Finally got a chance to “narrow the focus” with Pittsburgh’s musical wizard DJ/Producer/Promoter Mr. Owl.
Welcome back Mr. Owl it’s been a while since we touched base. What are you up to these days?
A lot, actually. I’ve taken a break from putting on bigger shows as a promoter, and reduced my DJ gig schedule the past few months to focus on making new music. I’m getting tired of playing tracks that other people made, after a decade it’s getting boring. The eventual goal is Mr. Owl only performs when there are some exclusive originals to share. I’m also starting to integrate more hardware from my studio into my live performances.
Can you tell us the purpose and concept behind the “Enforcery” project?
Enforcery is my platform for supporting progressive hip-hop producers, in the forms of an event series and a podcast. Years ago I called it Brokebeat but another promoter started throwing events in my same venue using the same name, so I changed mine up instead. It all began in Summer 2012 when I partnered with Rocking Horse Artspace to build a giant interactive spaceship art exhibit which also doubled as a performance stage. After completing the custom lighting electronics for the ship, they asked me to setup a hip hop event that would fit with the spacey theme. That was my first experience being a promoter and booking out-of-town acts, I had beatmakers travel in from Queens, Columbus and Rochester NY. My connections with these guys were from the early days of Soundcloud. I had selected and weaved their music together over many DJ mixtapes, which evolved into the podcast series. Enforcery has hosted underground talents like Ohbliv, Prof.Logik, Durazzo, KRTS, Jon Rogers, Jo3wiipiff, ManOfTheDown, and of course the best of the local cats too.
What are some of the tools and equipment that you use to produce such crisp mixes
EQ’ing techniques are a big focus for me both during production and also as an integral part of my DJ mixing style. For DJ equipment, I use Technics 1200 turntables and a Rane TTM57SL mixer with a Roland SP404SX on the fx loop. When producing, I use Ableton Live with a bunch of outboard gear – favorites are the MPC60, 404, Korg ES1, and the latest addition an Ensoniq EPS16+.
What does music mean to you?
Music is first and foremost a coping method, listening and creating is what keeps me balanced. Secondarily, for an otherwise awkward dude like me it is a universal way to connect with other people.
Are there any special events that you’ll be participating in this year that we should know about?
The big show coming up is Friday July 24th at Spirit Lounge. It’s called “Wreck League 80-89” and basically all the artist on the bill create an hour of music by sampling exclusively from 1980-1989 science fiction films. I’ve still got a month and a half to finish, but perfecting an hour of music has taken a year or more in the past and now I’m challenging myself to get it done in a couple months. The coolest part is that the artists agree not to release any of the material we make for the event, so if you don’t come to the show then you’ll never hear it anywhere! It’s a fun challenge for me but more importantly I think it’s critical that the nightlife scene, which is currently over-saturated with DJs, start to focus more on producers doing live sets.
Who or what is currently inspiring Mr. Owl in the music scene?
I’ve built an amazing group of friends in Pittsburgh and around the world, and we all feed off of each others’ creative energy. Being both inspiring to and inspired by others is exhilarating. It keeps me always hunting for new ways to step my game up.
What are some goals that you would like to tackle in 2015?
Stop spreading myself so thin, stop wearing so many hats, narrow the focus. I’ve proven to myself that I’m competent if not skilled as both a DJ and a promoter. But now that many people know me primarily as a promoter or DJ, I’ve had to step back and recognize that I am a producer and an electronics wizard first and foremost. But the most significant thing is that I am finally releasing the many projects I’ve already finished – there’s my overdue full-length Mr. Owl debut LP, plus several EP’s of experimental hip hop beats and bass music. And much more that I’m busy creating right now.
What’s your view on how technology is currently impacting the music industry?
Of course, the investment required to make computer-based music continues to decrease every day. The software out there right now is unbelievable, and computers are cheaper than ever. But personally, I’m a bit behind the times by choice. I like the character I can capture by sampling into something older. It’s not even nostalgia, just a more interesting sound and workflow to me. 12-bit on the MPC60 is the fattest, and that variable sample rate on the 1990 Ensoniq is ace. Not the most “up” on the cutting-edge gear anymore, I’m sort of enamored with the tech of the past lately.
Are there any other avenues besides music that you’re exploring right now, that you would like to share with us?
On the electrical engineering side of things, I’m developing hardware designs for a couple different devices right now – some as part of a product team, and some as solo inventions. I’ve finally built the second half of my music studio out as an electronics design lab, so I’m going to be getting busy with the soldering iron more than ever before. Expect plenty of homemade instruments to work their way into my recordings and live sets soon. On the retail side of things, I teamed up with my wife a few years back to develop an organic clothing line for babies and toddlers that we’re super proud of – you can check us out at OwletOrganics.com.
Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to dive into mixing and producing scene?
Get a mentor. And do something to differentiate yourself from the rest. If you’re in Pittsburgh, come to my free monthly musician get-together called Pittsburgh Producers Meetup. We share our tracks on a full club system, discuss production techniques, and have guest speakers. It’s a good way to network with people too.
What are your future plans for “Dominant Force” and “Parliament of Strix Records”?Dominant Force, the duo of Mr. Owl & Spaed, is in the studio working on a new release right now. We’re going to continue developing our live tandem performance, similar to our opening sets at the Rob Swift and Kool Keith shows, but it’s getting much more complex and sophisticated. Live looping and manipulation of turntablism scratch routines is what we’re tackling now, I don’t want to say much more than that but when you hear it you’ll know.
Parliament of Strix Records, my indie hip hop imprint, is finally getting the full length record that should have kicked it off, the “Who Killed the Page Wizurd?” LP. Recorded in 2009-2011 but delayed by a behind-the-music-worthy story, this is truly the lost Mr. Owl debut album and we’re ready to release the beast later on this year. It’s a rap concept album I produced for emcee Mr. Jhak about the duality of the individual, framed in the context of battling against your identical double. It’s a work of art that we’re very proud of, and represents the culmination of the hip hop skills Jhak and I built together over many years of collaboration. Tshirts are available with exclusive comic book artwork of the album’s story, and the album will be available for pay-what-you-want at http://mrowl.bandcamp.com.
Where can people find out more about you and the projects that you’re currently involved in?
I’m designing on a new site to tie together all of my stuff on the web, which will be at ChrisOwl.com. But in the meantime: