The four members of Visionquest made names for themselves in the world of electronic dance music even before they formed their record label in 2011. After meeting Lee Curtiss through Benoit & Sergio at a Wolf + Lamb/Soul Clap show the previous week, I was able to set up an interview with them before their show in Chicago last month. Having all four members together in America was a rare occurrence; the only other place it happened in 2011 was at DEMF (Detroit Electronic Music Festival). Sitting down with these guys was a real treat and probably the funniest interview I have had the pleasure of doing up to this point. Steve Reilly and I met four driven individuals who were focused on their careers and possessed sharp wit and intellect. They did not take themselves too seriously either and that made for a very open and relaxed conversation.
You guys had a very successful year with your record label starting up, what are your thoughts and reflection on everything that has happened in 2011?
Lee: We could not be happier, really. We set a plan into motion when we started the label and it has been a bit of a learning process but it has been a very a fruitful and rewarding one I think. We are really happy with the way things are going.
Seth: Yeah it’s amazing, as Lee said, to be able to conceive something and then see the cards play out, ya know?
Lee: If you could have seen us from where we started, it was nearly laughable. This guy was there (motions to their friend, Johnny O, who was also in the room). Actually, it was laughable and maybe that is what saved us, the fact that we can laugh at our fucking selves (laughs). And each other. Especially that guy over there (he points to Seth).
You chose to release music from Benoit & Sergio and Footprintz on your label first, any particular reason you wanted to work with them?
Lee: We had been getting a little bit of music trickled down from them and when they came together we definitely heard something special happening.
Shaun: Out of everything we had, their music made the biggest statement. We had a little pool of music that we definitely wanted to put out for the first 3 or 4 releases. We were shuffling them around trying to figure out what was the best way for us to make a statement of who we are as a label and where we are going to go with our first few releases. They are also our good friends.
Seth: Yes, that is the main point, they are good friends.
Lee: We heard ‘Walk and Talk’ and it was like ‘bam!’
Shaun: In some ways their music was just a bit off the normal track with these other sensibilities that we wanted to apply in the future as well.
What does it take to get on your label? What are you looking for in the artists you want to work with?
Ryan: Smart acts.
Seth: It is a lot of courtship really. Also western-grip handjobs.
Lee: They have to be able to hang out. Western-grip handjobs? (laughter)
Seth: I have been using this one, it is like a gun on your penis. This one (makes a hand motion)? No, no, you want to go like this.
Lee: That is fucked up dawg.
Seth: How are you supposed to get a grip holding it like this (makes a hand gesture)? There is one hand…
Lee: Oh, so you are going around like that, now I see… are you jerking off in the mirror again Seth?
Seth: Old habits die hard. (laughter)
Ryan: With incense and candles? Tori Amos playing in the background? (laughter)
What role has innovation in music technology played in pushing the envelope with performances and productions?
Seth: We have had a lot of help from our great friends at Native Instruments, shameless plug. Cha-ching!
Ryan: That is the truth!
Seth: I think a whole new world of possibilities has opened up for not only us, but for a whole new generation of artists and producers. It has made things more accessible.
Shaun: Exactly. The connectivity between us and the people designing the software is amazing. We are able to give our input and tell them what we need and we see that result directly, it is super cool.
We noticed (during soundcheck) that you have almost a hybrid set up (with Ableton and turntables)…
Seth: Native is creating a new thing right now that is going to help take our show to the next level, especially how Lee and Ryan play. They have incorporated more Ableton into their mute controllers with these sliders…I may have said too much. (laughter)
What is the craziest gig you have played in the last year? And what would be an ‘ultimate dream’ gig?
Lee: Circo Loco’s closing was fun…
Ryan: Circo Loco’s closing was pretty good. I think Fabric last March was really special and magical…
Shaun: DEMF was cool if it hadn’t rained…
Seth: That still didn’t ruin it. I have an ultimate gig coming up actually. Next year I will be playing at Luke Skywalker’s house, literally, at Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s house in Tunisia. They are having a rave there if you guys want to come.
Seth: Really. Talk about drinking blue milk.
Lee: I’m going to be playing on the moon then.
Going back to technology, has Ableton changed your sets and how you work as individuals…
Shaun: I don’t think it changed them because it is what we have always been using.
Really? Even for DJ sets?
Lee: DJ sets are for Traktor, live sets are for Ableton.
Ryan: Yeah, we’ve always used turntables and Traktor for our DJ sets.
