This passed weekend we headed out to one of Philadelphia’s newest venues: Boot & Saddle. The night promised several hours of incredible music with a live set from Nightmares on Wax, as well as an opening set from D.V.S*. Having most of his roots in the Northeastern United States (and only recently having moved to Austin, TX), D.V.S* has always been at the center of our attention. We were lucky enough to catch up with D.V.S* before his set, and sit down with the producer/guitarist for a question and answer session. In the interview we covered D.V.S*’s experience and inspirations, his technical setup (both live and studio), his own thoughts on the growth and development of electronic music, and much more. Peep it all below along with a couple tracks from the Brooklyn/Austin musician!
F: Where are you originally from and where are you based out of now?
D.V.S*: I grew up in the Northeast, in Upstate New York. Now based out of Austin, Texas; but I’ve lived all over the country. I spent ten years in Colorado.
F: Do you have any form of musical background or history with music prior to D.V.S*? Have you been a part of any other projects?
D.V.S*: I actually have a degree in classical guitar from University of Colorado. I played in all kinds of bands in the past. My first band, right out of college, was a ten piece Latin group. But I also have done things, like I played in The Motet for a while and I worked with Dom [Lalli] from Big Gigantic for a while.
F: Can you remember a particular moment in your life that sparked your interest in music? Or do you think it’s sort of always been there?
D.V.S*: I think it’s always been there. I can’t think of any exact moment when a light bulb went off. Really, I think, more than anything, it’s about just having a genuine interest in music on a daily basis. Every day is kind of a like the next step forward. I went to a lot of rock shows when I was a little kid; and I think when you’re young, the first concerts you go to are going to be great because it’s a new experience. But it’s always been super gradual. I know I always grew up knowing I wanted to be like a “guitar hero” [laughs]
Pink Floyd – “Us and Them (D.V.S* Remix)” — FREE Download!!
F: Who would you say have been big inspirations for you musically, both inside and outside of EDM?
D.V.S*: Well, inside, people who got me way into producing were Telefon Tel Aviv. I like Bonobo a lot too, because he’s edgy and modern, yet still really musical and live. I’m really open to stuff. I’m not one of those producers whose only into the kind of stuff he produces. I can get really into people like 12th Planet, or ƱZ, or even drum & bass stuff. Just for inspiration. I love anything that KOAN Sound has put out. So, I’m inspired by anything from really chill to really heavy. I think sometimes the heavy stuff comes out in my music, but not as a banger, just through sort of distorted guitars.
F: Have there been any events or aspects of your life that have brought more inspiration than others to your music?
D.V.S*: It’s all been phases. When I was a kid I really liked rock. Then I got way into acoustic music for a long time. And then I got into jam and funk. And they all kind of led into each other. Rock & roll led to acoustic music because I was tired of loud, crazy drums and distorted guitar all the time. So I got way into stuff like Béla Fleck and bluegrass and stuff that’s way more refined. And then that got me into jam and funk, which was all about musicianship. Then that stuff sort of brought me into produced and electronic music. So it’s all kind of going back to your first question: I’ve had distinct phases, but they all kind of led into each other and are all kind of still there in the back of my mind.
F: Are there any artists that you haven’t yet, but you would particularly like to work with?
D.V.S*: Yeah, definitely. I would love to work with Bonobo someday, that would be really cool. I’ve done a few collabs with Space Jesus, who is heavier than I am; and it was really cool because it was an awesome merge. That was really inspiring. So, I think maybe, I’d like to collaborate with some people who are more ‘banger’ based, you know. Bassnectar is obviously one of them. I really like Kill Paris a lot, I think he and I could do some really cool, funky stuff together. I also really like Seven Lions a lot. Anything that comes out on OWSLA [Records] is pretty crazy.
Major Lazer – “Get Free (D.V.S* & Space Jesus Remix)” — FREE Download!!
F: Going off that, can you speak at all about your experiences working with other musicians, such as Govinda, Cherub, or Space Jesus, who you just mentioned? Just what it’s like working in a studio with multiple people who are both producers and instrumentalist musicians?
D.V.S*: Most of the guys you mentioned don’t live in the same area as I do. I’ll just sort of see them on the road. So a lot of them are collaborations online. Each one of them is case by case. Like with Cherub, we did a gig together in Aspen and I showed him the music for the tune. And then he sang some stuff. A month later he went into the studio and did like 17 different vocal tracks. There’s so much stuff on my tune “Sleepwalker” [listen below!!] that I had to cut out. It would have been vocals for like six minutes. Whereas with Govinda, you know, he and I tour a lot together since we have the same agent. And that’s fun because we’re a little more seasoned and have a sort of quiet understand of each other. I can send him something and totally trust that whatever he does I’m going to like. I don’t have to give him much description. He actually has a new tune coming out soon that has a bunch of guest vocalists on it. But I also play blues guitar on it in the studio. The Space Jesus [collab] though, in particular, because he’s so methodical and particular about his stuff; that is one where we started separately and then we worked together on several times. We worked on it in New York and in Philly; we probably spent two to three days together just partying and working on the tune. And that was fun because it doesn’t really happen in electronic music a lot. It’s usually: someone takes something, they mess with it, they DropBox it, and it goes back and forth. I come from a band world, so I like the idea of like “let’s get in a room and actually see what we can do together”. Almost like a different form of jamming, and see if we have a live collaborative chemistry. I could do guitar for anybody and they could pick and choose what they like and don’t like; and people can do that for me. But to actually get in a room and make stuff happen is a whole different level of chemistry and trust.
D.V.S* – “Sleepwalker” (feat. Govinda & Cherub)” — FREE Download!!
F: Would you say real time critiques are also a part of that? Being able to bounce ideas off the person you’re working with in real time?
D.V.S*: Yeah exactly: real time critiques and staying on a project creatively. Trying to come up with cool stuff that the other producer likes and fits with the tune, that I also think is a dope guitar part. To the point where we can come up with stuff on the fly and rise to the occasion. It’s almost a little more of a like an old school collaboration in that it’s like “we’re going to be here for four hours and we’ll come up with tangible results”.
F: Has the live guitar always been a part of your production and performance? Or did it come in part of the way into the project?
D.V.S*: It was always a part of it. When I first got into electronic music, I was actually playing in bands. So it kind of initially came about as more of me, a drummer, an MC, and production behind us. Then it became projects with just me and an MC or just me and a drummer, until it finally whittled away to just me. Again, the guitar was always there. The setup has changed throughout time; I don’t travel with an amp anymore because it’s just more feasible. But that has been a kind of a breakthrough for me, because it’s allowed me to get future guitar sounds that are electronic based. Bonobo, for example, either does a DJ set or a live band set. There’s no in between, and that’s kind of what I am, I’m the exact in between of that.
F: So you sort of already answered this, but did the guitar or the production come first for you?
D.V.S*: Yeah, guitar definitely came first. But when I was in high school my taste changed; I went from listening to music like Van Halen to groups like Smashing Pumpkins or My Bloody Valentine, which are groups that are way more about sounds than shredding. My Bloody Valentine was, as far as groundbreaking moments, they might have been one of the most poignant ones for me. They had songwriting and they had these guitar sounds that as a 16-year-old I couldn’t even fathom how they possibly could have got that. It sounded like nothing else going on at that time. So, even though they aren’t electronic music per se, they were using the studio to propel the sound of the instrument into the future. And that was made me start thinking about sounds in songs rather than solos or shredding or whatever you want to call it.
F: Do you play any other instruments beside guitar?
D.V.S*: Yeah I play mandolin as well. I also play bouzouki, which is kind of in the mandolin family, but it’s deeper. It’s used in Irish and Greek music. And I also play bass.
F: What software do you produce on and with that, what hardware do you produce on?
D.V.S*: When I started, it was more band based, so I was kind of on Pro Tools with everything. But I’ve been completely Ableton for several years now. As far as the hardware goes, my studio is really live music based. All my guitars are around, my amps are around, I’ve got a piano and a few synths. So I have a lot of options in my studio. But it’s all really based around live instruments. I feel like the best sounds I’ve ever gotten in my studio are from taking a live instrument and making it try to sound electronic. What I mean is if I just plug my guitar into my computer and I use a plug-in for an amp, then if I actually mic my amp instead and try to get it to sound like the plug-in, that’s like the best possible representation of that idea. It’s almost like with photography how there are pixels- it’s as if with an amp there are so many more pixels so it’s way higher definition. So even if you’re refining and sculpting and cutting out frequencies, making it sound electronic, the original recording you have is so high definition that it sounds way better than anything that was purely electronic in the first place. I think that’s why the new Daft Punk record sounds so good. If you compare that record to any other electronic record, just the fidelity of it is so much richer because they used live instruments and went through the process of getting those instruments recorded really well, and then refining them to sound electronic. To me that’s almost like the Holy Grail of music: taking real music and getting it to sound fake.
