Interviews: Junk Culture

Junk Culture
Jeff Pearson, January 3, 2011
Originally published by Life’s Sweet Breath

Junk Culture is the enigmatic musical project of Deepak Mantena. Mantena creates highly stylized, blissful dance tunes by taking samples from all around him. We got the chance to ask him some questions about how he likes to create music, and what to expect from his upcoming EP, Summer Friends.

Tactile Tracks:You share your name with the Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark album. Did the album inspire your name, or is this purely coincidence?

Deepak Mantena: I was looking through my record collection one day and saw OMD’s Junk Culture and it just clicked. I decided to put out music under that name at first because I thought it sounded cool, but it’s since taken on more meaning for me. I’m sticking with it for now.

Tactile Tracks: What music does influence your work?

DM: I’m influenced by every song that makes me experience a physical sensation when I listen to it. Some songs that always do that for me are “Kitty Kat” by Beyonce, “Hello Fuji Boy” by Oh Astro, “Bye” by J Dilla, “Leaf House” by Animal Collective, “Before I Leave” by Fennesz, “Yesterday & Today” by Murs, “Another Horizon” by Nite Jewel, this cover of a Bach jam on autoharp, “Tell Me” by Bitty McLean, “No Deposit Required” by Phaseone.

Tactile Tracks: When crafting the songs on both West Coast, and now Summer Friends, how do you approach finding sounds and samples to use?

DM: Often I’ll go through phases of recording a ton of sounds on this really cheap Zoom pocket recorder. Those samples form the basis for a lot of my material. And there’s no real specific thing I’m looking for when I go through my sample recording phases. It’s really freeform and unacademic and I like keeping it that loose.

“Maybe I’ll put out six records of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony covers and call it a day.”

Tactile Tracks: Have you discovered any new musical styles or sounds since West Coast that will make an appearance on Summer Friends?

DM: Yeah for sure. I’ve never made a record that’s sounded the same as the last. Summer Friends will be the second Junk Culture record, but the fourth record I’ve made. I put out two albums in high school and then college under a different name and none of them sound the same. So yeah, just constantly listening to new music and getting bored with old sounds usually means the next thing I put out is gonna sound different. Who knows though. Maybe I’ll put out six records of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony covers and call it a day.

Tactile Tracks: Tell us a little more about Summer Friends. What was the recording process like?

DM: I recorded it over like eight months. I played a ton of shows in the last year, so it’d usually be like I had a few weeks to work on music, then I had to tour, and then I had a few more weeks to do music, then back to playing shows, and repeated like that through the year. I don’t want to repeat that kind of workflow. It can be pretty trying at times.

The actual recording process was really fun though because I’m making stuff on such a simple barebones setup. My studio is really mobile, so I got to track some stuff interesting places. I did most of the vocals in the living room of the house I grew up in. It has really high ceilings and an interesting geometry. That was fun. I recorded the entire thing myself, with the exception of a few percussion overdubs my younger brother helped me out with.

Tactile Tracks: What should we expect from the record? West Coast was unpredictably catchy and layered. Will Summer Friends be a continuation of that style, or are you taking things in a different direction?

DM: It’s a lot different than West Coast. The biggest difference is that I’m singing on all the songs. The songs are also deliberately really simple compositionally. It’s still instrumentally pretty layered. I think it’s still danceable, but it’s definitely less frenetic than West Coast.

“Really zoning out on a particular synth part or something for hours can be just as rewarding as dancing and sweating all over an audience while making jokes about LFO for 40 minutes.”

Tactile Dracks: The track “Summer Friends” captures the essence of a live Junk Culture show, with looped vocals over infectious, danceable beats. Do you approach the way you create your sound live differently than when crafting a record?

DM: Yeah actually. The live show is a completely different thing for me. The records are where I experiment with sound and the live shows are where I entertain. I never want to play a live show that’s boring, you know? I’d rather people be really excited or pissed off seeing me show rather than leaving bored.

Tactile Tracks: Do you prefer one to the other?

DM: That’s a really hard question to answer. The stock answer is that they both have their merits. Really zoning out on a particular synth part or something for hours can be just as rewarding as dancing and sweating all over an audience while making jokes about LFO for 40 minutes. I guess the live shows are unquestionably more instantly gratifying than recording.

Tactile Tracks: Speaking of your live show, a Junk Culture gig is known for being an all-out attack on the senses, of course audibly, but with the visual aspect as well. Can you tell us about the visuals you display live? What goes into creating the video you use, and how much control over the video do you have in a live setting?

DM: The visual aspect is hugely important to me. Making short films is another part of my life that takes up a lot of my time. I make all the live videos. I usually make them the same way I make music. Cutting and pasting stuff together, trying to create a visual narrative that, to me at least, relates to the track.

Tactile Tracks: Following the release of Summer Friends, you’re hitting the road with label-mate Girl Talk. Are you excited about the opportunity to play for larger audiences and in new cities?

DM: Yeah definitely. I’m really psyched that Gregg asked me to play this tour with him. I played a few shows with him before and his crowds are really amazing. I can’t wait to see how hard these kids can dance.

Tactile Tracks: Do you have anything special planned for those shows?

DM: I’m working through a few ideas now. Having the experience of playing like 100 or so shows in the last year definitely helped me realize what stuff works live and what doesn’t. I think the show this time around is gonna be even more dance-friendly. There are a few wild things I’m planning on, but I don’t wanna spoil anything yet.

Tactile Tracks: Do you have any plans past the Girl Talk supporting dates? Any plans for a headlining tour?

DM: I’m probably going to be doing a headlining tour after the Girl Talk dates. I definitely have some plans and ideas for the rest of the year, but nothing on the books yet. I’m going to have some new stuff out soon after the record too.

Tactile Tracks: What is it like being a musician in Oxford?

DM: I love making music in Oxford. My friends and most everyone else here are really supportive of the arts. The town is quiet and the weather is mostly sweet. It smells really good in Mississippi. That inspires me to work on stuff for sure.

Tactile Tracks: The electronica and dance genre is really booming right now. Are you seeing any changes with the scene in Oxford?

DM: Not really. The ‘music scene’ in this town is basically still just blues jam shit rock cover crap. Minor changes I guess. There are definitely people here making cool music and taking steps to make this town more musically diverse.

Tactile Tracks: Finally, will February see the first Deepak Mantena day in Oxford?

DM: That’d be sweet, but honestly I’d be more psyched if Twitter gave me an Internet day.

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