DJ TO DJ:Nick Monaco talks to night plane
Ahead of playing at the Soul Cap Records Showcase on 5th April at Loft Studios, we earwigged in on a conversation between two of the labels shining lights -Nick Monaco and Night Plane (Mr William Rauscher).
William: What role did your parents play in your musical upbringing?
Nick: I was exposed to vinyl culture early on. My dad had a pretty big record collection that he brought over from Switzerland. It was a lot of classic rock, Led Zeppelin, Steve Miller Band. He would always play records and even when I was 3 or 4 I was fascinated by his record player. But I would say that where I grew up, Northern California, nineties and early two thousands, was a big influence also – a lot of house parties and barbeques where youd hear West Coast hip-hop and G-funk, gangsta rap. I think you can hear the West Coast influence in my music, its more about laid-back barbeque vibes. You start tracing it back, like finding out what influenced Dr. Dre, you find out about Parliament Funkadelic and so on.
William: When I was a kid it was Dre videos that first taught me what a party should look like. They were on all the time, they basically constituted their own TV channel. I had no idea, I was a 14 year old white kid in the suburbs, and I was taking notes watching Dre videos: OK, when you have a cool party, you have a fridge full of 40s. And then you pour one over a girls head. And when you leave a party, its daytime, and someone should be on someone elses handlebars. I dont really know how you can push Snoop on a bike very easily, because he is clearly a big guy. I thought thats what fun is, this is the life.
Nick: See, you should have moved to the West Coast, you should be in Compton right now.
William: Clearly missed my calling. For me it was less about my parents playing me certain records than a general enthusiasm and encouragement that I felt from them. I started taking piano lessons when I was 6. Music played a very big role in my mothers life, she ran a piano studio out of our home for a number of years and was a choir singer. She was born in Australia and lived there until she was 9. Her family was really religious and also very musical. So they would travel around and perform in churches. They were called The Musical Judds, they were like the Osmonds or something. I thought that was awesome. My parents also always took me to concerts, to see Metallica or Smashing Pumpkins or Beck.
Nick: Do you think that being raised in Texas colored your musical identity?
William: Anyone who is a Texas boy has a cowboyish trace in him. Theres a mythic mark, of a loner cowboy, leathery and independent. I associate Texas with a kind of spacey, lonesome sound. Texas is really big and flat, and it makes me think of a dreamy and dusty kind of sound, droney, and the way that country music can sound like its in outer space, like youre driving a pickup truck on the moon. When you hear a steel guitar coming out of a jukebox and its floating out into the night.
Nick: That is such a weird picture of country music, of a pickup truck on the moon.
William: What is it about music that turns you on? Why do you like music?
Nick: I dont think of music as an external thing. Its such a part of me, its not like I listen to music and try to decode it, its just an instinct for me. When I was young and I sat down at a keyboard or piano I kinda just knew what to do, with melodies and composing. I just feel the shit out. I cant describe as something other than part of my DNA. When it comes to what kind of music moves me the most, soul and funk music, for me, more than any other kind of music, just have this pharmaceutical remedy to life. Especially on a summer day, putting on a 45 record its friendship and love, and good energy
William: You can encapsulate so much emotion in organized sound. I am always fascinated by that. We look to art partly because art is organized. We get pleasure and our lives feel better for a moment when we experience something that seems to be ordered for a reason. Listen to Otis Redding or Al Green, you get a feeling of elements working together, youre hearing parts and a whole. In this way music to me gives us a glimpse of how the world could be better, theres always an optimism in music even when its super dark, it has an image of how things could be.
Nick: On a social level, I think that with the music we make, people want to feel part of something thats underground and thats larger than them. Something thats not mainstream. I think the people we attract are really curious to hear something new and to gather around something thats not super mainstream. They get a new, exciting experience, thats why they want to come together, to hear something with potential that could possibly explode. With Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap were playing a lot of old music but the way were doing it, at these techno parties its like it feels new again.
William: Part of the appeal of something new, of newness, I think, is the experience of encountering something coming out of nothing. Thats what newness is. It always makes me think of gas or heat emitting from the Mariana trench deep in the ocean or something. You have a hole in the world, and all this energy rushing out of it. Theres life that lives down there, like microbacteria and shit, just feeding out of this new energy rushing out of this hole in the world. Thats what the excitement of the creative process reminds me of.
Nick: Damn this interview is intense.
William: In what ways has it been important to you in your music to mark your influences or musical tradition?
Nick: Part of it is laziness, or not being talented! With drums for example, I feel like Im not gonna have the time to get the machine they used on this one old record, use this kind of compression to get the drum sounds they had back in the time, its not the same. Theres something about the aesthetic of old drums, old breaks that I cant figure out. Those tones, the recording quality
William: Its a weird paradox because its technically shittier quality but we like it more. Is that objective, like were drawn to it for universal reasons, or is it because we live in 2013, and everything is digitally perfect, so we fetishize those analog sounds?
