Last Wednesday, November 2nd, GBallz and KillaCam headed to Boston’s Paradise Rock Club for the opening night of the PLM [Pretty Lights Music] Tour featuring Gramatik, Michal Menert, and SuperVision. All three producers are signed to Derek Vincent’s Pretty Lights Music record label, which offers all its music for free download.
The Pretty Lights label has blown up, with a total of seven beat-makers on its team, who are constantly touring and selling out venues. Both Gramatik and Michal Menert hail from Europe (Slovenia and Poland respectively), but are seeing massive success here in the U.S.
The following interview gives our readers some insight into Dennis J, aka Gramatik, as far as his music, his personality, and some of his experiences leading up to his return to Boston. A big thanks goes out to Sioux at Magnum PR and to Dennis and his tour crew. Click through to read.
My Music Is Better Than Yours: This is the first official night of the tour – are you guys pumped?
MMIBTY: How do you feel about it starting off in Boston?
Gramatik: I’ve been waiting to get back here actually. The first time I was here was 2009. I noticed this venue is bigger now!
MMIBTY: Your productions are heavily based off samples. For you, what is the perfect type of sample – what makes you say “shit, I gotta have that”?
Gramatik: I wish I knew how to explain that. You listen to a track and you hear a part of it or a piece you can use and chop up. Sometimes you don’t even know it – sometimes I’ll go back to a song I hadn’t heard in a couple years and listen to it again and go, “fuck! how did I miss this?” Or when I listen to a sample I used back in the day and realize it would have been better if I chopped this part up or that part up. It really depends on the mood.
MMIBTY: Do you find it’s more vocals or a bass line or drums that you tend to sample?
Gramatik: Yeah I mean it’s everything, whatever works. Sometimes you already have a track and you need a sample, you need some vocals. It’s always dynamic, it always depends on the situation.
MMIBTY: Is there a place a majority of your samples come from? A lot of them seem to be soul or funk samples.
Gramatik: I sample that the most. It’s called soul music with reason, so to speak. I find most samples from funk and blues and soul and that type of genre. I also have classical music and folk music from my home country, gypsy music – there is no one rule, as long as there is a part of a track that I like, I will sample it – it has to have everything. I don’t sample stuff after the 80s because the production is too new and it doesn’t have the flavor I’m looking for. In the 60s and 70s they recorded with analog and with modern music that flavor just isn’t there. There’s nothing wrong with recording music digitally, I mean I record music digitally, but when you combine the sounds of the 60s and 70s with contemporary music it just makes me really happy.
MMIBTY: Your song “On the Boardwalk” is one of my favorites because it features the sounds of an upright bass – was that a sample or recorded live in the studio?
Gramatik: That was me playing on the Trilogy. It is an emulation of upright bass and a lot of other acoustic basses that i really like. Definitely one of the best plug-ins that I have ever used. It’s an emulator which means it’s not simulating sounds, but rather emulating them which means the upright bass is actually sampled string by string, note by note, spread throughout the keyboard. So what you strike is not a program where you’re trying to simulate the sound of an upright bass but rather creating the sound note by note string by string and spread throughout the keyboard on the synth – that is what I use. And it sounds so fucking authentic. When i first found out about that i was amazed by how accurate it made was because it’s not just notes or samples but just the dynamics when you press the key and you can hear the string hit the body of the upright bass in the plug in and you have separate ones where people are sliding fingers over the strings. You can use that and incorporate it and it sounds like someone is actually playing it and not just simulating the sound. I was amazed to work with that cause it was such a joy cause i can actually play a bass line and make it sounds like it is an actual upright bass.
MMIBTY: I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but do you want to talk a little bit about your name and where that came from?
Gramatik: Stupid story haha.. I can keep it short. When I started out I started out as an MC back in 7th grade and me and a couple of buddies were thinking of rap names cause before we were just rapping without rap names and then I got some hype going into my first year of high school so we decided to start a rap group and actually pick up names, start rapping and recording, and that was when we started smoking weed, and buying weed from dealers then, we were pretty much broke, we didn’t come from rich families you know? So whenever I would go to buy weed I never had enough money for more than a Gram, so we were looking for a rap name at the time and I was like fuck it I am going to be Gram. Growing up, not coming from a rich family it was hard to afford that shit. So I was Gram, that was my MC name before I started producing serious stuff and then in High school I was in my class and the best at English, which is our third language [in Slovenia], like not even second, our second language is Italian, so the kids don’t speak it that well, but most of the country speaks fluent English, and in my class I was the best at English and everyone was asking me how do you spell this, how do you spell that, and one of my classmates was like, “you’re not Gram, you’re Gramatik! You correct everyone’s grammar” and I’m like cool, I can be Gramatik, that can be my producer name. And then all of a sudden I started producing beats under that name and yeah…Gramatik
MMIBTY: So I guess now for a more goofy question, what do you have against tomatoes? [Gramatik’s recent Facebook update was “Michal Menert and I decided our tour will be called “No Egos, No Tomatoes!“ Because egos are bad and Tomatoes are even worse!”]
Gramatik: Oh me and Mike (Menert) hate them dude. They’re fucking gross. I can eat everything, every derivative of tomatoes and I still hate them. I can eat salsa, I can eat everything as long as it’s not a raw actual tomato. Me and Mike actually discovered that a few days ago – we both have the same affliction towards tomatoes. We both want to puke if we eat them without knowing….and then we decided to call the tour that….
MMIBTY: What’s been a memorable experience over the past year – you’ve toured a lot here in the U.S., is there a moment that sticks out in your head?
Gramatik: Most memorable experience was probably playing Red Rocks [in Colorado]. That was crazy, I had never played in front of 10,000 people before.
MMIBTY: I’ve actually never been before but I want to go so badly.
Gramatik: Yeah that was my first time. A lot of people are like, [in an American accent] “What?! You’ve never been to Red Rocks dude? Are you crazy?” and then I’m like “Sorry dude, I’m from Europe…I’m trying to catch up!”
MMIBTY: What about a really awkward experience?
Gramatik: We have a bunch of them…I remember this one girl, I think it was in Albuquerque [New Mexico], she asked me if we celebrate New Years Eve in Europe. And she was serious, like really serious. And we were like…wow.
MMIBTY: So what did you tell her?
Gramatik: I told her, no. We don’t know what that is. Because she asked me what I’m doing for New Years and I told her I’m playing in Europe. And she asked me why. And I said because I’m from Europe and she goes, but they don’t celebrate it there. And I go, celebrate what? What are you talking about?
[brief intermission while Paradise management yells at Gramatik for having a smokey room…]
MMIBTY: Are there any MCs you want to work with in the future?
Gramatik: Most definitely – I want to work with Talib [Kweli], I want to work with Mos Def…the Beatnuts…
MMIBTY: Pretty Lights Music has some of the funkiest producers in its lineup – all your music is very similar but completely different at the same time, you know what I mean?
Gramatik: Yeah, thanks man. Every one of us tries to break it down and bring modern sounds, especially by trying to incorporate all the different influences we were listening to growing up, but trying to make it fresh and relevant again – contemporary music.
MMIBTY: To wrap things up, can you describe Gramatik in one sentence?
Gramatik: Rationalistic, worth the hype, humor
*Apologies to Gramatik and the PLM family if that last quote was inaccurate. My recording device muffled the last few words and I tried to transcribe it the best I could.*