bill bodkin‘s road to the Royal Family Affair comes to a close, with Adam Deitch of the electronic duo Break Science …
Remember that joke in the old movies and TV shows that cars would fly and all music in the future would be techno? While cars can’t fly just yet, the music of today is definitely taking large steps towards becoming largely electronic. The proliferation of the electronic stylings that started with bands like LCD Soundsystem and MGMT a few years back has seeped its way into mainstream pop and hip-hop from everyone ranging from Coldplay to Kanye.
At the forefront of this digital movement is the one-two combination known as Break Science. Comprised of Borahm Lee — the current keyboardist for Kanye West — and Adam Deitch, a Grammy-nominated drummer who’s worked with everyone from JT to 50. The duo creates a new, vibrant and fresh mash-up of electronic music (ranging from trip-hop to dubstep) with elements of hip-hop and live instrumentation. Download their current EP, Further Than Your Eyes Can See, available on Pretty Lights Records, and you will be astounded at the intelligent, big-bass dance music that features live instruments, a slew of guest MCs (including Talib Kweli) and just the right amount of swagger that will make you proud to dance like everybody’s looking.
Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with Adam Deitch in conjunction with our series covering The Royal Family Affair Music Festival. A proud member of the Royal Family, Deitch talked about his history with the festival’s creators Soulive, the electronic scene and so much more.
Pop-Break: Let’s start off with the history of you and the guys from Soulive. It seems you guys have been working together forever, first with Eric Krasno in Lettuce then all the group’s various projects.
Adam Deitch: Me and Kraz and the Lettuce guys met up when we were 16 years old, I think that was ’93. at a summer camp version of the Berklee College of Music. We just decided right then and there we were definitely going to come back to Boston when it was time for college at 18 and we were going to play some funk. We were going to dedicate whatever we did to laying grooves down. Everyone just fit. All the personalities, all the rhythmic feels on the instruments fit, we just fit like a puzzle. It was just became a natural thing and we came back to school and we started playing shows as Lettuce.
Then I got offered the Average White Band out of school and I had to leave to school and that left everything in limbo for a while. Kraz ended up hooking with Alan and Neal and obviously starting Soulive and that whole thing happened. By the time I got off tour with the Average White and I got back to play in Lettuce again, I got the job with [John] Scofield and Kraz had already worked with Scofield through Soulive. It was just a crazy happenstance thing. It was kind of a Lettuce thing that just spread out to other things.
PB: How did get the gig with the Average White Band while you were still in college?
AD: There was a call that went through Berklee. It went to a couple different drummers and actually the call was for another guy Mark Simmons, who’s one of my all-time favorite drummers. He plays with Al Jarreau and George Duke and whole bunch of other people. He was unavailable for that particular event or tour or audition, and the bass player who’s job it was to call him, called me as a back-up. I ended up going to New York, doing the audition, loved it and I didn’t get the job until six months later when they called me and said the drummer they had chosen didn’t work out. It was just one of those things, just stay positive even if you don’t get the job — be cool, and you’ll probably get a call soon.
PB: You were nominated for a Grammy, too. Was that through your work as a drummer in a group or as a producer?
AD: I did a record for [John] Scofield where I co-wrote one of the tunes and we ended up getting nominated as a band, The John Scofield Band. And when a band gets nominated, the band gets nominated. [laughs] So I got to go … and I was more excited to see Bootsy. Bootsy Collins just happened to be at the Grammys that year. I saw him on the way to bathroom. He’s all 7 foot tall and I was starstruck.
The whole Scofield thing definitely helped out in so many ways, and it’s still definitely helping the whole crew out in terms of what he’s done in career and who’s he worked with — the Miles Davis association and the whole thing. We’re just proud to try and continue that.
PB: Do you still play with Scofield?
AD: Mhmm, yup. John Scofield does different things, every year he does a different album, a different tour. … He’s gone through 10 different phases since we last played — he’s done everything from gospel to R & B to now he’s doing a new funk band with Nigel Hall and other Royal Family members. He actually got Terrence Higgins on drums, this phenomenal drummer from New Orleans. Yeah, it’s all the same family, we’re going to play together soon, we’ve got a bunch of things coming up.
