Throw your headphones on, give yourself a few minutes and be part of a conversation on Boston music helmed by those who make it happen—all on the record. Continue reading
Local Music issue
Photos: Mick Murray. L-R: Peaches, Melanie Bernier, Ryan Major, Jenny, Ryan Durkin.
Durkin and The Fagettes discovered they had a bit in common rather quickly when we met up on a rainy Saturday afternoon in a Central Square parking lot. For one thing, the hip-hop producer/DJ/hype man hybrid and the sassy, lo-fi garage rockers both love playing dance nights. For another, we tapped into some rage related to the apparently unforgiveable track “Gary Glitter Part I.” Though they come from completely different backgrounds and scenes, both Durkin and The Fagettes specialize in getting a crowd moving—whether they’re ready or not.
ON THE INTERNET:
Durkin: Stuff that’s not just a straight hip-hop show is the best situation for us—one band and us and DJs.
Melanie Bernier: Why do you think that is for you guys?
Durkin: I don’t know. People’s tastes change. When I was a freshman in college, underground hip-hop was really big. There was a big scene and there were big names, nationally, that were from Boston. When I was in high school, I would drive down to the Middle East and there would be a sold out show with all local acts—E-Don, Esoteric, Mr Lif. In terms of people and new fans now, it’s just not really happening.
Ryan Major: I find that interesting, from an outsider’s perspective. If you look at blogs and stuff—you don’t hear anything about radio rock. That band, Foster the People? Apparently they’re huge and I hadn’t heard about them until about a week and a half ago. You don’t see Pitchfork writing about it—they’re covering Kanye and Jay-Z. Indie rock seems to be focused on Top 40 Rock.
Durkin: I think with Pitchfork, they cover hip-hop and half the time it’s a tongue-in-cheek review. They’re not interested in finding out what a new, independent artist is doing. At the same time, independent artists in hip-hop are trying to make names. If you go to a mainly hip-hop blog or a site like Pitchfork, their emphasis will be on how many posts they can get up in a day—“I’m going to post seven reviews or seven videos!” or something. They’re going to post about guys like Drake or Jay-Z because it’ll get them more traffic. It’s just this game. When we put out Color Commentary, we put out one song at a time. If we just put our whole record out, it’d be there at the top of the page. At the end of the day, it’d be at the bottom of the page, and by tomorrow it’s going to be two pages out. To have somebody listen to it as a body of work and think about it and write something, even if they hate it, it’s not the world we’re dealing with. The marketing side of it is kind of a nightmare to plan out. We’re trying to be really thoughtful about this next record, just in terms of writing everything out. I read somewhere that once you drop the album, it’s over—the buzz, the relevance of covering it from the perspective of a blog. If you postpone that for as long as possible and just keep putting out bits and pieces, that’s how you can do it. From an artist’s perspective, that sucks! I don’t want to do that!
Major: The Fagettes is the first band I’ve been in where we really have tried to play the Internet game—but we’re more interested in getting something physically out and shows and stuff. We’re not very good with computers.
Peaches: I’m good!
Major: He’s okay. Our long-term goal is to get some vinyl out.
Durkin: Well, that’s something people want to buy. It’s something they can hold.
Major: That’s exactly it. It’s a physical representation of our music.
ON … BALLOON ANIMALS?
Durkin: Hippie ravers are the hands-down best crowd for any type of music. It’s like the Camp Bisco crowd. I’ve done a couple of shows to that crowd and they were great.
Major: [laughs] The nitrous brothers.
Durkin: Oh my god, yeah! I was opening for The New Deal. Some kids who came to the show were in this van with balloons in front of the Middle East, and I was like, “What is going ON right now?!”
Major: Wait, they were making balloon animals?!
Durkin: Uh, balloon animals that people could inhale.
Melanie: … We should make balloon animals.
Major: With NOT nitrous oxide.
ON LIVE SHOW ENERGY:
Melanie: What’s the preparation for the set versus when you’re playing in the moment live?
Durkin: Being organized allows me to improvise a lot better. The hip-hop shows are pretty carefully choreographed. EL knows the moves I’m gonna be pulling.
Melanie: That’s awesome—and that way you’re able to gauge the temperature of the audience … The thing about recording to me is that it’s so hard to get the energy into it that you can with the live show. I don’t know. I’m interested to hear about that aspect of your work, the live realm and how you translate that to a record.
