Recently I had the pleasure of chatting via cell phone with DJ Steven Hawley of Codebreaker. I knew midwesterners were generally down to earth, but I didn’t know they were so friendly and easy to talk to. I also assumed they were more or less rigid and stoic in their snow blanketed tundras, using most of their free time to film the sequel to Fargo and play ice hockey, and maybe doing the occasional robot when they feel like letting loose a bit. But Steven and Sage Schwarm’s Milwaukee-based outfit Codebreaker proves that guys and gals in the frozen Heartland can get down, dirty, and funky with the best of ’em. Codebreaker have a new project due out in late July called The Space Chase (Blisspop will be sure to get you more details pending its release). While it may end up self-released on their own label Disco Demolition Records, there is a chance a bigger company will pick it up. Let’s hope so; Codebreaker certainly has the musical chops worthy of a large, legitimate, and well-executed distribution effort. Steven described the album as a more dance-floor-centric, linear effort of extended tracks aimed specifically at booty-shakers with an open mind and broad palette. He also used the words “housier” (I like that word) and “atmospheric” when describing the record. Sounds good. According to Steven, these two dudes have been hard at work, spending anywhere from seven to fifteen hours locked in their basement studios hammering this beauty out. I hope they had some minions or some special lady friends to bring them food and beer. Maybe all that time in close quarters is why Steven is taking a little break to do a mini solo tour. Just kidding. U Street Music Hall opens the door of their DJ booth to Steven this Friday the 11th @ 10PM . For the sake of space and format I won’t transcribe our entire conversation here word for word. But below are some of Steven’s finer paraphrased talking points. Make sure to get your ass on the dance floor to check out his skills this Friday.
On executing a live dance act … We’ve recently added more live keyboards, and more live synths. Having a live act is difficult but worth the effort. It gives us a cleaner more effective sound, and its generally a better and more fun experience for us as musicians and the audience. We’ve been reformatting and fine tuning the process. The Juan McLean is definitely one of the best in the business, and I’ve been lucky enough to have a solid rapport with him to seek his advice. You basically look at someone who does it well like Juan and you say what about his act can we replicate for our band and have it be applicable to our sound and our own circumstances.
On collaboration and remixes … Collaboration is something I’ve always been comfortable doing and tried to do fairly often. One of the songs on our new album is called “Sous l’ choc” featuring Marc Gauvin. I had been digging his stuff for a while, and so I got in touch with him in order to pay my respects. Turns out the feeling was mutual, so we got together and collaborated on this track. That is how it works more often than not. As long as you have the musical chops, young artists are usually open and more than willing to work together. Same thing happened with my friend and fellow artist Miami Horror. I realized I had been really grooving to his remix of Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You” on my iPod running mix. And so I looked him up, we got in touch, and did some really cool work together. Collaboration often brings out the best in you as an artist, because it forces you to take a look at a project through a new pair of eyes, and offers multiple perspectives on the various aspects of a song. Even doing remixes of artists or songs that normally might not be my cup of tea, I can usually appreciate various aspects of their song or style that forces me to reinterpret and reconsider my approach to music. I never take an absolutist approach to a song, looking at it as entirely good or bad; the quality of a song is almost always a grey area as opposed to black and white. Even the more reprehensible dance music out there, there are usually specific facets that I can pick out, appreciate, and use to my benefit and growth as an artist.
On DJ’ing at a strip club … It was an interesting experience. Certainly not the best place for an open-eared audience tolerant of your experimentation and eclectic musical selections. The people aren’t really there to see or hear a DJ. There were always music requests, but they were rarely good ones. The place was called Solid Gold in my hometown of Milwaukee, and it was a good bill-paying experience. I’ll say that much. I could certainly tell some stories, but we’ll keep this P.C.
And finally a hidden funk gem for you kids to find at your local record store … I have had this old jazz-funk record spinning a lot lately. It is a self titled joint from an Akron, Ohio-based duo called McNeil and Niles. Its a warm, dusted sounding disco-funk, that might be what you would hear if ESG were a little more Kool and the Gang. Check it out.
I will. And you should to. But in the meantime check out some of Codebreaker’s bass-driven disco-funk tracks bellow. They hit you hard with the bass wobble while saving plenty of room on the dance floor for some titillating synths, sparkly atmospheric effects, and sexy vocals.