BT - talks about the sound of losing yourself
BT: “This record is one overarching euphoric feeling. It’s trance, progressive and a little electro that I myself get lost in. I can’t wait for everyone to have it.” Well, we can’t wait either. August 16th brings the warm-glowing and inventive sounds of studio wizard BT. ‘A Song Across Wires’ is the ninth artist album of his incredible legacy, and a celebration of EDM. We sat down with the creative mind behind it all, as we got in-depth on music, techniques and today’s EDM scene. “A Song Across Wires is the sound of losing yourself with 10,000 of your closest friends at a summer festival and then laying in the grass for hours after talking and watching the stars. That’s the feeling.”
Hey Brian, how are you? Nervous yet for the release of ‘A Song Across Wires’, or more ready than ever?
BT: ”I feel calm and excited. I really think this album is going to be a fan favourite. In my entire 20+ year career I’ve never felt inspired to make an entire album of dance music. It’s the first time every (maybe since IMA) that I am inspired both by my peer group and the current state of dance music culture. Usually my influences and inspiration have been from my film composition work, listening to indy bands and developing music technologies. This is the first time where I wanted to make what my fans want to hear. This record is one overarching euphoric feeling. It’s trance, progressive and a little electro that I myself get lost in. I can’t wait for everyone to have it. That’s exciting.”
It’s your ninth studio album already. Do you feel that an album gives you the best way to tell your story, rather than releasing singles?
BT: ”You know that is a great question. Nowadays, it seems the album is a lost art form. I’m one of a very small handful of people that has been doing this longer than 10 years (even smaller 20years!). When I grew up (in the 80’s) singles were of course popular but the album was the holy grail of recording. I’ll never forget riding my bike to Yesterday and Today records on Rockville Pike in Maryland (where I grew up) and buying Speak and Spell by Depeche Mode. My two best friends Ali (now Dubfire) and Hamid, listened to that album in the dark about 10 times on repeat. It told a story. We studied the artwork, memorized the credits. It was a journey, and experience. If I can give that to just one listener it’s a win. Everyone has ADD these days. We want bigger, better, faster now. Enjoying an album, it’s subtly; loosing yourself in the experience of how an artist intended the compositions to unfold was a transformative experience for me as a kid. I hope to share that with other people and for it to impact them the same way it did me.”
So what really is the story that you want to tell with ‘A Song Across Wires’?
BT: ”It’s really one of 3 albums of mine (in thousands of recorded and released works) that is a single feeling. This Binary Universe and IMA are the other albums of mine that have a single ‘feeling’ imho. IMA is deep and explorative, This Binary Universe is humanistic yet academic. A Song Across Wires is the sound of losing yourself with 10,000 of your closest friends at a summer festival and then laying in the grass for hours after talking and watching the stars. That’s the feeling.”
We quote: “BT is like your mom's home cooking. It's something familiar, but there's nothing else like it in the world.” What is the BT secret ingredient?
BT: ”Wow! Well whoever said that I must owe a remix or something (laughs). Thank you I take that compliment highly. You know I think the secret is this, it’s just really hard work and I mean it. That may sound overly simplistic but it really is the truth. So many of my friends can crank out a song in a day, a week, a couple hours. It amazes me. Lots of it is great too. For me, I have to live with these compositions for months, for years, they become like friends or family members I become so intimately acquainted with them. I know every single 2048th note, ever nuance, ever single blip and breath. All of it is intentional. When I listen to a record of mine from 10 years ago I still feel “yep, that’s what I was trying to do”. That’s just really hard work. For people that like to move quick, it’d be like water torture. I just lovingly craft and meticulously sculpt these songs until they are like the cells in my body. And that’s the final secret, I mean it. Now that sounds like a weird thing to write so I want to explain it. My favourite music is very diverse. The Sunken Cathedral by Debussy, Animals by Pink Floyd, Somebody by Depeche Mode, Age of Consent by New Order, what could all these songs possibly have in common. They meant it. I can feel it in the sounds, the voice the recording the chords. “Meaning it” puts you in a place of reckless abandon like you are making music for only the moment you are living in and just for you. This is a kind of scary thing to share with the world often because you are actually sharing yourself. You’re not hiding behind some safe pretence or what is popular or what people expect or want to hear. You are bearing you for everyone to take in and evaluate. I’ve done this so long it gets less and less scary. I’ve watched the way my music has affected people for years and they people who get it, deeply get it.“
It sounds like it’s a return to your progressive/trance roots. Is it less experimental than your other albums and if yes, why?
BT: ”Fundamentally I’ve just been inspired by dance music culture for the first time in years. With the advent and cresting of Bass Music, production and detail have come into awareness for young EDM listeners and producers. I finally feel like there are other people (musicians and listeners) that are interested in subtlety and detail. I was very inspired by that. On a production level there are some very experimental DSP techniques on this record. I discovered Composers Desktop Project during making A Song Across Wires. CDP is a command line digital signal processing language capable of the most esoteric, head twisting treatments I have ever heard in my life. Punch line is you have to write is script in the Mac Terminal (or script it DOS). It’s a pain in the ass honestly but one of those pains that is SUPER worth it. You can hear it clearly on Nadia Ali’s voice at the beginning of “Must Be the Love”. That is a DSP operation called Distort Interpolate (for producers out there). At any rate I have been developing lots of new software coterminant with the compositional process of this record and it is all in there. It’s just wrapped in a shell you can loose your mind on a dancefloor too.”
If anyone knows about the techniques behind music, it’s you. When there’s so much technique involved, is it sometimes hard to focus on feeling as well? Or do they go hand in hand for you?
BT: ”They are two totally different things. For me first and foremost is the song; the melody (and lyrics if there are any). They must move your insides. If that’s not there, nothing matters in my opinion. The second side is the analytical and academic side. Stretching sound to its technical breaking point. Creating sounds and environments people have never heard or experienced before. That second stage is only right when it augments the composition. A cool sound or technique are irrelevant if they do not aid the overall composition. That’s when you realize that taste is the one thing in music that can never be taught. You can study and learn a billion different things about music but knowing when enough is enough, when it’s right, when your done…that can’t be taught.”
For the technique freaks amongst us, what’s one of your many tricks that you’d like to give away?
BT: ”Well, there is some really cool bass sound design on Letting Go for example. Instead of talking about this (which could take hours). What I’d like to propose is this. After the album is released, let’s to an official Armada music poll on the fan favourite track on the album. I’ll do a video walk-through in detail of this song and then release the session. I’ve never ever done this. That would be cool!”
‘A Song Across Wires’ hasn’t been conceived in your new studio, but wow…what a beauty the new studio is! A necessary upgrade, or for your own pleasure?
BT: ”A little of both. My old studio desk was a crappy Ikea number and was way to high for me to sit all. Poor me right? Well after 32 straight hours of audio editing sitting at it I could barely walk (laughs). The new desk and speakers are custom made. They both took a year. We built the desk out of cardboard first, it took 3 months just to do that. It’s for my height, my arm length, it's crazy. It’s like a tailor made pair of pants (except it weighs 2000 pounds lol!). I can’t wait to work in the new room. I’m going to make some epic stuff in there.”
One of the biggest tunes of 2013, is the beautiful ‘Skylarking’. Its music video shows us how much you love nature and its phenomenon’s. In what way does nature inspire you?
BT: ”What inspires me most about nature is the controlled, designed element in this stochastic soup we dwell. Math is everywhere, from the Fibonacci sequence to Pythagorean comma, everything in nature, in sound is expressed mathematics. From quantum cosmology to subatomic mechanics the design, the beauty is awe inspiring. Because I work pretty exclusively with detail and symmetry, related principles in my audio work, I feel like these things are a beautiful match. A walk in the woods inspired Skylarking btw.”
‘Surrounded’ is its official follow-up, featuring the talented Aqualung. The album also features collabs with tyDi, Senadee, Adam K, Tritonal and more. What’s the criteria that artists should have – for you to work with them?
