I guess you could label the music of Ital, bka the Brooklyn-based producer Ital, as “house.” I guess. But house music implies dancing, which is something you can do with Ital’s music only sometimes. Take a track like “Boi” from his new record Dream On, which starts out as a Jungle tune, but quickly devolves into the realm of the discursive. Then there’s the destructive Juke of “Eat Shit (Waterfalls Mix),” which takes an already hard-to-dance-to-style and asks us which parts of the skittering rhythms and seemingly-random bass stabs which actually need to dance to, while retaining the framework of the Chicago style.
Ital accomplishes this because though he uses computers to create his music, he’s working against technology rather than with it. He produces primarily in Audacity, one of the most rudimentary pieces of music software available. For someone with a strict sense of musical ethics (Martin-McCormick started out in the band Black Eyes who were so DC Hardcore they put out a record on Dischord), Ital is a ridiculously nice person. He and I spoke over Skype, discussing his production techniques, the temptation to shoot for mega-electronic festivals, and then he told me a story about being pressured into trying to sell Indian food to strangers in Ireland. In fact he's so nice that he gave us "XLstFil," an exclusive track to run along with this interview. Stream it below and see what he has to say about pretty much everything.
NOISEY: What were you drinking when you made the new record?
ITAL: Drank a lot of coffee. I had a dog-walking job for a while and right when I got back from a tour right around Valentines Day, and I was able to, for the first time in my life, quit my job to just make music. Anyway, I had gotten a percolator from my sister two Christmases before and I got super into it. I would wake up every morning and make a percolator full of coffee and kind of spend the day tinkering with the album, maybe go out for a bit and come back to mess around a bit more, but always on this insane, five-cups-of-coffee-buzz.
My apartment at the time was kind of like a cave. There was little natural light, my room was small, like, big enough just for my bed so when I’d get up I’d still just be sitting on my bed, working on the record. Anyway, very coffee vibes for sure.
How was your schedule after you didn’t have any place to be and were just working on a record?
It was cool! It was great, I loved it. I had a lot of time to just walk around. I think that working gives you a lot of focus when you’re like, at work all day and you come home exhausted but for me, I just found that all I’d be thinking about is what I’d rather be doing and there’s this finite period of time in the evening to really hustle which is very productive but I’m also good at setting deadlines for myself, making sure that there’s external forces in place, you know? Like, the label is expecting the record at a certain time, so I have to work on it.
I don’t think I would thrive very well if I didn’t have people who were expecting something of me. I was pretty diligent about making sure a lot of different people needed me at a lot of different places at different times. So I was playing a lot of shows. I mean it was awesome, I’d recommend it. Working on tunes, not a bad experience.
You know, I didn’t go to a cabin or anything and the record didn’t take 24/7 to work on it. I’d try to work on it everyday and try to get a song a week done.
What was going through your head for this album? Were you thinking, ‘I want to make an album about…something’? Or just like, ‘I’ll see what happens?’
I knew I wanted to make an album. I knew I wanted it to be pretty raw. I made the last record and I hadn’t played that many shows at that point and it was sort of this heady experience engaging in it. Then when I made the new one it was after playing ten weeks of tour, a bunch of shows in New York, and was like, ‘alright let’s do this, let’s fucking make this thing rip.’ After that, it was pretty clear, it was mainly taking out the parts of the last album I liked and the parts of the live show I liked and just cutting out all the bullshit--just focusing on working really hard on those things.
Those things--to be more specific--were that I wanted a lot of drums, I knew I wanted a lot of clearly articulated sounds, no washiness, I wanted it to be a pretty alienating environment, I wanted it to be revolting at times, but of course, I wanted to have some clear lean, some melodic framework. I also wanted there to be emphasis on shitty computer techniques, like the timing stretching stuff I used a lot on Hive Mind, and see if there was a way to integrate this obvious signifier of Web 2.0, the degradation of the psyche, etc.
It’s not like you’re going very primitive, but maybe it’s almost a primitivistic use of the techniques and tools of electronic music.
In a way. I think there are two ends of the spectrum that interest me; One is the sonic auteur, people who are deep, deep, deep in the gear zone and have a complete grasp of how to sculpt tones, maybe with modular shit, or just like, deep into synthesizer knowledge and they have amazing sounding records because of their impeccable command of their gear and all of those endless possibilities. On the other hand, like me, who’s building something essentially from scrap.
What program do you use?
Audacity. I use some Logic too but I don’t like working inside Logic. The reason is that Logic as a program is essentially, depending on how you look at it, the nice version of GarageBand, or GarageBand is the more user-friendly version of Logic. Either way, they’re both programs that have been designed so that you can really quickly and easily start making something that sounds like music or at least, your image of “professionally-produced music.”
I find that the complete lack of learning curve required to make something that sounds not unlike something you’d like is a really turn-off to me.
The interfaces on programs like Ableton allow you to not have to be decisive, mainly because of the way that you can pencil in an envelope change or a volume change, go back, realize you didn’t like that, and have the freedom to change it. But in Audacity you’re like, editing the software every step of the way and that’s totally stupid and really annoying but the upside of that is when you make an edit you have to commit to it because otherwise if you want to make a change later, you’ve done 30 edits and theoretically, now must undo all of them.
That sort of decisiveness creates a feeling that’s similar to the decisiveness of in the moment, off the cuff playing. Even though I can go back and hyper-edit everything more, there’s all these layers of snap decisions I’ve made that are embedded in the music.
