Interview: Terravita

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Aug 7, 2012
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Terravita, AKA Matt Simmers, Jon Spero, and Chris Barlow are a rambunctious group, even by Bass music standards; I met Jon completely out of the blue via a discussion about the possibility of attack on the festival via Pirate ship. You can imagine what sort of topics came from there (Or maybe not; after sitting down over a beer with Matt we ended up going through the history of visual art movements and how they connect to music at large) but really, it’s hard to imagine a more good-natured group of people.

It was Sunday afternoon that I got a chance to sit down with them — not in the artist trailer, of course, as that would have been too easy. Our interview setting seemed to say a lot about how the discussion itself would go; perched on a bunch of wooden crates between some refrigerators, our talk became less of an interview and more of a chance to shoot the shit. And maybe get a bit of yelling out of our systems.

SYD: So you say that the Bass music world isn’t as competitive.

JON: Yeah, it’s kind of like it’s its own community. It depends on what artist it is but when you come over to a festival like [Digital Dreams] when there’s only three bass artists and like, a gajillion prog house techno and like… electro house artists, it’s kind of like we’re the black sheep of the fuckin’ crew.

CHRIS: It’s like, All the drum and bass needs to go to a side room.

MATT: I did kind of feel a little bit like that today. Luckily the staff of the side room is really really nice.

CHRIS: Luckily we’ve done actual side room for fifteen years when we were doing drum and bass, so now when that happens we’re like… Oh, whatever.

JON: I think what we all do now has taken its own mantle and is its own thing. Maybe we do fit, maybe we don’t, but with what we do it doesn’t matter.

SYD: That’s fair. So, do you feel like there’s too much stratification between genres?

CHRIS: That’s actually the thing we really like about the bass genre right now. In house music there’s only so much you can do. It’s 126 to 132 bpm. There’s only so many sounds you can use. Bass music, you can do anything from 100 to 180, and you can do anything so long as it has a womp in it somewhere, and people are into it. You can do something that’s a little different, a little more cutting edge. Not knocking house music because it’s obviously popular, but you can do something a little different.

SYD: Do you feel that it’s split up the fans at all?

JON: No, to be honest with you that’s the cool thing about the new EDM fandom. They like everything! They have artists that they like in every genre. So with most festivals like this it’s normally there’ll be a stage just as big as the main stage for all of us. This festival was a little different, but you’ll see people bouncing from artist to artist to artist. And that’s what the cool thing is. Before, back in the day, people used to be very “Oh, I like drum and bass” so you’d stay in the drum and bass room all night, or “I like trance,” so you’d stay where the trance DJs are playing all night. Now it’s artist driven, very “Oh, I want to see Terravita, but after that I want to see Wolfgang Gartner, and after that Porter Robinson, and then Tiesto.” People’s horizons have been so broadened with the boom of EDM. It’s been a really cool thing to see how it affects people’s music interests.

MATT: I think it’s treated a lot more like bands now. People want to see acts, they want to see artists, it’s less of a genre aesthetic.

CHRIS: You can see it on Facebook. You can see people who like us or somebody like Datsik, but they also like Swedish House Mafia and Kaskade and Armin Van Buuren. They like the music they like! They might like Richie Hawtin they might like techno, whatever. Then Rhianna, Lil’ Jon, whatever.

MATT: My favourite fan is that fan, the one that likes literally everything.

CHRIS: You know, they like what they like now, which is cool, because before if you didn’t like one certain genre, you weren’t cool with the other people who were in your group.

SYD: So you feel like the fans are liking you as an artist instead of you as a genre.

MATT: Yeah. And I feel like liking things as a genre is like trying to, uh.

JON: That’s what’s setting apart people’s live sets now. I mean, you are an act. So, what do you bring to the table onstage? Are you going to be making intricate mixes, are you going to be doing personally made mashups, or a pre made set with some awesome visuals attached?

MATT: We don’t press play but we don’t hate on people that do press play.

