Welcome to The Drop, Derek Staples’ new column focusing specifically on the ever-evolving market and culture behind EDM through op-editorials, interviews, and investigative reporting. Today, he’s speaking with Los Angeles trio The Glitch Mob about their formula, their friends, and the festivals they attend.
Having first met eight years ago in the underground dance clubs of Los Angeles, the trio behind The Glitch Mob have developed a familial bond as strong as I have seen. The three (Edward Ma (edIT), Justin Boreta, and Josh Mayer (Ooah)) effortlessly weave through old tales of friends and times in Joshua Tree, rarely stepping on each other’s words and naturally finishing one another’s thoughts when a distraction would set in (when chatting about a yacht docked behind Ultra Music festival, the distractions are many). Yet the dialogue doesn’t arrive like those canned PR practice sessions but like the dinnertime conversation with a couple that worked through the murk to share in the success of their personal triumphs. For the trio, that sense of open communication has been key to the success of Love Death Immortality: “We have this core rule,” shared Boreta about their studio habits, “that if any one of us doesn’t like a specific thing, then it has to go.”
That extended production process may have put the album behind schedule, but it only gave the group more time to connect with an audience who had been cultivated from international touring and dozens of festival appearances that have defied their “Glitch Mob” moniker. “[The Glitch Mob] sound is a mish-mosh of different things that really focuses on the feeling, and that is why it is appreciated in so many different environments,” says Boreta. Tapping social media to reveal their sonic manifestations of three essential human concepts (love, death, and immortality), the self-released album would debut at Number 13 on the Billboard 200.
These numbers mean little, if anything, to the men. “The Glitch Mob is meant to be experienced. And that is something that the three of us have come to realize over time,” divulges Ma about the continued evolution of the project. That ideal has led to one of the most intricate live electronic performances currently touring anywhere in the world. And one that some festival audiences (like that at Ultra) actually won’t be able to take in. Instead of name-drop about all the clients their visual team has assisted, they would rather chat about all their friends who breathe real life and add real soul to electronic music. From their humble beginnings in the SoCal underground to their current status as main stage headliner, none within the group have ever lost focus on the original players who helped them along the way.
It has been almost four years since I last caught up with the Glitch Mob, so there was plenty to talk about, including the plan with their imprint, Glass Air, their mysterious concept videos, and who we could expect from a Glitch Mob-curated stage. The lineup certainly was a surprise.
The Glitch Mob played Ultra back in 2011, when you were promoting your debut LP, Drink the Sea. New album, new Ultra. Leading up to the release of Love Death Immortality, there was a series of videos representing each theme, although none of the tracks were on the release. What was the broader concept of this album and intentions behind the video rollout?
Justin Boreta (JB): The music comes first; at the top of the pyramid sort-of-speak. We finished the album in November  but thought it would be done way prior to that during the summer. We already had a tour booked but had to cancel that. Right when we finished the album in November, the February release date was set. At that point and time, we switched gears to finding ways to loop people in and teeeeasssseee and get the vibe and feeling out there. Which a lot of people ended up being mad about and some people thought was really fun. But we felt our only options were to go totally dead silent or literally just talk about it, so we decided to take the mysterious route. So, the main point was really just to tease the main concepts of the album.
The songs themselves are divided up in a way that there’s stories that are consistent with the human experience. We were trying to tell stories in a way that people could relate to them, because for us it is about what brings us all together, and the stories of love, death, and immortality were those containers that bring so many people together. The videos were a way of getting people into that headspace as we had shifted gears from the last album. The aesthetic, the tone, the song titles, and all that stuff was a sea change from where we were before. So, we wanted to slowly bring people over, as opposed to now all of a sudden we are black and gold, and samurais and smoke.
Ooah (O): Basically, we were just being a big tease!
I thought it was great how you really leveraged social media, with Edit and his Ableton tutorials and the updates about when you were laying down basslines, mixing, and then mastering the album.
O: We just wanted to let everyone know what we were up to, so fans weren’t like, “What the fuck are those guys doing?” We wanted to just give a little bit here and there so they could know how deep we were into it. Because we were really deep — two years spent writing and mixing and mastering and figuring out the art, look, feel, and flavor of everything. We wanted to have creative ways to let people know we were still here but didn’t just want to post teasers and new songs.
