INTERVIEW // Mux Mool Discusses “Planet High School,” Ancient Mesoamerican Art, and Skeletor

UFO could not be more stoked to present B. Bravo and Mux Mool at Cervantes on Februrary 16th.  No, really — to be in any way involved with these groundbreaking artists is really the motivation for us doing everything you see here.  So, like a blushing schoolgirl, we hopped on the phone with Mux (Brian Lindgren) to congratulate him on releasing what may be his best album yet, and what followed was by far the most in-depth interview we’ve conducted to date.

If you’re looking for a local connection, Mux Mool produces music in the same hip-hoptronica vein that many Paper Diamond fans will surely recognize and appreciate.  (Alex B did an absolutely lethal remix of Mux’s Hog Knuckles).  Both artists, in a manner of speaking, are constantly playing chicken with hip-hop, seeing how close they can edge into it without planting a heavy foot in that territory.  Furthermore, both artists are completely versatile in that respect, making them incredibly exciting and unpredictable music aficionados.

Here is a stream of Mux’s new album, Planet High School, for your listening pleasure.  Be sure to grab the downloads of “Palace Chalice” and “Raw Gore,” and check out Ghostly Recording’s site for the full album.

And without any further ado, here is our full conversation with Mux:

First of all, tell us, Brian: how is the universe treating you today?

It’s okay.  The album comes out tonight about ten o’clock on iTunes, at least in America, it’s already been released in the U.K. and a couple overseas websites.  The universe is good, I’m just waiting to see how good.  This is a pretty important/stressful day for me, but I feel like it will be good.

What does Planet High School mean for you?  How do you feel about it, and where does it show you in your artistic career?

I don’t ever have whole albums in mind when I sit down to make music, but what’s really important is that everything shows a progression, that I’m getting better at something.  That is by far the most important thing that I try and portray, and I think it’s definitely that; definitely expanding much, much further on ideas that I’ve had for a long time.  So it’s not out of the realm of anything that anybody would expect but I’m still experimenting, I’m still bringing in new things.  That’s what I want to project with the new album: I’m still getting better, I’m still learning.

What songs on the new album are good examples of that?

Some of the songs are simpler – like a lot simpler – than other songs I’ve put out, and some are incredibly way more complex than other songs I’ve put out.

The song called “Ruin Everything,” that I think is probably one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written.  It’s melancholy and a little sad, and also I played all the parts for it, which I really like.  But for me it represented a new way of thinking about making beats, and that was… none of what’s on there was made from drum samples.  It’s all made from different clicks and pops and textures that I recorded from old VHS tapes.  It was this culmination of interesting sounds and interesting-sounding synths all coming together in a really cohesive way.

There’s also a song called “Get Yer Alphabets (Guns)” which is super-fast and super-exciting and has a bazillion different sounds in it.  That was really fun to make almost for opposite reasons, overkill was how I thought of it.  Why put two samples in a song when you can put in 90, and pitch shift them all and arrange them all into an interesting way?

Is that a process you’ve used before?

The process, more or less, has all been the same.  And that’s to listen to things, and find interesting things, and pick out the parts of all these different things that I’ve sampled and listened to over time, and finding the best of each and putting them all together.  For certain songs, just for the drums I can have individual drum hits and sounds from up to twelve different records, just to make the drums.  That’s always been my focus and I’ve definitely gotten a lot better at that.

Do you have any favorite sources to sample from?  Do you have a bunch of break records you sample from, or are you looking for obscure Euro-funk tracks?  What’s your bag as far as that goes?

The thing about breaks is that when people found breaks on records and then sampled and looped them, that process of finding a break and recognizing a break and using a break in the right way?  That, to me, is a creative process.   But the very first step in that is finding that break, and that means going out and listening to a lot of different records, and buying those records and finding those parts, and finding new breaks if I can, which is kind of rare because everything in the world has been sampled already.  But that is a lot of fun, just bringing new drum sounds to the lexicon of drum samples that are out there, and I try to do that as much as possible.

And especially because this kind of music is so drum-centric.  It’s arguable that a really nice-sounding snare might be the most impressive part of a certain song.

And that’s always been my focus, and mixing those fidelities together, like this dirty kick and this super-clean hi-hat.  There’s a lot of newer electronic music where the drum sounds all come from one source and it’s straight out of the box, and it’s not even used in a very interesting way, and I find that confusing sometimes.  I wonder, how can everybody hear the same snare on every song for an entire album, and think that’s cool?  For me, I try to mix that up as much as possible, there are DEFINITELY no two snares that sound the same.  But that’s just me.

