The DJ/producer Milkman performed at the Fillmore in Silver Spring last Thursday and gave CUFF the opportunity to sit down and pick his brain before the show. We discussed everything from his evolution as an artist, his thoughts on moombahton, to how the East Coast EDM scene compares to the West Coast’s, and more. We even asked about his hair.
You began your music career as a guitarist. Which artists influenced you the most?
When I first started playing guitar it was basically a lot of the guitarists my dad was listening to, so obviously a lot of Jimi Hendrix, Clapton, Vai, you know, those kinds of guys. I tried to develop my style around the people who were serious and technical. Then I got into punk rock and the emo scene, which is what I played with my band and was taken with for a few years. We used to play with Saosin, who had an amazing guitarist; a really cool guy. I just kind of fell in love with his style and oriented my own to how he was writing his riffs. At the time, most people were doing open D tuning, which is basically just a bunch of power chords with maybe another guitarist adding harmonics on that. What Saosin’s guitarist would do is similar to Hendrix in that the main riffs were solos. So the bassist would be doing a standard four or five note progression and the actual guitar on top of it was like a solo the entire time. It was really melodic, really cool, and it was totally different but at the same time it had that hardcore emo-punk-rock sound to it that I was really into.
Now that you aren’t playing guitar, what about electronic music acts that influence you?
I started making mashups after my dad took me to see Gnarls Barkley at one of the Indian casinos in San Diego. In the middle of the set Danger Mouse broke down into his Grey Album stuff and I was like, “Holy shit, this is so cool.” I got to college, listened to more of it and looked at more of these glitch pop remix artists. I didn’t really think too much about it when I started making mashups. I was a computer nerd and computer science major. With the ADD music and computer mixed together I was like, “This is perfect” and I wanted to mess around with it. That’s how I started with the mashup stuff.
That was actually my next question, how you started making mashups, so go on!
I was just having fun in my free time. I gave a few songs to my friends for them to check out, and they ended up sending them to their friends. Facebook started getting really big, and in a month my album was getting a lot of downloads.
So you just wrote good music and it was good timing?
Yeah I mean, not to toot my own horn, but it’s really nothing. I wasn’t trying to become a mashup producer. It was just a side project that turned into this.
How did you to move away from just DJing and producing mashups to making more original works?
I love doing mashups, don’t get me wrong, and people always want to hear clashing genres. The problem with the mashup was that I wasn’t able to make any music and I really wanted to make some of my own songs again. The whole mashup scene got saturated, and when it comes down to it, there’s a limit of how many great, classic old songs you can sample and put lyrics over. Everyone was just taking acapella and putting it on a track. I wasn’t getting any enjoyment out of it like I was with the electronic music. I always tell people I’m not done with the mashup or anything like that. I’m still doing my shows and I’m still making them. It’s just right now I’m having more fun with the electro stuff. “Breaking Free” was the first thing I made, which I made with my friend Cameron. My stuff’s always changing, and I’m sure in a couple years I’ll be doing, I don’t know, maybe an electro full band.
It’s coming, I can tell you that, a full electronic music band is the next thing. Moving onto my next question: Successfully jumping from a mashup artist to a producer is hard, but I think your Fragments EP proved you’re a true musician and not just a DJ. Was it more challenging finishing a dance EP than an EP for your former indie rock band, A Dead Giveaway?
The great thing about being in a band is that you get that collaboration. Like, I’ll come up with some type of riff, the bassist will have his input, the singer will come up with something, and then we’ll all be like, “Oh, well we need to change this a bit with the singer.” In that sense, it’s easier to make an EP with a collaboration because four brains are better than one. I’m kind of a control freak also though. I would say things like, “No, we’re not doing that, we’re sticking with this.”
Usually with bands you need to have one control freak.
Yeah that was me. If I wrote something and I liked it better than what someone else wrote, usually I’d say, “No, trust me, this is the way. We’re going to go with it.”
How long did it take for you to complete the Fragments EP?
It was from mid-November to the end of January, we didn’t have any shows. I had just finished getting my studio built in my apartment. I didn’t really know if I was going to do an EP or an album. I didn’t even know if I was going to release anything, I just kind of wanted to get in there and start messing around. I came up with those four songs and released them on the EP, giving people a little introduction to my original stuff
Your bio labels you as a Hip-Hop/Dance/Rock music producer, but narrowing down the dance genre, I’d say you lean more towards electro house in the Fragments EP. Is there another style of dance music that you drew inspiration from? What were some of your other inspirations, like other artists you were listening to at the time?
I was all over the place. I going to a lot of concerts, a lot of festivals, just kind of seeing what everyone was doing and kind of taking a lot of influence from them.
What were the performances you went to?
I played the LA New Year’s Eve party, Together as One, with Dada Life and I got really into them. There’s a lot of Dada Life influence in my stuff. They’re really cool guys. We had a four-hour ride with them and the entire time we were talking and they were giving me tips.
Yeah they’re really friendly when it comes to sharing production tips. They released the Sausage Fattener and afterwards everyone started using it, which is cool, because it’s a great sound.
Yeah, the Sausage Fattener was cool, where everyone was like “RRRRRRR”. Now that sound is getting a little saturated. You can kind of hear Dada Life stepping away from with “Rolling T-Shirt.” Lately I’ve been getting into a lot of Nicky Romero, and I’m a huge Wolfgang guy. I love Wolfgang Gartner; he’s one of my favorite music producers of all time. I listened to his Weekend in America album a lot.
