A Chat With Paper Diamond

Fans of bass music are well-advised to keep an eye on producer/performer Alex B., also known as Paper Diamond. His material seems custom-fit for the upcoming festival circuit, running the gamut from glitchy hip hop to dubstep rollers. That doesn’t mean his material and performances don’t translate to more intimate settings, as those that attended his bombshell show at the Bluebird in January can attest. Whatever the musical playground, Paper Diamond tunes are brilliantly crafted with equal parts groove, hook, and melody (a welcome change from the drop-heavy bass/beat tunes of the past couple of years). With dozens of releases under his belt (most freely available online) and a new batch of material poised for release, Paper Diamond is poised for a large 2012. We had an opportunity to chat during his travels to Miami for Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival to discuss his methods, live shows, and the thriving Boulder, CO music and arts scene.

RK: Let’s talk a little bit about your current material. There is something different going with Paper Diamond material compared to the current stuff that is coming out of the US, dubstep or bass/beat genre. What kinds of artists are influencing you to compose these kinds of pieces lately?

PD: I have been making music for a really long time and I am inspired by everything around me. That includes all the new music that has been coming out. I still listen to current music, but I love listening to all kinds of music including old soul and jazz records to the new dubstep records. All of my stuff (music) is a big conglomerate of my influences that are constantly changing. Then I infuse it (the music) with a sound that you can tell is mine. I like to have fun at the shows, I definitely make music that is fun for me and I can’t really control it. It (the tracks) comes out as is, and I pick out all the tracks that fit the Paper Diamond sound. I make all kinds of different music from rap beats, electronic music, hip-hop stuff, Indy songs and other types. For Paper Diamond, it’s a collection of all of the stuff that is very cohesive and makes sense to put into records. Not only are we representing with the records, but visually we are representing Paper Diamond. We have different artists and illustrators that do certain pieces; it’s bigger than just me, it’s a team working towards a common goal.

RK: That leads in perfectly to the next question. Your breadth of work does not center on one specific genre or area of music, is there a place that you feel more comfortable working more than any other?

PD: Nope. I grew up being a musician since I was 4 years old. I can play a multitude of instruments and have played in bands and done different styles of music all my life. I have done some offbeat stuff for a mix for Flying Lotus’s label and all kinds of stuff. It is all the same time to me. I make all kinds of music every day and I am constantly making music. I don’t know how the track is going start at any time. It might start with synth or on my drum machine. It may even start on the plane with my QWERTY keyboard, and then I go back to the studio to finish it. With the availability through technology and all the mobile processes how music is made now, it’s just crazy.

RK: Your live shows are starting become things of legend. You mentioned how you have a team of folks working with you to inform this live show, how has the show evolved over time?

PD: Currently it has changed in that we are building a new LED rig, which we will unveil after the new video content is done. Anyone who looks at the Paper Diamond stuff can see that I use a lot of really cool visual imagery that is custom done for the project. A lot of this imagery will be intertwined when you come to the shows and you see the video content that is being created. It shows that I am not making random content; it’s not screensaver-looking or anything like that. This is content that we are working specifically to coincide with the music. With the way that I perform currently, I use an iPad. I made a layout so I could control Ableton Live on stage, just like I would with another midi-controller. Since I am constantly traveling and flying so much, it’s a constant movement from place to place. If your midi-controller gets lost or broken you have to find a Guitar Center, but if my iPad gets lost or stolen… I can just go buy a new one, plug it in and I am ready to rock the show… It is out of necessity, but I also enjoy it because I am able to move around on stage. I don’t have to be hunched over a table. I feel like its slightly innovative and it is certainly more fun for me. Right now that is what I am doing, so we move into the next stage of the show. We are always on the lookout for new stuff. I am always trying to push music forward and still try to keep a melodic background and still have nice concepts and ideas that go into the music. It’s really all about intentions.

RK: That actually spawns into a couple questions, the creative process that you have with the video artists: Is it two-way, are there times when your video artists provide material to you that you compose to and vice versa?

PD: Sure, There are times when I have made sound effects. That is something I could certainly do when I get older and I ever decide to work in sound design that is something I could be good at. Right now we are focusing on making music videos. So when you ask what is coming in the near future, right after Ultra I am going to head to down to New Orleans and film a new music video for a new single that we have coming out. I have a couple new EP’s in the works. We have couple new videos coming out with Elusive Media that does stuff with Eclipse, Kanye, Pharell and Lupe and they are going to be shooting the new video with me in New Orleans. We have all that stuff going on, including some new remixes. We have a really big announcement about the next release coming up soon. I will be at SXSW, Ultra, Hangout festival, and at a festivals all over the country.

RK: Coming back to the other question that I had, there seems to be this movement towards more song structure in a lot of the bass-beat music. I have particularly noticed this in your material, where it is not all about the build, break, and the bass drop. There seems to be a lot more traditional song structure, with more focus on melody and lyrical content. Could you speak to that a little bit?

