This is the first of a few old interviews we’ll be posting this week and next. First up is Justin Boreta, one-third of The Glitch Mob and an all-around badass. Last summer, we had the most excellent opportunity to kick it at Horning’s Hideout with STS9 and friends for Re:Generation (the festival, not the movie). Not only did we meet up with The Polish Ambassador right after signing with 1320, we also caught The Glitch Mob in what we saw as a transformative moment.
After an intensely energetic set, we killed the keg backstage with Justin Boreta, my favorite Glitch Mobber and a disarmingly kind and warm person. Even after the crew began breaking down the stage, he stuck around to answer all of our questions and proved to be a disarmingly kind and warm person.
That’s why it’s a shame I felt it was my duty to ask him the following question…
Basically what I’m trying to do right now is debunk a myth for you. I’ve heard it said that The Glitch Mob is really like an electronic boy band…
Have you heard that before?
Yeah! I’ve heard it before.
What do you think of that comparison?
I mean, it kinda depends on how you define a boy band… it’s an interesting thing, because I’m totally down to make fun of us and I don’t really take what we do that seriously to where I’d be offended by that.
I thought so, I’m glad I asked then.
Yeah! It’s totally okay. I’m not offended at all. It’s a funny thing, because when I think of a boy band I think of the Backstreet Boys or N*SYNC, and to me I don’t feel like we’re a boy band; I feel like a boy band is something constructed. You have a bunch of like… sexy, effeminate guys, who are put together by a corporation or by a major label to play these songs that they didn’t write and to sell records.
We’re just a couple of guys that like to play music, we feel more like we fall in the footsteps of – and I’m not saying we’re as good as – The Beatles, or Nine Inch Nails or Radiohead. Those are the people we look towards as the people who express true love and emotion and experimentation with the music and their generation. Again, I’m not trying to compare myself to them, by any means I don’t feel like we’re as talented as any of those guys are.
I don’t know where that thing really comes from. I think it’s funny and I’m totally down to make fun of us, but this [waves at stage] is not constructed by anyone else, so that’s why I’m never gonna call us a boy band, and if someone calls us that, then I respectfully disagree…
I do want to point out that you are all wearing matching dress shirts and skinny ties…
Yeah! Totally! It depends on what your definition of a boy band would have to be then, I guess.
So my definition would be talent and choreography – and looks. You all are obviously very handsome dudes, but what it really boils down to is the talent and the choreography coming together, like a choreographed expression of talent. Do you have any comment on the choreography aspect of a Glitch Mob show?
Would you consider Daft Punk a boy band? Because that’s a very choreographed, theatrical thing that happens.
I’ve never thought about it that way, but… under that definition, yeah, I can see that.
Then if Daft Punk is a boy band, then maybe we’re a boy band, too, because I feel like what we try to do is present the music in a theatrical way and put on a show for people. We’re not up there playing music on instruments. We’re not up there with a guitar, or a bass guitar or a drum, whatever traditional rock band instrument and jamming on them. We’re playing music that is all in samplers in a computer and we’re triggering samples, and it’s not about our talent as musicians.
We’re not actually particularly good musicians, to be quite honest. None of us shred the guitar as well as the Disco Biscuits or STS9; those guys are amazing musicians. And we’re okay – I can play the guitar and the keyboard and the drums, but it’s more about the whole show and wanting the people to get lost in the whole thing.
Do we sit around and practice our dance moves? No. Definitely not. If they match up, that’s really funny but it’s almost just the happenstance of us all liking the songs in the same way. We don’t really think of it as being choreographed; we never sit around and say, “We’re going to choreograph this thing.” But we want it to look cool and be something that people are like, wow that’s something I haven’t seen before. We really want to blow people’s minds and take them to a place they haven’t been before, so whatever that comes across as — if they want to call us a boy band — that’s fine.
Some people want to call us a dubstep band – that’s cool. We’re just doing our thing. If they want to call us a rave band, that’s fine. If they want to call us a jamtronica band, that’s totally fine. To us, we’re just doing our thing.
Okay, so just for fun… say you were N*SYNC, which member of N*SYNC would you be in Glitch Mob?
I… don’t actually know the members of N*SYNC! [Laughs]
But you know the basic tenets of making a boy band, right? There’s the flamboyant lead man and there’s the more reserved lead dude. Then there’s the really shy backup one, and then there’s the wild, goofy one with cornrows. Then there’s the fifth utility player, who’s maybe the random older guy…
I would probably be the secondary quiet guy. I definitely talk on the mic, but [pauses to stifle a laugh] I’m not the frontman. That’s a great question. I’m not the frontman. Ed is the frontman, he’s the Justin Timberlake of The Glitch Mob.
[Laughs] I wasn’t gonna suggest that, though! It’s not just because I’m being recorded right now, but your solo stuff hit me even harder than edIT’s back in the day. As far as personal style goes, I think you brought a grit that… well, edIT’s style is much more polished, “squeaky clean” if boy band terms are what we’re still going for.
But you were definitely one of my favorite members of the group, and I think that’s what you ultimately do with boy bands. You get to pick a favorite member. With the format you guys have, since you all have your own individual releases and then come together as a group, it really opens up that critique, like “Boreta is definitely the biggest badass!” or like “No, I like edIT, fuck you!” It opens up that conversation.
