LWE Interviews Brendon Moeller

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Many musicians end up moving to New York City to boost their career and get closer the signature sounds which prodded them to play music in the first place. But it’s a bit rarer to find an artist whose love for the feedback-laden outlook of the No Wave scene leads them to switch continents and carries through their shift from rock to electronic music. South African native Brendon Moeller is one such case, and the grainy textures which coat his dubbed out house tracks on two recent Third Ear Recordings EPs are just a slice of the evidence. Moeller also traffics in lush, vocal-infused dub techno as Beat Pharmacy and DJ crate-specific mixtures of both sounds as Echologist. He’s also just finished an album of protest songs which is bound to turn more than a few heads; but I’ll let him explain more of that. The Astoria-based producer and I chatted recently about NYC, standing out and the looming shadow of Basic Channel. Below the jump you’ll find a tracklisting for this great DJ set Brendon lent LWE.

Download: Brendon Moeller, March 2008 Mix (68:06)

Before you made electronic music you were in a handful of bands. What kind of music did you make?

Brendon Moeller: The first band was definitely inspired by… I guess on the one hand it was the experimental New York style of Sonic Youth, Can. I was influenced by the no wave bands. On the other hand there was Neil Young, Dylan; we were definitely into the best of classic rock as well as the new stuff. The band was together for about a year and half and then due, to just all the things that break up bands – the members are young, they’re going to college, girlfriends – everything kept getting in the way of taking it to the next level, so that fell apart. Then I met up with two guys who were heavily into the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Primus… you know, really heavy funk stuff. I wasn’t that thrilled about it, but I ended up playing with them for about six months and it didn’t really go anywhere. At that point I had become so interested in what was going on in electronic music that I wasn’t 100 percent there. I suggested that we relocate the band to New York and they weren’t really into the idea. That’s what got me to pack up and leave Johannesburg.

How much of your experience with bands carried over when making electronic music?

[In the band] I was a drummer; I was always interested in rhythm. I guess unfortunately, not much carried across other than musical sensibilities, because I switched from playing drums to drum machines and had to teach myself the ins and outs of programming and recording, sequencing. So essentially when I relocated to New York I was well aware that I would be starting from scratch. I locked myself away from the world for a couple years and dove into drum machines, sequencers and synthesizers, there was quite a serious learning curve. But it was worth it.

I understand The Orb had a big impact on you when you were starting out. What other acts influenced your electronic beginnings?

Outside of The Orb there was everything that went on in Manchester, with the Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays fusing the beats they were hearing out Detroit with the British indie rock sound. Aphex Twin, definitely. Richard H. Kirk, Cabaret Voltaire, I guess the early stuff from Transglobal Underground. I was listening to a lot of hip-hop at the time: A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Public Enemy, Grandmaster Flash. Musically I’ve never stuck with one genre at a time, I’ve always had a bunch of things going on. When I was 14 or 15 I got attached to a sound, labeling myself a punk and only listening to the Dead Kennedys and the Circle Jerks. But the older I got my curiosity about all kinds of music took over. That’s when I realized I wouldn’t mind having all these elements in some way shape what I do. Which is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse, because sometimes when you have such a big well to draw from you lose focus. I’ve always been grateful that I was in New York and able to explore music to the fullest. I worked in a record shop for four years and a distributor for another four years, the amount of music I accumulated and was exposed to – that education is timeless.

What kind of gear do you use to make music?

As far as my live thing goes – and I use “live” loosely – there’s me on a laptop with UC33 digital mixer which enables me to mix loops and a cappellas with all my own tracks. It’s a pretty simple set up that people seem to be interested in, more so than having me DJ. I’m building on that day by day, accumulating little interesting sounds that I can dump into the mix. In order to keep it interesting for myself I need to make sure I’m not just lip-synching. By building up this nice resource of sounds there’s always going to be that element of surprise, even for myself. Unfortunately I don’t have any dancing girls or great visuals to accompany my show at the moment, but I’m more comfortable in a DJ booth. You know what it looks like to work on a laptop.

What are your favorite tools in your studio?

