Entro Senestre: From Within
The New York-based artist discusses the self therapy of producing music, working with Willie Burns and using chopsticks for drums with Richard Brophy.
When the end of year rundowns start to emerge in mid-November onwards, it will be a surprise and a travesty if they don’t feature at least one record from Entro Senestre. Although he sounds like a Mexican folk singer, the reali-ty is that Senestre is a production name for Jon Beall. Since 2010 the US producer has released on Echovolt, L.I.E.S and WT Records, but it looks like 2015 is the year that his lifelong passion for music-making finally gets widespread recognition.
First up was ES, the follow-up to his solo debut, La Caccia, on William Burnett’s WT Records. Like all of Beall’s pro-ductions as Entro Senestre, ES is atmospheric and melodic. The classic house of “Rosengold” is led by seductive keys, a sultry female vocal and, acting as a counterpoint, a high-pitched ‘my life’ sample. “DOHC” and “TriState” channel ‘90s techno sources, with the former sounding almost Aphex-like with its introspective sensibilities and the latter revolving around mysterious synth lines.
Soon after that release, Beall debuted on Dutch label Dekmantel with Surface. This four-track EP marks a change of direction for the Entro Senestre sound, as he embraces a deeper electro approach. Previous Senestre releases like La Caccia or the self-titled record on L.I.E.S didn’t share any common ground with the lo-fi approach that many new school US producers favour, but equally none of Beall’s material under this name had sounded as pure, austere and studied as Surface.
Beall does not come across as the type who would deliberately orchestrate a change of sound, and both Surface and ES are merely the latest twists in a life spent absorbing, assimilating and then creating music. Having found only a small amount of information online about the producer, I asked him to start off by filling in some blanks.
“I was born in Maryland and lived outside of Baltimore until I moved to Connecticut (just outside of NY) as a teenag-er,” he explains. “I started making music by myself when I was really young, probably eight, nine or 10 years old. I guess you can say I sampled or multi tracked – I think that’s what I did – on boom boxes that had two tape decks and a mic. I would use chopsticks or knives for drum sticks on my lunch box or old coffee cans,” he says.
By the time he had reached his teenage years, Beall had progressed from kitchen utensils to real music-making equipment. “I got an MPC when I was 15 and made hip-hop tracks for years and still do sometimes,” Beall explains.
In addition to the warmth and idiosyncrasy of the Entro Senestre sound – check the title track on La Caccia for an example of the former and the bizarre vocal samples on “Rosengold” and “One Time for Your Mind” for the latter – it’s refreshing to hear an artist who has no contrived back-story or headline-grabbing past, one that moves seam-lessly from band member to DJ to producer.
In the same way that ES flits effortlessly between influences, Beall’s own life and approach to music making is pos-sessed by an all too rare random approach. “I’ll record anything. I still have a problem identifying musical genres, but that stuff doesn’t matter,” he says, casually. When I put it to him if there was any electronic music artist or sound that inspires him, he simply replies: “No. I’m always inspired and curious. I never did the thing of asking a DJ until recently. If I like a track, I just ask, I like to know the name of the artist.”
Irrespective of what’s inspiring him, there is no escaping the fact there is a lot of atmosphere and depth to each Entro Senestre record. If he’s not drawing on the work of other artists for inspiration, then where are the magical synth sounds of ES and Surface coming from?
“It’s automatic, it’s my therapy. I have to feel something, channel something, or work out something. However, when I play live its different,” he says. “I feed off of the relationship between the crowd and myself. It’s more of an intense workout. I like to take people for a ride. They can close their eyes and go wherever the fuck they want.” He adds, “Then I’m exhausted!”
Beall had no reservations about putting out his music, but developing the Entro Senestre alter ego provided him with a platform to do that. He says the story behind the stage name is a long one, but in essence it’s an identity that he invented.
“I later found out that ‘Entro’ means within, so it makes sense that it could mean I’m revealing, channeling, or coping with my inner demons, secrets and insecurities. Also, it’s a means of knocking down my walls, being unguarded, and putting myself out there. I don’t hide now like I did when I was younger. I do not feel the need to have it anymore,” he says.
Without prying too much, I ask Beall if there are specific feelings or demons that he is trying to exorcise through his music making, especially as he had described production as a form of therapy. He shrugs off this amateur attempt at psycho-analysis. “I meant it in a general sense, like when you see a therapist and you’re interacting with that person, I interact with whatever I’m making. Maybe I’m jamming and just having good time and letting go and in general it feels good because maybe I was stressed or feeling depressed and that energy came out,” he explains.
Despite this, he does express a fear, one that is shared by many artists, that it’s hard to release music without feeling insecure about what people will think about it.
“Maybe you’re insecure because you got made fun of as a kid or something – I’m not trying to go too deep,” he says with a laugh, and then adds “but when you’re having fun doing it, you think to yourself, why the hell would I not re-lease this, why am I being so self-conscious?”
So has working as Entro Senestre been a safety net of sorts and a means for him to retain his anonymity?
