Interview: Electric Mantis

In November of 2013, 21-year-old electronic composer Electric Mantis broke through with the viral success of his track “Flips and Flops, Drips and Drops” thanks to Reddit and a plug from Djemba Djemba. This is how you break through in the modern music industry; you don’t get discovered anymore so much as you catch fire. What happens next is even more exciting. Today, the Portland-based artist is trying to turn take the next step in his increasingly heat-seeking career. Moxipop sat down with him last week to get to know him. We talk a little background, a little process and a lot about what the ride is like.

Moxipop: So, the most interesting from your mini-Sound Cloud bio is that you went from Alaska to Portland.

Electric Mantis: Yes.

How did that happen? What brought you to Portland from Alaska?

I originally moved out of Anchorage, Alaska to Eugene, Oregon to go to school at University of Oregon. I was studying biology there, did that for a couple of years. It’s an awesome school, I met a lot of really cool people there. But I ended up just doing music a lot more, just sliding by my classes, focusing on music more than I was on homework. I decided to drop out of school and move to Portland which has a better music scene and just try out the whole music thing. I really didn’t have any following at that point, it was kind of like a random decision on my part.

Were you always into making music? Was that your hobby as a kid?

Yeah, so, I originally learned how to use GarageBand in 3rd or 4th grade through this program at my school. I started playing trumpet in jazz bands, then moved from trumpet to drum set, which I’ve been playing for 10 years now. Playing drums in jazz combos, latin bands, metal bands, everything. From there I started producing 4 years ago in GarageBand, again, and then 2 years ago I bought Reason, which is more of a professional music software. And in the last year I’ve really been focusing and buckling down and really really getting into the producing game.

So you didn’t have like a musical family or people encouraging you into it? You just fell into it and turned out to be really good at it?

Actually I do have a musical family. My mom’s side not so much, but my Dad, he was in this local band in Anchorage, Alaska. It was pretty locally popular, people would recognize him on the street. He has always pushed me into music. Not aggressively, just “hey we should get you some piano lessons, teach you the basics.” Very very supportive family. They supported me when I dropped out of school without any sort of following. They were wary of it, but, you know, “Hey we’ll support you.”

So when “Flips and Flops, Drips and Drops” blew up, what do you think about that song that people have been latching onto?

That’s something I’ve been asking myself constantly since that release. Initially, I released it and it was out for about a week with maybe 50 or 100 plays. It was totally unknown. It took off with that Reddit post that hit the front page, and from that people were like, “Oh this is really great.” But it’s so funny, this is the same music that I’ve been sending off to labels and sending off to big YouTube channels and they’ve been denying it. Now a lot of them want to host me or sign me, it’s very interesting seeing how popular music changes based on public perception, based on the numbers game.

Yeah, once they see that it’s a draw, that it can pull people in…

Exactly, it’s just really interesting to see. And “Flips and Flops” specifically, that was kind of a weird magical moment. Normally I put 70+ hours into my tracks, that one I did in a couple days and it fell together really nicely. I just think it’s pretty positive, pretty chill, and there’s a lot of driving bass that people really like. I don’t know. It’s got catchy little melodies, cool little sounds in there. Also the fact that I did a lot to stagger the drum beat and try to add some organic elements into it and have it sound a little more natural. So maybe that’s what people are latching onto.

Do you have this feeling like, “I’ve worked really hard on these other tracks, people should really like this song more,” or “This should be my main song.” Basically, do you already have that hit single anxiety or insecurity?

(laughs) A little bit. I don’t think I’ll be surpassing the amount of plays [Flips & Flops] got any time really soon. Down the road I hope to. All my old songs I think, “that sounds like crap, I could do a lot better than that now.” That’s actually with every single release, I feel that way about “Flips & Flops” now. I feel like I could produce a way better song than that. Hopefully the stuff I produce in the future would be in a similar vein as flips & flops definitely since that seems to be resonating with people, but I want to move past that and develop even further into my own sound.

Before that took off you were just trying to see what worked? Throwing things at the wall, seeing what stuck?

Yeah, I experimented with a bunch of different genres, from neuro drum’n’bass to really heavy dubstep to more moody, chill, beat music. I was experimenting around until I really found my sound, which is “Flips & Flops.”

Ever since that Reddit post, how has your career changed? Obviously you’ve been getting a lot of offers and contacts, but is there anything outside of that? Exactly what has changed in the attention you’ve been getting?

One of the biggest changes and positive things I’ve gotten out of all this is all the internet love. My fans are really awesome. I’ve shared music & been talking about music with a lot of them and met a lot of them in person. They’re some of the chillest, coolest, most positive people I’ve come across and i’m really happy I tapped into a demographic like that. It’s really awesome.
Also, one thing that’s changed which is amazing is getting support from other artists that I really like. Some of my favorite artists have been hitting me up on Twitter and Facebook and have been contacting me with potential collaborations and remixes and just talking shop about production. And that’s really cool. Like Djemba Djemba, Odesza, Kill Paris, a bunch of people. It just blows my mind that they’re even talking to me.

