“A lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily be able to make Electronic music or making music in general are making music because of the things they can get off the internet essentially. So, a lot of people who wouldn’t have an artistic voice do now, which I always think is a great thing. It’s more discourse.” – Sahy Uhns
As a follow up from our Infrasound feature on LA based Electronic recording artist Sahy Uhns (also known as Carl Madison Burgin or Charlie) and the release of his debut album An Intolerant Disdain of Underlings, we’re extremely pleased to present an exclusive interview! Discussions of the album, gear, Proximal Records, and an upcoming Electronic Country/Bluegrass album are all featured below. If you haven’t yet, get acquainted to the record and take a gander below for quite an introspective look into the look and life of the artist the brought you one of the contenders to be on the list of 2020k’s top albums of 2011.
Congratulations on the release of the album.
Thank you and thank you for all the kind words. It was super dope to read that.
You’re welcome! I’ve had that record on non-stop since I got it, so it’s very exciting to be talking to you. It’s a really good album. How does it feel to finally have it release and out into the public?
It feels great because it took so long. I obsessed over it for a while and then me and Yael Shina who is the photographer [for the album art] did all of the stuff. We started that like 4 years ago and it’s just been a long time. I’ve probably did two albums worth of stuff but I just cut half and that’s what the final product was. So, it’s cool to finally have it out and it feels like a stress off my shoulders, for sure. [laughs]
When you were composing the album was there any sort of methodology behind it or was it more of an improv/experimental sort of project over the years?
I guess everything was-not to be too conceptual and silly about it, but the basic idea was that we were using the photos as-the reason I was into the photos and the whole abandoned homes thing was to represent failed decisions essentially, you know, people made the choice to move all the way out to these like totally weird and unsustainable locations and do all these things and [I was] coming at it not knowing any of that, what these particular peoples journeys were to get there and what happened and all that. It was just like me trying to fill in the blanks with my own things that I’ve had that are like-looking back on it you can kind of see how unsustainable some of my decisions were in my life and so that was kind of the energy of it. I was just trying to look at all the things because it was a long time and a whole bunch of stuff had happened over those four years, so what I had done and basically just how I was feeling about a lot of like shit that was happening.
I think you can definitely feel that on the record. For an Electronic album, it’s very instrumental but it also sounds very personal and you can definitely hear a lot of emotion in them. Are there any tracks that stick out as memories that went into the tracks?
Yeah, the thing is that every track has a relatively solid story behind it. I really like all of the tracks but I think that the bookends-[with] ”Montebello Postpartum” I originally wrote a song that was all instrumental for my friend and she was having a kid and they were just like an intense confusing situation and I originally had written the song for the kid. But then, as I was listening to that song, I was basically trying to write a lullaby for this little kid but I didn’t know him yet [laughs] because he wasn’t born. So, I kind of redid that whole song and what I did was that I sampled the original tune, like all of that tune that I had written and created “Montebello Postpartum” out of those samples and I was thinking more about her rather than the kid when I was writing the second tune. I thought it was kind of interesting, but it was built out of something that was for him.
But yeah, all of the tunes have some sort of story like that. I like to work like that. Not necessarily because that makes the piece more meaningful or anything like that, it’s just more-it creatively inspires me, you know when I’m thinking about these things that’s when I get inspired because I like stories and I like to think about specific instances and different things that I kind of compose. That’s what inspires me.
On the flip side of things, you composed and mixed the record yourself. What kind of software, instruments, and outboard gear did you like or favor using on the record?
Oh, for sure. Nerd stuff. Basically, I did the whole thing on my laptop in my home studio. But, in terms of cool gear that I used I’m a big Reaktor nerd and that’s pretty much my goto thing. I like Reaktor because, similar to Macs or whatever, it’s a signal path where it’s like a programming environment but they use visual little boxes that represent different things so you can think about some pretty intense synthesis stuff, but I like to visualize it and that’s how I do a lot of things and come out of a lot of synthesis’ it’s like I’m thinking about it and I can go build a synthesizer that I have in my mind using Reaktor and that’s my favorite thing to do.
