[Interview] NastyNasty Comes Clean About Beating Addiction and the Future of Music
Recently, the Aisle 5 crowd was treated to a sold out show of bass heavy hitters, Zeke Beats, Conrank, and NastyNasty. The show was a packed affair, spilling out into the parking lot as usual, and with the dance floor packed and sweaty from beginning to end. It was a real treat to witness such much good music, and even better to talk to the artists. NastyNasty took some time with me out in the parking lot to go over his thoughts on the music industry, production techniques, and where things are headed for artist and label relations in the future.
As we walked over to begin the interview, NastyNasty started telling me all about the Dragon House who had come out that night to support him. Apparently they had met because they had discovered some of his music prior to the hiatus he took from music, so that was where our conversation began.
So you took a break for a while, right?
I didn’t really take a break, I had a lot of shit going on in my life. I was kind of abusing benzos and just not making music. I lost (both of) my grandfathers. That was kind of rough.
How’d you kick the benzos?
I was just inspired. I tapered down for about six months. But, I’ve always been good about keeping things away from me that make it difficult to make music. That’s the one thing I really don’t tolerate in my life. It’s why I don’t really do a lot of drugs anymore. I don’t drink very frequently. They just get in the way of making music. Benzos are kind of innocuous, in that you don’t really notice, but you need to be in contact with your emotions to make music that’s worth listening to. It just wasn’t a healthy place to be in to make music that was worthwhile. I knew I needed to get over it, as hard as it was. I have a really hard time in social situations, and I have bad performance anxiety, which is why I took it. I moved around a lot as a kid. I learned how to be human on the road, basically. When I started touring, I went from being a very anti-social person to being forced into social situations. I think that was definitely the allure of things like Xanax.
And you’ve been making music for eight years?
I’ve been doing this project coming up on eight years. December 2008 is when I think I started using the name NastyNasty. I was making music as Build128 before that. It was breakcore. In my early twenties I was making breakcore, noise, and ambient. This is pre-2008 dubstep explosion of America, so the idea of having a job in electronic music did not exist unless you were Moby or Tycho. Even Tycho wasn’t making a hell of a lot back then.
I’ve seen your tweets about the EDM community at large. The festival scene is facing financial issues, and the EDM community at large is sort of eating its own face in some ways. What’s your take on that?
There are artists that are going to be fine. It’s sort of a longevity thing. If all that you make is saturated, sweet music that will hold people on until they get diabetic on it. If you appeal to the crowd that goes out from 21-25, you’ll probably make a killing for like five years. But then those people live pretty normal lives after 25. They start getting married, they start having kids, they stop coming out. And your bubble kind of collapses. But I think people who really dig in and find their own sound; people like EPROM, people like G Jones, Bleep Bloop. These kids that have found their own sound. They’re kind of a little bit more permanent because they’ve built a very organic sort of cult following of people who will still come out forever. And also just being unique, gives you access to younger fans, who can’t even come out to the club yet. I’m finding on this tour, people who were unable to come see me back when I was touring a lot, four years ago, are now coming out to see me for the first time. That makes me really happy too, because my opinion of my music is way better than it was a couple years ago. I definitely think the sets I’m throwing now are far more brain stretching. I’ve lost all semblance of compromising to a dance floor. For me, with music, I like these polar opposites. I like really well defined, big ideas; and I like really awful music. What bothers me the most about music is painfully average and safe music.
A lot of your older stuff was much more minimal...
A bunch of my older stuff was more minimal, but also the technology has changed a lot, in the software. I’ve been doing it so many years that I’ve seen it go from certain things being a pain in the ass to being really easy to do now. It’s easier to make more complex music. Some of my new stuff is crazy minimal, but it doesn’t sound like it, the way it’s automated. Songs like “Advanced Chiropract” have like six sounds total in them, but they’re warped in so many ways, in so many iterations over the span of two minutes that it sounds like it’s something new each time.
We have way better drum samples now. Oh, man. It was a struggle back in the day. We actually had to learn how to compress our snares. We didn't have the Vengeance Collections and whatnot of these really shiny drum sounds. And we also just didn’t have really great software to make your own drum sounds. You had to kind of fight, or you had to spend a lot of money on hardware to get really clean sounds. I remember just wanting a distressor so bad when I was a kid because that’s what all my favorite drum & bass producers were using to get their snares to pop so loud, but it’s a $2,000 piece of equipment. For someone like me who was living in West Oakland, in a dirty apartment, I didn’t have a lot of money. There wasn’t money in the electronic scene, and I was frequently spending my own money to get to shows. I was throwing shows in SF and IDM shows. There wasn’t money like there is now. I think one of the things that kept me alive was that I did spend money on synthesizers when I did have it, and I think that kept me sounding unique.
You posted a picture the other day of a modular synth. Is that a new piece of hardware for you?