Durkin: It’s difficult—people do it in a lot of different ways. Unfortunately, the main way people often do it, and especially people that have never seen what I would consider a real hip-hop show—young people whose first introduction to the music maybe wasn’t through live shows. They’ll often perform by just hitting “play” on a song they recorded and then shout over it. It’s like bad karaoke of their own music. When Black EL approached me to do some live shows, I said that I didn’t want any backing vocals in the songs if we were performing them, and I wanted to do more than just press play. When I’m DJing, I’m always working really fast and I’m trying to blend together songs that make sense, so I’m always doing something. I have a mic in my face, I’m doing all his ad libs and I’m usually cutting or juggling or repeating the same track and then cutting them back in while he raps, and I’m doing it all live. We’re trying to do it so that people say “These guys are putting on a show! These guys are trying hard to entertain us!” We’re psyched to be there and we want people to see the energy we’re bringing to it, because they’ll give it back. Some of the best situations we’ve had were small shows with people right in our faces and they can see what I’m doing. One of the best shows we did was at Wadzilla before they closed it. It got shut down two weeks after we played. We played with Bad Rabbits and this guy Outtasight. We just had this great show where people may not have been there to see us or to see a hip-hop show, but by the end of the show we won them over and had a great time.
Major: That’s another thing that’s great about basement shows—you’re not paying $3.50 for a PBR at the bar and you appreciate it.
Melanie: Well, anyone can show up to it, and that’s the joy of it. I feel like a lot of times when people go to a concert they expect to see some rock—mixing it up with new people because it’s free or mixing up with other bands draws the best reaction.
Major: You can’t book a bar show like that. You can’t get people to show up and pay 8 bucks when they only know one band.
ON THE PERKS OF PLAYING DANCE NIGHTS:
Durkin: You look at someone’s iPod and it’s not just one genre, for the most part. Why shouldn’t shows be like that, too?
Durkin: Another good format for us is doing something where it’s a couple acts where it’s us and a couple acts or a dance night or something.
Major: We love dance nights—you’re not yelling at people the whole time and worrying about when you play. You play and you get to hang out and dance!
Peaches: And you can set up your stuff onstage and just leave it!
Major: Oh God yeah.
Durkin: It’s just so much easier. “When are you guys going on?” “I don’t know. When it feels right!” because there are just two of us! Whereas at a regular show they’re like “NOW! GO NOW!” and you’re like “But hey, I gotta tie my shoe—“ and they’re like “YOU ARE MISSING TIME OUT OF YOUR SET! IT’S OVER!” That sucks. We opened for Curren$y once—we were psyched to be a part of it. I’m going through my laptop to make sure we’re all set and it just crashes. As soon as it crashes, the promoter came in with a five minute warning. I was like “But I need five!” and he was like “Listen, you need to be standing out there in five minutes.” It literally came together at the last moment. Stuff wasn’t hooked up. I’m playing the song on one of the turntables and doing back ups and plugging stuff in.
Melanie: I just have this image of you plugging this final plug in at the last moment.
Durkin: That’s where I’m lucky—a lot of guys keep their live shows simple so that you have to know what to do if something goes wrong. If something goes wrong, I can come up with ten different reasons as to why that’s happening in my head and not freak out. Playing a place like ZuZu, if you can play there and make everything work you can pretty much do it anywhere. Everyone’s in your face and you have to do everything yourself. It’s a delicate balance. I wouldn’t spend my Friday nights any other way. That’s gotta be so difficult for you guys, with shows—we do a hip-hop show and we split it in half with the DJ. It must be rough to find fair money when you have a bigger band.
Major: We lose a lot of money because we’re paying for drinks at bars. [Laughs]
Melanie: I’m very scrooge-y with the money and it goes directly into a sour cream jar on my shelf.
Durkin: It’s way more fun than just going to the bar!
Melanie: Totally. I was a spectator of music for so long, and it was definitely a huge goal of mine to be onstage. And finally now doing it, it’s like, why would I ever not want to be doing this?
ON GEOGRAPHIC SEPARATION:
Major: We’re a rock and roll band from Allston. We play in a lot of basements and a lot of bars.
Durkin: I’ve lived in Boston six years, been DJing in Boston and Cambridge for three. My main residency is a biweekly Friday at ZuZu called Solid—it’s my home base as a DJ. For production I do some remix work, and I’m in a hip-hop group where I’m the main producer and the DJ. It’s called Black EL and Durkin—we put out an album last summer called Color Commentary and we’re working on new stuff now.
Major: I listened to some of those tunes. I don’t have a great frame of reference for hip-hop, but I enjoyed it.
Durkin: Thanks! I’m excited for the new stuff we’re working on. I produced it on an old shitty program on my old laptop. I didn’t really know what I was doing. We kind of fudged our way through that record as more content to do new shows. I was a DJ first, so I started applying how I DJ to how I do shows, and I was like, “We just need more music.” That turned into that album, and this whole thing.
Major: That’s not too dissimilar from us. In this day and age it’s difficult to get gigs and to get out there without something recorded. It was really early on when—we had been together six weeks when we started to record with Andy Maher. He did a lot of it analog. He hadn’t really recorded other people either. I think it came out really good, but things have definitely changed since then.
Durkin: Yeah. We’re lucky enough to have a better production set up now. It still turns into me producing something in my apartment and bouncing that to Black EL, who’s recording in a basement in Hopkinton. The main engineer we have is a good friend in Harlem. We bounce all our stuff to him and he mixes it and masters it, so it’s this triangle of digital stuff. It’s kind of a frustrating way to work sometimes, but we’ve being doing it more face to face as we’ve had more access to studios with better gear.
