Seattle Deep House Sensation Pezzner Recounts His Breakthrough Year
For over fifteen years, he banged out quirky glitch-house and breaks as production duo Jacob London with Bob Hansen. But in 2008, Pezzner struck out on his own, delving into solo production work and landing on the international scene with a big bang when his first tracks were picked up by major transatlantic house labels like Om, Freerange, and Urbantorque.
2010 has seen Pezzner embark on tours across Europe and Australia while his debut album The Tracks Are Alive on Freerange has made big waves around the world since its summer release. Among his many supporters are international heavyweights like John Digweed, Laurent Garnier, Steve Bug, and Ben Watt. And it's no surprise when you hear his lush, intricate studio wizardry, giving all the dime-a-dozen, cookie-cutter EDM producers out there a real run for their money.
We caught up with Pezzner in advance of his Thursday night Miami debut at the Electric Pickle to talk about the recent rewards of his music career and details of his experimental studio craft.
Many know you as a newcomer to the international EDM scene, but you've been active for over a decade as half of production duo Jacob London. What can you tell us about your musical development building up to this year's solo releases?
I don't know. I think my deciding to quit my job a few years back played a huge part in where I've gone with my music. But also I've been really inspired the last couple years to create music. I'm doing what I love all day, every day, and completely indulging in the music making process. I'm very happy doing it and I think that this is what comes off the strongest in what I do.
Seattle is known for grunge and indie rock. But we know nothing of the EDM scene there. What's good?
We're all recovering from Decibel Fest! This year was out of control. They brought in an amazing line of talent, classics like Carl Craig and Kevin Saunderson, and some of my recent favorites: Trus'me, Pepe Bradock, Soul Clap, and Tanner Ross. There's so much more if you check out their website. Aside from that, I've been really getting into the "Trust" parties that Sun Tzu Sound and Kid Hops (KEXP) have been throwing. Such a great display of amazing music and vibes at Chop Suey every third Saturday of the month. Best night of the month!
By your own admission, you're not a musician in the traditional sense, yet you boast exceptionally musical, lush, and intricate productions. What is your process in the studio?
It's a bit difficult to explain. I've been doing electronic music for 18 years now, which is so bizarre for me. But when you've been doing something this passionately for such a long time, I think that your craft becomes a sort of second nature. When I started doing music I dreamed of the day when I was able to take my musical ideas and realize them accurately in the studio, and I've finally gotten to the point where I can (for the most part) do that.
So maybe this raises the question: Am I a musician? I don't read or write notation, nor do I play an instrument, and my knowledge of music theory is very limited. But at the core, I know how to get the sound I'm looking for. I guess that does make me a "musician".
Anyway, my songs usually start out with some experimentation -- playing with samples in Native Instruments Kontakt, or Battery, or a synth, and some effects. There's no telling what's going to come out in this experimental phase and I try to do something different each time I start on a song. But through experimentation there's almost always a spark of inspiration which leads to basslines, hooks and other things that make up a song.
A producer who samples as much as you do must have an encyclopedic knowledge of music and very eclectic tastes. What are some of your biggest influences?
I love Cliff Martinez and Steve Reich. I'm also listening to Battles, Foals, Caribou, the Mole, When Saints Go Machine, Mount Kimbie, Gold Panda, the Orb, Tim Hecker, Friendly Fires, Talking Heads, Neptunes, Solid Groove, Superflu ... I could go on.
What your "live" M.O. and how does it differ from your regular DJ sets?
With my live set, I run it all in Ableton Live on Windows, and I control it using 2 Behringer BCF 2000 MIDI controllers and an Ableton Launchpad (Novation). Almost every song I've made is loaded into one live set. I have my songs set up so that each song is broken down into eight tracks -- Kick, Snare, Hi-Hat, Percussion, Misc 1, Misc 2, Misc 3, and Bassline. Any of the eight tracks can be mixed together however I want them to be. I can also send any of these eight tracks into an array of effects: Looper, Pitch Adjust, Transient Shape, Delay, Reverb, Tape Echo, etc. I think there are over 1,300 audio samples that can be referenced from my live set now.
The setup I have has enough flexibility for me to break out of the original arrangement, go off on a tangent with loops and effects and drop back into the song. I'll try to come up with a basic set before the show by arranging songs in order of how I think they should be
played. But if I feel things are going sour and people are not loving a particular style, I can easily change things up.
This year alone, your work has been picked up by some of the most esteemed house labels out there: Freerange, Om, Urbantorque, Strictly Rhythm, etc. How does it feel being in the big leagues after so many years of hard-work and how has it affected your self-expectations as a professional?
It feels fantastic and is a constant reminder that it's possible to do anything if you are truly acting on your passions and stick to what you do. I've been a huge fan of Underworld, Mark Farina, Josh Wink, Groove Armada, Darren Emerson, Derrick Carter, and the Om Records, and Freerange umbrellas. These are the people who influenced me and helped shape me into the artist that I am, long before I ever thought I would have a chance to work with them. The reassurance that I can do this, that I AM doing this, is everything to me.
What have been some of the highlights of 2010 and what does 2011 look like so far?
2010 was all about my first LP. The entire year leading up to June of 2010 was just the warm-up for when the album came out. Producing it gave me the chance to express myself farther outside the sometimes formulaic world of DJ music, and let me do some music for the home listener. I really enjoyed producing it. The highlights came in July when I toured in Europe and Australia and got to put faces to the names of many people who I worked with over the past 2 years. And having the chance to play at renowned places like Cielo, Smartbar, Space in Ibiza, Balaton Sound Festival in Hungary, the Egg in London, Family in Brisbane. It was an amazing summer. 2011... Let's not get ahead of ourselves. I'm not done with 2010 yet!
What can Miami expect during your performance at Electric Pickle?
I will be performing a DJ set at Electric Pickle for this tour. I try to keep my DJ sets fresh with new promo material. But I don't stick to deep house, or tech house. I vary it up and tend to cross genres, keeping it funky the whole time. My DJ sets carry much more of a party vibe than you would expect from listening to my music, mixing classics with promos. And when you hear me play, it's easy to tell which school I evolved out of.
Pezzner. With Inbal, Tearle. 10 p.m. Thursday, Ocotober 21. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Ages 21 and up. 305-456-5613; electricpicklemiami.com