Everyday is Record Store Day for a lot of us, including RJD2 and Aaron Livingston, who recorded a brilliant album together in 2011 as Icebird. I had the privilege to sit down with them in our studio last week to chat and play some records ahead of the Record Store Day vinyl release of their album The Abandoned Lullaby.
“I feel weird saying I have a lot of records when I’m sitting next to RJ. I have a few records,” said Aaron.
RJ responded, “But I don’t have a lot of records, I don’t have records like Rich Medina. I have a modest record collection when I consider the heavy duty record collectors. I don’t have a storage unit -there’s a defining line and I’m a non-storage unit guy.”
Ahead of his set on the #2014EMM, I caught up with Philly DJ and producer Blueshift to chat about house music, changing tastes (music and otherwise), and the Philly scene. He’s got a release out on the legendary New York label Nurvous Recordings, and was the co-founder of the highly acclaimed French Express blog, amongst manyyy other things.
Chris B: Wassup man, thanks for linking up, and looking forward to having you on the EMM!
Blueshift: Noo problem, man – happy to chat, and stoked to participate!
CB: So, how did you get into house music?
Blueshift: I’ve always been a fan of 80’s music. Even as a kid, synthesizer-heavy stuff caught my ear. I loved Eurodance! When I discovered dance music and really got into it, it was mainly the harder stuff like hard trance and such. Over the years, I just branched out and moved to different genres.
CB: What was one of the first tracks like that that you loved?
CB: As you got older, what was some of the dance-y stuff you got into?
Blueshift: In the later years of high school, I was really getting into music, but listened relatively passively. I remember this one track by Ghost in the Machine called “A Time Long Forgotten” – I listened to that a lot. I think I had a few Hybrid tracks around then, too. College is where I discovered internet radio dance music stations and got into hard house and trance. Stuff like Tidy Boys and Tunnel Trance Force.
CB: So how did you end up moving towards the funky side of things?
Blueshift: Just through changing tastes. I moved from trance, to progressive stuff, and somewhere around 2006/2007 my ear really caught onto the french house and nu-disco sound.
CB: Around that time for me, that was Justice / MSTRKRFT – what was it for you?
Blueshift: I liked their sound, but for me it was the Lifelike/Fred Falke/Alan Braxe crew that really did it for me. Thinking back, the turning point might have been when my friend played one of James Grant’s early Anjunabeats Worldwide shows for me, and I heard Michael Cassette’s tracks for the first time. Something about it just seemed to combine trance, but with a pure 80’s sound and it totally shoved my taste in that direction for the next few years.
Blueshift: I haven’t! I’ll load it up on queue for today 😀
CB: Have you always been based out of Philly?
Blueshift: For the most part. I was in NJ for a couple years for the last year of high school and for college, but moved back around 2006.
CB: I feel like the ‘scene’ here has kind of blossomed recently – tell me about your experiences in Philly – as a resident, as a DJ, etc
Blueshift: The scene in Philly DEFINITELY has exploded in the past two years or so. The caliber of artists coming through now is so great. We have tons of awesome and current acts in on a regular basis, and lots of smaller groups popping up as well. There’s a pretty steady rotating lineup of good gigs. Philly can also be a pretty tough city to get a handle on though; I’ve played a wide range of shows here, from empty to packed, but I’m definitely grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had to play here.
CB: Who are some of your artist homeys in Philly that we should know about?
Blueshift: The Worldtown peeps have been putting out some great tracks recently (and crushing it with their events) **editor’s note: they’re spinning for us on the EMM, too!**,Apt One always brings the heat **also spinning for the EMM**, Les Professionnels are super pro **ALSO spinning for the EMM**, and PS 118 has some really tight stuff upcoming. Maggs Bruchez are also some of my favorite Philly producers.
CB: Where’s your fave brunch spot?
Blueshift: Cafe Renata in West Philly. I’m always there. I’ve also found myself at Broad Street Diner a bunch recently.
CB: I love pork roll – how do you feel about pork roll?
Blueshift: Pork roll is great, man. Blew my mind when I first heard it called Taylor Ham.
Matthew Law FKA DJ PHSH is a man that really shouldn’t need an introduction.
He’s rocked pretty much every spot in Philly, and has been moving asses in clubs before he was even allowed to drink. He was the tour DJ for Dave Chappelle’s Oddball Comedy Tour, the Northeast champion of the 2013 Red Bull 3Style Contest, and has spun numerous highly acclaimed gigs including LA’s the Do-Over and Low End Theory.
