(DemiGodRaven reappears to tarnish our metal cred with this interview, though I admit that it’s a very interesting read about a very interesting musician. The music turns out to be cool, too)
Back when The Number of the Blog was still a website I was very luck to receive the opportunity to pick the brains of five or six of my favorite musicians all within the same month. I drafted a variety of interview questions for each of them and, surprisingly, about half came back with responses, which is always an incredible thing to me. However, two or three never responded, for whatever reason. The musician got busy, something happened in the press pipeline, and you can’t really blame anyone for it. You just chalk it up as a loss and move on. The fact that TNOTB went down didn’t help either.
However, while combing through messages to the old email address (don’t ask me why, it just bothers the shit out of me seeing 200 Unread on the inbox), I came across a response from electronica musician Blue Stahli (featured here as recently as yesterday), who was one of the interviewees I had originally chalked up as a loss. Somehow, my old interview had been recovered and a response received over the vast reaches of time. I didn’t have the old site at which to publish this, though, which is why you’re now looking at it on NoCleanSinging’s page. So, I introduce you to electronica musician Blue Stahli.
Blue Stahli is a project that has been gaining steady momentum since 2008. A then-recent signee to the Fixt music label, he immediately buried himself headlong in a variety of projects, including an instrumental disc known as Antisleep Vol.1 (Vol.2 saw release in late December), a self-titled debut that our own GroverXIII listed as one of his pleasures in 2011 (here), and a variety of amazing remixes . . . many of which have been used as the backing to movie trailers.
In addition to being certifiably insane, Mr. Stahli is a pretty amicable guy, so even though some of the questions must have seemed like head-scratchers to him at the time, he still tried to answer them the best he could. Even better, I may have triggered the next Fixt Remix contest.
DGR: Before we begin, could you please introduce yourself so that our audience can get to know you?
Bret: Certainly. This is Bret from Blue Stahli. I am the sole perpetrator of the ridiculous noise you hear on Blue Stahli albums, remixes, and productions.
DGR: I personally became familiar with the Blue Stahli name due to the Birthwrong remix back in ’08, but you’ve been making music for a little while under various names. When did you decide on the name Blue Stahli and the musical direction you were going to head in?
Bret: Ah, that remix was a blast to do. It originally began as a joke and wanting to play with some new production ideas and spiraled out of control into a full-on remix. Indeed, I had a few various outlets, and all the while there was this idea in the back of my head for what Blue Stahli has eventually become (though at the time, I didn’t have the name, or a concrete direction).
The name “Blue Stahli” came about during a time when I was looking for Christmas presents for people years ago. I was not in a good place in life and really had a bit of a bleak outlook on my present and future, so I was in full-on “I’ll-get-some-fantastic-gifts-for-some-key-people-now-in-the-event-that-I-careen-my-vehicle-off-an-overpass-later” mode. I was in this shop that was half home decor, half artwork and prints. Nothing in the art section grabbed me at all. Everything felt very monotone, and to this day, all I can picture is frame after frame of various strips of sandpaper (at least, that’s how my brain is choosing to recollect “drab”).
Amongst all the seemingly single-color works was one painting that stood out, an abstract blue piece that stopped me dead in my tracks. I don’t know how long I stood there staring at it, but I’m more than positive the employees of this shop were figuring out which one of them would eventually have to call security on the skinny motionless guy in the gallery. What drew me in to this piece was that it was like the perfect visual representation of the songs I found to be the most cathartic. I often see music in colors and I remember having the feeling that I could step inside this painting and feel every bit as enveloped as I did during long night drives spent listening to music for escape. The name of the painting is “Untitled Blue” by the artist “Susanne Stahli”.
Though it’s a bit on the nose, the name “Blue Stahli” is less about the literal reference to the work and person, and more about the inexplicable transformative and cathartic power of art and music. It’s why I do what I do. I want to do for other people what certain songs and pieces of art have done for me.
As for musical direction, that was something that was always in flux, changing wildly depending on my mood, experience, and current obsessions. There was never a “this will be a rock band” or “this will be an electronic outfit” hard and fast statement, the ultimate dream was to have all of this varied output under one name, so it’s not boxed in. I came out of the gate with wild genre hopping, everywhere from the smooth electronic vibe of “Kill Me Every Time”, then to the more fist-in-the-air heaviness of “Scrape”, all the while writing Antisleep Vol. 01 tracks that ranged from upbeat funky breakbeat material to styles I had never tried before. Your emotions throughout even a single day are more than just “I’m facepunchingly mad at…just everything!” or “I’m terribly melancholy and require a fainting couch”, so why restrict the artistic output? The goal with Blue Stahli is that there is truly something for everyone, and it is FOR everyone.
