Handy Dandy: A Daedelus Interview
- Words: Ali Gitlow
XLR8R: Did you grow up in LA?
Daedelus: I was born and bred in Santa Monica, about a few blocks from… if you’ve seen that wonderful and silly movie Dogtown and Z-Boys, I grew up right in Dogtown. Even though it didn’t feel like that, nor did I see people skating on the streets, but hey, that’s what the movies say. It was fantastic. Santa Monica itself is its own little biosphere, not to bring up Pauley Shore. It’s its own sort of place. I didn’t really leave until I was 16. We’d go on these sorties to the LA Zoo, the ’84 Olympics–I was a tiny child seeing fencing or something…some cheap sport. My whole formative life was spent in Santa Monica. It had enough of a feeling of a city so I really didn’t have to encounter the rest of Hollywood and those assorted debaucheries of the late ‘80s early ‘90s. This current record I’m doing is all about rave stuff but I never really went to raves because I was a little too young for it. I feel like, in some ways, I’m a liar.
Did you study music?
I guess I am that cheesy phrase “classically trained.” One of the super benefits of the Santa Monica school district was that, in second grade, they rolled us into a little auditorium and had a small orchestra play and they had everyone pick an instrument if they wanted to. I picked bassoon. It changed my life though, at that moment, because they were like ‘You shouldn’t play bassoon. We’re gonna start you out in clarinet so it’s something you can work towards.’ They never actually got around to switching me over to bassoon. So I learned clarinet for a number of years, awkwardly and terribly. Thankfully, in middle school, I switched over to double bass, so I was playing bass clarinet, clarinet, and double bass. That was my ticket to where I am now. I was early inundated with all this stuff and got into jazz. Throughout high school as well I was super involved in music, and in college I majored in jazz bass. I went to USC. You might be able to tell right away I was never able to escape the gravity of L.A. I’ve oftentimes entertained ideas about moving to foreign places, but never actually had the willpower to do so. It’s an incredibly comfortable city. I have roots here but my family isn’t from here. It’s the more typical story, they’re immigrants from the Midwest that came to the West. My mom is a fine artist, an oil painter and printmaker. She has been the Dean of Fine Arts at USC for a little while now. My dad was in experimental psychology. Both of them had a lot of career opportunities out in LA which brought them here, but it doesn’t necessarily explain why none of us ever have left. I need to live near the sea.
You got into electronic music when you heard it on pirate radio in England, right?
Before that I had been into strange electronic music partially through my parents’ influence. They had all those music concrète, Steve Reich and John Cage kind of records. They grew up in an age where you listen to a lot of different things. You maybe have some rock records, but you also have some bebop. They came from a bohemian, almost beatnik kind of background. I had all of those sounds in my head, but blips and bloops without any kind of organization only goes so far, to the hungry mind at least. It really all came together with that rave stuff. It’s such a clichéd story perhaps, but when I was young my older sister got a trip to Alaska and I was super jealous. When I was graduating from middle school I pleaded and saved up to go to Wales; I’ve been obsessed with it since I was really young, probably OCD. We went there, but in the interim we stopped in London and stayed at the YWCA, which is probably a pretty awkward thing for a boy to do, considering. [Rave music] hit me like a ton of bricks–I loved it. Hearing real pirate radio, screaming out clubs like Megatripleopolous. They were promotional avenues for these records and events, and it just blew my fuzzy little mind.
When did you get into drum n’ bass?
I was definitely into the rave stuff before any of my friends were and it was really awkward because none of the friends I had were ravers or were into that kind of music. I was by myself. It was as bad as being a goth, basically. I mean, nothing against being a goth, but it’s a lonely road. Especially when it’s about unity and hands in the air and PLUR-ness. Speaking of style, the first rave I ever went to was in downtown LA, super awesome. I had been collecting the records and had seen some of the visuals, pre-Internet madness where everyone shares everything; I had tried to check out what I could. And I decided to go in a yellow rain slicker jacket. I was dancing for four or five hours that night, not assisted by anything. I never did any chemicals at any raves, much to my detriment. I probably would have had a much better time. I had my arms kind of up, elbows bent, skanking kind of the whole time. At one point towards the end of the night I let my arms down and buckets of water fell out from my elbows because there was no breathing in this terrible yellow rain jacket. I built up a collection of my own sweat. Super disgusting, so sad. Great rave, it was the first time I heard that Aphex Twin song “Digeridoo.”
