‘I like to be in constant motion’: Talking Tech with Eris Drew

Eris Drew‘s skills as a DJ are firmly etched into the minds of anybody who’s been lucky enough to catch her in action. The energy she brings to each set is infectious, the music euphoric and uplifting, and the turntable techniques completely mind blowing. But though DJing may have been what first put people on to Eris as an artist, her dexterity in the studio is just as beguiling.

It was the late 80s when Eris first started experimenting with production, using her babysitting money to get her hands on a Yamaha PSS-480 — an FM synth she still uses to this day. Over the years new bits of kit were added to her arsenal but it wasn’t until 30 years later that she’d release her first EP into the world: the beautiful, emotive breakbeats of Devotion alongside partner, fellow DJ and producer Octo Octa.

In 2020 another stellar EP emerged, this time for BMG aka Ectomorph’s Interdimensional Transmissions, but it was her debut full length we’d all been waiting with bated breath to arrive. Shared via her own T4T LUV NRG imprint, that she co-runs with Octa, each track on Quivering In Time feels like an extension of her approach as a DJ; layered vinyl samples and turntable manipulations provide a bedrock for piano riffs and raw guitar strums, all drenched in colour, depth and texture.

Following the release, she guides us around the log cabin studio in rural New Hampshire that she shares with Octo Octa and their partner Q, whilst tracing her pathway into music, the process behind the album and how she’s currently riding an endless wave of creativity.

What was your first ever set-up, when you started making music? 

I started making music around 1988 when I bought a programable 2-operator FM synth at a toy store with my babysitting money. It was the Yamaha PSS-480 and I still use it to this day. The 480 had a simple multitrack sequencer, five sound storage locations, an editable rhythm section, and a particularly noisy D/A converter. It is featured extensively throughout my album Quivering In Time

What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?

My parents bought me a Yamaha SY22 Vector Synth, which was the entry level synth in the professional and very famous SY line. I learned a lesson quickly because the full sized 22 had great sounds but the toy 480 had more character and bite. The first piece of serious kit I bought with my own money was an MPC2000.  

What’s your musical education?

I started listening deeply to sound when I was young. The low notes on a piano would fascinate me for hours. When I was eight my parents got me started in the school band playing alto sax. Would be nice to say I was a prodigy, but it isn’t true. For all seven years I played sax, I never enjoyed it or wanted to spend time practicing. It was still valuable however because I had a great music teacher, so I did learn how to read music, how to listen to pitch, and the basics of what orchestration is all about. I played keyboards in industrial and alternative bands in junior high and high school, which was how I learned in some sense to be a performer (I screamed, banged on metal sheets, played basic parts on the synth and triggered sequences on an Alesis sequencer).

My education as a DJ started in Chicago around 1994 by watching and studying DJs like Justin Long, Mystic Bill and Terry Mullan, and making friends with young DJs playing in Chicago like Mazi, also known as Audio Soul Project, Mark Almaria, and Freddy Montanez. I wouldn’t trade these experiences in Chicago for all the YouTube tutorials in the world. My skills were refined over decades of stoned one-on-one practice sessions late into the night with friends.  

Thanks for taking some photos around your studio. Could you give us a little walk through the main components?

The turntables are the heart of the studio. That’s where I start to build collages. My Apogee Element beautifully captures the audio from these deck sessions. I use multiple tracks of audio in Logic to start overdubbing turntable action and build a series of short segments of the tracks that become my songs. The next step is to start writing chords and melodies. I don’t often use step sequencers, so these sessions are just me playing my various keyboards and recording the performances into Logic as audio and/or midi. The Chroma Polaris and my Novation Peak are two of my favorites, both are incredible poly synths with amazing tone and character. But I also love some soft synths, like the Chipsounds by Plogue Art et Technologie, Inc. To play soft synths and modules I usually use my Arturia Controller. For my debut album “Quivering In Time,” I spent many hours banging away at the electric piano in our living room to find interesting chord combinations. 

Where is it located and do you share with anyone else?

The studio is located in rural New Hampshire on the first floor of a log cabin I share with Octo Octa and our partner Q. We run the label T4T LUV NRG out of our home and Maya has a separate studio there.  

Was there any method to the way you’ve laid it out and have you made any special non-musical touches to make it feel like a productive workspace?

