really excited about. We tried our best to be honest and true in our lyrics, and make music that is interesting and melodic. So I hope the world enjoys it!
Arlie is an indie-rock band hailing from Nashville, where the members met at Vanderbilt University. Here, we had the chance to talk to Nate, Adam, and Tyler about the band’s image, their music, and their future. Arlie is playing Schubas Tavern in Chicago this Saturday, March 10, where they will be performing their unreleased material. Their singles “Didya Think,” “Big Fat Mouth,” and “blackboard.edu” are currently streaming on Spotify, SoundCloud, and Apple Music.
This transcript has been modified from its original version.
Responses are taken from all 3 band members.
Q: How about we start with how you picked the name “Arlie”?
A: Sam Boyette. He’s a cinematographer, and really good at what he does. He made a short film long, long ago, in Arlieville. It was called “Arlie” and it was terrible, completely awful, it just sucked; so we thought we wanted to make a band that was as bad as that short film, and music that makes you feel for the future of humanity.
Adam and I [Nate] met because we were working on the soundtrack for this short film. When we were trying to think of a band name, we thought of all these names, but they were taken or they had all these other things associated with them…we also wanted to name it something childish, like boyish, and then we realized that that’s how we met, making this movie–why don’t we just call it Arlie? It was just an immediate unanimous agreement.
Q: You currently only have 3 singles out, can you give us a hint as to how the concert tomorrow will play out?
A: There’s gonna be a lot of songs that people haven’t heard. There will be the three that are out on the interwebs, and then we’ll play all the others. It’s just bangers all the way through.
Q: How would you describe your sound for those who aren’t familiar with your band?
A: Fantastic, raw, almond rock. It’s kind of like pistachio. The music is nostalgic for an older time in rock ‘n’ roll when the entire band would sing together, and you would have these fun vocal arrangements that involved everybody in the group. That, I would say, is one of the follies that a lot of people will notice the most when they see us perform–everybody is contributing. The majority of the band sings.
At the same time, there’s a lot more modern elements of various styles of pop and rock. You might catch a little bit of nostalgia sometimes, but you might hear things that are more new and experimental. So it’s a hodgepodge, a quilt of music. We all bring our various influences and backgrounds into the mix.
Q: How has your sound shifted since y’all were at Vanderbilt and transitioned from the local to national scene?
A: I [Nate] feel like I’ve always written music more in response to the national scene than in response to a local scene. I think the national scene has certainly influenced my writing to an extent, just because you meet a lot of people that are really weirdly focused, and I think I’ve definitely picked up from that. I wouldn’t have become such a weird, focused writer if I hadn’t looked at national where that’s what everybody’s really all about. But as far as sonically, I’ve always made a conscious effort to not sound like a national project.
Q: So your Facebook bio. Can you describe the meaning of it and its significance?
A: It is kind of a bio about other band bios…you see a million band bios, and they’re all really annoying and braggy and self important. We did not want to write one of those bios and everyone was telling us we needed to.
In a way, it did feel more truthful, at least as far as the core of what Arlie is about, than trying to put our life events into a constructed narrative that would be, by nature, manipulated and artificial. This way it would stick to the core of what Arlie is about, and hopefully be entertaining.
Q: How does humor play into your music or your brand?
A: I’ve [Nate] spent a lot of time around song writers that were really serious and write serious music, and for a while I was like, “Oh man, I have to do that. My music isn’t serious enough.” I would try really hard to write a lot of serious songs (not that I don’t write serious songs), but when I thought about the music I grew up liking, there was always a little bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, and this balance of humor versus seriousness.
I think humor keeps you honest, sometimes, as a creative person. You also need to step back and realize that you don’t need to take yourself too seriously all the time, because that gets old. Being able to do music that’s funny and powerful emotionally, that’s the ultimate goal, to be able to do both.
Q: Why do you guys brand yourselves as the #1 doctor-recommended band?
A: It’s one of those things that’s both serious and joking at the same time. The idea that music can be a cure for depression. I feel better when I’m playing music.
That’s one of those gratifying things, when you’re playing music and you get to see that it’s making somebody feel good or feel better about themselves, or they’ve had a shitty day and you get to make all that dust shake off. Music heals, music can do what doctors can do.
Q: What is the plan for the future of the band?
