Interview by Jack Yaguda
Images courtesy of Bluetech
Ambient electronic music producer Evan Bartholomew, better known by his DJ moniker Bluetech, will return in February to the Pacific Northwest to promote his new EP release, The Spacehop Chronicles, Vol. 1. Bluetech’s unique sound falls into the rare space of shared appeal for hardcore EDM fans as well as those who are more inclined toward other genres. The Portland Metronome’s Jack Yaguda (known to Portlandians as DJ Guda) spoke with Bartholomew about his latest work, upcoming tour, and his philosophy of social responsibility and connectedness.
Portland Metronome: Could you tell me a little bit about this new EP that’s coming out soon?
Evan Bartholomew: The Spacehop Chronicles, Vol. 1. I actually kind of dreamed up the idea on the last tour. I was thinking about getting back to my background in classical music and making really composed and melodic music, and thinking about music more from a melodic story rather than making a track that works on a dance floor. I really wanted to pair that kind of composition aesthetic with proper analog sense and some good down-low beat structures that I had popping around my head. When I got home from this last tour I went into the studio and started making it happen.
PM: Did you experiment with any new compositional techniques, new sound sources, or anything like that on this album?
“[I’m] not focusing so much on the tracks, but focusing on making sounds that have an emotional resonance. For me, it’s like a sketchbook kind of concept instead of a painting.”
EB: Not really. It was kind of a returning- simplifying my focus, not focusing so much on the tracks, but focusing on making sounds that have an emotional resonance. For me, it’s like a sketchbook kind of concept instead of a painting. I just allow myself to move and to work and to let ideas move instead of being innerly pensive and focusing on microdetails. Somehow the composition just came out better and much more musical than anything I’ve done in a little while.
PM: So [The Spacehop Chronicles] is going to be in four volumes, right?
EB: At least four volumes.
PM: What was the inspiration for doing it in multiple volumes this time?
EB: The inspiration is the fact that I read a lot of graphic novels, and I love this concept of a serialized release, where you get the first piece and you have to wait for the next one. I actually have some plans for the Spacehop Chronicles expanding into a visual aesthetic, and I’m collaborating with a writer as well to tell the story of my character, the Space Dog. There’s going to be an alternate ending, sort of like dying in space – and he actually goes on to higher dimensions and explores other planets. I want to make it a fun, vintage sci-fi serialized release, kind of like a comic book series, except it has a musical soundtrack as well.
PM: What are some of your favorite graphic novels?
PM: Who did the album artwork on this EP?
EB: Orlando Aracena did the artwork for this. I’ve been following him online for a while, had some interaction with him, and seen him do some of this vintage retro poster style for some of his clients, and I thought, this is the guy. If anyone can capture that 60s, 70s sci-fi, a little bit of the Russian space race kind of art, that’s the guy to do it, and he totally nailed it.
PM: Who does your mastering?
EB: I’ve been working with the same mastering engineer for a long time because I think he does exceptional work, and that’s Sean Hatfield at Audible Oddities. He used to record his work on a label called No Plateau, one of the early foundational labels of EDM artists, and I’d been a fan of his music- Jamie [Kilo]Watts actually introduced me to him- and he’s done everything with me for the past couple of years.
PM: Speaking of Jamie, have you thought of doing any more work with Kilowatts for Invisible Allies?
EB: The Invisible Allies full-length album is due any day now! We have a free download on our Facebook page- it’s a mini mix of some of the stuff from the album, especially one track that we sent back and forth that’s over 60 minutes long. It’s literally right around the corner. CDs are printed, distribution is being finalized- it should be coming very, very soon.
PM: Are you thinking of doing any more live band stuff? I saw Satori Social a couple of times and I loved it.
