Q&A with Travis Egedy of Pictureplane

A native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Travis Egedy, who performs under the name Pictureplane, has been rapidly gaining the attention of popular underground bands from around the country for the last few years, most notably HEALTH who took Pictureplane on a national tour in March 2009. HEALTH was also instrumental in Egedy's signing to the Lovepump United imprint. Because of this, Egedy has also received a decent amount of national press including recent interviews in Pitchfork and Fader, as well as write-ups in Stereogum. Pictureplane's combination of house, dance music and noise is noteworthy for its warm, uplifting tones and an ability to bring the listener along for a ride to a new era where everyone realizes his or her dreams. The recently released Dark Rift is perhaps less experimental than its predecessor, Turquoise Trail, but it represents a major step in the development of one of the Denver scene's most significant musical projects. We had a chance to sit down with Egedy in advance of his tour kickoff show tomorrow evening to talk about his background and the ideas behind his music. Read the full interview after the jump.

Westword (Tom Murphy): Why did you call your new album Dark Rift?

Travis Egedy: It's a term that describes a finite area within our Milky Way galaxy that our planet cycles during our long cycle of 26,000 years.

WW: One cycle of precession, right?

Right. Ancient cultures would talk about this being an enormous event with implications for our planet in terms of gravitation, consciousness and transformation of DNA and crazy things. The album was about that but in a positive way. Going through this dark rift is a cleansing period of time when we remember who we truly are. There's a simple lyric in the song "Dark Rift": "Black world, they've got your girl tonight/enter into the dark rift so I can feel alright." It's about coming back the real.

WW: How did you first become familiar with these types of ideas?

TE:  I feel like I've always had a natural inclination toward the mystical side. Even before I knew what that meant, I was drawn toward it. Over the past few years, I've been introduced to 2012 and spirituality and reading books on the occult. I've been really fascinated with everything like that. I've always been attracted to the alternative of everything, especially history. Even in high school, I wasn't buying what they were giving me. The specific book that changed my life [in that regard] was 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl by Daniel Pinchbeck. It's his personal story of becoming aware of these things.

WW: You have a song called "Goth Star," and you've mentioned to me before how you kind of admired the Goth kids in school for having the guts to be a little different. Can you tell me more about that?

TE: Actually a friend and I just finished a video for "Goth Star." I wanted this album to have a darker aesthetic, whatever that even means. I've always been attracted to that kind of thing. I wear bright colors but that's not even what "gothic" means to me. There was no "gothic" concept to the song. It was just a theme that was pretty interesting to me. The name kind of comes from Stevie Nicks who is sort of a witchy-goddess woman -- it reminded me of gothic romanticism.

WW: A few years ago you went on your first ever tour with Motheater: How was that tour and where did you go?

TE: That tour was funny. I remember it being the time of my life. I had so much fun. Their scene and the kids that they knew from tours and shows were mostly midwestern hardcore bands. We'd play these shows, and I was totally the odd man out every time. Not because I didn't get along with them. It was just that all the bands we played with sounded like them -- heavy bands. And at the time, I was doing these weird, noisy pop songs. We were friends and they said they were going to go and tour, and I told them I wanted to come.

I remember I had set up a couple of shows and one of them was in Providence, Rhode Island. We played with this drummer, Chris Corsano, he's one of the top jazz improv drummers in the world, and he's my age. It was just him on the drums, and it was insane. Brian Chippendale from Lightning Bolt was there, and I was just hanging out with him. It was cool and at the time I was kind of obsessed with Providence. The place we played was this random warehouse where one guy lived, and it was this massive place.

WW: Obviously Fort Thunder wasn't around at that time.

TE: No. We all lost a lot of money and had to pay for gas out of our pockets. But it was awesome and I got to hang out in New York. It was fun and it made me feel like a real musician.

WW: Your second tour was with Milton Melvin Croissant III?

TE: Yes, to the West Coast. I went on another one with BDRMPPL out east. And then another with HEALTH this past March. This next tour will be my fifth.

