by Mike Kordell
M: You went to college at Azusa Pacific with a partial scholarship for drums. Do you still play the tubs?
R: Yeah, you know, I play during my live performance, I have 3 or 4 moments where I sit down at the kit, so, yeah, I get to play drums every day. It’s great. I love drums. It’s my passion and kind of a natural thing for me. I’m better at drumming than I am at talking (laughter).
M: Having a formal background in percussion, what typically comes first for you when writing a song: the rhythm or the melody?
R: I think most songs, for me, start with a drumbeat. I have to kinda know where I’m at tempo-wise and stylistically, and that leads me down the rabbit hole of figuring out what the song is after that. So, yeah, I’d say probably 75% of the songs I write start with some sort of grove, and more often than not it’s kind of an electronic groove or something like that.
M:What does your music-making or writing style look like? Do you sit down to write a song or do ideas evolve over time, ending up as finished tracks?
R: Every song is different, but I’d say more often than not I start with drums and then I’ll write some sort of synth part over it, that’ll be my chorus or tune, but I basically start to produce something out a little bit until I realize this is cool, it’s something worth writing over and then I’ll take it from there and start to mess around with melodies in my head, then that leads to lyrics and things just waterfall from there.
M: How did you come to start using unconventional peripheral devices like Wii remotes and joysticks in your music?
R: You know, it was literally just an outgrowth of me being a poor post-college student, having these things laying around, checking out online how to hack these things to use them as MIDI controllers because I didn’t want to go buy new MIDI controllers because I didn’t have the cash for it, and that was really how it started. And then of course as soon as I started performing with the joystick and Wii remote, people were like, “that’s weird, that’s cool, we love video games”, and everyone plays video games, or has, at least, that’s my age or younger, so, it was just kind of an instant connection with fans because of that and it just kind of spiraled out of control.
M: Who/what are some of your non-musical influences? (writers, new media artists, etc.)
R: I’m a huge fan of sci-fi so I read a lot of Bradbury, Frank Herbert, and that kind of stuff has always been stuff I think about a lot. And so, those things, even if I’m not writing songs about time travel or space or something, just form my aesthetic and how I think about things. Beyond that, I’ve always been a big fan of all types of media. I love movies, I love popular science, I love all that stuff, so I think all those things play some role in the way I write music. I wouldn’t say it’s a direct thing, but, yeah, maybe my next album will be a space opera or something (laughter).
M: What’s your take/outlook on the music industry today? Where do you stand on streaming services like Spotify, Google Music, etc.?
R: My take is that this is the world we live in and there’s really no way to change it. Unless you’re Taylor Swift you can’t really pave your own road in that sense. I think it’s a beautiful thing in the sense that recorded music is so accessible to people now. The business side just has to find ways to adapt. As a musician, it’s really great to get our music out there and fans get to listen to it at such a low entry level, and obviously that means they don’t necessarily have the same kind of ownership as if they went down to the record store and bought your album and listened to it a million times. The other side of it is that it really encourages the live market in a different way, and I feel like, between festivals and whatnot, the whole live show thing has really taken precedence as a way for artists to make money and support what they do, and to me, that’s so much more interesting. I love that. I love that live music has kind of come to the forefront, and it’s constantly evolving and changing. With technology, so much recorded music is something almost that you can’t replicate live exactly, so we’re kind of in a creative era where people are just trying to figure out how to make this all work. It’s a mess, but if it wasn’t a mess there wouldn’t be new stuff.
M: How did the face painting start? What’s the reason/meaning behind it?
R: It really started early on with my girlfriend Heidi and her art school friends who were my first fans. They were the people that came to my first shows, and they used to paint their faces before they went to electronic events. They were, like, ravers and whatnot, and so they just did it at my shows and as my fan base started to grow, other people would say, “Hey, I want that, that’s cool”, and Heidi would run up to the bar and grab her paints, and it became pretty obvious pretty quick that it was becoming part of the show. Now she has teams all across America that come and help us at each show and kind of make it a thing. I think it’s kind of a cool unifying aspect – it really brings people together and makes people feel like they’re more part of the show in a way. I think an interesting part of it is that you give somebody a mask, you paint somebody’s face, suddenly they feel a little more open to have a good time, and because of that, it becomes a more memorable event, and I think that’s a positive thing.
M: What does the orange X symbolize?
R: I always try to invent a good story and it’s never that great (laughter). The original story is actually pretty boring. I had headphones lying around – at the time I was wearing over-ear headphones on stage – and I told Heidi, “Go make these look cool”, and she painted that orange X, then my graphic designer roommate formalized it to what it was, and the rest is history, I guess. It just kind of became synonymous with what I did. Again, not intentional, just an organic thing.
M: You’re getting ready to go back out on tour and sharing some dates w/ X Ambassadors – a personal favorite of mine. Will you be joining them at SXSW?
R: At this moment, crossing my fingers, it doesn’t look like I have any SX shows. I’ve kind of done SX to death (laughter). Last year I think I did 8 shows in 3 days. In 2013 I think I did like 12 or 13 shows in 5 days, which was, like, that’s unreasonable. You know, SXSW is a lot of fun and very cool, but I think for artists it ends up being a harrowing experience a lot of times just because so much stuff gets packed in because there’s so many opportunities. So, as of right now, nothing is booked.
M: Is there anything that you particularly enjoy about playing in Austin?
R: Austin is, certainly because of SXSW, but even beyond SXSW, it’s one of the places I’ve played the most. Austin is an interesting city, because a lot of places like LA and New York and other places where they have so much music and they just kind of go and cross their arms and half pay attention because they’ve seen everything. Austin has so much music but people still seem passionate, and I love that. And maybe it’s not like that for everybody, but that’s the experience I’ve had. And I love that about Austin. It’s a cool city and people are really interesting here. And there’s some great hot sauces. The hot sauce shop is probably one of my favorite parts of coming to Austin.
M: Is that Tears of Joy of 6th Street?
R: Tears of Joy! That’s the one, yeah. I’ve been there many a time. I wouldn’t say I’m a hot sauce connoisseur, but I’m a big fan of hot sauces. The hotter the better.
M: In addition to being a huge music city, Austin is a huge food city. Where’s your favorite place to eat while you’re in town?
R: Unfortunately, just based on the way the schedule is, I end up eating on 6th Street all the time, which is cool, but I’ve been to the same restaurants like a billion times. We went to a place the other night that was really good – Waller Street… Waller Creek Pub! And it was good! I had some amazing swordfish, and it was great.