It seems like forever ago that I sat down with Matt, and since then, he’s recorded the official Roots Picnic Mixtape and opened up the annual PSK event for J. Rocc, Rich Medina, Cosmo Baker, Cash Money, and Questlove – amongst his normal crazy schedule.
Peep his dope set from PSK, and read our chat to get hype for his 3rd annual PHSH TANK Block Party this weekend.
ML: I’m Matthew Law – you might know me from before as DJ PHSH. I’m a DJ, producer, vision guy – I have a lot of ideas.
CB: What were your first musical memories?
ML: My parents had a theatre company together, up until I was 14. I grew up with that, and also played violin for six years.
Growing up in West Philly in the 90s, the hip hop and alternative rock stuff was really poppin, so I remember that. My Dad liked the modern rock too, so we’d go on drives and listen to Y100 or WMMR and joke around. I still remember being like 7, and listening to Pearl Jam and making fun of Eddie Vedder with all the aaayyyyy-eee-yayy-yuhhh’s.
CB: Y100, RIP! I remember them making fun of Creed also.
ML: Oh Y100 would rag on Creed so hard.
It’s a weird segway – but I remember there being such a weird feeling of race separation once I started hearing Beastie Boys and Eminem on Y100, but not any other rap. I was like, “Oh so I guess if they’re white guys it’s OK for them to be on Y100?” I thought that was really strange, and even at 12, I boycotted them for like two months. My first concert was at Veterans Stadium with Dave Matthews Band, The Roots, and Santana. I was 10, and I came for Dave Matthews Band. I had no idea who The Roots were.
I don’t have any older siblings, so when it came to hip hop, the reason I probably attached to it so much, besides a few key people, was that I really had to discover it on my own, and make it my own.
CB: So how’d you get into DJing, and what was your first set up like?
ML: I saw Scratch, the documentary, and I was like, that’s what I wanna do, I wanna try it out. I didn’t really have anybody to show me anything up until I met Illvibe Collective. It was just watching Scratch over and over again.
It’s funny because on the special edition of it, Z-Trip gave a 20 minute tutorial on how to be a DJ for the most part. Last year, I was DJing at Output with Rich Medina, Questlove, and Z-Trip, and I was like, “Yo, you were my first DJ teacher!”
My first set up was the Stanton STR 880 DJ in a box. The first pair of turntables I saw in person was from this kid I went to Hebrew school with, he got those for his Bar Mitzvah. His Bar Mitzvah was after mine, and when I saw his, I was like, “Man, I shouldn’t have gotten a guitar!”
CB: How did you start to build up a name for yourself in Philly and beyond?
ML: I started DJing the Gathering, the longest running hip hop event in Philadelphia. When I was 18, I had my first consistent gig in a club at Medusa Lounge on Tuesdays. I didn’t try to drink, and I think I got a way with a lot of stuff because I knew I was there to work. I wasn’t there to party – I was there to make the party happen.
Then in 2009, everything blew up with my first party, Superdope. Nose Go, Yis Goodwin, had a magazine called McJawn with Gwen Vo, and Leah Kauffman had just started the blog Phrequency. Sammy Slice had his party Mo Money Mo Problems, and while we were somewhat in competition, as far as the kids that were our age, we all were working together in some way.
I started Superdope when I was 20, still not drinking, and on my 21st birthday, there was a thunderstorm. I thought nobody was gonna come out, and we had over 350 people that night.
CB: How was Low End Theory when you spun out there?
ML: Low End Theory was great. It was the first time in a while that I understood that a large crowd of people might not be there to dance, cuz it’s beat heads. So they’re just looking at you like, yeah, you might hear a ‘wooh’.
CB: Let’s talk about the Matthew Law name change.
ML: My full name is Matthew Lawrence Fishman-Dickerson. I came up with DJ PHSH in 10th grade chemistry – I just needed a name. I’m producing now, and I don’t want people to get the wrong idea about what I’m capable of, so that’s why I’m going with Matthew Law.
Plus, a lot of my mentors go by their names, Statik is now Mr. Sonny James, King Britt’s real name is King Britt, Rich Medina’s real name is Rich Medina, and I thought I’d get on the bus.
CB: Tell us what to expect from your new EP.
ML: I’m currently working on it. It’s a storytelling record. Originally it was like oh I’m breaking up from DJ PHSH, but it ended up being like oh I’m breaking up with a girl and then going into a new relationship, new girl. Each track is it’s own thing – it’s a score to my own short film in my mind. I just got a bass player on it, there’s some funky samples and modern funk electronics, and a slow jam with a really ill guitar solo from Joe Jordan.
CB: Favorite closing track:
ML: Between two records.
