Tommy Lee and DJ Aero: Full Q&A
This week, I wrote about Tommy Lee and DJ Aero’s tag-team DJ/live remixing project in my column, Suicide Blonde. (Click here to read it and get background info). A lot of stuff got cut out necessarily for space, so here’s the full Q&A. -- Arielle Castillo
Details: Tommy Lee and DJ Aero perform Saturday, October 27, at Mansion, 1235 Washington Ave, Miami Beach. Doors open at 11:00 p.m., and tickets cost $25 in advance. Those 21 and older are welcome with ID. Call 305-531-5535, or visit www.theopiumgroup.com/tommylee.
New Times: How did you guys meet?
Aero: I actually sent him a video tape of me scratching trying to get a job with Methods of Mayhem. I sent it in, got a rehearsal call, and we’ve been hanging out ever since.
So how long have the two of you been working on this specific project, and the remixes?
Lee:It’s been since late ’99, and we got serious about it probably earlier this year. When you start DJing and stuff you start to realize that you need your own original music to make some noise out there in that world and. We’ve recently started to – other than doing some remixes – started working on full-blown original stuff.
What are a couple of your favorite remixes that you’ve done so far?
Aero: We’ve done a remix of Young Love, “Find a Way.”
Lee: We’re getting close to finishing a song called “Straight Lines” by Silverchair.
When did you each get into dance music?
Lee: Probably around 2000 when I met Aero and I worked with some other DJs in the studio like Mixmaster Mike, the Beastie Boys, Q-Bert. I’ve always loved dance music, or pretty much anything with beats, being a drummer; but that’s when I started taking interest. I had seen it obviously before, and there were all kinds of possibilities. Then I met Aero and was watching him doing it, and then I got some turntables and started fucking with shit.
Aero: I got into house in 1991 when raves were happening in Los Angeles. I would go every weekend to the raves and stay up until 8:00 in the morning and dance and watch the lasers and trip out.
Lee: You know, I was in London – I guess it was when I was married to Pamela -- and it was New Year’s Eve, right when Josh Wink released “Higher State of Consciousness.” I was at this club called Ministry of Sound. I walk in, and it’s almost midnight, and at midnight, the DJ drops that track. And I was like “What the fuck is this?” I run to the DJ booth and I’m like, “Who is that?” And the guy is like, Josh Wink, so I wrote the track down and immediately started trying to find it.
So are you over rock?
Lee: Nah, I’m not over it. But for the last 3 ½ years I’ve been on tour, 2 ½ with Motley and a year with my new project, Supernova. And when you do something every single day for 3 1/2 years you’re kinda over it for a while. For the soul, you’ve gotta switch it up.
I’m definitely not over rock, I love rock music. I’m just taking a break. This project will never be over. This isn’t like a quick little, ‘I’m gonna play techno music with my buddy Aero for a minute.’ It’s tattooed in. It’s not going away.
When you guys play live, what’s your equipment setup? Do you use Serato, CDJ stuff, or records, or what?
Aero: I use Serato, and I actually use CDJs now to control it. Records are cool; I love the way they feel, but it’s a lot to tour with. All of the songs are coming off the Macbook Pro.
But no external drives, because they can crash. Like, we were out recently and someone was Djing and all of a sudden there was no music. It was something wrong with the hard drive! It was just a bad scene. That’s why I love the CDJs, because if my Serato crashes, I can press the next track. I have the control track on track one, and a real song on track two. So if my computer crashes, I just press the next track
How does the tag team thing work? Do you two switch off?
Aero: How it works is basically I’m doing the live mixing. But there’s an effects end that sends what I do over to Tommy’s keyboard, and he manipulates that, and then it goes back to me and the house. We never switch off
Lee: I’m running two DJVs and pumping out the images on the screen. There’s a lot going on back there. There’s drum machines, percussion; it’s kind of crazy. I don’t think there’s anything more that two people can physically do back there.
So what software are you using for all that?
