It's not easy being 3 people! But Brendon Moeller does it effortlessly! For this South African-born native (with 3 producing entities) who now makes upstate New York is home - producing is all about 'just doing it". And Brendon has been just doing that! With a slew of releases on major labels including Speedy J's Electric Deluxe and a brand new all live show premiering in NYC Feb 23 at the Erratic party - he shares some of his stories with us about being a Beat Pharmacist extraordinaire!
CGNY: Hi Brendon – thanks for the chat. Let’s start with a little about your background. You grew up in South Africa correct?
BM: Yes. I lived there until I was 25 and then I moved to New York at then of 1993. I came over predominantly to pursue music making and production and managed to get myself a job as a waiter! I was amazed that I was making as much money doing that in a week as I was in South Africa as a teacher. So it made gathering funds to buy some synthesizers and drum machines a little easier and within 6 months I managed to get some money together and then start the learning process (on the machines) and it was quite a process!
CGNY: And had you been dabbling in music in South Africa before you came here?
BM: Yes as a drummer primarily in a couple of bands there. I started taking music lessons when I was 9 years old. My parents picked up on this love I had of music and wanted to try to facilitate it in their own way so they sent me for piano lessons which I was open to at first. Then within 2 years it kind of soured because what I was learning…well basically there was an elderly lady teaching me to play classical music…
CGNY: Sounds like my piano lessons growing up!
BM: Yes and that’s the typical thing! Unfortunately she never was like "Well Brendon what songs are you hearing on the radio that you might like?" So instead of inspiring me it sort of made my interest wane in the whole thing pretty much because I just go so bored with it. I opted out after 2 years. I just lost interest in learning or wanting to learn music because what I had been listening to on the radio was so far removed from the lessons I was getting that it ended up alienating me.
CGNY: And when you were listening to the radio – what sort of music were you listening to?
BM: It was all the early stuff. Elton John Billy Joel, Hall and Oates, Frankie goes to Hollywood! Stuff of the day – Top 40. I used to sit in religiously on Saturday evening and have my cassette recorder ready and in position for when they played my favorite song.
CGNY: Ah yes – memories! Often the only way to get the top new tunes.
BM: Exactly. Then playing the song over and over even if there was a commercial in the beginning or some disc jockey from the radio station announcing the chart position! Once I got to high school, the desire to want to know who’s making the music and figuring out "the behind the scenes" began to come to the fore. I started reading NME, Melody Maker, Cue magazine, Rolling Stone and whatever I could get my hands on to get more information. Once I left high school that really kicked into gear. I had to make a decision at that time whether I had to serve in the South African Army which at that time was compulsory service for all whites in order to maintain the despicable apartheid regime. I opted out of that and decided to become a school teacher because that was the only way they would let me get out of doing army service. I got my college grant and before you know it I’m two years into studying to be a teacher. My heart wasn’t in it but I made the most of it because the alternative (compulsory army service) was so bleak. During that period I also got a set of drums and started doing music with a band, learning quite a bit about writing music and working with musicians. It was kind of cool to have that much time in college so I could do that of course try to get laid and all that other stuff!
CGNY: Of course, the important things! So it was I suppose preparing the ground for your work today. I suppose any musical training is doing the same because it gives you the basic knowledge of how melodies and rhythms work and bass and synths are all put together?
BM: Absolutely. I think the more you can bring to the table; the more you know about the music side, the business side, every angle, the better you are. It was all valuable. As much as I wish I could’ve gotten an early start when I was 15 or 16 and not spent so many years traipsing around wasting my time.. I mean I have a teaching degree, I did teach for 3 years but it was just because I had to.
CGNY: So then you’re in New York you decide to move here on spec or you had a job?
BM: There were two reasons why I decided to move here. I had a friend who said I could come over and I could stay with him ‘til I get my feet on the ground. The other one was at the time I was playing with a pretty cool band and hooking up with some cool musicians in Johannesburg. I was in my third year of teaching. I had to work as a teacher upon leaving college was because I had to pay back my government grant. That would avoid me having to pay them cash. Into the third year I was becoming incredibly frustrated and I made a move to quit teaching so I could pay back what I owed them and find another job. It was a real fascist government. The setting was complete control over your life, every angle, and they were well aware of what was going on and the second they heard I resigned from teaching, they called up my parents wanting to know where I was. The pressure was on then to go serve and at that time South Africa was at its most violent where there was complete upheaval, literally a few years before apartheid came to an end. So I knew I had to get away. I sold my car, put all my records and books into storage and bought a plane ticket. I accumulated just enough cash from selling my car that I could come to the States and have a little money to start with because the exchange rate was so bad. Literally a week before I left, the SA government who gave me the study grant took what I owed them out of my bank account! So I arrived here with very little. I hit the pavement, started off living on the Upper East side, walking up and down asking for a job and on the second day and managed to get a position from someone who was quite happy to ignore my work visa status! Back pre 9/11 immigrants could come and go more easily.