PB: You’ve done a lot of studio drumming with artists like The Game and Justin Timberlake. Do you prefer drumming live or do you prefer studio drumming. Or is it apples and oranges?
AD: I need balance in my life, the grass is always greener. If you talk to a real deal studio guy, he’ll say, ‘Man I really want to get out and do a nice tour.’ Regardless of how successful they are, they still want to feel that rush from the crowd. And if you’re a real live guy, there’s guys who just go from tour to tour and play live all the time, they’ll say, ‘Man, I’d like to get into the studio sometime and just make a record.’ I always heard that from both sides of the game and I just said to myself — Kraz will agree with this — we have to do both. It’s not easy and it requires a lot of scheduling and it’s tough on our management. We require it for our souls to find balance between the studio and being on the road.
PB: Going with the whole balance thing, you’ve worked with a lot of great projects in the funk and jazz world, and now you have Break Science, which is just an awesome group. However, one thing I have difficulty with is putting your band into words. I’m a big genre guy and I have a hard time finding one to put you in. In your own words, can you describe the sound and/or genre you’d classify Break Science in?
AD: When I was with Scofield, he got me into looking at things as a hybrid. The stuff we were doing on the record we got nominated for, the Uberjam record, was a hybrid of electronics and live improvisation. Scofield’s whole thing is calling it new music, it’s just new music.
We [Break Science] were very concerned with not doing a pre-existing genre by just taking elements of many different things and throwing it together. Which is very much like hip-hop if you think about. A hip-hop record could have a sample from a Middle Eastern record mixed with a Thelonious Monk record mixed with a piece of a Doors organ with some drums. You’re mashing up different genres and throwing it together. That’s not really definable yet.
I guess I’m taking influences from hip-hop, the instrumental aspects of hip-hop and mixing that with the modern electronic music culture. And with the way we play our instruments and putting that all together. So I guess I don’t know how to describe it. [laughs] It has elements of dubstep, which is a new style. It has elements of trip-hop. But it’s really not one of those things. I’m just happy people are coming out to dance to it — that’s what it’s for. Intelligent, danceable instrumental hip-hop.
PB: Yeah, I’ve been noticing a lot of electronic influences out there with bands these days. The new Coldplay single is very electronic.
AD: Even Radiohead has a really electronic vibe to it.
I just feel that … human beings began singing and making music by imitating our environment. Our first influences to make music and make sound were birds and different animals. We heard this and we created speech and music simultaneously. I mean, that’s what I’ve heard. So I’m taking that concept now and I’m taking that concept now because we hear and see all these things very technological in nature, dealing with cellphone and giant buildings and bridges — they affect what you hear outside of music. So I’m letting all that technology sink in, I’m bringing that in [to the music].
It makes me feel that it’s music that’s now, and that’s what I want to be a part of part. Music that’s fresh, where there aren’t rules, you can make your own rules. Electronic music is wide open and I’m not paying attention to what the subcategories are too much. The people who are purists are going to say, ‘I only listen to hard techno or drum and bass.’ I’m into taking all my favorite elements of all of them and bringing it to a New York hip-hop bass sound.
PB: Going off of that, would you say the electronic frontier of music is a like jazz?
AD: In a lot of ways, it is. I can imagine the way electronic is now with all these new guys coming out and crowds coming to dance it must feel like the 40s — people going out to hear big bands. It was the thing to do and the excitement among musicians to create the baddest, biggest dance music possible to make the crowds go crazy — that was a focus in the jazz era at one point. Then it became ‘let’s show this as an art.’
I feel like James Blake or Flying Lotus in the electronic world, they’re moving away from the dance element and moving into the artistic zone like Coltrane and Miles Davis did. So you can say there’s a lot of comparisons there. How the vibe is very similar. It’s very exciting for musicians like us who are on the forefront. People are excited about it and it’s not in some museum yet, or some book, it’s out on the streets.
PB: When you guys play the live, is it just you both on turntables? I know you drum, but do you drum live?