What do you think makes a good snare?

For me, I like my snares very short, not a lot of reverb.  I don’t always layer them: some producers have snares that are ten different claps, two different snares and a tom hit.  It’s like a million different sounds all in the snare, and it kinda rolls in this weird slapping motion.  Other people use these huge, gated reverb snares, and I’m not really interested in that.  I just want a snare that cuts through the entire mix, something that really, really hits.  It’s gotta cut through everything.

Do you consider yourself to be a hip-hop producer?

I don’t know if people consider in the realm of hip-hop producers, but I started making music before I started making hip-hop beats.  When I started making hip-hop beats, my entire intention was to make rhythm tracks for rappers, that’s what I was trying to do.  Everything that I try and emulate, everything that I am inspired by is primarily rhythm tracks for rappers, the instrumental parts of that.  So, for me, that is what I am.

And if you specifically spent all day making trap beats, then other people might say yeah, there’d be no doubt.

But hip-hop was not always trap music.  I mean, it is now…  [Laughs] I don’t work with a lot of rappers because there’s a lot of rappers that suck right now.  What rapping has become, it’s not great in every direction at this point.

But in terms of playing shows by myself – which is something I never intended – that’s an advent that has come out in the past few years, where DJs are now at the forefront, and rappers are just sort of like hype men, in certain areas, y’know?

I didn’t know that I could go out there and just play my beats, and it was an entire show.

It’s really surprising how vocals have become so much less of a fixture in contemporary music.  If you look even ten years back, so much popular music was vocally-driven, and had been that way for hundreds of years.  I do really love the sound of vocal abstractions, though.  It’s funny to me that so much music has been reduced from rhymes, down to phrases, down to single words, and now it’s just a bunch syllables!

I’m not a vocalist, but my experience with the history of vocals is that yeah, just what you were describing.  You look at Wu-Tang, which is super-wordy and super-clever, and these guys all rap super-tight, to where we’re at now with a Rick Ross, the exact opposite.  I like Rick Ross, so don’t get me wrong, but it kinda just sounds like some big fat guy just talking about money…


…but then barely even talking about money; then it’s recorded and put it into time with the rest of a beat.  But… how it got that way, and why it got that way, I have no idea.  Sometimes I feel like if kids heard Wu-Tang it would just blow their fucking minds, like they had never heard anything like that!  I don’t understand, like how simple can it be and how people can still get along with it?  Vocal writing is the greatest thing in the world, it goes back forever.  How did it get to the point in some areas it’s so fucking terrible right now.

I put a lot of emotion into my songs I make, and there are a lot of electronic shows that are completely emotionless.  They are empty party songs with a lot of crazy noise that goes throughout, and they’re not there to do anything else other than to take a lot of drugs and feel fucked up and rage their face or whatever, and then go hang out elsewhere and just be completely fucked up.  I’m not telling anybody how to enjoy any show that they actually enjoy.  But, as a creator and purveyor of music, I would not ever sit down and think, “How’s this gonna get people fucked up?  How’s this gonna make people wanna just be fuckin’ retarded?”

That actually brings me to the central idea I wanted to talk about.  I once described your music somewhat inadvertently as “chillbanger,” meaning something that some EDM fans might classify as “chill” but which nonetheless packs a lot of energy into it. 

In the face of mainstream dubstep, “chill” has almost become a counterculture movement.  And if I need to present any evidence of this, it’s that there are plenty of kids who say things like, “Well it’s good, but where’s the drop?”

Oh, we were just talking about that, like when Skrillex posted that thing about Aphex Twin!

So what do you think about “chill” as a counterculture movement?

Y’know, I don’t consider it a counterculture movement.  What is super popular right now?  It is that form of dubstep that, in my opinion, could be construed as very emotionless party music.  And you could only do that for so long, and y’know, Rusko said it eight months ago in that interview, he said “I feel like I had a hand in creating that kind of stuff, but people need to chill out!”  He even said that himself, that “people just start taking it too far, it’s too gross, it’s too grimy, I want to bring the melody back.”  James Blake talks about how it’s such a male-centric and not female-friendly form of music.  I mean I still don’t know if people realize that.

Music, and especially electronic music, is not designed just for parties.  It’s designed for a lot of different types of things, and it’s all different types of music.  Chilling out is one of them.  I mean, just having a moment with a song.  Does anybody ever go home and say, “What do you want to listen to over dinner?”  “Oh, put on that Bassnectar record!”  Nobody ever says that!

