| Features, Sound

Soundtracking a Mulholland Ave. SolarDrive : Balthazar Getty (Interview)

SolarDrive’s Balthazar Getty talks Angelino car culture, film and music

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ou know Balthazar Getty from his acting in The Judge, Natural Born Killers, Ladder 49, Lost Highway and, soon, the relaunch of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

It’s tough to top such accolades but, yep, he has other sides, hidden talents and levels (man). He’s been making music since music was good (the early 90s).

Getty’s musical output to date has convened a broad church by era: hip hop, rock, and dance. SolarDrive conjures the intersection of those genres, reminiscent of Trip Hop, with punchy sparse arrangements providing a contrast led background for breathy introspective vocals.

Meeting with Trebuchet in the Gibson Music Rooms amidst guitars, amps and tributes to the earls of widdly-diddly, Getty got deep about his dance record, cars, and avoiding the tabloids through the solace, solitude and speed of SolarDrive’s 2.0.

Talk me through the album. 2.0?

This is an album that originally came out two years ago, and this is a re-imagining of that album. It’s b-sides and remixes and the “2.0” is tongue in cheek. It’s the next version of the album: bigger, better, that kind of idea.
It’s not modern, but because I’ve been DJ-ing for the last couple of years there is more of a focus on getting people out of their seats. That is what interests me.

In previous interviews you talk about making music that reflects LA car culture, was there a vision for this record?

That was a related to the Abstracto record, which was in Spanish and referenced LA’s cholo culture, cars, hearing a sort the music that was playing the background (of LA) and also just being an Angelino. We’re so close to Mexico and there’s so many Mexican Americans. In a way it’s in your blood.

This album is inspired by the great 90s music that came out of the UK; the Massive Attacks, the Portisheads, the Trickys, Primal Scream, Stereo MCs, you name it. Vocally they are quite different, but if you think about Massive Attack, they had Reggae songs on there, dance songs on there and also sort of dusty ballads with females signing. So without knowing it, that was sort of what inspired SolarDrive.When asked to quickly describe it I reference that sort of stuff.Balthazar Getty

It seems incongruous for an actor to become a musician but you’ve done both almost from the start.

I’ll tell you. For years acting was my bread and butter. It’s what put food on the table and it’s sort of what I knew. I did my first movie at 13 but I got my first DJ set up at 15. When the films and the TV were happening my mistress on the side was always music. I produced my first hip hop record when I was 19 or 20 and over the last couple of years I’ve able to pump the brakes on being a working actor and focus on the music. I’m more interested in being my own engine and creating my own content.

As an actor you are the most important thing and the least important thing. You’ve got to get a script, you’ve got to finance it, you’ve got to get a director, so many thing needs to happen. Finally you’ve got to get the cast in place, but you hope that in a year it’ll come out and it’ll be good, and normally it’s not.

Well now, you’ve been in some films that have been recognised….

I have, I have, but I’ve been in more crap than good. That’ll probably always stay, those are the averages. That’s the way Hollywood is. Music is something I can control and having it on my own label I get to see the whole creative process through. I create the imagery. I do the graphic designs. I direct all of our content: the videos, the EPK. It’s absolutely liberating and it’s fun!

All the things I love to do, I get to do within a label setting. It requires all of these skills and I also love business, I love creation, I love curation. It lets me do all of that.

Are there any commonalities between your experiences as an actor and as a musician?

I see more and more. I see all these things as the same, I don’t see this big separation between acting and music. These are all creative endeavours that I see as the same thing. I can’t say that any one thing in acting has shaped me as a musician, probably everything. I started working very young so probably I have a good work ethic.
The thing about acting is that so much is waiting around. You’ll have a 12 hour day, maybe two of those hours you’re actually working. So it’s very frustrating for me in that sense. I’m like an ADD kid that wants to do everything all the time, so music allows me to do that. I can compose and record a song and then half an hour later I can listen to that song. There is something about that instant gratification that I love.

You give yourself three days to make a track….

That’s a great thing across the board, because when you’re doing creative things, there is no end to tweaking and finetuning. A script, a song. I know so many guys that have great material just piled up the studio never to be released, and I was getting into that rut myself and having four or five projects with different names recorded, just sitting there. I finally said ‘I want to give myself deadlines’. Once it’s done it’s done. And no ‘I just need to add the strings or the chimes, etc’. It’s good to walk away and know that there’ll be other records. You can always record. Guys get caught up on trying to make a perfect album when they probably should have….

Look at Dr Dre. We’ve waited 15 years and now nobody really cares. He’s left it too long and recorded too many songs. Music’s changed and here you have what could have been the follow up to Chronic as one of the greats. Songs got leaked and there was some amazing stuff on there, but now it’ll never be.

People say that there is no intellectuality to dance music. I suppose you could say that it’s body music, which could be pro and a con. How do you see it?

I think there’s different songs for different moods. Sometimes a song’s intention is to be boom-boom-boom beat, sometimes the intention is around a thought, or to project some other emotion. Minimalism is what I’m known for. I suppose it’s trait of mine to say ‘Okay we have thirty tracks (meaning a musical layer within a song), let’s just solo three’ and when that’s done correctly that is the most effective stuff. There is a simplicity. You have your bass, your vocal and a synth and that’s all you need.

