Interview by Parisa Eshrati
I had the opportunity to speak with electronic music producer Thriftworks on the phone before his trip to Tucson for the 9th annual Gem and Jam festival. We discussed his three latest LPs, creating samples, Quetzelcoatl, and much more.
We'll be seeing you in Tucson in just over a week for Gem and Jam. Last time we spoke, you mentioned how Tucson is your birthtown and Quetzacoatl is your dude. I wanna dig more into that, 'cause in Aztec beliefs Quetzacoatl is related to gods of craft and knowledge. Do you think you draw any inspiration from feathered serpents when you're creating music?
It's mostly aesthetic. I love the visual aesthetic of all things of Latin American Native Indians...it really, really suits my fancy. I've always been naturally drawn to it. And yeah, I have had phases where I was really deep into reading about deities and culture. That was awhile back when I was in Spanish studies in my youth. I've definitely looked for a lot of Native American styled samples and South American/Latin American types of exotic music for sure.
It almost seems like the latest album art somewhat resembles artwork of feathered serpents...unless I'm trying to make too much of a connection here. Was that an intentional request you made to the artist?
I kind of have a fascination with birds in general. There's not much serpent action going on there, but there's definitely a heavy dose of bird happening!
Late last year you dropped three albums - Fade, Fader, and Fadest. This was a lot of new material so I'm curious about the recording process. Were some of the songs unfinished projects that you came back to, or are all 57 songs brand new material?
It's definitely an accumulation of work that I've been doing over the course of the past three years. I had all this stuff sitting around and I almost felt that they were B-sides 'cause they were tracks that weren't making the cut for previous albums. It's really just a hodge-podge of old and new and I re-formatted them into a package that I thought worked. I just wanted to try something new with the triple LP thing, if you will. But yeah, it's definitely old and new. The last one, Fadest, is definitely the newer productions. There's less work that spans back on that one, but the first and second definitely go back for me.
The track "Lower Sproul" samples Delia Derbyshire talking about cutting tapes into different lengths to create samples. I think that's super killer, because she's one of the most important women in electronic music and definitely doesn't get enough credit. Would you say that she's a personal inspiration for you, or did you just come across the audio and dig the sound of it?
I think that came a couple years of ago, I was diggin an article about important women in audio technology or recording technology. I was just following some links and then the next thing you know I'm in a YouTube wormhole, just clicking one link after another and another. It came up and I thought she was really cool, so I just copped it.
A lot of people find samples in their record collection, but it seems like you find samples in just about everything. What kind of things stick out to you as good sample material?
Like you said, I try to not set any limitation on myself as far as sampling goes. Besides using a straight up vocal sample where it's for the purpose of telling a little story, or having a phrase or quote, my general rule of thumb as far as a musical or melodic sample goes is to flip it hard enough where it's not necessarily recognizable or discernible and I'm actually making it my own. I mean, I do sometimes just use a hit because it's perfect and I think "I need this". Generally, I try to flip it to the point where it's not recognizable. That's a big part of the process for me. I would feel bad otherwise. It is stealing to a certain degree, but if you re-work it enough it becomes your own in my opinion.
As far as sources, with the technology these days anyone can rip from any internet source. I could feed the world wide web directly into my DAW and record it right in, and within minutes I have it chopped up and I'm manipulating a sample. I do have a record collection. It's still is pretty much all shitty freebie records that I find on the sidewalk. I purchase records from time to time, a lot more world music stuff. But I do have a lot of old records that are all scratched up, the ones that Ameoba and Rasputin were throwing away. I frequently go downtown in Berekely on Telegraph St., and the record shops there have a big old sack of records that they're just throwing away. That was kind of my go-to for awhile.
Speaking of manipulating sounds, I thought it was pretty funny how you asked people on Facebook to guess the animal sample on the track "Lest You Be Judged". Only two people could figure out that it was an orca!
Yep! That one was inspired by Blackfish, it's a crazy documentary.
There are also a lot of collaborations on this album, such as Russ Liquid, Ill-Esha, and Rustix. Were these all collaborations you had in mind for awhile, or how did these come about?
Well Russ and I have been working together for a long time, so there's some new collabs and old ones with him. Mythicalifornian showed up on a few tracks, and we've been friends and collaborators for a long time. Ill-Esha was kind of a one-off, year-and-a-half old happening. She was in town so I just told her to come on over. That track [Deepstaria Enigmatica] is actually the name of another deep-sea organism. That is a crazy jellyfish, actually. Rustix is my good friend, Kevin Meyerson, who is a very talented bass player and all around musician who I have collaborated with before as well. It's always nice to get someone else in the studio and get their flavor.
Do you think we could expect Russ to come out on stage with you during Gem and Jam and play music with you?
It's possible! I think he plays after me this time as he did the other weekend in Los Angeles, and last time he hopped on for a track. I hope so, we usually work something out last minute.
We'll have our fingers crossed. So as with a lot of other producers right now, you started doing the name-your-price deal for your music. What made you decide to make the switch to releasing your tracks this way?
Since the beginning of my releasing music digitally, which is the only way I've ever done it, I used to have an option to pay around 70 bucks to get 2,000 downloads. I just wanted people to have it that bad, and I didn't want there to be anything blocking or restricting people to get it. I didn't want there to be any extra steps if people were too lazy to get it. I used to pay money to literally make it one click to get the music downloaded - no email, no nothin'. I switched over to name your price because you can still get it free...free as in I do get your email. I've acquired a lot of emails which is nice so I can send out messages. It's how I make a living these days, so I'm leaving it up to people if they want to contribute. If they do I'm super grateful, but I'm super stoked if people listen to my music regardless. If people want to give...which they do...I'm just super grateful to have that supplementary income trickling in. But yeah, it was just an option that was always out there and I wanted to try it. It's been working so I'll stick with it.
There are a lot of GoPro videos that people upload and use your music, but would you ever consider making your own original music video for one of your newer tracks?
I haven't ever personally been involved in directing or plotting any music video. It's definitely something I want to do. There are a few things that are finished and in the process of getting out there soon, like some people in Northern California have made some mash-up videos. I had one team based out of Vancouver and New York who were working with some dance videos and manipulating them. So there are some things surfacing that'll come out soon. As far as a project where I'm directly involved...not so much yet, but I do plan on it.
In the past you've done some work on film scores and post-production for commercials. Do you still do this when you're not producing Thriftworks music?
Not as of late, music is definitely first and foremost. That was kind of my roots in making a living off of anything audio. I definitely do really enjoy that stuff, but it's taking the backburner. My involvement in any of that stuff now is just licensing a track of something I've already produced and saying, "Yeah, you can use that for ABC or whatever." These days I haven't been so involved with production from the get-go, it's moreso just licensing.
Looking ahead, you have a tour going on 'till April. What are some dates or places that you're looking forward to in the next couple months?
Atlanta is always epic. Last time the show sold out, and I hope that happens again. I have some great friends and amazingly talented dancers who will be sharing the stage with me there, as well as Russ, so definitely looking forward to that. Gem and Jam is always fun, I have a lot of family out there and a great crew of people out at the festival. Portland is coming up in two weeks with Robot Koch. I've been looking up to his music for a long time now. I've got some things in the works overseas. I'm going to Australia again in March I think.
On a more personal note, we're just about a month into 2015. Did you make any sort of new year resolutions?
Nothing specific. My general train of thought is to just keep pushing and keep growing with the whole sha-bang. Keep climbing is definitely the goal.
For more information on Thriftworks:
For more information about Gem and Jam:
All interviews posted before October 2015 were originally recorded for KAMP Student Radio.