But tracks of yours like “Enceladus” can definitely get people going, and I’d aggresively argue that your music is mostly party music.  That’s why a term like “chillbanger” was necessary to describe it: it’s party music with more reservation, it’s not as face-humping as your average dubstep track and what people have come to expect from those live shows, where they just want to feel as assaulted by the music as possible.  But you present strong evidence that people can get down to music and it doesn’t have to be that blunt about it.

Oh, absolutey.  When your senses are worn down to nubs because you’ve been listening to dubstep at full volume for… what, six months now, you kinda need a break.  And I’m not making this music thinking, “Oh this will fit into people’s breaks!”  I’m just making it to make it.  But that’s still definitely true.  If people were to stop and analyze some of their favorite artists, it’s like damn, that guy makes the same song nine times to put on an album.  But I’m making nine different songs and nine different styles for each album.

Tell me more about that, describe what you mean by different styles.

Well, most of these “genres” that people are working in actually have more in common with each other than they do in difference with each other.  We’re all using kicks and snares, we’re all making it on Ableton, Logic, ProTools, Reason, whatever.  It’s all coming from one person.  And it’s a lot of the same bass patches and FM synthesis.  And it’s very similar technology also in how it’s performed.  These things are actually a lot closer than people think.

And I think when I mix up genres and stuff, that because I’m trying to challenge myself to do other rhythms, and I think maybe what I’m best at is 85-100 bpm range, basically where my groove is, but there’s nothing stopping me from going higher or lower than that, and just seeing what comes out, not limiting myself by saying I only want to make hip-hop, because I definitely do NOT only want to make hip-hop.  But I don’t mix up the genres because I feel like I want to make all these different songs for the purpose of reaching different people.  Those are the songs that when I sat down, they came out.

You have a lot of sketches as well and seem pretty handy with a pen.  Tell me about some of your other artistic endeavors.

I’ve always been drawing for as long as I can remember.  Every conscious memory I’ve every had, I’ve been drawing.  For art, and the same way in music, it’s been an escapist sort of thing.  If I’m having feelings at all, I’m working it out on paper or I’m working it out with song.  Not necessarily in a conscious way, where I’m sad and making a slow song or happy and making a fast song or a happy picture.  I sit down, I make the stuff, and then I look at it and say “How am I feeling based on what I’m seeing?”  I try to keep the drawing portion of it free from work, I don’t do that for work I just do it for fun.

Skulls are something you see often in your drawings.  What kind of symbology does that have for you in your art?

I’ve had a couple near-death experiences in my past, and a couple of those when I think back to them, they really give me a perspective on how good things are for me.  That’s to say, I may not be on the cover of Billboard Magazine right now, but from was to where I am at is a much bigger journey than most people have made to get to where they’re at.  The skull is me reminding myself that I may not have all the money or hype or gifts or whatever, but I definitely have the gratitude, and nobody can front on that.

That’s interesting, like the Mexican approach to welcoming mortality as a thing to celebrate.  I was half-expecting you to say that you were a big comic book fan and liked Skeletor.  Do you have a favorite comic book villain?

Maybe Galactus.  I really like Galactus.  I would love to be Galactus.  He’s huge, he’s the biggest man in the universe right?

He’s kind of a prick!

He’s a total prick, but nobody argues with him, just look at him!  If I showed up at someone’s house, and I was as tall as the planet, no one would argue with me.  That would be awesome.

I guess that’s a better choice than Skeletor.  To me, the whole He-Man story just makes He-Man himself sound like a bully.  There was probably a time when Skeletor and He-Man hung out all the time, but eventually He-Man, being the personification of utter masculinity, decided one day, “This dude is a whiny little bitch.  Why do we let him hang out with us?”  And that’s the story we see, of Skeletor being an outcast, forced to make his own castle and find his own ugly-ass friends; that’s why he always calls out He-Man for being too cool for school.

Skeletor is the underdog.  I think we all have a lot more in common with Skeletor than we do with He-Man.  That’s definitely true with a lot of hero archetypes, just growing up, it’s not as if I was a football star or anything like that.  Anti-heroes, I dunno!

Let’s talk about some of your other influences.  So we read the name “Mux Mool” is a combination of two things. Mux being short for “multiplexing,” or multiple types of information coming into one channel.  Mool comes from Chac-mool, an ancient stone statue from South America that depicts a dude reclining.  Do you think that combination is symbolic of your artistic procedure?  Is Mux Mool just you sitting back and letting all of these influences stream right to you?

Somebody actually recommended the name to me.  I didn’t pick the words myself, somebody suggested the name and I thought it just sounded like cool words so I went with it.  I looked up the meanings of those words and applied meaning to it afterwards, but yeah they do seem very significant.