AD: I sit with myself and my musical co-hort Borahm Lee, who’s right now out on tour with Kanye West as his keyboard player. Kanye had to tap into Break Science to get his new sound. [laughs] It’s pretty crazy.
PB: For real?
AD: No, I’m serious. He was looking for a keyboard player, and he heard about Borahm — that if you want that modern sound, he’s the guy. So Kayne’s borrowing Borahm for a month while we get our EP mixed. It shows a lot … Kanye’s on top of the hip-hop and pop game. I feel like only good things could happen from that.
PB: Getting back live to live performance …
AD: The live performance … we work all day, all night on creating tracks. I’m on the computer and I’m taking live instruments and doing all kinds of effects to them. Then, Borahm puts them into Ableton Live on his computer and he manipulates them from there. We create a rough idea of what we’re going to do live — he then manipulates it live and I basically react to the tracks that we programmed. He does all the improvisational rhythmic stuff while I react on the drums and keep the acoustic drum vibe right up in with the electronic music which is kind of a unique concept. Most electronic DJs don’t have drums. There’s been a few == you can count them on one hand. So live, it’s drum and live improvisational electronic things happen.
PB: You’ve been on tour with Soulive a lot recently, and you usually perform after their set. What’s been the reaction from their audience?
AD: [laughs] I used to be really uptight about it, but a Soulive crowd they understand. A lot of times we play after Soulive, which is perfect. They’ll play around 11 and end around 1, and we’ll go from like 1 a.m. to 3 in the morning. That way, they get their Soulive, they’ve seen Kraz take his solos. They can appreciate Break Science for what it is — a late-night dance party that’s more intelligent than you would expect. Well, subliminally [laughs], there’s chords, melodies, things. Mainly, it’s just to get people going.
PB: At The Royal Family Affair, you’ll be performing with one of my all-time favorite MCs, Chali 2na of Jurassic 5. How’d you hook up with him?
AD: He’s a member of the Royal Family. He’s been a friend of Soulive, Lettuce and me and Kraz’s production team the Fyre Department. And he just did a tour with Break Science. It was the three of us and we an amazing tour. He’s the greatest guy.
PB: Did he take over the part of a lot of the guest vocals on that were on the record, or was the show completely different?
AD: No, completely different. We do a portion of his set, but we break it up with our stuff. When Break Science is performing, we have vocals and spots from a few other friends of mine. He kinda acts as a DJ hype man getting the audience involved. Then he comes up to the front of the stage, rocks three of his own songs then goes into the back and he’s the hype man again. It’s a fun experience, it’s not a boring format.
PB: You’re also doing a set with John Medeski and Skerik. What can people expect from that?
AD: I really expect heavy, heavy improvisation. There’s a level that guys are on, if you give them a steady beat in different tempos, they can create anything. There’s so open to spur of the moment composition — they’re probably more into that than anybody I’ve come into contact with. They’re completely unafraid of the unknown. So to get Skerik and Medeski together for something completely unplanned, not even so much as a note to start on. Skerik will start something, Medeski will come in and they will just create. I don’t do that often. With Lettuce, we have a little more planning. We’re just going to fly out there.
PB: They’re unafraid … are you?
AD: I’ve had a few chances to play Skerik recently with Marco Benevento in New Orleans. They really got me into keeping danceable while they create their world. That makes me comfortable — I don’t have to play weird or different, I just do what I do and they create on top of that. It’s always nerve racking playing with Medeski, for his monstrous career and what he’s done for the scene. He’s a cool dude. They’re both really funny, comedian-level — it’ll be quite an experience.
PB: What can we expect from you and Break Science for the rest of the year?
AD: Break Science is planning on going big. We’re working hard on this next EP — we probably have six or seven new songs, and it’ll be released on the Pretty Lights Music label. It’s going to be for free, even though we spent countless hours on it. [laughs] We believe in the concept of giving away music at this point, because we want people to come experience it live. We’re not just pressing play — it’s a live experience that’s unique to every show. So we’re just going to tour and keep dropping music for free and collabs with everybody, especially with everyone on the Pretty Lights label.
Pop-Break’s Road to the Royal Family Affair Series: