All You Need is BASS

An Interview with Calgary’s own Defunk

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Coming off a huge year that included both UK and Australian tours, two releases to hit #1 on Beatport overall and working with the stage design crew Space Invaderz, building stages at festivals all over Western Canada. Calgary native Defunk is on fire and shows no signs of slowing down. With the release of his full length LP “Welcome to Groove City” on October 8th, it is nowhere but up for this Canadian producer.

We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Defunk and collaborating vocalist Vindaloo to talk a little bit about the summer festival circuit, their international tour, philosophies on collaboration and where that oh-so soulful sound Defunk is always sure to deliver comes from.

AYNiB: Thanks for sitting down with me! How’s it going? Recovered from the summer yet?

Defunk: Very good, very good, I’m glad to be home finally after a long festival season. Getting back to making music. So, I’m pretty happy.

This has been a crazy busy past six months for you. Can you start by telling me a little about the Retro Stomper tour in the UK and Australia back in the spring?

Defunk: Me and my friend and vocalist Sarah (Vindaloo) went over to the UK. We were set up by Dutty Moonshine who are a DJ duo over there. They do a lot of ghetto swing and funk shows.

Vindaloo: They’re vets. They’re veteran electro swing guys over there, they kind of run the scene.

Defunk:  We went over there and set up a big tour. It actually started expanding while we were over there.  We played 12 shows in the matter of 21 days.  We played with some of my favorite artists like JFB and Ed Solo and we got to meet people like Opiuo and KOAN Sound. We definitely got to experience the scene over there which was amazing because it’s a lot different from the scene here in Canada.  It was fun to play for a different crowd and it was fun to show the music I’m making here and bring it over to the UK, which in my mind is kind of where a lot of electronic music starts.

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What kind of differences did you notice between the Western Canadian and UK bass scenes?

Defunk: The music scene in Western Canada loves their funk, they love sounds that are groovy, they love sounds that have to do with summertime. Anything that makes you feel good and makes you want to bounce.  In the UK there is a lot of everything. There is a huge scene of jungle and drum and bass, because that’s obviously where DnB originated.  There’s a different appreciation for different sounds.  They’re not quite as aware of what’s popular in the UK. They know what they like and sometimes it’s hard for them to get down to different things that they don’t know. So I find in Western Canada it’s a little easier to get people to groove to things that you throw at them. My sets in the UK were a little more on the spot I found. I found that I had to change it up a little bit more over there whereas in Canada I feel like I can just play what I want. So, that’s one of the main differences I found.

Vindaloo-1I want to talk to you guys about your creative partnership. I know you guys have been friends for a really long time, but I want to talk about how your musical partnership developed.

Vindaloo: Logan’s music has been advancing at such an incredible pace. I remember literally sitting down with him one night in his bedroom in January or February and being like “you know what, I really want to sing for you because your music is really inspiring and I want to share talents with you.” I believe I have a talent for singing and performing and I wanted to be able to share that but, more importantly, Logan’s music just inspired me to want to sing and to write music.

AYNiB: And you have that really soulful sound the same way that he does.

Vindaloo: We like the same music [laughter]

[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]It has been a game changer to have a live element in my set in the last year.[/quote] Defunk: More or less the way I look at it, it was a good opportunity to work with someone that I know really well.  She’s a very talented vocalist so my style just gelled with her very quickly. By the same token, I fully intend to work with as many vocalists and other musicians as I can. My aim is to spread out and collaborate with tons of people. If Sarah’s around, we’ll do shows together and collaborate. If I’m in an area with another vocalist, we’ll do a show together. That’s how I approach things. I like to look at music as a collaboration rather than a focus on one person. It’s also fun to bring in new elements. It has been a game changer to have a live element in my set in the last year. It think that’s going to continue. I’m going to be pushing to include live instruments of my own so that I can just experiment and see what works. I want to bring in live harmonica and learn how to play that. Then I’m aiming in the next year to figure out how to play live bass and transfer that in to real live sub notes so that I can just play some of my songs live with just a bass.

Vindaloo: That’s where he originated from. We’re both metalheads. Logan has always been the bass guy.  Even in his metal bands he was always the bass guy.

Defunk: Always the bass guy. [laughter]

It’s very clear in the way that you arrange your songs that you have a musical background that includes playing in bands. Can you tell me about the bands you used to play in and what kind of role you played in those bands?

[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]I devoted all my energy to finding a way to make my own music. [/quote] Defunk: For a while I was in a rock band in high school. I can’t remember what our name was but we were a rip off of Guns N’ Roses [laughter]. I was on bass. Then we got out of high school and I started playing in metal bands. It was hard to keep everyone together because there were five of us and it was hard to keep everyone motivated. I found that I was the only one who was constantly motivated. I got to the point where I was writing drum tracks, I was writing guitar solos on this program called guitar pro and then I was showing the band. So, I was basically writing songs for everybody [laughter].  It was just because I get obsessive and meticulous about writing. I realized that around the time I was getting out of college and broke up with a girl I had been seeing for a while. I devoted all my energy to finding a way to make my own music because the band broke up. That energy went in to music production and electronic music production and I essentially just started figuring things out, started making music, and have been ever since.

