By Bob Gourley | Published on February 23, 2014
Blue Stahli’s new “The Devil (Chapter 01)” EP gives listeners a taste of the upcoming album from the frenetic multi-genre artist (real name Bret Autrey). Blue Stahli continues to masterfully blend huge, blasting guitar riffs with electronic elements and intense vocals. Most importantly, he’s a superb songwriter; even those who are generally not fans of this style of music would likely be drawn in by the catchy hooks. Besides his regular vocal-driven solo material, Blue Stahli also creates music intended for licensing (film, tv, video games). This material has been released to the public as the three volume ‘Antisleep’ series. The following is an email interview with Blue Stahli.
You’ve licensed your music out to a variety of film, TV, and video game projects. Could you describe the process a bit? For example, do you actively promote your work for licensing? How do people tend to find out about you?
I think it really boils down to being a quite phenomenal table dancer and knowing exactly when to shimmy, when to shake, and when to bust out the glitter. Actually, I’m fortunate enough to be represented by an incredible publishing company (who is partnered with the label) staffed by a team of badasses who not only pitch me for things that they think I’d be a good fit for, they also field requests from people searching for the perfect music for their project. For example, music supervisors from American Horror Story contacted my publisher and said “We need a song that would be playing while the serial killer smokes crack in his car”, to which my publisher responded “That’s Bret!” On the flip side, when Iron Man 3 was coming out, their music department had heard my song ‘Suit Up’ and thought it fit perfectly, so they contacted my publisher to see about using the song.
Have you ever been taken by surprise by who wants to license your music?
All the time! The one I *really* didn’t see coming was that my song ‘High Roller Mojo’ from Antisleep Vol. 01 became the theme song for a Jerry Springer-hosted dating game show called “Baggage”. I’m not making that up. That is a real thing that happened, and I absolutely love it. I found a lot of my favorite bands through soundtracks and movie trailers, and one of the things I dreamed of was being part of action, sci-fi, and horror films. So it completely blows me away to hear my music in trailers for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Star Trek Into Darkness, Iron Man 3, and even featurette stuff like Robocop!
From what I understand, the “Antisleep” releases are collections of music geared towards licensing. Is this correct? If so, do you tend to keep things separate, or come up with musical ideas and then decide whether they are best suited for licensing or a regular solo album?
Yep, the Antisleep albums are primarily geared toward film, tv, and video games. Originally, the plan was that I would write Antisleep and not release it to the public, keep it back only for the film world, then focus on writing the debut artist album and regard Antisleep as not artistically representative of me. But as completion of that album came closer, it was just too cool to have genre hopping like this, and it really helps set up that Blue Stahli is much more than just one thing to be boxed in a corner.
I do tend to keep the Antisleep material a bit separate in regards to writing. When I’m writing a regular Blue Stahli artist release like the self-titled debut, or The Devil, I’m aiming for more cohesion amongst the genre hopping. The focus is on songwriting, catchy melodies, and typically with more of a rock backbone along with the electronics. Whereas with Antisleep, the material is primarily instrumental (any songs with vocals are typically treated more like vocal samples, or just focusing on a simple verse and hook), and can even swing to more upbeat material. Blue Stahli always has been, and always will be multi-genre. With that, the Antisleep albums are where I really get to jump around and try new things. You’ll hear everything from heavy stuff, pop, lounge, experimental sound design, and stuff that sounds like remixes of a Tarantino soundtrack.
Do you want to go further with soundtrack work, perhaps creating entire musical scores?
There’s a few ways I’d like to be involved in that. One aspect is that I’d love to have in-film appearances, everything from those scenes where you see action taking place in a club with the energy of a live show as the backdrop for climactic action pieces with the band’s performance providing the score, all the way to things like those moments in a David Lynch film where all the chaos stops and an incredibly affecting musical performance takes place, halting all the characters and previous darkness to let the performance breathe in the film (that would be an absolute dream).
In regards to traditional scoring, I’d love to if it was a project that was a good fit (something I genuinely dig), and as long as I was approached to do what I do. Like, I’m not really the guy for classical orchestration in a period drama, but if someone was familiar with what I do and wanted to pair that with film, I am ALL the way down. Hell, something full on sci-fi, a stylized Tarantino/Guy Ritchie caper, horror flick, grindhouse, sign me up.
What determined which new tracks would appear on “Chapter 01”? Were they the first songs completed, and if not what made you choose them to be released first?
