10 Questions is a Musformation feature where we sit down and
ask relevant bands, promoters, DJ’s, engineers, etc. to tell us about
what they do so that you might learn something from them. Even if it
isn’t your genre or style, pay attention – you might learn something or
discover someone new that you like.
Fellow Brooklynite and local favorite Star Eyes has been cracking skulls on the turntables for a quite a few years now. Branching out from her powerhouse DJ quartet Trouble & Bass, Star Eyes has just released her debut EP Disappear (produced by Drop The Lime), a haunting collection of chest-thumping beats accompanied by vocals so chilling you’d swear they were recorded in the covert confines of an icy cave somewhere in the northern tundra. We caught up with Star Eyes recently to discuss things like how to win friends and not be annoying, getting more Satanic messages into your songs, and why Facebook is still annoying for bands.
1. You’ve got a new EP called “Disappear” on Trouble and Bass that just came out. You seem to come from somewhat of a DIY background – what’s the plan of attack for promotion on this release?
For most releases on Trouble & Bass, we do all the promotion ourselves. For “Disappear,” we are doing some standard things: stickers, posters, sending it out to our DJ and press list, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter and other forms of internet promo/networking. Also I’ll be having a release party in NYC (this Thursday at Happy Ending with Passions, The Captain and many others). We also released the Mikix the Cat remix of “Disappear” for free on popular blogs (Discobelle, Palms Out, our Trouble & Bass blog, etc), and I’m just finishing up a mix for Trash Menagerie that includes all the tracks plus other songs/sounds that influenced my style. Above and beyond that, we’ve filmed a video for “Disappear” (totally DIY style) that should be done soon, and I’ve made some shorter videos with a friend of mine in San Francisco that I’m going to screen at the release party and then probably put up on YouTube. Then there are other side things, like joining goth dating sites, giving my “Happy Haus” track to goth/industrial DJs, and more to come probably. It really helps having such a multi-talented crew behind the label. Between the four of us, we can do production, DJing, press, video editing, licensing, photography, web coding, pet care, calligraphy, espresso making, and a ton of other things — pretty much a prerequisite for being an artist or record label these days.
2. Any particular piece of gear/software in the studio that you felt made your recording more exciting?
Well… most of the EP was made on Logic and its pretty amazing suite of plug-ins. “Disappear” was co-produced with Drop The Lime and “Happy Haus” with Math Head (a.k.a. Passions) so I have to give them a lot of the credit for the hands-on trickery. The guitars on “Happy Haus” are live playing by Math Head himself; he ran the guitar from a d/i into his computer’s sound card and then ran Guitar Rig on it. I think that is one of the more exciting things, the mixing of traditional instruments and effects with digital. Plug-in wise,he used PSP Nitro to get the weird little noises on the breakdown, and Audio Damage’s Dubstation on the vocals. On “Disappear,” I wanted it to sound like my voice was falling down a hole in the second breakdown; this was done with a patch that Drop The Lime made on the spot in Max/MSP. All the bass is made in the computer but most of it gets fed through an outboard compressor to give it some warmth. I love reverb so most of the vocals play around with different style reverbs, delay, and echo, and they are all overdubbed. Being a child of the ’80s and remembering all records you could play backwards and get Satanic messages, I wanted backwards vocals so we also reversed my voice in quite a few parts (and some of the reverbs as well). As it turns out, I don’t give Satanic messages when I sing backwards, but I do sing about insanity and politics.
3. You DJ a lot and you see a lot of other DJ’s up close and personal. What is the biggest mistake you see people making?
Being annoying. Haha. But seriously, being difficult, negative, or a notorious shit-talker or ass-kisser works for some people, but probably not for you. Being friendly is 95% of the time the best way to go. You never know when the person you are rude to today is the person you want to ask for something tomorrow. DJing these days is sort of a service industry, so it helps to be someone people want to be around. Habitually missing gigs or being too fucked up to play is also not good. My favorite DJs end up being the ones that take more chances; sometimes it feels like a lot of people out there are playing the same 50 songs that are big right now and its just refreshing to see and hear someone that can go in a different direction and not lose the crowd.
4. The Trouble&Bass parties you are a part of seem to have grown from something small and underground to this organically made monster. Getting heads out to shows can be difficult in a competitive environment like NYC- to what do you attribute your success?
I think most of our success comes from having a lot of wonderful friends that have always come out and supported us from day one. Having friends come out and dance and make the party fun and also spread the word is a huge part of making a party fun, promoting it, and keeping it going. T&B has always had strong concepts and a strong aesthetic — both musically and visually — from the beginning, which I think many parties lack. When we started, there were no other parties in New York playing all the genres of bass music we were: Dubstep and Grime, Bassline, Electro-house, Miami bass, 2-step garage, Baltimore club, Dirty Techno. This gave us an edge, and I think we have the advantage that people in NYC always want to hear new music and are always looking for new things bubbling up from the underground. Also our first monthlies were at this crazy Brooklyn spot called Boogaloo (R.I.P.), that used to be under the J-M-Z. No rules, stayed open until 8 or 9am, just a dirty weird bar that we could decorate however. The owner eventually sold it and went to rehab, but while it was cracking it really solidified what Trouble & Bass is about. A bunch of crazy, up-all-night, warehouse-style partiers who love heavy bass music.
5. You play out a lot in the city and do some touring as well – like many DJ’s, staying up playing some very late nights and constantly being exposed to a party scene. What is the best advice you can give for staying sane?