Back to the drum n’ bass: I had collected that kind of music and followed its progression throughout ’92, ’93, ’94, when it started to fragment into all these micro-genres. Jungle started out as being called U.K. hard sound or breakbeat or U.K. hardcore. There were jungle elements in all this kind of stuff but then the jungle techno started to show up. I was more of a breakbeat kid than a 4/4 kid so I began to fragment that way and get all the early ragga stuff. It kept the MCing tradition going, whereas a lot of the other genres let the voice go. A lot of the MCs were super-wack so you kinda understood why people were like ‘Get rid of those MCs, they’re ruining the party and won’t stop talking.’
Were you spinning drum n’ bass?
At that point I had enough records that I started to DJ a little bit. But again, I was the only one of my friends so it wasn’t until I got to college in ’96 that I began to find people who had similar mindsets about this kind of music and wanted to DJ it. At that point I met a lot of the kids who went on to make Dublab because we all were going to USC. Even people like, Ed Ma (a.k.a. EDit). He started out as being called Raver Ed, that’s how he used to introduce himself. I’m not trying to blow his cover, but he’d come from the East Coast and was an East Coast-style raver. Raver Ed, it was awesome. We all were from the land of broken toys. Frosty (Mark McNeil), the person who started Dublab, had gotten involved at the radio station there, KSCR, and that’s how we all met. Finding out that we all were super nerds but at least we had each other.
Did your family have any reservations about you going against your classical training?
They were totally for it. My family, though artistic, are not the most musical people. They were just happy I had found something I was really passionate about. It’s better than the dark days of some of my other fashion noodling around when I was in high school, which included having camouflage hair at one point. I also had a camouflage suit made! A three-button mod camouflage suit, which I still have, in the crosshatched camo pattern. Terrifying. Also, awkwardly enough, I was definitely a trench coat kind of kid for a while. I wasn’t planning on shooting anybody but, in hindsight, I was a bad trench coat mafia kid.
When and why did you choose your moniker?
When the radio station was really going it was time to pick DJ names. We all were maturing and realizing ‘Oh, we’re actually doing this.’ It was a period of time when nobody used their normal name. The only person I knew who did that was DJ Dan, the Moontribe guy. It summons no fantasy, no mystery, which is half the point of having a name.
Mark McNeil’s brother Derek and I were splitting a radio program, and DJ Dead Kids was the first name I thought about using. I was really into really hard drum n’ bass. Not techstep, but proto-breakcore kind of stuff. I was really passionate about it… well, as passionate as you can be about silly music that makes beeping sounds. Dead Kids was it, but I think he ended up with the name. It was like some poker game that ended badly for me for some reason. He got the name, got the girl, got the whole thing. I was left to meditate and come up with something else, but fast. It really worked out to my benefit that I was not DJ Dead Kids, because I don’t think I’d be here today.
Daedelus (day-dalus) as a name is really personal to me. As a kid I wanted to be an inventor but was terribly bad at it so I gave up the dream a long time ago. One of the stories that always made a big impact on me was the story of Daedalus and Icarus, Daedalus being the father of Icarus and inventing all this stuff but still not being able to save his child. It’s very tragic; it’s beautiful. I started to DJ as DJ Daedelus. I was still dealing with the hard sound kind of stuff, the breakcore and hard weird electro that was coming out at that point, like ’97, ’98. It made it really fun to start DJing and producing under that name, around 2000. Also, I changed the name–it’s usually spelled D-A-E-D-A-L-U-S, but I changed it because the way I pronounced it is a little different. Also, my parents being of that sort of middle class-ness, they always used to get the Daedelus Music Catalogue, and I didn’t want… copyright infringement and what I do I don’t really care about that, quite painfully obviously. At the same time I didn’t want to have a name that could be too easily confused. I’ve been fully teased about it, though. I played a show in Athens, Greece a while ago and they were ripping in to me like ‘You spell this so wrong, it’s crazy.’ They didn’t even think I had anything to do with the Daedalus from myth and legend. They said ‘It’s spelled so different, it’s madness.’
When did music become more than a hobby?
I was so passionate about it that I never really thought ‘Is this gonna work? Am I going to have to get that degree in dentistry?’ If you build it, they will come. The real moment when I realized what I really wanted to do: I had taken on a job at a music house, making music for films and commercials and stuff. It was called Tom and Andy. It was actually kind of where I knew Ed from because he worked there later on. I was making music for commercials and film and realizing it was like soldiering. They would give me a cue and be like ‘You need to make a Fatboy Slim song. You need to make a Moby song.’ This was during that period of time when electronic music was really the thing. It was in all the ads, every car commercial especially. It was soldiering. It was like ‘Okay, I have some technical proficiency with this stuff and can maybe make some sound-alikes’ but it really underscores how much you want to be you. It was like ‘Wow if I could do this and really just be me, how amazing would that be?’ That was the point when I realized, ‘No more pussyfooting around. It has to be all or nothing, or I’m going to wake up one day and be making a Justice track, or whoever the flavor of the moment is, and be like ‘I don’t know where I am, I don’t know who I am.’ That was in 2002. I was getting some stuff out but didn’t have any records out yet. It was weird because the industry had some more buoyancy, and the Internet’s impact on record sales was unknown. It was exciting. How much harder it’s become and how much easier it’s become!