EB: It’s difficult being a solo composer and then trying to shift into a live band thing. There was a lot of mixed feedback about how that worked, and it cost a lot of money to take a whole band on the road, and the financing just hasn’t quite been there. I really would like to see the stage show turn into an audio/visual thing, and take steps in that direction, especially with [The] Spacehop [Chronicles]. It’s a lot more work to tour with a band than it is to do it solo, and I’ve been doing it solo for over 10 years now. It’s definitely easier for me.
PM: When does your tour start?
EB: The first leg of the tour starts in February, then there are a couple days in March, then it looks like some scattered stuff, and then I’ll be doing a big run in July as well.
PM: Are you going to visit any new cities on this tour?
EB: Oh, you know, I’d have to go look at the tour! Seriously, my manager has a little app on my phone, and I wake up in the morning and look and go, “Oh, ok, that’s where I’m going today! There’s the person you need to call.” I try not to look too far ahead because it stresses me out, how many cities and places to play I have ahead of me.
PM: It must be pretty cool to not know where you’re headed the next day, and just to figure it out that day.
PM: What is it like living out in Hawaii being a touring musician? What’s it like having to go back and forth?
EB: There’s not much happening here, and what does happen is small. It’s definitely not part of the touring circuit for me. There are challenges like long flights- my first flight to start touring is always an overnight flight. It’s then difficult to readjust my schedule, but for the quality of life that I have in Hawaii, I couldn’t afford to live like this anywhere else. Rent is very cheap, there’s lots of land, I can grow food and plants. It seems to me that the payoff for dealing with long flights and stuff is the quality of life that I have [in Hawaii].
PM: Do you have any festivals scheduled for this summer yet? Are there any festivals from last summer that you’re hoping to play at again?
EB: You know, I did a lot of great festivals last year- Rootwire was awesome, and Lucidity. You know, I like different things about every festival. I don’t want to slight anybody by not mentioning them, but those are the first two that stuck out in my mind. I think it was the combination of buddies of mine that were also playing, and the right time slots, and being able to catch other people, but those are the two that really stuck out for me. I know there’s stuff on the calendar for me, but I don’t think anything has been totally confirmed yet for this summer.
PM: I understand that you’re classically trained on the piano.
EB: I am, actually! My first ten years of musical life- I think I started piano at age 5, so 5 to 15- I listened to classical music exclusively and played piano.
PM: And after that you moved away from piano?
EB: I did, you know, I started traveling and started getting into… I was probably around 15 or 16 when the early ambient stuff was coming out- The Orb, Spacetime Continuum, The Irresistible Force. I really, really got into that music, and it definitely affected the direction that I went in. Now I’m kind of returning back to playing acoustic instruments again, and thinking about music in a more composed sensibility. It’s really interesting how after 30-something years it’s coming back full-circle for me. I feel like my chops are a little rusty, but I can still sit down and play. I’ve been playing stringed instruments quite a bit this last year. My composition is breaking out of the construct of writing tracks. There’s a very rigid structure to what makes sense on a dance floor. I like to liberate myself from that particular thing, and think about music in a different way, but still allow it to make sense. The Spacehop Chronicles is my first dipping my toes back in to think about music compositionally instead of technically.
PM: How has collaborating has affected your music?
EB: I’ve been really lucky working with Jamie because from the beginning, we set a standard that nothing was sacred. We send files back and forth. Jamie sends me a file, I chop it up, destroy it, manipulate it, turn it into something else, and when I send it back to him he has that same freedom. So instead of that being a hindrance or challenge, it ended up taking songs in new directions that neither of us really expected, but made total sense for both of us. It’s kind of like a form of jazz. We riff off each other digitally somehow, and go, “Oh, interesting. You did it that way, or you took what I did, and responded to it this way, so I’m going to go this direction now.” So with Kilowatts, it’s been really fruitful I think. I haven’t done much collaboration with other producers, so I’m not sure how that would work. I’ve definitely collaborated with vocalists and other instrumentalists, which is different- I create the structure, and give them space to do their thing. But I would hope at its highest level of expression, any electronic music collaboration would be similar to what I have with Jamie- complete freedom to explore and go in new directions.