In the middle of those two spectrums that I’m talking about, I see a lot of people making music with computers that doesn’t sound bad, sounds totally fine, but doesn’t sound particularly unique--just like a lot of mediocre music in the middle. When I hear about these dudes on laptops, I don’t know, it just feels like these programs are making a lot of subtle, subliminal decisions on their behalf.
Audacity still, in so many ways, makes a lot of decisions for you. You know, I appreciate how it limits you, and how much that makes me pour myself into it.
So yeah, it’s sort of techo-primitivism but not just for its own sake. For me, it makes music that feels better than if I tried to do it on Logic, ‘cause that’s always an epic fail.
Say one day you decided to make a song in Logic or Abelton--how would it sound different from a typical Ital song?
Well, I don’t know. The thing is that I’m now writing a lot of my songs live—I’m using an MPC in my live set-ups so I’m doing a lot of my writing on the road and that’s kind of a different interface too, but they kind of end up feeling the same. The main thing that happens in Audacity is a lot of hyper-editing and a lot of use of these really shitty effects in ways that are probably not how they were intended to be used.
I figure the first 50 or at least the first 20 songs will sound like shit. They might have a similar structure or something like that but I’m not super familiar with the effects.
I’m not afraid of, I’m wary (which I guess is a subset of fear) of starting to use something more high-powered and have it kind of freeze me--draining all the ideas out my ideas so I could be like, ‘now I can make a techno song’ and it just sounds like a techno song and people could be like, ‘oh that’s fun,’ you know? No. As opposed to doing something that’s like where I’m going--I don’t know where the fuck this is going but it is at least, a serious sonic adventure for me, which is usually how it ends up being.
It must be tempting to say, “Fuck it, I’m gonna make tunes that’ll get me onstage at Ultra.”
Every once in a while I’m tempted by that, absolutely. Every time I sort of hit against that temptation it usually backfires and makes me want to go into something super personal and outside of anybody’s box.
Since I started playing punk bands and stuff like that, I still kind of feel like that’s my root language or root vibe. The idea of crossing over and being like a techno guy who just churns out techno tracks seems even more boring and shitty than staying in punk bands and churning out punk tracks, you know what I mean? If I’m going to churn out anything I’d rather it be in something I was born and raised in because then at least I’m like, in my mother tongue. In some senses I feel like Ital and the zone I’m exploring has less to do with switching over to techno or house or anything like that and more with expanding musical horizons to be post-genre or pre-genre. The genre’s not a thing it’s more about using a couple tools like a four and four and kick drum as a new more specific jumping off point towards wide open musical exploration.
Do you listen to your own music if you’re like, out for a jog?
No. I listen to my music so much when I’m working on it.
I don’t jog but if I walk around and maybe get like, a stray dog chasing me and it becomes a slight jog situation--it might be playing on my iPod. No, for me once it’s done it’s kind of just done. I do DJ it sometimes though which is kind of an interesting test to see how potent it is on the dance floor because when I’m making it I’m super hyped in my head and my internal dialogue is just like, “this is slamming.” Sometimes I’ve DJ-ed my songs out and it’s actually worked and it’s very rewarding and vindicating but sometimes it’s epic fail. With the exception of one or two songs, I’m always thinking this is the heavy-hitter.
Can you tell me a weird story from a tour?
Hang on. What’s happened? Hmm. Fuck.
The big bummer that happened last night in Paris was when we were trying to intersect with our friends from the band Protect-U and they were playing a different club we decided it was getting too late and ended up not linking up but we get a phone call this morning and apparently all their gear got stolen!
Oh fuck, that sucks.
Yeah, big bummer. That isn’t really our story though. Oh! Speaking of stray dogs, we went to Russia and had this insane show. We got super delayed because there was fog all over Krakow, so we miss our connection and end up getting into Moscow at 2:30 AM and then the club at like, 3 AM. This was the rawiest club. I’m talking about like two shitty speakers, no mixer (that I desperately needed), super janky visuals, fog machine just blasting fog out the ass. Then it actually got pretty crazy even though I played at like 4 AM, anyway, we’re having these vodka-soaked conversations with non-English speakers, walk outside, and there’s like this stray, semi-aggressive dog, roaming around the premises, like a wild wolf hanging out. Then we got in a gypsy cab, I tried to make burgers for everyone and it cost me $125, jammed with Jamal Moss of Hieroglyphic Being who rolled up with all these new songs on his iPod touch he was gonna play without practicing them. It was pretty crazy.
Dublin though, a lot of people are crazy. I was the butt of so many drunk men’s mockery. My girlfriend was using the bathroom at this Indian restaurant and I was just outside waiting for her when these four guys roll up and ask me like, “Is this place good? Is this the best one in Dublin?” I was just like, “I don’t know, I just got her today,’ so they go on this tear about how I’m the worst salesmen and shit. So she walks out and they were like, “Oh you’re waiting for your girlfriend!’ I’m just like, “What? Yes? No!” Anyway, they stagger back into the hotel we’re also staying at and I asked them if they enjoyed their dinner, ‘gentlemen,’ and they were looking way sheepish cuz I totally wanted to punch them out.
But people really do that, you know, try to convince people to come into their restaurant and shit.
But yeah I wasn’t doing all that. I was just some indie dude in a fucking parka.
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