Interview on Douban published December 23, 2016. Read the full article in Chinese here.
1. Hi Rusty, please tell us a little bit about yourself: when did you start working as a mixing engineer and producer, what was your music background, what are some of the records you enjoyed working on most?
Before I was in the NYC music scene, I first made friends in fashion, and then in the art world. American Fine Arts was a gallery space with one foot in the club scene and the kids who worked there permeated my social life. That's where I met members of Black Dice, and Animal Collective, and Gang Gang Dance. Dave Portner (Avey Tare) and I became good friends; he started coming through my studio leading me to work on the early Animal Collective records. Sung Tongs was so influential that it catalyzed my career in music production.
I played guitar/vocals in underground bands growing up in California. Not long after I moved out of my parents' house, I got into club culture and electronic music during a stay in Berlin.
I've been fortunate to work with many talented artists. I've learned so much from working Mina Ohashi as The Present. DJ Rashad was probably the most gifted person I've worked with, it was through him that I learned how to mix dance music, and I'm proud of my contribution to 'Welcome to the Chi.' Dawn of Midi 'Dysnomia' opened me up to new ways of counting beats, and the record we worked on led to their opening slot for Radiohead at Madison Square Garden.
2. Douban users love Animal Collectives, Ariel Pink, Panda Bear, and Owen Pallet. How did you come to work with them? You have also worked with some of these on multiple records, what were some changes of these bands you witness throughout the years?
Ariel Pink and I met officially through Paw Tracks, plus we toured together in Japan, but our strongest connection is a good friend whom we have in common. Haunted Graffiti is the natural extension of his cassette recordings, and it's been fascinating to listen to his collaborations with Flaming Lips and Azealia Banks.
Panda Bear has continuously evolved, his music is completely his own style and his lyrics are so pure and direct. After touring Sung Tongs, we briefly had a music project called Together. Although he relocated to Lisbon, Portugal, we are still in touch; I consider him one of my critical collaborators.
Owen Pallet is a force of nature. We met through our mutual friend Jan Lankisch who released Owen's early records on the label Tomlab. He operates on such a sophisticated level that I don't completely know what's going on until after we finish. A beautiful struggle is required to achieve his far-reaching ideas. That to me is what his most recent record 'In Conflict' is about: the friction needed for creative thinking to come into fruition.
3. Sometimes you get credited as mixing engineers and sometimes as producer. Can you explain the differences and similarities between both roles? Which role do you enjoy most?
I think the music world has a fluid definition of what a producer is that it is very different depending on the genre of music and where you are in the world. At times "mixing engineer" is also open ended. It's possible to transform the sound radically at the mixing stage as well. I stay true to the musician's persona and communicate their message to an audience in an entertaining and direct way. Then it's on the artist to be fierce and make impossible dreams real.
4. Although based in New York, it seems that you also have a great deal of experience working in Japan. What were your projects there and what was your impression of Japanese music scene?
My work in Japan started by connecting the Tokyo fashion world with the NYC music scene. I curated a music t-shirt line of artworks made by LCD Soundsystem, Black Dice, and Animal Collective, for the label United Bamboo. We also released CDs and 7"s by Panda Bear, Ariel Pink, and myself through the sublabel UUAR.
I made contacts in the Japanese music scene through playing in art galleries and clubs. I worked with Tokyo musicians in the post Shibuya-Kei period, and in Osaka in peripheral projects of The Boredoms. Later in Tokyo, I produced the final Fayray album for R and C Records, a professional experience for which I'm very thankful. I learned more about music production from that one job than anything else.
My impression of the Japanese underground scene is that it's filled with talented individuals who create music on their terms. They also adapt to new movements faster than Western Countries do. One recent example is that Japan is the only place outside of Chicago where you can find Footwork dance crews. By learning the moves and the fashion, these dancers are contributing to the footwork genre on a global scale. Their efforts are also backed up by local labels like Booty Tunes who release the music.
5. With the experience of working with Nova Heart, SuperVC, Radio Mars and now Chuiwan, what is your impression of Chinese indie music at the moment? And how different is it in comparison with New York and Japan?
My impression of the Chinese music scene has evolved every day. In a lot of ways, Beijing is similar to Tokyo or New York. There are so many different styles that I shouldn't pinpoint a particular sound. I am very excited about Chinese underground music at the moment. Chinese musicians are going to have considerable influence on the world stage as their output increases as a cultural export.
