In this, our first MP3-Closeup we interview a D.C. based electronica musician whose projects go by the name of Thin. Thin uses a unique blend of jazz and electronica in his compositions creating a techno style with a distinctly American flavor. The drum tracks and beats are inventive and the production quality (especially of his most recent recordings) is excellent.
You can check out some Thin tracks and hear what he says about artist driven MP3s on the net, electronica in America and his new BeatBot music search engine in a multimedia Interview. You'll need a G2 player, and a P-II or better is recommended. If you can't do that read the transcript. Mike Curtis, the man behind Thin, is a great example of some of the talented new artists who are creating a following without a major label recording contract.
and Composer Thin
CB: How did you get started with this whole electronic music thing?
Thin: My entire life, I mean, my father is a jazz guitarist and a musician himself. And so ever since I was a child, you know, Ive been playing classical and jazz music and he was teaching me how to play the guitar before I knew how to ride a bike. So, I mean, pretty much the entire time I was growing up I got into that.
When I moved to Virginia is when I met a friend of mine and we went to party one night where some folks were doing some experimental noise work. Like, you know, holding guitars up to amplifiers to get feedback and doing strange things like that. And this friend of mine and I were just inspired. And so we got together a few days later and tried it out on our own-had a blast. And we started making electronic music.
CB: I can really tell the jazz influences. You know, thats one thing I was talking about moments before calling you. I can hear Miles in there.
Thin: Yeah, actually there is Miles in one of them! I have very recently, in fact, started expanding on that. Started listening to funky Porcini and Amon Tobin a lot. As well as the traditional jazz records; you know, Miles and Coltrane. It sort of comes together and its really fun to work that stuff. To have that sort of lighter feel, like the jazz feel, going behind your tracks. Ive been getting into it a lot.
CB: I really like your explanation of yourself -Guy in a room with equipment.
Thin: Yeah, it is a little minimal, isn't it. Lets see
I actually have an unbelievably good setup right now. I just had a guy move in with me who is also an electronic musician. And he had, you know, this huge pile of stuff. So we chained it all together and you can barely sit down in my living room at this point.
But, what I use, personally, of course I use the Macintosh. All the way. And a Kurzweil K2000, Korg Prophecy, a BOSS DR-660 Drum Machine-but I dont really use it for the drums, I only use it as a controller. And, a Digital Performer running on the Mac.
CB: I myself am a PC user
Thin: Yeah, I know. Lets not have the PC-Mac battle. My roommate has a PC, that controls all of his stuff.
CB: Wow! And you guys can, like, you know, get along together and everything.
Thin: Yeah, weve got the back and forth. I mean, his sound programs on that thing are just unbelievable. And, actually theres a lot more stuff available for the PC, then there is for the Mac. But, Im a Mac user. I cant help it!
CB: Well, I think it depends. If youre a PC user, there are things that you want to use that are only available on the Mac, and vice versa.
Thin: Yeah, absolutely. Thats kind of the way it works. But ever since he moved in I have, another sampler, three more keyboards, couple extra mixers, effects box and his computer with all of his effects. And weve got is all strung together. Its really kind of a dream setup. Hes been living with me for a couple of months now. I actually did send you a couple of tracks that he and I have done together.
CB: Yeah, really-I really like that one. I mean that was the one in particular that I could really hear a lot of jazz influence on. Moody Hat. I like that a lot. Now, how do you guys
do you have them networked together-all your machines?
Thin: Well, actually what were working on right now, were going to run a web site. I run a small electronic music search engine right now. Were going to expand on that a little further when we get all our stuff together, and run a network between the two. The way it works right now, basically, is we have a very rudimentary connection between the two machines. So I can copy files over to his and he can copy them to mine. But its not as sophisticated as wed like it to be.
CB: Yeah, thats really difficult. Were doing that ourselves with an iMac, and trying to those networked together. Yikes!