I’m always the first one there and last one to leave, somebody better be going home with something.
It was sampled for SWV’s – The Rain.
*editor’s note – I linked to the live version of this song because it’s the shit*
CB: What’s something interesting about you outside of music?
ML: I grew up watching a lot of anime. Not like oh Pokemon’s on, Dragonball Z’s on – no, I watched Akira in a dark room by myself when I was 11. I saw Ninja Scroll when I was 9. I think it’s really funny when people try to rag on anime and act like that shit’s for nerds – it was the foundation for your entire childhood! All those cartoons you used to watch were outsourced to Asia, stop bullshitting. Do not front. I take the strongest approach possible when it comes to defending watching good anime.
Wil Schade: I’m here in the studio with a very special band Dynamo, who just killed an in-studio performance at WKDU. I am joined by Kevin [Gift Jr.] and Ryan [Connors], the bassist and pianist of Dynamo.
Ryan Connors: Thanks for having us.
Wil Schade: You guys are from Nashville, Tennessee. You’ve been on tour for two weeks now. How has it been?
Ryan: It’s been great man, a lot of different types of venues. One of the cool things we’ve been doing on the road is giving clinics and master classes at high schools and middle schools. Those have been really fun too. We usually do those in the mornings on weekdays. Those have been a blast, and once again different scenarios at every one of them. You never know what to expect.
Wil: So what has been the craziest moment of tour so far? I have to ask that question.
Ryan: Craziest moment of tour? Man, that’s a tough one…
Kevin: That we can say on radio, or..? [Laughs]
Ryan: Well, one story that comes to mind actually happened right before the tour. The night before we left, our drummer’s van, like a utility van, basically broke down and couldn’t start. And this was the night before we had to leave for the tour. So we basically towed it away that night, took it to the shop, and then got it two hours after we’d planned to leave that day. So we were running late to a gig in Columbus, ran into three hours of traffic, so we got there literally right before we had to play. Everyone was really stressed out but everyone played really well because they had a lot of aggression that they had to get out. [Laughs]
Wil: You’re a large group. So, what are all of your different musical backgrounds and how did you guys meet, at first?
Ryan: Seven of the nine members went to Belmont University down in Nashville Tennessee. Four of us that went there actually got our Masters in Music. We graduated just last week or two weeks ago. So that’s sort of the story there. We come from all over the map, like Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Illinois, and upstate New York. Our keyboard player/trombone player is the only one actually from Nashville Tennessee. So we all just kinda came together from really different backgrounds like you were just saying. Kevin, our bass player, plays in churches. Some of the guys are just straight ahead jazz players. The guitarist can play, like, a country gig if he needs to. We’re all kind of well rounded, but we all enjoy this style of music I think the most. Everyone’s on board with making really great music.
Wil: You guys just released Live at Ocean Way, a live in-studio album for an audience of forty members?
Ryan: Yeah. We did three shows that day, December 8th 2013. We had three shows so that we could each have three different live takes to choose from. Each show had forty different people in each audience, so a total of 120 people attended that concert that day, and we did eight tunes at each show. Actually the album is a compilation of the last show, the 8 o clock show. So that’s what you hear on the album, that’s what you’re getting.
Wil: So how was the recording process? Was it difficult with the live aspect and getting the perfect take?
Ryan: It was extremely difficult. We didn’t make it any easier on ourselves because we actually brought in a lot of outside musicians. If you listen to the album, that’s actually 24 musicians taking part. There’s a string quartet, we beefed up our horn section so there’s a baritone, tenor, alto [saxophones], trombone, trumpet.
Wil: There’s an EVI [Electronic valve instrument] on one of the tunes I heard.
Ryan: Yeah the trumpet player also plays EVI so he took a solo on one of the tunes, which was awesome. Actually that’s Joe Anderson from Philly. He just graduated from U Arts. So two of those horn players, including Joe and Ben Ford our trombone player, showed up basically that morning and sight read the charts all day. We’re already trying to get a lot of people together to play somewhat difficult music and that didn’t make it any easier [laughs].
Wil: Speaking of difficult music, you write most of the tunes. What are some of your influences? I know when I watched the YouTube videos it looks a lot like Snarky Puppy to me.
Ryan: For sure. I think everyone in the group is a very big Snarky [Puppy] fans, myself included. I actually had a chance to go to Snarky Puppy’s live recording session for GroundUP.
Wil: ….I recognize your face now.