Major: That’s a lot of geographic separation! I don’t even know where Hopkinton is.
Jenny: It’s near me …
Major: I still don’t understand where you are.
ON WHY GARY GLITTER IS AN ASSHOLE:
Melanie Bernier: Last night [at ZuZu] while you were DJing I was talking to you about how you went from Depeche Mode—
Durkin: I went from Depeche Mode to Gary Glitter—
Ryan Major: WHAT?
Durkin: —And from Gary Glitter to “Howlin’ for You” by the Black Keys, which is the same drum track. And then from that I went to The Who’s “Can’t Explain.” They’re all the same tempo and they’re all have a similar vibe and they’re all drum-driven tracks. I have, like, a little crate of shuffling tracks.
Ryan: I like songs that sound like they’re taking parts of Gary Glitter songs.
Durkin: One important thing to note is that song is called “Gary Glitter Rock N’ Roll Part II,” and it’s instrumental. “Part I” has lyrics. You do not want to hear “Part I.” It is fucking terrible. Gary Glitter is an asshole. It’s hard to even want to play his music but that one song is so good, so I’ll play a minute of it and go into something else.
Ryan: Ten years ago when he got arrested in Southeast Asia there was a possibility that he was going to face a firing squad …
Durkin: Come on! I don’t want to get into this.
Ryan: There are not a lot of glam rock people left! You can’t shoot them!
Durkin: I did some solid Wikipedia reading on him when I was like “Oh I should play this song”—
Ryan: —On whether or not it was morally reprehensible to play a Gary Glitter song. [laughs]
Durkin: I can set aside personal issues for an artist! Come on! You don’t know what Hanson is capable of!
ON LOCATION, C + C MUSIC FACTORY
Amy Douglas: Because when I first heard your music I went “Oh my God. They need to get with Jace Everett.” That whole like—you don’t even bother classifying what it is, it’s just Americana music with volume. There’s a little ZZ Top in there. There’s a little Johnny Cash in there. There’s a little Bob Wilson’s Texas Playboys in there. And I love that y’all are doing that. Especially considering that no one would ever expect that you’re doing it here.
Chadley Kolb: [Laughs] We’re Yankees.
Amy: Yankees, yeah. And that’s something that we’ve also kinda heard about SPF 5000 is “Wow, I can’t believe there’s a group like SPF 5000 in Boston.” So, we might be different sonically, but we share that kinship of being—let’s face it—you know, kind of like odd ducks. You make music and it just don’t sound like it comes from here.
Chadley: You’re right, though, there is kind of a resurgence of Americana music right now. Matty and I went to Newport Folk Festival this year and it was sold out, apparently, for the first time in 50 years, before the event even started. So that’s definitely evidence of that. We were just listening to “White Hot Fantasy” on the way over here. And, uh, having a good time crankin’ it.
Amy: I know you’d never believe this but there are roots way down in “White Hot Fantasy” that come from the same source as the music you make.
Chadley: You’ve got your soul and your R&B in your voice, no doubt about it.
Matty Maybruck: Some C+C Music Factory, a little bit.
Amy: Oh no. [Laughs]
Chadley: Which is a good thing!
Amy: Oh god. We need to fix something.
Noel Coakley: C+C makes you sweat ‘til you bleed.
Photos: Jess Hodge. L-R: Matt Simmers, Julia Easterlin, Jon Spero, Chris Barlow.
I’ll be completely honest with you: when I saw the three fast-talking dudes with larger-than-life personalities of Hot Pink Delorean/Terravita sit down with the demure Julia Easterlin at an Allston sports bar, I panicked for a second. What if she’s shy? What if she’s intimidated? What if the girl—whose Lollapalooza, SXSW and CMJ sets from the past year have left blogs across the country clamoring for the Berklee grad looping her own voice—didn’t have anything in common with the electronic DJ/dub step aficionados? Then, I snapped out of it. They’re musicians, for chrissakes, and engaging, enthusiastic conversationalists. And Julia totally held her own with Jon, Matt and Chris as they chatted each other up about expectations, genre and how music is kind of sort of like martial arts.
ON LOOPING; FREUD:
Jon Spero: With the looping and all the stuff you do, what exactly do you do onstage? Do you write your own loops?
Julia Easterlin: I do.
Matt Simmers: On the fly or pre-recorded?
Julia: I do it all live. I only use my voice, so it’s all happening from me. I have this little station—I play piano and guitar, but I got really fed up with playing and singing at the same time. I don’t like it.
Jon: So, you use your vocals to make the loops?
Chris: I saw a video where you were like, beating your chest and beatboxing and stuff—
Jon: So, not only are you a singer/songwriter/looper, you are also a gorilla.
Julia: [laughs] Yeeeah.
Matt: Richie Hawtin does stuff like that sometimes.
