Michal Menert, the Godfather of Space Jazz, was more than ready to ring in the New Year with transcendent musical energies this past week at Decadence NYE. Michal immigrated to Colorado from Poland at the age of five and had fallen in love with music through his father even before. Creating music quickly became his passion and along with some friends, he helped create the Pretty Lights Music Label. Since then he has built his own sonic flavors from the ground up. His futuristic soul music is vivacious and elegant, beautifully translating human emotion into harmonious melodies. Michal Menert certainly showed Colorado lots of love when he took the stage at Decadence on the 31st. Michal was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to discuss music, life and plans for the coming new year with 303 Magazine. Here’s what the maestro of Space Jazz had to tell his loyal Michal Menert Mafia.
303 Magazine: Describe your musical vision for us from its inception up until now. How did that vision begin, how has it evolved and where do you see it going in the New Year and beyond?
Michal Menert: When I started making music I was a kid, just trying to play in a band, idolizing whatever we could get our hands on, from James Brown to the Beastie Boys, then underground punk and hip-hop. I started really being more moved by the records I was picking up in dollar bins and a bunch of wax my dad’s friend had given me, mostly Polish jazz and rock. Everything I looked up to I was getting second hand. We were white kids in Colorado idolizing an idea we had of hip-hop based on the music we heard, interviews we read, movies we watched. We had friends that were aspiring b-boys, I got into graffiti and DJ’ing in high school, bought some cheap Gemini turntables and a mixer to try scratching and juggling doubles of whatever I could find. I never was any good DJ’ing.. but we tried. It’s crazy because we romanticized New York into something that probably never really existed, a Promised Land mix of Wild Style, the Warriors, 90’s rap videos, and stories we read about. I got off topic, but that just gives you a background into the ideas I was moved by when I was getting into this in the late 90’s.
Fast forward a bit, and my motivation became to weave tapestries of samples held together with analog instrumentation, trying to create sounds that remind me of dreams or help me get through an emotion or psychological points that I otherwise would struggle with. It’s like painting or playing with colors–only music has an ability to float in the space between definites. I’ve been playing more and more with live instruments and other musicians, trying to get both the spark of group dynamic and the direction of solo production. In the future you’ll see me learn to make noise with more things, and hopefully a more interesting noise as the sound evolves.
You recently began a new record label called Super Best Records. How did it begin, what were your motivations to start another label and are there any awesome new artists you have signed or are planning on signing that we should be aware of?
MM: It’s been a dream of mine for a long time, I can’t really pinpoint when.. I know that all of the people I came up with (about 10-15 years ago) always saw our growth as a collective, so it made sense. I just wanted to provide a place for artists I liked and became friends with to release music. JK Soul is a beast of a producer and amazing on the turntables. His album, When There Is No Sun, is really great and I can’t wait for the world to hear it. I love my crew, and am blessed to have people like Late Night Radio, Mikey Thunder, Mux Mool, Artifakts, Krooked Drivers and The Beat Server that I get to call friends and build with.
Your EP, Elements was recently the first release of Super Best Records. You wrote that ‘Elements is a tribute to alchemy, the transformation of matter” and that you “chose Fire, Air, Water and Earth, the four basic elements of alchemy, as seeds for these songs.’ Can you expand on this idea and explain how you captured the essence of these elements in your songs?
MM: I love the supernatural, and the idea of sorcery, of alchemy. I think sampling is kind of like that, and I wanted to showcase that there’s intent in my process, beyond just looping something recognizable up, putting a clubby bass line on it, compressing the hell out of the drums, and calling it a day. That shit works for a lot of people, and I wish I could shed the ethics I’ve subconsciously put on myself in terms of digging, sampling, etc… but I can’t. I began to attempt to capture the essence of each element through careful consideration of the element itself. I followed by matching what makes that element unique, how it looks and feels, how that element affects its surroundings, etc., to music that compliments those feelings of that element. I tried to gather samples and produce beats that felt most natural and alike to the core of those specific elemental powers.
You’re usually on the road touring a significant part of the year. What are some of your favorite and least favorite things about being on the road?
MM: I love traveling, and if you plan ahead tour can be a great time. A lot of the time you end up only seeing the block around the venue. Nothing beats the road though. I love it. It’s like war, once you’ve been, something in you changes and it starts to feel natural being away from home and sleeping in a moving coffin. It’s weird. Some people aren’t made for it. I would tour more if I could.
Tell us about the Big Band. It was a huge success at Sonic Bloom and has taken off quickly from there. How was the idea for the Big Band conceived? How did you go about finding each of the musicians needed to put the band together? And what are some of the differences/ pros and cons between performing solo and with the band accompanying you?