(Ryan’s face is the thumbnail photo for Snarky Puppy’s “Thing of Gold” video)
Ryan: [Laughs] Yeah, so I had a chance to talk with Michael League [Bassist and frontman of Snarky Puppy] and some of the guys in the band. Ever since then at live shows they’ll see me and recognize me. Their music was a big influence, but also the way that they carry themselves as a group. They’re really positive, really into music education. So that to me was a wake up call on doing things independently. Like understanding that you don’t need a tour manager and you don’t need to be signed to a record label to make good music. So that’s more of what I got out of seeing those guys, and that was their influence on us.
Wil: What has been the hardest part of being such a large band? Do you have side projects, or stuff you do other than Dynamo?
Ryan: Yeah. We’re all freelance musicians, but I think overall we pretty much make time for this group. When we’re down in Nashville we play a couple times a week at some of the venues down there, and so far we haven’t had any conflicts. I mean, if someone can’t make a gig it’s more like all or nothing. But if there are guest musicians that want to sit in that’s always something that’s cool for us to do.
Wil: I guess you guys have a large network of musicians. I mean, all the musicians you brought in on Live at Ocean Way plus if you’re in a crunch on the road and you need an extra musician.
Ryan: Yeah totally. And actually these are areas that we’re revisiting. I did my undergrad at West Chester University and so did Kevin. So while we’re in this area we’re probably going to meet some musicians that we went to school with and we’ll have them sit in, like Joe Anderson and Ben Fords. He’s out in Harrisburg so he’s going to play with us on Saturday night. So just letting people know that we’re coming through. Then if they want to come and play then by all means please do.
Wil: You guys are a fairly new band, coming together in late 2012. What was your strategy for getting yourself out there? It seems like you’re well on your way, but did you go in with any preconceived notions of how you were going to go about things?
Ryan: No. Basically my mentality was just write as much music as possible, play as many gigs as possible, and put ourselves in situations where we’re uncomfortable as much as possible. So that way we just keep growing constantly and we’re always writing new material, always trying to book a tour, and just basically challenge ourselves over and over again.
Wil: This is your first tour?
Ryan: Yeah. We did a short run-out last May, where we did one clinic up in Oswego, as well as two shows. But in terms of a fully booked tour, this is the first one.
Wil: So what’s next for you guys?
Ryan: June and July we’re actually taking a break, so you won’t hear anything from us then. But when we get back in August we have some gigs in Nashville. We’re hoping to do some run-outs in September through the fall. So run-outs to any area that’s close to Nashville like Chicago, New Orleans, North Carolina, Atlanta, any cities that we can get to and that it makes sense to go to. And then we’re probably looking at recording another album at the end of the year.
Wil: So you guys have been making new material. Have you been recording consistently? Are you guys in the works of a new album?
Ryan: Yeah, I would say we’re about halfway through getting some new material for a new album. But along the way we’ve been recording on the side with singers that we love to feature in our live shows. So the aspect there is doing covers and their arrangements of different covers. We just went in the studio right before we hit the road with Abby York and Ariel McFall. They did a version of “Rolling in the Deep” and “Sunny”, the jazz standard.
Wil: Awesome. Do you guys accept social media followers?
On Sunday, June 15th, I was given the incredible opportunity to see tUnE-yArDs and Sylvan Esso at Union Transfer. While it was not the only musical endeavor I had involved myself in that weekend -the previous night had been defined by an excursion to the Great Indoors in West Philly to see PILE and others, and the afternoon I helped out Nick Myers with putting Tweens on our airwaves – it was tUnE-yArDs! Nobody can beat the bizarre reputation of Merrill Garbus and her merry band. Since 2009, Garbus has been making music and touring relentlessly. The consensus among my friends was that it kind of had to be seen to be believed.
Before the show, I was also invited to interview Sylvan Esso, who were opening on this tour. The first listen won me over. Despite being almost entirely electronic, Sylvan Esso’s music sounds human to me. From a more technical standpoint, the production value is high. Amelia’s soprano is layered and complemented by the high level of deep bass in all of their songs. I struggle to pick out a structure in their songs, but that’s not a bad thing. They ebb and flow organically. The lyrics are conversational, and definitely have a stream-of-consciousness feel to them.
When I first met them, it was clear that Nick and Amelia make an extraordinary creative team. They welcomed me into their dressing room with smiles. There were moments during the interview where I definitely thought they were messing with me, the strapping young music journalist, but I was so okay with that. It was a pleasure to get to know their creative sides.
I’ll shut up now. Here’s the best chunks of the interview:
We had the chance to speak with Thomas Warmsley, the bass player and co-founding member of what has been called the best new band in England. Temples have left their home in Kettering, England to come tour the U.S. and they recently played here at Kung Fu Necktie on November 3rd.