Lee: We use this program called Artillery, and you can designate zones on the keyboard – they’re called stutter edits – you can do single-note, half-note, quarter-note. So if you grab a vocal and hold down the key, it’ll stutter. You can manipulate that. There are filters, a distortion unit, a big handclap. It’s kind of a crazy program. Then I’ve got drum machines. When it’s right, and when there’s a hole in the sound, or it just feels right, I’ll jump on the drum machine which we programmed a bunch of custom sounds into, and I’ll just add beats to the groove that’s playing. That’s an MPC.
What are some of your favorite tracks right now?
DJ Aero: Actually right now, a lot of that dirty electro house sound with the female vocalists. Those are kind of my favorite tracks right now. Anything with vocals I’m starting to get into. The crowds that we’re playing into, they need vocals. We can’t hit them with synth sounds all night, it sounds like the same track to them.
Would you say that’s because you get the mixed crowd, with maybe a lot of curious rock people mixed in?
Aero: “Mixed crowd” is an understatement!
Lee: You never know what you’re going to get. You’ve got your serious rock fans. Your celltographers -- people who want to have it just be a fuckin meet and greet. Your dance people who want to come check that out. And then of course you’ve got your token drunk people in the back who are there because it’s fuckin’ Thursday night!
Aero: Those are the people we like actually! They couldn’t care less what we’re doing. That’s how it’s supposed to be!
Lee: You’re not supposed to sit there and stare at the DJ. What are you looking at, fuckin’ tweaking knobs?
But I’ve read your live sets are pretty energetic.
Lee:Yeah, we kinda go crazy and tear shit up in the booth. My favorite thing, what blows my skirt up, is when people are dancing and having a good time and don’t give a shit who’s DJing. To tell you the truth, there’ve been people who come up to me after a set and are like, “Dude, did you see me down there?” But I have no clue who’s there that night. I go into a zone and I don’t come out until we’re done. I get lost in the music.
That’s funny, because DJing is so opposite of being in a huge rock band like Motley Crue, where everyone is there specifically to watch you.
Lee: Oh, it’s totally the opposite! I guess if you were to watch us DJ it would be fun to watch, because we don’t just sit there and stare at the ground. But it’s really not the point of electronic dance music!
Aero: And, you know, we remix every song every night.
Lee: Yeah! Probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard from a promoter: He said, ‘Fuck, I didn’t realize, you guys are basically just remixing everything on the fly live.” We don’t just put in a CD and press play and walk away. Everything you hear, either Aero or I got our little paws on.
How do you guys find the tracks you work with live?
Lee:We search high and low. “Dude I found this track, or dude, listen to this.” It’s just music that we’re both into
Got any favorite current producers?
Lee:Well we just started working on a couple of cool tracks with a guy called Deadmau5. He’s got a couple of huge tracks on Beatport and he’s had them there for a while. His stuff sounds like nobody else. He’s a badass producer.
Aero: I like John Dallback too.
So when you’re in the studio, what’s your process like? What do you start with?
Aero: Well we basically figure out, if we’re doing a remix, obviously we get the vocal and start trying to manipulate that vocal. All of us just start adding sounds or ideas and put it into a computer and start arranging. It’s pretty flee-frowing, not a planned process.
So what software are you using there?
Aero: We’re using a lot of Ableton Live.
Do you start with sound libraries or samples or do you record your own?
Aero:Yeah, we record it all ourselves, live. We take single hits, like hi-hats or whatever, and then program our own patterns, and then record those and manipulate those. Some sound libraries that are good, to get, you know, the creativity flowing. But at the end of the day it’s really about what you make it.
Are you working on a full album, or just these one-off remixes and tracks?
Lee:Does anyone make full length albums any more? I guess we’ll probably just drop a track when we’re ready.
Aero: With Beatport and all this other stuff, you don’t really need to go to the studio for six months at a time. It’s just changed so much.
Lee: I even thought, You know, why don’t people in the rock world stop making these fucking records that have two good songs on them. Just release singles! I was going to do that with my last solo record. I told my producer and manager, “I don’t think I’m interested in making a full-length.” I think that would inspire the artist to write a fucking great song! Just drop your best shit!
So you’re not one of these people who mourns the death of the full-length album as a concept?
Lee:[Huge sigh]. I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem like it’s like that anymore.