“I can do whatever I want, just go in and let my mind vomit all over the mixing board.”
Photo by Visionhype
Just like the minimalist sound sculpture that has become Jon Gaiser's trademark, I'm going to keep my intro highly effective and to the point—only a little less spine-chilling than the man's music itself. Anything beyond that would take the piss out of hearing him expound on his Detroit roots, history and his thriving career.
So I'll leave it at this: Gaiser is a highly intelligent, fiercely passionate and a hugely accessible sort. With his lovely fiancé in tow, our conversation at the Gale Hotel's Regent Cocktail Club illuminates all that and more. And here at THUMP we can only hope it is the first of many.
THUMP: The first time I heard your music was four years ago and my immediate reaction was, "What the hell happened in this guy's childhood for him to be making such dark, sinister, off-the-walls music?"
Gaiser: [Laughs] I grew up playing in the symphony and I was always a big fan of the darker classical stuff. The stuff that gives you goose bumps. The really cinematic, really dark, really edge-of-your-seat eerie stuff. I just always had that in my blood. After my rehearsals for symphony, I would go and practice with my punk band. We were really dark, not so much blasting hardcore, but a little bit more mental and tribal acid. Darkness, you know? Again, I like the kind of stuff that gives you goose bumps. Not really like a horror film soundtrack, but the kind of thing that just makes you feel like something's really wrong here.
Well you definitely succeed in that [laughs]. At what point in life did you decide to go from classical music into making electronic music?
When I was about 16 or 17, I quit my punk bands—I had a couple going—and at that point I had already graduated from the symphony and everything. Of course to my friends that I was in the bands with, hardcore punk rockers, they're thinking, "What, you're going to go make techno? You're buying drum machines and synthesizers? What the fuck is wrong with you?" This was in the early '90s. '92, '93, around the time Detroit techno was starting to make a big draw. Before that, as a punk rocker, I thought, that techno was for Top 40 pop clubs. Like if it was a four by four beat, it just needed to be in a club somewhere where it didn't pertain to me as a skater and punk kid. It all turned around for me when the Detroit scene was getting the underground really solidified, when I realized that you can make so many sounds that are different than the typical guitar, the typical bass guitar, the typical drums. I mean, you can hear sounds that you've never heard before. To me, this was sonically opening my mind. That's really what inspired me to get into doing something that was different than the four-man band.
What would you pinpoint as the moment you realized you were focusing your musical energy in the right new direction?
I just did it because I loved it. I'm a musician at heart. If I don't have a studio to sit in or music to write, I don't know what to do with myself. That's what I do. That was my focal point where everything came down to the sound that I got excited about. Finding new sonic territories and a new type of synthesis that nobody had heard yet. That's what keeps me going to this day: sounds that are, like, "Whoa, that doesn't sound natural! That doesn't sound like anything I've heard before!"
You've had a very long history with the MINUS label. Was that something you thought about and planned? Or did that just happen naturally?
It happened 100 percent totally naturally. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time and have the right friends that were supporting me. My brother was working at Record Time in Detroit where Plus 8 had their offices in the back of the shop. So I was hanging out with these guys every day, just sifting through records as an 18-year old kid. And all of a sudden I was helping out with the parties and we were just like a big family. Everybody in Detroit was a tight-knit crew back in those early days because everybody knew each other. It was a small scene that grew into something totally different. I never sent a demo out, I never pushed my music on anybody. It was basically Rich (Hawtin) who got one of my CDs that was floating around the crew and he was like, "Yeah, this song's great! Let's put it out." I was like, "Um, okay… why not!"
And you were familiar with Richie obviously and his music from earlier?
He's one of the guys who turned me onto it in the beginning. The first time I saw him play I had a mohawk and I was standing there, all "Wow, you can actually do cool stuff with techno?!"
Then what was that first meeting with him like?
It wasn't necessarily a meeting. It wasn't even really an introduction. We were just around each other. I was at Record Time listening to new records every day and those Plus 8 guys would come in and hang out. It was just super natural, you know? It just worked.
Was there one gig in those days that you played which confirmed this could all turn out to be a lot more than just a passion? Like a career that has taken you around the world?
It was not so much about the gigs, it was the call of putting out music which led the gigs to start coming in. And so as soon as I got too many gigs where I couldn't get any more time off of work, I was like, "I'm going to make a lot more money this way and do what I love, it's an obvious decision. Follow your dream."
You've been closely identified with MINUS after all these years, do you feel you are confined to their sound? Ever feel like branching out from them?
The thing is, I mean, to go along with the whole natural theme of it, I'm not producing music that I feel like I have to fit into any kind of genre. I can do whatever I want, just go in and let my mind vomit all over the mixing board. Of course sometimes it's not necessarily something that I want to release. And sometimes it's not necessarily the MINUS vibe. But I basically have a free reign and blank check to let my creativity run wild. And that's the best place to be.
Any special tracks you want to play for the MINUS Breakfast Club at the Red Bull Guest House downstairs?
Oh yeah! I'm fresh out of the studio. Last gig I played was at BPM and since then I've been in the studio for 12 hours a day. First gig back on the road was last weekend in Chicago at Spybar. That was my first fresh-out-of-the-studio test.
You still mess around with punk music at all? Is it still in the bloodstream?
I love this stuff. I still rock out. I don't play drums as much as I want to anymore, because I live in the city. I have neighbors. So I just pummel them with bass instead of punk rock drums.
You've got to tell me what the fuck was the mind process on "Oolooloo". That honestly is the symphony of sketch and the gold standard for spooky, otherworldly techno.
All I'll say is that there was a moment a couple of years back where I thought I took some MDMA, only it turned out to be another letter of the alphabet. I was tripping out on my couch at 5 AM, listening to that track, totally convinced that aliens or robots from another place were talking to me [laughs]. Then again I get the same reaction from it dead sober too, so...
That's a nice compliment because to be honest I recorded half of that track with my eyes closed. I mean seriously just going in my mind. I recorded almost all of the sounds from a Yamaha CS-30, an old '80s synth. One of the best Yamaha analog synths that has ever been made. I don't want to get too nerdy about it, but it's got two filters, three envelopes, two oscillators and, if I'm correct, there's an extra noise thing on there that I wrote the hi-hats with. So I did almost the whole thing and even part of the drums with that synth.
3:36 of that song. That's the moment where it all goes to another level. Or planet, more appropriately.
[Laughs] And then there's that vocal sample that comes from a joke that fit so well. If you know what the sample is saying—If you try to sell me something // I don't have any money—it's just that little bit of off-kilter, keep your eyes closed and go somewhere else kind of music.
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