Rising San Francisco duo Strange Blanket will bring their brand of hazy instrumental hip-hop to Jam on Jan 25. BK chatted to Ryan Galvan aka Gralvan and Marcus Daniels aka snack|BOT about their debut album Creatures of Leisure Vol.1 and the art of collaboration.
When did you first get into music?
Gralvan: When I was 9 or 10 years old, my older cousin was making music with a friend and I highly looked up to him. I downloaded Fruity Loops and I’ve been messing with music programs ever since. I had no idea what I was really doing; I just played around trying to be creative. I never had any musical training apart from some drum lessons when I was 14.
snack|BOT: I was kind of born into it. I have a very musical and eclectic family. I was exposed to literally every form of music. My grandfather was a jazz musician who played in bands with musicians like Buddy Miles. My mom was really into hip-hop and alternative rock. My dad loved funk and the oldies, but was a huge hip-hop fan as well.
How did Strange Blanket come into being?
snack|BOT: Gralvan and I met in our teenage years through a mutual friend. After a few years we finally got together at my home studio and worked on our first track together. We didn't really do anything with it but it was a good start and we kept in touch over the years. More and more we'd start tossing ideas back and forth about starting this collective of fellow musicians and making compilation albums, but we never got anybody to commit. Finally we decided to just do it ourselves until people caught on. After a while it just became a duo.
How would you describe the Strange Blanket sound?
snack|BOT: With Strange Blanket, it’s less of a sound we try to capture and more of a feeling or a vision we try to create. Our sound is pretty much a collection of everything we experience in life. That said, we like to blend more electronic hip-hop with ultra-melodic sounds, while bringing in hard-hitting drums at times over synthy soundscapes. It’s something that will hopefully forever keep evolving.
How did Creatures of Leisure Vol. 1 come together?
snack|BOT: It originally started off as the beginning of a series of compilation albums, but since we never could get anybody else to commit, we just went it alone. It was an interesting process. We locked ourselves in the studio with a few synth keyboards and midi controllers and just pieced it together. A few tracks incorporated other influences. For the most part it went pretty smoothly and we built the confidence needed to get out there and start sharing it with the world. It’s the first of many to come. We don't have a set number on how many exactly we want to put out, but we just intend to keep going until life doesn't let us anymore. We’ve started on Vol. 2 over here. We’re really trying to soak in as much of Thailand as we can to pour it into this next installment. The Thai people and culture in general are extremely inspiring.
You’ve known each other for a long time; what’s it like working together?
snack|BOT: We're both a couple of freakshows, so it's an interesting and unorthodox process! We usually see eye-to-eye, though. When we add it all up, we haven't really been working on music collectively for very long. We made about three random tracks over the course of a few years and then didn't start on Creatures of Leisure Vol. 1 until August of 2012. When you work with people you're comfortable with its not hard at all to make whatever you can to the best of both of your abilities.
Your remix of ASAP Rocky got some hits on YouTube; is remixing something that interests you?
snack|BOT: Honestly, we're not really interested in doing remixes. We understand them and their purpose, but don't really feel the need to make it a habit. That ASAP Rocky remix was just a straight-up marketing tool. We were in the studio and just dropped that track as we were working on a more trappy kind of sound. We were like, "Why not? Let’s see how much traffic it will bring..." and on Soundcloud we got into the thousands of hits in a few days until they pulled it for copyright infringement. Then we just tossed it on YouTube and forgot about it.
snack|BOT, you’ve worked with Phife Dawg (of A Tribe Called Quest); what was that like?
snack|BOT: It was pretty crazy. I grew up listening to A Tribe Called Quest just like every other hip-hop head around. My dad would sit me down when I was six and school me on the whole Native Tongues collective and explain to me how much of an impact they had on their generation and how it went beyond the music. So to grow up and get the opportunity to work with him, let alone have him ask me to be on his production team, was insane. He really taught me a lot of the dos and don'ts of the industry. I started DJing for him when his manager and DJ Rasta Root couldn't make it, and eventually I just became his fully-fledged hype man. They started taking me on tour around the States and then we started booking world tours once his health was back to 100%. The whole experience was the greatest thing ever and I'm eternally grateful for it.
Are there any artists you’d particularly like to work with?
snack|BOT: The internet makes it easy to connect with people who without it would seem almost impossible to get in touch with. However, when it comes to collaborating we believe it goes beyond the music. We would prefer to work with very open-minded and forward-thinking people. The list would almost be endless. We got to catch [French producer] Onra while out here in Bangkok. We were fans of his music and now being able to have interactions with him just solidifies our appreciation of his creativeness. From a purely musical perspective, we would like to seek out those unique artists like Mr.Oizo, Neon Indian, Free The Robots, Ariel Pink, Tame Impala and D-Styles.
What can people expect from your upcoming gig at Jam?
Gralvan: We pretty much roll with the bare minimum, so our live sets consist of laptop and Midi controllers. When it comes to a Strange Blanket show expect the unexpected. We like to keep it as fresh as possible, and to leave no stone unturned.
Any plans for future releases?
Gralvan: We just plan to keep making music that pushes our limits. We want to take Creatures of Leisure Vol. 2 to that next level. Also, snack|BOT has a solo project he's working on right now, titled The Facts of Life, with some pretty cool guest appearances from the likes of Anya Kvitka and Maestro Gamin to name a few. snack|BOT is also producing Anya Kvitka's debut album, alongside the one and only Bobby Ozuna.