PopCulturePirates Gives Raw Perspective on Music, “The Creative Scene,” and Growth as an Artist

by Dustin

pcp

It’s impossible to not feel excited when meeting an artist with a clear passion for music. No lust for popularity, just a burning desire to be the best they can be. PopCulturePirates is one of those people, and a candid human to speak with. Pulling no punches with his perspective, it was a thrill to be able to interview PCP.  We won’t hold you up on introductions, though, as this interview has been delayed enough as it is. Let’s jump straight to the meat.


EN: First and foremost, thank you for being a part of this! We have a bit of a tradition in interviews. We always start with asking the artist to write a little about themselves, because it’s always more genuine than anything I could ever write. So, if you don’t mind, that’s what I’m going to ask of you to kick things off.

PopCulturePirates: About myself? Hmm… I don’t tend to talk about myself often. Let’s see… I was born in South America. I currently reside in Dallas, Texas. I picked up guitar after graduating high school. I don’t really know what else to say without guided questions [laughs].

EN: [Laughs] We’ll just jump into it then! You mentioned to me prior to the interview that you are a part of a band as well, but what made you interested in starting the Pop Culture Pirates side project? Was it just a desire to explore different avenues?

PCP: Actually PopCulturePirates has always been my project since I began learning to write music. My band came together fairly recently, in relation to my solo project. If anything, you could probably get away with saying my other band is my side project (but not really). My writing started to be more directed towards what I would want to see live. Which is where the band came in. I wanted to be in a band all my life (even when I was still too lazy to even dedicate time to learning guitar). However, I started to learn to do everything on my own because when I actually wanted to join friends and other people’s bands, I would get rejected because of my lack of talent.

So, it was sort of a “I’ll show them, they’ll see. l can make music too.” Kind of thing. But the actual band, being part of a group of tight friends and playing music and hanging out afterwards, that was always sort of the dream. But with more people, more bodies and hearts, come more voices, more opinions, and more bullshit. So any writing that wasn’t generally accepted, or didn’t follow the band’s sound, I would keep in the backseat and develop those ideas whenever I had time.

EN: Do you feel that having the PopCulturePirates project in your back pocket from the very beginning helped your development a lot as an artist? Because it sounds like, since you were never forced to prematurely abandon an idea, that you were able to grow a lot more naturally and freely.

PCP: Even though PCP is my “solo” project, that really is just the identifying label I slap on anything I make that is somewhat guitar driven. So, to answer that question, yes, I think being Solo from the beginning allowed me to really explore anything I wanted and absorb everything I came in contact with, and make it my own instead of trying to mold it to fit any limiting “project” I could’ve been a part of.

EN: Right. So, instead of being like some side projects that have a clean cut distinct sound removed from the artists other works (like The ILYs are to Death Grips), PCP is more of a sonic scrapbook of ideas you didn’t want to throw away? I say side projects very loosely at this point, since you clarified earlier. I just can’t think of a better word.

PCP: I would flip the table and say PCP is my music and the band is my “group” project. But for the sake of not sounding pretentious, let’s just keep referring to PCP as my solo project. Also, I really enjoy Death Grips. There’s a couple bands that just ignite inspiration in me, and that’s one of them.

Anyway, I am constantly writing music, like all the time, not even joking. Some people might think I’m trying to sound like “oh look at me I got music coming out of my hands, and feet, and kisses” (Julian Casablancas reference, by the way) and some people might think, “that’s just sad, mediocre music is all this guy can do? Pathetic.” But whatever the people’s thoughts are, the fact it I am always constantly writing melodies and lyrics and stuff. I’ve got over 11GB of demos and snippets I’ve recorded and have backed up. So it’s not really like a scrapbook, it’s more like I’m sort of rationing out my creative output.

At one point the band was all that I was writing for, but the progress of four people learning songs and getting them tighter can only go so fast and agreeing on changes and ideas. I became frustrated (not in a bad way, i just felt like I had to keep going) so I went back to writing for myself (PCP).

Oh, man, it’s really not my intention to sound like a pretentious piece of shit. I want everyone that might read this to know what I aware of my creative capabilities, I know I’m not that good making music. Or, I don’t think I am, but I am constantly getting better and one day I will be great. And then maybe I will be a pretentious asshole, when I have the skills and discography to back it up [jokingly anxious laughter]!

EN: [Laughs] don’t sell yourself short either. On that note though, do you think the current DIY scene is the perfect sort of environment for an artist like yourself? There’s such a fascination with eclectic, homemade, music. And the stuff you release under the PCP banner definitely fits that. Whereas I think some time ago, it may have been harder to have that freedom.

PCP: I think for the laymen, or just casual listeners, it’s great. There’s so much variety, so much content, they’re happy to be thrown all this cool music. Today everybody is a musician and everybody is a producer. Like the lyrics on my single Everything Is Forever say: “…Everyone with a pen is a poet, and everyone with a canvas is an artist…” Anybody with a laptop can make a shitty recording and people go wild. I don’t know if I’m happy to fit in there, to be honest. If I could make way better sounding music I would. I would love to be writing for or working with huge bands like the 1975 (I’m not a big fan of them) or Arctic Monkeys, but instead I’m making weird Lofi diy indie pop goodness. But I’m hoping to get better. I do think my material gets more and more refined the more I do it. Maybe I’m just a slow learner.

But nonetheless, i am grateful and blessed to have received the attention I have. I am very thankful to people like you, taking the time to actually listen and recognize the work I put into what I do. And yes, now that that Lofi sound is what’s sort of “in” I am able to receive such positive response. In the past it would’ve probably been met with, “you sound like you just recorded through an 8-track, what are you doing with your life? Making the wrong choices obviously.” But I recognize I do have to thank the current DIY Lofi global phenomenon for even making it possible for me to reach as far as I have. I might not even be making music today if it wasn’t for it, i probably would’ve given up long, long, ago.