A: World domination. If we are making the best music we can make, we would hope that people would like it enough to come to our shows and allow us to continue to do it. If we got famous, we would want to use any influence that we had to enact good in the world, make the world a better place in some way. We’re gonna tour a lot and we’re gonna play our butts off and we’re gonna just keep making more music. I don’t see myself getting tired of that.
This year marked my first experience at the Electric Forest Music Festival. While day one and two didn’t agree with our campsite, (it was rained out and my tent collapsed), the weather did not overshadow the tremendous impact that E-Forest had. The art instillations, musicians, diversity of stages, and beautiful setting made it feel like fiction. Above all, my interactions with artists made it a worthwhile weekend. Among those, our team was given the chance to interview the kingpin of Dirtybird Records, Claude Vonstroke. While starting in San Francisco, Dirtybird has made large waves within the house scene, through Claude’s distinctly funky sound, the famed Dirtybird BBQs, and the label’s rich roster of talented artists. Claude was as friendly as he was brutally honest, within regards to his relatively unexpected career trajectory, emerging projects, and the struggles associated with becoming a fulltime artist while developing a label. Our discussion is below.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Marc: Cool, well first off man it’s great to meet you. Thanks for speaking with WNUR. I’m originally a Bay Area fan so it’s special for me.
Claude: Cool, thank you.
Marc: So, for our listeners, I’m just going to briefly describe what you do (and your background). You have Dirtybird, which has been very successful, with an exceptional roster of artists from many different countries. From Eats Everything, to Justin Martin, to Nick Monaco for a time, (who is also from SF). You’ve also had the Sirius XM station the Bird House, which I tune into when I drive, and you have the Dirtybird BBQs.
Claude: Right, and now it’s (grown to) a campout festival.
Marc: So setting the stage, you have your fingers in a lot of different areas, as an artist, as a curator.
Claude: And we have the Birdhouse stages.
Marc: Yes, and bringing other artists out using your platform. So I wonder what was it like for you in SF right at the very beginning? Right when you were starting off?
Claude: So I started off in Oakland, and my roommate went to high school with me, and he was kind of a techy guy, nerdy kinda, doing math and stuff. And he taught me how to build PCs. He had taught me over the phone before I moved to Oakland, but then I started really doing it. So I was able to make these really cheap PCs that were really fast. And then we would get all this bootleg software from China and I was able to have a much better rig than I should have. So I made a documentary about how to become a famous… Well not a famous DJ, but how to become a DJ that gets gigs. I interviewed all like the most famous people at that time, so like Paul van Dike, Orbital, Derrick Carter, and Derrick Main.
Marc: I believe Derrick Carter actually used to play at our station. He had a residency.
Claude: Cool that’s awesome! Ya, so I got all these people on it, and I edited it, and directed it, did everything on these bootleg rigs, and then I (chuckle…) ran out of money completely. So I had to make all the music, because you need music to play under the interviews, so we just remade songs that sounded like the people who were on the interviews, and I used some songs from other people as well. But then by the end of it, basically, I knew how to make house music. Then I moved to SF. The whole time I was working in SF, at an editing place, video editing. But I was going out all the time too.
Marc: Damn that’s really interesting, I know SF has a music scene with a lot of culture and history, but it’s not the music central area. It’s not LA or New York…
Claude: So it’s not, I have this thing, like it’s a great place to have a clique. It’s like, really cliquey, and awesome, if you’re in one of the cliques. So I really liked Drum and Bass when I first got there… I could not get into that clique. Like forget it. I’m sure some people say the same thing about us.
Marc: What were some of the venues you went to? I’m just curious?
Claude: Cat Club, eventually they had it at a Pizza Place.
Marc: DNA Lounge?
Claude: No I’m talking about the Drum and Bass Party. They had it at a Pizza place upstairs, then they had it at Cat Club. Ya I went to DNA Lounge, I went to the Top every Wednesday. Justin had his thing there.
Marc: And what year was all this? What was the timeframe?
Marc: Word… DNA Lounge is closing. The owner mentioned it had been there since the first .com boom but that they’ve run out of funding.
Claude: It is? It had a good room. Are they selling it to some giant computer company? It’s not a bad room. I’ve had some good nights in there.
Marc: Good to hear, so you’ve kind of jumped into my next Q which is what it was like as an emerging artist in that area. I was wondering if you had any SF influences based on cultures that inspired you, from the Hyphy movement to funk?