DGR: A broader question but If I recall correctly you wound up moving to Detroit to be closer to the Fixt headquarters. Did you ever think that Detroit would be such a hub for electronica?
Bret: Well, Detroit does have that history of electronic music with Derrick May and the like. Though I was told when I arrived that that particular boom had died down considerably with the exception of the Detroit Electronic Movement Festival. I know that labels like Ghostly International are located here and are part of a vital and thriving scene beneath the typical. But honestly, I wasn’t thinking in terms of the local arena. From the outset, I wanted this to be global.
DGR: You’ve made a name for yourself as a huge remix artist. There’s been some that have just come out, like the release of your Feed The Monster by BT remix. Is it always exciting to get your hands on a track and experiment on it like a mad scientist?
Bret: Absolutely. I love stripping things down to just the vocal (and maybe a few little extra bits) and building up something new around it. The foundational elements of songwriting are always the hardest part for me, so with that already done and taken care of, I’m free to wreck havoc. My most recent remix is of Celldweller’s “Shapeshifter” which just came out on ‘The Complete Cellout Vol. 01’, and the funny thing is that I actually remixed it twice. I originally reworked that song so Klay and I could play it in the Celldweller live show. When the opportunity came to release it, it was great to be able to approach it again from another angle entirely while still retaining the elements I liked from my previous remix.
Currently, I’m working on a remix for My Brightest Diamond’s “She Does Not Brave the War” off her new album All Things Will Unwind and will be out soon. I’m a huge fan of My Brightest Diamond, so doing this remix is even more of a treat. Shara is a completely otherworldly talent and I’m in awe of her songwriting. This is only a sign of more to come as I’ve also appeared in her music video for “High Low Middle” and we’re devising some plans for things that fans of both My Brightest Diamond and Blue Stahli will love.
DGR: You also had a debut come out earlier this year that followed a similar model to Celldweller’s “release songs as they are done and then put out a full disc with four or five others”. I imagine that you had each song already somewhat planned out from the get-go, but which songs did you find yourself more focused on for single release and why?
Bret: Actually, nothing was really planned out that much. A while into the album I eventually had a stack of demos that I went through with Klayton (who was in producer role for the album). He would say “well, you already have an idea like this one represented in your current releases and contenders, so save that for later” and so on, and whittled it down to a more manageable number of tracks. I believe the song that took the longest was “ULTRAnumb”, and I can’t exactly put my finger on as to why that is, but it’s most likely due to the fact that I was still finding my voice as Blue Stahli and that may very well have been the flag in the ground.
DGR: Also, the artwork to that disc is very interesting. It looks like you wound up covered in black latex paint for that photo shoot. How was that experience?
Bret: The experience of shooting that was a blast (though it was not without it’s uncomfortable moments). The paint was tempura paint, I had never messed with latex and had just assumed that this would work the way I wanted it to. We shot in the B room photography studio of Acme Pixel Movers (who also does the live backing video for the Celldweller live show). The photographer was Grant Mohrman (who also mixed “Metamorphosis”, “Takedown”, “Doubt”, and “Give Me Everything You’ve Got” on the debut album). I met a makeup artist a few days before named Trini Biliti who mentioned that she wanted to work in bodypainting a bit more, so she helped with paint application. I said “You take the back, I’ll take the front”. The shoot was hours upon hours of contorting into various yoga-esque positions completely naked, except for the paint, which would dry and crack so often I had to constantly keep reapplying it (though the natural cracking did yield some great visual happy accidents).
What was great was the experience AFTER the photoshoot. Everyone else had things to do, leaving me alone in this building, naked, covered in black paint, with a cow’s heart and general mess lying about. This building didn’t have a shower to wash off all the paint and the farthest ahead that I planned was to bring a cheap disposable pair of painter’s coveralls meant to just go over your clothes for home projects.
What I *didn’t* count on was that all of the many layers of paint had now dried and were fully adhered to me. Trying to get the coveralls on was excruciating, as it felt like it was trying to pull the skin from my body. It was clear that if I got the coveralls on, my motion would be extremely limited and painful at every step, so I improvised. I took a trashbag and poked three holes in it, one for my head and two for my arms. Trouble is, it only barely came down to my waist, leaving me fully exposed like I had planned to enter a costume contest as “Pervert Mud Creature In 60’s Mod Dress”. I took another bag and poked two holes for legs, put two shopping bags on my feet and set about cleaning up the B Room. So anyone looking over their fence would see “Pervert Mud Creature in trashbag ensemble, running back and forth from a nondescript building, throwing cow parts into the trash”.
DGR: The song Anti-You had another version of it released with some more hostile lyrics titled Burning Bridges. What made you decide to change the lyrics into what became Anti-You? I remember when you made the blog entry on your site announcing that you were going to, but I don’t recall many details as to what inspired you to do so.
