Trying to come up with an introduction for this interview had my brain searching at great lengths for the best way to convey everything on who Michal Menert exactly is beforehand. After drafts detailing the first show of his I attended back in the day to how when we kicked it at our house we failed to materialize into anything substantial, I’ve decided to simply describe what this artist means to me.
Menert doesn’t throw up new tracks on a bi-weekly basis featuring the latest genre’s out now, nor will you ever hear him drop an Avicii Levels remix in one of his sets. He exemplifies what seems to be a forgotten art of producing music on a more personal level; making sure that each track he creates is fine-tuned to perfection so it delivers a message instead of infiltrating ones ears for the sake of being able too.
A return to Chicago just four days after his sophomore L.P. titled ‘Even If It Isn’t Right’ was released on Pretty Lights Music label brought yet another chance for this Colorado native to deliver an intimate set for those in attendance. With the combination of fellow friends Supervision and A.C. Lao, onlookers were left in awe due to the amount of energy Menert emits each time he steps on stage. Prepare yourself for a closer look at an artist who continues to live by my favorite motto that “Nothing compares to witnessing live music being played by an artist who truly loves performing for an audience.” Enjoy mes Amis.
TD: Tell us a little about yourself? Give us your name, age, where you are from? We know you moved here from Europe at a young age, do you have any memories of living there?
MM: My name is Michal. I’m from Colorado, but I was born in Poland. I’m $$ years old. I have assorted memories of Poland and Germany, but they’ve become more like dreams. [Though] I was young, I was very aware of the world my parents were dealing with. Obviously political and social issues weren’t my forte at 4 years old, but I sensed tension around our fleeing from a soviet country illegally. I was 3 when Chernobyl happened. I remember subtle shifts in the environment that no adult could explain. I remember the forest, and how ethereal it was to me as a child. Once I was 12, and officially an US citizen, I returned every summer until I left for college. It helped me keep those memories alive, by chasing ghosts and tracing my steps through a continent that was becoming westernized. It’s strange, because I was drawn into stories and photos of my parents upbringing, which became so vivid from [there] retelling that they blended into my own memories…decades I never saw with my own eyes bled into my fading childhood memories creating an amber-colored dreamland I still think is real at times.
TD: How was it growing up in a state like CO that has so much to offer with a diverse array of music continuously presented? You grew up in FoCo (Fort Collins), which isn’t too far from Denver; would you say there are two different music scenes in both cities?
MM: There’s different but parallel scenes in all the Front Range cities. It’s funny because up until about 2005/2006, there wasn’t the hub of electronic shows that are there now. Growing up in the 90’s, there were raves and clubs, but as a teen their wasn’t the scene that kids have now. We were rocking house parties with live hip-hop and DJs in the early 2000’s, playing production sets in coffee shops and bowling alleys in 2004/2005. Growing up I NEVER thought I’d be able to see the scene so strong.
TD: Who are some of your early influences from within the music scene? When did you realize, if at all, that you wanted to produce music on a full-time scale?
MM: I was influenced by DJ Shadow, Pete Rock, and Prince Paul. A lot of early sample based hip-hop: Dilla, Madlib, El-P. Before that I liked what Trent Reznor, Rick Rubin, the Dust Brothers, and the Chemical Brothers did in the 90’s. Even before that, Bowie, Brian Eno, Alan Parson, Vangelis. I guess I’d say I was always intrigued by what producers were doing on all levels; from the traditional producer role on an album [who’d] interpret the artist’s/group’s vision and help them transform it into a tangible sound, to actual producers who were creating the heart of the song for vocalists or soundtracks, etc. As for producing full-time, I don’t think I was ever consciously making a choice, I always loved being able to get my vision across, and I think anyone who loves the creative process and is passionate about it dreams of being able to pursue their craft full-time from the beginning.
TD: I can only imagine, but can you tell us what it’s like to be on the Pretty Lights Music label with other talented artists such as: Gramatik, Paper Diamond, Break Science…etc? Who would you say is your favorite to work and why?
MM: PLM is a crew of friends. Its fun doing shows, sharing ideas and music. I’d say I like working with Blake (Supervision) and Paul Basic the best, probably because we all live or have lived in CO at similar times. Derek too. I think having people you grew up with musically that you still interact and work with is a bond that’s tough to beat.
TD: If you were given a chance to work with any artists from the past who would it be and why?