EN: I definitely understand what you mean, and unfortunately I think there is a crowd that uses that LoFi sound as a crutch. That being said, I think my interest in it is less as an aesthetic and more with the people in your sort of situation. Where it’s not LoFi for the sake of being LoFi, but it’s that way for the sake of actually being able to release music. I think there’s something beautifully genuine about that sort of never quit attitude. You know what I mean? Like, I would argue even acts like The Voidz carry that sort of spirit into more refined places. It’s not limited to LoFi.

PCP: I think Julian’s work has always carried that sort of grittiness, aside from his first solo and his Daft Punk collab. He has always tried to push that outlier music to the forefront. I guess Lofi can translate in many cases to rawness, which that in itself can translate to pure emotion through various states of sonic synthesis haha. I don’t know. I think you’re right. I think Lofi is a phase and it’s more important when it becomes forgotten and moved away from. It makes it so much more important. If you’re a lofi artist and all you do is lofi, i think that’s kind of dumb and takes away from it. Lofi is like the birth sound of one’s musicianship. It defines your beginnings, but if you’re doing Lofi because that’s what’s popular now, I feel it blurs the lines of what Lofi could mean in a musicians career.

I don’t know. I think I might be contradicting myself and talking out my butt. I think Lofi, like indie, shouldn’t be recognized as a genre.

EN: You think it’s more of a state of being? Like how you wouldn’t consider “clean studio recording,” a genre. It’s a trait of the music but not a genre.

PCP: That’s pretty much it. But I’m not mad about it, I just feel like that’s what it is to me. It’s all subjective I suppose.

EN: But, you would prefer if people took the nature of your sound as a reflection of where your career is and less as a reflection of what kind of music you’re trying to make. Would that be accurate? Say, in ten years. You’d rather look back on it like “these demos showed a lot of promise even though I didn’t have full studio access,” than “I used to be a lofi artist.”

PCP: Yes. But they would be demos really, they were final products that reflected my mental state, my physical skills, my financial level, etc. For everybody else it’s just a song but I guess for my it would be like “diary.” They would **not** be demos really. Like if you keep a diary, and you started when you were little and wrote on a crappy notebook; when you look back, it wouldn’t just be about what you wrote,It would also be the feel of that sheet of paper to the touch, the smell of it, the way it crumpled up, the teardrops, or blood stains, or food droplets, or anything and everything on it, it brings you back to that moment. You can “digitize” it and copy it into Microsoft word to save it forever and it would have the same legible content, but it loses the importance of what that original object was.

EN: I’m kind of understand more what you said earlier now. When you make LoFi a genre, it strips a bit of the intimacy the artist has with those older projects away. Right?

PCP: I think so, but pop culture takes anything it wants whenever it wants it. And this is not only evident with the topic we’re on but a lot of other things going on in the world that I’d rather not delve into.

EN: Is that sort of sentiment where the name PopCulturePirates came from?

PCP: Yeah, sort of. It’s like going against pop culture, being an outsider… Culture is so much bigger than just music and fashion. But that’s the theory, not the practice. I wish I would’ve been more strict with the ethos the moniker carries with it, but I ended up making music that could be considered “pop” right now anyway. Now I’m going against myself, and what my moniker stood for. I was younger and wanted to make something that would be huge, bigger than myself. Something that could mean something philosophically, politically, socially, that people could relate to. But it never got to that, I was never able to get to that point. I think I was simply limited by my most basic musician skills. And I just couldn’t create something that big. But I’m not mad nor disappointed, it’s just a little embarrassing admitting that, but beyond that, it’s whatever.

EN: I think the name is one of those things that’s vague enough to move past your original intentions though. Don’t you think there’s a lot of potential there for listeners to interpret it in various ways?

PCP: There is, but people don’t really pay any attention to the names. I feel even musicians at this point don’t even care about the names either. Porches? Bleachers? Quilt? Even Car Seat Headrest (I’ve read the reason behind the name, but still). Those are all stupid-ass names in my honest opinion, but I love all those bands. Except Bleachers… Bleachers is “meh” to me. But Porches is amazing. Car Seat’s song “Vincent” is my latest favorite song. Quilt blew my mind the first time I heard them. But people might think that of PCP too, it has 3 very “evoking” words. I’ve been trying to push my single to a few people, and some reactions to just the name have been “that name really turned me off, I almost didn’t listen to it because of the name.” At the same time some others say that it was a great name choice, as it makes you guess what direction it’s going to go, as opposed to naming the project something mundane like “Chair.” I have no fucking idea what that means, nothing comes to mind if someone would mention a band called “Chair,” you know? But with PCP I feel like those 3 words in different combinations call to mind very different things. I realize that the “pirates” could make people think of hard punk or gypsy folk. But nonetheless, I like the name, it meant something at one point, it’s catchy, and interesting. A bit original. At least I think so.

Though, now that I think about it. “Chair” would be a very interesting name. Poking fun at all the stupid names out there right now. Might make it an album name at some point.

EN: At the end of the day though, you want the music to speak for itself, yeah?

PCP: I’m sure everyone would agree to that, yes.

EN: We touched a bit on a few acts that inspired you, but who else did you listen to that really made you want to be involved in creating music? Inspirations, so to speak.

PCP: I hate to jump on the bandwagon, but The Strokes were the ones that made me go, “hmm… that’s cool. I wanna try doing that.” I hate admitting that because I feel they inspired pretty much everyone who listened to them, sort of what they say about The Velvet Underground. They might’ve not been as commercially successful, but every single person that heard them went home and started a band. They were very influential. That’s where the “dream” of starting a band came from, after watching their first tour documentary, “In Transit.” They looked like they really loved one another and they were brothers and best friends conquering the world together. That shit was beautiful to me. That’s what I wanted. But finding a band was very hard so I ended up just honing in on “solo” songwriting, because that’s all I could do and wanted to do, at that point.