Your new album, Love to Make Music To, feels a lot more danceable overall. How do you think your records have evolved over time and what major changes have you made?
I am not a super-confident creator. I don’t write notes on paper and go ‘Aw, this is awesome! This is brilliant!’ I really usually work from a place of fear and lack of confidence. In a way, this record having the confidence to make it dance is big, because with previous records I’ve buried myself into conceptual ideas. It’s also really letting the music play by itself. It’s like you take a choir of kids and let them fight it out–there’s going to be a pecking order that evolves. There’s gonna be melodies that come out of the music itself.
I try to stay pretty unconscious generally in the studio. I try to keep my process pretty quick and tight so that when I’m ripping through records for instance, and I come across a melody that’s particularly nice, I’ll just take it real quick and twist it on its head as fast as I can before I really am conscious of it. That way it usually yields results that are a little outside of myself, which is the best. Or the same thing with instruments. When you sit down at a piano, one of the keys is kind of sticky, it doesn’t play too well, so you skip that key and use all the other keys and suddenly a melody happens naturally out of that. Everything has that moment, a natural stubbornness to almost everything that if you play around with it you’re going to find it sings its own way.
Do you view this album as a big departure from your previous work, or a natural progression?
It’s super natural. Every one of my records has an ode to rave music. As much as I would say ‘Oh no! This song is about all these other things!,’ it’s just me trying to be Acen or 2 Bad Mice or someone cheesy like that. It’s small ideas, it’s nothing that grand. Every one of these records has that, but this one wears itself on its sleeve more. Also, it’s got a positiveness. I think all my music has the sweet and the sour. You try to have some tracks that are dark and some tracks that are light, because you’re making a record, y’know? You take something like acid house and these genres that have started to come back–they really were about one idea, one emotional state, like ‘I’m on Ecstasy, and it’s crazy and I’m dancing,’ whereas I think rave music is complicated as hell. You not only have all these microgenres but they’re trying to have strings and breakbeats. Then you have bands like 2 Unlimited and Dr. Alban lumped in with Acen and Aphex Twin. It’s a super stupid mix and it’s wonderful for it. It leaves a lot of room for the imagination when you’re trying to make a record out of that. You can paint with broad strokes.
What was the process of recording like?
I started about two and a half years ago. I had finished Denies the Day’s Demise and I usually like to have another record ready to go when I finish the previous record. It’s just happened on all my previous records; I’ll have the next one done by the time my previous record comes out.
Does that mean there’s a new one?
There is, but I don’t think I’m ever going to release it. It doesn’t sit necessarily with where the current label is. And that’s part of the process on this record. It’s actually really interesting: I had it done about two and a half years ago and I had a lot of tracks that didn’t make it on the record at the end. I’ve never really had that happen to me before where I left a bunch of [whole] songs on the cutting-room floor.
This whole unconscious music creation idea has been super strong in the past. It’s been like ‘The music has its own mind. I’m just here to see what happens and experimenting along. It should be released kind of as-is because that’s the moment.’
[Ninja Tune] is the first label I’ve been involved with that really had a perspective. I was completely devastated for a little while. Not angry ever–I signed onto it and had always wondered what it might be like to be with a label like Ninja Tune; they have a storied history and a completely crazy in-office process and they’ve been around for ages. No labels are around for ages, especially ones that have the back catalog and wonderful missteps, fantastic stuff.
It was tough. For the first year I honed in on that idea of the record; it had started to achieve itself, and I had the album title way early. Usually the album titles evolve with the songs. This was like ‘I need to make this album Love to Make Music To. I have no idea what it’s going to sound like.’ Which is quite a reversal. The songs started to coalesce and I started to have an idea but they really had two things working against them: they were super conceptual, and they hopped around every single genre of rave music, luxuriously resting in certain moments.
A lot of this record comes from the idea of trying to find and wrestle with what these rave people were sampling, somewhat sampling their original stuff and taking these classic breaks and wrestling with them in my own way… all the silly conceptual things I could go into that no one will care about.
When that process was at its full strength, I was going to the label and being like ‘Here’s where it is right now. What do you think?’ [They were] very frank, saying ‘We’re down with it, we signed you for a reason, but how about this this this? And this this this this this this this?’ It put me back to the drawing board in a re-exhilarated way, not so evilly. There were a few moments of whys. But it ended up being a record outside of myself, which is my goal.