MM: I’d love to work with David Bowie. He’s still putting out solid work, but early 70s Bowie would be nutty nice. Also, early Sun Ra or Herbie when he was “ruining jazz” by making it funky. Actually…Leadbelly. Just taking that raw blues and doing the right subtle additions. Really though Marek Grechuta circa Anawa would be the true dream for me. But no one knows Polish 70s music…..so I gotta say some relatable shit.
TD: One thing that I found out from when you were at our house in January was that you’re not only an avid snowboarder but you happen to be good friends with a pro rider Pat Milbery who visits our local resort (Raging Buffalo) every year for the Mighty Midwest Tour. Explain the connection? Did snowboarding have any influence on you musical upbringing at all?
MM: Snowboarding and skateboarding brought a lot of genres to a common cause: providing the rhythm and vibe tying different shots into a consistent video part. It exposed me to hip-hop, punk and garage bands at an early age; before any of these groups were coming around to my part of the country. I think videos turned a lot of stubborn boarders onto genres they normally wouldn’t feel. For me, the music we were bumping always stuck with me, and added to those youthful days driving up to the hills with a car packed full of homies.
TD: I’d be a fool not to ask this but could you tell our snowboard friends/fans your favorite resort to ride, what setup you rocked this season, and your feelings on saying “They’re no friends on pow days?”
MM: I haven’t been able to ride many resorts this year because I was on the road through most of fall/winter, and when I was home I felt the need to either work on new material or recover from my travels. Growing up, I spent a lot of time at Winter Park and Breck. I really like Beaver Creek lately, but I’m not going very hard these days. Parks have gotten insane. And I really can’t afford to wreck myself too hard. As for set up, I rock A Never Summer Revolver, Tech Nine Bindings, and 32 boots. And as for pow days, I haven’t seen many lately, since my schedule rarely lets me just go ride on a whim.
TD: Compared to other big music scene cities, what do you think separate’s Chicago from anywhere else?
MM: Chicago rages. It’s a city of lovers and haters. People root for their favorites and talk shit on their opponents. It’s like cubs and sox. 1st time I came to the Chi I saw a shirt that said, “Chicago is for haters,” I loved it. That being said, I guess I’m lucky to be on the recording end of Chicago’s loving side haha. I really like Chicago and have made some good friends there.
TD: You’ve performed live at many shows throughout the country as well as some kick-ass music fests; has any one performance stood out for any particular reason?
MM: Electric Forest was amazing, both for the atmosphere and the response I got. It was one of the best weekends I’ve experience, in terms of performances. I got to see a lot of my friends and even collaborate with a bunch of them on the fly.
TD: Favorite pre-show meal/drink/activity?
MM: Thai food or pho. Vodka Menert. Panicking and smoking cigarettes.
TD: We’ve often wondered this, but while playing a set have you ever found yourself desperately needing to use the bathroom?
MM: I’ve actually had a handful of situations where their wasn’t a bathroom backstage so I had to hold it for the whole set!
TD: Everyone likes to know the technical side of production, what do you use to produce and what equipment do you use live?
MM: I have an assortment of synths [that are] new and old, analog and digital, and a growing collection of records. That’s the base of my current music. Live, I use an MPC 1000 to play samples, basslines, drums, etc, and an APC40 to navigate my set and add effects.
TD: What would you say is your biggest musical achievement thus far and what would like to have accomplished in the future?
MM: Playing Red Rocks 3 times last summer was awesome. I think just getting to a point, after over a decade of making music and touring, where I can do what I love and support myself is my greatest feat. Musically, I think this new album is something I’m [the most] proud of. I’d like to expand my work beyond electronic music and produce for bands and various projects in the future.
TD: What is your current opinion on the state of the music industry? Is there anything in particular that has caught your ear as of late or anything you feel needs to be done away with?
MM: Honestly, and I’m not a dick, but I don’t listen to much modern music. I like Toro y Moi, James Blake, Tobacco, Blue Sky Black Death, Eliot Lipp and my label mates. But I spend so much time collecting old records and scouring them for either something that I want to listen to over and over or some bits to sample. Being around electronic shows all the time desensitized my inner desire to be bass’d to death.
Download: The Same Disease
Download: The Golden Rule
TD: Now that your second L.P titled Even If It Isn’t Right is out, can you tell us more about what went into creating this new album in comparison to Dreaming of A Bigger Life?
MM: What went into this album that wasn’t a factor during D.O.A.B.L. is the emotional roller-coaster of being a touring artist. Learning how to deal with new places, feelings, pride, humility, [and] making decisions before you fully realize the consequences. Feeling isolated and alone moments after sharing an amazing cohesive experience with a room full of strangers. Losing touch with the people and things that remind you of who you are [while] adapting, embracing, and making the most of the chaos that is the music business.