Bret: An issue of vocal performance. The original version of the song “Burning Bridges” was immensely cathartic to write and get out (as it had been putting my insides through a meat grinder for many months already), but then the question became, “Can this song musically sound cooler with only changing the vocals?”. So in addition to readdressing the way the vocals were approached, I also took that as an opportunity to widen the crosshairs for the lyrical subject matter.
DGR: Blue Stahli has had a couple of remix contests now. Which song did you enjoy letting people play around with the most and which one did you enjoy judging?
Bret: As I type this, I’ll be getting the remix entries for the “Anti-You” remix contest, and the “So So Bad” contest will follow next month. I hate to be that cheesy all-inclusive guy who says “Oh, just everything!“ then grins uncontrollably in a way that begs a good smack. But really, each song that people remix in the contests is interesting to hear. I have my personal experience with each song and I really enjoy hearing all the different interpretations people have. The Metamorphosis contest is the first one that I judged, and the only one that I’ve judged so far, so I can only speak to that experience. But I DO look forward to the constant surprises. Really, I’m just glad people are having fun doing it, getting some more mileage out of my music, and getting an opportunity to win some extra cash by making a badass mix.
DGR: We already asked Klayton this, but since both of you guys were involved on the soundtrack to the video game Dead Rising 2, what is it like having your music attached to some of the most ungodly frustrating boss battles in history? Your song “Scrape”, in particular, seems to have a PTSD-style effect on those who made it to the fight with the character Brandon Boyd. I played your debut once for some friends and when “Scrape” hit, they all spoke of their nightmares about that particular fight.
Bret: Ha, I wish I could empathize in that war torn, battleweary way, but I’m always so busy I don’t really have time to delve into gaming, though there is a lot I’d like to explore if I did have that time on my hands. Luckily, I have friends who show me the latest and greatest and are far better than I would be, so I get my own personal guided tour every now and again. As to sparking some digital PTSD…Hey, I’m glad I evoked a reaction, even if the twitch-response now is “KILL ALL OF THE BASTARDS!”.
DGR: You seem to have a sense of humor about your music, as demonstrated by your recent Beach Boys experiment, so I’ve always wanted to ask: What’s this I hear about an experiment involving Tool and Elvis?
Bret: Wow…the Elvis/Tool thing is going back *quite* a ways. That particular experiment came about back when I was working on various shipping docks and the like, years and years ago. I had a friend at one of the locations I travelled to who made an offhand remark that the stuff I do is so ridiculous, the only way it could be topped was if I were to mix an Elvis song and a Tool song into one cacophonous union. I believe we wagered something stupid on it, so I went home that night and constructed a very poor representation just to prove that it *could* be done (also because I wanted to win whatever nonsensical thing we agreed upon). Did I succeed? Oh yes. Did it suck? Why, even more so!
As for the Beach Boys thing, that came about from a hip hop choreographer friend of mine needing a short three to three and a half minute mix of six Beach Boys songs with full beat action for her to set routines to for her dance company’s performance. I enjoy helping my dance friends out when I can, brings me back to when I was doing music for a burlesque troupe.
The inherent sense of humor in Blue Stahli output is really just a natural extension of how I create. I don’t take myself too seriously.
DGR: Are there any plans for a Blue Stahli live show? Do you happen to need a out of shape, slightly out of practice drummer? Because I happen to know a guy who knows a guy.
Bret: I *do* have some ideas on how I want to pull off a live show, but it’s still in the formative stages. It will be a one man deal and will be very different arrangements of the album material. Though if the requirement for said out of shape, slightly out of practice drummer arises, I will shine a signal into the night sky outside the venue most in need of solid facerocking.
DGR: I know you’ve fully admitted to having let both Twitter and your Facebook page become the main source of updates for your music but things seem to have become fairly quiet on all fronts. I’ve heard that there’s some Antisleep Vol 2 stuff in the works. What all are you working at the moment?
Bret: That has gone in waves, I realize that I’m a bit late in even finishing this interview, so the ebb and flow may look somewhat different now, but the quieter times on the social media front have stemmed from times when I wasn’t able to update (such as trying to find a place to live and the subsequent single-handed move into that new place), to taking care of some family issues, to the biggest culprit…thinking “who in the hell would want to see any of this?” I’m a very solitary person, and have never been the “Hey, look at me! Look at what I’m doing RIGHT THE EFF NOW!” type, so it’s a bit of an unlearning process to find that balance.
That being said, I am pushing myself to keep creating new content and have been doing some experiments with YouTube that went over extremely well. Recently, for the release of my new (mostly) instrumental album Antisleep Vol. 02, I wanted to simultaneously do a worldwide listening party, but also something that felt personal and one on one. So each day was a new video of the viewer taking a night drive with me while I play a song from the album and give behind the scenes info and strange tidbits. Though seemingly unrelated, the video preview series did actually have a short film-esque conclusion (http://youtu.be/lOBl4oc2pUY).
I *really* enjoy the bits of absurd surreality that I’ve been able to play with, with the lo-fi video angle when not in a straight “talking into the camera” vlog format. I am fascinated by video installations and experimental shorts, so making the Blue Stahli YouTube home to more exploration of that sort is something I intend to push more. I had teasers to announce the release of the debut album (http://youtu.be/CabaIJJkIPk) and a more involved way of giving people the album’s tracklist rather than just posting it on Facebook (http://youtu.be/jU7pL6CXqRY). Though it all started with me announcing the ULTRAnumb remix contest in a bit of a different way, trading in regular “here’s my dumb face in the camera” vlog stuff for strange characters, hyperediting, and non-consensual surgery (http://youtu.be/libEAcbL3Bc). It’s also a good excuse to do more ambient sound design as underscore.
DGR: You’ve also made some 2 AM drive mixes of various songs for people to listen to. What do you think goes into making the perfect 2 AM drive song?
Bret: Well, it’s certainly not a question of genre, as there is anything from purely electronic, to purely organic, from the noisy to the pristine to the avant garde and everything in between. I don’t know that I’ve ever tried to analyze it in terms of formula. Usually I know when a song is right because something “other” will hit me when I listen to it. It’s beyond words, a je ne sais quoi and that’s the magic of it. It’s funny you mention the “2am Drive To Nowhere” mixtape, I’m working on some sonic experiments that I will release through inclusion on new installments of the mix series for all your “lost on a single lane road in the woods” or “only car on the highway” moments. I’m not there to judge you on the purpose of your drive into the woods, or who you happen to have in your trunk, I’m just providing the soundtrack.
DGR: So how much fun was it to record vocals for Give Me Everything You’ve Got? Ever thought about putting it up as a remix contest so we can hear the inevitable heavy metal remix of it? I happen to enjoy the stuff that artists like Paul Udarov [one of the guys who have made heavier versions of the songs they’ve remixed] make when they enter a remix contest.
Bret: Recording the vocals to “Give Me Everything You’ve Got” was an extremely purgative experience and it’s amazing how healing a creative ritual like that can be (even if that “creative ritual” is rhythmically screaming at the top of your lungs).
Actually, “Give Me Everything You’ve Got” will be the next remix contest beginning February 27th. This is specifically happening because Ry, the FiXT Remix mod, hit me up to ask what song should be next while I was finishing up this interview. So, purely because you asked. Enjoy the ensuing heaviness.
DGR: And finally, in case we missed something. Is there anything you’d like to add? Stuff to look out for in the future? Changes to your hair color? Books? Movies?
Bret: I’ll give the somewhat succinct wrap-up for the TL;DR crowd. In addition to working on Antisleep Vol. 03 (which will be much more on the darker and more sound designy end of the spectrum than the more upbeat Volumes 01 & 02), I’m also working out some completely retooled versions of the debut material to present an alternate side and have something to play live in the weird way I’m envisioning it. Check out my remixes on Celldweller’s “The Complete Cellout Vol. 01” and be on the lookout for my remix of My Brightest Diamond soon!
I also just released a track simply titled, “Blue Stahli” for free as a thank you to everyone supporting Blue Stahli (you can grab that saucy business at the Blue Stahli Soundcloud (http://soundcloud.com/bluestahli). Another full vocal album will be in the works after Antisleep Vol. 03 is completed, and as always, a plethora of extra goodies, free tracks, mashups, mixtapes, and experiments will be released to those who follow along (not to mention the upcoming YouTube video voodoo). There are some freakishly cool new useful Blue Stahli gadgets and sexified apparel at the FiXT Store (http://fixtstore.com/bluestahli/) that are sure to make you 200% more attractive to the sex of your choosing. There is a hell of a lot more ridiculousness to come!
DGR: Thanks so much for this interview, we appreciate the opportunity. Best of luck in the future.
Bret: Thank YOU.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Everyone knows I obsessively insist on including music with virtually everything we post around here, so here are a couple of Blue Stahli tracks I’ve been jamming, based on what I read in DGR’s interview:
[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/02-Scrape.mp3|titles=Blue Stahli – Scrape]
“Give Me Everything You’ve Got”
[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/10-Give-Me-Everything-Youve-Got.mp3|titles=Blue Stahli – Give Me Everything You’ve Got]
[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/34304100″ iframe=”true” /]