There’s a lot of probability based or generative, psyudo-generative stuff on the record. That’s a big thing to me, I kind of like doing 95% and then I like having the computer feeding me that 5%. You can hear stuff, you set up the environment of which things will happen and the decisions that it can make and then it will make a few decisions at certain times or different things that you wouldn’t necessarily do and that’s always inspiring. That’s another thing that I like to do that doesn’t necessarily make a piece but make me have a more fun time doing it and I get more inspired as I go.
In terms of outboard gear, I have my Doepfer Dark Energy which is like an analog little synth box and a very small like four module modular synth that I’m working on building. Also, I really used to get down with circuit bending stuff so I have a lot of cool drum machines and keyboards that I’ve collected over the years that are all circuit bent in the same way and it’s kind of cool cause I just kind of have these big shelves with all the stuff on it and a patch bay that’s right next to me and I can just plug each one in. And then kinds of Spring Reverb. That’s another thing, spring reverb’s on like everything [laughs].
And you have The Castro that you built yourself and you use live?
Yeah, I haven’t done all that much composing with it on the record. I’ve done some improvisational, more pre-improvisational stuff with it in terms of composition. Wadada Leo Smith is an amazing free-jazz artist and I did a little bit with the Castro on his record and that was cool.
Is there a difference between your approach to doing your live shows as opposed to constructing the music in your studio or is it the same process?
Right now they’re different but I would like to move toward it kind of being more like it is in the studio. I’m starting to work more and more into that, like having more of my Reaktor stuff in my set and bringing the Doepfer with me when I play, but right now it’s kind of like I have everything divided up into like-drums and different parts and I’m manipulating and blending different tracks together and it definitely becomes it’s own thing when I start jamming out. Jamming live I get to places I wouldn’t have necessarily gotten to in the studio so bringing that back into the studio can be cool and also bringing the studio live, I want to do more of. The only thing is, with my Reaktor stuff is that a lot of them are really big patches so they take up a ton of CPU so using them like, I just can’t use a lot of them live because they’re too big.
You released the record on your own label, Proximal Records. How did the label start and what are you hoping to accomplish in the present and the future with it?
I started the label with my former boss Jeff Elmassian-it was actually his idea to start it. It was basically a little over two years ago, basically I was at work and he owned the company called Endless Noise that does post-production music, so music for commercials and movies and sound design and that kind of thing so I was writing music for him and I’ve known him since high school. I was talking to him one morning about my troubles getting people to listen to my music and I spend much more time nerding out at my house than I do networking..
[Laughs] I do the same thing. I think a lot of artists do that..
[Laughs] Yeah and so he was just like “Well, why don’t we release it?” and it was kind of just like “Okay” you know? [laughs] I was totally surprised that he said that and I was just like “Wow, that’d be amazing” and so I spent that first three months, which was the summer just trying to get our website going.
But, in terms of what we want to do is the LA beat scene is super cool and interesting and a lot of people are doing a lot of cool things, but we just want to be releasing music that doesn’t necessarily have to be in that style which is a weird thing to say because it feels like the beat scene shouldn’t really have a style-but, like with everything, it’s kind of taken on it’s own aesthetic and a lot of us buy and listen to a ton of that music but we’re also, you know-Lawrence Grey, the product he’s working on now is basically just Techno, like dance floor, like that sound and I’m also really interested in metric modulation, stuff like that, you know, but each one of our artists as of now is just kind of on their own vibe. But, I’ve known all of them for years really and we all share music constantly, always sending each other own own stuff and other stuff and we work as a really tight knit group of people that are inspiring each other other. So, in terms of what we want to do is just release all of our music and release quality. Like, everything we want to do-we always talk about it because it needs to be 100% quality, nothing but the best. I mean, other people might not agree or might not like the stuff, but I want to feel 100% about everything.
That’s definitely very admirable. There are a lot of record companies that kind of try to control the sound and keep it very closely knit to what every other artist is kind of doing, so that’s a very cool thing you guys are doing, especially out in LA.
Yeah, it just keeps it more interesting and also for remixes we’ve been doing a lot of stuff where everything someone else does, we get everyone else to remix it and those are fun to listen to because it’s all over, you know, doing different styles that I would hope it’s not disjointed because we all are continuously inspiring each other so that’s the connection rather than a stylistic one, I think.
Looking back on the history of the past four years, is there any advice you wish you could’ve given yourself starting out or you could give to artists and engineers that are trying to break into the same sort of fields that you’re involved in?