Vindaloo: As a side note I want everyone to know that this guy can do really awesome metal vocals.

AYNiB: I don’t think I ever would have pictured that! [laughter].

Vindaloo: I know! He can do them really well. You just have to get him to bust out the old school metal days at a party one night. It’s pretty awesome.

Defunk: Oh my God! Trip down memory lane. [laughter]

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How did you get interested in producing a lot of funk and incorporating that big band element and swing sound in your music coming from a metal background?

[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]It wasn’t until I went to Shambhala and into the Fractal Forest that I actually heard ghetto funk. [/quote] Defunk: Well, I never really was a big funk guy when I was growing up. I listened to rock and old school things that my dad was listening to like the Rolling Stones and Marvin Gaye. It wasn’t until I went to Shambhala and into the Fractal Forest that I actually heard ghetto funk. It’s this way of making bass music really funky and heavy and I fell in love with it.

At that time I was making dubstep and drum and bass. I was always in to more of the heavier bass music. I started playing around with tempo, I would set myself a tempo and try to build funkiness within it. I also went to an ill.Gates tutorial and a Stickybuds tutorial and found out about making groove on all your instruments, tracks and bass sounds. That completely changed the way I started writing music, everything all of a sudden became very funky when it had a little groove on it. I started playing around with it and started to incorporate different sounds. That’s when I came upon swing.

The first guy I found out about who did swing was essentially Hodgebox from the UK. He does really cool swing and blues and uses really odd oldschool sounds. I was intrigued by that because nobody was doing it.  I’ve always been a little bit about doing things nobody else is doing [laughter]. That is what has been driving me for the last three years. I’m making what I want but what I make is also dictated by what’s popular. If something is popular or overplayed I move to an avenue that isn’t being explored. That’s why I got in to swing and blues because it’s just different and cool, it turns people’s heads. I found a way to make it work.  I really enjoy being different and weird [laughter].

AYNiB: It’s really nice to see an act such as yourself use that soulful influence in your music. I find that electronic music can go over as very mechanical and soulless to people who aren’t really aware of what’s going on in the underground aspect of the scene. It has that reputation in a lot of ways so it’s really nice to hear that soul and see that passion in both the music and performance aspects.

Defunk: I completely agree. I think that soul is exactly what my music is whether it’s old school swing samples or blues, or disco. I’ve been getting in to a lot of disco lately. I’ve been doing anything that has the feeling of emotion and soul in it, melodies in the bass. Make it heavy but you still have to have melody.

AYNiB: [laughter] I think a lot of producers could learn about that fine balance.

[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]You hear enough sets that have so much really heavy banger type music that I can’t help but want to step away and make something different.[/quote] Defunk: And you get to the point where you hear enough sets that have so much really heavy banger type music that I can’t help but want to step away and make something different. If you look at music over the course of time, everything that’s been enjoyed so far up until dubstep and the really heavy stuff has contained a lot of emotion and soul. It’s just almost natural for me to gravitate towards that. At the end of the day that’s what I’m really passionate about. There’s so much music out there in modern electronic that’s overplayed and doesn’t have a lot of feeling in it.

AYNiB: I feel that.  You blend that heavier aspect and the soulful, melodic aspect that gives you a choice to groove hard or chill out in both your individual tracks and the way you build your sets. They tell a story.  This is why I’m so stoked for your album to come out.

Defunk-welcometogroovecityWhat kind of musical journey are you going to take us on with the release of Welcome to Groove City?

Defunk: Ever since I was in the UK, I’ve been focused on the fact I was going to make an album. When I heard Pretty Lights was making an album and he was going back and doing it all original using no samples, it struck a chord with me. I’ve always wanted to do that. I was setting out to make a full piece of music because I’ve always enjoyed albums in full. I’ve always loved rock and punk and metal. I appreciate the idea of the album as a journey.

[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]I really just wanted to spread out and work with as many people as possible.[/quote] I wanted to work on a complete piece that featured all my influences and I also wanted to work with tons of people. I reached out to see if people would work with me.  When I started on the album I tried to push myself in every facet. Everything from drum work, to sampling, to vocals, to emotion, to changing the tempo, increasing tempos throughout the songs, time signatures, working from a 3/4 to a 4/4.  Just making the tracks really progressive. I’ve met many amazing musicians along the way in Australia and the UK and I got some of them to work with me. I used Sarah for one of the songs that fit her well. I could have used her as a vocalist on many more songs but I really just wanted to spread out and work with as many people as possible. I put a call out for people who played Banjo, or Harmonica. Someone came and gave me some blues guitar and I used a piece of that. Everything that I’ve presented on the album is essentially original or recorded for the album.