I don’t have a ton of space and I like to move fast. So my system is very modular. The turntable set-up faces my production studio (computer, keyboards, effects boxes, etc) so I can flip the speakers when I want to switch from overdubbing turntable action to playing, programing or arranging. My synths are on keyboard stands perched on dollies so I can wheel them around in different configurations for different applications.
There are so many non-musical touches. Sterile studios don’t feel good to me for writing. So my studio feels more like a teenager’s school locker. I have favorite albums on display and vintage Run DMC and Information Society posters to remind me why I love doing this in the first place. There are mementos from my shows, gifts from dancers, sweet notes from Maya, old flyers, and lots of rocks and other detritus from nature. I have an air plant (hard to kill while on tour) and I keep fungi around for vibes.  

What’s been your method for creating this studio? Has it been a gradual accumulation or a bulk purchase? Any key inspirations in pulling it together?

It is always changing and evolving. Something that makes my studio a little different is that it is configured for dancing. I was always visiting these sitting studios. People don’t DJ sitting down, even at home, so why would you want to make dance music sitting on your ass? I am just kidding of course cause there are plenty of legit reasons to produce sitting down, but I like to be in constant motion. My chair is only for the deepest of engineering sessions when I need to carefully maintain a listening position.

 

Are you always seeking to experiment and develop your studio, by changing or adding equipment? If so, what warrants a change?

Nothing is more fun than making something on a piece of kit I barely understand or finding a new way to use an old piece of gear. So I love to add. But I move stuff in and out of storage because I don’t want too much around me at one time. I would always rather to focus on a few pieces of gear for any given recording. 

Nothing is more fun than making something on a piece of kit I barely understand or finding a new way to use an old piece of gear. So I love to add. But I move stuff in and out of storage because I don’t want too much around me at one time. I would always rather to focus on a few pieces of gear for any given recording.

If money were no object what would you add?

I want an SY99 really bad. I spend more time than I care to admit daydreaming about this synth. I would also love to own a proper mellotron with all the tapes. That would be so cool! 

You must have a most treasured bit of equipment. If you had to keep just one piece, what would it be?

My Fender Chroma Polaris is like an extension of my body. I love that synth to my core and have been using it for more than 15 years. 

How do you condense your studio set-up for your live sets?

I haven’t played live for a few years but my set-up was always changing. When I tour Quivering In Time in 2022, I plan to have a single turntable, an MPC live, my Novation Peak, a rented 88-key midi controller, a Pioneer Nexus II mixer, and two effect pedals, the Aqua Puss and the Supa Trem. 

Before you head to the studio, is there anything you do to prepare or get in the right headspace?

THC.

What’s your creative approach when you’re in the studio? Do you go in with a concept in mind or is it usually an impulsive exercise?

With a song like ‘Time to Move Close’, the intention was set before I even went into the studio. I had just moved to New Hampshire from Chicago for love and wanted to capture all the emotions I was feeling in a song using a musical pun about dancing. In contrast, a song like ‘Pick ‘Em’ Up’ evolved and took on meaning as I started to layer samples. The song is about eating mushrooms to rewrite the dominant narrative in our lives and to awaken the divine feminine: “pick em up eat em up, and it might be a different story.” But I didn’t know that until I started working.    

Are you someone to labour over a track until every crease is ironed out, or do you prefer a raw, instinctive approach without dwelling too much on something?

Both! I write fast to honor that “first thought, best thought” ideal, but I arrange and engineer over long sessions. I always write and mix down as two distinct activities, kinda like a band. Writing is direct, subjective, and magical. Mixing down for me is more rational, considered, and tested.  

Where do you go or what do you do when you have writer’s block? Anything to reset the mental hardware?

I spend time in nature, I consume the flesh of the goddess, I have generative sex, I go play a party. 

What inspires you outside the world of music?

I am inspired by astronomy (not astrology tbh) and philosophy, science fiction, my subjective experiences in nature, travel and my own homespun plant-based spirituality. 

What would you say was the most important piece of kit in the making of your new album, and why?

The Pioneer PLX-1000 turntable. This one goes to 50! Hehe. Unlike most decks which cap-out at a tempo range of plus/minus 8% or 16%, the pitch on a PLX-1000 turntable can be sped-up or slowed down by a factor of 50%. That freed me from having to use samplers for most of my pitch and time adjustments on the album. Pitch and time have to move in direct proportion in the analog domain, so my album has the character of early 90s UK hardcore techno records even though most people wouldn’t strictly speaking describe my sound as purely hardcore. 

What else is on the horizon this year that’s getting you excited?

Octa and I are going to start working on an album for Alchemical Sisters, which is basically our rockin’ big beat stadium house project. I am also working on a live set for Quivering In Time and doing a series of hard house releases under my speaker freak alias Bassbin 23. Will be a tall order to get it all done with a heavy tour schedule, but I feel so creative right now, I just want to work as hard as I can. 

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