FiXT Interview: Blue Stahli

FiXT Interview: Blue Stahli

FiXT: You mentioned that you get enormously inspired by visual mediums. Toss us some of your favorite visual artists or artworks, or even magazines and news feeds, that keep you fed.

Bret: I believe I already mentioned the borderline inappropriate love I have for Francis Bacon’s “Figure With Meat” (this was also recently given to me by someone who had it made into a print on canvas and it now hangs above my bed).   I love the films of the Brothers Quay.  Most especially “Street Of Crocodiles”, but watching anything they’ve done puts me in a creative, introspective mood.  Dave Mckean is the absolute man.  I’m hugely inspired by David Lynch (both his films and his mixed media pieces).  I adore the dream-logic and dedication to mood and atmosphere.  There’s always a point in his films that feel like a musically defined moment of beauty in the midst of chaos (however fleeting) that speak volumes to me.  I dig the works of Antony Micallef quite a lot, as well as some action from Richard Sala.

As far as sites go, I’m addicted to Coilhouse (both print and web) and Notcot, while my fine artist/tattooist sister keeps me sated with amazing haute couture photography that she finds in her searches for inspiration.  I love magazines like Hi Fructose and Juxtapoz for finding new exciting artists.  I also snag a copy of IDN whenever I can.  The layout is *insanely* good and the designers featured typically range from “pretty damn cool” to “incredible”.  I am floored by the amazing writing and constant stream of absofuckinglutely awesome content from Warren Ellis on his blog (Crooked Little Vein was a damn fun book, too) [ed.: Ellis' Twitter feed is not to be missed, either].  Those are the things coming off the top of my head.  The best inspiration usually comes from the atmosphere and surroundings during a long night drive with either just the right music, or me singing to my telephone.  Those times are usually when my head is just about to explode and the solitude lets the synapses fire off with abandon.

FiXT: For the FiXT tekheds out there, give a snapshot of the gear and software you use in creating and recording Blue Stahli music. In addition, tell us about the vocal help you received on certain tracks included on this album.

Bret: My main rig at the studio is a Digi002 running Pro Tools 8 LE with the music production toolkit (for the extra tracks).  I’ve used the Fabfilter stuff on nearly every track I’ve done, as well as Waves and Native Instruments stuff like Kontakt.  Funny thing is that Kontakt 4 is available at the studio.  I *could* be using that, but I’ve done all my sampler related action in Kontakt 2 just because I got so used to it, it was just easy to grab and go.  Ohmforce makes some incredible destructive stuff and things like Predatohm came in handy more than once during the making of this album.  Not really a lot of outboard synths were used.  I had a Virus B in there that was used a bit for some aggressive leads, but only on about 2 tracks.  Other than that, a lot of the electronics were some simple softsynths like Vanguard and impOSCar and the like with some post processing to give them a different sound.  Both in the studio and during live shows with Celldweller, I use a Schecter guitar with heavy strings, tuned so damn low limbo contest organizers flip me off and disqualify me when I walk by.  I also have a 5 string Schecter bass that draws its power from the pinup sticker that lives on the side (those gams make the tone sexy).  The bass is always tuned weird, as I always tune to suit the song and don’t really notate anything.

As far as vocal help goes, there is a sampled scream from Klayton of Celldweller that appears in “Kill Me Every Time”.  He had a session of random screamy bits that I believe was him testing out a mic and rhythmic vocal ideas.  I sifted through till I found that screamy bit that fit the song beautifully.

Squarehead - Stop Drop & Roll (Remix EP)

You can also hear Xina sing for Squarehead here!

Also appearing on “Kill Me Every Time” as well as “Takedown” is the lovely and mysterious Xina [ed.: yes, the very same from Squarehead's "Stop, Drop & Roll"] who has a bit of the formerly dormant superheroine gene and frequently rushes off to right the wrongs and injustice of the world while donning a very stylish cowl and brooding air.  Here’s a little tidbit:  A version of “Takedown” exists with Xina handling nearly all vocal duties save for a few screamed sections from me.  I’ve been toying with the idea of releasing an alternate version that showcases her more melodic and pop-oriented approach than the more pissed off version that currently resides in your iPod.