BT: ”Different than you may think! Firstly I am drawn to people of character and integrity. You can sense that in people’s music. For me the relationship and the person behind the music are almost more important than the music itself. One of the things that deeply inspires me is hearing the ripples of my work in young producers works with their own twist. It’s like teaching your child something you invented and them coming back with a more refined version of it 20 years later and teaching it back. It’s like this amazing circle. Another thing I love about collaboration is the aspect of sharing a historical perspective of EDM culture many people coming up now know nothing about. Last week Savant and I played a festival in SLC and backstage he started telling all these amazing stories to the other performers on the festival. He said “Do you know before BT started making music, there was no breakdown, no build up. This guy invented those things”. There was this hushed reverent silence. It was crazy. Firstly I was very impressed Savant has shedded that much of my catalogue (what a talent that guy is btw) and secondly it was so cool to see the people around me faces light up connecting the dots between what they do and the ground work that I (and others) have laid. That’s exciting in collaboration the aspect of sharing, not just music and musical ideas but stories and history. I love that.”
You’re often referred to as the Mozart of electronic dance music. Being in the industry that long, what is the one thing you think that today’s EDM scene is missing today?
BT: ”Firstly what a compliment. Thank you. I suppose more than anything I think EDM and our culture is in a great place. I will say this though, it is the responsibility of our elders to curate and grow EDM culture in a way that honours its history and diversity. Right now with this incredible proliferation of dance music and corporate culture stepping in to augment our growing scene, it is more important than ever that we (the elders and thought leaders) lead effectively, bravely sculpting the future. Dance music is founded on unity, diversity, respect and the transformative power of loosing yourself on a dancefloor. We are a community that accepts all that is positive and good. This is where I respect someone like Armin so deeply. He doesn’t need to curate and guide the way he does. He does it because he cares about the future of dance music and you can see that and feel it. The one thing that is happening right now is in this exponential slope and explosion of music we are seeing some homogenization. In bass music, brostep, the beatport top ten is what you hear at a festival. In house/trance the same, the top 10 and that more bottle service type Vegas thing. This is fine for a minute because these styles of music are easy to understand. They are bold primary colors for an unrefined palette. They are an inductor into a massive pool and wealth of sound that is electronic music culture. I welcome them and some of both those styles of music are very good too. Someone like Avicii that gets so much mud slung at him is an extraordinary pop writer. At any rate, as people get into the dance music their tastes change and refine and then listening to something like what I do or Boards of Canada or Au5 appeals to them. It’s that process of discovery that makes dance music so amazing. So my final thought on this is it is the responsibility of those with a historical perspective to protect the integrity and diversity of dance music so it doesn’t’ become all overly digestible primary colors. I believe in us as a culture and I know we won’t let that happen.”
You’ve seen the electronic dance music scene explode in the US in the past 5 years. What do you think will happen the next 5 years?
BT: ”It will grow even more. This idea of a “bubble” is mystifying to me. Hip hop grew in the underground in America for 3-5 years tops before Blondie and The Sugarhill Gang crested into mainstream culture. The hip-hop community had to figure it out as they went. We don’t have that problem! For 20 years there has been a growing culture and community to support this music, the way to enjoy it, what it means etc. This cresting into the mainstream was inevitable for dance music. This is the tip of the iceberg. As I touched on above, I believe over the next 3-5 years we are not going to just witness a further explosion of dance music but an expansion of the palettes that support it. People will want to watch a band using crazy cutting edge visual devices play downtempo academic electronic music as much as they want to watch Dash Berlin pound out a set of amazing trance. The short of it is, it will grow even more and diversify.”
The one thing that’s on BT fans’ minds, is….will there be a world-tour for ‘A Song Across Wires’? And if yes, where will it take you?
BT: ”Yes and everywhere. Some amazing tour stuff to come. Stand by for news on this.”
Thanks for your time, Brian! Good luck with the album release!!
BT: ”Thanks for the amazing interview.”
Pre-order ‘A Song Across Wires’ and get his latest single ‘Surrounded’ on Beatport!