Have you met any of them in person yet?

Most of it has been online talk, a lot of guys are in Australia. But I have met with one of the TeamSupreme guys, he goes by King Henry. Early on, he came to Portland and I linked up with him and just picked his brain on the industry. He taught me a lot and guided me a lot of things I was confused about which was really cool.

Other producers I’ve talked to have been the chillest, coolest people ever, always talking about their production styles, always willing to give-up their secrets. It’s really cool.

In Vibe they called you “The Next Flume.” How do you feel about that label?

Really, I thought that was very flattering overall. It’s incredible they’re comparing me to Flume, Flume has been one of my inspirations from the get go. But I also wanted to pull away from that a little bit, just because I’m worried I’ll be relabeled as “The American Flume.” I want to do something original, try to pave my own way—

Have your own identity.

Exactly, I don’t want to just be in Flume’s wake. As much as I do respect him.

What other inspirations outside of Flume do you consider?

Really inspired by some of the weirder, creative producers like Cashmere Cat is making some insane, eccentric music right now. Mr. Carmack also, he’s part of the TeamSupreme crew. This Australian guy named Wave Racer who has been blowing up recently. Some of the most positive, energetic, but also catchy as hell music that I’ve heard. Haywire, he’s a dub step producer but probably one of the most talented producers that I’ve ever heard — ever. And I’ve scoured the internet for all sorts of music from all different genres. I really do pull inspiration from different genres and styles.

What pulled you into this genre and this community? Was it just starting with GarageBand, so you fell into this computer-based genre?

Initially I was in a lot of metal bands and rock bands and I got really sick of having to rely on other people and having bands break up because people were clashing. One of my bands broke up because two members started dating. I always just wanted to make music.

Social stuff kept getting in the way.

Right. I love and respect all the people I’ve been in bands with, no doubt, but I wanted to rely on myself through out that. I originally started out in dubstep and then I got this awesome room mate in college freshman year and he really got me into the chiller music. I went really heavy down that pathway and that influenced my music more and more until I’m making the music I am today, which is, like, chill trap, future beats kind of stuff. I feel like if I wasn’t rooming with that guy, I would be making completely different music.

So when you’re making a song, what drives your creativity? Your goals.

I always want to make something that is as catchy as possible while making it as weird as possible. I always start off with a piano, make a chord progression, enter that chord progression into software, and then, as I said, I try to get as catchy a sound that is as weird as possible. That entails making drums, scouring the internet for weird samples with vocals, drum sounds, random hits and blips and stuff. I really want to get into recording my own samples so I can get even weirder with it.

It’s interesting that you start off with piano, which is just the very traditional way to start songwriting. So it’s like you’re starting from this very traditional method and getting modern and weirder as you go along.

I think because a lot of my songs start on piano it gets to be more catchy. I can’t get too crazy with the chord progression, I feel like, but other people do and it sounds amazing. But for me, I just like having a simple chord progression with crazy stuff over the top of it.

What kind of things stand out to you when you’re looking for these weird samples?

First and foremost when I’m looking for samples, things that stand out are percussive things. I try to find weird percussive noises, and that’s why I want to get into recording my own samples, I’ve got a lot of ideas about implementing weird percussive things and finding things on the street and recording them in high quality. On top of that, I feel like it’s possible to work with any kind of sample. You can make it whatever you want.

What’s the weirdest sample you’ve used so far?

I recorded my cat purring.

Your cat purring?

Yeah. I warped the signal and made a bass out of it. But it doesn’t sound like a cat purring at all. It’s on a song I’m working on right now, it hasn’t released yet.

When it comes out I’m going to listen to every sound and imagine as if it’s a cat.

(laughs) Yeah, it’s kind of hard to recognize though.

So what are your future plans? You’ve got this momentum behind you, what are your ideas to capitalize on it?

Really right now I want to get on the live gig circuit and play some concerts. I think that’s what my family really wants. I get messages from people all the time asking when I’m playing shows in their area and I really want to get on that. Also, I want to link up with as many artists as I can in the studio and start working on the collaboration process.

What kind of artists do you want to link up with? I know we talked about people that inspire you, is it just them? Like, Hudson Mohawke works with a lot of rappers, is that something you want to do or do you just want to work with other producers and beat makers?

I definitely think it would be awesome to get in the studio with some beat makers, but most of all I want to start collaborating with vocalists.

What kind of vocalists are you interested in?

Honestly just really good female vocalists. That’s what I really want to get into. It would be so awesome to work with any pop artist in the industry now. I would kill to get into the studio with Gwen Stefani or something. That would be awesome.

She just had a baby, like, today.

I saw that!

Maybe If she tries to get back into her career this would be the time to do it.

Justin Pansacola is a writer living in Los Angeles. At the University of California, Riverside he received his degree in Creative Writing, not English, although he has resigned to the fact that no one cares about the difference. You can follow him on Twitter @wordcore. On some nights he looks up at the moon and wonders if you’re looking at the same moon, too.

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