CHRIS: If they’re pressing play on songs they’ve made that are huge anthems and are why people came to the festival in the first place. They wanted a light show. When you get to that level it’s very difficult not to do that with this music.

MATT: We definitely have a lot of pre-planned stuff in our sets that we know we want to mix, but it’s not pre-programmed. We know Jon needs to do the vocals over it. I think it’s funny, I think people are confusing the press play people with people that have a setlist like a band. Bands would always have set lists, they knew the next song that they were going to play because it’s important to keep a flow going so people won’t get bored. If you play one style and you don’t have a planned movement in what you’re doing, it ruins the vibe of the entire set.

CHRIS: We were just on the Deadmeat tour with Steve Aoki and Datsik, and Datsik was playing everything from 110 to 140 to 174 and he kept switching the whole time, and he had to be aware of how that changed the vibe in the crowd. It’s a whole different feel; instead of one BPM the whole fucking set. Not knocking other people who do that.

JON: I think that comes back to what we’re afforded the ability to do.

MATT: That’s why we like bass music.

CHRIS: We’ve made techno. We’ve made every genre of electronic music. We had another group called Hot Pink Delorian, that we’re not doing too much work with right now because Terravita’s been doing what it’s been doing, but we know what that’s like. We know what going into a room where nobody knows who you are and having to play, uh… fuckin’ Levels is like. No disrespect. People want to hear what’s on the radio.

MATT: To sum it up in one sentence: I’ve definitely played house sets where people come up and request Lady Gaga, but I’ve never had a bass set where people come up and request Lady Gaga.

CHRIS: You know what it is, it’s people who are coming for the club or the promoter or the party or to buy bottles and for bass, people are coming for the artist. They’re coming because they like what they do, they like their songs. It is what it is.

JON: It’s grown to a level that’s ridiculous at this point. We just went on tour with Flux Pavilion and we’ve been selling out Tusla on a Monday night a week in advance.

SYD: It’s amazing how bass music has exploded even in middle America.

JON: We played Cincinatti, we played Kentucky, we played Tallahasee, all these places you wouldn’t think. Even like Missouri. There are places that have traditionally not been too forward-thinking about electronic music, but now everybody everywhere loves it. It’s been an amazing thing to watch.

CHRIS: Thank you Skrillex, Thank you Bassnectar, Thank you Flux Pavilion. In the words of Dieselboy that Skrillex quoted, when the water rises, so do all the boats.

MATT: From a personal perspective, one of the reasons why I’ve been really enjoying house music lately is that I can put my kicks in different places. That sounds really silly. But with house I know where I’m putting my kick. It’s funny, we even play some 4/4 in our sets now, but it’s such a different thing. What it comes down to is that it’s way more fun to play a set that has an extremely broad range of stuff so that I don’t get bored. I feel that that translates directly to the crowd. Your energy and your direct emotion definitely projects.

CHRIS: Anthem is what it is and that’s it.

MATT: What’s your favourite question to ask?

SYD: That depends. Right now I think we want to know about your label switch.

MATT: I don’t think we’re jumping, I think we’re pretty open to do any label. I think it’s more of an organic thing. When we were doing drum and bass, we were doing exclusive releases and we felt that doing contracts with music is a much more difficult thing to do. Things get backed up on labels, it’s the nature of them.

JON: We have no control about when or how it gets released. And that’s something that we’ll never do again. We always like to have creative control over our music. We only release stuff with people that we like, we release stuff with our friends. We released stuff on Rottun with Excision for a while.

CHRIS: He was the one who really gave us a chance with Up in the Club.

JON: Bad company was another first, way back when.

MATT: We meet people, we vibe with them, and then we want to support each other.

JON: That’s how this thing with Datsik came up. We’re doing a five track EP for his new label Firepower, and we’re all touring together for a couple of months towards the end of the year. We’re also doing stuff with Steve Aoki for Dim Mak. After the Deadmeat tour. It’s fun to do stuff with your friends, that you can talk to each other about.

CHRIS: People that you genuinely like, people you can be honest about with your music.

