I had a chance to catch up with San Francisco-based, multi-talented, electronic musician Travis Miller while he was out on the East Coast before heading to Amsterdam for a semester at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. He offered up some insight into his work, influences and upcoming EP.
I guess to start from the beginning, how did you get into making music? Tell me about some of the really early stuff you worked on, what you’re up to now, that kind of thing.
I’ve been making music forever. I used to be super-into punk, and in like eighth, ninth and tenth grade I was in a ska band. I started making beats my first year of college; I was 18 and my friend… I used to not be down with electronic music at all, I used to fucking hate it…and then I moved to San Francisco, I went to SF state for a year, lived in an apartment with some buddies who were all getting into, like, Justice, and all that electro, Ed Banger shit, and slowly I started getting into it. Justice and then started getting into Crystal Castles, and I had always been into hip hop that I just like separate from the whole electronic thing, and then they kind of fused later on, but yeah I was really into Big L and Wu Tang. I was into hip hop and punk at the same time, then started hearing more instrumental shit, started listening to J Dilla, I’ve always listened to Madlib, but then I started really listening to Madlib, that was still in high school. So yeah, first year of college I started getting into the all that electronic stuff, rave shit, and started to finally appreciate it and accept that it’s what’s going on. My friends were fucking around with Ableton and Reason, and then I started fucking around with Ableton and I just got addicted, I was making the weirdest shit. This was like less than three years ago. Like a year later I started kind of being able to finish something, it was maybe four months into the Ableton learning process that I’d be like, “Yo, check this out, check out this beat.” Fast forward to the next year, I transferred from SF State to the San Francisco Art Institute to study Design and Technology, where I met my friend D33J, well I had met him before through my buddy Max, but he goes to SFAI, and then through him I met Mark Aubert.
They make you live in the dorm your first year, I also met this dude Mark Roberts, who makes the craziest music, so we started making some shit, I’ve got something on my Soundcloud that we made, and yeah, I just fucked around a lot in my dorm. By the end of that year I’d made like two songs that I liked, I work on music everyday, but I was still finding shit out. Then the summer after that, last summer, I had enough time to keep working music and made some weirder shit. I go in between phases of like, “Yeah, I’m only going to use synthesizers right now,” and then I’ll get super into Mark [Aubert]’s shit or something and think, “Oh I have to start sampling more.” So I made a couple things last summer that I was really down with, stuff that I would still put on the internet or play live. Moving on to this past year, I made a bunch of stuff during the first semester of school, and then in the winter I was planning on releasing an EP…
I heard the mix, the winter mix. It’s dope.
Thanks man, yeah that EP just turned into the winter mix. So I’m going to be releasing my first EP, probably by the end of the month, I’m getting it mastered right now.
What are some of your influences sonically? Other music or whatever, just in general.
I mean, I hear a lot of shit. I record so much stuff on my iPhone, so much stuff. In terms of other music, my dad had me listening to tons of, like he’s got 4,000 CDs in his collection, all rock and jazz. He would bring me to all these shows. There was a place in Culver City, the Jazz Bakery, I’ve seen so many people there. And I mean, both sonically it influenced me, but also the challenge influences me, the thought of my dad going “this needs more changes.” I guess my main influences though are my peers, I got my boys down in LA doing the rave shit, and I’ve got all my beat scene people up north [in SF], and it’s kind of nice making dancier music now, what I consider dancier music, so I can kind of fuse with both crowds now.
In what ways has your work been influenced by the tools you’re using?
The more I learn about the different programs the more I realize I need to be incorporating into the music. It can be minimal, but it’s got to be good [laughs]. I mean, I hate to bring this up, and it doesn’t even really answer your question either, but, but when the whole UK scene started popping off, seeing how minimal this type of music can be, and sound that sick, it’s kind of cool to know that you can be that minimal. I started using Ableton, and then started incorporating Reason into Ableton, tried to use logic, I don’t really like logic, I think it sounds really good, but it’s just not for me. Ableton is just so fucking tight, for making beats it’s so intuitive. I just build everything on the clip view, just make loops and then try to sequence it live, and touch it up if I need to. I’ve got my whole studio, with my Microkorg and midi controller. But I’ve been doing all synthesizer, software shit lately, so I don’t need much, just a computer.
Tell me a bit about your studio practices.
I guess there are two different approaches I have. I’m either making a beat from some sampled shit—I love going through the dollar bins at Amoeba [Records]. So, I’ll sample something to Ableton, chop it up till I find something cool and then build a beat. Or I’ll just play some piano, and mess around. I like playing the piano a lot. I kind of taught myself how to play for the most part. I just fuck around until I like something, melody first, then I’ll layer the shit out of it. I used to be more textured; now I’m a little more minimal. But yeah, just layer it and come up with different transitions, and mess around with glitches and different effects, warp shit and leave shit, and come up with something.
What’s in the works for the rest of the year?
The music is most important right now, this [upcoming EP] is the most uniform collection of songs and sounds that I’ve had. It’s really odd to me that this EP is going to be majority upbeat, 120 or 140bpm house shit. It’s going to be cool having something to show people. Especially when I’m out in Amsterdam, it won’t be too long for people to listen to the whole thing.
Yeah, EPs are great. I feel like people kind of need music in bite-size pieces right now.
Yeah dude, especially with the ability to self-produce, to put things out on your own: don’t overload people.
—Omar Almufti, 07 November 2011