Nick: I think its human nature. I think its environmental. When you hear sounds in nature, theyre not perfect. Were surrounded by imperfect sounds with all this dynamic range, like bird songs reverberating through the forest. We relate to that kind of sonic experience. But then theres the 808. I mean how do you explain that?
William: Thats kind of a brilliant example because the 808 seemingly so unnatural, its the epitome of digital sound, yet its so perfect so it speaks to human nature somehow.
Nick: I think today its about bridging the two worlds. Thats what Im trying to do. Take these 808s but match them with these dirty, gritty breaks. A lot of my tracks have just jacking, old-school breaks, and then throw in clean pads, and round 808s. The juxtaposition sounds authentic and raw, to me.
William: Its also what makes it sound contemporary. You take something old and dinky, and you add something very digital. If your record was just mixed exactly like a James Brown record, youd be a retro band like the Daptones, which is not what youre trying to do. Youre not trying to recreate a De La Soul record. Its a question of how to handle inspiration. Im a big Jim Jarmusch fan. His movies are always full of references you can play spot the reference. One time he said authenticity is invaluable, originality is nonexistent. Its necessary to be authentic, but you do that by being true to what inspired you. I really took that to heart. My productions solidified when I was really honest with myself about what music spoke to me, and when I realized that there was a particular sound, and a kind of song, and particular feelings and emotions that are in my core and that I want to get across to people. I dont want to be a retro project. People want to make you one sometimes because it helps them understand you. Its absolutely necessary to speak in the language of today. Youre never making art by yourself, you are always part of a dialogue. Whatever track you make, youre commenting on what music sounds like today in some way. Youre never speaking in a void.
Nick: Now lets play worst gig/best gig. Worst gig first.
William: My CCC partner Harry and I played a party in a hotel lounge on the Lower East Side on Oscar sunday. It was Le Loup, Thugfucker, us, and an Italo disco legend who will remain nameless. Attendance was just not that great, and the Italo legend, who was a super sweet guy, cleared the place out by playing progressive house off his laptop. We played for twenty minutes and the lights came up and the guys with brooms came out, and there was one guy left in the club, he was asleep in a booth. Weve all been there, I know, thats just the one that really sticks out.
Nick: Its never bad but sometimes its laughable. I had someone throw shrimp at me. I was playing for this company party. Back when I was doing weddings and events and stuff, I was a proper mobile DJ. Those were the funniest gigs because youre playing for everyone from a grandma to a kid. Its a very challenging DJ proposition. I was at this company party, just warming up. It was a hip SF start-up company. They were getting wasted. Im just playing the Roots or something and I catch a shrimp in the face. Either this guy hates the Roots, or he hates the shrimp. Or me. Or all three. Who is so offended by the Roots that they hurl a crustacean at my head? In the wine country where I grew up they just want to hear Journey. If they can hear Dont Stop Believing, thats all they care about.
William: It has never occurred to me in my entire life to ask a DJ to play a certain song or a certain style of music. I think theyre doing that for a reason, thats their mission in a way. If someone is playing trance, I will just say thats a shitty trance DJ, I dont like it. You dont ask a baseball player to start playing soccer. Im so amused sometimes that people treat DJs like musical bartenders. Radio DJs are different. But party DJs, thats just your style, thats just what you do. What was your best gig?
Nick: My best gig was Romania in February. 1400 people in a royal palace. Romanians are just so full of passion, theyre such a giving audience.
William: Mine was when I played D-Edge in Sao Paulo, for similar reasons. The Brazilians get so psyched, and love to contribute and participate. The Gop Tun DJ crew that booked me are 6-7 really amazing guys that I miss, I cant wait to go back to Sao Paulo to see my boys, and that really makes a difference. To a New Yorker the Brazilians have an inhuman level of generosity that theyre capable of generating. Next question. Theres been a real shift for you in your DJ and production styles, and I was curious how that transition was for you, and how you saw yourself changing.
Nick: I really started producing house when I was 17, which was an introductory year for me. Then I heard Dirtybird, because they did these infamous barbeque parties in the park. They played this fusion of dirty south hip-hop and European minimal techno, and Miami booty bass, and I thought that was the route I wanted to go, I knew I could do it. I went through a booty phase, with heavy 808s and big drops. I didnt realize until a few summers ago that I am really drawn to emotional music. When I was just missing around, I was making r&b and slow stuff, kinda spacey, non-house music. I thought Id never shop that stuff to a label. Then I heard Soul Clap and Wolf + Lamb and thought these guys are doing it to a T, were on the same wavelength you can play slow, funky music and people will receive it well.
It was a message Eli and Charlie told me dont worry about making songs for the clubs. Then I started making three songs a week in an outpouring, I had all this stuff stored up in me. And theres this tension between creativity and the containment of the club scenario.
