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Shift Shaper

Tyondai Braxton Interview

Photography: Ports Bishop (Black and White), Grace Villamil (Color) / Video Edit: Aaron Neits / Music: Tyondai Braxton / Special thanks to Channel 13

Tyondai Braxton surprised many by walking away from Battles at the height of the band’s popularity. Back then, he didn’t say much on why and how, but in the last few years, he branched out to the world outside of rock; he played his solo project Central Market, which was recorded during his Battles time, with some of the most established orchestras in the world including the London Sinfonietta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, then last year, he premiered a multimedia project he named HIVE at the Guggenheim Museum.  His recent endeavors seem like a hybrid of his outside-the-box approach and a lifestyle choice, but are also in line with the more fluid, organic, and collaborative projects between musicians, the likes of which we have been seeing more of in recent years.  Periscope talked to Tyondai about the future of the life of a musician, and where he is at these days.  

(This story was originally published in Periscope iPad edition vol. 1. For the full, interactive story with a full length video, go to the app store. You can also see his Hive performance by clicking the top image.)

Your recent projects after leaving Battles seem to suggest a new model for being a musician.
It seems like it’s a contemporary model.  At this point no one can make money from the record sales anymore.  You have to be engaged in touring or playing live if you expect to survive.  The question is, “What does that mean?” Does it mean you have to cash in your chips as a creative person and suddenly become a professional mover?  That is what touring is.  You are only performing for maybe an hour or so a day on tour.  The other 23 hours, you are loading, moving, driving and flying – which is fine for a month or 2, not a year. You are nowhere and everywhere at the same time. You are insulated. It is exciting. It is a learning experience and it is necessary. I am glad that I did that and I’ll continue to tour but on my own terms.
   But as an older person who has been doing it, you have to question how you want to do it, and why you are doing it.  I come from the school that says music and art first and money second, not to sound romantic about it.  But I do want to survive doing what I do and I want to be able to work within a model that satisfies my need to constantly be creative and also satisfies the need to present it to people.
   What does that mean? What is a band at this point? It is an exciting thing to think about.  There’s nothing wrong with it. People are still pulling inspiration from that.  For me personally, I am interested in multimedia, I am interested in things that transcend the classical form of a band, and in the full artistic package.  It used to be designing album covers. That was the part where you get your visual fix as a musician.  Now with technology being more available, more understandable, more integrated into the way music, video, and art all play together, it is insane not to try to incorporate these things. Suddenly, it is not just about the music and more about the experience.  So that is what I am trying to figure out.
You left Battles and the next thing you did was to play Central Market with orchestras.
Central Market was the most personally artistically fulfilling project of my life.  I loved the people that I played with and worked with.  The scale of Central Market was big enough that I had to work with orchestras, and I travelled with a core group of musicians, The Wordless Music Group.  Because my music is informed by electronic and rock music, it was helpful to have WMG tour with me to give a strong foundation for the orchestra to draw from musically and contextually.  
Then you went onto to do another completely different project, HIVE.
I wanted to do something that borrowed from these areas that I was interested in, a multimedia element and that borrowed from that culture where there are five of us there, seemingly in equal position, but there’s a visual component with the pods, and an alien like line up.  I like that idea of what that evolution means.  
   It is a different way of making music.  You simulate community with the technology in some ways, by creating algorithmic functions where modulars affect one another.  You create a community with machines. It’s been exciting as I’ve really wanted to learn about synthesis and electronic music on a deeper level. I want to do HIVE and I want to do a large orchestra piece that incorporates live musicians and algorithmic principles.  HIVE is in another way a project for me to learn from and bring this learning back to the collective, which is an orchestra, a band, an electronic hybrid.  
It seems like a lot of different musicians are moving toward project-based collaborations rather than being in a set band and HIVE is one of these projects.
   It has to do a lot with the idea of community and what that means technologically, where it is not just a guitar, bass and drums, that style of community.  Technologically, it is interconnected thing, which I thought would be fascinating with what people have been talking about with social media and interconnectedness. What if you brought that into a live setting? You are essentially sending a friend request when you are sending these modules to someone else to do something with it. It is like, will you accept this information and do something with it?  You can chose not to.  So there is a dialogue that you are having with other musicians.  
   And that social component is interesting. That is another thing that I want to bring out and think about what that means.  It is conceptual, but in the end, I want it to be slamming. So how can I reconcile these influences in a way that is functional and conceptually strong, but in the end, sick musically?
Are these new projects in part a lifestyle choice for you?
One of the things that it came down to was the investment of time in the band and the different things that I wanted to do and build for myself. I  didn’t wanna be in my fifties looking back and have a bunch of band records and playing songs that I wrote in my thirties.  
   Technology and the cost are huge factors because suddenly that dictates what you are working with.  If you are working with something that is amazing that you could afford, that changes the game.  But on top of that, the reason people have been pushing to develop that technology is that there are interests in expanding what the format is to perform, and the context of what it means to be in a band and what it means to be a performer in this day and age.  You have so many more options when you are able to imagine something and then have the actual ability to produce it.  
The idea of a band seems to be changing slowly.  
Maybe I am projecting my own thing, but maybe people are getting bored with the band thing a little bit. I am speaking from the perspective of someone who has really enjoyed it and went through it.  Maybe there is something more to build from with the new format.  For me, the concept of collaboration is still exciting, while the concept of the band culture is unexciting.  It is stale and antiquated.  But then I can contradict myself in a heartbeat because there is always something inspirational from the model that you thought was extinct.  The perfect example is Nirvana.  After seeing every other guitar-bass-drums band forever, they came along as fresh as sourdough bread in the morning.  Let me take it another step further.  You are talking to a guy who loves orchestra music.  What is more antiquated than that?
   Maybe it is more about assimilating all these things that you love and keeping this in mind when you are doing different projects, as opposed to subscribing to just one thing.  It is not that any of these things have value, but it is the idea of being so willing to subscribe to this one culture that create stagnation.       

02/20/2015

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