Basically my studio is completely run from my G5 now. My favorite tool and one I’ve used since it was released is Ableton Live, which has become the driving force in my studio. I was Propellerheads’ Reason, Native Instruments’ Reaktor, Zebra, a softsynth. A bunch of various plugins and things. But predominantly Ableton Live and Reason seem to be the basis for everything I do. I have a bunch of hardware that I haven’t bothered to rig up because I’ve found that I can emulate most of the sounds and effects using the software, so I’m not concerned with the hardware anymore. And I don’t have the space living in New York; it’s a small apartment and I have my wife and my daughter here, she’s two years old. So I can’t have all my synthesizers and samplers from yesteryear. But I’m very content with the tools I have. I’m becoming less and less concerned with having the latest versions of this and that, really just focus on what I have.

Your recent “One Man’s Junk EP” is, in my opinion, your most lucid and perhaps your most melodic release under your own name, especially compared with the “Jazz Space EP,” which was a bit grittier and more dubby. I was wondering if you had a bunch of material already complete and then segmented or if this is a different phase for you.

I presented Third Ear with initially, I think, 10 tracks and Guy over at Third Ear said, ‘I think you have enough here to put together an album and how I’d like to do it is first release three four track EPs and then put out the CD.’ All the decisions regarding the tracklisting and how things would come out were all Guy’s decisions. All I wanted to do was to put together an album that represented all the different styles that I’m enjoying in club music, whether it be the minimal side, the Detroit side, the dubby techno side, the house side, or the jazzy house side. I think overall what I’m happy about with this album project is there are elements of all that in there; and that’s why the “One Man Junk EP” is quite different from the “Jazz Space EP” and the third EP is very different as well. Overall you have an album that’s rooted in house music but quite eclectic in that it draws from sounds and styles across the board. Kudos to Guy for bringing it together and deciding how to market it.

With both of your EPs there seems to be a real grit to your sound, a bit of dirt underneath its nails. You’re not afraid to use noise in place of straight up melody. I was curious how you came to cobble together that sound.

That’s the gritty rock and roll side to me, being influenced by Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. I really don’t like things to be too clean. I like little bits of noise and when sounds are gritty and dirty. I guess that’s a kind of rock and roll aesthetic I’ve managed to adopt. When you’re working with all this equipment — and I still have a constant battle of everybody using the same software and sounds, having access — how do you go about trying to stand out from the pack? You and I could be put in a room right now and someone could play us 10 minimal tracks and we would be hard pressed to guess who it is and which tracks are done by the same people because. To stand out in this game it’s become increasingly difficult. One of the things I’m hoping is that all the people in electronic music start thinking about originality and going their own way and not necessarily using sounds that everybody’s using — that’s not what it should be about. Electronic music has always been about new sounds, fresh rhythms and producers who have done that have longevity in their careers.

1471.jpgHow much sampling do you do in your work?

I tend to snatch drum sounds, the sounds of keyboards from various sources… jeez, I’d say about 35 to 40 percent. As far as the actual melodies and leads that you hear, I’m always playing them myself or programming them myself or having a guitar player or horn player do it. I try to keep the musical aspect limited to my own creations and the sounds, then I’m not opposed to taking them from various sources. Sometimes you can get that gritty sound a lot easier than trying to do it using soft synths that sound all clean and digital.

How much work do you actually do with other musicians? I read you were planning to work with Matt Johnson of The The; did that ever happen?

We actually haven’t gotten to that. He’s been busy doing a lot of soundtrack work, scoring films. I also got caught up in this new project which I actually just finished last week Wednesday, which is a new Beat Pharmacy album, a protest album. That is probably what I’m most proud of and excited right now. It’s 10 tracks, vocals on every track, contributions from Space Ape, Ras B, Koppa, Paul St. Hilaire. Basically the theme of the album is protest music — protest music as in stuff ranging from the protest songs of Bob Marley to the Midnight Oil to the A Tribe Called Quest — music that had a bit of an agenda, that had a contemporary and timely feel to the lyrics. These guys have all delivered vocals and lyrics that are just phenomenal. It feels like a combination of Rhythm & Sound meets Linton Kwesi Johnson meets The Last Poets.

Wow, that’s quite a tall order.

Yeah, that’s exactly what it is, and I’m really excited about it. I hope it’s going to be received well. I have not officially decided which label will end up releasing it — that’s what I’m doing now.

Since we’re talking about dub stuff, I was curious what made the dub sound such a potent influence on your work?

