I've mentioned my buddy Forrest (outside of his literary work, he goes by Brandon) Armstrong here before, under his moniker Gasoline Monk. We were acquainted through literary circles, and I got the chance to have a real funky jam session with him before he moved back to Boston. Now, Gasoline Monk is living the dream... serving an electronic music apprenticeship in a haunted castle in Denmark. On the occasion of his release "Dislocated Joints, Vol. 1", he took some time out from setting up a music festival to talk to me about it.
Okay, first things first. You're in Denmark. We need to figure out how that happened.
Haha yessir, studyin electronic music at Engelsholm castle. My mom lived in Denmark for the past couple years, and after coming here, and actually staying long enough once to make that whole Weed mixtape here, I got kinda hooked...
Gotcha. Are you seriously studying in a castle?
Yeah man, in fact it's a well enough known castle that one time i was flipping through a picture book of famous stuff in Denmark and saw it in there. I was suspended at the time, so it just made me realize how amazing the place was and how i gotta keep cool enough to get to stay here!
Yeah man, you know, we had a trip together to Amsterdam....that's like a playground to a kid like Gas Monk
Right. So is the castle haunted?
Yeah man, by a dog and an alchemist. and "the white lady."
I'm down with the alchemist ghost man. I believe he helped teach me synthesizers.
I can believe that. You need to catch an EVP and work it into a song.
Haha man, that's what its all about...
Well, when I hear castle, the first thing I think is "reverb". Are you using the acoustic spaces yet, or is everything in the box?
Actually everything is mad electronic... my department is extremely talented, a lot of artists doing a lot of different things - led by Spejderrobot, who's one of the dopest electronic musicians in Denmark - so it's actually if anything getting more computer than ever. There's definitely people who're more drawn to that kind of field recording here, and that's mad cool, and something I'm down with, and something I'll probably get around to in good time. Just gotta do things when the feeling is burning up there, or rather chase the feeling that is currently burning up. For me now, that's stuff like synthesizers, breaking audio into something new, stuff like that... also of course keeping the drums as bumping as possible.
Are you getting a chance to work with old school synths?
I'm mostly working with digital synths, but I've played with a lot of hardware synths here and that's real cool too. Something I love about a synthesizer is that its so simple, it's just sound waves and maybe multiple sound waves layered well... so I dont think there's ever too drastic a difference between synthesizers, if it's only oscillators and filters etc they're working with.
Personally, I think a lot of the mystique of the old analog synths comes from their output stages- you know, warm wires and their fucking speakers. I mean, how many people have actually straight listened to an analog synth, as opposed to a recording? By which I mean to say I think that the analog vs. digital thing is a little silly. I'm perfectly happy using synths in the box.
That is very true man. You don't really feel what's going on till you've got a board with the knobs and its totally mutating the sound. It's such a simple thing synths are doing - which i did not expect before trying to understand them .- We oughta feel blessed a synth is so cheap to own (digitally) nowadays!
I've noticed a lot of synth manufacturers are working on the experience- you know, simple knobs and faders to control specific things. It's a good direction.
Exactly. you use Ableton, yeah? Think about the way Operator in Ableton works. It couldn't be more skeleton than that.
But you can make anything, then when you consider making synths out of your own sampled soundwaves, fuck, it's really infinite.
Exactly! It's a great foundation for people to learn HOW synths do what they do.
With a synth you are generating it, but I'll always have sampling as my foundation. I'll always dig.
So when you get to something like Alchemy, you're going to be going in really crazy directions combining sample and waveform, etc.
Yes, totally. Combining sample and waveform and then fucking it up even more.
I tried my hand at beat juggling the other day. It was hard.
Haha, it's just what mindset you're coming at it with, man... the sample chop stuff is very natural to me, because of the kind of things I'm always listening to for pleasure. The things that aren't natural to me are things like constructing melodies from scratch! It's been so long since I've even done shit like play guitar that my mind works different.
Ahh, righteous man. Now thats perfect - bring the ruckus!