MATT: It’s not like jumping labels is a big thing. There’s no broken ties with anyone; I’m sure we’ll release with Rottun again. We love Jeff, we appreciate him.

CHRIS: We were on the Deadmeat tour with Datsik and Steve Aoki, and it just so happened that Troy was like ‘Oh I want these songs’ and Steve’s like ‘Oh, I want these songs’ and it’s like Okay, well Firepower will put out this, and then we’ll do our thing with Dim Mak. It’s serindipitous.

MATT: It’s funny, Before any of that happened, we came to the conclusion that it was just as beneficial for us to create our own label and release it by ourselves. The only reason we’re doing this with any other labels is that we have fun with our friends and people who appreciate the same aesthetic that we do. We do what we do! We don’t have any affiliations, and no animosity towards one person or another. It’s very much “hey, wanna release something on our label? Sure, cool dude!”

JON: We’re about to do one with Sub Human, we’re about to do one with Play Me, these are just all friends of ours.

MATT: You know how you like to do interviews, you like to be chill and organic? That’s how we like to do signings to labels. When it becomes a corporate business thing, there’s a pressure within the art form. If you haven’t gathered we’ve known each other for way too long. Coming up in two years we’ll have known each other longer than we haven’t known each other.

CHRIS: That’s a pretty long time considering we’re all getting up there.

MATT: Jon does the social media because he has a filter. I try to post nerdy stuff and like… three people like it. Then Jon posts a picture of a cat and it gets 500 people. I’ll be like ‘Check out this new software’ and get a response like ‘COOL DUDE’. Three likes and one creepy stalker. There’s always some guy going “WHEN ARE YOU COMING TO MY CITY”

JON:Just so everyone knows: All of our dates are posted on the Facebook page.

MATT: It’s not like “TO FIND OUT WHERE WE’RE PLAYING, DECODE THIS.”

MATT: I’m going to interview you now. What’s the most played out question that interviewers ask?

SYD: Probably ‘What are your Influences’

CHRIS: Augh

SYD: And ‘How long have you liked Daft Punk’.

CHRIS: Never been asked that one.

MATT: I remember… 1996 or 1997, my mom went to the CD store. She knew I was into electronic music so she just asked the guy at the store “What’s good for this kinda stuff” She got me the album Homework, and she got me Remedy by Basement Jaxx. There’s a little disconnection there because she got me these house albums which are really awesome, and I’m glad, but at the time I was into Aphex Twin, you know which is… not the style of EDM I listened to. But I’m really glad that I got those, because I really enjoyed them as albums. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Later, Matt would go on to say that he’d wanted to add that early video game soundtracks were very influential to the start of his career as a musician, and he still loves them today.] Ask Chris how many dicks have been in his mouth.

SYD: Thirty-Seven.

CHRIS: That’s pretty close!

MATT: That’s from Clerks! And for the record I do want to say that I opened my beer with my iPhone.

SYD: Jon, you’ve described before how you don’t feel that you’re a very traditional MC?

JON: Not when it comes to drum and bass, I’m not. There was a long period of time… you grew up listening to drum and bass MCs, all the legends are from England. So for me, I grew up listening to those guys — it’s all I really had to do — there was a certain type of pressure at drum and bass shows for American MCs to conform. There was a period of time where you’d try to sound British, or you ast British, or you’ve got all these technicalities that, you know, every Drum and Bass MC does. There came a point in time where I asked myself ‘Why am I doing this?’ and I just decided to be me. I’m more of an American hip-hop style MC. I find a way to tailor it to each BPM.

SYD: Do you find that the hip-hop style lends itself better to dubstep than drum and bass?

JON: The funny thing is I find it lends itself best to 110 bpm tracks, like moombahton. Some people are doing some really interesting stuff with it right now. I don’t know what to call it, but that’s my favourite bpm. I like going back and forth from 174 to 140. It gives people something fun to listen to, and it’s fun for me because it’s not monotonous, it’s not one cadence, it’s not one speed. You can double time it, you can slow it down, you can do some very simple but effective things with crowd hype and call and response stuff. Switching between three, maybe four bpms in a set is equally fun for me to do.

