Saint Pepsi – WNUR Streetbeat Interview

Meet the young New York producer, Saint Pepsi, who has been making “waves” with his funky synth-filled dance tracks. He plays tonight 6/27/2014 at the Empty Bottle with Painted Palms. Doors open at 9:00pm.

Where are you from?

Long Island, NY.

When are how did you get started with music?

I started playing piano when I was pretty young. I never took lessons or anything like that, but around middle school I started writing songs, and so I was learning piano and guitar just to make my own music. I didn’t really start doing electronic stuff until junior or senior year of high school, though, when I heard Toro Y Moi for the first time and it changed my whole outlook on producing music. I’ve been doing electronic music stuff for like three, four years now, but Saint Pepsi is only like a year old project.

So did you continue your studies after high school?

I went to Boston College for two years, and then I peace-d out. I was doing political science there and it totally wasn’t the vibe I was going for. So once I started really getting into producing my own music, I sort of just put everything else to the side. For lack of a better way to phrase it, I had no other choice but to drop out.

You were in a project before called the Cold Napoleons. Could you tell me a bit more about that?

Yeah, sure! I started the Cold Napoleons like sophomore year of high school. It was like my first project ever, I guess. I started it as an extra credit project for my AP History class, and it just sort of evolved into me making real music for the first time. Then in college, I put together this album in college called Adversary that—it’s nothing special really—was I kind of made just as an exercise. I was writing a bunch of angsty songs about my ex-girlfriend and trying to do a little bit of James Blake here, and a little bit of Toro Y Moi there. It was good for me because it was my first real project and I learned a lot about producing, but it was kind of shit. It was just me—kind of my first real production output. Then I did like a remix of Call Me Maybe that I did as Saint Pepsi.

And that’s when things really started to pop off.

Yeap.

What was the prompt for the history project?

Well I did pretty well in high school, but I always kind of had to bullshit my way through classes. If I wanted a good grade, I would kind of just persuade the teacher to let me do a project the way I wanted. So I was writing an album called, Mao That’s What I Call Music, about the life of Mao ZeDong. I actually did like four or five songs and handed that in as my final extra credit project, and my teacher was like, “Are you shitting me?” And I like fully orchestrated it and everything. I was going really balls to the wall in making it a really big project. I never actually finished it but some of the demos are online. It was fun, you know. I sort of like attaching myself to weird concepts and riding them out for as long as I can. That’s sort of how Saint Pepsi started too. My way of being successful in high school was always like, “How can I do something a little different?”—something that would keep me doing music and interested, but also showing the teacher that I was paying attention in class and still following the project guidelines. Generally, in school, they were pretty cool with that and it was cool because I was encouraged to do shit like that.

That’s awesome! By the way, I love that track, Mr. Wonderful, from Gin City. It samples Wonderful by Arethra Franklin, which is a really cool choice for an electronic track to sample. Besides Arethra, who are some of your other musical influences in high school and after?

My first favorite bands were all a bunch of Nu-Wave groups like Duran Duran, New Order, and Tears for Fears—stuff like that. When I got to high school, I started paying more attention to music and reading Pitchfork a lot. I was into more dance-y stuff. Like I said before, I was into Toro Y Moi, Delorean, Washed Out, and a bunch of acts that played into the 80’s synth kind of vibe, but not in a way that was trying to be kitschy or ironic. These artists’ sounds were built out of a real love for that type of music. I just thought that was refreshing because, at the time, a lot of people were just doing stuff ironically.

Recently, I guess I got into a little bit more experimental stuff in college as will generally happen. I like Oneohtrix Point Never a lot, who influenced the early Saint Pepsi project.

What do you use when you’re performing?

My live setup right now is just me running Ableton through an MPD 32. I got a bunch of the stems from my tracks cut up and I essentially do like a level 2 DJ set. The new album I’m working on is a lot less sample-oriented and has more live instruments, so I’m working on putting a band together to tour after I release that album. That’ll be pretty cool. I’m hoping to have a couple shows by the early fall.