When you think about the great Bowie records, or even the next Kanye and there are whole songs that he’s taken the drums out completely and just left the bassline and some tiny synths behind it. There is something about space, where it creates a place for the vocals. I hate overproduction. It goes back to that thing of knowing when enough’s enough.

Is the your minimalism a reflection of America?

Maybe subconsciously, things that are happening that I’m not aware of. I don’t use music as a political tool and I don’t normally put my politics in my music. For me it’s all about a vibe and about creating a vibe. That’s what I’m most interested in.

How would you describe that vibe? You’ve referenced the movie Drive on occasion.

Totally, certain songs you hear and they feel like you should be in a car right now, just staring at the road moving before you. It’s also how I mix my records before they’re finished. I’ll put them on in the car and drive around. It’s probably not something I’m fully aware of, gearing the music to that feeling when you’re driving at one in the morning. It’s just a vibe. I know that’s sort of ambiguous but for the most part I want to either create… I think if you can dance to it, *ahem* to it, fight to it and drive to it, I think you’re in good shape.

Louis CK talked about being alone in a car, perhaps one of the few places that people are that alone.You’ve been a public person who’s had a fair amount of tabloid attention, do you seek that drivetime solitude? Is that what you’re pursuing?

Yeah absolutely, and it’s also something very Angelino. We spend so much time in our cars because that’s the only way to get around. What are you going to do in that car, how are you going to spend your time? Are you going to roll calls, text, listen to music, or be part of a feeling? You know there’s nothing like sparking a doobie, putting on the right tunes and driving down Mulholland, watching the fog over the city.

Like Louis said, it’s a place of introspection, a place where you’re alone with your own thoughts, so I think the answer is yes (laughs). What was the question?

I was asking about you yourself.

Music always has to sound good on a car stereo. That how it started for me, listening to things on shitty speakers. The car was always the test. If it worked in the car it was good. Just listening to music in the car, and we all have stories about being in a car and driving on a road trip or whatever, so I hope that my records become soundtracks to people’s lives. In the way that we can look back at most periods of our life and remember what we were listening to. Even 20 years later you are brought back to that time.

What do you drive?

I’m a little bit of a car person. I just bought the new Porsche Turbo 911 which is incredible, and there’s nothing quite like blasting music and zipping off. If you get out towards Malibu and the the hills you can drive for miles.
I also have an X6 M (BMW), a Ducati, a old vintage 1969 BMW R6 motorcycle, and I have a big black Denali. They don’t really have those in the UK. It’s an SUV, but big. They’re very common. That’s my family-mobile. When we pull up to an airport it looks like the president arriving, five SUVs with the children and their friends.

Speaking of memories and driving, what are your tunes?

Early Brian Eno music or Airports and that whole series. That sparse sound, just one little keyboard.
When I was teenager I was obsessed with Cream and played that over and over but then, like a lot of Hip Hop LA kids, I had the drop-top Sport Chevy 54 with the massive speakers in the back, the subwoofer behind the seat blasting Miami bass and down South rap, but I guess the gamut of music was what I’ve listened to. I like everything from Townes Van Zant to Drake, but certain songs just speak to you and you don’t even know why.

A lot of people say that dance music is embracing a sort of dance music classicism. People going back to what the original guys from Detroit and Chicago were doing, discovering roots dance. Your minimal music, is it roots?

I think it informs me without even knowing. Music is constantly evolving. Month to month there is a different trend in dance music, whether it’s BPM or beat pattern, or the move to half time Trap or the move the full time House. Actually the single ‘Desperate’ has that sort of Chicago vibe. It’s not a conscious thing but I like to stay informed with what’s happening musically, globally, topically and what’s happening in our overall culture.

I like to think that I am a student of culture and I am someone that prides himself in being connected with what’s happening. It’s just through having kids, being very curious. New music keeps you informed because music is culture, so I’m always up to date with music. Guys my age and older don’t seem to investigate what happening. They know what they like and that’s it. That’s not my attitude. I’m not a purist but I want to know what’s going on. I’m also a DJ so I have a responsibility to knowing what’s out there. I play to kids for the most part.

Something that not a lot of people know about me is that I started as a DJ as a teenager, and that’s what got me into DJ production, getting a dj set, getting a drum machine, getting a keyboard and then about two years ago, itching to get back behind the decks in front of people. Over the last two years I’ve gone from playing smaller rooms with 50 people to playing with Little Wayne at the Superbowl and having a residency at Vegas. I have two residencies in LA at swanky sorta Hollywood places. I was at Tape last night and DJed from 12 to 5am.

DJing very much informs me what’s working for people, what they’re responding to. DJing is something that hopefully you’ll have a chance to see. It’s a big part of my life, I was at Club 11 which holds 5000 people and at a certain burlesque place. It’s fun. I’ve gotten to see the progression. I didn’t enter up here, I had to work to get where I am and it takes up most of my time. I see that as a way to get the music out there, so of course I play my songs, but I’ll play a remix or maybe a record I’m putting out. I do everything, from older crowds playing Bowie to young, primarily hip hop crowds that want to pop bottles and do that. I do a little bit of it all.
Weddings, parties….

Maybe not weddings (laughs). Maybe for the right one….

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