Getting To Know: MICHAL MENERT
- By Nick Rhodes
- Published on March 23, 2012
Irreverent, sarcastic and talented – Michal Menert is a jack-of-all-trades with a personality all his own.
When he’s not interacting with fans on Facebook or personally updating his website, the super-producer is making some of the most danceable, accessible and thoughtful electronic music in the scene today.
He may not be a household name yet, but the 29-year-old is well known by some of the biggest names in music, including EOTO and Derek Vincent Smith aka Pretty Lights who created music alongside Menert in his early years.
[FIND news, tour dates and downloads on Michal Menert's official website.]
Now signed to the Pretty Lights Music label, Menert released his first album in 2010 and is set to release a 100-minute follow-up this year.
We caught up with Menert to chat about his unique sound, why he’d rather work at Wendy’s than play “Bass Cannon” at a show and his plans for a zombie survival compound.--
In one sentence describe your musical style.
Michael Travis [of String Cheese Incident and EOTO] gave me a compliment that's the closest summation of my sound: "It's like lullabies with balls."
What makes your music unique?
My sound is a nutty cluster of hip-hop sampling aesthetics, dusty soul grooves and warm analog synths. I think my music is unique in that it's able to connect with people in their daily lives and during a live performance.I grew up looking up to production as an alchemy of sorts and have just tried to keep the magic I felt in music alive for myself and those who dig my sound.
What’s your musical background? How did you first get interested in electronic music?
I was a refugee and an only child. My father had a passion for music, even playing drums in a polish, psych-rock band briefly in the late 70s. I guess I inherited his obsession with music.
Being alone in the sense of moving to the U.S. and having to figure out how to fit in, I spent a lot of time with headphones on in my room, drawing and reading.
I took piano lessons briefly when I was eight, but never much enjoyed the technical or theoretical side of music. It was like trying to quantify emotion into patterns and formulas and, to me, it was dispelling the magic I felt from music.
[FOLLOW Michal Menert on Facebook.]
I got a cheap knock-off guitar in 7th grade, and had a synth left over from my dad's short-lived ambient production days in the early 90s. For a few years, he had drum sequencers, midi brains and digital keyboards all plugged into a mixer in a spare bedroom, and that – as a 10-year-old – was my first exposure to electronic music.
I played around with Cool Edit Pro on PC from the age of 15. After that I [used more an more advanced programs] and slowly found a middle ground between software and hardware, and have been exploring that ever since.
How has your sound changed since you first started making music?
It's always changing, because as you become professional (or try to live make a living off of it in anyway), you start to see your work differently. In many ways it's good because you step up your workflow and productivity, like "This is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life, I need to make the most of this or I’ll lose it.”
But in other ways, I feel constantly in competition with what's “going on” in the electronic scene. I know how to make music that is more danceable, bigger bass, more based around big builds, drops and shock value, but I don't.
In a lot of ways, that limits the rate of my exposure, but to me, it's just a way to keep doing what I love and what drew me to producing. So it's an internal struggle sometimes when you see DJs play a bunch of really heavy songs by the world’s top producers, dropping what's hot at the moment, and then you go up and have to compete, using only your own material.
Sometimes I feel like, "Man, maybe I should just stop trying and play ‘Bass Cannon,’ too." But I don't and I won't. Even if I have to start working at Wendy's to pay the bills.
What is your nightly goal when playing a show?
To make somebody smile, make new friends, see a couple that's in love and having a good time at my show and/or feel like there's good vibes. Basically I want to enjoy myself, because if I can't have a good time on stage, where the hell am I supposed to have a good time?
Talk a little about the new album you’re working on.
I'm most proud of being able to let it evolve. The first few tracks weren’t started until the final moments when it became a tangible piece rather than just a concept.
[FOLLOW Headstash on Facebook.]
I wanted to do a follow-up, sample-based release. Originally, it was an EP, then it was an LP, then I kept making more songs that told the story of what I was feeling since my last record, and it just kept getting longer. Eventually it became a flowing 100-minute monster of an album.
With software readily available and every kid with a copy of Ableton and an iPod looking to be a producer or DJ, what sets you apart from a random guy in both tangible and intangible ways?
I think the signature of any artist is that spark of individual insanity that can't be copied through technique. You see it in graffiti – writers bite certain bits of each other's letters, hand-styles, shading, but you can still tell a writer by that piece of his soul in each work.
It's the same with music. People are always talking about similarities, but the truth is, you can tell certain songs are an artist’s despite the plethora of artists using techniques borrowed from that artist.
Like J Dilla – he influenced everyone in hip-hop. He was like a cartographer of the hip-hop rhythmic universe. A lot of people can make beats in the style of Jay Dee, but you can tell when it's one of his tracks. That's what sets artists apart, or at least what should: not technique, but signature and personality in their voice.
INSPIRATIONS AND CONNECTIONS
What are some of your musical inspirations?
I grew up on a slew of artists that ranged from mainstream classic rock like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, to weird stuff like The Residents, Holy Toy and Frank Zappa. The first vinyl my dad handed down to me was Dead Kennedy's "Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables" then Joy Division, so I feel like some of the darker, more cerebral, more tongue-in-cheek and layered stuff really influenced me.
Talk about your relationship (both business and personal) with Derek Vincent Smith aka Pretty Lights. How did you first hook up?
Derek is one of my best friends from as long back as I can remember. He's brought so much soul to an often repetitive and synthetic genre. We first started skating together in 8th grade, then playing in bands, then living and touring together. He's like a brother to me.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a part of PLM? Are there any disadvantages or hurdles to it?
The advantages are having an independent, free way of getting your music out alongside a crew of cool, hardworking and artistic people. It's a huge platform for a lot of artists who deserve all they've been given.
[FIND complete lineups, ticketing information and analysis on our 2012 Festival Guide.]
The only downside is that some people are still confused when we do a PLM tour because they think Pretty Lights will be there. For me, personally I get compared to Derek and used to get a lot of negative feedback because people thought I was trying to copy Derek's style, before they realized that we came up together and shared many years working side-by-side developing the styles we bring.
Skrillex just won three Grammys – what was your reaction to that? Do you think electronic music becoming more mainstream is positive or negative?
I like Skrillex, mainly for his outstanding detail in production. His sound design and workflow is amazing, and I think he has had a meteoric rise that, even if you think of negatively, is a great story.
Where do you see yourself (or hope to see yourself) in one, two, five or 10 years?
One year: opening a zombie survival training facility on 100 acres of land along the Colorado/Wyoming border. Subtle allusions to my program will begin slipping into my albums and live sets.
Two years: I will be living on the aforementioned survival compound, pirating a wind-powered propaganda radio signal awaiting the coming long winter.
Five years: I stake claim to half of North America.
10 years: The doctors explain in detail how it was all a psychotic episode.
Catch Michal Menert along with Gramatik, Break Science, Paper Diamond and Paul Basic in Miami, Florida for the Pretty Lights Music showcase Saturday, March 24.