William: That containment has been good for me, I believe that limits can be creative catalysts. I dont find my tracks particularly clubby, but I decided that when I heard Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap that this is the language I wanted to speak. These are the words I want to use when I talk in music. So I had to learn a dialect, thats what it felt like.
Nick: What environment is best suited for listening to your music?
William: Sometimes I think that the question of whether some music is good or bad is not as important as what music is appropriate for a particular situation. Music doesnt have a body, it can float anywhere, and you dont have to pay attention to it. So environment is everything. Actually I think that being in a plane at night is a good place for my music. Its about being on a journey, travelling, or making a long voyage, in a dreamy way, or cinematic or psychedelic way. Also a plane is the epitome of modernity. Sometimes I open my live set with a cover of Lullaby by The Cure, and I had a striking experience listening to that song once in a plane: I was feeling very suspended over the globe, as the Earth scrolled by, and then hearing that floaty Cure riff, its one of those moments where you hear a song in some situation and your feeling about that song changes forever. So the connections you make with music are totally contingent and dependent on circumstance. Whats your favorite thing to do on tour?
Nick: I like walking by myself in these cities. I always try to get a chance to do that before a show or the day after. You really dont know youre in a new place if you just follow the tour circuit of airport-hotel-club. When youre in an airport you could be anywhere in the world. I like to step out of it sometimes, get a cup of coffee. And if the hotel has a steam room, thats the greatest thing.
William: The steam room was gonna be my answer. That, and watching Duck Dynasty.
Nick: Watching shitty tv on tour is so great.
William: I dont care about tv at all usually, Im not invested. But in the hotel room I can really catch up on shows like Duck Dynasty.
Nick: Yeah I feel like, a little college girl, a freshman, misses her parents, locks herself in her room
William: Wait is this you, or is this the shows you like to watch? Or is this the novel that youre writing? You need to also get that Beatmaker app on your phone, btw, its a great way to kill time in transit.
Nick: TED talks, as well, you gotta stock up on those.
William: Good call.
William: Pick 5 tracks to describe your musical lineage…
Deee-Lite – What is Love?
Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a huuuuge Deee-Lite fan. Playful, childish, funky – they are like the B-52s of house music, big influence on my sound.
Souls of Mischief – 93 Til’ Infinity
Bay Area classic! Being from the Bay has most definitely shaped my sound and who I am so I figured there is no better ode to Bay Area hip-hop than this.
Family Stand – Ghetto Heaven
This is in the same vein of that early 90s Soul II Soul style that is a big part of my musical identity. They mixes breaks, soul, hip-hop, and R&B so effortlessly.
Alan Parson’s Project – I Wouln’t Want To Be Like You
My dad had Alan Parson’s Project’s I-Robot on vinyl, I must have l listened to that record a hundred times. It was so raw and those interludes blew my lid off.
Ain’t No Fun – Snoop Dogg
For me this is the quintessential West Coast BBQ jam, which is the ideal party environment in my opinion, reminds me of California summers. It’s a song that everyone knows every word too, an ultimate feel good song that kicks off any BBQ just right.
Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley
So damn raw. This is where the Velvet Underground totally got their blistering sound. Love the crowd screaming in this clip. Also you just can’t beat a song where the lyrics are the singer’s name. Also I’m obsessed with the “Bo Diddley beat” which is part of rock music DNA – you can hear it in songs like “I Want Candy” by Bow Wow Wow for example. Can you imagine having your own beat?
Trouble Funk – Trouble Funk Express
DC Go-go homage to Kraftkwerk. I am a big fan of DC go-go, the grooves are just so deep and unique, they align with hip-hop but splinter off at the same time in a weird way. The drums have this really loose, slapping quality. I love that there’s like ten drummers and the performances are nonstop. Go-go is perfect party music – the groove dominates, the groove is the basic structure that dominates and links everything together.
Happy Mondays – Step On
Eli told me that some people thought my track “Heartbeat” was the Happy Mondays, which was an enormous compliment. Can you believe Pills Thrills and Bellyaches was produced by Paul Oakenfold? That whole record has an amazing alchemical sound to it, like it’s sort of confusing how everything is working together but it sounds magical.
Love & Rockets – So Alive
When I was in the 10th grade, I was at a debate tournament and I made out with Shana Dawson who was two years older than me. later on the bus I listened to this song for the first time, it was exactly how I felt. I love the leather jacket and aviators feeling, yet it’s so smooth and blissed out at the same time. It’s also very Billy Idol, who has been a big Night Plane influence recently.
Eno, Moebius & Roedelius – The Belldog
I had to put an Eno song on this list, and this is one of my all-time favorites, it’s super haunting and eerily beautiful. Eno once said his inspiration for the song was a homeless guy singing “Belldog, where are you?” and it sounded like it was about a mythical creature, and it wasn’t clear yet if the Belldog had left or if he hadn’t arrived yet. Such an amazing dream-image.