Q&A: Jorge Elbrecht On What Producers Really Do, What Ariel Pink Is Really Like, And How Mainstream Pop Has Reached A State Of Idiocracy

Kim Noorda

Q&A: Jorge Elbrecht On What Producers Really Do, What Ariel Pink Is Really Like, And How Mainstream Pop Has Reached A State Of Idiocracy

Kim Noorda

For the better part of the past dozen years, Jorge Elbrecht has had a hand in creating some of the most beautiful, forward-thinking, and occasionally abjectly weird music to infiltrate the world of contemporary indie rock. In the mid 2000s, Elbrecht first began releasing music with Lansing-Dreiden, a highly conceptual art and music collective (and Stereogum Band To Watch) that eventually produced three excellent albums of inscrutable pop music. After that project’s dissolution around 2006, Elbrecht slowly went on to establish himself as a producer and go-to collaborator, a process that Elbrecht himself describes as being somewhat accidental. In 2010, Elbrecht emerged with a new band, Violens, eventually releasing two excellent records (2010’s Amoral and 2012’s True) while further establishing his still-burgeoning aesthetic — a kind of hazy fever dream made up of references to dreamy, old-school new wave, shoegaze, and lo-fi gloom — his deft touch often resulting in music that sounds simultaneously futuristic and romantically retro. Though he seems to have happily operated in the shadows for much of his career, Elbrecht has slowly stepped into the spotlight. He has produced, collaborated, and toured extensively with Ariel Pink (the two also record together as Jorge Elbrose), explored his own version of metal with side project Coral Cross, and produced the excellent new records from No Joy and Tamaryn. He’s also just surprise-released an entire LP from a mysterious new project called DRYNX, which, according to the DRYNX Instagram account, comprises “12 songs produced and mixed in less than an hour.” For someone with such a knack for imbuing music with totally ephemeral vibes, Elbrecht himself is surprisingly no-nonsense in his approach. I sat down to chat with him about how he got started making music, and how he sees his role as both a producer and collaborator. While you’re reading the Q&A, you can listen to the opening track from Imperial Blastman, “My Lady’s Bongo,” and hear the rest of the record here.

STEREOGUM: Did you make music from an early age?

ELBRECHT: I had a 4-track when I was 15. I made boxes of tapes. I actually just found them again — boxes just filled with 90-minute cassettes with little song ideas and production experiments. I was always doing it. I started playing guitar when I was 11.

STEREOGUM: I had just moved to New York back when Lansing-Dreiden was starting to happen. That was the first I knew of you. It seemed so mysterious at the time. It was before you could just Google someone on your phone and instantly know everything about them.

ELBRECHT: I guess we had our first show in 2000 — our first gallery show, that is — and that would have been drawings and an animated music video. It’s funny, I just took two of the drawings from that show to the Mexican Summer office. The show was called Quiet Earth. We had these huge drawings, and I just took two of them to the office. They’re going to have them on view there. It’s pretty nice, because they’ve just been in storage forever.

STEREOGUM: Back then, were you the one doing most of the production stuff in terms of the music made by Lansing-Dreiden?

ELBRECHT: I was the default recordist of the group. In retrospect, it’s crazy that those records turned out the way they did. At the time, everyone involved was like, “Oh, this one little thing sucks,” or, “We should bring this volume up,” or whatever. It was because there were four people consulting over the same thing that ended up making that stuff sound like Lansing-Dreiden. It’s crazy. At the time, three of the four of us lived together right above Verb Café in Williamsburg. I’d play things for everyone and then they’d be like, “You have to redo all of this, it sucked.” I thought they sounded fine, but then I’d redo them and they’d be better. Just that sort of thing: them producing me, and then me producing them if they had to record something. It was a funny process.

STEREOGUM: So was getting more involved in the production side of things a natural progression for you?

ELBRECHT: Yeah. There was someone who was actually in one of the Lansing-Dreiden bands who wanted some help recording her stuff. I was helping her put an EP together, and then I got offered to record Sebastian Blanck’s stuff. He hired me, and then that’s how it started. I was paying for rent and expenses with producing and recording people.

