BULLETT: What’s the perfect setting for this album to be played? What type of mood do you think your listeners are in when they listen to your music? What kind of mood do you want to put them in?
E*ROCK: The perfect setting is lying in the sun in the park with flowers in your hair… Actually, no, more like, listening on headphones in a dark closet with a smoke machine and a laser pointer firmly grasped in your monkey foot…
How does this second album relate to your first project? Do you feel like you have grown musically?
This album is a bit darker than my first, not really intentionally but it was made more in isolated, winter sessions while reading lots of William Gibson and Philip K Dick. I guess it doesn’t relate too much because there was such a huge amount of time between albums; I tried to tie the last song into the first E*Rock album as far as that was I was using instrumentation, and there’s the drawings of eyeballs on the cover that are supposed to be a reference to the cover of Conscious. After my late 90’s early 00’s releases, I did my first tours and realized it wasn’t much fun to play mellow music for live audiences, so I started doing more beat oriented music live, and weighing in my DJ experience, so this album has more of that influence and lies somewhere between dance music with some rock and headphone music in there. I recorded lots of things for different projects and bands, most of which I never released. So to answer your question, no, I haven’t grown at all, I’ve regressed.
You’ve been collaborating with Bobby Birdman for quite some time, a decidedly more “poppy” musician than yourself, how does this negotiation work? Do you bring you’re dark clock and mountain to his new moods, or is it a totally separate thing?
E*ROCK: Wet Ones! We like to hang out and try to make each other laugh, making music is an extension of that. We start playing with melodies and sounds until something challenges the limits of good taste, or we make some audio jokes, something novel and we laugh; then if we like it we decide to use it. There’s a bunch of unfinished tracks we should polish up, a pretty rad one with motorcycle sounds as the hook! But we’re both distracted by other aspects of life right now. He’s got waves to surf and I’ve got canvases to paint, or whatever.
Eric, you also work as a DJ, painter, visual artist, producer, and record label head. How do you think these different activities converge?
E*ROCK: It used to all be part of the same energy to me, just following what inspired you or made you excited at any given moment. I was writing a book about this that came out of a music zine I published for years beginning in the late 90’s. The 13th issue was interviews with different artist musicians, and was all about finding an answer to this question. But it was all lost in a computer crash and I was never able to find the backup discs, so I can’t give my penultimate answer to this question. Music and art are tools for conveying ideas and communicating with people. I was never good at verbal communication so maybe I latched onto other plastic forms of communication instead. I get excited if I like something and want to participate in my own way, so it’s all about keeping this creative energy alive in whatever form it happens to manifest itself.
Your music seems to paint a type of visual landscape, yet, there are no lyrics in your songs. How do you create a narrative?
E*ROCK: I tend to start with vapor and bits of clouds and try to assemble the nothings until they become something solid and colorful. Often I have an abstract narrative in the back of my mind and then sort of collage all the bits that come out until it makes sense, but other times I work and wait to see where it takes me. Maybe that’s why I’m so slow, because I never really know where I’m going when I start. I never got good at being a musician, I’m still a collage artist. Even if you try and make completely abstract art though, to make it interesting, you create constructs and narratives to hold your own attention. I want more than just the naked process, unless the process is its own narrative. I’m a visual person, and I try and build visuals out of sounds. I like music that can take you to another world.
Your brother is Evan, half of RATATAT, a HUGE dance band. You helped put out their first single, and his solo project prior to that. How do you feel about your younger brother’s successes in comparison to your own projects?
E*ROCK: Ratatat is my all time favorite band. Evan and I both got into music in our teens, living in isolated sub-suburbs outside of Cleveland, and have had parallel trajectories and influences up to a point. I’d always show Evan what I was listening to and what gear I was using when we were younger, and support what he was doing, so I feel like his success is part of my success too; like we’re on the same team. The only time I get jealous is when I hear a new song he plays me and I think, “What?! This is so fresh! I need to work harder…” So it pushes me also when he makes something amazing. The thing is, Evan would go buy the same sampler I’d been using for six months and two weeks later he’d teach me new tricks. He still blows my mind on a regular basis. He has become a huge influence on me.
I’ve never been very motivated by commercial success, or money. I set out to live this creative lifestyle as sort of a quest of its own, as part of a larger experiment. I’ve traveled the world to play music and show art, released records, and I ended up in all sorts of weird and great adventures. That’s what I set out to do and I did it, so now its more about refining and finding new goals. Evan and Mike set out to make the most melodic and epic music possible, and that lead them to a totally different place. Certain major label record execs said that Ratatat would never get very popular without vocals, but they had their own vision and stuck to it. I guess you never know what the future will bring, but you have to do your own thing.
Where does the name E*ROCK come from anyway?
E*ROCK: My first “electronic” cassette release was sort of concrete tape collages I’d make after hours in my college radio station production booth, and I’d have Evan send me tapes of him playing his theremin kit when he was in high school. I had no idea what concréte music was at that point, this was mid to late 90’s, so I credited us in the tape as E*Rock and E*Vax as a joke, our “electronic names”. I was making a sophomoric parody of electronic and hip-hop culture at the time, which I was also fascinated by, and when we needed real names they were already there.
The sounds are eclectic and layered deep in this new album, where do your influences come from? What sources did you use in the composition of this music?
E*ROCK: At the time I made this tape in the 90’s I was playing in punk and rock bands, and meanwhile I wanted to make beats out of found sounds but literally didn’t have the technology beyond splicing tape and a Casio SK-1 that I got for my 13th birthday. I went from punk to rock, to hip-hop, indie rock to noise and electronic music, discovered Aphex Twin, Eno, The Boredoms and then ended up working in a record store for a decade… I was a music nerd, so influence comes from all over the place; friends, family, visual artists, writers, dead things I find on the street.
I use old synths, Juno-60, Prophet, guitars, bongos, whatever crappy instruments I have around the house, plus the usual boring/amazing software.
Did you write these songs out before hand, or did you work on them intuitively and in the moment? Can you tell us a little about your working process?
E*ROCK: This album is basically a mixtape of works-in-progress from the past five years. I would decide to record an album of one type of song, and then maybe one song ended up on this album and I’d throw away the rest; and I did this like ten times. If I know what I’m doing it usually comes out poorly, so it’s best to look for surprises or accidents or whatever.
You’ve lived in Portland for about 12 years, do you have plans stay or go? What do you think is important about being invested in an up and coming city like Portland, or maybe alternatively taking flight?
E*ROCK: When I moved here I was pretty invested in working with people to build a positive creative community and it was good and fun. I think I made my mark on Portland and Portland has made its mark on the world. It’s nice when you are in a small enough place where what you do can make a difference. At this point the music scene is pretty established though and the city doesn’t need me anymore; that said I’m not really fit to live in normal society either. If I had an opportunity to go to Europe, LA or NYC for whatever reason, I would probably do it. I try and escape and travel as much as possible; its a small town and some reflection time and distance always helps give perspective.
Where do you see yourself this time next year?
E*ROCK: I have no idea. As the good book says, “Life is a mystery. Everyone must stand alone…”