Touching Bass: Machinedrum
There aren’t too many names in today’s electronic biosphere that can top bills with any of their aliases that they choose to call upon. Yet, when not being Machinedrum or linking up with Praveen to form Sepalcure, Travis Stewart takes on a number of provocative alter egos to spread his musical virtuosity. We caught up to chat hip-hop nostalgia, the woes of learning German and singing in the shower.
Also, be sure to check out the Touching Bass mix series, which continues alongside all features via Mixcloud.
You were in a band and eventually found hip-hop. What was it about hip-hop that got you at the time?
I was into a lot of electronic music when I was getting into hip-hop and I found this connection between both of them. I was more interested in the production and sampling side of hip-hop; that’s what probably made me gravitate towards it. I’m talking stuff like DJ Premier.
Do you ever get really nostalgic about the phase?
Yeah, a bit. I feel like especially if some people work those kinds of tracks into their sets then it’s an instant goosebump feeling if it’s the right track or the right moment. It’s definitely something that stays fresh to me.
What’s your opinion on the recent re-modelling of trap/dirty south rap?
It’s interesting because trap is more or less an electronic version of what rap beats have been for so long, since the Nineties. You know, that dirty south, 808s sound with percussion and I don’t feel like it’s drastically different. I think it’s funny how it’s considered a new thing, and I get it – it’s making it more brash and hype sounding where the production is outshining the rap if anything.
Moving on to your multiple pseudonyms. How do you keep on top of all of them?
They all just naturally work themselves into my work schedule. If I happen to be in New York, me and Praveen will work on Sepalcure tracks. Same with Jimmy [Edgar] and if he happens to be in Berlin at the same time and we’re both feeling creative, we’ll get together. Otherwise, if I’m on my own I’m just constantly creating. It’s a nervous habit.
Since 2010’s cassette tape release on LuckyMe, there’s not been anything from your TStewart alias. What’s that side of you represent?
It’s definitely the more lo-fi side where I get to experiment with vocals and songwriting even though it’s not necessarily the most poppy thing in the world. It was just an opportunity for me to get out a lot of those tracks that I had written for years but it slowly came together as an album. We plan to release a digital album sooner than later.
Why do we no longer see much of your Spirit Gypsies side?
That’s more so a visual project of mine which has been put on the back burner. For a while I was really getting into doing animation and psychedelic, sketched drawings. I made music to go along with the project at one time and it was made into this performance art piece when I was in Orlando. So it was just a timed piece and not necessarily something that I was planning to make into a long-standing project.
Do you find much time to do things outside of music then?
I wish. There should be a few more things that give me more balance in life. I’m trying to do things that take me away from my computer more but it’s just becoming harder and harder to do those things. I like eating.
How’s your grasp of German coming along?
Very, very slowly but I’m trying. My girlfriend is German so she’s helping me out, but it’s not an easy language to learn. You’ll recognise the similarities between English and German to try and make that connection and it just throws you off even more.
One of my favourite tracks of last year was Now U Know Tha Deal 4 Real from Room(s). Do you remember what it was like making that tune?
It was summer 2010, I remember exactly where I was. I had a week off in Berlin and had a flat to myself in Schöneberg and I was just vibing out in the city, riding bikes around with friends and it was the first track that came from that experience. I remember listening to the first rough demo non-stop for ages and it became my soundtrack for that week.
What’s the main sample behind that track, if you can say?
You know, I don’t even really think it’s important because we could name all the samples in that track but I get why people always gravitate towards the vocal samples because they’re the most natural things that we’re connected with in a song. It’s the most understood element of a song whether you know about music or not. The way I use vocal samples is the same way I use any other sample in my tracks. I treat it like an instrument and it becomes something new within the context of the track rather than it being whatever the original was in. Yet, with that long-winded answer, I can’t actually remember what it was (laughs).
Moving on to artists that you’ve worked with in the past, what is Jesse Boykins III like?
(Laughs) He’s amazing. He inspires me to sing.
He inspires me to sing (in the shower), and you don’t want to hear that.
(Laughs) You know what, everybody says that and gets motivated to sing too. He’s a dude.
What’s he like to work with?
He’s a very natural musician who’s very cool, calm and open to ideas and expressing himself. He’s very inspiring to work with in the studio and I love working with him.
Which other artists do you enjoy collaborating with?
As far as producers, I’ve been working quite a bit with Jimmy Edgar who lives out here in Berlin. We’ve been slowly but surely putting together a package and building a studio out here as well as starting to work with artists more. I’m doing a bit more production stuff. I gel really well with Jimmy because I feel we share similar influences but also very different backgrounds at the same time and it’s all very natural. Sometimes we won’t even talk for hours whilst the track just makes itself. It’s nice.
Is Berlin a permanent move?
I don’t really like the word permanent in general but it makes sense for now because the majority of my gigs are in Europe but its starting to balance out and I’m starting to get the same offers in the States so we’ll see what happens.
Finally, what else have you got in the works apart from the Jimmy Edgar partnership?
I’m trying to finish a Machinedrum album and I’ve worked on enough material to make a few albums to be honest but I’m in no rush to get it out so I’m just slowly piecing it together to find the right home for it. That’s definitely coming in 2013.
Machinedrum plays tomorrow at Vauxhall’s Lightbox venue in London for Soundcrash and The Upfront Project alongside fLako, Ambassadeurs, Memory9 and special guests. You can listen to past Touching Bass mixes via Mixcloud.
Download the ‘Touching Bass: Machinedrum’ mix here.
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