Jon: Yeah, he does. He’s like the originator of looping. That dude was out of control with that stuff.
He would play a live show—I mean, he was one of the originators of techno. What he’d do at a live show is he’d sit and record, and open a bag of potato chips and record it, and he’d put it in.
Chris: His rider would include like, a paper bag and a bag of chips.
Jon: I think that’s really cool. I didn’t know the extent of your live show—I’ve heard your music, but I didn’t realize the loops in the background were also your vocals.
Chris: Do you play with a band, too?
Julia: I just started with a band a couple of months ago. I have a drummer who plays a kit and a drummer doing hand percussion—
Jon: So you got a tambourine guy.
Julia: No! He actually—
Julia: DUDE! [laughs] He programs a lot of shit and triggers it. He plays it live. So I have two drummers and a bassist, and then I have my station, so I’m providing all the harmonic information.
Jon: How does the whole band process work out for you?
Julia: I think it’s great! It’s such a different thing. I love it. These guys have become my family. I love them so much and we have a really good time together, but there are times where it’s just, “Ugh, this is so much more complicated!”
Chris: How is your dynamic—obviously, you’re the one who sings and write the stuff …
Julia: Yeah. I’m very straightforward about it. There’s room for collaboration, and it’s my hope that they all feel important and included.
Jon: That’s the complete opposite of us. We absolutely fucking hate each other. [laughs]
Like you said, it’s family. We’re an actual family.
Chris: Yeah. Jon’s actually my wife. We have a civil union. Matt doesn’t feel left out, though.
Julia: So Matt, how do you fit into this? Do you feel third wheel-ish?
Matt: [laughs] My friend described us as being the Freudian psyche in general, the id, the ego and the super ego. Jon’s the id—
just the impulsive, immediate “Do what I wanna do, this feels good, I’m doing it”—
Jon: I like to have a good time!
Matt: Chris is the ego. He’s much more focused on how the music’s going to be viewed by the larger crowd.
Chris: If it’s gonna work in a night club, what night club it’s gonna work in …
Matt: And I’m the super ego, I mean, I do the bulk of the engineering and songwriting and stuff but everybody else always has a say in it. Together, we make one functioning performer.
Julia: With groups of people working together, it’s so important to have those personalities, all fulfilling different roles so you function well, you know what I mean? It’s like a machine. Everybody’s a part.
Jon: That’s the best way to describe us. We are a machine. We each have our own strengths and weaknesses. Without each other, it’d be impossible to keep the peace. We’ve come to realize three heads are greater than one, and it’s hard for people to understand the music industry when you glamorize stuff how you would want to share the limelight with two other people.
Julia: I totally hear you.
ON THE AFTER PARTY; STEVE MARTIN
Matt Simmers: You’re on tour all the time. Is there any time that you go play and you guys have big after-parties or anything?
Because our scene is just always a huge party.
Jon Spero: So much so that I kinda wanna die sometimes. [laughs]
Chris Barlow: They almost wanna hand you a drink when you get off at the airport. [laughs]
Julia Easterlin: That’s kind of hysterical. I mean, I don’t know—I was actually telling Jon about this before—I don’t really have a particular scene. I don’t feel like I have a genre and a scene that I’m a part of.
Jon: That gives you so much freedom, though.
Julia: It does! It’s cool—I have friends who play folk music, friends that play jazz and bluegrass. Basically what I’ve come to realize is that people just like to party, you know?
Chris: I’ll drink to that.
Julia: So any show that I can play, and whoever’s around, if there’s bluegrass kids, jazz kids or electronic music kids or whatever, there’s always an after-party. It just happens and it’s fun, so why not?
Jon: Speaking of bluegrass—this is a little off topic, but have you seen Steve Martin play bluegrass?
Matt: It’s pretty good.
Jon: You gotta check it out.
Chris: It’s pretty awesome.
Jon: Outta control. He’s got a band.
Chris: Wasn’t he the number one banjo player in the—
Jon: Yeah, he won the best banjo player of the year in the Bluegrass Awards.
Julia: You’re kidding!
Jon: I’m not fucking with you.
Julia: Steve Martin, like …
Jon: Steve Martin. I got tickets to go see him, I thought it was gonna be this comedy bluesy thing. Fuck that, he did like five minutes of comedy and then they did a two hour set of live bluegrass.
Julia: Was it fantastic?
Jon: It was unbelievable. I left there wowed.
Chris: He sings, too.
Jon: He sings, he writes all the music, writes all the songs, and he won best banjo player of the year at the Bluegrass Awards. They also won best album at the Bluegrass Awards.
Julia: I wonder if he’s one of those people who’s good at like five different things—
Jon: Everything! He’s like ninety!
Julia: And just like wins the awards for all of these different—
Jon: How?! How are you good at everything? Fuck you Steve Martin. Fuck. You.
Chris: If there was a Grammy award for drinking, we might win that.
Julia: Yeah? You guys are big party animals.
