Interview: Claude VonStroke
Claude VonStroke is a relentless innovator. Ever since songs like “The Whistler”, “Who’s Afraid of Detroit”, “Deep Throat” and “Chimps” were released, he’s carved a name as one of the most interesting producers in house and techno, combining quirky samples with irresistibly catchy beats. Bird Brain – his second studio album and worthy successor to 2006’s Beware of the Bird – combines house, techno and a myriad of other genres and influences – not least his San Francisco home – into a truly unique and original electronic album. He spoke to Juno Plus editor Aaron Coultate about nerdy bloggers, fatherhood and the influences behind Bird Brain.
You have always drawn on interesting samples & influences in your productions: “Vocal Chords” is another fine example of this. Where did you get the inspiration for that track?
I like to go and watch DJs play and I get ideas when they play boring stuff because I find myself having to do the music part in my head while I listen to all drum sets. “Vocal Chords” was an idea I had to reverse engineer my track “Deep Throat” (from 2006 release Beware of the Bird).
Whose vocal chords did you use to make the track?
It was a guy I found on the internet! I went onto Craigslist and found him, he’s in a barbershop quartet.
How did the collaboration with Bootsy Collins come about?
I thought about who would be cool to work with and he was top of the list, so we called him. He said yes and that was that. Super easy.
“There is still some Detroit on the album…you can’t get rid of it completely”
The album seems to be an ode to California while your first album leant more towards Detroit – was this an intentional thing or do it just happen naturally?
It happened naturally. When I started I thought I had to emphasize the Detroit aspect of my life because a lot of people really respect Detroit dance music. Now, I don’t care about that stuff as much and so I just make the music of where I am now. I’m making music in the moment you could say and now I live in San Francisco.
Are any of the samples on there – such as the rain and thunder towards the end – recorded in San Francisco?
No, that would have been a cool thought. The funny thing is the rain is from Michigan and the track title is named after the lake we lived near there. So there is still some Detroit on the album…you can’t get rid of it completely (laughs).
Why did you take the decision to release two versions of the album?
One is for listening to in your car and one is for DJing.
There seems to be a mix of banging, danceable tunes and more thoughtful moments on Bird Brain – have you tried to make this work as an album you can listen to – and appreciate – start to finish?
That’s exactly what I tried to do, but who knows if it worked. That is more for you to decide. But I can listen to it all the way through without cringing so that is a good sign.
Do you see your style as having one foot in Europe and one in the US?
Yes, for sure…even my two labels (Dirtybird and Mothership) are positioned like this, one is for Europe and one is for America. The USA is the real sleeping giant in my opinion. If dance music ever did really break over here we could all be living in mansions.
How long were you based in Berlin? If so, how has that affected the way you approach music?
I was only in Berlin for three months and I didn’t make any music while I was there. If anything it solidified my resolve to be different. Berlin is a great great city and I loved it but with so many labels there, a lot of them start to sound the same and follow trends. I much prefer being and outsider who doesn’t care so much about what is hot this minute and that minute. I also noticed how much of an advantage it is for me to have grown up on a different kind of music than everyone from Europe.
“Berlin is a great great city and I loved it but with so many labels there, a lot of them start to sound the same and follow trends”
In a day and age when many electronic artists take themselves a little too seriously, the sense of humour that comes across in some of your productions is a breath of fresh air. Are you naturally a laid-back person?
I just want to have fun and I want people to have fun at parties. Parties are meant for fun but some people get so carried away with the “cool” factor that they miss the point of partying. These are usually the bloggers who love star trek and living in their mum’s basement. I always understood that parties were about guys trying to get in girls pants and girls trying to flirt with guys and gay people trying to get with other gay people. The music is just a conduit for easing sexual tension in the crowd. It is a way to have some noise on while you are checking out someone you want to hook up with. Being married, I am now excluded from this, but I still think this is the key to the audience and I love to try to get the crowd hot.
How much do you think you have changed (both musically and as a person) since the release of your debut album?
I think I have change tons, but most if it has to do with me starting a family and not the music. Now I have two little munchkins running around and my priorities have shifted a bit. I feel like I am more of a father figure even at my label…like someone to take advice from rather than someone seeking advice.
How are things going with Dirtybird and your sub-label, Mothership?
Things are great. Dirtybird is doing amazing and Mothership has been a little bit more hit and miss but it’s still fine. The decay of vinyl has taken one profit stream out of the equation so we are learning how to pinch pennies on release budgets when we didn’t have to so much in the past.
“The music is just a conduit for easing sexual tension in the crowd”
Are there any exciting new signings or releases we should know about?
Sure, there is the Sascha Braemer EP, which is my favourite Dirtybird record of the year. It will be out very soon.
What do the next 12 months hold for Claude VonStroke?
We have uur big five year Dirtybird birthday CD package coming in February – that will take up a lot of my time. Also, my new project called “the Grizzl” will begin in 2010.