Similar to many up and coming producers of today, Luca Venezia founded his own label, Trouble and Bass or T&B, when no one would put out his music. He is now known as Drop the Lime, and unlike the run-of-the-mill electronic music producer, his style and approach to creating music is a scenic and esoterically natural one which is derived from the essence of the muses he surrounds himself with. His entrepreneurial competence made T&B into one of the boldest rising labels today in just 5 years with a well rounded collection of deft artists. With his new album, “Enter the Night” about to drop, and he graciously takes time out of his day to speak with MXDWN.
I meet Luca in the modernly decorated W Hotel in Hollywood. He is clad in black with slicked back hair and a grainy voice, likely drained from back-to-back singing gigs and business calls. He towers over me, so we find a seat away from the other Hollywood denizens, all of which give Luca and I discerning stares that say something in between, “I think I know him,” and “Who are these freaks?”
Luca, you’re new album, “Enter the Night” comes out July 3 and is an excitingly fresh perspective on the electronic music production game. What went into making it?
Well, it’s my first proper album. It has an actually theme and tells a story of me and my adventures through the night time.
So it is a concept album?
It is in a way. It came naturally and just kind of flew into that, but it’s very New York City inspired. I also went to New Orleans to finish recording. It’s dark and dangerous and [is about] the allure of the night.
You started the album in New York and wrapped it up in New Orleans?
I recorded it in New York, New Orleans, as well as London. Three cities with a very romantic but vicious night life.
How did you transition from one studio to the next while working on the same album?
It was hard. I wrote all of the album in Brooklyn, at the Trouble and Bass clubhouse. I recorded it all there, then took it to different place to get real strings added or real piano. I really wanted to add an organic sound to the synth-y electronic sound that it began as.
What sort of live instruments do you use in this album?
It’s all me playing guitar and me playing drums as well as live piano and strings, like on the song “Stay up Late.” We did that one at Red Bull Studios in London. That was so much fun. I recorded midi strings, which sound cheap, but once we got the real ones in there it changes everything.
You can really tell the difference. We audiophiles appreciate that.
[laughs] Yeah! You’re welcome.
Do you do all of the vocals on the album?
Every single song.
That’s amazing. How do you do it?
I’ve always been singing. I started out in bands as a teenager. I was in gospel choir in school; I went to a public school in New York. Vocals have always been my way of expressing myself naturally. Whenever I am coming up with a melody, vocals are first.
What sort of bands were you in when you were younger?
I was in punk and hardcore bands. Huge influences were Minor Threat, Fugazi, Sonic Youth. The harder and experimental, DIY vibe.
It’s funny you should say that, because those are the same influence I see throughout all of the Trouble and Bass artists.
Everything that we do is very punk inspired because we all grew up on punk. Whether it be the artwork, or the parties, or just the entire lifestyle of it… the entire attitude! I think it’s very important to be very DIY. It’s old school and natural versus polished and clean.
Your music is very unique from the average music producers. How do you approach a track when you are just starting out?
I usually start with guitar first.
It’s the most natural way for me to come up with an idea. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 7 years old. Then I will lay a beat down and remix myself. I’ll sing nonsense – almost like speaking in tongues just to get as melody or even lyric-wise. That is your inner self really being honest. There is stuff going on inside you that you don’t understand, stuff that you wouldn’t be able to just write down on paper and express that way. Something you have to find out for yourself. So, listening to myself and tearing things apart, then I know the meaning and direction of which to take a song.
How does that translate into performances?
It’s the same. I’ll lose myself in a performance. Especially when we play live. I’ll really get lost and not know where I am and be all about the music. Connecting myself with the crowd, feeding off the energy of the crowd and giving them energy back.
“Enter the night” is so eclectic as far as different styles of music from track to track. How did you produce something so diverse naturally?
This album took 3 or 4 years to put together. It went through so many different transitions. It wasn’t until last year that I really found the organic blues/rockabilly influence that works [for this album]. It was through touring a lot [that I found these influences] and I just continued to write in this style of rockabilly and blues. Yes, it touches on a lot of genres, but I feel that the attitude and the lust and mystery for the night is always in the theme of it.