Dartboard and representative balloon animals. I have a stack of demos written for this album (some which won’t make the cut, and I’m sure I’ll have new ideas that will move to the front during writing), and “Down In Flames” and “The Fall” from Chapter 01 happened to be the farthest along. Just had a gut feeling that I could pull those two together quickest at that particular time. There WAS indeed another factor in wanting “Down In Flames” to be one of the first things people heard. With the release of Antisleep Vol. 03, that album had a very “sci-fi/horror” vibe, and so was more inclined to synth material and sound design rather than guitar rock. A few people apparently forgot the fact that Blue Stahli has ALWAYS been multi-genre and made some comments along the line of me “changing my style for good” (which is something I’ve never done ever, if there’s something you wish I’d do again…just hang on, man…I’m one dude playing all this stuff, I’ll get to it). Funnily aside, I followed it up with an indie 80’s pop track. Being that “Down In Flames” is not just a guitar song, it’s a double-barreled blast to the face full of walls of guitar, a string-destroying solo from hell, and enough rock’n’roll energy to power an entire military…it seemed like an excellent to drive my point home.
As you’re creating music, are you consciously thinking about what your fans / potential fans will like and/or be expecting?
To a degree, though honestly, any time I get hung up on that, it winds up being detrimental and I get too much inside my own head. Things work much better and flow much easier when I focus on writing to the movie that’s playing in my head, soundtracking an abstract concept, writing what I genuinely feel in that moment, or writing for someone who may not exist. The fact that I jump genres so wildly, I don’t expect everyone to like absolutely everything I do, but at this point, if people are digging Blue Stahli, then probably part of the fun of being on this ride is not knowing exactly what’s coming next.
When will the full new album be out? What can we expect from it?
To prevent myself from completely putting my foot in my mouth (that is but one of my circus sideshow abilities), I’ll just say I aim to have it out this year. As for what to expect, I may get a few new ideas and directions I want to explore as this goes along, but I can at least tell you that Chapter 02 will feature a song that sounds like what would happen if the Event Horizon wrote a rock’n’roll song (huge guitar riffs, percussive tribal drums, and sound design from sci-fi horror hell), and a sexy track full of breakbeats, vinyl samples, cinematic atmosphere, and chopped up guitars.
Can you describe the creative process of working with Klayton from Celldweller as producer? What would you say he brings to the final result?
Klay will listen to my initial demos and make suggestions. I hole myself up in the studio and present something when it’s at least somewhat less embarrassing than when it began. Klay listens critically, may make more suggestions, and I hit it again until it sucks even less. The most crucial thing Klay brings is an experienced outside perspective that I trust (I’ve been a fan of his for years and years, and he’s been hugely influential to me so it really is a dream come true). Many times, I’ll be so firmly entrenched in a song that there are things that I’m missing or aren’t highlighting as much as I should, so it’s good to have Klayton with a fresh pair of ears who gets the multi-genre thing, and especially mixing a rock sensibility with the electronic.
Do you tend to start out working with live instruments or do the electronic parts come first? Or does it completely vary?
Completely varies. Sometimes it starts with me laying down a quick beat, then riffing over the top of it on bass or guitar. Sometimes it’s a vocal line or melodic line I sung into my phone at 3am. It’s weird, but instead of templates, I love starting with a completely blank session and building it up from there.
In terms of the electronic elements, do you ever consider whether particular sounds or production techniques might make things seem dated further down the line?
Yes and no. The stuff you hear me do and incorporate is all stuff that I, at some point, thought “Hmm, I wonder what that would sound like if I mixed that with ____?”. With some material, depending on the intended use, I go for a very cutting edge up-to-the-minute sound (which runs the risk of having a definitive timestamp, but is meant only for a particular goal at that particular time, and certainly isn’t indicative of everything I do, or why). Of course, that’s through the lens of “Blue Stahli’s version of ____” rather than specifically parroting a style, so that already changes the game. Other times, I just do whatever the hell happens to come to mind regardless of its cool-factor by the tastemakers.
Recently, I’ve been going back and rediscovering stuff that I loved years ago and examining which things hold up or sound horribly dated (of course, that’s all subjective). There’s a big difference in incorporating things that you find interesting, putting them into the framework of your own style, and merely chasing a trend. Frustration with the disposability of certain electronic genres (which, to be fair, are intended to be flavor-of-the-moment club material), and here today gone tomorrow fads in the indie sector championed by some music press outlets has led me to throw my hands up and say “screw the genres, I’ll just do what I like”. One of the first songs I wrote as Blue Stahli for Antisleep Vol. 01 isn’t a style that’s hugely popular, just something I enjoy doing…and that song is now in the theatrical trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Whether I’m doing a heavy rock piece, or a pop song, or a purely electronic track, it will always be warped through Radio Blue Stahli. If you want flavor of the minute, there’s a million places to go. If you want past, present, and future all thrown into a blender, you want Blue Stahli.