That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if it was that the very first time I heard dub was some kind of religious experience of sorts. I do recall that at the time I started seriously listening to dub was when I was smoking tons of weed and doing lots of hallucinogenic drugs. *laughs* That probably had a lot to do with it. I remember that’s what captivated me about The Orb, their use of echo and the dub aesthetic which they applied to their own sound, which really resonated with me. I immediately wanted to know how these guys were getting these effects, these echoes and reverbs. Probably because of the effect that had on my psyche while my synapses were flaring or whatever, just stuck with me. That sound — you find the influences of that in a lot of styles of music. Dub as a production aesthetic is something that really stuck with me because I enjoy fucking with sound. I think that’s the way producers get somewhere is by experimenting, really turning things out using delay, reverb, flanging. I hope that answered the question somewhat.

A lot people when they do dub influenced techno/house have difficulty getting away from the template laid out by Basic Channel and their ilk. Do you ever find it difficult to use that without sounding like them or to avoid that altogether?

Yeah, absolutely. You raise an interesting point here, and the point being that I’m incredibly influenced by them and… if they ever do listen to what I’ve done, I’d like them to feel a sense of, ‘This is a great sign of respect.’ All of respect is copycats. It is difficult, and honestly, I’m listening to all the dub techno that’s happening right now and there’s a lot of [Basic Channel copying] going on, it’s becoming difficult to differentiate one artist from another, and to also expect that people are trying to do something original and not just copying from the Basic Channel sound book. This new album is basically dub techno with vocals, but I’ve really tried to avoid people saying, ‘Oh, this sounds exactly like Rhythm & Sound with the vocals’ and ‘This sounds like the Main Street [Records] album with vocals.’ I am very aware of not wanting to be so derivative that it becomes a case of copycat with no ingenuity, I’ve accomplished that by adding more of my own grit as you’ve called it.

After listening to material from each of your monikers, I’ve noticed some aural overlap between the projects. How do you decide what gets released under which name?

The reason I had to go with different monikers is record release politics. Deep Space and Wave said, ‘We would like Beat Pharmacy to be exclusively our label’s material,’ so I said, ‘Ok, that’s fine, I guess I’ll come up with another name,’ and then the Echologist project came up. After that project– and not that [Mule Musiq] was strictly demanding that, because I have done Echologist stuff on other labels– but then I realized, you know what, let me just go with my name from here on in. I will not use another moniker, because it was never really about, oh, these are different styles or different approaches getting used, it was about not wanting to offend the various labels I was working with on that level.

Are you still doing A&R work for François Kevorkian’s Wave Music? What kind of work do you do?

Yes, I am. I’m listening to all the stuff that gets submitted and being a filter for him. Say something good comes along, I’ll draw his attention to it. He’s becoming more and more willing to let me make decisions, so in that sense… he’s so hectically busy that he doesn’t have time to spend with that. A lot of the times I’ll get stuff that I don’t think I’m equipped to judge and stuff he’s more likely to play out, so I send it off to him. He and I, since our relationship began, we realized that we did have quite a similar sensibility, so that’s how we ended up working together. He’s been great in helping shape my sound and better myself as a producer. He’s never ever been someone who’s tried to control my sound, he’s just offered up great suggestions to try and make things better; and that comes from his years in the business, in clubs and seeing how people react to things.

I was curious if you would be willing to share some of the rising talents you’ve noticed in your searches?

As far as Wave goes, I’ve pulled this guy named John Daly; I’m very proud to have brought him along. He’s putting together his debut album now and it’s just really great, spaced out dubby techno/house with a little bit of German kraut/prog rock stuff in there as well. I’ve done some stuff with Quantec, Sven Schienhammer, who’s also working with Echocord and Styrax Leaves, he’s done a couple things for WaveTec. He seems to be one of the guys in dub techno that’s doing a lot and he seems to be getting better as he goes along. I’d like to see him eventually think about incorporating vocals into his stuff. There’s also this guy, Tony Lionni, he’s living in Manchester and yeah, amazing stuff coming from him inspired by Detroit techno, but very friendly, housey stuff. Since he’s been sending me stuff he’s also sent to other labels and now he’s got stuff coming out on Versatile and Mule Musiq. And he’s hungry, you know? When he gets home from his job he just slogs away for six hours, just trying to get something fresh. I’m always looking for people who are making the effort to sound fresh. And honesty! I look for fresh sounds and honesty. When that comes across I’m always pretty compelled to go with it.

