Catching up With Conspirator
It’s a frigidly cold Colorado night as plumes of smoke scurry away with the wind whipping through the back alley of The Aggie Theater. Marc Brownstein of Conspirator stands shivering amidst streaks of snow answering a fan’s question about his age by saying, “it’s like the wind-chill factor, I’m almost 40 but it feels like 25.” As that iconic smile stretches across his face, it’s evident that Marc embodies this youthful, optimistic outlook, enabling him to both possess the wisdom of a jam-band veteran while preserving the ambition of a musical rookie.
Marc started the Disco Biscuits back in 1995, but despite all his accomplishments through the years he says, “I don’t feel bored at all making music.” This creative restlessness has resulted in him starting up multiple musical endeavors (Conspirator, Younger Brother, SuckerPunch), co-founding a non-profit to promote voter registration (HeadCount), establishing and headlining a highly successful music festival (Camp Bisco), composing a rock opera (Chemical Warfare Brigade), hosting a radio show (Jamtronica on Sirius XM), and remixing hip-hop albums (Ski Beatz vs. The Disco Biscuits).
Marc’s current focus is Conspirator, which has gradually grown from being considered a side project into a full-fledged band with it’s own sound and fan base. “I’m starting to see it turn from a thing that our old fans used to come to see just as a novelty because we were in it, into really having it’s own identity,” Marc says. “We’re trying to do something completely different and when you’re starting something new, you don’t know if it’s going to be popular. You just put your heart and soul into it, then promote it and believe.”
That constant belief and promotion has paid off with the recent release of Conspirator’s first studio EP, Unleashed, as well as a 28-city tour and a full festival season this summer to back it. There’s no telling what their future holds, but with that much momentum, it’s clear that they don’t plan to slow down or stop anytime soon.
Newton’s first law of motion states that bodies at rest tend to stay at rest, but when Marc Brownstein rests, he tends to make more music. Consequently, Conspirator was born in 2004 during a brief hiatus from touring with The Disco Biscuits, when fellow Biscuit, Aron Magner, who Marc refers to as his “musical soul-mate,” first proposed the project. The idea took off and allowed them to guide their well-honed creative chemistry in a different direction. This departure from The Disco Biscuits developed a unique sound that strays away from a jam-oriented style, yet maintains the same spirit of eclecticnes and excitement. “We wanted to make electronic music with an element of surprise,” Marc says, “playing with the beat and adding in all kinds of stuff that all comes together to create a whole new genre.”
Genre is a tricky word when it comes to Conspirator. Their music encompasses a wide range of rock and electronic elements that fuse together to form a sound that orbits around, “a heavy, electronically produced core with a skillful and melodic homage to instrumentation.” Marc is quick to sight Simon Posford of Shpongle as one of the forefathers of this type of live electronica. “ He is a huge influence of mine and also one of the guys who gave us the idea that this was something that could be done.” Conspirator continues to build off of what Posford pioneered and their diverse audience is a testament to the way their music bridges genres.
Conspirator’s crowd encompasses all ages and types of fans. Ranging from middle-aged men who hired babysitters to come to catch a couple of their favorite Disco Biscuit’s play, to neon-clad college kids unaware of the band’s past. “Sometimes we’ll meet kids and have to explain to them who we are,” Marc says, “That’s my favorite thing, people just being there and loving a new band when they don’t know about our other band or the last 20 years.”
Having just turned 40, the topic of age is inescapable, yet rather than pondering the past, Marc chooses to focus on the future. When asked about his opinion on age, Marc replies, “To answer your question, Phil Lesh just turned 73 the other week and that guy still throws down hard for four hours. I see him as inspiration to be somebody who just has the longevity and also Miles Davis as somebody who was not afraid to completely switch things up and change the way they make music.”
While Marc may disprove Newton’s first law of motion, he personifies the theory that the only constant is change, and also ‘haters’. “Don’t let the haters get you down, because if you’re going to be anything, you’re going to have haters. Since before the Internet, there were haters, but you shouldn’t give up if somebody else is telling you it’s not there. We had an OG hater back in 1997 who was at a show and said, ‘I’m in the music industry and you guys don’t have it. Go back to school and don’t quit your day jobs,’ which just fueled us and we were like ‘Screw that guy, we’re going to be successful on our own terms with our own sound’.” Conspirator has managed to transcend the haters, and thanks to a positive and progressive attitude, they’ve prevailed. “It’s all tied into dedication. That’s the key-practice hard, never give up, and be yourself. ”
To view a digital version of this article in issue #3 of Spinr Magazine click here (pg.12).