Other than The Strokes, I would say John Mayer really got me into exploring more complex guitar playing and into a little bit of blues. Blues is cool and all, and I respect it for what it is, but you can play any combination of notes in a blues scale and it will sound good. That makes it too easy and dull to me. There’s many obvious musicians and bands that made a career out of the blues, but I feel like now it’s just a learning phase. “Okay I learned to play bars, chords, and all. Now I will learn the blues scale, and then proceed to jazz music theory, and so on.” You know what I mean? I feel like I totally deviated to talk shit about the blues, but no disrespect, blues is the foundation. I love it, but I want more.

Other than that… I had a big Dave Matthews Band phase. That would be all I would listen to for like 6 months straight. His guitar playing was pretty influential. I still warm up by playing the “Satellite” riff which really makes your fingers stretch. Another band that really influenced me was an Argentinian band called Soda Stereo. I grew up with their album playing in the background pretty much 24/7.

EN: We’ve had Julian Casablancas come up a few times now, and reflecting on what you said, I have even had people in other genres mention him to me before. Aside from the brotherhood element of watching The Strokes, do you think his magnetic artistry just pulls people into music? Like for myself, I always looked up to him as someone unrestrained. It was refreshing.

PCP: I really dislike talking about The Strokes because it’s so unoriginal to do so. It feels like everyone is just in on the Strokes band wagon. I know that’s not the case, they are in fact THAT influential. They all have that rock and roll swagger. And Albert Hammond Jr., his first two albums are amazing, he is a great songwriter. But I feel like he kind of fell off with his third releases up until this last one. His last album, Francis Trouble, it’s really, really, good. And I just saw him live about a month ago. I was blown away at his stage presence, the sound, and the songs. But I could talk about them for days, but I’d rather not. Citing them as inspiration is overdone and uninteresting in my opinion. I’d rather say something like… Grimes totally inspired me to be a little weirder with my music. I actually have had a crush on grimes for a bit. And now she’s dating Elon musk. That blows my mind. I can’t compete with that. That was the whole reason I really started doing music. So I would seem cool to her and we could hang out and stuff, y’know? Now I can’t do that. How do you top Elon musk? You don’t. You can’t.

EN: So, you’d totally support a Grimes song being the national anthem of the first Mars settlement, even if she doesn’t notice you and fall in love? [Laughs].

PCP: I’m 100% on board with that. But I’d rather, you know, be noticed? Maybe co-write the anthem? With Elon’s approval obviously, I wouldn’t do anyone dirty like that. ‘Specially my boy, Elon. By that point in history he might already have developed a personal travel size death ray and is willing to use it on anyone who opposes him or gives his girl the googly eyes (for example: me).

EN: Let’s talk about Everything is Forever for a minute, because to me that song feels like you really took a massive leap in all artistic facets. Like, don’t get me wrong, I adore Death, The Kid. There’s just something about Everything is Forever that feels so complete… How do you feel about that track? Do you think it marks a new step forward in your songwriting?

PCP: To be honest, “Death, The Kid.” Is a step down from “Kanye” because “Death” was just a collection of demos going as far back as 2010 that I uploaded because it hadn’t been a productive year for my music. I didn’t really have much to show, so I decided to just upload this collection of old tracks. Aside from the two new songs I wrote that year which were Bad Luck and Kirito’s Dream. You can probably see more of a relation between those two and Everything Is Forever.

But I do like Everything Is Forever very much. I don’t think it’s too much of a leap for my style. But I do love the clash I was able to manage between very refined, Hi-fi guitars and cymbals against the lo-fi kick, snare, and vocals. The repetitive ending I initially intended on extending it for over a minute longer to emphasize the “Forever.” As in to make people say “damn, this part lasts forever” and then recognize that and the relation to the title of the song and be like “oh shit! I get it!” But then I thought to myself, nobody would probably pay that much attention to it. So I kept it shorter, but still kind of long and repetitive. But I don’t think it’s necessarily a new step, I think if anything I might’ve kept the songwriting on a leash a bit. I’ve been slowly finding out that, as cliche as it sounds, less is more. But then I went in and threw shit on its head by keeping that out-of-left-field outro.
There’s a song on the album coming out called “Where Is The Destruction,” and another called “Medallion City,” I feel like both of those challenged my songwriting a little more than EIF, each in its own way. Though, Everything Is Forever is a very emotional song, nostalgic summer vibe, sad crushing lyrics, the energy gets carried through in a very flowing fashion with its arrangement. It’s interesting. I like it. I’m proud of it.

EN: Apart from the other couple of songs you mentioned, does your new album carry that nostalgic vibe throughout? Or is it more varied?

PCP: It definitely has more variation.

EN: Does your musical process change at all when you know that you’re working on songs intended to be released on an album? I ask because I tend to get mixed answers to this, and it’s interesting. Some seem to feel their process becomes more intensive, others say it doesn’t change at all.

PCP: Not really. Usually I just write and write songs, when I have about… I don’t know, 7-11 good songs (which are usually picked from maybe 20 or so) I then “package” them as an album. For this last album though, I was approached by Breakwood Records (sweethearts) and they heard Everything Is Forever and decided to help me put out the next album. We sort of agreed on an imaginary deadline for me to provide all the songs for the LP. I ended up writing about 6 of the songs from it in like three months maybe. I did think it was going to become more intensive as I had never had any sort of “pressure” to finish songs but all that changed was me making more time in my day to day life to write music. That was it really, other than that it was sort of the same.

EN: How do you feel about doing something with a label? That’s super cool. And also, I should say, congratulations! Even with the internet, getting noticed like that is no small feat.

PCP: They’re a small independent label from Canada that just began, they’re the coolest and sweetest. But to be honest the coolest thing about it is not really being able to say “oh look at me, I’m on a label,” but instead having people that really, really, listen to my material and are critical, and honest, and interested in my music. They believe in what I do, and that honestly is a beautiful feeling.