6. You work with bands all around the world and have seen all sorts of different working environment. It seems that you are happy with experimenting with different type of space and equipment, what are some of your most unique experience of recording in a creative way? What would your ideal recording space be?
My ideal recording space includes constraints. People are most creative when there are limits to overcome. A problem with modern studio environments is that there are no constraints, so limitations need to be self-imposed. The fundamental duty in recording and mixing is making decisions. It's necessary to decide about the sound early in the process. Most of the time the idea that comes first is the best one.
7. Nova Heart's record last year was very popular. But you worked with the band remotely. How did you manage that and what were some of the difficulties during the process?
When mixing remotely, I make 2-3 versions of every song. Each version, I'll mix in different style, and I get feedback from the artist or producer. Usually, one approach is a better fit. Sometimes they'll like specific aspects from the different variations, and I'll combine those in the next round. On the second round, I still make multiple versions, this time executing the artist's direct feedback. I also augment the rounds with phone conversations. Nova Heart and I worked great together in this way. I had some great Skype conversations with Helen where we brainstormed about different treatments and most of the ideas we talked about were used on the record.
8. How is Chui Wan's new record coming along? How do you like working with them?
The Chui Wan record turned out fantastic. Working with the band was a lot of fun, and the entire process was efficient. It was helpful that they were well prepared and are excellent at what they do. Most importantly, their aesthetic runs deep, no matter how much I dug I could never find the bottom.
I recorded and mixed everything in Ableton Live in order to run patches I designed in Max MSP, primarily an algorithm that randomizes the waveforms on the left and right channels; this was the first time I used the effect on a record. Chui Wan use some custom pedals and keyboards with interesting bass noise, we worked with this tone, weaving it into the mix sound of the bass frequencies.
9. Tell us a bit more about your own band The Present? Do you have other music projects?
The Present is my primary project for my own music. My partner, Mina Ohashi, is the singer and writes most of the lyrics, she is also an incredibly gifted keyboardist and works on the arrangements with me. We chose our name to express how we make music in the present, we leave the past behind, and let the future unfold in unexpected directions.
We've played some cool shows with The XX, Panda Bear, Traxman, Caribou, and we collaborated with DJ Rashad on a few tracks. The best way to hear our music is on our Soundcloud, you'll listen to a lot of stuff that hasn't come out on labels including our song with Rashad called 'Too High.'
Right now is the most exciting period for us. We have a new EP called 'Break the Dawn' out in February on Styles Upon Styles followed by a full length later in 2017. We take underground dance music in an artistic direction, incorporating bombastic rhythmic patterns we hear from around the world with addictive synthesizer parts, these overlaid with Mina's vocals.
10. What are the music you are into at the moment and why?
There have been some great records in 2016: Rihanna - Anti, Kanye West - Life of Pablo, Skepta - Konnichiwa, Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition, David Bowie - Blackstar, Frank Ocean - Blond, Travis Scott - Birds in the Trap, Disclosure - Moog for Love, Young Thug - No, My Name is Jeffery, J Balvin - Energia, Munchi - Natti Back, Palmistry - Pagan, Gqom Oh! - X Crudo Volta Mixtape, Principe Discos - V-A- Mambos Levis D'Outro Mundo, A$AP Ferg - Always Strive and Prosper.
There are some records still in rotation from recent years like: Tame Impala - Currents, Mumdance & Logos - Proto, Kanye West - Yeezus, DJ Nigga Fox - Noite e Dia & O Meu Estilio, Dj Marfox - Chapa Quente & Eu Sei Quem Sou, Azealia Banks - Broke With Expensive Tastes, Drake & Future - What a Time To Be Alive, Future - DS2.
A lot of the music I listen to can only be heard on Soundcloud or Youtube. I'm pretty excited about a few global scenes. Specifically, the NAAFI crew out of Mexico City, the Principe Discos label out of Lisbon, Portugal, the Brazilian MCs MC Bin Laden and MC Pikachu, the Do Hits label out of Beijing, and I've also been listening to a lot of Reggaeton.
All this music stakes out new sonic territory. A lot of these songs work on multiple levels, there's an emotional core in either the performance or lyrics that I instantly identify with, the structures are simple and well arranged, and the sounds themselves are provocative.