F: What does your live setup look like now?
D.V.S*: I have a controller setup. I use Ableton and a Livid controller. I use the controller for all my DJing aspects, which is what people mainly see: that and my guitar. But what they don’t see is I also have, on the floor, two more pedals, and those are where I get a lot of those futuristic guitar sounds. That all runs to my computer, so all my beats and live playing and seamlessly mixed together. My technology relates to how I am as a music fan: I’ll get something I really like, but I’m not married to it forever. I’ll use it a bunch and get really confident at it- essentially have really good muscle memory with my rig- but then something will come out and I’ll want to try it out. There’s actually some new guitar technology coming out early next year that I’m doing a video for next month. It should be kind of game changing as far as making guitars relevant in the DJ world. Because right now, the way most DJs use it, it’s kind of just an add-on. Like Eric from Gramatik plays more straight-up guitar stuff; he’s not really glitching out the guitar or anything. And that’s not a judgment; it’s more of just an observation. They [Gramatik] like to receive all the glitch for the beats, while he’s there playing rock and blues on the guitar all night. Me, I want my guitar way more embedded into the beats so you can’t really tell where one ends and the other begins.
F: You’ve been able to play all sorts of different venues and settings. Would you say, overall, that you have a preference between playing in a smaller, intimate venue or a huge festival?
D.V.S*: I enjoy both equally. I mean, you can’t argue with play outside to thousands of people; that will never suck. But, at the same time, my absolute favorite gigs in the world are when I’m in a room that’s maybe 200-500 people, and maybe the stage isn’t even that far off the ground, so I feel way more connected to the audience. If I could control every venue, I’d always have just a six-inch stage in the middle of the dance floor and just be surrounded by the crowd. To the point where when you walk in the room you could maybe only see my shoulders and above. You’d have to get to the very front to fully see what’s going on. Those are my favorite environments for shows. I don’t necessarily feel I need to be starred at the entire time. I think people do that if you’re doing interesting things (with the controller or with the guitar), but at the same time I like it when people are just dancing, and drinking, and making out and partying. It makes it about the whole thing and not just the fact that “I hit that button”.
F: More specifically, out of the venues that you’ve played, are there any that standout in your mind as particularly enjoyable or a gig that’s particularly memorable? What about here in Philadelphia?
D.V.S*: I really enjoy the [Theater of the Living Arts]. And The Blockley is always a fun time. The Blockley is interesting though because it’s so short but so wide; it creates a weird dynamic between the audience and the performer. To be honest, it’s way more about the city than the crowd and the room. There are certain cities that have huge reputations. For example, people say that Miami sucks for my type of music because it’s just a house music town. But there’s a new crew of kids that are underground and DIY and they have a community and everyone’s excited on it. So I love playing there, because it’s like a niche. And it might even be more fun than somewhere like Denver sometimes, because Denver is so baller and so saturated that you can put on an amazing show, but there were already like 28 amazing shows there in the passed 9 days. Whereas, if you go somewhere like Miami with a new crew and it’s super fresh and everyone’s excited. Atlanta is another one of those places that I’ve never had a bad show. It just seems like people really come out in force regardless. They’re always on the dance floor and starring at you. But to me, it’s really more about the audience than the room. I’d rather have a super psyched crowd and an okay sound system than a bunch of wall flowers playing through a function one and everyone standing there, no one clapping.
F: Having shared the stage with as many other talented musicians as you have, can you also speak about any musicians you particularly enjoy sharing the stage with or any specific experiences performing with other musicians?
D.V.S*: Govinda is always fun because we kind of do a similar thing. But that’s cool because we have slightly different fan bases: he’s like a real burner fan base, while mine is slightly different. That kind of makes for an awesome night, where our fans get exposed to each other. But it’s close enough because of the live instrument thing. I’ll have kids that will come for my indie rock remixes that wouldn’t really go to Burning Man, but they’ll hear it all and think it’s really cool. I usually have fun with people like Michal Menert because we’ve done tunes together and we can jam. EOTO’s always a good time too. I’m actually about to do a bunch more shows with them. I feel like that’s a pretty good pairing. It’s just a real hybrid of live music and beats. And those guys are really open to every sub-genre of electronic music.