EN: I can understand that, that’s a great attitude to carry into it. Nobody will show you more support than an independent label that loves you, and I truly believe that. On a funnier note, I am also from Canada. How does it feel to have a strange destiny bond with the Canadian music scene? [Laughs].

PCP: Dudeeeee, to be honest it’s awesome. I’m starting to feel like Toronto is replacing New York as the music city to be in, in my mind. Plus, some of my favorite musicians are from there: Dirty Beaches, Crystal Castles, Broken Social scene, Metric, and so on. And of course, who can forget, Grimes.

EN: If you had the chance to form a band composed of any living musician, who would you have in there?

PCP: If I could I would clone myself and play in a band with 4 or 5 me’s. Because anybody I would pick is probably going to be way more skilled than me, to the point where I would be the weakest link. But with 5 me’s, we all would be on the same level of everything and on the same page, plus no egos because it’s really just me, you know?

EN: You’re smart. You’re really smart. You avoided Meg White-ing yourself entirely with one of the most unconventional answers I’ve ever received. Good man [laughs]. But actually, that’s got me thinking. You said earlier that you started by learning guitar, but what was the process like learning other instruments in order to complete full songs? It’s not easy to learn multiple instruments, never mind learning how to properly work them into a piece of music.

PCP: In high school everybody had to pick an instrument, I picked drums. The instructors said all the drummer spots were taken, so I chose saxophone, they said those were taken too so they put me with trumpet. I hated trumpet then. I appreciate it now. But I don’t play it anymore. Guitar… it’s a weird story. My mother was in a band and she always had a guitar in the house I would pick it up for 3 days every 3 months and decide I wanted to learn. I never did. I got instructors that I’d go to once and never again because they would send homework and I’d rather just play The Legend of Zelda. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school where I was like, “alright, let’s do this.”

On bass I get by with just what I know on guitar. And drums I learned because one of my roommates in the college dorms mentioned he used to play drums and had an electronic drum kit. I showed a song i had done and tried to convince him that we could totally start a band so that he would bring the kit to our dorm. He eventually did and that’s where I started learning how to drum. I would often skip classes if he had already left just so I could play. Since they were electronic drums nobody would complain. It was awesome. Drums are the funnest instrument but also the hardest to learn in my opinion. I have good timing but syncing your movements, that was tough. I learned by playing along to LCD Soundsystem songs. Because the drumming isn’t overly complicated but it goes, it goes, it goes, guillotineeeee [laughs]. The drummer on LCD just keeps the beat for all the 7 plus minute songs. I love LCD, man, one of. My favorites. James’ urban poetry destroys me emotionally.

EN: Are there any others you want to add to your arsenal in the future? Maybe throw a flute solo on a PCP track in the future? Or…like, bassoon?

PCP: I have a deep fascination for sampling and the way hip hop music is and has been constructed. I will incorporate that probably into my upcoming songwriting. So instead of learning an instrument, I would most likely sample it and make it weird. But if I definitely had to choose an instrument to learn. I’d probably say violin. That instrument is so beautiful and versatile.

EN: Have you ever watched some of the artists who do live sampling on stage with an MPC, or whatever? Some of those dudes turn that into an extremely delicate art. How’d you pick up an interest in the art of the sample?

PCP: I have another project where I make experimental “beats” that I lease to small rappers. A lot of my money for gear has come from that. My love for sampling came from having an obsession with New York producer, Blockhead. He is one of my all time favorite producers. Dan the Automator too.

Aarabmuzik is a freakin’ god using an MPC live. His finger drumming is almost mathematically quantized. He’s crazy.

EN: Is there anything you fear musically? For yourself, I mean. A direction or attitude that you hope you never start to take on.

PCP: I fear running out of ideas. Of good ideas. Sometimes when I don’t write music for a while, when I come back to it it’s as if I forgot how to write songs, so I go through a couple ideas which end up in the trash because they sound terrible and I get a little fearful thinking “maybe that’s it, maybe I’ll never write anything decent again, I’m all washed up.” It sounds dumb, but that’s something crosses my mind often.

EN: What sort of advice would you give to others who’ve felt that way? I know when I’m working on my music projects, it’s a regular fear of my own too. Hell, Rajin (my other writer) has watched me have near meltdowns thinking I’ve lost my touch. What do you do to move past that worry? Just keep grinding?

PCP: As cliche as it sounds, yeah. Just keep doing it until you either find your next good idea or until you truly can’t find anything else and give up. But the latter should be if you’ve been going at it for like a year maybe? And nothing comes out, then maybe then you’re all dried. Or maybe not. I don’t know [laughs].

EN: In all seriousness though, do you find breaks from writing music to be essential to the creative process?

PCP: I think sometimes you do need breaks physically, specially after hours and hours of writing, or mixing. Your ears get shot and you stop hearing things as they actually are. Your ears get tired. But maybe you do need to let that “creativity bank” refill every now and then. So I guess short answer: yes.

Also, if anybody has any other advice as to how to deal with the fear of drying up, hit me up. There should be a better way to deal with that which I haven’t yet learned.

EN: Is there anything that you have learned along the way that you wish you had known when you first started writing music?

PCP: The actual process of learning all I know, however long it took, that’s part of the whole artist thing. If I knew then what I knew now, the journey of becoming a musician would not be as exciting and accomplishing. I honestly hate referring to myself as a musician or an artist, I feel it is very pretentious. Not to give a smart ass answer, but truly looking back, I wouldn’t share any information with myself. I would watch myself go through all of it all over again. Over the same mistakes I went through and through the same victories I had.

Although maybe having the contact information of a few people earlier on would have helped [laughs].

EN: So you’d leave a little book of phone numbers and emails, but still let yourself experience those natural growing pains? [Laughs]. I don’t think that’s smartass at all. Every struggle, every misstep, everything makes you who you are as an artist now.

PCP: Yeah, I guess. Not to get philosophical or anything, but yeah, every pain you experience makes you who you are today. So every hassle and hurdle with respect to music would make you the music maker you are today.

EN: What should people expect from you as an artist in the future in terms of releases? I know you said you were working on an album to come out under the PCP handle. Any plans for a band album release sometime?

PCP: With the band we’re actually recording at the moment. When you asked me if there was anything I had learned that I wish I would’ve know. In the beginning, I was tracking vocals at that exact time. I remember pulling my phone out and seeing your question while singing. I don’t think people shouldn’t expect anything from me. But I hope to be able to just improve and put out better and better material.

EN: And is that how you would like people to think of you? An artist with humility, but also a burning desire to continue improving every day?

PCP: Not really. Maybe in the long run, after I die, it would be cool if I don’t get remembered as a piece of shit. I honestly think my humility can easily come off as pretentiousness, somehow. But, I would just like for people to really like what I do. That’s pretty much it. Hopefully someone can see beyond the surface of the music and really get the substance of whatever I’m trying to say in that specific piece. But, as long as people just like it, I guess I’m ok with that. But my main, main, goal would be to cause in someone what other great artists caused in me.

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Album Review: Walter Gross – The Fra Mauro Highlands

by Dustin

FMH

8.5/10

On January 31st, 1971 NASA would launch the eighth manned mission to the moon, Apollo 14. The three person crew kicked off the 9 day mission from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39, before travelling to the Fra Mauro Highlands on the near side of the lunar surface. This would serve as the last of NASA’s simplistic (relatively speaking) H-Type missions to the moon, as they upgraded to the longer J-Type with Apollo 15. While this particular Apollo mission was relatively understated, its legacy lives on as a success during the booming age of space exploration. An era that had a particular vibe of wonder, and captured the imagination of individuals even outside the realm of science.

One may now be asking how this is relevant to music, and Walter Gross is the answer to that question. Though he may not have been an astronaut on the Apollo 14 mission (or even much of a space enthusiast, for that matter), his love of ambient concentrative music lead him to an interesting place of inspiration: the Voyager recordings. Finding himself endeared to the organic beauty of these pieces, he began work on his own out of this world experimentation. Quickly reaching full realization with a 23 minute (50 counting the Stray Signals Cassette Mix) long tape of atmospheric allure, The Fra Mauro Highlands. An album which would suitably see release on the 47th anniversary of Apollo 14.

Though it bares his name, The Fra Mauro Highlands was not the type of project one has come to expect from Walter Gross. It abandoned a lot of the crunchier, abrasive noise elements he’s become known for in the past, opting to try something a little more ambient instead. Once expectations were subverted however, this was a wonderful listening experience. It hit the flavor of desolate space music perfectly, and managed to feel cold while also inspiring a sense of adventure. There was a particular hint of retro-futurism to the tape, to the same vein as a movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey. This was due primarily to brilliant sound contrast constructed by Walter Gross. The entirety of The Fra Mauro Highlands had an underlying subtle ambiance of whooshing and swirling sounds that were distinctly galactic and harrowing. Atop of this there were moments of gorgeously vintage sounding synthetic instrumentation, used sparsely enough to maintain a sense of mechanical exploration through an all encompassing emptiness. It didn’t mess around with precisely divide tracks. Rather, this album was one continuous piece of music that built upon itself, evolving in a natural and off-the-cuff manner.

With all that in mind, there were aspects of The Fra Mauro Highlands carrying Walter’s signature touch. It was an immensely unsettling selection of work, with the emptiness and overall tone having created a strong sense of urgency and apprehensiveness of the unknown. With artistic anxiety being such a mainstay in his music, this familiarity was oddly comforting. It provided reassurance that this is exactly how the project was supposed to make one feel, and not an emotion to be avoided. The “Stray Signals Cassette Mix” which followed the conclusion of The Fra Mauro Highlands rewound things back a little further stylistically, while having maintained the same overall vibe. It wasn’t the star of the show by any means, but it was very good and really provided a feeling of returning home to the established fan of Walter Gross. A return after a fantastic journey.

Much like the Apollo 14 mission itself, The Fra Mauro Highlands will likely go down as one of Walter Gross’ most under-the-radar releases. While it was absolutely excellent, it appealed to a listener base even more niche than his signature barrage of noise. Which is unfortunate, because it was a stunningly beautiful, and somewhat anxious, ambient album. It wore its inspirations on its sleeve, and the ambition was undeniable. Do-it-Yourself music is about pushing limits, catching waves of inspiration, and trying things outside of the box just to see what will happen. Walter Gross did all of these things with The Fra Mauro Highlands. It embodied the spirit of the scene entirely, and should find itself respected as such.

Bambi of FilthyBroke Recordings Gives Her Perspective on Being a Woman Behind the Scenes in the Music Industry

by Dustin

fbr

The music industry is a interesting world, and not always a friendly one. This is true from the top all the way down to the grass root level. Many on the outside are completely unaware of everything that goes on outside of the spotlight, leaving it to those who work in the shadows. Fortunately, sometimes these people share their experience. Today’s interviewee is one of those people. Bambi, the designer-slash-promoter-slash-wonder-woman at FilthyBroke Recordings, was gracious enough to lend us an interview discussing all the wonders of working at a do-it-yourself record label; moreover, she speaks on being a woman in a male-dominant scene, and how it’s shaped her perspective on all things music.

Read the interview below, it’s worth it.


EN: As usual, I’ll ask you to give a brief introduction to yourself. Whenever you’re ready. And we’ll just jump off from there.

Bambi: I’m Bambi, I’m originally from the Bay Area; currently living in Seattle, Washington. I work with FilthyBroke Recordings.

EN: Did you have any experience working in music before, or has FilthyBroke been your first adventure down that avenue?