Blue Stahli - ULTRAnumb Remix Compilation (Deluxe Edition)

Check out the ULTRAnumb Remix Compilation from FiXT Remix

The female vocal bits in “ULTRAnumb” were provided by my now ex-fiance, Beth (who also designed and painted the “Stahliskull” that was later tweaked by Virocity into the full blown image that appears on the Blue Stahli t-shirt and video bumpers).

FiXT: Now that your debut album will shortly be out, what are your plans for Blue Stahli in 2011? Obviously a great deal of your time will be taken up by the expanding Celldweller tour this year, but I know the question on many peoples’ lips is will there be a subsequent Blue Stahli tour?

Bret: First of all, thank you for the lovely image of “Blue Stahli insidiously creeping between the legs of ______”  I kind of like the idea of the Blue Stahli live experience being likened to terrifying reptilian foreplay.  But I’ll get back to that.  In addition to my self titled debut album and regular stints throwing my gaunt little body around on stage as part of Celldweller, 2011 will see Antisleep Vol. 02 let out of its cage to wreak havoc and all manner of uncontrollable booty shakery.  I have some things I’d like to to try with the songs from the debut album, turning them on their head a bit.  My brain is jumping everywhere from acoustic leftfield to lo-fi synthy versions, but I think it would be interesting to present these songs in a completely different way and see happens when they’re given free reign to run amok.  Some of these songs started as nothing more than some guitar plucks and me singing into a telephone.  Others were conceived as something different than what they turned out to be (like the first round of vocals for “Takedown” done by Xina, and the fact that “Throw Away” was two separate song ideas spliced together and was originally a faster number).  We’ll see if I have the time to bring these to fruition, but there’s also sonic experiments that I’d love to do and set to film in a kind of installation way rather than “music video”.  

As for a Blue Stahli tour, it hasn’t been practically concepted yet.  I have some ideas of what I’d like to do (and a bit of a different, somewhat bipolar presentation method), but right now the focus is getting more music out there for everyone and performing as part of Celldweller.  So unfortunately, I can’t give an ETA just yet, but I can say “love to”.  And when it does go down, there’s some ideas in place.  It’s a matter of logistics right now.

FiXT: Well we all shall wait with bated breath! I hope you find the time to dish out some alternate versions of debut songs – I’ve seen a number of my favorite artists consider such a thing, but few have gone through with it (I’m glaring at you, Robert Del Naja). Now, last but not least: do you care to share what, exactly, Blue Stahli means, or where the name came from?

Bret: Years ago, I had some money in my pocket from a new job and wasn’t quite sure how much longer certain situations would permit me to be around, so I figured I’d drop what I had on Christmas gifts for friends.  I was in a little decor and art joint looking at what they had: a wall full of prints in various impressive sizes, but everything felt so nonexistent, it’s like it was sepia toned to the point that it made the walls and world around it bland.  Then my eyes stopped on one particular piece.  I don’t know how long I stood there staring at this painting, but I do know that I lost time and other patrons probably wondered who let the catatonic off his safety leash.  This painting felt like the perfect visual representation of what the most cathartic songs feel like for me.  Music that affects me, I see in color and this particular painting seemed to capture part of the diffusion of the cool deep blue that always seem to wash over me when listening to certain tracks on the long drive into oblivion.  The painting is called “Untitled Blue” and is by an artist named Susanne Stahli.  It’s less about the painting itself and more about the effect that art can have.  That something abstract can somehow resonate so deeply with you that it conveys emotions that don’t have names.  It’s about that moment that a song seizes you and won’t let go.  Makes you stop what you’re doing and just live in that accelerated moment of connection.  For me, I always seem to get a chill that traces my spine (I say “chill” even though it’s a warm feeling…I don’t know how else to describe it), so the original name of this project was “Blue Stahli Shiver” to be even more defining of that principle, but the extra word “shiver”, no one could remember and it made it too much of a mouthful, so it was dropped.  The sentiment remains, however.

FiXT: Wonderful. That is, of course, the essence of all good art: creating those transcendent moments in which things in your soul that words can’t express are given a voice. Given the vigor with which you seek to both experience and create such moments, I have no doubt that Blue Stahli will be an unstoppable force in the years to come. My hat is off to you, sir, for granting me your thoughts, and here’s to 2011!

Bret: To everyone out there supporting me and supporting the art that they dig, thank you. I am immensely grateful. This is for you.

Interview conducted by BrentonRyan

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