“ Every track this guys sends me is fire,” shouts Skrillex as cheers echo through the Backbeat Tent before the final set of CounterPoint Music and Arts Festival. That guy is Anton Zaslavski, better known as Zedd, and although he’s new to the electronic scene he’s been studying and making music since he was four. 2012 has been a huge year for Zedd: turning 23, signing to Interscope Records, releasing his debut album Clarity, touring around the world with Lady Gaga, producing for Justin Bieber, and creating remixes for Adele, Fatboy Slim and The Black Eyed Peas.
This type of sudden success may be unbelievable but it isn’t undeserved, and while working with such ‘big names’ often generates an ego Zedd remains humble about his accomplishments and honest in his intent to make music. His highly melodic music incorporates elements of electro house and progressive dub-step to create songs that are catchy yet well composed. Spinr caught up with Zedd before he closed out CounterPoint to talk about drumming in a German metal band, a life changing MySpace message and accidentally meeting Max Martin at the Grammys.
Spinr: You’ve only been producing ‘electronic’ music for 2 years but both you and your parents are classically trained musicians and you also drummed in the metal band Dioramic. How has that eclectic and extensive background influenced the way you make music?
Zedd: In a lot of ways starting with piano and music theory kind of helps me make chord progressions and melodies that other people would probably not do because they just don’t know how to get there. I know a lot of people who say that they have a certain feeling they want to create, but when you know what you have to do and what notes you have to play to create that feeling then it’s much easier and you can concentrate on other stuff. With a band you also learn a lot about song structure and dub-step is very playable as a band so it’s almost a modern form of metal.
A lot of more instrumentally oriented artists at this festival like Lotus and Beats Antique prove just how playable and progressive ‘electronic’ music can be.
Yea and I think playing an instrument can be a big advantage. I hear that with Sonny (Skrillex) as well. I can totally hear riffs in his music made the same way we used to do it with our bands, and I don’t think that would be there if he hadn’t played in one first.
You two are both ex-members of metal bands who transitioned into making ‘electronic’ music. When you were drumming in Dioramic did you ever envision making this type of music or achieving so much success?
I never had any success with my band. We only sold a total of 888 records and we had been touring and playing together for nine and a half years. It was just very difficult to break through and in since almost everything is blocked in Germany they’re always a couple steps behind.
Most people would imagine that you’d be a couple of steps behind as a producer since you’ve only been making ‘electronic’ music for about 2 years, yet you’ve already achieved so much. Outside of stumbling across a copy of Justice’s “†” album how were you initially introduced to this type of music?
I remember that when I first heard Justice it was something new to me and I always love trying out new things so I wanted to do something I’d never done before. With my band it was so hard to find something we didn’t do yet, but with electronic dance music I’ve never done anything so it’s a whole new world that I can experience for myself. I remember making my first song and it was just so completely different and there was so much to do. That was one of the points that really made me want to try it. It was never for success or money or anything because I started doing this for fun and I never even thought about anything like that. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I did things differently because I didn’t even know people played my music. I just made music and I think that probably helped me.
That’s refreshing to hear since there seem to be some artists who enter into music with much different motives. How did you go from not knowing if people even played your music to meeting Skrillex and making an immensely popular remix of “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”?
At that point I was working on a song and I thought that it was kind of something new. While I was working on that song I saw Deadmau5 post something about a guy named Skrillex so I checked him out and was like ‘wow, that’s pretty much what I do’. So I just decided to message him on MySpace, which was completely random since I had never talked to him or even knew him before. Shortly after that he replied saying that he would love to use my song for his show that night. I didn’t expect that, but we stayed in touch and he asked me for remixes and we started working together and then we started touring together.
What is the most beneficial thing that you’ve learned from Sonny as a friend and an artist?