Bambi: I started working with FilthyBroke in fall of 2016. Prior to that I worked for a few years in music in various capacities, put out a release with a former friend, some light managerial stuff (basically answering emails), building & running the website, shipping, that kind of stuff. Concurrently I worked part time at an entertainment V.C. in Oakland, which invested in local venues, recording studios and the like.

EN: What capacity do you work in with FilthyBroke? I know you’ve done a bit of design, but I suppose I’m curious of what your day-to-day is like when working with the label.

Bambi: Yup, I do art/design work for releases and video bumps. My day to day label responsibilities vary. I’m responsible for updating and maintaining the website along with my homie who built the site, instagram, art for promos, and so on. Michael and I spend a lot of time on FaceTime listening to music and brainstorming for upcoming releases, merch, and other projects and figuring out how to make it happen. Currently we’re preparing for his upcoming OMLT release in February and I’m handling the merch end. We will be releasing some T’s & hoodies along with his new EP.

EN: I imagine the creative freedom is nice when working in that sort of environment, but does it ever feel like there’s very little room for mess-ups with it being a DIY style label?

Bambi: FBR has been around almost 4 years now, but we are still a very small label. We are still trying to carve out our own niche and grow. The smaller you are, the more detrimental mistakes, even small ones and especially financial ones are. Not only that but we don’t sign artists, we work with them on a project by project basis. As Michael noted online the other day ”labels need artists way more than the other way around” and we often build friendships with the artists we work with and we want to do right by them because we respect them and appreciate we couldn’t continue without them.

EN: So you guys feel like establishing the friendships helps to make sure everyone stays happy? Because that’s a very unique and personable approach.

Bambi: I’m not saying we have to be friends with every artist we put out. A mutual respect and belief in the music is more than enough. Just noting that often we get to know people while working on releases and it sometimes develops into friendships that extend past the project. But I do think working with people you vibe with and relate to on a personal level makes for a better experience all around.

EN: Does the vibe that Michael has with FilthyBroke Recordings suit you as a person better than your previous experiences in music? Having worked with both of you myself, I know the label cares a lot. It seems like it would be fun to be involved in (and it has been for me).

Bambi: For sure. Working with someone that listens to your input and respects your opinions and ideas is always the ideal, which I feel like Michael does. I know people say you shouldn’t get into business with friends or family and while it definitely can and has gone badly for me previous I still think getting money with friends is the best kind of money to get.

EN: Something I’ve noticed when networking is that women are fairly absent behind the scenes in music. Aside from artists, often when I’m contacting a label or manager they’re men. You’re actually one of the few I know with active involvement behind the scenes. Do you feel that women are underrepresented in that facet of the industry?

I know that’s sort of a blunt question, but it’s something I’ve noticed. It’s quite odd.

Bambi: Underrepresented, yes absolutely, but not necessarily for lack of involvement. Particularly at the indie level there’s a shit-ton of wives, girlfriends, sisters, and female friends behind the scenes answering emails, shipping merch, planning shows, hitting up record shops and listening to the same unfinished song 6,789 times because a high-hat was added. You know, just trying to help make it happen. Shit, some of these dudes likely going on tour with mom’s Amex (I stole that mom’s Amex bit from Michael).

I want to make it clear I’m not saying all artists do this by any means, but I do think is fairly common place, especially at the beginning and end of careers. I have no issue with it, supporting the people around you is important. What I do take issue with is the lack of credit. I don’t give a shit if all they’re doing is packing and shipping merch, if your homie did you a favor you’d shout him out; but, I see some of these motherfuckers out there acting like they do all this shit on their own or down-playing (either during or after the fact) the contributions of other, especially woman, which is a foul. And yes, I’m speaking from experience.

It’s one of the reasons I was very hesitant when Michael asked me to work with FBR. It took me a few months of me ‘helping out’ and him continually demanding I be credited for my work to really be like, ok I guess we’re in it to win it now. Oh, and you know what? He actually pays me. Even if it’s just a few bucks, I get my cut and I get it in a timely fashion. Amazing.

EN: Do you feel like this has created sort of an environment of complacency among those not being credited? As if they feel they’re just supposed to help however they can and ask for nothing back, particularly among the supporting women in a label or artists life?

Bambi: I don’t think it’s complacency. I’ve had to learn to take credit for my work (I didn’t even realize people received art layout credits until last year) and that expecting/taking credit isn’t asking for accommodation it’s just getting what’s due and what I’d give anyone else I work with.

I don’t think everyone does it intentionally, but I do think that it’s speaks to a larger mentality. As more artists move away from labels and sell independently I think most have realized how important their fans are. But, that also means a lot more reliance on fans for help beyond just buying music and going to shows. I’ve seen supporters help get people booked, do cover art, and web design work, etc and barely get a thanks much less paid. End of the day, gender issues aside and regardless if you work in music or not, I think it’s important to appreciate and acknowledge the people supporting you and if you can’t do that at least give them credit on their work, especially if you aren’t paying them. You meet the same people going up as you do going down.

I suppose to change shit the burdens gotta be on both parties. Basically, don’t be an asshole and regardless if you’re getting paid demand credit on your art, web designs, beats, etc.

EN: Do you have any advice for individuals who, likes yourself at one point, might be struggling to work up the courage to actually ask for their due credit? I realize that’s sort of open ended, but I imagine there are hundreds if not thousands in situations where they aren’t receiving their just dues.

Bambi: For me it wasn’t that I was scared to speak up and more just being naive. I kinda fell into the music business, I never intended to be here, so for a long time I just assumed if I’m not getting credited then it’s not work people typically get credit for. And that’s on me for being a dumbass expecting most people wanna do right by others and not properly educating myself. Once I realized that wasn’t the case shit changed. So do I guess my advice would be pay attention and get informed.

