August 16, 2012

Interview: Animalweapon

[Live photos by Aaron Edward Ellis]
North Carolina's electronic music scene can be a tricky beast. Stuck square in the middle of the east coast, between the well-established beat meccas of NYC and South Florida, the scene here has enjoyed a long and storied history in some ways. However, in part due to the (rightfully deserved) success of Merge Records and other hallmarks of the state's publicized affair with indie rock, the scene can feel a bit overshadowed, and original non-DJ producers making real, noticeable headway in this area seem rare lately. However, a small battalion of NC-based musicians have been making moves to solve this conundrum and bridge the gap between these seemingly disparate scenes. While trying to invoke equal measures of Arcade Fire and Aphex Twin in your music is undoubtedly a tricky thing, at least one has succeeded by blending traditional singer/songwriter pop song elements with more experimental electronic production of the sort you might find in more forward-thinking Brooklyn venues. Enter rising Raleigh, NC producer Patrick Cortes, aka Animalweapon. A while back, a friend turned me onto his record on Bandcamp and I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard: slick, IDM-style production in the vein of Telefon Tel Aviv coated with harsh, hushed vocals which sort of rise and deflate behind the music, a moody yet danceable sort of pop music. Superchunk this isn't.

Cortes's full-length album Good Luck came out back in March, and on the heels of his latest remix EP Giant Robot Apocalypse released earlier this month, as well as a recent headlining show at storied Chapel Hill, NC venue Local 506, I got to talk to Patrick about his love for all things Trent Reznor, his upcoming beef with Jeff Goldblum, and oh, of course, the lovely music he makes. Read on.

How did the Animalweapon project first begin?

I'd been doing the singer/songwriter thing relatively unsuccessfully for a few years, just recording songs and playing at coffee houses and Borders and the like. Nothing really impressive. I would occasionally dabble in experimenting with electronic stuff, but I never intended to pursue it as a project until one day I decided to take a break from the whole singer/songwriter bag and do it as a "side" project; something with less rules and more experimentation. I started messing around and eventually came up with "Mexican Standoff," and pretty soon weren't nothing "side" about this project.

What sort of cultural items influenced you two? (books, historical events, films, people, etc)

As far as culture goes, I'm a huge nerd. I'm an unapologetic Star Wars fan. I love cartoons and comics and shit like that. I wouldn't say I write ABOUT those things, but I would say that some elements of those things get me daydreaming and then in a long-winded, roundabout way I wind up working off of obscure concepts that were originally inspired by those kinds of things.

You have said in the past you are heavily influenced by Nine Inch Nails, which definitely comes through in your vocal delivery on many of your tracks. You even have one of Trent Reznor's tambourines you use onstage for live shows. Is there a story on how you acquired that tambourine and what exactly about Trent inspires you?

Trent Reznor is kind of my hero. I've stayed into his work for the longest and I remember when I first got into Nine Inch Nails reading interviews with him and just realizing how much he knew his shit about everything he does - both musically and technically - that really inspired me more than any musician before that had. The guy is so diverse. Every NIN album feels different from each other and from How to Destroy Angels and his film work. All that, and I really like how forward-thinking he is as far as the actual distribution process.

And yeah, there is a pretty awesome story about the tambourine. I was at my third of four NIN shows - this one was in November 2008 during the Lights in the Sky tour. I'm in the dead-center of the pit, with only about three people between me and the rail. About halfway through "Head Down" Trent breaks out the tambourine and winds up granny-chucking it straight down the middle. It's RIGHT above my head and I catch it and jam my arm through it. The thing is the tambourine is a relic for NIN fans - he throws one every show - so of course two people are trying to wrestle it away from me and are tearing my fucking arms off. They eventually let up; I think one of the dudes had to deck another to get him off of me, but everyone was really cool and kept making sure I still had it. It was shoved into my waistband and kept nearly castrating me the entire night. I wound up going out for pizza with their bassist, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, after the show and he had some cool stories and some asshole in the restaurant played "Head Like A Hole" on the jukebox. Pretty swell night.

Much of your music, much like Reznor's has a very strong melodic sensibility and focus on reserved, slightly dark vocals over tweaked out electronics. How do you approach writing songs? Do you start with lyrics first or do you hammer out the production?