The last two weeks of the recording process was super fast. I wanted to have these vocalists on the record and I’d been working on getting together with them but it was taking a long time. I was super impatient to get the record done and then I was put in a position where I had to wait longer. Eventually, the vocalists came together in the last month and it was super fast, where I didn’t even realize what I was sitting on, but it was awesome.
Now that I’ve been performing the material live more and more and seeing the way people have been engaging with it, it has been so illuminating and so gratifying. Because sometimes some of the songs mean a very specific thing to me, and to see it engage with somebody else, it enlightens me to the possibility that it isn’t a song about ‘This’, it’s really about all kinds.
How do you choose who you want to work with?
It’s been every single way. Most of the music videos I’ve done have been people who hit me up randomly, sometimes friends of friends. It’s worked out so well so far. I try to be of the moment and interested in the experience because, goddamn it, if it’s worked out this well so far it must not be that bad. Also these super-control-freak producer types [are] cool, but unless you’re this super multi-dimensional person, you really should be working with more people and not just sitting there alone in your room thinking you’re some sort of mastermind. I’m not throwing any stones at anybody, but it’s a rare thing. There’s only so many Miles Davis’ and Mingus’.
Who was the most fun to work with?
It really ranges. This guy Michael Johnson is an old friend who plays in indie rock bands. He has his own band called Ape School and he’s played with bands like Hollow Paw and Lilys. I’ve known him forever; he also does some electronic stuff, but he comes from a guitar background. He’s awesome. We mainly did the Postal Service thing and mailed tracks back and forth because he lives in Philly. But I’ve gone on tour with him a couple times and have a pretty good rapport with him. To see him engaging in the record–he does some guitar and synth work on “Fair Weather Friends”, and he sings on “Make It So”–he’s doing stuff I never thought was possible, and it’s crazy! He’s layering, like, seven vocals on top of each other and making these tight harmonies. Sometimes it sounds too crazy and it ends up being sweet and wonderful. It’s really musically fun.
Then you also have people like Paperboy, who generally produces for Black Eyed Peas and comes from Philly as well. He’s an awesome guy, really creative. In the studio it was just like ‘Oh… he’s awesome. What am I doing here? The label should be putting out his record and I should be doing a remix of it or something, if even that.’
The song “My Beau,” where I had Erica Rose sing, was tricky. I love that song [Ghost Town DJs’ “My Boo”] from my childhood, but when you love something you don’t want to necessarily cage it. It’s like that cliché you see in movies all the time: If you love something, you have to set it free. [In other words], don’t do a remix of it or don’t do your version of it–it’s not going to have the sweetness and innocence of when you’re 15 years old and learning about bass music for the first time. No way it’s gonna sound that good. Doing that with Paper and Erica Rose was tricky. I really think he nailed the sweetness, that indelible innocence that’s in this music that’s essentially about sex, and yet it couldn’t be any more virginal.
The title is actually “My Beau”, not “My Boo.” Is that a reference to the “first dandy” Beau Brummell?
The original song was ‘My Boo’, B-O-O, but they pronounce that ‘boo’. Mine is “My Beau” which is of course a little tongue-in-cheek reference to Beau Brummell. It all relates, way too much thought. Literally, I tour around and make music, but all I do is stew in my own juices generally. I overthink everything, which is half the fun.
In the past, you have used bits of drum ‘n’ bass on your records, but this time it’s less prevalent. Why did you make this choice?
The tempo…I never quite go there, I never push those buttons. I never go slow enough to do drum ‘n’ bass, I never go fast enough to do drum ‘n’ bass. It is so much a part of my heart, but partly I knew I needed to get in touch with… Let’s say we divide your being into two parts: one being a breakbeat part, and one being a 4/4 part. To me, my 4/4 part would have been malnourished for years. And yet, it was part of what I loved so much about this early rave music–you had broken beat or breakbeats mashed with 4/4 rhythms, and you had this exuberance because of it. You had everything. I guess this is my way of compensating. It’s a tempo thing too. I have some breakbeats on there but I wrestle them apart to be different.
On “Bass Innit,” Taz Arnold calls out different regional bass musics. Do you have a favorite?
I love the fact that we come from the land of 1,000 dances. I just heard about a new style of dance. I was in Geneva, Switzerland and people were calling it tectonik. Kids apparently get together in the Mont Blanc park and go crazy, tecktonik style. Jumpstyle, hardstyle, all that stuff is fantastic.