EN: Something semi-related I wanted to speak with you about is bullying in the industry. Particularly from a gender issues perspective but also just in general. I was speaking to an artist recently who expressed sadness over how many of her male peers seem to be quick to try and push her around. Would you say this is something prevalent in the industry even at the Do-it-Yourself/Underground level?

I ask because I know bullying is an issue of great importance to FilthyBroke as a label. Such as the anti-bullying fundraising compilation record you guys curated (which I will link to here).

Bambi: Full disclosure here, I am a bully. I’ve dealt with bullies my whole life and I learned very young if someone keeps fucking with you, you fight back. Fight fire with fire so to speak. I know that a lot of people don’t agree with that way of thinking and think you should always try to be the bigger person. I admire those kinda people but I’m not one of them and I don’t want to misrepresent myself.
I think it happens a lot at all levels. I can’t speak from a female artists perspective, but I’ve seen it happen from a third party view. As well as there’s definitely been a number of instances for me personally where I’ve felt like I was being talked down to, dismissed or pushed around from either male artists or males working in other aspects of music. But it can be a difficult thing to stand up for yourself, especially to people who may be more successful in music or who’s work you admire. Not only that but the music world is truly very small, with a lot of business and friendships mixing. I think (hope) things are changing but it’s still very much a “boys club” type mentality in a lot of ways. As a woman I think when you confront someone in any work environment you run the risk of getting labeled ‘difficult’ or ‘crazy’ or ‘emotional’ or (insert any code word for bitch).

I don’t blame anyone for being hesitant or feeling too intimidated to speak up as it could have the potential to damage working and/or personal relationships, as well as, current or future opportunities beyond the person you’re calling out.

EN: I don’t really want to condone or condemn what you opened with, but I almost feel like there are certain situations where bullying the bullies is a necessary evil. I’m sure there are plenty of people who just won’t stop, even if the victim tries to be the better person. Right? I know that was the case when I was a kid. It doesn’t seem to change much as adults. Though I can’t speak on the music industry specifically.

Bambi: Apologies, I think something got lost in translation or I misspoke. I don’t condone unprovoked bullying. What I meant was some people have the capacity to rise above negativity, but I find that very challenging and in opposition to my natural tendencies. I don’t start shit but I’ll end it.

EN: Oh yeah, I got that part of it. I didn’t think you were condoning it by any means. I suppose I was just thinking aloud that sometimes rising above the negativity isn’t enough to make the situation cease. I know a lot of people who try to and then slowly get sucked back into being picked on. And it’s really a shame.

Bambi: Agreed. When you encounter people that do fucked up shit I think most decent people struggle between rising above (which is often in their own best interest) and fighting against in hopes that no one else has to suffer the same bullshit.

EN: Do you think the general public would be surprised at how nasty individuals in the music scene can be to each other behind closed doors? I imagine some people’s heroes are absolutely despicable people when in private. It’s scary.

Bambi: I don’t think anyone is surprised about how low and despicable people in the music industry can be. I do think they’d be surprised by some of the people perpetrating though. I think it’s pretty common that when some is really into an artist’s music that they get a feeling that they know or understand them on a more personal level. Often they feel they have faced similar challenges or feelings as themselves. So it can be a hard pill to swallow that someone you look up to, someone who has the emotional empathy to convey musically what you feel could possibly be a shitty person.

I mean how could a dude who has the ability and courage to see corrupt shit in the world and call it out possibly steal money from someone they work with? How could someone who’s written songs about love and heartache possibly mistreat a woman? How can a dude who raps about street shit possibly be a coward or snitch in actual life?

EN: Has experiencing some of the industries underbelly made you appreciate those that actively try to be transparent in themselves more?

Bambi: Yes, for sure. Like I said I was very hesitant to get involved with FilthyBroke after my past experiences. But Michael was persistent and proved himself trustworthy and I’m glad I took the gamble because it’s allowed me to work with some awesome folks and restored my faith in people quite a bit. Big shoutouts to Balam Acab, Molly Drag, HotScience, and of course yourself who have all been great to work with.

EN: Do you feel like your taste in music has expanded or evolved since you started working alongside Michael at the label? Because I imagine you hear a ton of things you may not have been exposed to otherwise.

Bambi: Absolutely. Left to my own devices I just listen to rap. So working with FBR I’ve grown to appreciate and enjoy a much larger variety of genres and musicians that I would not have discovered otherwise. So it’s been good! Although, sometimes Michael plays real weird shit I just can’t vibe with…like Ween.

EN: I support all good hearted potshots at Michael and especially at Ween in this interview.

Have you found that listening to different genres has made you appreciate things about rap even more too? I spoke about this with my other writer before. We both feel like branching out into other things has helped us appreciate and understand what we like about hip-hop even more as well. It’s weird that way.

Bambi: I get what you’re saying. I mean, honestly? Sometimes after listening to other stuff for a couple hours it all starts to blend and sound the same to me. Where as I can listen to hip hop exclusively for weeks on end and never get tired of it because there’s such a broad spectrum. It’s just personal taste, what speaks to me, I personally have yet to figure out the specifics of why though.

EN: On another note, I was looking at the cover for the new Hot Science project FilthyBroke was involved in releasing. That cover is phenomenal. And I know that you were the one behind that, And a bunch of other really cool visuals the label has put out. When did you start getting involved in the design aspect of things?

Bambi: I loved drawing when I was a kid, my grandma was big into music and art and I grew up around a lot of graf dudes so I’ve always been around creative types. But it wasn’t until getting involved with FBR when I started doing CD and j-card layouts. As I learned and got better at using adobe, I moved into promo flyers and videos, etc. And finally this latest Hot Science cover art, I’m hella hyped how it turned out and he was awesome to work with.

EN: That’s awesome, I think you definitely have a knack for it. How did the concept for the Hot Science cover even come together? It looks like layers of paper cutouts. I’ve never quite seen anything like it before.