VP: Are you having fun in America? Have you been here before?
TW: Yea, it’s the first time any of us have played music in America. In England it’s quite a landmark thing to come over to the states and play. Yea, it’s been quite a special trip, I guess, to come out here and do that. I think every venue has its own atmosphere and every country has its own kind of way of doing things, and different audiences. It’s really exciting and we’re having a great time; taking it all in.
VP: What do you miss about your home?
TW: I don’t know, I mean when you go on tour you kind of expect to leave all of your home comforts behind. I think we all enjoy the fact that we’re not home in Kettering, where we all live. It’s kind of like a world away from where we’re from. I think we kind of embrace the fact that it’s a little bit alien and different. It’s all part of the trip really.
VP: Who is your all time favorite producer and why?
TW: (laughs) Tricky question, because we have so many… I don’t know, I mean Phil Spector for us is such a big name and his whole style and way of doing things in the studio is kind of a real institution. He has such a signature sound – signature meaning the reverb and other elements. It kind of takes it away from being familiar, in terms of sound.
Jack Nitzsche as well, I guess he falls under the Phil Spector umbrella. I think between the two of them, they had something really special.
He worked with The Rolling Stones, the orchestrations on there and their records. He always worked very closely with the artists he was recording with. He played on the record as well and having that kind of involvement blurs the line between artist and producer. Most of us in Temples think it’s very important to embrace both because we are fans of producers as well as bands and artists.
VP: What artists have you been listening to lately?
TW: Umm, yea well we listen to quite a lot.
VP: Well what about in the past few days?
TW: We’ve been listening to Atom Heart Mother, the Pink Floyd album, if you know that one. And there’s a band that just released a single, they’re called Telegram. We’ve been touring with them in England and they have a song called “Follow,” which is their debut single. Since we’ve toured with them we’ve had the pleasure of getting to listen to them every night. We’re really big fans of what they’re doing. So I guess that’s one old and one new?
VP: What is your musical guilty pleasure?
TW: I guess, film soundtracks are always a strange one that people either love or hate. We really enjoy listening to some kind of more cinematic sounding music. We try to play our music so that it kind of transposes visually. And like, Ennio Morricone, he does soundtracks. Oh and like Goblin, as well, they’re like an Italian prog band that did some soundtracks in the seventies as well. It’s kind of slightly weird and you know that’s a little bit different from your normal rock band.
VP: Who would be your dream collaboration?
TW: Well we’re from the Midlands and not too far away in a place called Rugby is where Sonic Boom from Spacemen 3 is based. And yea, we’re all really big fans of Spacemen 3 and Spectrum. He has his own studio as well. He creates some really interesting sounds in the studio and we’d like to, one day, perhaps, collaborate with him. Peter Kember is his name, but his nickname is Sonic Boom. But yea, really spacey and almost like soundscape and noise. There’s something quite simple and charming about his recordings.
VP: In your song “Shelter Song,” the lyrics mention reading poetry aloud; who are your favorite poets?
TW: James wrote the lyrics… but yea William Blake is great, if you like reading and stuff. I think it is part of your admission into music that deals with consciousness, that you read, “The Doors of Perception” and “Heaven and Hell”.
VP: How do you prepare yourself for a live show? Any weird rituals?
TW: (laughs) Not especially. I’m kind of torn between just saying anything; making something up, and just being honest. We always sing as much possible and do three part harmonies. We like to sing some songs by The Byrds and we usually fight over who sings David Crosby’s harmony. That’s always the best.
VP: I was wondering just now, have you ever tried meditation?
TW: Um, not yet. I think we all kind of meditate in our own way. That’s not meditating explicitly but yea. I think you have to be in the right mindset when you go on stage and stuff, so I think everyone has their own way, perhaps, of meditating.
VP: What’s coming up in the future for Temples?
TW: We just announced that we will be releasing our album, Sun Structures, in February. I think it’s February the 10th. We announced it online yesterday actually, so it’s really excited for us. All this year we’ve been recording in between touring, and it’s great to finally have a record. So that’s in February. And I think we’re coming back over to the states again in like March or April as well, so we’re really looking forward to coming back over here once the album’s been released. We can’t wait for everyone to hear it, since everyone’s only heard the singles and what’s online. It will be great for everyone to hear the full spectrum of music that we play.
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Last week we spoke with Kevin Devine about his two latest albums (Bubblegum and Bulldozer), his biggest influences, and even got to hear an impromptu cover of Elliott Smith’s “The Biggest Lie”. If you missed the on-air interview, you can listen here!