America is really land of 1,000 dances. We have it so trumped. And I’ve spent my whole career–not my career, Jesus Christ–I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this kind of stuff because I’m just borrowing the pastiche of it all. My Denies the Day’s Demise record was all about samba, the idiom being a combination of other idioms together. We might kid ourselves every once in a while that something like jumpstyle comes along and changes the whole game, but it’s really just built out of previous forms and ideas. In that same way, I love the fact that every movement we can think of, every dance is coming out of some sub-genre of wonderfulness. Even the mashed potato is some form of traditional dance from some country somewhere. And I want to go to that country, because it’s an awesome dance.
“Fair Weather Friends” may be the happiest song ever. What inspired you to make it?
It was a happy accident. All the songs that have a little more resonance with people were done in like five minutes. Not done, done, mixed, mastered and out into the world, but the nugget of it is there. This is true of almost all my music. All the songs I’ve really slaved over and dialed in have their purpose and some people really love them but they aren’t the ones that really go, go, go. That one is very simple in a lot of ways, the melody is very simple. There is an exuberance, and it sings its own song. It’s not my version of something, it just happened.
I called the song “Fair Weather Friends” because that has this negative connotation, but so many sayings with negative connotation have a good, bright side. Fair-weather friends are the friends who are around when the times are good but are not around when the times are bad. This is just looking at, ‘Oh, they’re around when times are good! That’s awesome!’ We can take anything tragic and make it wonderful. The whole record is kind of like that.
Were you very involved in making the video for that?
No, and that’s so wonderful too. It’s such a crazy, weird, happenstance story. There was this kid who works on [the TV show] Yo Gabba Gabba doing voices and visuals. Before that, he worked on Look Around You and Tom Goes to the Mayor and he’s kind of a friend of a friend. I knew he made videos and movies and animations but I hadn’t seen that much. His name is Jordan Kim. I hit him up and said ‘I really want to work with you, you’re awesome. Let’s do something’. He had some time off before the first season of Yo Gabba Gabba and it was like ‘Let’s fill in the blank on the time that you have and maybe we can do this.’
He did the video all by himself over weeks and weeks, animating everything, getting the timing there, and it’s awesome.
When did you first hear about and get your Monome?
Crazily enough, I was invited to play a show at San Diego State University in 2003. The two people throwing the show were Brian Crabtree and Peter Segerstrom who, aside from throwing this awesome party, were developing and working on the Monome. Monome (mon-ohm) is the proper way of saying it; monome (mono-me) is the improper way of saying it.
They had an early version of it they were using and I was like, ‘That’s the solution.’ They hadn’t developed the idea fully, the software was really prototype, the whole thing was crazy. I had been messing with so much hardware, hardware sequencers and software combinations, to try to make my sound. I begged and pleaded and followed and probably prowled after those guys, stalked them probably for a few weeks. Brian, who was really championing the whole idea and developing it, agreed to make me one. He only made three of the original prototype ones. For whatever reason, at the end of the day, I ended up with the first one. Which is bananas. I’d like to think I helped them some, like ‘Oh, I helped with the software,’ but I didn’t so anything. I maybe made a few choice suggestions on some of the performance aspect of it and some of the way the buttons played, but it was really Brian Crabtree’s genius, software especially.
The hardware is amazing too. The original prototype had over 3,000 contact points to solder. It took a week or something to get the whole thing assembled and bug-free, and I played that thing into the ground. When I actually got a chance to have that in hand and really working with them on the software and going for it, it was fantastic. It really was the missing piece between my previous background on live instruments and computer music. Again, that whole laptop thing, it’s a little death. The blue screen of death. It’s the worst.
Do you find that people are often entranced by it and stare at your live shows?
It’s the worst and the best. I’ve often called it the staring contest. It’s usually the nerdier people. The terrible hipsters and the wonderful young kids [are] so used to laptops and all that stuff that when it comes down to a different thing they’re like ‘Whatever, I just came here to dance. I don’t care about what the person is doing onstage. It could be a DJ, I don’t care.’ Then you have those other people, the more involved people, who sometimes decide maybe it’s going to be better for them to stare at the machine… and make me feel as awkward as humanly possible. That’s okay. I’m not here to discriminate against any type of enjoyment of the night. But it does happen that way sometimes.
What is your involvement with the Maker scene?
I have never actually gotten the chance to go to the Maker Faire. It seems like a bacon-wrapped dream, the most delicious thing ever. I’d like to say I have a lot of involvement with fringe-y stuff. In the past I was kind of involved in the circuit bending community, but mainly because some friends of mine and I were doing it and then one of my friends made a movie about it that happened to be featured by YouTube so suddenly I get questions all the time about bent stuff and it’s like, ‘Oh, I love it!’ but I’m not a spokesman for the act. That stupid middle picture of the YouTube video happens to be my half-speaking face and bad hairdo. It really underscores the fact that we should always look our best when it comes to video because you never know when it’s going to be featured on YouTube and then used forever.