MM: It all started in the office of Cervantes, with owner and personal friend Scott Morrill. He and I had discussed the possibilities of having a band and the idea had snowballed for over a year. Meanwhile, Will Glazier, of the funk band Snug Harbor, had been messaging me about collaborations. The two ideas fit together for a billing at Sonic Bloom, and I started adding friends, until we had 18 people. The singers are a rotating cast based on show, with the constant being Snug’s own Sinclair. She has a phenomenal voice and presence. KEEPLOVE? & Jubee (of Jubee & The Morning After) also sing, and I met them both touring over the year before the MMBB formed. The string section is let by Sam Goodman, and has a rotating cast featuring Jordan Polovina of Grim&Darling on cello. Mikey Thunder has been an amazing friend since I met him a decade ago, and I’ve loved him on the decks so he’s the DJ. Marcelo Moxy on bass and AC Lao on drums have been my friends for a minute, and are 2/3 of the Michal Menert Trio. Paul Basic plays drums and samples via pad, and has been my best friend for almost two decades. So yeah, that’s the core and the story! It’s hard comparing the Big Band and my solo sets, because they’re two different worlds. There are similar songs, but the versions are separate beasts, because the band brings a whole new life to my material.
You are such an incredible producer and have a very unique and special style to your music. Describe the process you go through to create individualized tracks and then an EP or album.
MM: I begin by finding a tiny moment on a record or a melody on the Wurlitzer. From there it’s like a choose your own adventure book. Remember being a kid and making up the rules of an imaginary game as you go along? Making up the backstory and the future of the game at the same time, and somehow you never break that illusion of intention–that’s what it’s like. It’s like a wormhole sometimes, if you do it right. You just end up on the other side with music in your speakers and an ashtray full of clips.
Are there any production advice, tips, tricks or secrets you’d be willing to share with the prospective musicians who admire and look up to you?
MM: Learn different ways to mix, and how to make noise with what you have around you. Make a lot of horrible music until you learn the difference between “it’s actually good” and “it’s good because I made it.” Buy analog instruments and sample from vinyl and have morals and ethics to what you do otherwise you may still succeed but you could be miserable. You’ll probably never be satisfied, and if you start feeling comfortable, make it harder for yourself.
A friend was kind enough to ask the Menert Mafia on Facebook what your fans would want to ask you, and you responded yourself with “90’s skateboard designs, Atari computers that ran on cassette tapes and Chernobyl.” So now I get to ask about them! I know you would skate a lot growing up but can you elaborate further on these subjects?
MM: A)I loved brands like Alien Workshop and Hook-Ups growing up. There was that moment in the 90’s where Grunge and Hip-Hop and Punk and Lalapalooza and repurposed graphic design were all just part of the youth culture. Punks loved Wu Tang, Skateboarding wasn’t in the mall yet, the Internet was a baby. Magazines like Thrasher, The Source and 12 oz Prophet were like bibles to my friends and me. The graphics then were amazing. Planet Earth, Flip, Shorties…all those brands in the glory days fucking shit up. It was great.
B) My dad was a computer nerd in Poland, among other things. He was using the Internet in the 80s to speak with people in the US because the Soviet government hadn’t thought of screening electronic mail. My father had an Atari with a bunch of games on it, and it ran on a huge floppy plus a cassette, that you’d start at different times on the counter depending on what you wanted to play.
C) I was a toddler during Chernobyl, and I was playing outside by the river the day it happened, from what my family told me. I remember faint moments of that time, but one thing I remember is the sky changing, and no one knowing why, until days later, after we had all been exposed to radiation.
Two of your pastimes outside of making music are cooking and painting. How did these hobbies become more serious for you? What are some of your favorite things to paint and cook (if you have favorites)? I know that you have wanted to open your own restaurant in Denver for years as well. Has this idea blossomed at all or is it still on the back burner for the time being?
MM: I like painting space and alien worlds lately. I’ve been slowly finishing the gatefold artwork for Space Jazz 1. I’ve painted about a million stars one at a time, in a variety of colors, as well as nebulas and such. As for food I’ve been trying to create Polish-fusion dishes. My dream is a restaurant someday, something that can be affordable but amazing.
You were one of the last artists to perform at Decadence this year. Will you discuss some of your favorite or most defining moments from 2014? And what can you tell us about the future? Without spoiling too much, what can you give us about forthcoming tours, collaborations and music for 2015? What can we look forward to?
MM: I’ve had a great year. My team at CAA and EndIt Management have done an amazing job in guiding me into the future. With their help, you can expect a lot of new music and great live experiences across the country and the globe. I’ve got a handful of projects coming out, and with SuperBest and PLM crews alongside me I think 2015 is going to be the best year of my life so far.
Well there you have it folks, answers from the Godfather himself. It sounds like Michal has big things in the works for the coming year, and is very excited to unveil his plans to the Michal Menert Mafia. The man has been busy over the past year creating, learning, growing and simply enjoying life as he works at his passions. Michal loves what he does and that truly shines through in his cooking, his art and especially his music. If he believes 2015 will be the best year of his life, everyone better sit up and pay close attention or you might just miss some new magic from Michal Menert.