It's always great to catch up with our featured artists and we recently had the chance to do just that with TTB himself, Juan Padilla. In this exclusive interview, Juan talks his recent gig with Phantogram, sources of influence on this record, and much more alternative culture.
The experience was awesome. I was stressed during the week of the show but at the moment we got on stage it all fell away and I felt more comfortable than I’ve ever been. I think it was the largest crowd I’ve ever played. It was a sold out auditorium filled to the top with people. It was a great audience and they responded very well to my music, which felt nice. The way I got the gig was, Gerry (who performs live with me) told me about Phantogram coming to Monterrey and that it would be cool if we went and saw them, possibly even try to get the opening spot. I shrugged it off since I’d already seen them recently in Austin City Limits and didn’t even think about playing. But, for some reason, I woke up the next day and wrote the people who were organizing the event. Really sold myself as the perfect band to open for them but also not really expecting anything. They wrote me that day saying they already had me in mind and then sent me the poster with my name on it. That was obviously good news to hear.
You’ll be playing a SXSW showcase soon [on Wednesday]. SXSW is sort of a rite of passage for indie bands rising into their success. Have you been to the Austin Music Media Festival before? What are you most excited about? Are there any acts or events you plan to see down there? Are you planning to do anything special for your set?
I’ve never been. Honestly, I’m so concentrated on my own thing at the moment that I haven’t even thought about the gig. I know that the real reason to go is to get to know and talk to people in the industry there more than to see specific acts, in my case. They gave us about 40 minutes to play but with 7 minutes to set up and 7 to clear out which means barely playing a handful of our songs, maybe getting 30 real minutes in. Still, I want to play one of my covers like Where Is My Mind or some vocoder cover to get the audience on my side early. But, nothing special, really.
So many reasons...
To get over my fear of the camera.
To publish more content and experience what it means to have more presence without touring so much.
To attract people with my tastes by doing covers of music I love.
To promote my music.
For novelty, since 6 second videos allow me to cover a wide range of songs. If I did full covers I’d spend all my time trying to get just one song right.
To use the vocoder more since I’m obsessed with it but don’t want to saturate my original music with it.
To gain a sense of community on Vine, which is an amazing app if you get over the juvenile popular page crap. There are so many ridiculously creative, hilarious and genuine people on there like Matt Post, Kayla Christine, Leslie Lane, thejasminator, BigCatDerek. I don’t know why people are so averse to use it. I’m a bit addicted to it.
The cover process is basically a long evernote filled with requests from other people and my own ideas. I get to revisit old songs I’ve loved and even study up on their harmonies as I figure out the chords.
All in all, I think using Vine (and Instagram) has been a process of self discovery. As time goes by I put out more videos of me doing stuff in the studio or piano piece ideas which I’ve always loved doing but never knew what to do with. It’s been extremely rewarding mostly from meeting people who have similar tastes.
You said in a recent interview that you don’t want to restrict yourself to one country, in terms of musical output, fan base, and commerciality. Has working as an independent artist allowed you to make your sound international and more experimental? Do you think the electropop format is more versatile in allowing you to reach fans across the world? Is there a music scene or community you feel particularly attached to?
As an independent artist I get to do whatever the hell I want which is basically the reason why I do all this. Shouldn’t it be? I love the freedom and having done a very non commercial project with The Course Of Empire I get to satisfy cravings I would otherwise be unable to satisfy. I get to sing in English like all my idols. If I want to record and master a full length album of a turtle shitting on a cake I could do that. Not that it would be very popular but it’s the internet so you never know. Mostly, I have to really appreciate this time when I have that liberty. When I decide to tour more and get more into the business I might find myself in a less creative space but I’ll deal with that when the time comes.
Well, electro pop is definitely a popular genre. Maybe not pure pop but still accesible to a sophisticated audience. I don’t really feel like I’m attached to a particular audience but I know I do get a reaction from fans with an electro pop feel more than anything. Recently, in an interview, my style was compared to James Blake, Sufjan Stevens and Capital Cities which floored me. The first two are my musical heroes so, without realizing it, my influences were in fact coming through in my music. I can’t ask for much more than that.
The fact that I don’t participate in visual arts that much makes me admire it and appreciate it more. I love polished art. I love weirdness. I love fonts. I love analog pictures. I LOVE animals. One of the best pieces of visual art I’ve ever seen is this deer by Kohei Nawa.
Your music is very much indicative of your wide range of cultural literacy, from philosophy and literature, to pop culture and media, to social commentary. Like Passion Pit and Vampire Weekend, your music is very informed and cerebral, but maintains a level of accessibility and wit. What visual and literary sources inspired your latest album, Forgiveness?
All kinds of books. I’ve been reading way too much recently and it all comes out when it’s time to write a song in one way or another. I have a list from an evernote where I write down the greatest books I read each year, I'll paste it here:
The best books I read during the year and a half I spent with “Forgiveness" were these. Life changing books are in bold.
Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys To Creativity - Hugh Macleod
Steal Like An Artist - Austin Kleon
On Writing - Stephen King
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work - Mason Currey
The Creative Habit - Twyla Tharp
The War Of Art - Steven Pressfield
Freedom From The Known - Jiddu Krishnamurti
Self Reliance - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Free Will - Sam Harris
Quiet - Susan Cain
Maus - Art Spiegelman
Meditations - Marcus Aurelius
Beyond Good And Evil - Friedrich Nietzsche
The Omnivore’s Dilemma - Michael Pollan
Going Clear - Lawrence Wright
Parasite Rex - Carl Zimmer
The Reason I Jump - Naoki Higashida
Zen and The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert M. Pirsig
Animals in Translation - Temple Grandin
Hyperspace - Michio Kaku
Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane - Neil gaiman
The City and The Stars - Arthur C. Clarke
The Gods Themselves - Isaac Asimov
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
I obviously don’t literally talk about science or science fiction in my songs, even though I’d like to, but it’s all part of the creative output. How we perceive reality, how we relate to another species, growing up, relying on yourself. And the creative process of anything is the most fascinating to me, which is why I love making music.
In our last interview you said “I try to change my writing process with every album, sometimes every track, so it’s never the same. This keeps me learning and pushing towards a more streamlined process later on or so that I can stumble upon something original.” What was your writing process on this album like? How did it differ from your other projects? What experiences do you think influenced you?
In Reactions I used to do whatever was floating in my head at the moment. And if I had done a ballad type song I would allow myself to do a harder hitting electro song. It kept a balance and in its own way it was like bouncing from one song to the next like a ping pong ball. Hence the name Reactions.
On Forgiveness, I basically poured out all the bullshit I had gathered during my most guilt ridden years. It was a process of letting go, of changing ways of thinking but mostly of forgiving myself. I’ve lived in a way where I’ve judged myself and others mercilessly trying to become something that was probably out of my reach and living in the future instead of enjoying and living the moment. I try to practice this as much as I can these days and its fucking with my brain since it still feels comfortable to live in that disheartened space of self torture I've lived in for such a long time. It’s hard to leave familiar spaces even if they hurt because there’s usually more fear to find in uncertainty and the fact that maybe you’re not going to be the person you depended on being. Maybe all your dreams are not gonna come true. Coming to terms with that has made my life a lot better but its still hard to say goodbye to your old self. And as I look more positively at life I notice how a lot of dreams do come true.
So, I wrote and journaled all this and chose the best themes. In this album, it was important to me to be based mostly on lyrical themes and let the music take care of itself in the usual way, following the lyrical content. I also set a deadline, I hated that.
I have a theory about the current musical sound of indie/alternative artists that I have been talking about extensively on the blog. I think this album is very indicative of that. In 2011-2013 we saw an emergence of indie electropop/80s revival that exploded within the scene, but lately I hear a push to the 90s alternative soul/R&B with ambient elements. I think some of your tracks, particularly Kicked Around represents that progress. Do you find my theory convincing? Do you think alternative music is attempting to reinvent and revive different genres to further innovate? Do you find yourself inspired by 90s music lately?
I’ve seen a lot 80’s sounding stuff lately. Blood Orange and Haim come to mind. But 80’s and 90’s are very linked too so, yeah, I can see where you’re going with that. Still, when I think of the 90’s I think Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Wu Tang, Radiohead (OK Computer, by god), Beck, DJ Shadow, Smashing Pumpkins, those were my influences. I don’t really know the reasons as to why bands are searching for that sound. Kicked Around is mostly an insistence on using organic instruments when I maybe shouldn't, haha, I don’t really try to sound like a decade or genre. But I’ve spoken to some people who do make this kind of 80’s and 90’s sound and their reasons are mostly “because its in style.” So, I don’t know who originated it or brought it back but clearly a lot of bands just do what others are doing and that’s that.
At the moment, I’m focusing on a bit of promotion. I got up to #8 on the RPM charts, which was awesome, and I ended up in the CMJ Radio 200 charts. I’m playing Austin next week, then Mexico City. So, no new musical exploring, which is killing me. So, yesterday I started playing with new synths and presets. I plan on gathering all the best sounds I can for my next album. All new synths and I’m working on a new creative process which I think might yield the most melodic material I’ve made to date. Paired with some strong experiences I’ve had this last year, I’m extremely excited about starting producing again. It’s the best part of this whole thing, just holed up in my studio.
Finally, a question we have been asking all of artists lately: which songs are you currently obsessed with? What new acts do you recommend to our listeners? What bands do you believe are your best kept secret in the indie community?
I really don’t listen to enough new music at all. I really should. I depend on festivals to inspire me with new music and I usually focus on my old heroes when its time to get inspired for new projects. Maybe Run The Jewels 2? I wasn’t amazed by Panda Bear but I love his work with Animal Collective. I’m super hyped to listen to the new Bjork album but haven't downloaded it. Death Grips. Jai Paul. I don’t know. I’ll get back to you on that.