Claude: Ya, I mean I was from Detroit, and if I had done straight Detroit music I don’t think it would have been as eclectic. So there was kind of this extra element of, hippie, slash funny weirdo, like hip-hop head, lower height vibe that got snuck in there.
Marc: That’s awesome. Another question I have, a bunch of our listeners as well as quite a few members of our station are students. Many of us are aspiring artists as well. What advice would you give, or impart to someone who is at the beginning of their career as a musician? Also what is it like starting a label?
Claude: It’s two different kinds of advice. It’s like, be realistic, and be unrealistic (more chuckles…). So be unrealistic but don’t be stupid. The only way that I was able, I’d figured out that I really wanted to do it, so I had to make a plan to do it. Not just like, “I’m just gunna DJ everywhere and smoke a bunch of weed, and hope that something happens.” You have to make a really hardcore plan about where you want to go and how you’re going to get there. Even if it seems completely ridiculous just do it anyway. Really like, don’t quit your job from like another six months to a year from when you think you should quit your job. Also get just a tiny stockpile of money, so you can actually survive not getting booked for six months. Do you know what I’m saying?
Claude: Just get a little bit of a nesting before you go full on. That’s good advice. Otherwise you can just burn out, two months. Be like, nahmean, we used to eat mustard sandwiches. Which is just like two pieces of bread with mustard, and sh** like that just to make it. If you get to the mustard sandwiches in the first two months, you’re not gunna be a DJ.
Marc: That’s really useful advice.
Claude: You gotta be able to go a little bit longer than that.
Marc: One thing I wanted to ask as well… I think often using the general umbrella term of House, there’s often not equal representation within both gender and marginalized communities. Which is kind of ironic because House and Techno started from marginalized groups. (Speaking towards gender) I know you have J.Phlip on your roster, and I’m wondering what you think about this issue?
Claude: Ya that’s a very big question. This is something I really also noticed after last year’s Campout. I just looked at the lineup and I was like, “Man, I think we f** up” (laughs around the room…). So now I booked 8 women, and all kinds of people. I just definitely, I’m not gunna have like, this only really (male dominated). I made a concerted effort this year, but I really think, it’s not like you need to try hard. There’s so many good people that it’s pretty easy, you just have to not be an idiot.
Marc: Do you think it’s improving, that there’s more representation now?
Claude: I think that also, a couple people in the higher range of events, like Garry Richards, even though he made a crazy video. He is thinking about it, and booking more women and stuff now. There are a few people that are doing it, and then there are always a few people that don’t give a f**. Just like how life goes forever right?
Marc: So one thing, I saw you at Bonnaroo, and your alter-ego project, which is actually just your name Barclay. So I was wondering if you wanted to talk about how that started?
Claude: That was originally what I wanted to do when I was eleven, was be a rapper. All that stuff was basically from when I was like eleven to fourteen. I had a flap hat, I had a jam box, I wanted to be RUN DMC. It was just like, I was from a different planet. I made up, technically, I said I would never admit that I was actually (from) another planet. But anyway, all that stuff is from my childhood, and I just thought that was what I was gunna do, but I just got really good at making House music… So I just said that I need to go back because that was so fun and interesting, and I just still want to do it.
Marc: So it’s your passion project? That’s really cool. So this is my last Q and then I’ll let you fly, no pun intended. But I was wondering, personally, who illustrates the album covers for Dirtybird because they’re crazy!? The animal morph combinations.
Claude: OK, this is also a passion project of mine. So every year for the last five or six years, we were just doing sh** art, for a long time. Like that little bird that I drew, it was just like, really bad. For someone who likes art I was like, “Uggh why are we doing such bad art”. So I just said why don’t I get all the best people that I can possibly find to do the art. So every year, I hire one person to do all the Dirtybird art, but it’s a different person every year. It’s always low brow pop surrealism, which is my favorite kind of art. It’s always weird as f**. So… this year’s guy his name is Dolk, and he’s from Spain. Last year was Dan May from Michigan, with the fuzzy monsters. The year before that was Rahul Delilo, from the Netherlands, with the combined animals. And then the year before that was Bram Carter, who’s just a really cool illustrator from Brighton, England. So they’re from everywhere.
Marc: Awesome we’ll that was my last question, so to close I just want to say thank you.
Claude: Oh ok perfect (timing).