WW: You're going to Europe with HEALTH?

TE: Yes, all of October we're in Europe. It's really exciting. I've never been out of the country. I think HEALTH is very popular in Europe. We'll probably be playing some very big shows and that's kind of scary. I'll still do it and it'll be fun but when I think about it in my mind I think, "Oh god! I don't know if I'm confident enough to do that." But it'll be okay.

WW: A couple of years ago, I used to see you and there would be a small group of people and a few months later I'd see much larger crowds, to the point where I didn't know most of them. What do you attribute this to?

TE: I don't think it happened that fast. It was more I had played around a lot all the time. I don't know. Living at Rhinoceropolis was a turning point and playing there. Playing some bigger shows. I remember early on, I played an Orthrelm show. There were a couple of shows at Monkey Mania that I played that were pretty high profile. I don't even really know what the turning point was. I think just the fact that I was playing all the time and that kids maybe liked it. At Monkey Mania, I played with Excepter. I remember seeing HEALTH there, and not many people were there, and I didn't really talk to them that night. I was at Monkey Mania a lot both when Josh [Taylor] lived there and afterward.

WW: You're from Santa Fe. When did you move to Denver?

TE: Seven years ago, when I was eighteen and out of high school. I went to RMCAD [Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design]. It was a good decision, and I'm glad I did that. I was really excited to be at art school. I love art, and it was neat to be around all these artist kids. I felt like I could really be myself. Denver was close yet far enough. The school seemed awesome. I didn't really know anything about Denver [before moving here]. I lived in the suburbs for three years - Wheatridge, Lakewood and Edgewater. My school was in Lakewood. All my friends lived there. It was weird. Denver was really foreign to me at that point. I would come into town to go to a show or something, and the city was just this huge place. Which is just so funny now because Denver is so small. I lived downtown in LoDo for a little bit, then Capitol Hill then Rhinoceropolis, where I've lived for three years now.

WW: How did you get hooked up with the people at Rhinoceropolis?

TE: Through my friend Harry Walters, who went to RMCAD. He was friends with Buddy [Milton Melvin Croissant III], and he knew all those guys. I found Monkey Mania on the Internet and thought, "Wow, I need to go to this place, it seems awesome!" I went to a couple of shows there and introduced myself to Buddy, and he invited me to a party at their house, where he and Warren Bedell and Zach Spencer lived together. I went to some of their house parties. They came to some parties of mine out in the suburbs. We just hit it off. Then they started Rhinoceropolis, and I started going there all the time. I thought they were the way cool kids at the time -- which they were.

WW: I imagine Santa Fe being this beautiful place with a lot of artists and hippies. Is it really like that there?

TE: Yeah it is, kind of. Just recently, it's still changing, evolving. I was there this summer for a little while. Santa Fe blows me away with how progressive that place is. It feels like ten years ahead of the rest of the country. It's super slow paced and laid back. Everyone's really chill and friendly. Everyone's kind of a hippie and the Hispanic culture is really strong down there. There's a lot of Native American culture, which is neat to see. The town is a little segregated. There's a lot of wealth, rich white people there. The Hispanics kind of live on the other side of town. But it's not that bad. There's just not a lot for young people to do there. It's a very small community. Very established. All the galleries cater to the older artists. There's not really a young scene there at all, which is weird.

WW: How did you get involved with art on a more disciplined basis?

TE: Art school. That's what you learn there. That and just hanging out with talented artists.

WW: In high school did you do any art?

TE: Definitely. But I don't feel like I even knew what art was then. It was just like, "Oh, I love drawing and painting because it's fun." I didn't know anything about the art world or any of that. In high school I started painting a lot. I made abstract oil paintings, which is kind of funny because I don't do that at all anymore. I would draw comic book characters. Lately I've been drawing these kind of punk mystics -- like freedom fighters for the new age.

WW: You started Pictureplane before you moved to Denver?