I’ve had that for a while, but I used it heavily on Broken Moon though. I kind of got way more into modular. That’s just a semi-mod, but I’m starting to build it out into a complete rig. I love the modular architecture. Something about the inconsistency of analog makes it very human. That’s a clone of a Russian synth made by a European company, so power conversion isn’t great, you’re not always perfectly in tune. But these sort of imperfections are how human beings play instruments. It gives you a more unique feel. So, if you trip out on things like I do like the infinite space between zero and one, when you think about how analog stuff works, and how it has total harmonic distortion of the curves on all the knobs...you’re playing with infinity when you do it. There is not a finite amount of combinations. There is a very infinite space. The slightest movement is so much in the sound. It’s kind of mind-boggling. And being able to drone out on something, too. When I use the modular, I usually just leave a note playing, and tune it, and then I start twisting knobs and plugging stuff in while I’m watching anime or whatever. I just passively go until I start hearing something that pulls my attention into the speakers. And then I record that, and throw it into a sampler. I do this a couple times a week, and just build my library up. It’s something I got into doing very, very recently. G Jones was talking about separating those sound design sessions and those writing sessions; so when you go into writing sessions you have a bunch of sounds that are ready, and you don’t have to focus on them. You can focus more on writing the song. And if you’re not feeling inspired to make a song, you can just make sounds. If I have no inspiration, I just make snare drums, because I don’t need to put the most emotion into a snare drum, I just need to make cool-sounding snare drums. It’s more of a scientific decision, or just making bass sounds; but then when it comes to writing a song, I like to have some kind of idea in mind first; whether that’s for a tune, or just an aesthetic that I want to go for. I get a lot of my inspiration from visual stuff, or I try to. So, movies, anime, graffiti, graphic design, and 3D modeling. Like Trashmouth was made out of an inspiration of watching this 3D model of a mech walking around. I starting thinking 'what would a mech want to break dance to?'
I think most people would call that dubstep.
I’m actually really happy about dubstep coming back. I saw this tweet the other day that made me so happy. This girl was saying how she was finally just getting into original UK dubstep, and I feel like in America, a lot of people still don’t know about the precursor to the American dubstep explosion. They think dubstep started with Datsik and stuff like that, but there’s definitely a deeper history of music than that. People like Coki and Mala and stuff like that. I play "26 Basslines" in my set really frequently. I love that old stuff, and I find that it resonates with the current youth even more than some of the tear-out, more formatted EDM dubstep, because it has that warehouse feeling to it. A lot of people don’t know that dubstep is black music. It’s a combination of two-step and reggae. People like Mungo’s Hi-Fi building out these gigantic bassy dub sound systems, and just playing bass heavy loops on a 16-track mixer on tape, and then dubbing out delays. Stuff like Scientist and Mad Professor, that stuff is really inspirational. They were progenitors of sound. They developed delay as an art.
How has this tour been for you? Any crazy stories?
So far so good. I rarely have crazy stories because I’m not much of a party animal. I’m usually sober at shows. I do my thing, I enjoy myself, I’m still pretty awkward around people but I get by. I have a feeling that my next two nights are going to be pretty crazy. I’m playing with G Jones and Sayer in Denver and Fort Collins.
You've played with G Jones before, have you played with Sayer?
Totally. I’ve made tunes with Sayer, and I’ve played with him at a couple of festivals. I love the guy to death, and he is who sort of flipped me over to Ableton as a production tool. We were collaborating on a track earlier this year and he showed me a lot of the new functions in Ableton 9. It became apparent to me that if I was going to stay competitive, and be able to collaborate with the new generation, I had better learn how to use Ableton as a production tool.
What did you use before that?
I used Nuendo, which is a Steinberg program. Steinberg invented the VST, and they also invented floating point summing amp processing, which is amazing, and is pretty much the standard now. But the program is meant for post-production and sound design mainly, and it’s a little bit unwieldy. I know I’ve traded a bit of sound quality for the creative freedom in Ableton, but I’m really happy to have traded that.
Well, getting back to our earlier discussion about the industry. You seem to be pretty laid back about the way things are going.
I’ve come to a point where I’ve realized that what works for me doesn’t work for everybody. In fact, I’m a pretty fuckin’ weird guy when it comes down to it. What works for me probably doesn’t work for most people. I try my hardest not to judge. The only thing that really gets to me is people who overtly undermine the artistry of music for the sake of either monetary gains or just to chase fame. I think that’s a really empty goal on one side, and the other side goes back to the idea of safe music. If you make really safe music and never push your audience, you’re not really adding to the diaspora of music.
If it’s not about the money and the fame, why perform? Why not just make it in your basement?
I can’t live off just making music in the basement, I have to tour. But, also, people like coming out and experiencing something on systems, and it’s the one way I can guarantee that people listen to it on loud sound systems with subwoofers. Because most of the time, people are going to listen to stuff on their laptop speakers. And, that’s great, you can get a lot of good experience from that. I listen to tons of stuff on laptop speakers. I write a lot of my stuff on laptop speakers, but to get that shared experience with other people. It was part of the reason I stopped making breakcore and started making slower, subbier music. I wanted to make music that required a sound system. I felt like making headphone music was just making people who are already kind of socially awkward even more trapped in. And that was me. I felt like I was doing it to myself and anybody that was listening to my previous alias. I was just further separating you from the people around you, and it’s not really healthy for people to be like that. We’re a very social animal. We need people around us, and having people around you inspires you too. The time when I wasn't making a lot of music was the time I really closed myself off from a lot of people. Getting back in contact with a lot of people reinforced why I started making this music in the first place and re-doubled my inspiration to get back into it.
Yeah, I think bass music brings people together, at least in part, because you don’t just hear it, you physically feel it. I think that does something to people’s mood, maybe even against their will.
Yeah, and you’re listening to some objectively strange music with other people, and you’re all vibing out together, and you feel all together in your strangeness, and I think that’s really important for people. A big part of the reason I make the music that I do is because I want people to feel less scared to just take those risks. Be dangerous with music and say something provocative. Say something that pushes people out of their box with your sounds, because expanding those comfort zones helps us learn each other better. One of the best things about music is that it can hurt you in a place that no other thing can. That’s important because it creates growth in those areas. All art really, it can get you in some places that no other experiences in life can hit you with. That vulnerability is important to humans, I think. To not block yourself completely off and say fuck everybody who doesn't agree with what I think. There’s so many different lives and experiences that everybody has.
I know you’ve worked with a lot of different labels, and your latest release is on Saturate. Saturate has courted a lot of heavy hitters in the bass scene, and is known for giving a lot of music away for free. How do you see the artist and label relationship changing?
I think that’s sort of the 2016 state of affairs in music. Selling music, really got burnt out with the death of the CD. I know people still make CDs, but let’s be real, that’s done. It’s been done for a long time. There was a time in the 90s when the record labels were manufacturing not just CDs, but bands to sell you CDs. They would buy so many of them that they would be in the Billboard top 100 charts immediately. And they would pay enough money to get them on TRL. People got really disenfranchised with that. People were sick of it, and lost faith in music. We had less access back then too. We didn’t have the vast depths of Soundcloud to just go find what we like. I was lucky to have an Amoeba music in Berkeley that I could go to the experimental section and go find cool records and find dubstep records and breakcore records, and just be exposed to weird stuff. And you guys have Criminal Records out here, which is a great record store, but those places are few and far between where you can find that wide variety of music. I think part of the disenfranchisement is because there was a devaluation of music as a physical medium, and then the .mp3 advent came about. People are going to pirate this stuff anyway, so you might as well just give it to them. I can’t think of anything better to give someone than music, and the money obviously comes from touring, so it’s like your business card now. So, you still follow labels on Soundcloud, it’s not all artists. Saturate’s a label I’ve watched for a long time, and I thought their model of giving music away for the first two weeks is totally up with modern times. I feel like that’s necessary, but I’m still for selling vinyl. Saturate is a Hamburg-based label in Germany. Germany is still very much into techno, still. So, for the guy who runs Saturate, money is not the concern, it’s just about pushing this music. I feel like that’s the best place to come from for a label, and then you do occasional things like vinyls to make a little bit of cash, or even just to record something in history. Until we land cool jobs as sound designers or get too old to tour around, that’s the way to go.
Anything you want to plug? I know you’ve just had a release come out.
Yeah, download Broken Moon. Come out to my shows. If you like the music, come to the shows, and if you don’t like it, I don’t blame you to be honest. Not everything is for everyone and I’m cool with that. I would rather piss somebody off at a show than have them go “meh”. Because, when you’re trying to invoke an emotional response from somebody, not everyone is going to be open to that emotion at all times, because we’re humans, but that means that you actually went for it.
Are you aiming for a specific emotion from people?
I have my own ideas about how things will go, but I’m never sure. People come back to me with different lyrics, or different intentions, but for the live show I think I’m trying to bring back visceral garage, punk vibes to electronic music. I’m sort of merging my 16-year-old self with my 33-year-old self. A lot of Broken Moon was just me plugging my synths into guitar pedals and just twisting knobs. Just getting really in there and it felt like I was in the garage again. I just recorded everything and then glued it back together. There’s some sort of balance between the emotions, and old Black Flag, Misfits, Danzig era stuff. And then mesh that with modern sound design, and create some sort of new breed of heshers in the club listening to bass music.
We went back inside to enjoy the music, and the night was full of so many great tunes and lively performances. NastyNasty’s set came at the end to close things out with moody, heavy bass, but Zeke Beats gave us a highly chopped and edited set of trap music on vinyl first, and Conrank played his own brand of weird bass music, which I really enjoyed. Look for part two of this show review with our interview with Conrank coming soon.
Photos by Megan Friddle for Bullet Music