PD: It’s all about change. Everything is changing and right now and for me personally, I am enjoying writing songs. For my new EP, I have been singing the lyrics, concepts, and melodies to the singers and having them reproduce that onto the track. I have been working with some singers where they actually write the lyrics, but some of the songs I am just directing these singers with their voices and instruments, which is awesome because these singers I have been working with are amazing. It has been fun, as oppose to previous groups that were instrumental bands or doing beats under the name Alex B., etc.. I am really getting to write full songs. I spent several years learning how to make melody with music without lyrics on it, so now to be able to do that like it’s the back of my hand and then to be able to put that extra layer of another concept on top of it is really fun for me right now… It also leaves room for collaborations. I was just down in the studio in New Orleans working with Mannie Fresh for a little bit.

RK: Oh wow…

PD: We are going to do more stuff. I was tweeting back and forth with him the other day. He just signed with Good Music, Kanye’s label. So I don’t know, we will see what happens. I am definitely going back to New Orleans and trying to work some more. I am really excited with the collaborations that are about to start happening.

RK: Now you are working in New Orleans, do you find that there is a specific “vibe” that you tend to adopt based on where you are trying to create some of this music; does the location really influence what you are doing?

PD: Well yeah of course like I said before, everything inspires the music I am making. Like I said, I make all kinds of stuff. When I was sitting in the studio with Mannie, I was playing some rap stuff and some of my electronic stuff. When a couple of my rap ones came on, one of Mannie’s people said “you sound like you from down here”.

RK: (laughs).

PD: I can make all kinds of different stuff and it’s exciting to do all those things. I think a lot of where electronic music is, there are no boundaries so we can do anything so it’s pretty dope.

RK: Some of your recent material has come out on Pretty Lights label, are you still based out of Colorado?

PD: Yeah I have a house, and my other record label, which I co-own, and gallery in Boulder, Colorado called Elm and Oaks.

RK: Wow that I was not aware of. The crossover between music and art is probably stronger now that it has been in a really long time.

PD: Yeah, I did release Levitate on Pretty Lights label and I am good friends with all the people on Pretty Lights music and it’s really awesome. Besides that there is a group of young artists that I am helping push through Elm and Oak, and Elm and Oak (makes) exclusive limited merchandise and one-of-a-kinds. So that acts as sort of a management company and a booking agency and a record label. We are just helping these young artists. For Example the band Two Fresh, they just went out and did 40 shows with Skrillex. We co-managed them, we put out their music, and I helped master their music. With bands like Cherub, who are going down to SXSW as we speak, and are doing shows internationally. We have a lot of stuff going on with Elm and Oak as well, and it’s really exciting. We are having an art show in the gallery this evening. When people come to Colorado or Boulder, it’s definitely a destination spot. It has become a centralized place where people can see the new clothes and hear new music. Usually there a lot of artists and producers just hanging out in the shop, so it’s a place where when we were talking about the Colorado music scene, we also doing Colorado art and combining it and giving people a place to see that kind of stuff.

RK: Two-Fresh played here on the Mothership Tour and definitely turned a lot of heads. They were one the acts that definitely surprised a lot of people. Kudos to you for helping push them and helping get them out there they way that you have. Being in Colorado and being around this very vibrant music scene there in Boulder, and being close to Denver which also has another very, very strong electronic music scene. It’s obviously had a great effect on what you have been able to do, how has been around so many talented artists kind of pushed you develop your skills and push your art form forward.

PD: Because everyone has cool ideas, and that’s the thing with all the Colorado musicians is like we generally feel that there is room for everybody. The guys in Big Gigantic are out doing their thing and they are really close friends of mine. I started making music with Dominic when he was starting that group.

RK: Wow.

PD: With Big Gigantic and Savoy who are in a different kind of world of things and they are killing it also. All of us are just friends and so we are talking about collaborations and all this stuff. I think Colorado has a lot to offer musically. You find all these little pockets of musicians, and they all start supporting each other and then music gets out because these people all know that their music is really good, so they start supporting each other as a team. That is when things really start happening.

RK: Big Gigantic played a show here last Friday at the Vogue Theatre, and people are still talking about it. It was absolutely fantastic. They are great representatives of the Colorado music scene…

PD: Thank you sir.

RK: You are certainly a great representative of the Colorado music scene. We are glad to support and glad to see the new material. You are going to be at Miami music week, as well as the big summer festival season. What’s your most recent piece that you are actively promoting?

PD: We have a slew of new singles that came out, and literally I just finished two EP’s back to back, so we are making release plans for those right now.

RK: The PROLIFIC Paper Diamond.

PD: Yes sir… You can check out all my stuff at paper-diamond.com, orwww.facebook.com/paperdiamond, or www.twitter.com/paperdiamond. I am usually really good at hitting people back on Twitter or Facebook, I generally like to interact with people so that’s where you can find all my music or elmandoaks.com, and I look forward to coming back.

Paper Diamond is currently on the road, with appearances at the Lift Festival on 3/17 and at Ultra Music Festival on 3/23.

Rudy Kizer is the host and producer for “Hit The Decks” (Sundays @ 10pm on X103), and is grateful for the interns that handle the heavy-lifting on interview transcription.