I guess it’s the same advice I would give myself now, it’s just uhh-”just relax”. [laughs] I definitely have my issues with doing that because I want it to come out, I want everyone to hear it, I want everyone to be talking about it and discussing it, but a lot of times that stuff doesn’t happen the way you plan it and it’s not necessarily a reflection of you or whatever, it’s just how things are sometimes. So for me it’s just keep putting out good music, keep doing what you believe in and trying not to worry too much about other people and what other people think and that kind of thing.
What do you hope the listeners take away from the music you’ve been putting out? Do you want them to react a certain way, feel a certain way, or do you just focus on you when you make them?
I guess with this record it was probably more about me just shifting through my shit basically. Just trying to create an end product that reflects where I was at the time I was making the music. But, also I guess the general thing in terms of the music that we release, the one thing that we want would be for people to keep coming back to it.
We released “That’s My Jam” Benedek’s single with DāM-FunK a few months ago and that could easily be listened to as a great funk, summer tune and listening to it in the car it would be great. He had worked on that thing just as long as I had worked on my album [laughs] we’ve all heard that song for years and years and it’s like the orchestration on that thing is crazy, I mean he just spent a ton of time on it. A lot of times the music I end up loving the most is the stuff that I’m kind of “ehh” about when I first hear it because things don’t necessarily need to make sense or you don’t need to have everything figured out on the first listen so just hopefully people keep coming back, so that’s the idea of it. And a lot of time that’s put into this and a lot of care so if you listen you’ll probably give back as much.
With all of these sub-genres in the Electronic music scene like Dubstep and big electronic pop songs that are big in the mainstream music, how do you feel about the current state of Electronic music? Is it something you enjoy or do you tend to sort of stick with the artists on your label or people like [Warp artist] Clark who you’ve sort of drawn influences from?
I think there’s so much cool stuff. Like, there’s so much bad stuff but there’s so much cool stuff too. It’s kind of like that’s just the state of everything at this point: information age, you can get or do and hear and see anything at all times. It’s nuts. A lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily be able to make Electronic music or making music in general are making music because of the things they can get off the internet essentially. So, a lot of people who wouldn’t have an artistic voice do now, which I always think is a great thing. It’s more discourse.
But, yeah, I just think I love digging for weird Electronic music. There’s a lot of cool music happening all over the world too, it’s kind of like when Acid music started and early House and stuff, it’s like that was a product of the low budgets synthesizers becoming available and even like used synth, so it’s like gear that people could use and so it’s kind of like another renaissance like that because you can get anything you want.
But yeah, there’s a lot of cool Electronic music in South America, One of my buddies works at Nacional Records and she just sent me a whole bunch of CDs that I’ve just been going through, a lot of Tribal and Electro stuff. A lot of it’s super weird and just sounds like Logic presets or something, just like super goofy sounding, but other times it’ll be super awesome. The rhythms are totally fun, a lot more triplets and really groovy stuff. I’ve been into that. She sent me ZZK Sounds 1 & 2. A lot of Electronic music that you hear on the radio or wherever is pretty “ehh” a lot of times, it’s kind of like there’s so much of it, you know, whatever, but at the same time if you look a little bit you can find some crazy stuff.
Finally, are there any upcoming projects that’s going on with Sahy Uhns that you’d like to inform the readers of 2020k about or anything on the label?
Look out for upcoming releases by Wake and Lawrence Grey. I’m working on my next two records right now. One is more of a sequel to this record except much more conceptually open ended, it’s more kind of ideas that’s kind of like ideas that are a conglomeration of things that are in my life, so that’s kind of the conceptual base for all of it. And the other one is this record that I’ve been recording with my Grandma. I go to my Grandma’s house and I sit down and talk with her and record her stories because she grew up during the Dust Bowl on a farm in Colorado and it’s just like crazy-I’m into heritage stuff, I just think all that stuff’s really cool. So, anyways I’m talking all of those recordings, writing tunes, and basically recording a country western/bluegrass record. You know, like American Stringband music, that kind of thing, except mixed with Electronic music. I’m really into American Folk stuff and all kinds of roots music stuff too, so yeah, I’m turning it into a country record essentially [laughs]. So we’ll see how that goes over with the Hip-Hop heads.
I don’t think an Electronic Country album has been done too many times!
Yeah, that was the other thing. That was kind of the idea. [laughs]