Beyond that, I love steampunk. It really relates to my love of invention and Victoriana. Brian Crabtree and his wife Kelli go to Maker Faire every year and they really have put the Monome in peoples’ minds. Any non-traditional hardware truly has its home there. They’re so brilliant about it and so open-source about all the information about it. I’ve actually done seminars on the Monome in different countries. Not necessarily about the Monome, but about the idea of these kind of things. It’s crazy how these are just really simple ideas. I mean… it’s a machine that makes music. To some people it’s revolutionary.
Have you seen an increase in the amount of people dancing at your live shows due to the nature of this album?
That’s the beauty of it. Sometimes I’m in situations where people are not dancing, which is wonderful; sit-down situations where you try to emphasize a different element of the story. I do feel like I’ve been affected by playing in Europe and these new circumstances where I’ll be playing more top of the night sometimes so that dancing is more of what people want to do. If you’re in Ibiza at three in the morning, it’s not time for the downtempo set. It definitely affected the making of the record to have more options, more arrows in the quiver. At the same time, I do get the feeling it’s all up for grabs. You can take the most danceable song and make it downtempo with a flick of the wrist.
On the most simple level, it would seem your Victorian-era dress is in direct opposition to the forward-thinking electronica you make. Do you see these things as opposed, or are they similar, following the concept of everything as art?
They’re holding hands. My interest in Victoriana and music is completely… two things. There’s that whole thing of everything being art, but also there’s an exaggeration–you puff your chest a bit, you fall into sorts. If you simply leave things banal, I think you’re cheating your audience and yourself of the really breathing deeply of it all. The heightened nature of it, there’s a bit of peacocking involved.
Here’s another element to the dandyist look: it’s not simply that they were dressing in these “crazy” frock coats–frock coats were just mutant variations of military dress. You could say a very important dandyist like Beau Brummell was really just taking the banal look of the day, the normal clothes, and just twisting it a little bit to make it his. He served in the Royal Regiment and was a commoner. This was one of the first times you had a real crossover idea of middle class possibility. You had a guy who didn’t come from money who happens to serve with the Prince Regent… who becomes his friend (and possibly more). It’s rumored about. He just is such a personality, such a charismatic fellow. His dress and style–that’s his art and that’s his thing. He expands it to the point where it’s something he owns rather than just some clothes you wear on the battlefield. Why not try to do that with everything?
Do you have any other standout favorite pieces of Victoriana?
Being a guy and existing in our current world of accessories, what do we have? I can wear sunglasses. I can wear shoes… This is more than just basically covering my nudity, these are my options. I can wear maybe a baseball cap. It sucks. Plain old sucks. If you look at other pieces of what one could wear that would say something, because fashion is a dialogue, you could say something with every piece you’re wearing and what you’re doing with it.
So, let’s talk about what a man could wear [in Victorian times]. He could wear shoes, he could wear spats, he could wear socks, suspendered socks (later period), he could wear belts, briches, suspenders, frock coats, waistcoats, half-coats, quarter-length coats. Don’t forget, it was freezing so you could wear coats on top of coats on top of coats and you’re great, you’re grand. Ties, cravats, lanyards. I’m just working my way up to the crown of the head; you could wear anything and people were wearing anything and it was awesome. You take all these items that are banal for the age and you twist it a little bit, you tweak it and give it some personality.
Sure, it’s also the beginning of celebrity culture, which is nasty in a lot of ways. Even though you have the breakdown of a lot of social barriers, it takes until the early 20th century until you have some women’s rights movements and stuff. But still, you have that window, that small bit of air that blows through these cracks in the walls and the door of this terrible oppression that’s going on. It’s a heady time. A lot of freedoms are just coming through. It was incredibly strict on women, showing a wrist or an ankle was an act of sexual depravity. Also, in America you have the abolishment of slavery, the beginning of some of the reformation movements, you have a lot of independence movements going on. It’s a crazy time and these events are not all independent of each other, they’re all kind of linked.
Where do you get your coats?
Everywhere. It’s wonderful the Victorian look has come back in American fashion and European fashion over the years. You look at the 1920s and there’s some distinct cuts of coats that are like, wowAbout every 20 or 30 years you have a re-purposing of these fashion ideas because nothing is new. That was such a strong moment in time that people will always dip back in. In the 20s, 40s, 50s, late 60s, early 70s, 80s, and the early 2000s there was a huge Victorian revival. You can find moments in any of those times you can twist a little bit and re-sew. Again, it’s this Maker Faire kind of thing. You take an item, rip open its seams a little bit, re-do it, and suddenly it can fit like a Victorian jacket.