You each have your various side projects as well. How does that affect your approach in the studio? Do you each have a preferred skill set, or is the collaboration more organic in your approach?
edIT (E): We come together early on to conceptualize what we are trying to say. It’s not really as cut-and-dry as this guy plays the bass, this guys plays the keys; we are all producers obviously, and all three of us can do all of that, but the core of it is really much more about what are the feelings and emotions we are trying to convey and what is the best story we can come up with to convey that in the form of a song.
It starts from a very small idea, and that develops, and then we create a loose song structure laid out about how we are going to tell that story. Over time the song does get more and more refined, but all the tunes are worked on in cycles. The first cycle might be going to Joshua Tree, and we just come up with a bunch of ideas. Then we come back to L.A., sift though those ideas and figure out how these ideas are going to convey the emotions we want to share on this record. And then once the songs are kind of done, there is a long mix phase of constantly refining because the mixing is how those emotions are conveyed.
JB: And this changes over time. At the beginning, like at Joshua Tree when we were living in the desert, we would all get up and jot down really quick sketches and ideas. These would then change over time during the refining and mixing phases. Ed was actually responsible for mixing and the overall sound of the record, because that itself is a one-man job. Josh [Ooah] and I were involved, but you cannot have multiple people’s hands on the mixing board. The core message couldn’t be told if it wasn’t for all of us. Actually, a lot of people ask us why it takes so long to record an album with three people. But, it actually takes three times as long because we have this core rule that if any one of us doesn’t like a specific thing, then it has to go. So, there ends up being a lot of letting go.
E: To clarify, I do mix the album with their ideas in mind. I don’t just mix it how I would an edIT record. Like, I totally take into consideration what the collective Glitch Mob sound is and work within those boundaries.
O: To jump back, the result of this comes from each of us being computer artists and coming together and doing that. You mentioned our solo careers, but the magic of the Glitch Mob is that we all come together, and we all start doing what we have learned on our own, and then it gets refined down to the three of us sound like this one thing.
JB: We all bring our various skills to the table, but we get in this Glitch Mob headspace that not one of us could do on our own because we all bring something intangible to the table. There is just something about the spaceship that we all get into, that is the way this project sounds, and we all know what needs to happen, but it is hard to put into words. It just comes out.
There are now just a massive amount of festivals across the U.S. and globe, and you manage to play a number of them every year no matter the prevailing aesthetic. What do you think it is about the Glitch Mob sound that both festivalgoers and production companies love?
E: It really is found at the core of what we do: The Glitch Mob is meant to be experienced. And that is something that the three of us have come to realize over time. When we were writing Drink the Sea, which is something that we really didn’t take into mind, and we were creating a listening album. But at the end of the day, we still couldn’t shake the festival circuit, and we were getting booked at bigger and bigger rooms. Plus, we just love to play live.
O: Yeah, we turned Drink the Sea into a live experience, but that wasn’t necessarily what we had planned from the get-go. We just turned it into this massive feeling and realized that we could do that again with this new album. But bigger and really more focused on that.
JB: I think that is one of the main reasons festivals like to book us, and that is part of the reason why people come out to see us; we have the energy of a live electronic act with multiple people interacting onstage. So, at the same time, our focus isn’t on any one particular scene or genre, because it spans all kinds of different stuff we can play more at an indie-type stage of a full-on electronic festival like Ultra. Our sound is a mish-mosh of different things that really focuses on the feeling, and that is why it is appreciated in so many different environments.
You have hit up so many festivals as talent, but if you were to go to one festival as a fan, what would it be?
E: I actually went to Lightning in a Bottle as a fan last year just to hang out.
O: Yeah, me and Justin went to Coachella last year. We paid the whole thing, and it was awesome. So, I would say Lightning in a Bottle or Coachella, but it is hard to decide because they are all so different.
JB: Coachella, for sure. I love Coachella.
Back on Drink the Sea, you had an amazing collaboration with Swan. She doesn’t return on this album, but once again you have a great selection of featured vocalists. How did these relationships form leading into the release of the album?
