Millions of downloads and a literal world of iconic pop-to-mainstream era EDM moments later, Alvin Risk's latest EP Venture (which is out now on Memory Ltd. / ETHER) explores prog house, trap, deep house and techno and visualizes them through a most unique prism. In this interview, Alvin Risk slows down for his first interview in two years and provides deep vision into his creative process and artistic development. Furthermore, it's an intriguing look at not just the future of music, but the future of life itself. Venture sees the OWSLA and Dim Mak-released artist going it alone, aided by the help of not-so-traditional measures, but with the help of his friends. That crew includes UFO abductee / author of Fire In The Sky Travis Walton, KCRW host Jason Bentley, Daniel Glass / Glassnote Records, art collective Friends With You and Giorgio Tsoukalos from The History Channel's Ancient Aliens program.
Risk handles vocals and production on all of Venture's five tracks, giving the fans something more of himself than ever before. Ideally this interview will do the same. As well, if 1/10th of what he discusses in this interview is actualized on his forthcoming American tour, the music industry will be a vastly different place than ever.
When did you know that the time was right for the Venture EP, and what were you thinking insofar as track selection, etc?
Well, it kinda goes backwards. I was doing the vocal stuff and more of a band type of thing with "Alvin Risk" initially, and I was ready to kind of go back to that vibe to try to bring that forward. [I wanted to] use everything I've learned to bring it forward [again] and make it stronger than I could in the past. All of these remixes, collaborations and more cutting-edge, dancefloor kind of music, learning techniques with the mixes, the ins and outs of that stuff, I wanted to apply them to the broader songs that I sing on.
So, you spoke about remixes. Outside of the Junk Food EP, I feel like this is the first time that as an artist, a lot of your fans are really getting to know you as an artist making original material. As well, that run of big name remixes you had was amazing, so thoughts about that too as a part of your career?
Yeah, it was a great run. It started with the Ali Love remix, and then it just tumbled from there and turned into a snowball. There were so many offers and so much cool stuff to work on. Remixes are crazy. They're almost like a collaboration between you and the original producer, when you look at the stems and stuff. The foundation is there. You can do stuff that's crazy really fast. The foundation is already there, and you can really kind of move with the vibe of what's already going on and what you see out in clubs that can be combined with it and all of those types of things.
With original stuff it's like, it's all from scratch. Especially with Venture, it wasn't really a collab thing. It was me with a laptop in different hotel rooms, car rides, plane rides, boat rides or whatever, trying to tune into some radio station that doesn't exist from the ethos that isn't already there. It's much more challenging. The writing process was different, too, because there's lyrics and a message there. There's melodies and the recording is different. Recording your own voice is annoying! It's like, "do I really sound like that?" It's just a whole different bag of tricks.
So much of what you do with the "Alvin Risk" project is so direct and intentional. I wanted to ask about digging deeper into the mindset of the project here and what did you creatively decide to flesh out that you feel hadn't been seen before?
Well, basically [as far as releasing the project], we were thinking about the traditional outlets of releasing songs, like leaking songs, announcing songs and [releasing] artwork and how we wanted to do something interesting [in that space, something] that's different. It might be subtle, but we were thinking through each process and tried to come up with something that's not the first thing that comes to your head. We wanted to dig in and think of multiple ideas [and decide] which was the best or most unique one. It's great to look at what's going on and look at what you're doing and say "I haven't really seen that." That's the vibe in general, that "I haven't really seen that, that's different, that's weird."
The eclectic mix of people involved in the release certainly made news. How did you choose the participants?
They're all friends, people I've met on the journey–at shows, at weird gatherings, in offices, on radio shows, there's all of these interesting characters that we've met and I wanted to involve them. I had been working on the record, and I asked them to feel free to do anything they wanted to do to help [promote the record]. The response was great, I'm glad we had this cast of bizarre characters, and we were trying to push the music, you know?
I wanted to ask you about the concept of "freedom" when it comes to your career. There's obviously already a creative freedom, but with this there feels like there's a financial freedom too. How do you still remain progressive and creative when also assessing an expanded level of what it means to be "free" and still be a relevant artist as well?
Music itself is so free at this point. It's more accessible through streaming, so there's no limits as far as where it can end up and how flexible you can be and not confined by anything in particular. Freedom is interesting. I was watching this documentary on what freedom is, and how it boils down to game theory. Game theory is this theory that they used in the Cold War to understand the dynamic between the United States and Russia and they started applying it to couples and families. There is no freedom really, it's just game theory, kind of this selfish thing.
So, continuing on "freedom," you've found a way to remain free in an era in music where everything has become so defined by genre. Part of what I feel has made you successful is that you've found a way to enter those defined, crowded spaces and still create something truly unique. How do you find those creative spaces where you can also define your own real "freedom?"