Thin: Yeah, it can be a real pain, I mean our living room is a nest of wires, but fortunately being that we both work in the Internet technology industry, it becomes a little easier, you know. We both have tech jobs outside of music.
CB: That is helpful-How do you feel about the replication that you get when you make an MP3?
Thin: You know, I think that MP3s are a really cool thing. First of all, I think they sound great. They may not be CD quality, but theyre so close, and what they do to the sound is not really detrimental in my opinion. I like MP3s a lot. I think that the whole concept is a really cool thing. The way to easily trade audio across the Internet, and through the network. I think its a great idea.
It makes me laugh when I see the record companies freaking out about it, because people are illegally copying CDs that they should be making money off of. I think that this is the way that it should be, you know. It shouldnt really be a money market. It should be about exchanging-exchanging music, you know, and exchanging ideas with other people. I think that MP3s are really making that possible.
CB: Absolutely. I mean isnt that what weve all been told about the Internet, in particular, that its a way to exchange ideas. What better way than MP3s-or music or art.
Thin: Yeah, absolutely. I think that the record industries have been controlling what people listen to, you know, on the radio, or in the record stores, or whatever for a really long time. And I really like being able to go out on the Internet, download some MP3s of some guy who doesnt have a record label, doesnt have any CDs available in the stores, but I can still hear his music, and I can still give him feedback on it. I think that thats just great.
CB: Well this leads me up to another question. I like techno
to work by, and just to live by. I think that a lot of people are downloading those. Do you think that the U.S. is starting to catch on with Europe in this-other than just using it in ads?
Thin: You know its funny the U.S. works with that. I mean if you go over to London, its pop music. You hear it on the radio, you know, like, uh electronic music. But if you come over to the U.S. its like we cant make that kind of a transition. So what seems to be happening instead is that its becoming a hybrid between rock and electronic music. I mean, you flip on the radio right now, and youre going to hear some, you know, pop song with somebody scratching a record in the background, or a technoy kind of beat. Its kind of interesting the way its been kind of melding together. Over in the U.K. and in Europe, it seems to have become, you know, just mainstream music, listening to electronic stuff on the radio. I dont know if youve heard of Photek but hes practically like a superstar over there, from making drums n bass tracks. Yeah, I dont think were going to see anything like that in the U.S. anytime soon. I think that its going to be more of a blending process.
Over the past few years Ive been all over the place, as far as music goes. I mean, Ive mixed jungle tracks, I mixed some break-beat tracks, Ive made some trance tracks, but I havent actually released any of them. So I didnt really think that any one category would really make sense. Electronic seems to be sort of a label that was made for all music electronic. So I put it in that section. However, I just realized a couple of days ago that you can take all of your songs that are on MP3.com and split them out into different genres, like, where you think it belongs. So Ive been, kind of diverting the songs, so that the drums n bass ones go into drums n bass section, and the break-beat ones go into the break-beat section and the ambient ones go into the ambient section. Although classification is sort of impossible for this kind of music, it works out alright.
CB: How do you find the folks at MP3.com?
Thin: Um, well, I mean have I ever talked to anybody from MP3.com on the phone? -No. Do I need to? No. Is that a good thing? Absolutely!
I think that they run a really tight ship. Their web site is very solid and they treat musicians really well. I mean the fact that people can order your CDs off of MP3.com, and theyll take care of it. Theyll make the CD and theyll send it out or whatever. And they still give you fifty percent of the profit. Well thats better than any record company that Ive ever heard of.
CB: Well, thats really true. Just watch Behind the Music sometime
Thin: Yeah, I mean record labels will give you like a nickel a CD or something, and when the burn you all of your, or make you all of your CDs that are for sale in stores, thats considered a loan that you have to pay back with record sales.
CB: Unbelievable, isnt it?
Its not a very cool thing, you know?
you talked about a web site that youre putting together. Why dont you tell me a little bit about that and where can people find it, and when do you think itll be up?