JB: Yeah, they are definitely all friends or friends of friends or people that we even met online. Everyone on this new record is actually a pretty good friend of ours except for Sister Crayon [“Beauty of the Unhidden Heart”], who had written us an email years ago and said, “Hey, I am a really big fan of you guys, can you remix our record?” I listened to the song and sent it to the guys, and we thought it was amazing and wanted to put it on ice until the record came out. So, over time we eventually became friends with her as well. We prefer to work with our friends; there are other ways to work with people, but sometimes that just means a lot of red tape with management and stuff. At the end of the day, it’s just a lot more fun and exciting for us to work with our friends and share in that creativity.
O: And that is the root of the Glitch Mob, too. We were all friends and then just decided to make music together. We would DJ all of these parties together: Ed would DJ, I would be DJing, and then Justin would play. We would see each other turning up at the same events, and it was just like, “What’s up dudes?!” So, we were like, “Fuck it, let’s all play together,” threw all of our computers up, and started playing. It was born out of this friendship and love for underground dance music and just this experimental thing. As we started writing music, it was just like let’s bring our friend Swan on, or let’s get Metal Mother, who was one of the first people I ever met when I moved to California like 10 years ago. Just met her randomly and she has been my homie since. So, we just ask people that we know and love and think that they are amazing artists instead of reaching for artists just because they worked on another record.
E: There is something really nice about making music with people that you have a connection with opposed to somebody that you don’t know who is just hyped at the moment or that a publicist told you to work with. But as Justin said, we were friends with all the vocalists on this album and really got to be close with Sister Crayon.
O: Yeah, they are from the Bay area and were family with like the Low End Theory crew and were always at arm’s reach. We kind of always new there was going to be something different and magical that would come out of our friendship.
There were a couple of follow-up Drink the Sea remix LPs. Is that something that you also plan for Love Death Immortality?
JB: We are holding off on that. There will be some remixes, but I think it is going to be a different approach this time. We still don’t exactly know. Right now we are just focusing on the tour.
This is your last date on the current tour, correct?
B: We actually have an entire new tour starting.
O: This is just like the first little piece. We go home, do Coachella, and then we start up a whole ‘nother tour.
Due to the festival stage, we’re not going to see the entire new setup today, but who are some of the players who help make that new setup come to life?
JB: The main person behind it is named Martin Phillips; he has a company named Bionic League. He is responsible for so many iconic shows in our time: Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, deadmau5. He made the Daft Punk pyramid. We could just name-drop his shit all day. He is one of the best and has taken a liking to us because he likes our music and we get along really well. For all the people that we get to work with, it is a really fun and creative experience because we don’t work under a major label. We’re the bosses, and we can do whatever the hell we want to within budgetary restrictions. Whoever comes to collaborate with us, we are always down to do whatever fucking crazy, insane shit you can come up with.
There is a company called Name the Machine, and their main programmer there is named Matt Davis. He does playback systems and backbone Ableton stuff for tons of artists. He is the one who developed the software, and it seems really simple onstage when we are just playing touchscreens and drums, but it is actually an extremely complicated piece of beta software, custom software, that we are operating on. There is a ton of other companies that made the set, so Martin is the main guy who helped to piece the whole visual show together. But there is also a company called Vision that made the set pieces.
O: Yeah, it is a complex puzzle.
JB: There are about 15 companies that made it all possible.
Photo by Peter Nguyen (Empty Planet Productions)
You have certainly come a long way since the three, or four, laptop days. Other than releasing this album through your Glass Air label, what else is planned for 2014? Any other artists you are working with, or do you plan on releasing your own solo material?
O: Nothing is in the works right now except for Yaarrohs, who sang on the record. She has an EP that she has been working on and we have talked about releasing. But really the focus is on this live show right now. The vision is to release friends that we have worked with and side project stuff that we have done. Just keep creating this little family. Keep it chill and work with cool people.
You mentioned Low End Theory, which is having its first festival this year. If you, or the Glass Air imprint, were to curate a stage — which seems to be so popular now – who would be some of your top choices?
JB: Gesaffelstein is definitely up there.
He is actually playing a long set tonight.
O: Hopefully we can check that out.
JB: Eprom, who is a good friend of ours.
O: Bring back the guys from Justice.
JB: And Phil Collins, absolutely need to have Phil Collins. And Collie Buddz.
O: Drake and probably some Gaslamp Killer.
I heard he had to stop drinking after a scooter accident a few months back.
O: I actually hung out with him recently. He is doing pretty well.
I thank you all for your time, and safe travels during your upcoming tour.
Love Death Immortality is available now.