I think that it's a process. It goes back to the final creation never being the first thing that I sat down and put down. It's rare that the first thing I put down is where we end up going with something. It's usually putting something against the wall, taking a step back and looking at it, seeing how it could be better, then coming back to it and re-approaching it. It's just the process. Chipping away at something until it becomes what it is. I don't know what guides that? Maybe it's a feeling of just knowing when something is done. I think that it just kind of happens. When it's done, it's done. I think each person has that, because everyone's completely unique as an individual–different fingerprints, different eyes, hair and all that kind of stuff. Nothing is the same, so if you take long enough and explore yourself, you will do something completely different.
Like if you look at a photograph of ten people together in a group, and you look at each individuals, they always are who they are. Their personalities come through, and none of them are ever the same. Even twins! Musically it's the same way. If you just focus on accentuating whatever your particular tastes are, it'll come out different than everything else.
Where do you find inspiration when you can do anything you want to as an artist? I feel like EDM and the internet have worked together to make pretty much anything possible, so where do you find the inspiration now?
I don't think that's changed. There's always the past to look back on. I've been listening to music from the 1920s, weird stuff. There's so much stuff you can dig up. Avant garde classical music, crazy shit like Frank Zappa, a bunch of stuff the never got heard. If you need something new or something different, there's so much in the past to look toward. Soundcloud is insane [, too]. There's tons of people doing weird stuff on there that may never be heard. There's all kinds of cool mixes, film scores, the sound design and stuff being done right now is crazy and cutting edge. Inspiration is boundless. It's everywhere. You can really do anything, you know?
Funny you mention film scores. How was it working with Hans Zimmer on the score for The Amazing Spiderman 2? I'd imagine that was fairly insane.
It was crazy and overwhelming. I've never had so many files to work with for something. The physical amount of pieces of audio to choose from to manipulate was crazy. Yeah, it was bizarre in a good way. Totally surreal.
So now that you've already worked with one of the most pre-eminent forces in that realm, is working with scoring films and other similar ideas a sustainable direction that we can see for your career moving forward?
Absolutely. I mean, down the line we'll be working on virtual reality content. That's what everybody will be working on. Making the experience more real and the soundscape for that more entertaining. I think that music will be discovered and even worked on in a virtual reality space and I'd love to be involved in that. I think that stuff is awesome.
I'd imagine you're not the only person sharing such a progressive head space these days. Who do you believe are the others, and how or why do they inspire you?
Man. Ummm... basically most of the guys who did the [track] leaks [for Venture]. Guys like Travis Walton and Daniel Glass, interesting people that have done things on their own terms and crushed things in their own way. Musically, Sonny Moore is a fucking badass.
So, speaking about Skrillex, thoughts about artists like the two of you expanding past "EDM" into being seen more as well-rounded musicians. Your thoughts about that progression?
"EDM" is something you're called, but is not necessarily something you are. We're musicians. We have different tools that allow us to do more as one person than you could with a single instrument, but it's still music and it's just a different way of doing it. There's really "noodle-y" electronic songs that have the equivalent of an '80s guitar solo, where you listen to it as a producer and go, "that's crazy," like a "that must've taken forever" type of thing. Then there's vibey stuff, but it's all music. Just like we don't listen to 8-tracks anymore, we listen to streaming files now. In the same way, the making of music has also changed, too. Everything is becoming digitized that we do. Everything will be be beamed directly into our optic nerves. It's going to skip our eardrums and go right into whatever spot our brain feels music. It's going to go right in there, and that's where we're headed.
Wow. So if you remove any level of transaction, it totally changes how we access music and moreover, how we define what the best music is. Does that influence you creatively?
Totally. Well that's in the messages in the songs from Venture. [The future] is gonna be weird. What will be weird musically is when you're creating an environment where you feel...it's like, say you're listening to a jazz record and you feel like you're in the room when you close your eyes? In a little while, we'll be able to make music that really really feels like you're there, like it's almost bizarre. It's going to be almost unsettling, because you'll feel like you're there. The panoramic idea of making music in 360 degrees is going to be crazy. All of your favorite records, like [for instance, The Beatles] Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or weird psychedelic records, the latest Kendrick Lamar record, you'll be there. It'll be live in your head.
There's a lot of younger artists and producers coming up now who, similar to you, have a very defined notion of what it is to be creative. What advice would you give them about remaining creative but also being able to achieve a level of sustainability doing what they're doing, too?
It's hard to say anything because things change so much, so quickly. Whatever the next wave of thing is is so unpredictable. Sometimes you see a wave coming, and sometimes you don't. So for me to say something, I wouldn't want to inhibit anyone or even put any sort of limit on what the next thing could be by trying to give someone advice. I mean, who the fuck knows?!?! Like, you know what I mean? I mean who knows what it's gonna be? I look towards the future and I see us living in a virtual space, and that's down the road. I see that as very real. But musically? I have no idea.
Intriguing. So then, it's like a thing where you don't want to possibly alter something that could happen by anything you're saying right now. Hmmm...
Yeah, it's like when you think about possibly going back in time and affecting something that could happen in the future. I'd rather just not even touch anything in the past or present. I'd rather be a fly on the wall and let the world do it's thing. I think that's going to lead to something way more interesting.