I was lucky to catch up with Chris / Free The Robots for an exclusive interview that provides a glimpse of the new album Ctrl Alt Delete (to be released worldwide March 30, 2010) and a look into the life of a Restaurant, Bar owner / Producer / DJ and IMO one of the most influential artists to come out of Los Angeles’ experimental beat scene.
This is your debut full-length album release. How do you feel right now in anticipation to its release? Excited? Nervous?
I’m very excited about this one. Finally people will actually know the music I’ve been playing live.
Was Ctrl Alt Delete just some random thing you thought should be the album title or is there some crazy deep meaning behind it?
In PCs, Ctrl Alt Delete is the command that overrides the system, which is a metaphor for what it means to free robots. Technically, a robot would be deleting alternate control to be free. Another interesting observation is that there is the same number of letters per word in “Ctrl Alt Delete” as in “Free the Robots.”
(*off the record: this is the stuff you think about on Psychedelic drugs.. I’m just sayin..;)
In your own words, can you describe the album for us, maybe give our audience an idea of what they can expect.
This album is a bit darker and more aggressive than my older works. I took a step back from the classic, sample based, Jazzy-Breakbeat approach, to test myself as a musician. I turned it up a few notches, and added more dirt, more psych sounds, and more bass. About 90% of this record is originally composed from synths and instruments.
How did Free The Robots come about? What’s your vision behind it?
I started this project during a time when I was experimenting with different groups. I was making Hip Hop beats for several MC’s, playing electronic instruments with other bands and DJing full time. Being around so much different music, and having so many interests, I wanted to unite everything together in one project. I took the sample based, Hip Hop, beat approach and blended it with the progressive, melodic, song structure that I learned from playing with bands. Once I built my studio, I knew what was possible, as a soloist, and the ideas kept brewing. I wanted to create a project that, generally, couldn’t be confined by one genre.
Can you fill us in on how you first got into making music?
I started as a DJ in the mid 90s, making 4 track mixtapes, entering battles, and composing scratch routines with my local crew. It was fun times but I got to a point where I wanted to grow even more musically. Digging for records is what really got me interested in different sounds. I started collecting a lot of Jazz, Soul and Psych records, which influenced me to learn music with a more traditional approach. I picked up different instruments and experimented with different bands. When my brother gave me a bootleg copy of Reason is when it really went down. I passed it on to one of my DJ buddies and we spent months learning collectively, different tactics.We shared beat tapes on a monthly basis and, together, developed our own style. About two years into it was when I decided to take it serious. I put out my first batch of 10 songs in 2004 (The Prototype).
Who are your main musical influences?
The music of DJ Shadow, Portishead, and Prefuse 73 is what initially brought the idea of making music into my life, but I’m inspired by all sorts of music. Everything from 60’s Psych, Jazz & Soul from all over the world, to the current Los Angeles beat movement constantly amazes me.
I can’t stop listening to this album. The first thought in my head when I first heard it was…damn, this is music I’ve been waiting to hear for a very long time. Really amazing. I hear elements of various types of music like psyche, funk, jazz, hip hop, electronic, dubstep. Did you already have the idea of how you wanted it to sound or did you basically start playing around with different sounds and instruments and this was what came out? How did it all come together?
I had no idea what this record was going to sound like when I started it. The creation of this album forced me develop myself as a musician, so the sound evolved through the learning process. For the most part, it was all about hours of sound design, recorded improvisation, edits, and reconstruction.
I can also hear a sort of free jazz, improvisational approach? Was that an element that you absolutely had to have in making this album?
A good amount of these songs were based on improvisation. A lot of times I’d start by recording my late night jam sessions. I would take the parts that I liked, and build off them to construct full songs. The jazz element is a part of my roots that I will never let go of. It’s much less obvious in this record then previous ones, but it is there.
You have a track featuring Ikey Owens from Mars Volta / Sublime / Long Beach Dub All Stars / Free Moral Agents. How did that come about and what was it like to work with him?
I’ve been a fan of his work for years, and finally met him at a show we played together. He definitely plays a role in the inspiration for my work, so I figured, why not just get him on it. As large scale it is to for me to work with Owens, it was dope to have such a humble experience.
The session took place in his living room with my laptop, his organs, and two 3” computer speakers on his coffee table. We had to hunch over to even hear what was going on, because the sound of his fingers hitting the keys was louder than what we were hearing out of the speakers. It was ghetto as fuck! He improvised the whole thing in 2 sessions after listening to the track once. That’s talent.
What types of instruments do you play, or equipment do you use to create your music? drum machines? laptop? music programs? Maybe throw in some manufacturer names in there…hint at possible sponsorships to get some cool gear while you’re at it? hahaha.
There’s a lot of room for me to learn but I do play the Keys, Guitar, Bass, Drums and Turntable. To give the full break down of what I use to record: Reason, Ableton Live, Akai MPD32, Midi keys (Axiom), actual keys (Juno-6, Fender Rhodes), synth keys (Korg R3), Technics 1200’s and a Rane.
Besides being known for your production, you’re also known for your DJ skills as well, taking home award for best DJ at the OC Music Awards. what was that like?
To be honest, sort of surprising and weird, considering the general OC DJ circuit. One would think, in the land of the Orange curtain, a Top 40 DJ, or a fashionista, would be chosen. Who woulda thought? Times done changed. People are starting to pay attention.
I’ve seen some crazy clips of you cutting it up with Qbert, The Gas Lamp Killer, and total surprise to me…Nosaj Thing on YouTube BTW. I say scratching needs to make a comeback. what do you think? What’s up with the scratch sessions?
I still cut at home all the time. Not much at clubs, but it’s been a part of me since back in the day. I’m always down for a session!