“No, I do not want to be anonymous – I’d rather be transparent and have relationships with people,” Beall says. “The internet has made it frighteningly convenient to globally interact with people these days that I feel I have the oppor-tunity to contribute more to society than just music. There are little to no boundaries with me and I won’t hold back for anything. I’d like to offer my creative services as much as I can,” he adds, somewhat cryptically.
It was likely that this attitude led Beall to set up a MySpace back in the nascent days of social media. One of the peo-ple he ‘friended’ back then was William Burnett, WT Records owner and now co-worker.
“He asked if I could send him music so I did and couple years later we released a record,” he says matter of factly.
“Then I met him and Ron (Morelli) at a party and that’s when I also met Steve Summers, Ari from The Beautiful Swimmers, Legowelt, TLR, Jorge Velez, Chupacabras and I can’t remember the rest. I finally felt like I belonged somewhere,” Beall affirms.
The first fruits of the Burnett-Beall relationship was 2010’s La Caccia on WT Records. Beall had released on a split EP prior to this, but the WT record was a gloriously self-assured solo debut. Underpinned by a warm production aes-thetic and charming disregard for genres, it flitted from the soaring deep techno title track to The Hague-sounding electronic disco of “Glazed”. Despite being his solo debut record, La Caccia had echoes of Legowelt’s Xamiga col-laboration, while the high-pitched samples on ES could have been a response to the Trackman Lafonte and Bonquiqui release on L.I.E.S. Is he a Danny Wolfers fan?
“Yes – his music is melodic, moody, exciting and it’s fucking tough,” he replies. “No pussyfooting, he doesn’t fuck around. He is also the coolest cat.”
Releases on L.I.E.S. and Echovolt followed and helped to raise Beall’s profile further as Entro Senestre. He feels, however, that these records only got him so far. “Once you release a record, you have to perform, and earning credibility as a performer comes after the release. It does not matter the label or how you got there, it’s just you on stage and there are artists who are known to kill it live, while some are better in the studio,” he reasons.
Despite finding a home on other labels, Beall’s connection to Burnett remained strong because both work together at The Thing, a cavernous thrift store and second hand record dump in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. “It’s not a career I want to pursue. Making music as a full time occupation sounds dope, but I also like having a part time job to balance things out, and I never keep all my eggs in one basket,” he explains.
Beall and Burnett also enjoy a studio relationship, which has found a voice on L.I.E.S as Daywalker + CF. In particular, the combination of airy melodies and the primal groove of “Supersonic Transport” was one of the high points in the label’s catalogue last year and led to a 2015 repress.
“I was surprised about how popular it was, but when that record was finished, Will and I knew we had made a killer 12”,” Beall offers. Equally though, he says that his two new records aren’t too ‘headsy’ and deserve as much atten-tion. “A good DJ will manage to make any track a dance floor track,” he believes.
That said, none of the tracks on ES or Surface could be described as typical dance floor fodder. The music on ES, he explains, is drawn from material he worked on for ‘the past few years’ which were then selected for release by Wil-lie Burns. “Some tracks (on ES) I wanted in a certain sound, some just came out without taking that into account,” he says.
However, Surface was the result of a more thought out approach. “I’ve always made electro. Surface is made up of tracks recorded last winter and I intended it to sound clean,” he says. “I spoke to Casper from Dekmantel about do-ing a release and once he heard them, the label convinced me to make an electro record. I wasn’t sure about it but I trusted them and I was ready to go,” Beall explains.
Surface arrives at a time of abundance for the electro form, with some artists clinging to traditional sounds and tropes while others favour increasing fragmentation and assimilation with other styles.
When I ask Beall what he makes of artists like Stingray, Ultradyne and Visiona, he draws a blank.
“I haven’t heard those,” he answers. “I didn’t know there were many electro releases anymore – that’s why I wasn’t sure why Dekmantel wanted to do an electro release, but I’ll check them out. Seriously, I do not know much about what goes on in the music game.”
Equally, Beall admits that he never got into Drexciya and hasn’t heard of Convextion, even though in places, Surface has echoes of both acts. “I never got into Drexciya. I was more into Gerald Donald’s and James Stinson’s side pro-jects like The Other People Place, Arpanet and Dopplereffekt,” he explains. “I don’t know much about different art-ists or labels.”
Despite this, Beall has vivid childhood memories of two events that had a lasting impact on his music-making.
“I will never forget the day I heard Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” – that synth line changed me. I was three years old, jumping on the couch and running around the house all day singing it. Then when I was a bit older I found a tape with Cybotron’s “Clear” and life changed again,” he explains.
Is this story about “Rockit” true – can he really remember back to when he was three? “Yeah, I tell this story all the time, my friends are probably sick of it. I remember it so clearly. It was playing on my brother’s alarm clock when he was getting ready to go to school,” he says, as if it happened yesterday.
It looks like electro will continue to play a role in Beall’s music, but how much no one will know. When asked if he plans to put out an album, he merely answers “it’s in the works – that’s it.”
As Entro Senestre’s expansive, melodic music shows, sometimes words do not suffice and the answer has to come from within.
Interview by Richard Brophy
Photography by Shawn Brackbill
Surface is out now on Dekmantel
Entro Senestre on Juno