CGNY: Yes employers were a bit more willing to look away on that score.
BM: Exactly. So that’s how my NY experience began. Started off waiting tables and the rest of the time was spent going down town and buying music, going to music stores and looking at synthesizers. It was all completely new to me. If I had available to me now all the wealth of information that is out there about what this or that synthesizer does or that drum machine is capable of instead of going in and buying stuff and then figuring it out later!
CGNY: So your waitering, buying music and tinkering with your machines at home. When did you make a piece of music and go "hmm this has potential"? Or did it coincide with djing? How did you get into djing from just being a music aficionado?
BM: Actually my first proper djing job was in 1987. A friend and I were doing a night at an industrial nightclub that featured industrial, punk, etc. and we were thrilled about it.
CGNY: And you were playing vinyl then?
BM: Yes I had been collecting vinyl since the age of 16. So yes the djing began there. That gig lasted about a year and came to an abrupt halt when we were threatened by some body at the club!
CGNY: Oh dear!
BM: That’s when it began and I was looking to get dj gigs here and there. But when I came to NYC I didn’t really pursue that. The first gig I got djing in New York was in a friends bar in Astoria, a rock bar. It was musically very open, eclectic. I played there for a year, an amazing place called Tupelo. I was also working down town at a music store as a buyer so I was acquiring music and at the same time putting together tunes and working with a few people here and there. I began to work with a music distributor that became the biggest dance music distributor in the US for a while called Studio Distribution. They handled all the bigger labels of the 90s, Global Underground, k7 all the Thievery Corporation, Kruder and Dorfmeister. That proved to be a very great learning experience for me seeing how that side of the business worked. I then got involved in a record deal with a label called Smile. That was A&R ‘d by a guy named DJ DB an English guy who had built his name in the US doing drum and bass parties. So I released a couple of singles on Smile. It was early days for me and I really had no clue what I was doing.
CGNY: And what genre would these releases have been in – techno?
BM: Well yes techno - it was raw and aggressive sort of. At that time I was going out to lots of raves and techno parties. But yes it was very unrefined. In retrospect I’m amazed that someone wanted to put that shit out!
CGNY: Really? That's funny!
BM: In our industry to an extent everyone is flying by the seat of their pants! Basically I don’t know what I’m doing!
CGNY: Well that’s about as honest as anyone has ever been with me!
BM: I think it can be great for an artist to really not know what we’re doing because when you think of the big picture it’s really difficult to be certain that you’re going the right thing. I go blindly ahead and for me what’s more important than thinking about what I’m doing – is doing it. Just being in the studio. If I’m not in my studio making music, playing and jamming with my machines, then there is no chance of magic happening or music coming together, of something coming alive. A lot of the stuff I do is just a result of happy accidents.
CGNY: We welcome your happy accidents! It’s the same process for writers I think –the discipline of writing every day for a period. Maybe not everything is useable but one day something will come out of it. You can’t always wait for inspiration to hit you I suppose.
BM: Exactly yes – you experiment, you try out things almost like a chef – putting ingredients into a bowl and then stirring them up. There are so many approaches. For me again it just comes down to doing it – that’s the key to anything; just doing it.
CGNY: You’ve released on a whole bunch of different labels. But you’ve been releasing a lot lately on Electric Deluxe (Speedy J’s label). How did you relationship with Jochem come about?
BM: I was aware of Speedy J as I bought his album when I first came to New York. I always followed what he was doing. I had released an Echologist EP on Rekids, the Radioslave label. I had uploaded those tracks to Soundcloud and Speedy had commented on them. And I was like "Holy shit Speedy J likes one of my tracks!" And he and I began talking. He was doing his Collabs project at the time and collecting random music from musicians and he would put them together. So I was giving him some bits and pieces, odds and ends that I had not gotten anywhere with. Our relationship developed from there. The email frequency increased and I started sending him more music. And he would send me stuff and we would talk a little about music. And then finally I sent him something and he was like "Look man let’s do something together". Yes so it’s still going well.
CGNY: It is still going well. It seems like a very good fit – your style seems to work very well for the kind of music he makes and the kind of tracks he releases on EDX. But you have a very broad spectrum because you’ve released as Beat Pharmacist and Echologist. What do you think is the difference between the three monikers – are you mostly sticking with just Brendon Moeller these days?
BM: Actually there is an Echologist EP coming up with Prologue and another one later in the year coming out on Max’s M_Rec label. Then there are two Beat Pharmacy EPs coming out this year. One on Fred P’s Soul People music and one on Throne of Blood. And just today in fact confirmed that I will be doing a Brendon Moeller EP for Third Ear at the end of the year. The whole moniker thing began as a means to an end. When I signed with Francois K to do Beat Pharmacy on Deep Space, it was prior to the industry collapsing due to file sharing and illegal downloading. Things were still going alright and Francois K offered me really good advance money for the BP albums I did and one of the requirements which was an industry standard at that point, was if you got a significant chunk of change from a label you would have to be exclusive to that label. He wanted Beat Pharmacy to be an exclusive Deep Space thing and I was fine with that. Then I realized later that I’m someone who is always in the studio, always making stuff, sending out things, looking for feedback and I realized that I’m going to have to come up with other monikers if I want to try to get more of my work out there. So the monikers became more about the economics of my situation. I then went and signed a Brendon Moeller deal with Third Ear and they at that time also said can we do this exclusively. But in terms of being a specific vision for each moniker, I never spend too much time thinking about it. Consciously or subconsciously things seem to happen in a certain way. Beat Pharmacy became more or an organic, free form electronic project that involved real musicians, vocalists. Echologist became the deeper more techno side of things and Brendon Moeller is on the clubbier side of things. I can’t say that I set about, even now differentiating the music for each one. I do remixes for people. I’ve been doing a ton of remixes of late. And I give people my remix and they say well can we do this as Echologist or BP or BM and I say sure – take your pick!
CGNY: Pick a card any card!
BM: Yes there is no real big mystery to all of that. I keep all three because it allows me to release all the music I do. I guess it makes more sense to have a few different names without just my one name pop up as one thing all the time. The reason I release a lot of music is because people want to release my music.
CGNY: Well isn’t that a great thing?
BM: Yes and I’m absolutely grateful and as long as people want to release it I will keep making music as best as I can to facilitate that. Obviously some of the stuff I release I’m not going to like, you know a month after I’ve done it and some I will love forever. You can never tell. Let me tell you a funny story. In the last 6 months, these various labels I’ve been mentioning, Prologue etc, on 3 occasions, I’ve had a label come to me after I’d sent them something, a few weeks or possibly a few months back. And they say "Look we love this we want to release it" and it’s something I’ve already deleted.
" for me what’s more important than thinking about what I’m doing – is doing it. Just being in the studio. If I’m not in my studio making music, playing and jamming with my machines, then there is no chance of magic happening or music coming together, of something coming alive. A lot of the stuff I do is just a result of happy accidents."
CGNY: Do you think you’re extremely critical of your own work then?
BM: I go as far with things as I can. And sometimes you take things so far that you kill ‘em! And an artist is clearly not always the best judge (of their own work). Thank God for Time Machine back up on my computer. I’m able to grab things that are a year old! In fact it happened again today with Tom from Prologue. "Look I’ve changed my mind again about this track, I’ve been playing it out and it’s so fucking good" and I said please send me the version because I don’t think I have it anymore!
So yes not the best judge of my own work, some of the stuff I’ll like, some I won’t like. Some I will be proud of and proud of 10 years from now. Some I won’t be proud of. Not everyone is thrilled with the job they do every day of their life you know?
CGNY: No it’s impossible. You’ve been playing a good few gigs in NYC over the past year or so. I felt like maybe I only saw or heard you were playing maybe once or twice a year in the city. We’re very pleased about that. You have a gig on Feb 10 with Peter Munch at Cielo and the Echochord party with Erratic on Feb 23. And you're traveling overseas for gigs too. I know you're married with children. How do you balance home life with the professional iife of a dj?
BM: I guess you do what you can. I’m fortunate enough to be a stay at home father so I get to spend a lot of time with my kids and family. And it’s tough to be away. I still end up spending a lot more time with my kids than say my mother and father got to spend with me back in the day. And I’m so grateful.
CGNY: And your studio is in your home?
Yes in fact my wife cringed when I set it up but it’s in my bedroom! I took over and it’s the greatest space in the house for me to set up shop. The house is 2 floors and the bedroom is on the second floor so while everyone is downstairs I’m upstairs during the day and it’s just easy for me to get stuff done.
CGNY: What are you using to produce?
BM: Ableton and Reason primarily on the software side of things and in the last year I’ve gone back to a combination of hardware and software. The Echochord showcase will be my first live set where I’m going to be without a laptop and I will be just using machines.
CGNY: That sounds exciting!
BM: Yes I’ve been working on this now for about a year to figure out the best way to do it and its finally coming together and I’m super excited about it. The potential of it and the sense of adventure that comes from doing a live show is part of my evolution as a musician. Being able to improvise on the spot. And nothing against people who use laptops; I think as a musician you have to choose what keeps you inspired and what keeps that sense of adventure about the whole thing. If you’re not having fun up there, there is a fucking good chance nobody else is!
CGNY: Yes will it definitely translates across the decks..
BM: I still feel like I have a shit load to learn about djing and playing live and that’s what keeps me going. Every day I wake up and realize ‘Man I’ve got so far to go!’
CGNY: Hmm not too far! You’re not doing too shabby a job there!
BM: Thank you for saying that. I guess that is pressure that I put on myself.
CGNY: What do you do in your down time – I saw that you liked Louis CK – what do you do for fun?
BM: Well my kids are now 3 and 6 years old.
CGNY: So I imagine they take up quite a bit of your time then?
BM: Yes. You know the fun part for me is doing my job; playing out. Maybe we get a babysitter and my wife and I have a night out or something. We do a lot of exploring and traveling. My kids have been all over the world and we have lived a little in Europe and traveled to SA and stayed there. So we try and make sure that we explore and have adventure in our lives. My daughter just started first grade and once that starts you realize you’re going to get locked into the school term. They can’t miss a day and you can’t just up and take off whenever you feel like it anymore – it doesn’t accommodate traveling on a whim or getting away. We’re making plans now to make sure we’re taking advantage of school holidays. And there’s always something to do when you own a house! We’ve a lot of parks and ski slopes around here (Patterson NY). I try to keep it mixed and I really cherish the time when I get to go out and play because those nights are not only my job but also the times I get to enjoy myself.
CGNY: Do you have any overseas gigs planned in the next few months?
BM: I have a gig booked at Berghain with an Electric Deluxe night. April 6. However I left the booking agent I was with at the end of last year so I’m feeling out other options because I realized it’s not something I can do myself. So while that’s all falling into place, I’m getting as much music done as I can. When I do get it into place I want to tour nonstop and I think with the live show that I have now that is laptop free and very free form, energetic and raw, I’m hoping it resonates with people and strikes a chord and that’s what I really want to get behind. Obviously I’m happy to dj but I’m compelled to get out there and do live techno because these machines are built for that. They are made for people to jam on and improvise on. That’s what was so great about 70s kraut rock and electronic culture was the jamming: you would have musicians coming all over Germany in a big church somewhere and they’d set up their synthesizers and just go for it you know? I’m hoping some of that experimentation, that jamming and improvising comes back to electronic music. It’s sad to see that side of electronic music not being there because synthesizers are instruments designed for that purpose. It doesn’t all have to be Ableton and loops. With the fact that these machines are becoming readily available and cheaper and more portable so you can travel with them, we’re going to see more people taking that on.
CGNY: I think it can do wonders for the dj culture because there is a little bit of ‘sameyness’ going on I feel sometimes in the music scene..
BM: Absolutely you couldn’t have said it better. That’s one of my big motivations.
CGNY: To hear/see something different.
BM: Yes because people want to be shaken up. The element of surprise is so underrated in clubs and you don’t see it. I know I’m as guilty as many of my peers for not embracing that and taking that risk. The fact that you’ve just verbalized that sense of ‘sameyness’; there are many people having these conversations. I’ve talked to them. So I think this is going to be a turning point in the next year. People are going to be looking for a little more, something that’s going to get the ears pricked up and foot tapping in a different direction
CGNY: There is a resurgence of interest in techno I feel over the past few years. The amount of techno parties happening in NYC is fantastic – I think it’s great for the scene.
BM: It is great for the scene and it’s also going to be a challenge for the scene where people now have to step up their game a bit. You want to stand out from the crowd, you have to step up otherwise don’t expect to be recognized outside of the sameyness. So yes it’s a good thing and I’m hoping to be playing around America a bit more as a result of this resurgence of interest in techno and club culture. I’ve actually been invited to play at Movement Festival this year.
CGNY: Oh fantastic!! That’s great news!
BM: Yes so I’m excited about the state of things. The most exciting thing for me is to be able to bring this new live show which I’ve spent the whole of a year putting together finally figuring out what the best tools are for me to do what I do. I’m fucking excited about it. It’s uniquely going to be me.
CGNY: Can’t wait to hear that!
BM: I can’t wait to bring it!
For more information go to www.brendonmoeller.com
Also check out our review of Brendon's latest release with Speedy J on his own Steadfast label here!