Having previously been swept away by their live performance the Henry Fonda Music Box, I eagerly awaited the arrival for Justin Boreta of The Glitch Mob. I patiently sipped my tea at the small coffee shop in Silverlake while brimming with curiosity of the coming conversation. Upon arrival, Boreta grabs a cup of Joe before sitting down with me.
Justin, The three of you have all had successful and respected solo careers, why start The Glitch Mob?
It was really just an experiment. We were already playing a lot of sets side by side. At some point we decided to just do it at the same time and perform together. I guess it was a natural progression from the producer DJ template into a collection collaboration thing.
Where did the name come from?
Like I said, it was an experiment. So a couple of us were sitting around, and we did it one time out of the blue, and it worked. A promoter that was at a festival in the area saw it and they said they wanted to have us do it at a festival, but we need a name. Then were we performing solo as edIT, Boreta, and Ooah. Honestly, a friend of ours just said it. We were all brainstorming names and it was like… “The Glitch Mob! Yeah!” It sort of rolls off the tongue. There really wasn’t a lot of thought put into it and we only had a couple hours to come up with it.
Nice. It kind of fits your style.
Yeah, so we ran with it.
Since forming the Mob has the production process been just as smooth as when you were all producing independently?
It’s really organic. The whole thing extends from a similar love of music and sound and the exploration of that with computers and digital instruments at this point… we don’t use a lot of analogue gear. But it was a really natural progression for us. It was an easy collaboration and we only made songs because we wanted to in the first place; there was no goal in mind. We had never set out to be a band or play festivals. We just love sound and wanted to get in the studio and make music together.
Does that make you a noise junkie?
What does that mean?
It’s a word I just now made up.
Sure, I love noise. I’ll be around my house and hear random sounds and think, “Man, that’ll go good in a song.”
Do you plan to continue solo work in addition to The Glitch Mob?
Right now with where things are in the group, we need to be putting all of our time into it. It’s a very DIY operation in the sense that I update the blog and Ed will update the facebook and we’ll rotate and answer twitter questions. There’s no label that does any of this stuff for us. We record everything ourselves, we mix everything ourselves, we prep all the tour stuff ourselves. That being said, we don’t have a lot of free time for anything else. The solo projects are on the back burner for the time being.
Are all three of you in the studio together making beats or do you do your production separately?
[The level of excitement in Boreta’s voice increases as a result of either the idea of studio recording or the coffee he liberally sips] Yeah, it’s all three of us in the studio. We all live here in Silverlake, and Ed happens to have an extra room at his house that he turned into a studio. We don’t have a lot of gear; it’s a pretty simple set-up. We do everything pretty much on the computer at this point. It’s collaborative and we rotate. What I’ve done a lot of in the past is that we collaborate and we trade files and ideas back and forth online, but with us it’s all done in real time.
It must be easy to work together since you all live so close.
Yeah, we al live within a five minute drive of each other. I moved down here a year and a half ago from San Francisco just to do this. When we collaborate it’s a very interactive process. One guy will sit in the seat and if another one has an idea he’ll hop in. its very hand’s on.
How do you enjoy playing live shows in San Francisco?
It’s great. We’ve played a lot of live shows in San Francisco. We probably have a bigger fan base there more than anywhere because that’s where we started off, and Los Angeles made it bigger. San Francisco is just one scene, really. It’s geographically a small place, so there are a lot of really good shows there, where LA has an eclectic music community with flourishing live music. We’ll play a dubstep party here or a burning man style party there and it’s a lot of similar DJs and producers within the same community there, so it’s good for us to get a start in that way.
What sort of equipment are you using to in the studio?
Our studio is actually really simple. We pretty much do everything on the computer. We have one midi controller and a keyboard. We had different stuff in the past, but we pretty much got rid of all of that to pay for some stuff called universal audio gear, which is a card you plug into your computer that allows you to run extra plug-ins. The concept of the record is, “what would it sound like if we mixed our record like on old Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd record would have been mixed?” The only way to do that without spending all this money is to get all these emulation plug-ins. Their pretty faithful emulations of old gear. They don’t sound just as good as if you had the originals stuff, but their pretty cool. You buy the universal audio stuff, which we mixed the entire record on, and the rest was just plug-ins.
What’s cool about your new album, Drink the Sea, is that while listening to it on a good sound system will be a completely different experience than listening to it at ambient volume levels or even hearing the same songs at a live performance.
We put a lot of time and thought into the way people would experience this album. Another thing is that we’ve been touring a lot lot lot before wrote this album, playing so many different places with so many different sound systems. In fact we pretty much toured for three years straight before we sat down to write this album, so we digested all these different ways to experience it. We also wanted to make the album sound good in cars or in headphone and the sound system was really secondary to making it an album you could listen to over and over again in the car and not have it hurt your ears. So it can be played at low or high volume and that’s how we chose to write it.
What sort of equipment are you using during live performances?
For live shows we brainstormed this whole set up where we can really just get up and play the album. And it’s not something that we initially wanted to do. We had to engineer our entire system on our own using Ableton to get what we wanted to do out there. We ended up with a V-drum, where when you hit it, it doesn’t actually make a sound but it triggers something that sounds just like a snare and you can send it to Ableton. So we basically pull out all of the sounds on the album and map it out into various samplers in Ableton and play all the sounds live with the drums, and Midi controllers, and keyboards. Then we have these things called the Jazzmutant Leemur, which is a touch screen interface, which is the center of our whole thing that we use to show the crowd what we’re doing. And it adds some performative element to the thing because we’re actually up their playing the notes and people can see it, as apposed to the keyboard, which is also live but it’s kind of hard to see what notes your hitting. It’s just a fun way to get people involved.
It definitely adds an analogue feel to a purely digital performance. Is that rehearsed, what you guys do one stage? Because it seems like the three of you just jump in between instruments at will.
Some are and some aren’t. The songs are all rehearsed and there are times where we have room for improvisation where we’ll play a different rhythm. The way we have it set up is that you can play any part of the album on any one of the controllers so that we can switch. It’s pretty loose in that respect and we left some room for improvisation.
What initially got you into this kind of music?
That’s a good question. I grew up in southern California, in Calico, which is north of here. I grew up listening to punk music and hardcore and hip hop and at some point I discovered drum and bass. It was a natural progression. Once I found drum and bass I was completely in love, I ran with that for long time and I actually put out drum and bass records. I was big in the drum and bass scene in San Francisco. That was the start of my love for electronic music and it was the same for edIT and Oohya. They both came through a similar background through drum and bass and breakbeats and eventually after we went through the DJ circuit, it was a natural progression for us to be doing something a little bit different.
How did you guys meet?
Just through friends, really. Friends of friends. But it was through the love of music, but we were all hanging out as friends before we decided to come together and produce music.
What was the biggest hurdle in making Drink the Sea?
There is a couple. I think the biggest one was just technically stepping out of our comfort zone. That was a big thing for us because we were used to working in a certain style. For this record we wanted to step back and not focus on the dance floor or the DJ, but just to tell a story with it, which is something we’ve never done before, and focus on the feeling of the album and the narrative behind it. Using the album to tell a story and thinking of it as a concept, which is a change for us. In the past we’ve been focusing on the dance floor, where you put out a single or mix songs you know DJs will like. For us it was really a paradigm shift of thinking of an entire listening experience from top to bottom. Also stepping out of the DJ template and focusing on performing with the music.
Would you consider Drink the Sea a concept album?
Yeah, to a certain extent it’s a concept album. Maybe not something so concrete that I can sit here and tell you there is a story about a wizard and a mountain and there is a battle. There is a story and a narrative but it’s more open to interpretation. We’re purposely not spelling it out to people and left it ambiguous. The messaging is not so concrete so that you can take different things from it and that’s how we wanted it to be.
Was there a lot of pressure as to what the album’s reception would be?
Yeah, as a fan you’re always going to expect a certain thing. It’s the same thing with any act. With my favorite bands when they switch what they do it takes a little bit to get used to it. I think a lot of people we’re expecting something different form us, and that’s not to say the Drink the Sea album was a huge change from what we’ve done in the past, I mean it’s not like we went out and recorded an all acoustic album with guitars and tambourines.
[We both laugh at this idea.] That would be a trip.
That would definitely be a trip. I think it’s a slight divergence in path. A lot of people liked it and a lot of people didn’t like it. Once we really got out and started playing it, by and large, the people who came out to the shows are down for the ride, and there are always going to be some people who didn’t like it, and that’s okay, because we’re were running what we felt and what we wanted to do. We’re just doing out thing.
Is there a particular part of the album you’re most proud of?
Not really. The way we wrote the album, a lot of it had to do with starting with a feeling or an emotional beat. It kind of changes from time to time. There isn’t one part I really like.
Who are your favorite bands right now?
I’m really obsessed with this band right now, School of the Seven Bells. That’s my current favorite. I’m a big fan ambient music but also the rock stuff. I’m loving the new Dead Leather album Autchre. And the new Flying Lotus album, Cosmogramma, is great stuff.
Didn’t you guys used to play at the Low End Theory with Flying Lotus?
Yeah, actually edIT was one of the founding members. Him and Daddy Kev and some other guys. At some point he had to step down as a member because we had so much going on. But we’ve played there a lot.