So no Skrillex inspirations?
Well yeah, definitely. That sound has just really taken off. It’s a fun sound to play with. I used it obviously in “Powers Like Kenny,” and in my “Call Me Maybe” remix I did some of the vowel formant filters. But that sound caught on so quickly and everyone is doing it. Once you realize that everyone is doing something you try to get onto the next sound. I was just telling someone, “Dude, my Fragments EP is so outdated.” I don’t like any of the sounds on it since it’s such a quickly evolving genre. I’ve got some cool new stuff I’m working on that’s going to be released in a couple months that I hope will do well. It’s got kind of a new way of doing electro stuff.
That was actually my next question. I was going to ask what your plans are for a future EP or album, and if there are any vocalists that you might want to work with, or any other producers?
Maybe some producers, but right now nothing like that. We’re in the works with a few artists, but I can’t say anything because it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t know if I’ll do an EP or an album, but we’ll see. I’m very particular about what I release. I’ll probably end up having like 15 songs and choosing 5-10. I’ve always said I don’t like being restricted by any genre. I’m just going to go into my studio and at the end of the day I’m going to make whatever I want to make. You’ll see all sorts of stuff on the album, from moombahton stuff to even like some Dutch stuff. We’ll have to see, I’ve only worked on the skeleton of a few songs.
Funny you mention moombahton, because that’s what I wanted to talk about next. This has been perfect so far.
I like moombahton. I like to mess around with the moombahton BPM (beats per minute) more so than moombahton itself. Don’t get me wrong, I love Dillon Francis, Diplo, they do a lot of fun, moombahton stuff. For me, I kind of like taking the electro house stuff and bringing it down to 115. Skrillex’s “Bangarang” translated it really well to the dubstep tempo, and that’s kind of what I’m into. I have a moombahton song called “Computer Whizz.” That’s a fun one. It’s not released yet, but that song will probably come out soon. I think moombahton is a great genre, I think it’s really taking off quickly. I think that’s going to be the next tempo, that drives festivals like EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival).
There’s a monthly party in San Diego called Bajaton, have you ever been?
I’m from San Diego, but no. I would love to check it out. What is it?
It’s a monthly moombahton party. Here, in DC, we have a monthly party called Moombahton Massive. Dave Nada plays it all the time under Nadastrom and we get a bunch of different moombahton artists to play the event. It’s awesome, people always go nuts.
So moombahton is really big in this area?
Yeah, it’s really really big here. (It’s…massive.)
It’s still catching on in Los Angeles, which is weird because both Dillon Francis and Skrillex are from LA, so you’d think it’d be bigger there. It hasn’t really hit the club scene yet. The tour network has some moombahton shows, but for the most part there hasn’t been much of a presence.
It’s definitely getting bigger. Bajaton just started this year, Moombahton Massive started about a year ago. Miami has their own party, and I think New York has one too.
I think the next step for moombahton, which is what I want to do on this next album with a couple tracks, is take a “Levels” type sound, fun, progressive house stuff, and apply it to the moombahton tempo. Moombahton is usually hard and intense, but moombahton drops would be really cool if they were more melodic. I haven’t messed with it yet, but that’s the idea.
Is this your first time touring on the East Coast?
No, we’ve been doing the East Coast since 2008. This is our first time doing multiple dates that we’ve put on ourselves. Usually someone is having some event or concert and we get put on the bill for that, but this is the first time we’re actually putting it on. We picked the openers; we set up the tour ourselves. It’s our first time doing that on the East Coast.
Well that’s a big deal, so congratulations!
Thanks. Yeah, it’s new for us because usually you just show up and it’s, “Oh, here’s your table, you’ll have sound check it at this time, and then you play.” Now it’s, “Well, shit we have to do this.” It’s fun though.
How would you compare the electronic music scene in the West Coast to the East Coast scene, or do you not see a difference
Not so much anymore. I went to UCSB, and I think we were really progressive with the electro stuff, but maybe it was my group of friends and the kind of parties I was going to. We were getting into the electro stuff in 2008, 2009. Whenever I came out to play East Coast colleges I would try to mix in the electro stuff, but it didn’t go over nearly as well as when I’d play my hip hop mashups. The East Coast colleges actually seemed a little bit behind. But I know the East Coast has been a huge place for electro. I think it was just the areas we were playing. We also played a lot of Southern schools that I think kind of influenced my opinion. Every time we were on the West Coast it was a lot more electro-oriented and it seemed, at least from my own sets perspective, it took a little longer on the East Coast to be able to incorporate the harder stuff. Now my sets are pretty much electro.
Interesting. Last question. It’s about your hair. Your hair is fantastic and I am wondering how you maintain it.
No matter what I do, I can shave it and a week later it’ll start doing the little curls. I grew it out like a year and a half and it stayed the exact same. It just grows like that.
You don’t do anything to it?
Other than my weekly perm? No, I don’t have a perm, ha. It’s just my mudblood. It’s funny because no one else in my family has hair like this. I used to have perfectly straight black hair when I was younger and then it somehow turned into this. It just kinda became my thing. The Milkman thing. The Milkman fro.
Big thank you to Greg + Tommy!