TD: I remember discussing with you who’d be a dream artist at the moment that you’d like to do a collab with and you stated Minnesota. Does that still stand and what other artists out there would you like to work with?
MM: I’d love to collab with Com Truise. His gritty, analog vintage meets future synth style takes me to somewhere that I’ve never been, yet somehow remember.
TD: Unfortunately we live in a world where haters are everywhere and rumors/misinformation can be spread almost at random. What’s the biggest misconception you think people have about you?
MM: People on facebook don’t understand my sarcasm. For some reason it works on twitter, but the facebookers always come back thinking I’m a huge condescending asshole. I just love comedy, especially when it’s tongue-in-cheek. I watch a lot of stand up and love that comedians can be on the real though. I think the biggest misconception people have is the idea that I came out of nowhere and was given a career out of the blue. I’ve been working at music for over half my life, and have been grinding it out, losing money and paying dues by playing humbling shows to people who don’t want to hear me. I still have weird nights on tour where people thought they were going to see a dubstep dj. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the support of one of my best friends, Derek, who’s had my back and pushed for me, but I’ve also put a lot of time and as much of my soul and heart as I can into what I do. My first lengthy tour after releasing my solo album, I was making about $50-150 than what it cost to be on the road each day. I didn’t have investors or money in the bank. Through the generosity of Derek, my mom, and VISA I was able to make it through the tour, but my friends and I were sleeping at rest stops, on people’s floors, stealing the headliners veggie trays to eat, and I still came home about $5000 in debt after 7 weeks. It’s not a sob story. I loved every minute of it. I’m not trying to get sympathy… but I remember coming home, going to the bar with like $13 bucks to spend and someone saying something like “Oh, look at the big star, home from tour… why don’t you buy me a drink now that you’re getting that Pretty Lights money.” There was a lot of that at first, and I still get that attitude of “you think you’re so special, don’t you?” from some people, but I just try to just have a real conversation with those people. They usually realize I’m just a normal person who is approachable and likes to meet new people, and I really try not to be a burden on anyone or even expect people to know who I am or care about what I do. I ranted for a bit there, sorry. But the truth is a lot of the artists people look up to or think are super successful are barely paying the bills. I think if a lot of the aspiring DJs and producers saw the reality of it for more than just a show of two, if they saw how frustrating it can be for some of these extremely talented musicians that have been grinding in the studio and on the road for a big chunk of their life, still having to fight for their future, these newcomers wouldn’t be quite as stoked to try to do this for a living. It’s a beautiful, bittersweet, nerve-wracking world that I wouldn’t ever want to leave, and there are definitely amazing perk and experiences that come with it, but it’s also a risk that never goes away, because there’s always a chance the road will end and years of work will turn into memories and experience you can’t exactly put on a résumé.
TD: Alright, it’s still early enough in the year to ask this: What does Michal Menert have planned for 2012?
MM: I want to be a zombie on the next season of Walking Dead. Also, a Half Color EP [with] Paul Basic, a FutureSmash EP [with] Supervision, and a late summer/fall tour with my new stage.
Last time you attended a show you didn’t play at
Most Tuesdays I’m home there’s a dubstep/electronic show at Cervantes Otherside. A lot of talented up and comers play at times, and even though I’m not the biggest fan of dubstep, I like to support the local electronic scene and see what’s going on with producers in my area.
Last time in an exotic country
Japan in February. Killer.
Last favorite tweet
Goddamn… Blockhead is usually on point. Eliot Lipp is funny as hell too. Samples, Mux Mool, all those dudes have a great sense of humor.
Last song stuck in your head
I get cheesy shit stuck in my head, often without even hearing it. That “I wanna know what love is” song comes in and out to fuck up my train of thought.
Last moment you were scared
Mostly in my dreams.
Last movie you watched
Hanna. For the 3rd time….or Sudden Death (van Damme)
Last awkward moment
Last collaboration with another artist
Kendrick (of TwoFresh) and I made a track a couple of months back that’s still in the works.
Last place you visited and never wanted to leave
San Francisco 4-19
Last time you got kicked out of a venue
Can’t remember. I think the Mid in Chicago was trying to politely get me to leave.
TD: That’s all the questions we have for you and thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Any last words or shout outs?
MM: Shout outs to my Antimatter homies, to SoGnar, to all the fam on PLM, Elm & Oak, Old Tacoma, Sound Plexus, ….to all the people who have taken time and energy to help me progress, to the promoters who took a chance booking me before anyone gave a shit. I appreciate it.