I’ll find anything. If I’m finding actual authentic stuff… If you go to the UK to buy where it was pretty popular, to buy that stuff, you’re not going to find something that will fit because everyone was malnourished and short. Tiny, tiny people. In Canada I find a lot of actual items. It’s like record hunting. If you turn off your mind to the possibility, you’re not going to find it somewhere. But if you’re open to the possibility, you can find crazy treasure anywhere. You have to become shifty-eyed and always suspicious-looking as you’re rifling through somebody’s yard sale looking for that one item.
Do you get them tailored if they don’t fit?
I have enough of an assortment now that I try to keep my mind towards things that will fit from the get. I’ve had some stuff tailored pretty seriously before.
Do you only wear coats during performances, or will you wear one to Sunday brunch?
They’ve all had their turn in different situations. Sadly, because I’ve been performing more often lately and have a little less time at home, they’re kinda smelly. Let’s be honest. I’ve started to break these things in a bit. Some work great onstage but have become less and less useful for offstage because I’ve gotten holes in them… I don’t treat them as well I could. If you print this, people are probably going to write angry letters to me because some of these items are real Victoriana, they’re not made for jumping around and silly stuff.
Is it hot in there?
Let’s just say… remember that story I told you about the raincoat? I’ve had that happen again. They don’t breathe too much, wool’s not really made for stage. It looks good, so fuck it. I try to scour the world for it and I’m really serious. I’ve been finding some fabric patterns to go and make some and looking for the right time and place. I’ve heard of some good places in San Francisco and definitely Vietnam and Thailand have some really great places for it that aren’t sweatshops–they have older traditions of tailoring. One of the reasons why Victorian clothes look so good is that tiny children’s hands do great work. I try not to dip into that. I’m taking my time to try to find the right place.
You’re working on a music project, The Long Lost, with your wife Laura. Darlington is not either of your given last name, right?
No, but it is the name we fashioned together. My original last name was very awkward; it was Weissberg-Roberts. It doesn’t really roll off the tongue, perhaps. I wouldn’t want to inflict that upon anybody necessarily. It’s a bit much. I have been Weissberg-Rober more times because the actual official number of spaces on most documents won’t have enough room for a full last name like that.
My wife had the last name Martin, which doesn’t have a family tradition. It doesn’t come from generations and generations of Martins; it was kind of an invented last name for her family. When it came time to be married we decided on making a new tradition for each other. Weissberg-Martin-Roberts is not going down, I can tell you that much. Or some weird taking the first three letters of each and putting it together somehow, like Marweissrober… t’s a headache. We came up with that last name. And at the same time we originally got together we started making music, like 10 years ago.
How did you meet?
We met in high school, actually. We were high school sweethearts. It was wonderful and terrible. Way too powerful for the young mind to comprehend, like real love kinda style. It was a really tumultuous two-month love affair that had like a year beforehand building up to it, all kinds of travails. The kind of things that make it so you never forget it. So two months, then we broke up. I never forgot her and she never forgot me and there were certainly moments of weakness in weeks after. Years passed and we randomly encountered each other again at a showing of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. We almost walked away. Thankfully, I had the wherewithal to walk halfway down the street and turn around and go ‘I’m not gonna miss this girl, I’m not gonna miss this chance to say hi again.’ So I invited her out to dinner and we started seeing each other again and thankfully, a few years later, we got married.
You guys are putting out an album together now?
Yes, we very thankfully made time to record these thoughts and delve into what we were always playing with but didn’t have the confidence in, necessarily. The world has not become a very soft music world. Either you’re so crazy loud that you can say a soft idea but it’s just really loud, like a lot of this French stuff, this MGMT stuff and Hot Chip and Justice. They’re not actually making aggressive music, it’s just really loud. At the same time you take all this freaky folk, which is quiet in some ways, but the ideas they’re spouting are harsh. It’s the difference between mushrooms and LSD. One has you grinding your teeth and the other has you throwing up. That isn’t a good metaphor. We’re more in the throwing up kind of thing I guess. Not folky by any means, but definitely soft. I was amazed when Ninja Tune decided they were going to do it because it’s not their bag. We played our first real run of shows with this new idea, with the confidence of having a record coming out soon. We played Sonar and we played shows yesterday.
Are you wearing your coats during Long Lost shows too?