What was the most fun part of recording this album over the years?
They way each song has evolved. Most of the album began as dubstep tracks.
About how many versions or edits would you say you go through for each song?
Oh, man. Like, twenty.
So you just kept polishing them?
It’s not even polishing. It’s more like transforming. Sometimes I would strip everything away except for the vocals or the beat and go from there.
Let’s talk about Trouble and Bass. Great name, cool logo. Is there a story behind that?
I started it in college. There was nothing exciting going on with my entertainment committee at Bard. My school was just doing the obvious shows and we wanted something different and rowdier off campus. So, we started doing shows called Trouble and Bass. It’s a pretty obvious play on words. I carrier on that attitude and my approach to music and nightlife for many years and then ran into a DJ in New York names Star Eyes. At the time I was doing a party called Bangers and Mash and we were bringing in all of the grime artists from the UK – this was 2004. We were bringing people like Jammer, Dirty Rascal, D double E, all of these guys we were helping the branch over into the U.S. I met Star Eyes and we had the same love for instrumental grime music. There was this energy UK dance music had and it was very punk in a way. A very didn’t-give-a-fuck approach. Well, we just had to throw a party. We love mixing acid-house with hip-hop with drum and bass. So, we started throwing crazy parties and eventually we started producing music as well. No one wanted to put out our mixtape, so was like, fuck it, let’s do it ourselves.
Was Star Eyes your first T&B artist?
Yes. And then Mathhead, who later went to do his own thing. The crew has been solid for 5 years now. It’s myself, Star Eyes, the Captain, and AC Slater. That’s the main crew.
Solid. Another great T&B artist is Deathface.
Woo! Wait until you hear the new EP we’re about to drop. He’s a live act with a female lead singer. It’s crazy. We’ve got a bunch of videos we’re doing for the EP… it’s fucking evil!
Great. What else are you excited about with T&B?
We’ve got an amazing new artist – Bert on Beats. We’ve got a great new release for Zombies for Money, from Portugal. Another new one called Alaska Thunder. That is actually a short film and a score for it. It’s about a galactic fighter who is lost in space.
Sounds cool. When is that one coming out?
Not until Winter 2012. The artist is a crazy young French kid. The Captain and I do all of the A&R and we love bringing in the young talent. As long as the energy is there.
How do you guys go about selecting new artists?
The Captain and I have weekly meetings about just that.
I am imagining you two sitting ominously in a dark room around a gothic table, tapping your fingers.
[laughs] Our meetings are very that [sic]. The Trouble and Bass clubhouse is located in an old oil tanker refinery, so it looks like you’re in Terminator 2. Yeah, our meetings are…
[Luca pauses, thinks to himself, and smiles cryptically] They are very interesting. Other people come through and they get scarred about the location. But one you’re in, it’s safe.
What did you primarily use to produce this album?
Logic, although the final mix down was done in pro-tools.
Do you have any collaborations coming up you are excited about?
Yeah! Crazy stuff. I am doing a lot of production for bands and bringing that electronic beat to bands in New York. I am working with a band called Jailbait, Creep, Roscoe Del Rey. I did an amazing single coming out in the Fall with The Bloody Beatroots.
Do you have a name for that?
I can’t talk about that right now…
Well, as an affluent artist, as someone who came from humble beginnings and now tours internationally, what do you think makes an artist come from the underground music scene and into the mainstream?
As long as you understand where to keep your passion as a priority and then learn to expand that into a wider audience, it is good. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s all about the team you have. I’ve done everything DIY but the music I make today is the same as the music I made 5 years ago, only my team has grown. They believe the message and believe in what I do. I am fortunate for that. All you need to do is find the right people around you who are supportive. Then you can get in to a bigger audience.
Do you fancy yourself a part-time preacher?
[laughs] I don’t know. I just think it’s important to share a message with the music and inspire people to be original and be creative and do what they believe. Don’t be fooled by what is popular. Just because it is popular doesn’t mean it is good.
How have you seen your own music evolve in the last 5 years?