TE: The name "Pictureplane" came out when I was living in Denver. When I first moved here I called myself "Area 66." That was my rap name, though. I was an MC. That was my hip-hop alter ego. Outer space, pyramid alien raps kind of shit. I wanted something not a rap name because I was starting to experiment with music that was not hip-hop. I was going this other way and thought, "This isn't Area 66 anymore." I was just looking through an art book somewhere and in the index it had "picture plane" in there. At the time I was really into airplanes. I'd put them into all my paintings. It just made sense. That was a really long time ago. Now if I were to choose a name it wouldn't be "Pictureplane," probably. Not that I don't like the name, it's just doesn't reflect my interests as much.

WW: When you first started making music, what music inspired you to create music yourself?

TE: I was obsessed with hip-hop in high school. Like indie rap, all of the Anticon record label. This was back when that style and genre of music was really weird, experimental and relevant. It doesn't exist anymore, kind of. Well it does, but it's kind of tired. In the year 2000 it stopped evolving and was this thing, like, white boy hip-hop. I got this recording program on my computer, and I recorded me rapping one day, and I started making beats. My mom is a musician and she had a keyboard, and so I started making beats and rapping with my friends all the time. It was a fun outlet. My whole life, the one thing I've been obsessed with for as long as I can remember is music. I remember early on I had a "Bohemian Rhapsody" cassette single. Kriss Kross, MC Hammer. That was back in the early '90s. I hear those songs nowadays, and I'm drawn back to being a kid because they're my first musical memories.

WW: Speaking of Anticon, Sole lives here now.

TE: Yeah, he's my buddy; we hang out all the time. I feel bad for Anticon because they were and are still so brilliant, and yet they never blew up into the stratosphere. Sole is still so fucking underground. Even though he's a legend and people love that guy, no one knows who he is. It's crazy.

WW: How did you get into the kind of music you're doing now?

TE: I was always really into rock music. Around the time I was getting out of high school, 2003, that whole dance rock explosion was happening. The Rapture and the Faint and that stuff -- I really got into that. That was a big influence on my music to make it more danceable. I saw the Rapture play at The Ogden in 2004, and they were totally blowing up. That Echoes album had come out, and I was way into it. When I first got out of high school and into college that first Interpol album was my jam.

WW: You're a visual artist at least as much, if not more so, as you are a musician. How does one art form influence and inform the other?

TE: I definitely wouldn't say I'm one over the other. More people definitely know about my music over my artwork. I started getting into performance art and being a performing musician. That influenced that for sure. My art has always been inspired by music. They inform each other and I don't know how to put it really. The whole concept of Dark Rift the music, I do a lot of visual art with that theme as well.

WW: You have a sample you used to use at the beginning of your shows where the phrase, "A new reality" repeats. What is that from?

TE: From some YouTube video. I don't remember which one. I was watching a bunch of new age videos on YouTube, like shamanism stuff. That kind of sums up everything Pictureplane is about conceptually in that one little phrase: Let's create a different world for ourselves, let's make this fucking happen. A new reality is still possible -- in mantra form over and over again. Hitting you over the head with it. I haven't used that one in a while. I have other ones now about lifting of the veil and seeing how things truly are -- escape illusion -- beating back mind control and deception.

WW: With your new album prominently displayed on store shelves and your tour with HEALTH, some might assume that you're successful because of that. What would success mean for you?

TE: Success for me is having people I respect, respecting me back. Success is being able to do what you love wholeheartedly. If people respect for you for that and enjoy what you're doing, that's success to me. I could care less how many people listen to my music. It's nice hearing people like it, but it's more about, for me, doing what I love to do and continuing that, if I'm allowed to, for as long as I can and to have people I respect, respecting me. For example, someone like Sole, whose records changed my life when I was in tenth grade, coming to my shows and saying, "That was so sick." Or playing shows with Black Dice and Gang Gang Dance and meeting these people and having them like my music is incredible.

Catch Pictureplane this Friday, August 28 at Rhinoceropolis, for its tour kick off and CD release party show, which also features Josephine and the Mousepeople, Hideous Men and Captain Fresh.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.