I think it helps to have some friends outside the scene — just to give yourself perspective on how other people are living and to have someone to talk to who can see things from the uh… grown-up side? Believe it or not you can get really burnt on traveling and partying (just like anything else), so it also reminds you to appreciate your job when you have friends that are stuck at some boring law or finance office all day. Sometimes you have to take a break in order to be creative. It’s important, for me at least, to do regular human stuff — cooking, reading books, sitting in the park, drinking water — to not become completely disconnected from reality (although that has its advantages). I like to get sleep where I can get it since I never know when I might not get much for days. Other than that, I am always reminding myself that there will always be another party. Sometimes I take my advice, and sometimes I don’t.
6. Between your time being a DJ, making albums, and working at XLR8R you’ve had a lot of exposure to the music business side of things. What do you think that people’s biggest conception about the industry is?
People’s biggest misconception about being a DJ or an artist is that it’s “easy.” They also think that just being talented at mixing or making music is enough — in reality you need to be good at a lot of different things to be an artist. A lot of it is about networking, personality, stamina, branding, and hard work, besides being resourceful and good at asking for/getting help at the parts of the things you’re not that good at. From the magazine side, a lot of people think that the more doo-dads and crazy wrapping they throw in a press package, the more “professional” or “eye-catching” it will look. Stick with the basics; and either be a good PR person, or hire someone to do that for you.
7. Unfortunately, DJ’ing and electronic music can somewhat of a boys club . What advice would you give girls who are just getting started?
I think it’s safe to say that most industries/businesses are still a boys club, at least at the upper echelon. I guess this advice applies to any gender, but figure out who you are and be yourself, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, play up your strengths, be c
onfident, don’t get easily offended but don’t think you’re going to get a free ride either. There will always be people talking shit or giving you a million reasons why something is not going to work out, but I think that is just how most humans operate. I think as a girl DJ or producer there is more attention on you initially, which can be a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse if you’re not prepared or don’t have the skills to back up your name or your pretty face, but it’s a blessing that people want to see more parity in the industry and more real girls behind decks, mixing boards, synthesizers, etc.
8. Everyone has their own take on social networking tools to promote their music. What sites do you favor and how do you incorporate them into your marketing?
I still like Myspace – I find it’s still the best way for musicians to take control of their branding and present their music, and I find it a lot easier to customize and use than Facebook (although that’s important too). I reluctantly got on Twitter and now I like it. I like seeing what other people are up to and where they are, and it’s been good for promoting my shows and the EP. (I am very blessed to have awesome friends who will re-tweet about my release dates, etc). I think MP3 blogs are the other best promotion, and I really am getting into SoundCloud for putting up high-quality DJ mixes and being able to centralize them. I’m not really that into forums, but I know they work well for some people.
9. Reflecting on your EP that was just released – what songwriting lessons did you learn when making it?
The EP actually came together pretty easily, which I attribute to working with people that inspire me and that I’m comfortable around in the studio. In general, I find when a track calls out to me, it is really easy to write the lyrics. When I’m laboring too much over something, it’s usually better to scrap it or at least come back to it later. With electronic music in particular you can do so much with effects and sampling yourself, that you don’t always have to worry about having everything perfectly written in a verse/chorus/verse/bridge style or whatever. You might be able to make something out of vocal samples later on or with just one catchphrase you sang. I’m also learning that I do better at making up melodies when I have a really simple pattern to riff off of, maybe even a few basic chords. When I have a song that it is too full already it’s hard to put something on top of that; better to add the details later. Lyrics have been fairly easy to write — I have a lot going on in my life right now and a lot to say, and it just sort of comes out when the time is right.
10. Many bands are beginning to realize that a record label will not solve all their problems. What should bands be concentrating more on doing themselves (or what can bands to better than labels)?
There is no substitute for playing out and developing your own fan base, gig by gig. I think a lot of bands think they are going to just get signed and then the label is going to just give them an audience, but most of the time it doesn’t work that way. I attribute a lot of my success now to having been DJing for 15 years, and playing drum & bass sets at every rave from Spokane to Atlanta and back. For bands or DJs, you gain a lot of valuable experience with every show you play (especially the shitty ones). You learn how to deal with different set-ups, different audiences, and fix crappy equipment, which can give you an advantage later when you are playing to bigger crowds. I think bands should really know who they are when signing to a label. A lot of artists get signed and then they let the label decide who they are going to be, who is going to design their record cover, what engineer they will work with, what bands they’re going on tour with, what their first single will be, and on and on. The stronger and tighter you are aesthetically up front, and the more really quality people (graphic designer, videographer, stylist, guitar tech, etc) you have on your team from the beginning, the better it is for you. Believe it or not, I think most real music fans respond to artists that don’t just “keep it real,” they ARE real. And while you are at it, don’t forget that if you have a good look and good design, you can make A LOT of money on merch (tshirts, buttons, limited edition vinyl, etc).
Star Eyes hails from Brooklyn, and is 1/4 of the heavy bass champions known as Trouble & Bass. Her first EP, Disappear, is out now on Trouble & Bass Records, and Michna “Triple Chrome Dipped (Star Eyes & Mayster Liquid Vision)” will be out soon on Ghostly International. She was born in Hollywood, California and likes thin Sharpies, french fries, very black eyeliner, minor chords, and staying up way past your bedtime.