PM: Could you tell us a little bit about your webzine Nomad Culture?
“Because I’m a public figure, I have the ability to shine a light on other people who are doing really incredible things.”
EB: On my Facebook page, I made a post commenting on how many people followed the page, and the percentage of people who were actually purchasing the music, which was somewhere around 1%. I got a lot of really negative feedback from people about how I was whining, and I think they had a misconception that I’m driving a Rolls Royce and living in a palace on the beach or something. So I made a really long post about a musician’s life. These are the struggles, these are the things that are awesome, these are the things that are not awesome, and it kind of went viral and created a lot of discussion around supporting music, and how musicians are going to survive. I had a profound realization that not only am I making music and have this career as a musician, but I have this opportunity to talk about things that matter, leave a positive influence on people, and create a dialogue on issues. Nomad Culture kind of sprang out of that, and I didn’t just want it to be the Bluetech blog. I started inviting other writers- Lily Ross at Harvard is co-editing the publication with me- and we wanted to make it not just about music, but about art, music, culture, social activism, environmental activism, and real people doing real things in their home communities. It was an extending of the net and a realization that because I’m a public figure, I have the ability to shine a light on other people who are doing really incredible things.
PM: What are your feelings about upcoming EDM and electronic music culture and its rapid growth in the past few years? Do you think that electronic music becoming more mainstream has helped your music’s popularity?
“I kind of disengaged from the concept of music as an industry a while ago, and decided that the only way for me to survive as an artist was not to think about the industry aspect, but to focus on making good art. If 10 people get it, it’s worthwhile. If 10 million people get it, it’s not any more worthwhile.”
EB: You know, it’s really hard to answer that question. I feel like I’ve been kind of under the radar for a long time now. I’ve been putting out records for 11 years, and I know that there’s a dedicated fan base out there, but I definitely haven’t seen the kind of success that some other artists that make electronic music have. I’m a little more cerebral and less dance music oriented. I would say until very recently I didn’t feel like I was along for that ride- the kind of expanding awareness of electronic music culture. In the last few months it has seemed like the bell curve ramp is all of a sudden starting to go up. There’s been a massive, massive swell, like 15,000 new people on the Facebook page in a year, which is huge. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve been more interactive- I can’t really say. I would hope that if electronic music in general is getting more awareness that it would allow me more freedom and awareness to do what I do, but on some level I kind of disengaged from the concept of music as an industry a while ago, and decided that the only way for me to survive as an artist was to not think about the industry aspect, but to focus on making good art. If 10 people get it, it’s worthwhile. If 10 million people get it, it’s not any more worthwhile.
PM: What sort of advice would you have for up-and-coming producers who are trying to make it in this rapidly-growing scene?
EB: There are two things that I would say would be my strongest pieces of advice: One, pursue individuality relentlessly. Any attempt to make music like what other people are doing or the sound of the week is a dangerous path. As soon as you make a sound that is the sound of now, it’s no longer the sound of now. Maybe that’s why my growth has been really small- I never really jumped on to the genre bandwagon. But I feel like I’ve had some longevity, and the people that are tuned in to what I do are willing to listen, whatever direction I go in. It’s really, really important to figure out what your personal voice is. The other is community. Reach out to people who are doing similar things, who have a similar mindset, build personal networks. Ten artists that believe in the same thing that are helping each other out have access to ten times times more people than each of the artists have individually, so I think that it’s essential. It fulfills something. There’s a community to lean on when you’re struggling on the road and exhausted, you have buddies you can call. You’ve got people you see in various cities and at festivals that you can check in with. To me that’s been one of the ways that I’ve survived the stress of being on the road all the time. The connections with people that started around the same time that I did, or I’ve known throughout the years- our orbits around the planet keep crossing.
Bluetech will play at Mississippi Studios on Saturday, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. 21+, $12 advance, $15 D.O.S.