Lee: Ableton has always been the vessel we use to play live music. It’s all our own material and we break it down into pieces. Ryan and I don’t start out with a sketch like a lot of people who have planned out their live sets. They push a button and tweak effects; instead, we use them as building blocks and play off each other. It is going really, really well and I think we balance each other out sound-wise as well.
Earlier you mentioned Movement (Detroit Electronic Movement Festival) being an important gig. As a group that has made substantial waves internationally, can you explain the significance of coming home to play for all of your friends and family and showcase your talents to everyone?
Lee: We love it.
Shaun: It’s the weekend we look forward to the most all year. With all of our friends and family there, it turns into a reunion.
Ryan: Old Miami, that’s our jam man. The first time we played there (DEMF) was four years ago and back then it was like ‘okay, cool.’ But I think the past two years have been really special.
Shaun: It’s almost like a benchmark in a way when you come home. You do all these really cool things on the road that are big and nice but you really know where you are when you come home to all that support, there is nothing like it.
Seth: We’re sitting here doing this interview with our good friend Johnny O who made a lot of our dreams come true and now we are making them possible for others…
Lee: Yeah, he was the first person to really give us a shot…
Seth: He was the original dreamer, the original dream-maker. Like Willy Wonka…(laughter)
Lee: He used to go around singing ‘anything you want to, do it, you can change the world, there’s nothing to it.’ (laughter) ‘We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams.’ (laughter)
As a group it’s evident there is a dynamic relationship that exists between all of you. Music aside, what influences, whether it be surroundings, experiences, or friends, you just mentioned Johnny O, that have defined you individually?
Lee: Yeah, we are approaching a decade…
Shaun: Every experience in life, every relationship, every connection, all of it…
Seth: (In a goofy, high-pitched voice) The synchronicities of life… (laughter)
Shaun: (Laughs) Yeah, it comes from everywhere in life, all of it.
Lee: We’re best friends, I mean that’s it.
Ryan: Buds for life, like it or not.
Seth: Our friend Eric, he toured with Lee, always has this really good story that is a combination of them two and some guys who asked ‘how can we make our own group like Visionquest?’ And Lee says: ‘Well you have to get a time machine and go back ten years, find a bunch of guys that have the same taste as you.’
Ryan: ‘Man I ain’t got a crew. I want a crew. Y’all got a crew…’
Seth: ‘Meet those guys, come up with those ideas, treat those guys like shit, have them treat you like shit. Then ten years later if you’re still friends, you got a crew. You got a Visionquest.’ (laughter)
Can you talk about the process that went into selecting tracks for the Fabric 61 mix and what you wanted to put out there?
Shaun: Ohhh there was a long road. Actually it was a visionquest to get to the tracklist of the Visionquest. It went from Ibiza to Burning Man, then back to Ibiza to Berlin, back to Ibiza, then Berlin again…
Lee: It was some hair-pulling type of shit. We literally bought monitors to set up in the RV…
Shaun: We bought a studio for our RV at Burning Man and set it up and expected to get something out of it…
Ryan: Yeah what were we thinking…
Lee: Most of us were too high to find our own dicks, let alone work on the mix. (laughter)
Shaun: The cool thing is you can actually kind of hear the journey to the end of the mix through the mix, it’s really cool. It tells the story of the mix and how it all makes sense.
Seth: And then there is us passing the deadline and it’s like ‘fuck.’ Then it’s like ‘alright, we got it done.’ Then it’s chill like Balearic pop jams.
Lee: It does kind of sound like that.
Shaun: In the beginning we were putting too much pressure on ourselves to get it done.
Are you guys feeling any pressure at the moment?
Ryan: I do, I feel it a little bit.
Shaun: A little bit. In some areas yes, in others no…
Do you feel like it has changed now that you are being watched more closely?
Ryan: No, I don’t think it changes but I think some people are waiting to pounce. That is also a sign that we must be doing something right. Success breeds haters.
Lee: I just wrote a song about it. (laughter)
Shaun: At the same time, as much as that weighs on you, it’s almost like a relief because it feels like we are doing something right.
Seth: With success comes a responsibility to not become complacent. Once you become complacent after you gain success is when things start to go to shit. None of us are ever really complacent with anything in life.
Ryan: We have not peaked, not at all.
Shaun: Not even close.
Lee: I may have but…(laughter)
Alright guys thanks for sitting down with us. We will end it with this: what are you looking to do tonight? What are you going to try and show the crowd?
Ryan: Blow the roof off the club…
Lee: They have a great sound system and it’s really cool venue…
Ryan: And a double-exchange in the middle of the third set…
Shaun: All four of us in America together in one night is really special, it doesn’t happen often, only a couple times a year. We’ve been looking forward to this.