I wrote an article about Tristan de Liège a while ago which included select parts of an interview I had with him. I thought I’d upload the entire uncut interview since he’s such an incredible musician with so many interesting and inspiring things to say. Enjoy!
- What started your interest in music/music-making and how did it develop?
I started making music when I was 14 or so, in high school. One of my best friends played guitar and one of my other best friends played drums and had a large room in his basement with a bunch of instruments. So we’d go down there and jam for fun; I’d usually play bass, and since I had taken piano lessons before, I played keyboards. We formed different bands, and eventually I got into synths and electronic music. We’d make short albums and then record them to CD and share them with friends at school. I started doing Stratus a bit later, when I was 18. At that time I had been practicing DJing and learning how to do edits and remixes and stuff, and trying to make electro music. I became super disillusioned with that kind of music and I felt it wasn’t emotionally expressing who I was and what I wanted to say. Around the same time I got into Emancipator. I read that he made his first album basically with just a laptop and rearranging samples, and I thought, I have to do this, this is amazing. So I made an EP and lots of tracks that I didn’t really share with anyone. I didn’t take it seriously though until I had just finished college and realized, okay, I need to find something to do for the rest of my life. And I realized I loved music, and I wanted my life to be based around music. So I made my album The Diver and sent it to Emancipator, he liked it, and after some delays it got released earlier this year on his label. Aside from that I’ve self-released a lot of stuff.
- Who are your inspirations and how does this come out in your music?
Bonobo is my greatest inspiration, especially his earlier work. That comes out a lot I think. When I realized he taught himself a bunch of instruments, I thought, that’s amazing, I want to do that as well. First, because it’s just really fun and interesting to try to use instruments in different ways. Second, because it necessarily I think gives you a unique sound since no one is going to play the instruments in the same way. I also admire artists like Radio Citizen and Quantic in this regard who play lots of instruments and draw from a lot of different styles. Other influences include early 2000s trip-hop/lounge, post-rock, gamelan, ethio-jazz, afrobeat, and especially all the various forms of nu-jazz that have appeared, especially notable on the stuff from Gondwana Records. Finally, I enjoy the kind of repetitive and choppy sampling done by artists like Four Tet, Amon Tobin, Prefuse 73, etc. I guess my influences come out in my choices of instrumentation and beat structures, as well as the arrangements. But I’m always trying to expand and try new things too so that I can pursue a unique sound.
- What’s your music making process like?
It varies, because I like to try different processes to break through creative blocks. Sometimes I will start with a small sample of me playing an instrument, or a sample from vinyl or elsewhere that I’ve put through lots of effects or edited so that you can’t recognize it very much anymore. Then I’ll use that as a starting point and start layering by recording more and more instruments. Then once I have a bunch of recordings, I slow down and carefully edit them all and turn it into an arrangement. So basically I’d say there are two phases: a quick and intuitive creative phase where I am just recordings lots of sounds and exploring, and a slower editing phase where I am working on intricate sound design and mixing and creating the beats.
- What’s the most important part of the music making process and creation of music, in general, for you? (if you can think of anything specific)
It’s difficult to say in general what is the one most important aspect, because there are so many different integrated elements. But from the broadest/most general perspective I suppose whatever genre you are doing, having a certain kind of flow or momentum is very important. Because it’s too easy, especially with technology these days to get either distracted by the enormous amount of options and choices you have, and become obsessed with using all of those and never finishing anything. I think one’s subconscious contribution to one’s art is at least as important as one’s conscious contributions, and the only way to realize that in practice is to constantly be exploring lots of ideas without judging or criticizing them and then following them through to the end. This creates a nice mental space where you are just focused on the present and finish lots of music at the same time.
- What do you want/try to achieve with your music?
Having long-term goals is very important, of course, because it is in a way a precondition of succeeding at anything (how can you know you succeeded if you didn’t know what your end was?) That being said, I have somewhat open-ended goals about where I’d like to take my music, based on what sorts of opportunities come up and I am able to create. In personal terms, I would like to make a lasting contribution to the downtempo and trip-hop genre, but because I don’t often think in terms of genres what I really want is to make beautiful music that people can relax to and attach to their memories. In general terms I’d like to be eventually involved with a larger label and playing shows around the world to share that music to more people and be able to meet more artists I admire that I could work with and learn from.
- What are your plans for the future of your music?
I’d really like to try film scoring, perhaps for independent films or TV shows. I think it would be an interesting project that would make me think differently about my music and also could serve as an interesting way to meet different artists. Since I just released a new album, I’m in a slight limbo state (which always happens for a bit after I finish a new album) where I don’t know exactly what the next Stratus project is going to be and I just need to do lots of exploring and listening to new music for inspiration. That being said, I currently have a post-rock project in the works that should be finished by the end of the summer. There may be some another Stratus work by the end of the year but it depends on where my inspiration takes me. Finally there’s going to be another release with my side-project Thoma, with the producer Askanse (who I strongly recommend), and I’m quite excited about that. We’ll also be doing some mixes every month to promote new music and remixes we’re doing.
If haven’t listened to this guys” music, you NEED TO. This guy is a hidden trove of talent and originality.