The Glitch Mob | Sounds Electric

The fans who will actually come and pay money to see us are really worth their weight in gold.


2010 has been a busy year for The Glitch Mob. Since getting together in 2006, the L.A.-based band has built a huge following and become a fixture in the electronic music world. This June marked the release of their first full-length album, Drink the Sea. Along with the album, the band announced their first headlining tour, and have been on the road since April. Before their August 24 show at The Blue Note in Columbia, Mo., band members Justin Boreta (Boreta), Ed Ma (edIT) and Josh Mayer (Ooah) sat down to talk about storytelling, samurai and their love for their fans.
Without getting too technical, what equipment are you going to be using (in the live show)?
Boreta: Computers. [Laughs] We have these things called V-drums that are basically drums that trigger sounds from the computer. We play them like we play a regular drum, but as opposed to making a sound they just trigger samples from the computer.
So the V-drums, the computers; what else?
edIT: The Lemurs.
Yeah, that’s something I remember reading about. Could you explain briefly what those are?
Ooah: They’re these little animals with really big eyes. [Laughs]
Boreta: It’s a touch screen interface that we use to control the computer, so we trigger samples and control everything from there. It’s kind of like the main console that we use for playing music. And we angle them toward the crowds. One reason the touch screens are cool for performing electronic music is that, when we angle them toward the crowd, people can see what we’re doing up there, that we’re actually playing all the notes for the whole set. Sometimes we’ll even have cameras on us.
So it’s a very involved process for you guys; it’s not like you’re just hitting play.
edIT: No. We like to be transparent with the crowd, because sometimes with electronic music you can be watching someone up there on stage and literally have no idea what they’re doing; they could just be surfing the internet. So we like to show the audience as much as possible that we are really up there playing the music. The Lemurs are great because they’re customizable and they light up and everything.
You’ve said that your first full-length album Drink the Sea came from a more narrative place than some of the work you have done in the past. Could you expound upon that? What story are you telling with the album?
edIT: It’s the story of life. Really, what we were doing was just telling our story, gathering our experiences and telling them through the music. It’s just common tales and stories that everyone experiences in life translated through music. That’s really it, in a nutshell.
Ooah: [Laughs] It’s hard to say. I don’t know that we could really pick out with each song what specific story it is. I guess in the process of making the record and coming up with the concept of it all, it became a collection of all the different things we were going through at the time, all of the different emotions and feelings and changes in ourselves personally and as a band.
So not a specific story, per se.
edIT: No. It’s more like being able to take a sound and pin that to an emotion.
Boreta: But if our music meant a certain story to you, to the listener, that’s fine, too.
Ooah: Yeah, there’s no specific story; you could put your own story with it if you wanted. It was more meant to pull out different emotions in people. Some songs make sure there’s something heartfelt, whereas some songs make sure there’s something…
Boreta: Really primal. And that’s also because for the most part there are no vocals. I mean, there’s one song (on the album) with vocals. With instrumental music, the narrative is there but it’s open to interpretation. We just left it open to whatever people want to take from it and didn’t spell it out too much. I think the song titles and the art kind of hint at a mood, though.
You’ve talked about mixing the album specifically for people who would be listening through ear buds or car stereos. I heard that you took out a lot of the higher-pitched sounds that would be painful when played through ear buds. When you go to the studio to create something for a club atmosphere, do you have a different mindset or different goals than when you create something, like the album, for individuals?
Boreta: Yeah, absolutely. When we wrote the album, one of the things we did in the beginning was we actually asked our fans how they listen to music. A lot of people said ear buds, like iPod ear buds, or in their cars. That (response) was actually a lot more common than home stereos within our fan base. So when we were creating the album, we turned it up really loud and then mixed all the songs in a way that would make it as listenable as possible. When we make something for a club system or a festival system, it’s a different aesthetic and coming from a different place. Then we’re going for something big, epic, larger than life, punchy.
Something people can dance to?
Boreta: Yeah, exactly, and almost channeling our experiences with being in front of big crowds. Having internalized that, we’re re-experiencing that crowd interaction in the studio and creating whatever we think would make the best show possible.
Do you have to make artistic compromises to achieve specific goals? For example, in order to cut out the sounds that would be painful through ear buds, do you have to compromise any of your creative instincts about that song? Or vice versa: Do you make compromises to make a song more appealing in a club?
