Gramatik (due tomorrow at Red Rocks with Pretty Lights) used to be an MC who rapped with his buddies over his beats. He grew up in Slovenia listening to DJ Premier, Guru, Rza, Dre, and an arsenal of hip-hop and break beats fills his catalog of sample options. Now, after dropping an album that topped the charts shortly after it's release on Beatport and joining forces with Derek Vincent Smith on his Pretty Lights Music label, he sits in his New York apartment, where we caught up with him, relaxing and reflecting on the road from Slovenia to Red Rocks.
Westword:How did you get involved with Derek [Vincent Smith] and Pretty Lights Music?
Gramatik:When Derek was just thinking about PL being a label in, like, 2008 or something -- and at that time it was just him with his two albums -- he came to me and said, "You are the only artist right now I want to put on my label." In the next year, we went on tour, and also at that time, I was kind of dissatisfied with my old label and how they were handling things. It wasn't what I wanted in terms of music. I also didn't really agree with how they were releasing records, so I started talking to Derek, and he said let's do this.
So you are on PLM record label, but started on Beatport with a bangin' "chilled out" album. How did you get from one to the other?
I actually got my start through Beatport, and that's where my agent found me. Hunter [Williams] saw me and wanted to know if I had represetation in America. I didn't even know what that meant at the time, and he was like, "Cool, let's sign you." My first album dropped in December 2008. It was in the Top 100 Chill Out charts for six months.
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But dude, I didn't even expect the album to sell one track on Beatport, nothing else was sold on beatport except techno and house. When I dropped my album and it started selling, I was really surprised, since I'd never seen a hip-hop album sell on Beatport. So when it sold, I was like "Wow!" These were hip-hop beats, but it was labeled "Chill Out" on Beatport. People saw it and thought it was awesome good chill out music, which is fine for me. I didn't expect it at all, and I didn't expect someone to reach out to me as a booking agent.
Talk about the momentum you have with moving to the United States, signing with Derek and touring.
It's really, really awesome. You start looking at it all in a different way. When you start out alone, you set a goal for yourself, trying to make some sort of substantial mark in music. Then, when it happens and you have a label, management, people on your team, everything... it makes you feel like you are part of a bigger picture. It dominates your career. Before, it was just making music, trying to make it at clubs, and just grinding out tracks. Now, I've reach some form of validation. I can clarify my vision on trying to pursue my goals to a higher extent.
What are you using for your production?
Ableton Live, but that wasn't until about 2004-2005, or something like that. Ever since Ableton Live came out, I have no reason to use anything else. I master my own music in it, and basically, it's the most revolutionary sequencer that I have ever come across. I use a lot of my own virtual synths and plug-ins.
My friend Alex plays guitar on some tracks -- it's pretty much that type of project. People always ask me what the motivation for my albums are! I don't do projects in the way that I have to to have motivation around it. I usually go into the studio and make hiphop beats, since I started making music I've started with hiphop beats. I'm always trying to evolve them into my own style.
What kind of hip-hop were you accessing in Slovenia?
DJ Premier, Beatnuts, Rza, Dr.Dre, J-Dilla and a lot more. I think that can be felt in my production. I was definitely heavily influenced by those guys when I was growing up. I started as an MC, then started producing a year later. For the first five years I was rapping over my beats. I guess it was in 2008 that I stopped rapping over beats and discovered I could maybe make a future. Slovenian hip-hop can only be confined to Slovania -- since we are the only ones that speak Slovenian.
Do you have anything special planned for your Red Rocks debut?
This is a big stop on the tour for sure. I am playing the Beatport offices at 3 p.m. on Friday before the Fillmore, then playing, then probably after party somewhere. Then Red Rocks big bang. As far as special? I've got something. I am remixing a special track for Red Rocks. I'm not going to say what it is, but I think everyone will love it. It will be the song I open up the set with. We are inviting invite everyone to record it with their phones, then submit their videos to us, and we'll use them and credit them in the video we are making.
Coming from hip-hop roots, where do you want, or see, your production heading?
I don't really know, and that's the best part of it. I go with the flow, I make music on a day-to-day basis, and I never confine myself to one genre. I hate genres. I'm probably one of the most cross-breeding genre producers. I try not to limit myself as a musician, and I pride myself on having a large catalog of music. I listen to so much different types that it lets me constantly grow.
Quick, what are you listening right now?
Black Keys, I love those guys, and Ratatat. Also love those guys.
Right now I'm making music that is a mixture of hip-hop, glitch, electro, dubstep -- people are so dynamic that it's impossible to predict what we will like or be doing in five years. Right now, I'm doing this thing, it could change in the future, and that's the beauty of it. You don't know how you will evolve, so just flow with it..
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Be on the lookout for Gramatik's forthcoming album "Never Been The Silent Type," and catch one of his three performances at either the Beatport offices on Friday at 3 p.m., or his two shows with Pretty Lights, tonight at the Fillmore Auditorium and tomorrow night at Red Rocks.