Who would you say your influences and inspirations are, in terms of both initially wanting to make music and your general style?
In terms of initially making music, I really have to credit the fact that there was a beat up old piano in the house when I was a kid. It was built in 1910 and was about to be thrown away, when my mom stepped in and asked to have it, rather than see it go to the dump. So as a closed off introverted kid I grew up messing around on this thing as an escape, working out songs by ear, writing my own strange little songs, etc. That all eventually lead to picking up a guitar, programming songs in DOS, the whole nine.
I’d say my general style stems from movie soundtracks (especially the ones featuring a lot of bands rather than pure score). Both while watching the film, and driving around listening to the soundtrack afterward, I’d hear rock, to electronic, to hip hop, and everything in between. I couldn’t help wondering, “Why does it have to be 12 different artists to make an album like this? Why can’t this just be an album from one artist that sounds like you’re spinning a radio dial, but winding up with songs that all fit a central feel regardless of genre?”. So that’s really where it all stems from and why Blue Stahli is the way that it is.
Do you perform live as Blue Stahli? If so, can you describe your approach to presenting the music live?
I haven’t performed a Blue Stahli live show yet (though I was part of the two-man Celldweller live show in 2010-2011). Originally, I had an idea for taking Blue Stahli live as a one-man show, re-arranging the songs into more acoustic downtempo presentations with backing beats and production. I was going to be doing that for the ease of travel and cost-effectiveness of only having one person. But the more I thought about it, the more it hit me that the very first presentation of “Blue Stahli live” really does need to come out of the gate swinging and present the songs closer to their album form for people who aren’t already familiar (I’ll save the more downtempo acoustic stuff for later, once they’re acquainted with the loud version). So now the aim is assemble an ass kicking three piece, a badass drummer, killer bassist, myself on guitar and vocals, while also having the electronic/cinematic element represented. Still hashing out exactly how that’s all going to work together, but rest assured that I’m working on making this a fun show!
How did you come to choose the name Blue Stahli for your project?
It was the name given to me by Rutger Hauer after completing what he told me was a vision quest, involving a bullwhip, a box of Mike and Ike’s, and a careless disregard for public safety in a New Mexico strip mall. Actually, it’s a reference to the particular indescribable feeling I would get from certain music and art. I tend to see music in diffusions of color, like every song has a wash of color that represents its mood (not like a solid, more like when you’re looking past a neon sign at night and catch the diffusion). The most cathartic songs and visuals to me have tended to have a blue hue to them. During a not very awesome time in life, I was out getting Christmas presents for people. I had just landed a warehouse job, and slinging boxes around was the most money I had made at that point, so I wanted to get really special gifts for everyone. I wandered into a store that was half home furnishings, half wall art. Everything in the art section may as well have been sepia toned, as nothing struck me except for one abstract painting called “Untitled Blue” by an artist named Susanne Stähli. The painting looked like the visual representation of what the most cathartic songs felt like to me, and who knows how long I stood there staring at it while a strange shiver enveloped me. The name is less a reference to the painting itself, and more about the effect something like that can have. That something wordless and abstract could somehow speak volumes to me and voice things I didn’t have names for is incredible. That’s the power of art, music, film, and literature, and that’s what’s kept me alive. So what drives me is to do the same for other people.
Besides the upcoming album, do you have any other future plans you’d like to tell readers about?
There is ALWAYS something going on in Blue Stahli land (and something rad on the horizon, that I can’t really talk about until it comes out). In addition to the new album and its chapters, I stay in touch with everyone on Twitter, Facebook, Vkontakte, Instagram and put out two videos on YouTube each week. One is “Ask Blue Stahli” on Wednesdays, where you can ask any ridiculous question you like and I provide things resembling answers. And “Stahlivision” on Friday, which runs the gamut from updates from me in video form, footage from the studio, and general surreal ridiculous weirdness. And really, I just want to take this opportunity at the end of this shebang to tell everyone how much I appreciate each and every person who supports Blue Stahli and spreads this action around. If this music did something for you, I want to hear from you! I’m extremely grateful that people are connecting with this stuff, and I hope that new things I’m making create worlds and movies for you.
For more info and the latest news, be sure to visit out the official Blue Stahli website.See all interviews →