F: When in your career did the jump occur from just recording and producing music to actually performing live?
D.V.S*: It was the end of 2009, beginning of 2010, about 3 years ago. I had been making beats and trying out remixes and kind of sneaking my laptop on to stage with bands until then. Eventually I had a ton of material so I released a solo album in late 2009. So with that first tangible release, that was when I really started going for it. Since I have a background of live music I was able to call up friends and ask: “Instead of playing guitar in the band can I open for you for with my solo thing?’ So I opened for like The Motet and Big Gigantic and a few other side projects of friends.
Minnesota – “Bloom (D.V.S* Remix)” — FREE Download!!
F: What are your thoughts on the increase of live instrumentation that we are now seeing in the electronic music world?
D.V.S*: I think it really comes back to my original answer about being influenced. It’s all about cycles: nothing lasts forever. If you think about a lot of the kids that go to Electric Forest or things like that, a lot of them got introduced to the music via Sound Tribe [Sector 9]. A lot of them, including myself, were seeing Sound Tribe before they even had computers on stage. It was just sort of a live, electronic band. Not many people were actually doing that. Then there was another point, a few years later, where there were like twelve Sound Tribes in every city and it was so over saturated. Then what happened was controllers came around. So the dude in every one of those bands [with the controller] was the guy that did everything anyway. So those guys decided to go solo. And that’s why you see a lot of solo acts now. That was around 2009/2010 when we saw the laptop thing become really prominent. Look at Wakarusa 2007: I played with a band there and I think me and Bassnectar were the only two acts with laptops. Lotus didn’t have a laptop. And now half or more of Wakarusa acts is computer music. But it’s a cycle because everyone’s tired of seeing just laptops. You’ve got musicians who play clarinet, or sing, or play drums who are bringing that back into their live performance, because even though mixing is an amazing art, people aren’t as stimulated by what have come to be known as “button pushers”. That’s why you see guys like Wick-It who bust [his guitar] out, even if it’s not for the whole show, because he can, because it’s tasty and makes it pop off. But who knows? Three or four years from now there may be some technological inventions that are some kind of hybrid to where you see an instrument disappear again for a while. There’s a lot of ways it could go. But this definitely seems like an era of live bands again with Pretty Lights and Emancipator and Random Rab and all these people that are adding musicians to their live set. Even Sound Tribe adding horns sometimes. It seems like that’s the cycle that we’re in. With that cycle though, I’d be very surprised if Pretty Lights keeps doing the live band that much longer. Because I think it will cease to be special. I wouldn’t be surprised if this whole Spring was just random festivals with him performing solo again, and then maybe he starts to go back and forth with like a four week run with the band and then a solo run. He’s got these options he can juxtapose against each other.
F: To sort of wrap up, do you have any upcoming releases or projects currently in the works?
D.V.S*: Yeah, I’m actually working on a full downtempo EP that I’m going to release in the Spring. A lot of my stuff, like my last album, was chill but there was still some banger-esque moments at times. It wasn’t fully downtempo. I get a lot of feedback from people saying they really like that side of my music. Like the remix I did for Emancipator [listen below], that kind of stuff. And it’s to the point where I think it’s time to sort of recommit to that phase. Maybe next Summer you’ll see a lot of sunrise sets at festivals where I’m really putting down that sound. I’ve also been talking to Emancipator about maybe releasing some stuff on his new label [Loci Records]. He’s got a compilation coming out in January, and it’s a bunch of remixes that people have done for him, and he wants to put one of my new original tunes on the compilation. He’s a good friend of mine, so I’ve actually been sending him a lot of my new tunes so I can sort of use him as a bouncing board, see what he thinks. Then I always have my more serious artist side where I’ll go out and hear a classic rock song on the jukebox and think “wow, I have to remix this”. So you may find a Led Zeppelin remix in the near future or something like that.
Emancipator – “Jet Stream (D.V.S* Remix)”
F: Any final PLUR tips to leave with us and the fans?
D.V.S*: Yeah, PLUR tip: never take a sleeping pill and a laxative at the same time.