AYNiB: I’m stoked to hear the whole thing from start to finish. Just like you were saying about listening to an album start to finish because it tells a story, that’s totally what I loved so much about rock music before ever getting into electronic music. I like an album to tell me a story. I love seeing that element in electronic music because it proves to the non-believers that electronic music does have a pulse, that it is alive…

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Motion Notion Cabana Stage 2013 by Space Invaderz

I know you work very closely with the stage design/production company Space Invaderz. Ever since you’ve been home from the Retro Stomper tour you’ve been building stages.  How does being part of the SI affect your creative output?

Defunk: It’s definitely a lot of work. It hinders the amount of time I can spend on my music. I’m going out and camping for weeks at a time. Going out and building stages and then the festival, then there’s teardown and then after you get back for a festival you don’t necessarily want to come back and use your brain immediately.

AYNiB: Oh, you’re telling me! [laughter]

Defunk: I don’t get as much done musically during that time. It’s more when I have time to relax and work at my own pace where I’m super productive, when I’m not super tired and I’m well fed.  The situation has to be pretty precise.

AYNiB: Just like any guy, you always need to eat. [laughter]

Defunk: I have to be well fed because I get hangry for sure. [laughter]

Vindaloo: The work that comes out of Space Invaderz is the party. There’s a very distinct and powerful satisfaction in creating the party and bringing people to see this creation that you have worked hours and hours on.

Defunk: Ya, there definitely is. I love building stages. I’m going to the festival anyways, I might as well be a part of the festival. You get to make the stage and see people enjoy it and you also get to play on it.

Vindaloo: It takes away from his flow in the way that it takes him four days to make a song instead of you know like one day. [laughter]

Compared to many other artists out there right now up and coming in the same way you are, you’re incredibly productive. Not just productive in the sense that you’re throwing tracks out there but you’re thoughtfully productive.  How do you keep that creative output?

[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]I lose sleep over music. It’s what I pour my heart and soul into every hour of the day. [/quote] Defunk: I wake up and go to bed with my computer open to a song. It’s all I think about. I lose sleep over music. It’s what I pour my heart and soul into every hour of the day. I’m also a very quick worker which I learned in Art College, to get things done and focus. I picked up some good habits early. I’ve always been fast working on creative projects. If I’m working on a song and it’s not working I drop it. If it is, I’m on a roll. I don’t sleep. I don’t shower for a day and a half. Usually, I can get a song done in three days. I usually make about 6 or 7 songs a month.

Defunk3

I wanted to ask you about when you had your computer disappear on tour. What happened? How’d you figure that one out? You seemed to bounce back from it right away and just went on your way and finished the rest of tour.

Defunk: I finished my tour in the UK and was taking a couple weeks off with Sarah to go to Thailand and Cambodia and because I didn’t want to bring another bag of luggage, and also because I didn’t want to lose my computer while traveling I had it shipped from the UK over to Sydney which was my first gig. I booked my flight so that I landed in Sydney the day of my first gig. There wasn’t much leeway, everything had to work out.

Towards the end of my Thailand trip I still hadn’t figured out what happened or where it went missing or who took it out of the bag. The cable that charges the computer was stolen too which was weird, I never got an explanation. I knew that I had to land in Sydney and do a show so I put a call out to all my fans and let them know what was happening and said that it would be amazing if anyone could contribute to helping me get a new computer. I’ll give you my music for free. I got a big donation and within five days I had enough money. My aunt contributed, people that I had released with contributed, fans contributed. Essentially my fans bought me a new computer within a week. It was completely unbelievable and magical.

I spent the next 3 weeks in Australia trying to find an Apple store to buy a new laptop. Even though I had the money it still took me a couple gigs. I had to figure out programs I had never used before for a couple shows in Australia. I got through. Magically, it all worked itself out but I definitely had to pull some strings. It was the most stressful moment of my whole life. I eventually bought a computer. I’m still trying to thank people for doing that. I’m giving everyone who contributed money everything I release ever for free because the fans are the people who got me a new computer. As soon as I got back from Australia I used the new computer to get to work on my album which is exactly what I told people I would be using it for. They directly supported me writing the album. It is a magical story in a way, that people can actually see how they helped me get my computer. There were a couple critics who weren’t sure I was telling the truth but this really did happen. I broke down. It was a dark time. Everything I needed to play live, all the music I had. Everything was on that computer was just gone.

AYNiB: I’m so glad things worked out alright.

Defunk: Ya me too. [laughter]

What’s next for you after the album drops?

Defunk: I’m about to approach some agencies for booking because I think that’s my next step.  I’d really like to push further in to the US, in to the East. I’ve got contacts in the West but what’s standing in my way is getting in to a booking agency and getting some help with contacts because I feel like I’ve hit a wall in terms of my own. Especially with the album coming out and with the recent tour in the UK.

That’s super exciting. Big things in your future!  Thanks so much for sitting down and chatting with me.  I can’t wait to listen to the album the whole way through.

Since the time of its release on October 8th Defunk’s full length album Welcome to Groove City released on High Chai Recordings and has had enormous success surpassing many to find itself in the top ten most downloaded albums on Beatport. Take a listen and buy it on beatport.

 

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