SYD: You adapt.

JON: 90% of what I do in every set is freestyle, so I’m up there free styling for about an hour and a half. It’s not the easiest thing in the world.

SYD: I guess that came with a lot of practice early on. Now it just flows?

JON: Oh, god. Yeah, now it just comes. You still have to work on it every day. I work all the time, write all the time, even if it’s stuff we’ll never use. I just write, come up with lines in my head. It never really stops, it’s a bit like being autistic I suppose, stuff just happening in my brain and there’s really nothing I can do about it so I just write it down.

SYD: For your live performances, are there some sections where you’ll definitely have a particular section of lyrics you have in mind?

JON: Oh yeah, we have songs that I do definitely. That’s where it’s more like a hip-hop set, and I do the songs live. They’ve found interesting ways to intricately mix different stuff in where nothing is the same. People get what they want, but they still get to hear something different, and I think that’s something that we work really hard on. It’s been a lot of fun so far.

SYD: We haven’t interviewed too many MCs thus far. They’re a bit elusive.

JON: That’s the thing, there aren’t many decent ones. Especially in electronic music, it’s a thing people don’t think about. They believe that it is what it is, and you can’t add a live vocalist element to it unless it’s a female singer or something like that. That’s the cool thing, the playing field is not very level. There’s not too much competition at the top, so you have to do what you do and hope people like you. Music is so subjective. Who is at the top? Who knows? Whatever you think is the best shit, is the best shit. I know who I would put up there, but I don’t know who other people would.

SYD: You were talking about other side projects, so you’re definitely full force behind Terravita now?

CHRIS: Yeah, we just did that 19 track album for Hot Pink Delorian at the end of last year. Now Terravita is doing what it does. It’s the bass music wave, and we’re pushing that because it’s the path of least resistance. Terravita was the group we originally had, we did that before anything else. Like we said it’s more exciting to us right now. People come for this artist instead of the party or the bottle service.

SYD: Are you guys working on any new collaborations? Original work? Remixes?

CHRIS: Yeah, we have our album on Dim Mak. We have Figure, Borgore, Bassnectar, probably Datsik, J.Rabbit we’re collaborating with on this one. A bunch of big hip-hop MCs is the word on the street.

SYD: One last thing. Do you enjoy doing original productions or remixes, not nesecerially more or less, but…

CHRIS: We enjoy original music the best. We can do what we want. There’s no direction, there’s no building blocks, there’s no other hands in the kitchen. It’s just what we want to do, and what we feel the fans are going to like and what’s going to crush it the way that we want to do it, with our styles. Not with some other vocal or sample. We still like to remix if we like the song.

SYD: Is that more a friends sort of basis?

CHRIS: Yeah. We don’t take remix jobs unless we’re into it.

SYD: Like the Bassnectar one a couple of months ago?

MATT: Well, we worked with him on that one. His aesthetic is great, I love the way we vibe together. When we talk about doing remixes, when we do things together, it’s very collaborative. We’re not afraid to just be like ‘yeah, dude, it’s all good, you don’t like that part, we’ll switch it up’. We’re fine with saying that to one another. Sometimes when you work with people they get sort of… defensive about stuff that they put in.

SYD: Do you usually work with people in studios or do you go back and forth over the internet?

MATT: Very rarely do I work in studios together with people just because everybody has such an arduous schedule. I have worked with J. Rabbit a lot in the studio, but only because he’s a really good friend of mine. Other guys we’re working with, we just send things back and forth, but that’s the nature of the beast. We did get in the studio with Vaski for a little bit recently, which was really nice to do. We don’t get the opportunity to do that as much as we want to. Most people do collabs over the internet now, not just because of the convenience factor but it’s just sometimes impossible when you’re on tour to sit down with someone.

SYD: Well, that about wraps it up. Thanks guys for your time!

JON: Awesome, we love you.

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