The Chac-Mool statue itself is actually a dude reclining, but if you look at the statue it looks like he’s got headphones on.  I thought, “Oh, sitting down listening to music with headphones, I think that fits everybody who is a music fan.”

But streaming all the different types of information through one channel, as an artist your job is to take experiences from your life and filter them through yourself into a finite channel that goes out to other people.  All these experiences I go through come out through song, and those songs are a composition that goes to someone else and they interpret what they will from it.

I think more people should do that.  Draw from their own experiences and put that into song, especially with electronic music, where people think it’s heartless or just busywork or whatever.  But it actually can have a lot of heart and meaning.

Right, or that there’s nothing substantive other than production exercises, like “Let’s see how many yahyahyahyah’s we can fit into this one.”

Electronic music should not be process and outcome. That’s definitely a part of it but it should not be all of it.

What is the most telling evidence that you are a product of the internet age?

I’m right on the cusp of the difference between Generation X and Generation Y.  One of the differences is that Generation X will not inherently understand technology.  My older brother is only a year-and-a-half older and he doesn’t get it at all.

I think an emotional attachment to a computer can determine that, the way people would have for cars, or the way little girls feel about ponies is the way Generation Y people feel about computers.  It’s one of those things you put your heart and soul into.  I think maybe the interest makes a big difference, but there definitely is a difference.  There are people who do not understand how quickly the internet works, who do not understand what memes are or that popularity is incredibly, incredibly fleeting.  But I definitely know and watch that, and staying on top of those trends is fun, primarily, but it’s interesting, and almost beautiful.

It’s definitely shaped the way we communicate, and if we’re talking about memes specifically, it’s absolutely shaped humor.  

And also, on the subject of sharing music, I’m a big proponent of music just being free, and that’s not because I don’t want to sell my music or I’m trying to screw over my record label.  It’s just to say that music is free, it defiitely is, that will not change.  If someone wants to hear my music, I would much rather them have it than never get it.  I didn’t make this stuff just to sell it, and that’s a big problem within the professional music industry now because obviously labels don’t feel that way. I don’t give a fuck; I won’t go so far as to post a free torrent on my Facebook, but it’s out there.  And anybody who talks to me, who knows the things I post and what I’m in touch with, knows that I know that.

As a music blogger, I see this every day.  If someone puts something on Soundcloud and they don’t put a download link on it, I’ll listen to it once, but downloads stick around forever.  The best song non-downloadable song I heard last month is already out-of-sight, out-of-mind, but that free download I got three years ago is still haunting my computer somewhere.

Right, and when music is all free and the ability to make music doesn’t require a lot of practice — you can buy any Apple computer and it comes with GarageBand — then you can self release on iTunes.  Then the only music that stands out is music that people really, really like, and that makes it a complete democracy and that’s a good thing. But everybody has that option to make music, and even if I was to say “They didn’t study music like I did, they didn’t spend ten years on the road like I did, now I’m some sound guy in a shitty club in a nowhere town,” the bitterness that comes from that, I don’t feel that way.

There are still people who want to fight against it without realizing that the internet is the entire subconscious of the world.  It’s bigger than the ocean, and what they want to do is walk up to it and punch it in the face.  It’s like no, it’s already so much bigger than you can imagine, and you can’t harness that.  All you can do is drop a rock in and see how it ripples.

It’s also strange too, because it’s open to everyone you have to be open to everyone, including the vast amount of trolls who want to say shit just to say shit.  That is not a representation of a subculture, that’s just how a lot of people feel.  You’re The Man Now Dog has these funny animated .gifs to music, and I love the site, but looking at the comments, it can get really fucking racist sometimes.  I’m not a racist, but people are.  And I can’t hate on the internet because people are racist.  That’s why it’s really strange.  It’s a representation of real life.  I’m not going to get all huffy because he doesn’t believe what I believe, and you can’t do that anywhere.  You know what I’m saying?

And you can’t blame YouTube because people can’t spell.

It’s not YouTube’s fault, and you don’t need to go on there and say, “This kid said something really dumb, I’m going to get upset about it.”  That kid said something dumb because THAT KID IS DUMB.  If it really bothers you that much, go out there and be smart!


One comment on “INTERVIEW // Mux Mool Discusses “Planet High School,” Ancient Mesoamerican Art, and Skeletor

  1. Pingback: GIVEAWAY // Mux Mool w/ B.Bravo, Cloud-D, and more! | Unified Funk Option

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