People expect a lot more than just killer music at a show nowadays. For instance the clubs going on in Vegas that are more similar to a futuristic circus what with the fire breathers, Cirque de Soleil, stilt walkers, ect. What would your ideal venue look like?
That’s a good question. At this point in time, the venues that are great are where we feel compostable playing live shows. One’s like the Henry Fonda that are kind of small where you can see what’s happening on stage. We’ve played festivals before where there are 10,000 people in giant amphitheaters, but just where we’re at right now the sort of 500 to 100 person venues where it gets hot and loud, those are the ideal spots, and there are tons across the country. The Henry Fonda is great because it’s not too big and you can still see what’s going on; I think that’s ideal.
Physics and technology aside for a minute, if you could create your own imaginary instrument, what would it do and how would it work?
I would have an instrument that’s small enough to carry around in a backpack and made lots and lots of bass, with like a miniature bass cannon. A lot of times the bass is what’s lacking from the sounds systems around.
A lot of bass from a tiny speak, cool. So, I’m not going to ask the obvious question, “What genre do you think you fall under,” because obviously recent music genres have been splitting and breaking off into more and more different sub-genres. At what point do you think the compulsion to classify music, specifically yours, under a specific genre will disappear?
I don’t know if it ever will and I don’t know if it’s a bad thing necessarily. When you hear music for the first time your brain wants to label it and categorize it and put it into a box and it can help you figure out what it is and interpret it. A lot of people think that we’re dubstep. I wouldn’t consider it dubstep, but for a lot of young people who are just getting into electronic music now and they see us at a festival where we play with a lot of dubstep artists and they label us as dubstep.
What drives the inspiration to create such uniquely appetizing beats?
[Boreta finishes the last of his coffee] Just wanting to tell our story. It’s an emotion catharsis for us about nothing in particular. It’s a really introspective album and we really love sound and music and emotion and it’s what we live for and to have people listen to it, it’s a dream come true for us. It’s a love of being inspired and sharing inspiration all these things combined in the fortunate place we happen to be in. the time we we’re writing the album we we’re really thinking about the people listening to the album and how they would hear it. We wanted to create a piece of work that would stand the test of time. Something that we could put on vinyl and listen to ten years later and go, “Hey, this sounds cool.”
Can we expect a vinyl for Drink the Sea?
Actually it’s just about done. The vinyl has all been pressed up and within the next week or so it should be out.
Awesome. What are some future collaborations you’re looking forward to?
We have some planned but I can’t talk about it just yet. We’re looking forward to working on our next album. We’ve already started to think about collaborations on that.
Do you have some guest vocals coming in on that?
It’s possible, yeah. We’re starting to put the pieces together and in late 2010 we’ll write the next album. None of the collaborations are concrete enough at this point to where I’m allowed to talk about them, but we’ve got some cool stuff happening. We’re looking to lock brains with other artists at this point since our last record was done everything by us alone.
Many people consider you pioneers pushing the frontiers of modern electronic music. What do you consider the next step in musical evolution?
If I can just say that I don’t consider ourselves to be pioneers, and I’ll explain why. Because it’s more along the trajectory of something that’s been happening for a long time and I see us as any other producer that’s part of the trajectory. With that being said, where I do see things going, and with technology speeding up exponentially… I was just reading this book by Ray Kurzweil called The Age of Spiritual Machines, where he talks about the rate at which technology is evolving at an exponential rate and things are getting more and more powerful faster. I think in the next couple years some really exciting things will be happening to make music technology accessible to a lot of different people. Right now if you know someone who says, “I’m not a musician, I can’t play an instrument.” I think that idea is going to become a thing of the past. Anyone who is able to use technology to create music will be able to join in that conversation. That’s going to be really exciting over the next ten to twenty years.
It’s pretty exciting just as it’s pretty scary.
Absolutely. It’s a double edged sword.
That’s a cool idea; that music can be communal and everyone has the ability to express themselves musically.
Yeah. There is this other book called Your Brain on Music, where the author, Daniel Levitin, talks about being at a party somewhere and they’re all talking about singing and just the idea of him saying to the “I can’t sing.” is like saying I can’t walk or eat because everyone can sing. If it takes technology to liberate something similar to that then that’s a good thing.
It’s so weird to hear someone say, “I’m not into music.” Or “I don’t listen to music.” It’s sort of unheard of in the cliques of music lovers, but there are people like that out there.
That’s very strange to think about.
It’s like, you don’t have a soul, or what?
To each his own, I guess.
To each his own. Thanks a lot for chatting with me Boreta, I’ll be seeing you at your next show.
Thank you for your time.
*Photos by Pamela Lin