Bambi: Thank you Dustin. Michael came up with the general concept, to be honest I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to pull it off, it’s definitely the most involved out of all the projects I’ve done so far. I hand drew the illustrations separately and then scanned them into adobe to layer them. I also did the animation in photoshop because I wanted it to look kind of like stop motion.

EN: Fuck, that’s definitely what it was reminding me of! It’s like one of those stop motion paper-figure films, but like, the Tim Burton version of one. In album cover form. Did you enjoy tackling something more ambitious like that?

Bambi: Nice, that’s the feel I was going for. It’s a dope album and I wanted to do Sam’s (Hot Science) music/work justice and make sure it was reflective of the vibe he was going for. Again, he was great to work with and really down for whatever so I absolutely enjoyed the project. Whenever I take on something new it’s always nerve racking, this is was no exception. But I am really happy with how it turned out.

EN: Is design something you hope to keep being a part of going forward with the label? Has it become something you’re excited to keep working at and improving in?

Bambi: Definitely. It can be somewhat stressful to do creative work under a deadline but it’s fulfilling to do art for a purpose and not just fun. Also I get paid for it which is nice. Every project we do I learn new skills, I’m hoping to get to the point where I can do proper videos as well.

EN: Have you done much video work in the past or would that be a much newer avenue of expression for you? You mentioned doing a bit of video bump work, but not to what degree.

Bambi: Nah. I’ve done little 30/60 second promo bumps. Just saying, I’d like to eventually get to a point where I have developed the skills to do some full on video work. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, was just speculating on long shot goals.

EN: Have you further investigated the use of Craigslist Missed Connections as the modern preferred artistic medium?

Bambi: [Laughs]! (I should’ve seen that one coming). I still check it out from time to time. And, yes, it’s still entertaining and heart breaking as ever. Some people really bare their souls in the MCs, and some of their soles are creepy as fuck.

EN: [Laughs]. Okay, but in all seriousness: if you could design album art for any artist in the world, who would it be and what sort of concept would you approach them with?

Bambi: Damn, that’s kinda tough one. Kool Keith would be ill, could do some weird illustrative shit, like Animalia, Graeme Base style but with more adult content (obviously). AC/DC would be cool as fuck also, but I’ve got no idea what I’d do on that one

EN: I think we’re at the point of rapping this up now, if there’s anything else you’d like to throw in then now would be the time to do it!

Bambi: I just want to give a huge shout out and thank you to all the people over the past year and a half that have been supportive of me both personally, and with the label…you guys are fucking awesome. To you, Dustin, thank you for offering me this opportunity and for being a gracious and patient interviewer. Finally, to anyone that thinks I was speaking on them in this interview, I probably was. And if that’s an issue for you, I don’t have anyone blocked online, my phone number hasn’t changed and you know where I live..any time motherfucker.

EN: Thank you as well.

Album Review: Walter Gross – Super Basic

by Dustin

superbasic

8/10

Ah, Walter Gross. One of the most creative noise-based musicians alive. A little early this year we took a look at his Black Box Tapes release, Vestige. An album which was, and still is, one of the best releases to date in 2017. Moving with the swiftness of a sparrow Walter Gross has already ventured into another release, Super Basic. This release isn’t a really a follow up to Vestige, instead it is a collection of material recorded between 2015 and 2017 (according to his BandCamp page) being released completely DIY both digitally and on cassette. These sorts of beat-tape releases can be slightly unpredictable; however, when they’re from an artist known for experimenting with sound they’re usually worth checking out. They’re unrestrained and free from the need to fit an overarching sound, and usually loaded with interesting tidbits and lost cuts.

Walter Gross is exactly that type of artist, and Super Basic is a very interesting tape.

Super Basic feels like a cutting room floor of ideas, experiments, and loose ends that make up Walter’s progression as a musician. The songs have this loose quality to them that definitely feels like an assortment of not entirely fleshed out thoughts. The track names lend to this rough cut experience, with titles such as “Party Loop”, “Cut I”, and “Cut II” feeling as unpolished as the songs themselves; the ruggedness of Super Basic is not a negative quality by any means however. It leads to somewhat of a scattered experience, but it makes it feel as if the listener is being granted insight into the method behind the madness of Walter Gross.

Even the packaging of the cassette release is a little rough around the edges (in the best way possible). There’s some previews up on BandCamp of the physical release, and it really adds an element to the aesthetic. The digital art (as seen above) is similarly simplistic yet beautiful. The way he’s crafted all elements of this album by hand is admirable, to say the very least.

As far as the music goes, there are some genuinely beautiful moments on Super Basic. The vocal melody on “Cookie” for example is absolutely gorgeous and has this delicious contrast with the noisy, glitchy, sauntering drum line. “Hierophant I” is another stunning piece on this album. It has this crunchy distorted wall of noise at the forefront of the song, with a very subtle meditative nearly-angelic sound slipping through the cracks (and eventually closing out the track). That’s not to say that the rest of the tape isn’t also very cool – which it is – but hearing these moments of blissful relaxation hidden in the noise is breathtaking. It provides a wonderful balance, and gives weight to the most abrasive moments on Super Basic.

There’s also a really nice amount of variation on this beat tape. There are looping moments that drone on, hellishly insane noise tracks, and even some bits that feel hip-hop influenced. It gives one a sample of the range Walter Gross is capable of playing with.

Super Basic may not quite be the powerhouse album that Vestige is, but it’s really not intended to be. Walter’s assortment of sounds on this project are the ultimate fanfare. Even though Super Basic shows off his varying styles, it most likely would not be the best jumping off point for a new listener. That being said, as an established fan this tape is a seductive sampler platter featuring everything lovable about his music. Super Basic totally encapsulates the do-it-yourself and gritty nature of Walter Gross. Perhaps it’s even safe to say that this is him in his rawest form; dirtied up, a little bit chaotic, but an absolute blast to sit through.