STEREOGUM: Over the years, I’ve interviewed tons of producers, talked to tons of bands about producers, and I’ve learned that the role of the producer is so amorphous depending on the artist.

ELBRECHT: Totally amorphous.

STEREOGUM: Sometimes the producer is more of an engineer, and the band just does their thing, and the producer makes it sound good. Sometimes it’s super-collaborative, and sometimes you’re sort of like a drill sergeant, getting the band motivated and keeping them on task.

ELBRECHT: And there’s the documentarian approach, and then there’s the “become a temporary band member” approach. Then there’s the person who doesn’t even know how the equipment works but is there to just be like, “The vibe is wrong in this song, you guys. I don’t know what you need to do, but go fix it.”

STEREOGUM: Given that spectrum of roles, where do you feel like you usually fit in?

ELBRECHT: I always like being a chameleon in whatever thing I’m doing. It’s project-based. It seems silly to impose a role beforehand. If someone is hiring me to do something for them … If they need another songwriter involved in the thing, I can do that. If the songs are amazing and the performances are amazing, then I can be the documentarian and just be like, “Oh, you should use this mic for this thing,” or, “Do a series of stereo images for this thing,” or whatever. I feel like you have to adapt to fit the project. I’ll say the thing that I know the best is that I’ve been in bands my whole life, and there’s something about that group energy of coming up with something that I really love. I like being like a temporary band member. That’s how I’ve been with No Joy. I’ll play bass on a lot of stuff. They initially didn’t really have a recording bass player, so I ended up writing and playing a lot of the bass lines on the first record. [When I hooked up with them], I was on tour with Violens, and Keith [Abrahamsson, of Mexican Summer] called me about doing a No Joy EP or maybe a whole record. I listened to the stuff and really liked it. It was like, “Whoa, I would be in this band. I love all the stuff they love.” Then when I met them and they were like, “Just make the guitar super loud, make everything really brutal,” and I was like, “This is the coolest project to work on ever.” I’ve always been a real fan of aggressive music. That’s probably the most aggressive band that I’ve produced. I’ve wanted to mix and record metal bands forever, which I haven’t really been able to do too much yet. I’ve just been going where people ask me to do things, and I just do them if it makes sense for me, but I haven’t really chased out a metal label to work with yet. I would love to do it. It’s what I listen to all day, so it makes sense.

STEREOGUM: When you were a kid did you go to a lot of shows?


STEREOGUM: Not a lot of bands came to play in Florida?

ELBRECHT: No. It was horrible. I’m also the oldest in my family, and so I had no real older sibling or older cousin to give me records to listen to. I had a Michael Jackson 7″ when I was super young, but I never had records. That culture of crate digging and listening to old records just wasn’t around where I grew up. I always tell the story, I remember going to the video store on the island where I grew up, and telling the woman behind the desk, “Can you find me the hardest, heaviest stuff — like the fastest, hardest, most aggressive stuff that you have here?” She’s like, “Let me call my son.” Then she got on the phone with her son, who’s some dingus, and then she’s like, “Billy Idol.” She said Billy Idol, and I was like, “Cool, yeah. All right.” I like Billy Idol, but it wasn’t probably the hardest thing on earth at the time. I was looking for, like, Pantera. That’s what I wanted to hear. I grew up skateboarding to the Dead Milkmen, early Red Hot Chili Peppers stuff, Guns N’ Roses. A lot of hair metal, too, because I would get those metal magazines and just go through and buy stuff — buy a Stryper record or a Cinderella record. My upbringing was a lot of hair metal and then the whole grunge thing happened. That changed everything. I started listening more to Fugazi, then My Bloody Valentine, the Swirlies, stuff like that.

STEREOGUM: Do you have a whole slate of projects coming down the pipeline that you’re going to be working on, producing-wise or recording-wise?

ELBRECHT: To be honest, I’m going to be touring a lot with the Ariel Pink band. We’re going to be touring most of the year. I started working on a record with Jimi Hey. He’s been in a bunch of different bands, but he was in Ariel’s band for a while. He played drums on “Haunted Graffiti.” We kind of co-wrote a record, it’s more like his project but it doesn’t have a name yet. We did that for a couple of weeks here, and now we have to finish it, figure out a way to finish it. We might do that in L.A., we might do it in Costa Rica, where I’m from, where my family’s from. We’re just trying to figure that out.

STEREOGUM: That sounds cool.

ELBRECHT: Yeah. I’m psyched about Tamaryn’s record coming out, and also the No Joy record coming out this year. I think those records are great. I did them really close together and I think it made me want to take a break from production for just a little while. It’s like weaving a really detailed rug by hand; that’s how I approach those things. I did both the production and the mixing on those. I mixed half of the Tamaryn thing, and Chris Coady mixed the other half. Just a lot of attention to detail, and I just want to not do that for a while.

STEREOGUM: You have such a long and productive history working with Ariel Pink, someone who has quite a reputation for being either difficult or just sort of hard to pin down. What makes that such a good working relationship for you?

ELBRECHT: Ariel’s got a heart of gold. He’s a really good guy. It’s strange — he just doesn’t really care. It’s funny, maybe he is in a bad mood and someone asks him something and he says something nasty, but it’s just … if you know him, if you are his friend, it’s a different story.

STEREOGUM: It must be cool for you to be able to do a little bit of all these different things — to do the production work but then also play music, playing in someone’s band, being able to tour.

ELBRECHT: It’s a super-sweet situation that I’m in, especially with Ariel. Those guys went through years and years of touring and sleeping on floors and whatever, but now the tours are really comfortable and they’re super fun. I also really enjoy playing Ariel’s music, which I’ve loved for years and years. I loved his music for a decade before I ever joined the band. They were one of the few current-day bands that, every time something new would come out, I would be like, “Whoa, what’s he up to?” It’s cool to play those songs. Actually learning them makes you have more respect for his songcraft.

STEREOGUM: I’ve talked to other producers about this, but does doing this kind of work change the way you listen to music? When you hear records now, do you find there’s a part of your brain that’s thinking about, “Why did they make that choice?” or, “Why does it sound that way?” or are there certain things that are pet peeves in terms of the way so much contemporary music is made or recorded?

ELBRECHT: I don’t think that I have a lot of pet peeves. It’s more that I think mainstream pop music has reached this state of … Do you know the movie Idiocracy? It’s like that. It’s insulting. I think it’s just insulting to everybody’s intelligence and it’s just so weird. And it’s even weirder that everybody loves it and wants to buy it all the time, and put it in commercials … It just makes me want to fold up and retreat into my little dark cave. There was a point around 2000, 2002, where people started kind of ironically listening to pop music. You know that thing that happens when you start using a catchphrase that you actually hate? You know, you’re just joking around with your friends and then you start saying it all the time? I think that happened with people’s tastes. Suddenly what was previously a terrible joke, now everyone thinks is awesome or something. I don’t understand it. It’s not really the production choices in pop music that bother me, because when I listen to that stuff it actually sounds really good. A lot of the people that are employed to mix that music are super talented and have been doing it for so long, and know the frequency spectrum super well, and can make things sound huge. I just think the lyrical content is so fucking empty and I think it’s so redundant, and it’s been redundant for-fucking-ever. It’s just the same messages over and over again. I don’t know, I guess you could say similar things about other genres of music, even metal. I find that there’s a lot of really well-produced stuff out there now. I can get into the production more than the songwriting choices.

STEREOGUM: Do you have a preferred way of working, studio-wise? Is having the biggest, best studio always the best option?

ELBRECHT: I think the ideal scenario — like if I were to have my way to make a record — it would be having the right musicians play all the stuff together, with as much of it happening at the same time as possible, and just capture the performance. That way, if there’s a vocalist and then there’s a band, and the band kind of serves as the audience for the vocalist and everybody’s energized by each other’s presence, then you get that on tape and then you transfer that from tape to digital, and then you edit and mix from that — that’s kind of ideal, at least for me.

DRYNX’s Imperial Blastman is out now and you can get it here

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