ON CO-WRITING; VOLTRON?:
Julia: It’s an interesting thing—when you have four people working on a song together, there’s potential for the intention behind the song to become diluted.
Matt: Absolutely! Yes.
Julia: Whereas when you’re working by yourself it’s all—I do feel like when I’m working alone I’m pulling from my gut, I’m saying exactly what I wanna say the way I would say it. And even when you present it to other people and say “Hey guys, I did this, let’s move forward with this,” there’s gonna be three other people’s personalities inherently involved in the music.
Matt: How do you feel when you’ve finished that? When you get to that point and you hand it to other people?
Julia: Ah … that’s an interesting question!
Matt: Because this happens to me all the time. This is pretty much what I do, is I start off with all the music and then I hand it to them, and I’m like, “What do we need to do to this?”
Julia: And we discuss and we’re like “This needs to change, or this part needs to change.”
Matt: When I first started doing that, it wasn’t always the easiest thing to be like, “That took me four fucking hours to do and you don’t like it!”
How do you deal—does that happen to you?
Julia: Oh, totally. When you work on something for awhile and then you bring it to three other people and say, “Hey let’s work on this together now!” I mean it’s exciting, it’s intriguing and I’m usually curious about what’s gonna happen. But at the same time, I have to keep myself in check and be like, “Ok Julia, don’t lose your temper—“
Matt: “—Take a deep breathe—“
Julia: “—And don’t be a little bitch about this.” [laughs]
Matt: Well, I’ve had the same conversation with myself a lot about not being a little bitch.
Chris: Since you’re a singer-songwriter, and in that sort of a position—I’m curious why you don’t just show up and go “These are the lyrics, this is the chord progression.”
Julia: Well, it depends on the song. In the past I’ve always worked that way. With the guys I’m working with now, I brought them songs and I’m like, “Okay, this is the song. You do what you think makes sense to go with what I’ve already written.” And now we’re venturing into the territory of actually co-writing. In some ways, it’s easier because you have four brains in one room instead of one.
Matt: You ever run into this? Someone comes up with half an idea and you’re like “Holy crap, I’m gonna complete this idea, and it’s awesome.” You ever done that?
Matt: Chris and I have definitely done it before. Jon and I have done that before.
Jon: That process I like a lot. I have a riff in my head—“Let’s get that down”—and then one person will do something to it, and somebody will do something to it, and all the songs we’ve done like that have come out really well..
Matt: It’s like music Voltron.
Matt: If you know what Voltron is. [laughs] We’re a little older.
Jon: We’re a little older than you, Julia Easterlin.
Julia: I’m not in the cool kid club, I’m sorry.
Jon: How old are you?
Julia: I’m 22.
Jon: Oh, then you damn sure don’t know Voltron.
Matt: You need to write a song called “Do You Remember Voltron?” You will be the coolest person ever.
ON “THE BEST” MUSIC:
Matt Simmers: With our scene, we’ve got this enormous animosity with people fighting over one genre—“This is the best kind of music.” Do you encounter that?
Julia Easterlin: Sort of—I encounter it with individuals who say “THIS is my opinion.”
Matt: “You should be a little bit more country; you should be a little more—”
Jon Spero: That’s the beauty about music is that there’s no good or bad music. It’s all opinion.
Julia: Right—but everyone thinks that this is the best music, the most pure or whatever.
Jon: It may be the most popular music, but it doesn’t make it the best. To every single person, different music is the best music.
Chris Barlow: Unless you’re talking to somebody at a record label—then the most popular is the best.
Jon: Yeah but that still doesn’t make it the best, it’s just the music that that label is into.
Matt: It’s really strange because music is such an emotional art. Even visual art, we can detach ourselves a slight bit.
Julia: You guys keep talking about your music that you make, almost like you’re a bit emotionally detached from it yourselves. Is that the case?
Matt: I’m very emotionally attached to what I make, but the thing is I also look at it like it’s a painting more than it’s something that I pull out of my soul.
Julia: Out of your guts, yeah.
Jon: I agree with that analogy …
Matt: The stuff that we create, though—I try to look at it not like music, not like visual arts, but like martial arts. Martial arts are probably one of the most quantifiable types of arts, because if you’re bad at it, the other guy kicks your ass.
Julia: [laughs] That’s really true.
ON BREAK-UPS; RAMADAN?
Jon Spero: You know when you’re going into a recording session and you’re having the worst day ever?
I think my girlfriend had broken up with me. I lost a contact and I couldn’t get home, so I only had one eye.
Julia Easterlin: [laughs]
Matt Simmers: And you were hung over!
Chris Barlow: She kicked you out of the house, too.
Jon: She kicked me out of the house … and I was hammered. So I showed up to the studio session like, one eye, hammered, pissed off and they’re like, “Alright, we’re just gonna leave you in here for an hour. Just freestyle for an hour.” I got so frustrated I just started speaking gibberish.
It’s like “Ramma ding dong fuckin’ I fuckin’ don’t care anymore!”
Matt: It was weird because we come out and I’m listening to the recording and he’s just MCing normal,
and then all the sudden it’s “RIP RAP RAMADAN ZING A BAM BING BONG—“
Chris: [Laughs] What was that?
Jon: I don’t even know. It’s a holiday.
Chris: Are you Muslim now, Jon?
Jon: Evidently. I don’t know.
ON BACK TO THE FUTURE, ETC.:
Julia: So, are you guys really into Back to the Future?
Jon: Uh huh.
Matt: I am a big fan of Back to the Future. I’m pretty much a big fan of anything Robert Zemeckis.
Chris: We were all born in the ’80s.
Julia: I thought so! I was born in the ’80s.
Jon: What, ’89?
Julia: ’89… [laughs]
Chris: We were born when we actually remembered the ‘80s.
Jon: I was born in ’81.
Matt: We were born when we used to wear outfits from the ‘80s.
Julia: I the ‘80s have come back in full swing. Everybody’s like, “’80s, yeah!”
Matt: Well, now I think the ‘90s are starting to come back.
Julia: Yeah, that’s a little weird.
Jon: Man I feel so old these days. I’ve seen two revolutions of rave. In my lifetime I’ve already seen two revolutions of rave.
Chris: The whole electronic music thing now though is not even just rave. It’s going completely mainstream now.
Jon: Well, it’s doing both. Which is the weird thing.
Matt: Do you do a lot with licensing, with TV shows and stuff like that?
Julia: I’ve never actually delved into that world.
Matt: I mean they taught you that in school and everything right? A lot of that?
Julia: Yeah, talked about it.
Matt: Dude, honestly, that’s where the money is.
Jon: She’s not a dude Matt, she’s a lady.
Julia: I hang out with dudes all day long. Dude and bros—
Jon: I’m just chastising him for no reason.
Julia: No, I don’t know. I don’t really know that much. There’s a lot that I just don’t know.
Jon: So school didn’t do well for you?
Julia: No! School did really well for me—as far as figuring out, “Okay, how far have I gotten right now? How far am I going to go? How do I get there?” I’m still at the point where I’m figuring all that out.
Jon: That’s the hard part. That’s the really hard part.
Julia: So that’s where I am right now. And I’m loving it.
Hot Pink Delorean is embarking on a US tour in November, hitting places like Los Angeles and Houston. Julia Easterlin next plays Great Scott on 12.8.11, download her newest track “Render” at juliaeasterlin.com.
Spirit Kid: a bunch of boys from the ‘burbs who take their love for big ‘60s pop riffs—Beach Boys and Beatles style—and channel it into an infectious, dizzying and well-played rock performance each and every show. Joe Bermudez: a world class DJ we’re lucky enough to call Boston’s own in between his tours backing David Guetta and his sessions remixing hit singles from pop princesses Britney, Katy and Taylor, respectively. Over drinks at ZuZu, Joe and Spirit Kid’s Emeen Zarookian found out they shared some common ground beyond their penchant for catchy hooks.
ON THE CROWD:
Emeen: When I was in high school, I grew up playing a lot of shows for kids my age.
I just remember the enthusiasm being like way higher than now, when everyone’s an adult and the concern is having another drink, or whatever it is.
Joe: Yeah I mean, kids are great but there are no limits.
I actually did a sweet sixteen party for one of the owners of Underbar.
And he called me last minute because his DJ got stuck in France. And I was like, “Yeah I’ll help you out. You guys have booked me a lot.” I didn’t know what to expect at all and he’s like “You know you’re gonna have to play a lot of hip hop stuff.” And I was like, “You do realize I’m not a hip hop DJ?” And he’s like, “No no no! But I know you can do it!” This is like an hour before the gig—I had to go on iTunes and download stuff.
They went nuts. Kids put each other up on their shoulders—they were throwing each other in the air, swinging from chandeliers in this living room. It was insane.
Like literally they took the birthday girl and they were throwing her in the air. Her dad comes upstairs and I thought I was getting in trouble—and he just looks up and he’s like, “They really like you! Keep it up!”
Emeen: That sounds AWESOME.
Joe: It was like the last thing I expected, you know?
Emeen: Were they like, drinking or anything?
Joe: No! They were all sober and just having a great time. I mean, when the last beat stopped, there was a standing ovation and everyone was like, “THANK YOU DJ!”
Emeen: You know what? They’re not jaded.
Joe: Not at all. They just wanna have fun.
Emeen: That’s the thing, probably. People in Boston like, cross their arms. New York’s like that too sometimes, at least for us. We’ve played shows where it seems like nobody liked it, and everyone’s just standing around. They’re there, watching us, but they’re just standing around. And at the end everyone’s like “Oh that was awesome man, yeah that was so rad.” I’m like, “Really? ‘Cause I didn’t think so …” and apparently it wasn’t because it didn’t seem like it, but it’s just funny how in different cities you get those different vibes. I’ve noticed that on tour too.
Joe: Without a doubt. And I think big cities are the most jaded because they have so many options. My friends make fun of me for playing Montana. I go there once a year. I’m one of two DJs they bring in and I play this little basement room—
Emeen: —And they go nuts though, right?
Joe: They go NUTS! It’s that Sweet Sixteen party with the chandeliers all over again. It’s crazy … A lot of nights I think I have a really, really bad show, that’s when I get the best reviews from people. I think subconsciously we try harder, because we’re like, “Why aren’t they moving? Why aren’t they doing stuff?” And it’s just not that type of crowd.
ON CHANGING IT UP:
Emeen: How often do you play in Boston?
Joe: I used to never play here. When I first moved here I played maybe once a year—I played LA and Miami way more than Boston. Nowadays it’s pretty regular. I do every other Tuesday night at Bond, which is cool and just total lounge music. I don’t have to worry about a dance floor, so I get to play all kinds of obscure stuff that I couldn’t play anywhere else. And then I do this other spot which is basically your standard college dance place. So it’s a lot of like the big hits and we just have as much fun as possible.
Emeen: Same here—funny! How often do you change up what you play?
Joe: I just get bored so I don’t like doing the same thing.
There will be times where I just know certain things will work from other parties and I’m like, “Oh, if I do this other record next it’ll set the place off.” I’ve seen it consistently, so I may sneak it in but I know there’s a lot of DJs that plan out a set and do the same thing in every single city.
Emeen: Seems boring, yeah.
Joe: I just laugh at these guys because if their floor were ever to clear, they would never have any idea how to get them back or win them over again. And I started in really crappy bars where it was a challenge to get people out there. So knowing how to do that helps me when we’ve got people that are into it. Do you ever have that? Do you change up your set too? I feel like rock bands are a little more consistent.
Emeen: It’s hard because Spirit Kid is not just one person—we’re anywhere from five to seven of us at any time, and not everyone might know every song that I would wanna play, or would have practiced it.
So I would love to just always play new songs. That’s pretty much all I ever wanna do.
We played a couple of new songs last week and I was most excited for those. I didn’t care about any of the other ones anymore. I get super bored, just playing them over and over again. It’s a different thing if you’re on tour and it’s for new people, but it’s the same thing for the same people and it just starts to kind of get to me a little bit.
Joe: Do you ever just do jam sessions with the guys live on stage? [Laughs]
Emeen: We’ve joked about that! That happens in our practices too often, and I’m starting to put a stop to it because we’re not learning songs we’re just doing this stupid jamming! The problem is that we do it and we’re good at it—like we sound good when we’re doing it, but I don’t wanna do it. So it’s gotta stop. And I keep saying, we can’t do that anymore. No more jamming
Joe: What about changing up your hit songs? Make them different for your fans?
Emeen: That’s interesting—we haven’t done a ton of that.
Joe: Like new melodies.
Emeen: Yeah, that’s interesting for sure. I would say there is an element of our show where we might extend certain parts of songs or whatever. We might jam out the ending of a song, but it’s not like a full out jam session. That’s not the kind of band we are.
We’re very much about the songs and the song structure and the arrangements. That’s the fun of going to see a band, and you want it to sound good, like the record, but you want it to be kinda different.
And give something else to the experience—which is I think the best part of going to see a band live.
Joe: Would you ever sneak in someone else’s record? Like if there was a Prince song in the same key as your big hit, would you go into his chorus? Just to throw people for a loop?
Emeen: You know, we’ve actually done that. Not Prince but we’ve done that with Guns ‘n Roses. [Laughs] It was on Halloween a couple years ago. It was off of a song that we don’t really play anymore called “Wait a Minute.” And in the middle it goes to this completely different section, different tempo and everything, and we went into “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” I don’t know why or how that came about but it was kind of hilarious. But we’ve long since stopped doing that.
Emeen: Well you know, you do it like twice, joke’s over.
ON … BANANAS?
Emeen: One of us has to do Neil Diamond.
Joe: It’s gonna be like a race now to see who does it first.
Emeen: Didn’t he write “I’m a Believer” by The Monkees? I think that was one of his songs.
Joe: Yeah, he wrote a lot of songs for people.
Emeen: I’m a big Monkees fan.
Joe: So what are your thoughts on bananas?
Emeen: Love em! Had one the other day. It was kind of soft, it was kind of gross actually. I like em ripe.
Joe: No flaccid bananas for this guy.
Emeen: No, no thank you.
ON ROCK AND ELECTRONIC MUSIC:
Emeen: Do you listen to a lot of rock stuff?
Joe: Rock’s what I grew up on, yeah. AC/DC’s my favorite band of all time. I was looking online earlier and I saw that we both like ELO.
Emeen: Oh yeah, one of my top favorites!
Joe: I worked in a kitchen for awhile, so all the cooks—all they’d listen to was rock and roll.
I didn’t know who Led Zeppelin was at that age or any of that stuff, so they’d school me.