You’re part owner of the Crosby restaurant / bar / bookstore in Santa Ana. Can you let us know what it’s all about. how you got it started and your motivation behind opening it?
The Crosby is a spot my friends and I created for our selves, in a county that was ready something fresh. Born and raised in this area, we figured it was about time to do something different in the community behind the curtain. When the opportunity presented itself, we took it. Now it’s home base for us, and anyone who’s open enough to understand and appreciate what we have to offer. Everything from the food, the drinks, the music, and overall vibe works together. It’s pretty much the dream spot I always wanted to open up since I was a kid. You’re not gonna find many places where you can enjoy a gourmet dinner and cocktails, while listening to the Wu-Tang Clan and Finders Keepers comps… Switch gears into different nights filled with some of the worlds greatest talent, from the headliners of LA’s beat movement, to hip hop legends like Beat Junkies and such, to even progressive art-punk & psych bands known to run circles at The Smell; all this for free in quite possibly the most intimate setting possible.
It’s amazing that you’re able to run a restaurant/bar, perform, and still have time to work on such great sounding music. How do you manage to balance everything out?
I have a solid team behind everything I do. My Crosby staff is amazing, Alpha Pup’s been great, OBEY, Windish, pretty much everyone I work with is doing it for the love of it, which is what keeps me going.
A lot of people like myself have seen your mind blowing performances at Low End Theory. How did you get involved with that whole scene?
For me, it really started through Willie (The Gaslamp Killer). We actually go back over 10 years ago, before people really paid attention. He was always on some next shit. When Low End started, he asked me to play an opening slot for Prefuse 73, introduced me to the crew and it was on. It was also interesting to find out Nocando, the resident MC, was someone I had worked with back in 03 without even meeting the guy. Met him for the first time that night. (First show: Dec, 2006)
How did linking up with Alpha Pup Records come about?
It’s definitely taking the independent music scene by storm right now with heavy releases from Nosaj Thing, Nocando, and quality music coming from its growing family of imprint labels such as Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder, Daedelus’ Magical Properties, Matthew David’s Leaving Records. How does it feel to be part of such an influential family of artists?
After my first live performance at The Low End Theory, I became a regular at The Club. A few more performances later, Kev He hit me up for some current music. we signed the deal and 2 years later, CTRL ALT DELETE was created.
Tell you the truth, I’m still in geek mode. Friends, peers, whatever… I am still a huge fan of them. I think every ones a fan of each other. There’s a great synergy between this group of artists, that keeps me humble and inspired.
If you had never gotten into making music…what would you see yourself doing instead?
I’d probably be a professional gamer.
What’s in store for the future of Free The Robots? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I’m planning on a few collabs right now for some different concept projects TBA. One thing don’t want to do is make the same album twice. In 5 years, hopefully 5 more albums deep.
Our mission here is to promote quality independent music. Can you let everyone here know of 5 break out artists that you feel everyone should go check out? Feel free to mention more than 5 if you need to.
My Hollow Drum (I’m really amped for Teebs’ album), Tokimonsta, Mono/Poly, Lorn, MatthewDavid & pretty much all the artists of Brainfeeder.. Nocando and the entire Hellfyre Club, Friends of Friends, Phil (the guy who plays with me sometimes for FTR shows) is working on his project as well… the list goes on. It’s gonna be an interesting year.
Anything else to add? Any words of wisdom, closing words for all the Deftune peeps?
Thanks again Chris for giving me this opportunity. Be on the look out for his new album Ctrl Alt Delete on March 30th on Alpha Pup Records.
Ctrl Alt Delete Teaser Trailer
MAY 1 – CHICAGO, IL @ DOUBLE DOOR
MAY 2 – DETROIT, MI @ MAJESTIC THEATRE
MAY 3 – CLEVELAND, OH @ GROG SHOP
MAY 4 – TORONTO, ON @ WRONG BAR
MAY 5 – BOSTON, MA @ MIDDLE EAST
MAY 7 – NEW YORK, NY @ HIGHLINE BALLROOM
MAY 8 – BALTIMORE, MD @ BOURBON STREET BALLROOM
MAY 9 – RICHMOND, VA @ HAT FACTORY
MAY 10 – GREENSBORO, NC @ GREENE STREET CLUB
MAY 12 – ASHEVILLE, NC @ CLUB 828
MAY 13 – KNOXVILLE, TN @ VALARIUM
MAY 14 – NASHVILLE, TN @ LIMELIGHT
MAY 15 – ATHENS, GA @ NEW EARTH MUSIC HALL
MAY 16 – ATLANTA, GA @ MASQUERADE
MAY 18 – MOBILE, AL @ ALABAMA MUSIC BOX
MAY 20 – NEW ORLEANS, LA @ HOUSE OF BLUES
MAY 21 – HOUSTON, TX @ RICH’S
MAY 22 – AUSTIN, TX @ LA ZONA ROSA
MAY 23 – DALLAS, TX @ TREES
MAY 25 – OKLAHOMA CITY, OK @ CITY WALK
MAY 27 – ST. LOUIS, MO @ 2720
MAY 28 – KANSAS CITY, MO @ CONSPIRACY ROOM
JUN 02 – VICTORIA, BC @ SUGAR
JUN 03 – VANCOUVER, BC @ VENUE
JUN 04 – PORTLAND, OR @ ROSELAND THEATER
JUN 05 – SEATTLE, WA @ SHOWBOX MARKET
JUN 06 – ARCATA, CA @ ARCATA THEATRE
JUN 09 – SANTA CRUZ, CA @ CATALYST
JUN 12 – SAN FRANCISCO, CA @ FILLMORE AUDITORIUM
“Orion’s Belt Buckle”