I was actually playing some Daedelus shows sometimes the same night, so I decided to go with a full coat for the Daedelus shows and a good lapelled vest–which is also an item that every good dandy should have–and a nice bright shirt to match Laura’s attire.
Is it cool working together?
We’re both artists and she comes from a background of doing both visual arts and music. Since we went to high school together, one of the ways we met was that we were in the same orchestra… her being a lot less nerdy because she wasn’t in the marching band like I was. Thank goodness she even decided to spend a moment talking to me.
Generally, it’s the worst and the best thing we could possibly do. When you have a home studio and you’re working together and something goes awry, it’s the worst feeling. It doesn’t go away, it’s everything. At the same time, when you’re getting to creative ends with someone you really fully emotionally have a conception with or you have an idea with, it’s the best. It feels like we have 14 children. They’re all slightly colic because we’ve had them in our pockets for so long now. Until actual children come along, we’ll have nothing better that we’ve done together.
Do you have any dream collaborators you’d love to work with in the future?
I’ve been doing so well with these random accidents that I think I’m long overdue for some terrible ones. I’m open to the experience and I’ve been lucky. For instance, Flying Lotus–I did some remixes on his first record and Laura sang on his first record and his current record as well… He’s like a friend of the family of Long Lostness. He did some remixes for us that are going to come out soon that are crazy good!
Whose idea was the Obama song?
It’s one of these things where it’s funny just being in the room and you’re open to the experience of it. Basically, I’d been doing some work with Taz Arnold for both my record and his forthcoming record. We had done a Hard party together, one of these LA crews that’s been doing these crazy, and in some ways very obvious, parties where you have Peaches and Justice play on New Year’s Eve. You’re going to have a ton of people come and it’s going to be a silly wonderful party. At the same time, they take chances with random DJs and people doing brave things too. It’s almost like they’re sneaking a little bit of difference, a little enlightenment to the mix.
For whatever reason, New Year’s Eve, it’s myself, Shuffy Kussein from Sa-Ram and Taz Arnold from Sa-Ra playing a set together. We had been conspiring about this idea of taking Monome-type beats and putting their vocals on top and having a crazy party with girls dancing and all that kind of stuff. We were playing right before 2 Live Crew. I’ve crossed many things off [the list] just now. Justice was playing and Peaches was playing and A-Trak was playing right before us. It was really nice.
During this period of time, [Shuffy and Taz] were recording vocals over some of my music and doing stuff where we took a Nine Inch Nails song and had them re-voice some things. We did a crazy version of it and suddenly that’s a song.
With the Obama thing, we were cutting vocals for something else. It was Taz in the studio and this guy Major who’s a very talented MC. They were just chopping up vocals and everyone’s a little out of sorts, it’s late night, and Taz kicked the verse for the Obama song. The one with the cussing. It’s over this other song and he sings it in a slower way. Then it’s a month before super Tuesday and we’re sitting around thinking ‘Why are we doing nothing about this?’ LA is really not that activated on the youth level. I mean, Obama’s popular but there was this weird inevitability that Hillary was going to take California and it sucked. He kicked the verse and I took it home and put together the track. I repeated his vocals way too much, probably obnoxiously so. And I took the original Ice Cube sample for “Today Was A Good Day,” not trying to ignore the symbolism, like ‘Let’s just go for it.’ This is LA doing something very authentic for what we want to do and it’s not a song, it’s a slogan. It was just a minute-long thing and we put it out a few days before super Tuesday and it happened to catch some fire, some blogness. It got mentioned on the Hollywood Reporter and CNBC.com and it was really weird. Because it was like ‘Will.i.am and Daedelus support Obama.’ A) It’s crazy I could even be mentioned in the same sentence and B) the music world must be so scared right now and nobody’s doing songs to support that my name gets mentioned with Will.i.am. Amazing.
It had its little moment and over time it did its thing. We forget about it and did these other shows. We did another show with this kind of same ensemble, opening for people like DJ Assault and some other really weird ones. Oh, we did one where we played after the Black Eyed Peas and also Snoop Dogg and Ludacris. The music world is so confused right now that someone like myself can put my foot in the door, it’s bizarre. There must be something terribly wrong right now at major labels if they don’t have more people in the pipeline. Anyway, then we kind of get this soft approach from the Obama campaign in California, the regional campaign. They said ‘We kind of heard the song, can’t use it as-is, but if you want to we might use it. If you clean it up, we might give it a go.’ So I did an edit of it, we cleaned it up, made the video, and it has this whole own life. It’s very strange and wonderfully satisfying when you put a small thing into the world and it germinates. That song has so many legs for so little content. The fact that Obama actually is the candidate is so gratifying. You put something like this into the air… It could be so innocent and have impact somewhere.
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