Anything I didn’t know I’d get my ass beat in the kitchen. So I worked really hard to learn these songs.
I didn’t wanna get stuffed in a trash can.
Emeen: Tough kitchen you worked in. Hell’s Kitchen.
Joe: [Laughs] It’s where Gordon Ramsay got a start. He was a lot more violent back in the day—he had a drinking problem. Seriously though it wasn’t pretty. Alright, this is how bad it was. One of the bartenders only had one arm, and he would still stuff me in a trashcan. He would take his nub and give me a noogie and then like … yeah. It was not pleasant being a dishwasher at like 13 or 14.
Emeen: And that was because you didn’t have knowledge of Led Zeppelin.
Joe: No. He was just a dick.
Emeen: We’ve all been there. I was a busboy once. It was a pretty shitty job.
Joe: But it totally makes me appreciate what I do now for a living. So much better than getting thrown in a trashcan.
Emeen: Now you have to go to trashcans to perform. [Laughs] I actually like electronic stuff too. A lot. And it doesn’t really show in Spirit Kid but I’ve done some random electronic songs in the past. There’s one I’m really excited about that I’ve been working on for like a year. I just need to finish it. The whole ELO thing, I really like the later half of their career, which is a lot of synths and late ‘70s, early ‘80s kind of stuff, which is really cool—synths and strings and stuff. Cool arrangements.
Joe: I’m a sucker for strings. They get me every single time.
Emeen: Yeah, and they use ‘em really well, you know? So it’s kind of vocoders and cool things like that. Which we have some of on our records. But that I love just like stupid pop music too. Just love it. I eat it up.
ON REMIXES AND RECORDING:
Emeen: Which Britney Spears song did you remix?
Joe: The last one I did for her was called “I Wanna Go,” which is still kinda floatin’ around on the air now.
Emeen: So when you remix, do you get like the stems from them?
Joe: Every one is different. For Britney I did get the stems, but I pretty much chucked everything and just took her vocal tracks and then rebuilt everything from the ground up. The only time I like music stems is if they have a really nasty guitar player. Because there’s no way A) I’m gonna do it better or B) mic it better—so I’ll take what they have, put it in a sampler, chop it up, and do some crazy things with it.
Emeen: What programs do you use?
Joe: I use ProTools for everything.
Emeen: Me too!
Joe: Nice. My favorite thing I have is a Juno 106. I’m a big fan of the vintage gear.
Emeen: Cool. My old band in high school used one of those. Synthy kinda thing …
Joe: It’s crazy now because there are VSTs for everything, but it’s just … it’s so nice just to touch something! [Laughs]
Emeen: Well, you know it’s a limitation you get when you actually have a piece of hardware, I think.
Joe: No, you’re right.
Emeen: That’s why I love recording analog sometimes.
Joe: Because two takes are never the same. It’s always different and it just gives it a unique character.
Emeen: It’s interesting coming from the pop music world where a lot of stuff is cookie cutter, everything’s perfect in a way.
Joe: It’s very “perfect.” Some of the sessions I get, I can go in and see exactly what they’re doing. And it’s basically just my learning, like I’m going into school. I can open up my Pro Tools session and say “Alright, how are they doing this?” And I can break down each instrument and see how they’re getting certain things to pop and why things are sitting a certain way.
Emeen: Yeah, I worked with Harmonix and I used to mix for stuff. I’ve done the same thing where I get the stems and learn a lot from these iconic songs for Rock Band that you’re hearing stems for.
And it’s cool hearing mistakes and all that.
Joe: Yeah, because when you separate everything you hear things like “That was in there? Really?” But if it weren’t the record would not be the same.
Emeen: We’re being nerdy.
Joe: Yeah, we’re about to geek out about the snare drum for the Beatles.
Emeen: Yeah, I think there’s people who are way more extreme at least. I mean if you wanted to separate it who’s more electronic and who’s more rock or whatever. I’m very open to both worlds.
Joe: Me too.
Emeen: For me, Ableton is a tool and it is kind of what you put into it.
Joe: No it is. And sometimes too, I’ll get like a really cool pattern, and I’ll just run through different patches. Because there’ll be a weird arpeggio on something that I would have never thought of, and then all of a sudden I’m like, “Ohhh… what if I do this now!” And then everything just starts to snowball.
Emeen: I actually sometimes do that as well. I’ll be writing as I’m recording. I’ll try a part out and if it’s not working I’ll play it out a bunch, so it’s a whole other world than just sitting there with a pencil trying to write something. I guess it’s never the same way twice.
Joe: Never. You never know when creativity is gonna strike.
It’s always the silliest thing.
Emeen: Yeah! And I’ve noticed too, if you just stay in and try to write for a night … It’s not necessarily gonna happen.
If you just go out and experience and just live your life, you’re gonna get inspired to do something.
And I think that’s really important.
Joe: I think so too. But I also think it’s very important to kinda schedule some kinda regularity where you’re trying to write.
Emeen: Yeah you need to go back. You need to go back and do it.