BT on an Enduring Dance Music Career: "My Motivation Is to Have a Very Tangible Emotional Impact"
As American audiences continue to shell out hundreds of dollars for an EDM experience, many producers see a chance to make a lot of money. Maybe they put out a lot of music really quickly, it all kind of sounds the same, they have their run, and then they're done.
But what if you want to make the kind of music that lasts decades, or hell, even hundreds of years? Well, then you've got to start taking a little more time, getting a little more intimate with your materials. BT is that kind of musician, and he's been that kind of producer for 20 years. He's built his own synthesizers, forged his own path, and shared innumerable moving experiences with fans.
We caught up with him to find out more before his show at Off the Hookah on Friday, September 27.
New Times: I was listening to the preview of your album that's coming out, ASAW, is that an acronym for something?
BT: It is. It's funny, before I announced the album title, I hashtagged it and my fans were all like "what is ASAW stand for?" It stands for A Song Across Wires, and it's my ninth studio album so I hashtagged it before I announced the name all my fans were freaking out. Everyone was guessing and stuff, it was pretty funny.
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Why A Song Across Wires?
I have some friends who did a social media experiment called "I Wrote This For You." It's a collaborative effort between two South African guys, one of whom is a photographer and the other is a poet. It's a book of poetry and photographs, and they're stunningly beautiful. I derive a lot of inspiration from prose and poetry. There's a beautiful poem in it, and one of the lines said, and I'm paraphrasing, "a song across the wires." I contacted them (one of them made the album cover for The Stars Are Eternal, So Are You and I) and they were like, "oh, we're so flattered, of course, no problem."
I just think it's a beautiful metaphor for a lot of things, but I liked the ambiguity of it in that it reflects the subjective experience of listening to music. I think one of the most powerful things about music is it means different things to every person. In the title for my albums, for my songs, I like to conjure up strong imagery that can be easily subjected to personal interpretation. I get fans all the time saying "what is this lyric from this song mean?" And I say "it means whatever it means to you," and not because I don't want to explain it to them, but I've had songs spoiled for me by artists that I love and asking the same question.
Your production sounds super clear, and you're also involved in creating a lot of software. It seems you're really into sound. Do you have a background in engineering, or where does that part of your career come from?
To an extent, yes. I was the sort of geeky kid studying classical music and building computers. I studied computer programming languages on my own. Subsequently, I taught myself some c++ and languages that we use now. But I studied all those things myself. The only two things I was ever particularly good at in school was mathematics and music.
Frequently, I will want to do things compositionally that can't be done with commercially available software, so I'll just build whatever I need to do it, and sometimes that takes months or years. When I made This Binary Universe that record took an extra year and a half. I also started my software company around that album. It was me and three guys that I hired and it took us the better part of three and a half years to build a working prototype so that I could do all the rhythmic figures on that record. Everything on that album is done in this molecular, granular surround sound drum machine that I made. And I couldn't have made that record if I didn't have it. There's absolutely nothing that does all of those very esoteric kind of techniques available commercially. That happens to me a lot, where I want to do something and there's nothing available to do it. It's kind of like, you want to build a house but you have to actually bake the bricks yourself. I find myself in that situation quite a bit.
That gives you so much freedom and so much creativity than other people.
Yeah, I mean, there's definitely an upside and a downside. One of the things that I find funny, these days, music is made so quickly. Even some of the producers coming up, ones that I'll meet or even ones that I mentor too, they'll say "oh god, I love that song, what sample loop library is that metalaphone from?" I'll drag them by the ear into my music room and be like "do you see that right there on the floor? That's an actual metalaphone. I played it. It's not a sample."
There's this kind of disconnect of understanding. That says a lot about how ephemeral the consumption of music is. Things are made so quickly, there's not a lot of depth or thought put into them. I mean, there is some with a tremendous amount of thought and depth, but there are people where you hear their work and you just say "wow, that really does sound like it took 15 minutes." It's cringe-y. I wouldn't put our family pet's name on that.
The stuff that I do, for better or for worse, it takes a tremendous amount of thought and detail and time to bake and I guess all of that leads to what our end goal is. If you're trying to have songs that chart on Beatport and play the main stage at all the festivals, trying to get a good two year run out of it, then that's cool. But that's just never what I set out to do. I've been trying to make records that are impactful and musical and mean something to people, that are transformative and make sense twenty, thirty, fifty, a hundred, two hundred years from now.
It seems that if you only put a limited amount of effort into the music, you're only going to get a limited amount of return from it. Music that you just shit out is probably not going to last very long in the minds of the listener.
You're absolutely right. I prefer to model or pattern what I do off of people that are heroes of mine; Claude Debussy or Depeche Mode where everything has a tremendous amount of forethought. And also, too, how it fits contextually with the rest of the artist's body of work, what kind of legacy are they going to leave behind. How did their music impact people, how it served a function. I've been doing this for twenty years, and something that's very affirmative for me is how people relate and use my music is all over the world.
I met someone that was crossing a bridge in Australia. This girl saw me, she started crying and she said 'I come here every year, and six years ago on this day I was going to throw myself off this bridge. I stood up here listening to "Mercury and Solace," and I decided that my life has more meaning than I realize." She told me this whole story crying hysterically how she was going to take her life. A gentleman recently sent me a 15-page letter talking about how he was wounded in combat and during physical therapy This Binary Universe was what set his mind right. The guy sent me his purple heart. I sat around the kitchen table with my mom and my family and we all wept.
I think people have different motivations for wanting to make anything, and my motivation is to have a very tangible emotional impact and make people happy and joyful. My motivation is to reach people and to be additive. I think that it's a part of why there's so much thought to what I do, because I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to the people who have identified with the music that I make. Things take me a long time to fully bake and realize. It's just kind of my process.
What are your plans for this performance coming up and how are you going to translate all of these things into a live show here in Ft. Lauderdale?
First of all, Florida is like a market that has been with me from the beginning and a place that I absolutely love playing. I think what you can expect is a lot of super high-energy current spins on my catalogue of work. Something that I've been doing for the last year and a half, since the last EDC in Vegas was doing a lot of mash-ups and recontextualizations of classic songs of mine, so I play stuff from my entire catalogue and it's awesome just to see people that it's so cool to see people singing back songs to you that are literally from like, there's no way that they should know them, they're from before they were born. Of course, all my new stuff as well, so it will be a big-ass party. It always is in Florida, so I look forward to it.
BT, A Song Across Wires Tour. 10 p.m., Friday, September 27, at Off the Hookah, 111 SW 2nd Ave, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-761-8686, or visit offthehookah.com.
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