That’s hilarious. I haven’t thought about it like that, but that’s really fucking funny! I can totally see that. I guess from my perspective, I have a bad taste in my mouth around the whole comparison because it feels manufactured, and to me, [we’re] not manufactured at all. It’s such a genuine expression for us, and I feel like boy bands are something that major labels put together to sell records. That aside, what you’re saying… totally get it [laughs] I think it makes sense.
And as far as you guys have come, it has come without hardly any mainstream coverage, and that’s really what the boy band commercial engine is driven on, with something like Tiger Beat saying “Let’s hype these guys as quickly as possible.”
And to be honest, we don’t want that mainstream coverage and we particularly don’t pander to a mainstream crowd. When we’re in the studio and working on music, we do stuff that’s kinda curveball because we’re not trying to.. y’know, we could go and make a mainstream pop record…
Like going the Dr. Luke route?
Yeah! And that’s cool, that’s not to knock what that is doing, I mean there’s tons of records like that that I like but we put ourselves in a category very intentionally that is kinda curveball. I would like to think, and I do really expect, that what we’re gonna do next is that we really like to push ourselves creatively and hope that the people, the fans who like us, want to come along on that creative journey with us. Which I think will never make us a mainstream act, because we’re not gonna make a pop record, doing things that make sense on regular radio and MTV. We like to keep it heartfelt and psychedelic.
So my last question, I want to ask you about the evolution of how the performance goes. Every time I see you, it seems like you guys are doing more and more onstage, especially now that you and Josh (Mayer a.k.a. Ooah) are rocking out on drums. Can you tell me a little bit about how the instrumentation of each song breaks down and how the kinetic aspect of the performance is driving how you guys are doing things?
So we came from the whole DJ world and the whole thing started as a big accident. I was DJ’ing in the very early days of Ableton, so was Josh, so was Ed, and at one point we just decided to do it all at the same time, as opposed to separately. In DJ’ing, you’re mixing other people’s music with your own music. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone else’s music or it’s your song, it’s kind of all just the same thing. You’re playing music and you affect it a little bit, and we had done that for a long time and we decided at one point that we wanted to write music and change the script of what we do and really figure out how to play music off of a computer. Like how do you have a rock band? Because we all like rock, like a lot. I mean, I love The White Stripes… We were listening to Dark Side of the Moon on the way up here. Led Zeppelin. I mean, I love everything that Jack White does, I love The Dead Weather…
We just wanted to figure out how to play our music and not just literally push play on a song and affect it like a DJ. I think that absolutely has a time and place, but we had just done that for a long time and we wanted to figure out how to come out and really play these songs and really get into it physically.
So we came up with a lot of different systems where we could use our physical energy to get into the songs and really play ‘em like you would see a traditional rock band like Motörhead, or STS9 for that matter! I mean, you watch Zach (Velmer) get on the drums and freak out for an hour and you really get into it, and it’s cool watching someone who is really up there playing the music and it’s really infectious for us. They were a huge influence on us. I love STS9 and I love watching Zach do his thing up there and it was really cool playing shows with them and watching them and thinking, there’s something really cool about seeing someone hit something and then the sound happens. And that seems obvious to someone in the rock realm, but in electronic music that’s not what just happens, so we wanted to confuse the two things into something where it’s electronic music that’s all coming from a computer but it’s played like a rock show.
And for the people who didn’t see your show tonight and see you guys banging on those MIDI snares, how does that play into the show you guys played tonight?
We take all of our songs and we break it down into pieces, then we replay it all live. So if you download a song and then listen to it, the sound that you’re hearing on the album are the exact same sounds that we’re playing, but we’re just triggering them live. So everything is played live, but we can be flexible as far as what we actually want to play and perform, and because it’s all on a computer we can say “I want to play that sound, that’s gonna be fun to play,” and we just do whatever feels right and whatever’s gonna put on the best show possible. We can switch instruments, too, I think that’s the type of thing where one song I’m gonna play the synthesizer or I’m gonna play the bass. On “West Coast Rocks” I’m the guy that plays the bass, with that big gnarly dubstep bass. It’s really easy for me to switch and play whatever other instrument, so it’s a fun thing for us to do and have fun with it.
Have you found there’s a lot larger margin of error? Especially if you’re playing the drum pad, and, say, you fling one of your drum sticks? I’m sure it’s not the same as just having a MIDI pad you play with your fingers.
Yes, absolutely 100 percent. It’s just like I said, we are not virtuosic musicians. None of us went to music school, none of us studied music. We’re okay! But any person that went to college and has a degree in jazz is a lot better than we are.
The error is actually a really cool thing, because when we fuck up, people realize, “Wow, they’re actually doing something on stage. They’re not just up there playing a song.” And for us that’s a cool thing, and we actually embrace the error and create room for that error. I think when someone is actually paying attention they say, “Wow, he just missed a note. I know this song and he just fucked that up!” That’s cool! So they’re there with us a little bit and it becomes more of a human performance as opposed to just playing a song.
Keep up with Glitch Mob happenings at their website (http://www.theglitchmob.com/) and be sure to check out a new track from Nasty Ways (Boreta and EPROM collaboration), now available for download.