Ooah: To me, (the progression and variation in our sound) has been a continuous process from the beginning until now. It’s not like we say, “OK, we’re going to make these songs sound this way, then the next album’s going to sound dull,” but then we’ll go back to the club style of writing tracks. It was just overall; through our experience with being DJs and playing and being in a lot of clubs and listening to tons of music, (our sound) just eventually got there. It was kind of a natural process for us. I don’t think we compromised anything at all; we just tried something different. And, who knows, maybe on the next record we’ll mix it differently or mix it with a more “club” style.
edIT: I don’t think we’ve ever gone into the writing process thinking we’re going to write this specifically for the dance floor, or only for DJs to download and play out. I think we always just go into it saying, “Let’s make music; let’s write a piece of music that we’re really going to enjoy.” That’s really the intention from the get-go, it’s never like, let’s write this one for the club, or let’s write this one for home listening. At the end of it all, how people end up digesting it is up to them.
Boreta: Yeah, talking about it in retrospect it makes sense to contextualize it like that, but in the studio we’re just kind of doing our thing.
When you perform Drink the Sea live, do you want to replicate the album sound as closely as possible, or do you want to create a different, hybrid experience using the album as a jumping off point?
Boreta: We definitely took the album and reinterpreted it to be performed live. It sounds exactly like the album as far as the actual sounds go, but we’ve edited the songs down and sometimes we have vocals that we add. Like, we just released a mixtape (Drink the Sea II) where we took the album and put a bunch of vocals on it. But we play the whole thing live, so it’s something that works well in the live environment. It’s sort of like you said, a hybrid of the live experience and the album.
What does a live performance feel like for you guys? What are you thinking about? What is your relationship to the crowd? Are you aware of their responses and do you ever change anything in your performance because of how the audience is responding?
edIT: Yeah, definitely. We’re definitely in tune with how the crowd reacts to our music and how they feel about it. Based on what responses we get or feedback online and stuff, we definitely will change the set accordingly. If one thing’s not working out, we’ll try something else, because the fans who will actually come and pay money to see us are really worth their weight in gold. Especially in this day and age when you can go to a festival and pay a couple hundred bucks and see every band you want to see for the entire year. When fans will actually come out to see your headlining show, that means a lot. We want to give them an experience they can walk away from feeling really pumped. We definitely aim to deliver. [Laughs]
You guys put on a very physical show, very high energy. Is that exhausting for you onstage, or are you too deep “in the zone,” so to speak, to realize how hard you’re working?
Boreta: We’re definitely in the zone.
Ooah: We’re also very intuitive guys, so we notice where we’re at with each other and we’re constantly connecting with each other during the show. Like we’ll be looking over at each other, laughing about something that just happened.
So you’re in a collective zone.
Ooah: Yeah, for sure. And it’s a workout; we’re constantly moving, picking up drumsticks, jumping back to the keyboard or whatever it is.
edIT: But this is also the most fun part of the process. All of the hard work is pouring our hearts into the album-writing process over nine months. Now we’ve been touring with the record since April, and to us this is really the reward, to get to go out and perform it for people.
Boreta: Yeah, and it’s what we’d be doing anyway. We love music. We’re really, really big music geeks and followers. To get to go up there and perform for people is an honor and a huge blessing for us, and so when we’re up there playing we just completely go off into the zone. It almost doesn’t matter; we’ll have been touring for three straight days and running on coffee and just tired and fucked up, but the second we get onstage and start playing it’s a whole different thing. It’s exhausting, but something switches in your head and the whole outside world just goes away.
edIT: And you’re just wired after the show. At least for me, it takes me a little bit to fall asleep because it was just such an adrenaline rush.
Do you guys walk around all the time with ideas for beats or bits of music in your head, stuff that you’re humming or playing around with? Or does everything come to you in the studio in the group setting?
edIT: For me personally, I think the ideas tend to come when I’m sitting in the room together with these guys. When we were writing the record, I think all the ideas were conceptualized in the studio.
Boreta: Yeah, sometimes I’ll have an idea here or there, but it’s interesting because a lot of the stuff we come up with ahead of time doesn’t really translate once we’re in the studio. Once we get in there and start writing is when it all comes out. We didn’t really conceptualize the album before we started writing. We talked about the general direction we wanted to go with it, but as far as how it actually came out, that was all on the fly.
Ooah: It’s funny, because for I while I used to get different tunes in my head, like little melodies I’d come up with. I remember at one point I got this little recorder, thinking, “OK, I should hum (the melodies) because I’ll never remember them three hours from now when I get home.” But I could never get them to sound right. Once I had the idea recorded, it just wasn’t the same. It never worked.
Boreta: But every now and then I’ll be lying in bed, sleeping, and all of a sudden I’ll get an idea and get up at like three in the morning to go record it. If you can get it out right then, it works.
Ooah: Yeah, it has to be right then and there. I think a lot of ideas came to us like that, but in the studio. Because we’d be in there all day, and there’s only one computer, so two of us would be tooling around doing something else. I remember moments of starting to sing melodies in my head while, say, Ed was working on something, and I’d run over, yelling, “Try this! You’ve got to get this!”
And you’d get it down right away.
Ooah: Yeah, because we’d be right there. That’s part of what I think made the album so unique, that way of writing it. Because some people will start writing and be gathering ideas for months at a time and putting them all together, but for us it was like [snaps]. When we were in the studio, that’s when it came out.
When you’re coming up with these ideas are there any visuals or moods or scenes in your mind that go along with the music? Basically, what are you guys seeing?
edIT: There is definitely imagery sometimes. Like oftentimes while we were writing Drink the Sea, we’d say to each other, “This song is like (the soundtrack for) X”; this is the end of the world and the aliens come down, but you save everyone.” [Laughs]
Ooah: Like some triumphant anthem. [Laughs]
edIT: Imagery like that will happen sometimes, and we’ll totally vibe off that. From there on the entire song will be about that, and with all the little melodies and everything we’ll be (saying to one another), “This is the part where (X happens)…”
Ooah: We’ll make up a little story and it’s kind of like this inside joke. Like cool little stories where we’re (saying to each other) “OK, this is the part where the hero comes in, and it’s like…” [hums a short melody]
edIT: Yeah, like that part (of the music) is when the samurai is standing there at the end and there’s a bunch of dead bodies all over the ground. [Laughs] So there would be a lot of that going on.
Ooah: Lots of samurai, lots of Bravehearts and cinematic stuff. [Laughs]
That’s awesome; I’m so glad you guys said that. So when you guys go to clubs or shows just as part of the audience, what kind of music do you like to hear?
Boreta: Man, we spend so much time touring that I very rarely get to go to shows. But we go see music that is very different from what we perform, like, [turns to edIT] what was the last show you saw?
edIT: The last show I personally saw? I think it was either Devendra Banhart or The XX. Yeah, I think Devendra Banhart was the last show I saw.
Boreta: I saw School of Seven Bells.
edIT: Oh yeah, that was in Amsterdam.
Ooah: The last band I saw was Glassjaw.
You guys have really diverse tastes.
Ooah: Yeah, we rarely go to see a DJ or electronic music.
edIT: And if we do it’ll be to represent our fellow producer friends who are playing in Los Angeles that night, or who are in from out of town or something. Then we’ll go down to support them and hang out. But had it been our choice, generally I don’t think we’d just go out to a nightclub.
Is that because you get a bit burnt out on electronic music when you’re working with it so much?
Boreta: We spend so much time around electronic music; I mean this (tour) is a 30-show run.
Ooah: It’s like if you eat Thai food every day for 30 days, then by the time you’re done the last thing you want is more Thai food.
Boreta: We definitely still appreciate electronic music and all our peers who are doing it and everything. But when that’s part of your job on a night-in and night-out basis and then you get time to go and experience live music, that’s probably the last type of environment you’d want to be in.
When you hear electronic music, is it hard for you guys to take a step back and just be listeners? Is it difficult to remove yourselves and experience the music without thinking about the production side or just over-analyzing it?
edIT: It is, it is. Because you’re standing there, and you’re definitely analyzing it from the standpoint of a scholar and a fellow musician, fellow producer, all that stuff. So yeah, it can be difficult.
You guys can probably relate to what’s happening onstage a little bit too much to just zone out and listen to the music.
edIT: I can’t remember the last time I went to see a DJ and I wasn’t essentially deconstructing their whole set. [Laughs] 
Boreta: I think it depends what it is, though.
Ooah: Sure. Even we go to see a friend play in town or something, we can still…
edIT: Oh yeah, we can still enjoy it, definitely.
Ooah: I try to get myself to give into it, you know? Try to step back and just listen. | Taban Salem

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