Well, I learned almost everything from him. I would never do something that I’m not convinced of, like if a label told me to do something I didn’t want to. I learned a lot about stage performance from him. I remember I was playing EDC and I was fairly shy at that point. I didn’t really use a mic and he was like “You have to use a mic today.” So I used the mic and ever since then I’ve been doing that.
How did you get involved with Justin Bieber’s third album or the Lady Gaga remixes?
For me, it’s basically always been a lot of coincidences happening at the same time making things happen. I was at the Grammy’s with Skrillex and we were at an after party. Skrillex was talking to a guy and I didn’t know who he was and I wanted to tell Skrillex something. He was like “Oh by the way this is Max.” I was like “Hey Max,” and I didn’t know it was Max Martin at that point. A few minutes later he told me it was Max Martin so I went back and told him I was a big fan of his music and he said he really liked my music. That was pretty impressive because I’ve been a big Max Martin fan. And then I made a song that was the track for Bieber and I thought my dream would be for Max Martin to write the top line. I didn’t know who this would go to or be for, but the same way I did it with Skrillex, I just sent his manager an e-mail with an MP3 and said I had a song I thought was perfect for Max. Two days later he replied saying he loved the song and wanted to write to it. He wrote the top line and then we were kind of going back and forth about artists we would want to give the song to. Bieber’s camp hit us up and they loved the song. We just went into the studio with him and recorded it and it was great so we were lucky we didn’t try anyone else.
Is that what led to you recently signing with Interscope or meeting Jimmy Lovine?
What led to this was Skrillex as well, actually. He sent an e-mail to Dave Rene from Interscope, saying “Hey, check out this guy Zedd. He’s amazing.” That was it. Dave commissioned Skrillex to do remixes for Lady Gaga and people like that before, he then asked me to do remixes for Gaga, Diddy, and the Black Eyed Peas. At some point they asked me to start producing music for several artists, so I started slowly producing music for them. At some point it caught Jimmy’s attention. He was like, “Who’s this Zedd guy?” Dave was like, “Yeah man, I told you before, he’s dope. Sign this guy.” That was about it.
Do you ever get accidentally affiliated with Zeds Dead because of your name?
Yeah, we both get a lot of tweets. People saying “I’m excited for your show tomorrow in Atlanta,” and Zeds Dead won’t be playing there tomorrow-it’s the other way around. But you know, that happens and it’s actually gotten a lot better. Like today, we both played and people see it’s two names and they’re like, “Whoa, what’s going on?” So it’s getting better.
CounterPoint is just the sixth stop out of 19 shows on your Poseidon tour with Porter Robinson. How has it been thus far?
It’s been amazing so far. It’s been a great experience. We’re still figuring everything out because we just want to go in and play a set and be able to do back to back flights. And you know, we’re still figuring it out. It’s been an amazing time so far.
Was this tour inspired by Doctor P and Flux Pavillion’s concept for performing back to back and collaboratively?
No, I’ve never seen them perform. I know that Porter did and he thought it was very inspirational. I’ve played back to back with him once and it was amazing and I thought we had a lot of great energy together on stage. Since we’re good friends I thought it would just be something really cool and also for the fans.
Your album Clarity is about to be released-how would you sum it up with any experience or words?
You can’t. If I had to find one word I would say it’s emotional. I didn’t try to make the hardest drops, even though it has hard drops, and I didn’t try to make the biggest hit, although the album has hits. I just tried to make something very emotional in the first place, and very musical. That was my main goal.
Tying back into your classical influence, would you say its music that works well on paper?
That was pretty much the whole deal because I wanted to make a timeless album. I believe that if you concentrate on the music and what music is really about, which in my view is the emotion that comes out when you play this music, it will be rather timeless compared to concentrating on sound design. Which does not mean that there is anything wrong with music based on sound design, but for me, as a concept for my album, I wanted to make a timeless album that I’ll be proud of in 30 years.
What can your fans who will read this or who are here at the show tonight expect from you in the future?
I don’t know-that’s the thing! They can expect me to always be me and I will always do whatever I feel is right. I’m not afraid of making a metal song tomorrow if I want to. I will always just be who I am. Fans can be sure that I would never, ever work on something or put something out that I’m not 150% convinced on.
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