Besides the things you’ve already mentioned, what can we expect from you in 2008?

I hope to do a lot more shows and remix work; and once I’ve gotten a home for the protest album and the Brendon Moeller album comes out, I hope that boosts my profile a little so I can get some gigs and a little more money than I am. *laughs* Then I can get back to work and start a new project. I also have another EP coming out on Echocord which is just dubby club tracks, pretty straight up, definitely the most DJ friendly stuff, I think. That’ll probably be coming out in a couple months.

Download: Brendon Moeller, March 2008 Mix (68:06)

Tracklisting:

01. Syncom Data. “Horse” (Obi’s Heavyweight Dub) [SD Records]
02. Atheus, “Deploy” [Styrax Records]
03. Sascha Dive, “DEep” [Drumpoet Community]
04. T++, “Space Pong” [Erosion]
05. False, “Stomachs/Ankle Biter” [M_nus]
06. Nick Muir, “G Platz” (Quigley’s Pacemaker Dub) [Audio Therapy]
07. Holger Zilske, “Spooky Kissing” [Playhouse]
08. Deadbeat, “Mecca” (Dub) [Wagon Repair]
09. Mountain People DJs, “Mountain 005.2” [Mountain People]
10. Force of Nature, “Transmute” (Still Going remix) [Mule Musiq]
11. Wareika, “Men Village” [Connaisseur Supérieur]
12. Pär Grindvik, “Ensemble” [Stockholm LTD]
13. Anthony Collins, “Bricolage” [liebe*detail]
14. Marko Fürstenberg, “Juni-kk” (Kollektiv Turmstrasse Vocal remix) [Rotary Cocktail Recordings]
15. Solieb, “Halo” [Maschine]

manuel  on March 21, 2008 at 6:58 PM

Phish = really heavy funk stuff?

Huh?

brendon moeller  on March 21, 2008 at 8:14 PM

oops, meant to say primus, not phish…

theskypatrol  on March 22, 2008 at 2:31 AM

Great interview…

now I have to go buy all the Moeller stuff I haven’t bought yet. I like his attitude toward music and we share the some of the same core influences such as The Orb, Aphex and such.

littlewhiteearbuds  on March 22, 2008 at 11:47 AM

Phish now reads as Primus, as per Brendon’s wishes. I trust that he truly has better taste than to have been in a band heavily influenced by Phish.

manuel  on March 22, 2008 at 2:00 PM

Me too.
It makes much better sense now. :)
Hi Brendon!
Great interview!

brendon moeller  on March 22, 2008 at 6:36 PM

I hate phish!! always have :)

not really a primus fan either, but the 2 cats I formed the band with were.

hi Manuel.

mark august  on March 23, 2008 at 12:35 PM

very nice read
thanx steve and brendon

james  on March 23, 2008 at 5:15 PM

i was going to say that this reminded me a lot of the mark august interview (which i also loved), and there he is, commenting on the post!

lga  on March 25, 2008 at 5:08 PM

was the nice interview done by mail?

littlewhiteearbuds  on March 25, 2008 at 8:44 PM

We actually spoke on the phone.

Nick  on April 18, 2008 at 11:32 PM

Very insightful interview.
Looking forward to the timely Protest Album, B!

Rod  on July 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Brendon is a great producer. I love all the stuff he released as Beat Pharmacy. “Early Delights” is a masterpiece. You can listen to a older DJ mix by Beat Pharmacy here:
http://www.blastfm.ch/djsets/show/13

Phil  on July 21, 2008 at 4:00 PM

Yea,
Great interview, very enjoyable to read:D

The mix is amazing too, prob the best ive heard in the last 9 months. Love the little vocal samples throughout aswell.

Trackbacks

LWE Podcast 158: Brendon Moeller | Little White Earbuds  on April 29, 2013 at 12:02 AM

[…] Boys Own, R&S, Instinct are but a few of the labels I was exploring.LWE first spoke to you back in 2008. At that stage you were doing A&R for Francois Kervorkian’s Wave Music. How did you meet […]

LWE Podcast 158: Brendon Moeller | electronic podcasts  on August 1, 2013 at 6:48 PM

[…] first spoke to you back in 2008. At that stage you were doing A&R for Francois Kervorkian’s Wave Music. How did you meet […]

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