I think it’s really important to evolve as an artist. It should be something natural, though, as well. What keeps me happy and excited is because I constantly evolve and I am constantly seeking out new songs. I am hungry for new music. What is going to blow me away? What is going to make me have that jealous hunger and wish I thought of it first? That is what inspires me to constantly evolve.
Who are some of your favorite modern rockabilly bands?
There are bands I like that have influences of rockabilly, like Trailer Trash Trade, for example. Someone who is more bluesy like Black Keys; I love what they are doing. People like Gene Vincent and Johnny Brunette, the OG dudes, everyone pulls inspiration from. There aren’t a lot of pure rockabilly bands, though. There are a lot [of bands], especially in California, who are influenced by that [rockabilly]. I would like to hear a band that doesn’t do a psychobilly twist on it, but has something like an acoustic guitar, upright bass, and high hat and snare.
That sounds pretty wild. Who are your other favorite record labels besides your own?
There is a wide variety. I’ve really been into proper techno, so labels like Turbo, 1605, and labels like True Panther, who are releasing some interesting rock and gothic hip-hop stuff. 4AD is doing really well. Purity Ring is doing some amazing stuff right now, as well as Space Ghost Purp. It’s a good variation because they also do stuff like Adele. Interesting label.
Absolutely. What kind of actions do you take as an artist and record label to combat the inevitable piracy of music and still make money?
It’s really difficult to try to rely on record sale for income, so instead of try and fight the piracy, you need to strategically embrace it and use it to your advantage. If people love your music, they will buy it and support you. Like with Trouble and Bass, if we give a song away for free, it will sometimes be our best seller. Even though it’s available for free, people still buy it. We embrace this notion that the Internet is this wild, wild, west and you can get whatever you want if you search for it. Sure, you can try and tear things down and go after people, but it’s a waste of time. It’s better to put time and effort into how you can use it to your advantage.
Smart answer. Do you have any advice for young producers out there who might be just getting into the game?
Be true to yourself and be influenced by what is popular at the time, but it is more important to experiment. Then you’ll create something brand new. One of the biggest inspirations I had was my adviser at Bard college, and old electronic music pioneer who played on the first Moog. I went there wanting to be an electronic music producer and he told me, “Luca, you’re not allowed to make a danceable beat. Tear it apart, make something experimental and you will find your true self.” It was wise advice. I also think you should stick to your guns. If you are doing something that you believe in then you’re going to do well. Don’t be skewed by other things that may be more popular.
Wise words. Drop the Lime, thanks for speaking with me.
Later in the evening, Drop the Lime is scheduled to perform atop Drai’s rooftop nightclub at the W Hotel. Frequently the choice of Hollywood entertainers with superfluous incomes, Drai’s at the W Hotel sports the archetypal glamor of a Hollywood rooftop pool party and nightclub. While the dance music coming from atop the 7th floor rooftop can be heard by pedestrians walking the adjacent Hollywood Blvd, Drai’s poolside DJ’s selection of tunes is more likened to that of a lounge. The modern cabanas and bars which surround the pool leave little room to dance–safely–although patrons seem more interested in being seen mingling than the music.
Before Drop the Lime arrive, the music of LEDISKO is ideal for a midnight swim warm up set. Charmingly mixing old school and contemporary disco beats at ambient levels yields dance music that is appropriate for a lounge atmosphere. It’s upbeat, but chill. It’s relaxing and sexy. It’s good, but in no way groundbreaking.
A little after midnight, Drop the Lime hops on the decks in a seamless transition from the previous set. As he eases his way into the night, we hear the tempo slowly rising from one song to another, as with the bass, reverb, frequency shifts, and the frequency of breaks, all done progressively and with carefully selected tracks. Watching Drop the Lime, you can tell how much work and thought he puts into his craft as he carefully nudging knobs with calculated precision. The mixing is done well and the breaks come out of nowhere, sneaking up on dancers like a burglar in the night.
By the end of Drop the Lime’s set, he was playing club bangers with hard breaks before closing it up by taking us back to the days of “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “Old Time Rock n Roll”. Notably, nothing was played from his new album, Enter the Night, which comes out July 3rd, although there could not have been a more fitting end to an enjoyable night.