But during my shows, it’s sort of like that Daft Punk Alive 2007 record where they mash up a bunch of their old songs with the new songs. One of my big things is mashing up pop music with my own tracks. I do one with an Ariana Grande song and another one with a Drake song, so I’m kind of all over the place because I think it helps my sets. People who aren’t super familiar with my music can still get down to it. I can make new fans out of people who don’t even have to be that into my type of music.

Speaking of “that type of music”, some blogs and listeners label your music as vaporwave. What are your thoughts on that?

I don’t know. I guess I don’t personally have problems with the term vaporwave, but I get why people get pissed off. I’m just kind of like laidback about it. I don’t use it myself but I don’t really care if other people do. I used to make a lot more music that was classified as vaporwave—I would slow down certain sections of old music and loop them to a point where it’s sort of hypnotic, almost ambient, but still with a groove to it. Now I’m doing something a lot more based on traditional pop music and house music. Some people still like to attach the word vaporwave to Gin City, when Gin City is very influenced by footwork and that kind of vibe. Then people get pissed off and they’re like, “Saint Pepsi isn’t vaporwave!” But I’m not calling myself vaporwave, you know. A tag can only bring you so far in picturing what somebody’s music is like. Sometimes you just gotta listen to it, and decide for yourself.

Yeah! I noticed you really stepped outside of your comfort zone with Gin City and came out with some really dope, tracks.

Thanks! It was really fun. I did those tracks in sort of a racing against the clock mindset where I was working up until the last minute. The deadline I had was pretty strict because I needed to finish the tracks before SXSW, but I was like, “All right. Let’s see what I can do.”

I actually first heard about you from your release party for Gin City hosted by SPF420. Are you good friends with Chaz Allen, the co-founder of SPF420?

Yeah! I’m actually going to be staying with Chaz in Chicago. We got a lot of music to work on. I’ve done a lot of stuff with him. We’ve got some music in the pipelines. He does the Sugar C project and I produce for that. He’s also done Metallic Ghost remixes of my music and I’ve done remixes for him. He’s the man.

How did you guys meet?

We first met January 2013. I was putting out a tape called Empire Building and Chaz heard a couple tracks from it and he messaged me on Soundcloud (I was still Vaporwave at the time), and he was like, “You’re one of the only vaporwave artists that’s still doing something new and I really like it.” So we just started talking from there and we just kind of hit it off. We both have a really playful approach to making music where we don’t like to take it too seriously, and sometimes we just start by making a caricature of like an EDM song or something like that. There are just no boundaries when it comes to Chaz and that’s really inspiring about him. He just takes everything in, and everything he puts out is super unique.

It seems like Soundcloud is the way to make connects these days!

That’s how everyone builds is on Soundcloud. It’s new, it’s efficient, it’s dope. I love net discovery.

The SPF420 website lists you as a contributor. What do you do for them?

I’m really close with Liz and Chaz so I try and help put together the shows. I don’t do too much other than try and get artists interested. I’m sort of like an ambassador, I guess, and I help teach them how to use SoundFlower, which is the program we go through to broadcast our Tinychat. That’s my little job in SPF, but I’ve also played it like half a dozen times.

What’s SoundFlower?

It’s just like Round 2. If you’re using Ableton Live, you can just route it to SoundFlower and it’ll pick up the signal as an input on your Tinychat, and that’s how we get it to work.

Awesome. What have you got planned within this next year?

I’m putting a single out this summer, and an album in the fall. Those are going to be two pretty cool things. I’m singing, which is a little bit of a style change for the time being. Then, by the end of the year, I’m hoping to go on tour again, bring the band, and rock some places! I’m so stoked. This is like my first tour. I toured with Jessy Lanza in May for like four dates, but I’ve been on the road with Painted Palms since last Tuesday, and our last show is on Friday, so I’ve just been to a bunch of places, and driven a lot of miles, and it’s like the life. This is what I want to do for a super long time. From here to infinity.

Peep his most recent EP, Gin City.