Trying to blend hip-hop underbellies with breakbeat tempos and electro-funk beats can quickly turn into a clusterfucked disaster, but for Gramatik, it’s just another day in his life as a producer. Hailing from the tiny country of Slovenia in central Europe, the 28-year-old production genius closed out Camp Bisco with his impressive bounty of tracks that cut across genres with ease.
Dennis J, known to the musical world as Gramatik, sat down with Joonbug to discuss pulling inspiration from TV, digging for sample snippets and a living through a summer full of festivals.
Jaime Sloane: Let’s start off with the basics - I love your name, how did you come up with it?
Gramatik: It’s a stupid story really. When I started out as an Emcee I was in 8th grade and a couple buddies and I started smoking weed. Whenever we would go buy weed from a dealer, I never had more money than to buy a gram. So I was like “I’m gonna be Gram.”
So I went on as an Emcee under the name Gram and when I got to high school I started producing more and more. I was kind of good at English in my class, because I’m from Slovenia and that’s our third language. One day I was helping my classmates with spelling and one of them said, “Dude, you’re not Gram, you’re Gramatik!” We laughed about it and then the next thing you know, I was putting out beats under the name Gramatik.
Jaime Sloane: When did your love for music begin, and when was the moment when you knew it would turn into a career?
Gramatik: I was always attracted to music, ever since I was three years old. I never decided to go into this, I never chose this, this really chose me. I was just attracted by shiny objects, and followed whatever was getting my attention. And I ended up here.
It happened super-naturally. I always wanted to do it, but I never expected it to happen. I come from Slovenia and all my life people have been telling me, “That’s not going to happen.” So many people out there say, “Why would you, a random kid from Slovenia, make it?” All that fucking negative bullshit has been surrounding me all my life. But in spite of it all, I never listened to it or gave it any credit. I just stuck with making music and one day it picked up.
I can’t imagine doing anything else. Everything else I’ve tried, aside from cinematography and making movies - which me and my friend are doing - that’s something I’m going to dabble with in the future. Movies and music, it’s what my life is all about.
Jaime Sloane: Your sound ranges from hip-hop to electro-funk to breakbeat. Where do you draw inspiration from and how do you balance out all of your different sounds when producing a track?
Gramatik: Inspiration comes from all of the genres that I ever liked listening to. There are so many that it’s pointless to count them out. But it’s like, everything that moves me I consider good music, and then that’s what I try to incorporate into my sound and my style.
In terms of inspiration, it doesn’t necessarily come from other music. In the past five or six years I’ve been getting way more inspired by TV shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I get inspired by perfection, and I’m a huge fan of comedy. I also write comedy sometimes, I use Twitter as a platform for writing jokes and shit. He’s a huge inspiration of mine, watching an episode of The Daily Show is so perfect in regards to political satire that it inspires me to be perfect in my craft.
You have no idea how many episodes of The Daily Show inspired me to make songs which ended up on my albums. I love how it works like that. And vice versa - comedians can be inspired by musicians and that’s the beauty of it. You can draw inspiration from anywhere.
Jaime Sloane: How has your music grown and evolved since your first album “Street Bangerz Vol. 1?”
Gramatik: It evolved in the sense that when I dropped “Street Bangerz” those are just hip-hop beats that I used to do when I was starting out as a rapper and producer. Afterwards, when I grew up, my appetite for music got so much bigger and stronger that I just started incorporating different kids of genres that I liked listening to into my production.
Right about now, I do all of those styles. I try to keep it all together, as much as possible, into my own production. I’d say it’s different in the way that all of my new productions still have the same vibe from “Street Bangerz” only there are a lot more genres added to it. From electronic music and folk music and blues and soul. Every year my sound becomes a bigger and bigger cocktail. It’s something I like to do, in terms of combining everything I like listening to.
Jaime Sloane: You signed with Pretty Lights Music a little over a year ago. How has that transition been for you?
Gramatik: It’s been cool! Derek and I have been touring and kicking it since before he even had a label. PLM isn’t like a label in the traditional sense, it’s just a platform for us to expose ourselves. Derek enables us to expose our music to his fan-base, and in return we promote his name.
It’s a symbiotic relationship with no strings attached. He doesn’t run us like a label, he doesn’t try to run our careers or tell us what to do. He gives us a jumping point for us to get to the point when we can start our own thing as soon as possible. Every single artist on PLM is trying to get to the point when he can have his own label. That’s what it’s all about right now, in the 21st century music industry, it’s all about having your own thing and doing it by yourself. Without a middle man, without anyone leeching off of you, without corporations trying to make money off of you and trying to make you do things you don't want to do.
Jaime Sloane: I think your song “Solidified” is one of the most unique songs on Digital Freedom. It kind of sounds like alien techno meets Eminem-esque rapping. Can you tell us a little about how that song came together?
Gramatik: Solidified was a sequel to Liquified which was off of “No Shortcuts.” It incorporates a lot of the same sounds but also has a lot of new elements. In the Liquified version I had a capellas from rappers that I had sampled and chopped up. In the Liquified version I actually had J Fresh drop a verse on it so it was all original vocals. Solidified was basically part two of the track, which was way more revolved and refined. It’s a mashup between hip-hop and dubstep.
Jaime Sloane: Speaking of your samples, we hear a lot of super unique ones in all of your music. Where do you find these golden snippets of sound?
Gramatik: It’s all about digging. It used to be crate-digging, now it’s virtual crate-digging all over Youtube and the internet. I look for artists from the '60s or '70s or '50s or '30s. You just have to dig until you find something you like. I happen to have a pretty particular taste when it comes to sampling music. Sometimes I have a hard time finding what I really want, but sometimes I find something that I’m amazed by.
It’s a cool process. It’s painful at times, 'cause you’re digging for music and samples that are mostly obscure things that nobody has ever heard from the '30s and '40s and '50s. You’re bringing it back to life. It’s collage sampling and it’s super fun for me.
Jaime Sloane: You’ve had a festival-filled summer between Wakarusa, Electric Forest and now Camp Bisco. What is it about the festival environment that keeps you coming back?
Gramatik: The festivals are a cool way to promote your music in the summer. Nobody’s touring in the summer because everybody is doing festivals; tours are usually fall tours or spring tours. That’s what everyone is doing, and I get a chance to meet up with all of the artists I like and work with. We get to party and chill in awesome environments.
It’s just cool. There are some aspects that I don’t like but there aren’t that many. The good definitely outweighs.
Jaime Sloane: Something I’m personally looking forward to is watching you close the festival tonight. Have you ever had that opportunity? How do you feel about being the last sound people are going to hear at Camp Bisco?
Gramatik: This is the first time and I’m super stoked. It’s going to be super fun. I’m glad I get to provide this for everyone that gets to listen to it. I’ve been excited about this for quite some time. It’s going to be ecstatic!