I know what you mean about it being a different mindset- that's partially why I'm learning the DJ skills so slowly. That and it's hard to bump when you have a 2-year-old who needs to nap RIGHT THE FUCK NOW.
Haha yeah man, I used to DJ in a soundproof basement... when you gotta rock some computer speakers in an apartment or whatever, you don't really mix the same. You're riding so much of emotion when you mix that you're style is bound to be a little more subdued (in the worse conditions).
That's interesting. I know my compositions feel different when I am wearing cans vs. blasting the monitors.
Totally. And that's one thing that is hard at this castle - I'm wearing cans too often.
So tell me about your new mixtape.
My new mixtape is me trying to combine everything i love. at least within the realm of electronic beat music - hip hop, dance stuff, weirder stuff... I'm coming at it with a love for 90s hip hop mixtapes - I don't mean that people did recently, I mean things like Crooklyn Cuts or DJ S & S or Doo Wop tapes. I kind of naturally apply that style to this 2011 music that's way more hi-fi and often a lot less metronomic. I dont mean metronomic in a bad way... but I'm trying to work with any style of beats I really like and still feel can make you wanna dance. And not all 2011 music, but you know, from anywhere in the past up until now.
Now, I mentioned to you that this mix was much tighter than your previous stuff, but I FEEL that you're trying out your skills some. You know, I would hear a bitcrush coming in, and I'd say to myself "Yep, he's riding it right there."
Yeah, thanks man. Hey Jess, I will be right back - DJ Luftwaffel just arrived for the Plugout Festival and I gotta just let him know where to go.
Okay, sorry. I'm definitely trying out new things. Another thing about being in an electronic music program is that I'm listening to so much, whereas in Boston I might have just been listening to hiphop and going to house clubs and stuff. Now I'm listening to anything and everything,so I want to reflect that when I mix.
Do they have like a syllabus of "Here's some stuff you need to listen to"?
Haha well, I've always been terrible at listing things other than what gets me really juiced AT THIS MOMENT... but I'm real excited about Meyhem Lauren, Edo G's new album, Celph Titled & Buckwild as far as in the hip hop realm... Paco Osuna because he's so nasty for minimal/tribal house stuff... Roy Ayers for the synths, of course... those are some really strong things. Try the underground hiphop groups from the 90s to see how good underground stuff that nobody knows about now could be.
Awesome. So you have a festival gig coming right up. Can you tell me more about that?
Yeah, actually the past few days we've been sweating getting it all set up! It's me and the crew here at Engelsholm putting it on, Plugout Festival... three days of nothing but electronic music, man. We got some nice Danish names like FUKT and La Cuchina Som Sistema, Inga Dinga... and I'll be playing, and a lot of the homies here, like the Greased Up Records dudes - Shatter Hands, Sylle Struck, HORS, Lokode...
It's gonna be real tight. We've sweated to make sure about that. Fuckin pure party.
Don't party too hard.
I gotta MC the house stuff tomorrow night and play on Friday, so you know... most of my crazy party gotta happen in the AM!
It's homework, right!
The best kind tho, man.
I'm super happy for you, brother. You are living the dream. What's next for Gasoline Monk?
I wanna get an EP straight of the songs I've been making here, because besides random leaks and putting them in mixes, nobody really knows what I've been doing. It's pretty different, more colorful. Then back to Boston at the end of June.
I'd be interested in hearing some more of your synth composition-
You're gonna, buddy!
You've established yourself as a mixmaker pretty damn well, I'd like to hear more of your freaky side.
Yeah, I hope the kids who got into me for that real lo-fi grimy hip hop stuff will still feel this, but I gotta keep trying new things to keep this music stuff as fun as it is.
Well, I'm gonna wrap this up. Thank you so much for this!
Thank you, Jess! Real nice chatting, bro.
If you get some video from the fest, I'd love to post that up.
That sounds dope. I am hoping kids will film it, sounds like they will.
Excellent. Well, enjoy the fest, I'll catch you later.
Thanks homie! Peace.