There's no rigid plan but it's usually the music first. I'll get some kind of skeleton going on and just kind of expand on it. Then I'll get a few ideas for lyrics and scribble them down somewhere and wind up switching back and forth between figuring out what's going on with the music and writing the lyrics. Every song has been wildly different as far as how I wrote it and how long it took. I did "The Alchemist" in its entirety, from writing to mixing, in like two days; "Giant Robot Apocalypse" I kept getting stuck on and for some reason took damn near a year of me coming back to it periodically, even though it's a really simple song. 

Tell us about the new Giant Robot Apocalypse EP and how the remixes on it came together.

I've just always wanted someone to remix my shit. And "Giant Robot Apocalypse" was the song I always had kind of the biggest "vision" for even though it's simple and took me forever, and I realized it's also very malleable and "remixable." So I basically twisted the arms of all these talented friends I have and they agreed to it. The only thing I told them when I gave them the stems was "you do you" and that whoever finished first could put their remix out by themselves right away; everyone else has to hold onto theirs because I wanted to present them together and with this dope artwork. I didn't expect everyone I asked to wind up actually doing it, but almost all of them did which is why there's five instead of the two or three I thought I'd actually get. I'm still really humbled at the idea that anyone would find my stuff interesting enough to remix and I'm blown away by all five of them.

You have some amazing art for your stuff, the cover of "Good Luck" is pretty visually stunning. Who did it? And do you see the visual aspect as something important to your work?

That was done by Jonathan Williams, my best buddy, who also did the artwork for the Giant Robot Apocalypse EP and the singles for Research and Mexican Standoff. He's gotten me into a lot of electronica, so he was pretty stoked when I started making this kind of music and he volunteered to be my art guy for free. The visual stuff is SUPER important to me, and I try to make it a little more attention which is why I always include wallpapers of it with the downloads. It's weird because it always comes independently; I never quite know what it's going to look like because I usually just tell him "do something that fits this" and he comes back with something epic and crazy, and once it's done it doesn't feel like anything else could be the artwork.

NC has a small but thriving electronic scene. Do you find it hard working as an experimental electronic musician in NC when many producers here are caught up making trendy music in dubstep and similar genres?

Incredibly. The whole "raver" thing kind of blew up big time around here, mostly because of dubstep, and as a result it's really frustrating when it feels like most people are only peripherally aware that there are other kinds of electronic music. You tell people you make electronic music and they say "oh, you mean techno" or they assume I'm a DJ. I love DJ's, I'm not saying they're any less valid, but that said this is kind of a time where everyone wants to be one and I don't want to be confused for that when it's not what I do in the first place. I love club stuff but I don't make it, and it can be harder to find an audience when that's what they're all going for.

Who are some of your favorite musicians, rappers, producers, and otherwise, working at the moment?

My favorite stuff these days is still in the electronic realm. Baths is really amazing. I'm also obsessed with Flying Lotus at the moment and I can't wait to hear his new record and see him live. I'm really happy Tycho is getting bigger now because I've been into him/them for a few years now along with some other Ghostly shit like Shigeto, who blows me away as well. BT just put out his sequel to "This Binary Universe" (which is my favorite album of all time) so that's exciting. As far as hip hop I haven't gotten as balls-deep into the whole Odd Future thing as some of my friends have but everything I've heard is a refreshing change of pace from the other bullshit that passes for hip hop these days.

What art are you currently into (books, films, podcasts etc)?

Honestly I don't read anymore. I wish I did because I used to read constantly when I was younger, but I'm tired all the time these days for no real reason other than a poor sleep schedule and diet (both my fault) and as such any time I would spend reading, I just want to fall asleep instead. There is this hilarious podcast I listen to religiously called Uhh Yeah Dude (I've sampled them more than once) and I listen to a lot of NPR too.

Who do you have or wish to start beef with?

Jeff Goldblum.

What is Animalweapon's goal for the rest of 2012?

I'm working on some new stuff but the priority is just fan-hunting for now! And shows...lots of shows.

Any shout outs?

I have a wonderful girlfriend and an amazing group of friends. They're crazy supportive and I hope they know how much that means to me.

Animalweapon's in his kitchen. What does he make?

Ramen, almost invariably.

Stream: Animalweapon - Good Luck
Animalweapon's debut album Good Luck as well as the recently released remix EP Giant Robot Apocalypse are both available from his website.

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