Thin: Well, lets see. I currently have two up and running. I have the site just for my music which is:
http://mail.odsnet.com/thin/ which is just my Thin site. Its got all my tracks in RealAudio, its got some MP3 clips and, you know, you can go there and check it out. Its got, you know, some statistics and other stuff on it.
And the other one is a search engine. Its actually around the time at work where I had to start writing cgis and handling databases. I figured, well, hey, Ill make an electronic (music) search engine to learn how to do this stuff. Its called Beatbot. And soon its going to be at: http://www.beatbot.com/ but I dont have it set up. Right now its at: http://mail.odsnet.com/beatbot/ [ed. since this interview, http://www.beatbot.com is up and running at its permenent home] and its actually very cool. A bunch of people check it out every day. Ive only got, I dont know, a hundred and fifty people in there, but some really good links, some really cool musicians and some really neat resources. If Im looking for software, or something, I go into my resources section, and I usually find it. Its actually-its pretty amazing.
CB: Lets talk a little bit more about your cuts-off the CDs that you have. I really like Third Floor Parking Lot.
Thin: The reason its named Third Floor Parking Lot is because just about the entire time I was making it I was in a studio in this particular room in my house that looks out over a parking lot and I live on the third floor-I would have to say that my environment does affect what I do a lot. At the time I made that particular track I had just moved in this girl-still feeling a little nervous about it, you know, and when I was putting together that track, I think that it was kind of like a way to
kind of like a way of smoothing things over. Kind of settling in, you know what I mean. Its got a very, kind of an even flow to it. And I think that thats what was going on in my head when I was writing that. I mean-not to say that I was actually thinking that at the time, because I never go into writing a song, or creating a track thinking, well, this is how Im feeling now and this track is going to be a reflection on that. Its usually just however I feel, and whatever direction I want to take, thats what I do at that time. But in hindsight, I think that thats kind of what it was about. So yeah, I say the environment does indeed affect what I do a lot.
CB: Well now, youre in (Washington) D.C., is that correct? What are the hip clubs to go to in D.C., to hear your tunes or other people that you like? Wheres the place you go to hang out?
Thin: Um, I dont know. Ive been played at a few clubs in D.C. The infamous Buzz, which just got shut down by Fox-5 News. Theres a place called the Edge. A place called
Tracks. Ive been played at Tracks. Those are the larger clubs in D.C. Buzz was really the huge one. Used to be, I dont know, maybe two thousand kids, every week, would go out to Buzz and listen to music, for, you know, all night. Huge party.
CB: They had to stop that-you know the kids all getting together somewhere, having fun.
Thin: It was pretty crazy. Fox-5 News, which is sort of the D.C. news station went in there on a special, you know, like secret mission or whatever they want to call it-investigative report-found all these people using drugs and shut it down. You know, its too bad. I think theyll open it up again, eventually, because I think thats too bad. I mean theres no way that Fox-5 News shutting down a club is going to keep kids from doing drugs, its just their way of saying Yeah, we find out the big issues going on, you know what I mean?
Thin: I think its too bad about Buzz actually. I always had fun when I went.
CB: What have you learned about yourself, about your music, about production since your first CD, which is the Third Day?
Thin: Oh man
the Third Day -all the cuts on that track are about, two and a half or three years old, and things are changed so much since then its impossible to even say all of it. I mean, Ive learned a lot about the equipment that I use. Ive gotten new equipment that Im still learning about.
But mainly, I think the most important thing that Ive managed to figure out in that time period is how to not overwork something. And spend months agonizing over one track and one bit of one track-in that time just losing track of what I was trying to do in the first place.
The way I do it now, I really wont spend more than, like, two or three days on a song. At least-sometimes Ill come back to one later on, sometimes Ill just let it go. But usually what Im trying to do now, and really over the past few months is just write the track. Get it out in, like, two days, three days, something like that. And just call it done. And work on the next project, you know what I mean? That way, its like that feeling, or that drive that you have going at the time is just out and down and done. And you can go and work on your new expression, or whatever.
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