Musical mastermind Figure is no new name to the driving force behind electronic music. Figure has been heavily involved in dubstep's expansion for years, working with different structures of music to never let any label constrain him. He has used his wisdom and skill to experiment in gut grinding, chest heaving, head rattling music, which has kept those eager for filth satisfied for years. With an astonishing total of 132 tracks on Soundcloud and having never failed to deliver every year with a new Monster volume, this producer is one of a kind. EARMILK was lucky enough to speak with Figure before his performance in Montreal to finally meet the genius behind some of the most ground shaking dubstep. Read the interview below to learn more about where Josh feels music distribution is going, his work with OWSLA, and his longest set ever.
EARMILK: Hey Figure, first off I want to ask about your contract with OWLSA. You signed to release two EP’s on the Label and after ‘Horns of the Apocalypse’ there is big expectations. Can you give any details on the state of this second EP so far?
Josh Gard: The second EP is going to be just one single with a back up B-side that will be for free to promote the other track. It's almost done, but I have someone singing on the track and I'm really stoked whose singing on it. Basically it sounds like a song I wouldn't make, when I made the track I had just gotten engaged and I made it two weeks after that. I was in a car working on the song, it was one of those drives where you go through mountains, so the song as of now is called "Mountains". It's sounds almost as if Seven Lions and Bassnectar got together, but with my drums and such. I made it in a couple of hours and everyone I've shown has been excited, it's instantly nostalgic and I'm going with it because I like it, but it doesn't sound like a follow up. It sounds like another branch.
EM: So you feel you've taken a new direction then with this track, even to yourself?
JG: Yeah, but I think it will only be this one track and that will be it. If everyone loves this song, it's going to be really disappointing because I'm not going to make other music like this, It's just this song exists for a reason. I send music into OWSLA sometimes and they just reject them, their like, "no, no, no, but the moment I sent this in they were like yes! Absolutely, this is it!"
EM: That's awesome, I'm really excited to hear it. Has this partnership with OWLSA altered your involvement with your own label DOOM?
JG: Well, I started DOOM for two reasons, one being more important to me. If someone sent me music that sounded like if I built my own box, they would be in the box with me. If I could put it on all of the Monster stuff and just put my name on it and people wouldn't know the difference, then it could go on DOOM. So it should have that vibe, there is a particular vibe that I'm looking for. Not that I would put my name on anything else! Once I signed to OWSLA, I gave them the EP, Horns Of The Apocalypse, then immediately bounced back and did Monster Vol. 4. Vol. 4 was actually the longest, Vol. 3 might have been longer track wise, but that's because of remixes. Yet, if you listen to Vol. 4 consecutively with it's interludes it becomes more of an album effort. But because it's part of a series, it is not treated as an album.
EM: So what do you consider it then? Just a volume? Or just a part from a series?
JG: What it is, is me developing the idea of all that stuff and then slowly getting more serious about that. I started working with Universal Studios for the Hollywood Horror Nights. They started asking me for specific things, so that helped with how I made my songs, so I decided to just make an album. It's 70% album, 30% Monster series, but I wasn't going to explain that to people, I just put it out to my fans as Vol. 4. I can release with DOOM whenever I want and OWSLA won't be mad, I can put a song out in a week and I don't think I would get shit for it. Although I'm treating DOOM not as a label, it's just a host. There are labels that have these huge fan pages just so fans of the label can see new material. It's just me on my label. I've put a couple other people out, but you can also give this away, this is not a serious release and I'm not going to promote it.
EM: Yeah, I've noticed that as well. You have a few remixes of your own tracks but DOOM is mostly your own work. We kind of touched on this, but The Monster Volumes are significant releases that have come to be expected from you every year. Has your motive for these releases changed or grown from the first volume to the fourth?
JG: Yes and no. When I made the first volume it took four days maybe. That was one of the first American halftime drum'n'bass releases, I guess. Whatever you want to call it. I can never make music like that again because there is a certain place where your head goes when things start happening and my head cannot go back there. So I can't compare my past work, but I take everything and try to remember how things were in my mindset then. The basement I made all that in was my mom's so I can still go there. Now after all the stuff with Universal Studios, I look at it differently. It's one more step into entering that world, such as working with the people who own the rights to Frankenstein. It's a completely new ballgame. There are certain artists that do things like that. Look at Rob Zombie for instance; movies, music, soundtracks, scores, theatrics, electronic music doesn't have that. That is what I strive for now, verses just wanting to make awesome music back then. I want to make awesome music now, but I have this bigger picture in my head.
EM: Is the artwork on each cover illustrated for you specifically or are they images you’ve just found online?
JG: We steal everything from Google. We try to contact the artists, some of them get back to us, some of them don't, but every artist that has ever gotten back to us was like "yeah, that's cool". When we used the Beetlejuice art, which was a free download, that person saw the cover. They ended up being really cool about it because I was a fan of other work they had done. I said "I didn't use this because it was Bettlejuice, I used this because it was yours, it was Bettlejuice, it was a free download, and I thought it was cool". I think we just ending up tagging them and then paying them a little bit. A lot of it we just jack from online. When I grew up my favourite band and it's still my favourite band is the Misfits, all their art, everything is stolen. From the fucking crimson skull, which is just from an old show, to all of their artwork on all of their albums are screen shots or pictures from old sci-fi things that they've fucked with.
EM: A majority of your work is now composed on the road; do the new settings, different tools, and direct way of hearing music (i.e. Headphones) change your creative process?
JG: Definitely, sometimes I'll be at a show and I'll see someone play and there will be some weird chord progression, type of drop, or timing that will fuck with me. I'll think, "that's a good idea", so I'll make these weird notes that a lot of the time look like caveman writings or letters, but in my head it makes certain sounds. Other times it's good because I can go to my hotel, I know no one is going to knock on the door, my phone isn't going to ring because it's 5am, I put my headphones on and I'm just in my own world. I'm not super concerned about the sonic quality of my songs because I know how one sounded a year ago, so I can just compare that one song to what I'm making now, if it sounds just as good, that's fine. I'm not trying to change the game with how my mix sounds or how my masterings are. I look at is if I'm a shitty garage band just making music so when it sounds good, I do it, I render it, and I move on to the next one.
EM: How has the way you work with other artists changed by constantly producing on the move?
JG: It's actually helped a lot on a couple of the collaborations I've made. I don't really work with audio, I don't flatten my midi tracks or my synths. When I work with other people though, I basically just make their noises into audio and I chop the clips, this got me to chopping music more so my editing process is a bit more gruelling now.
EM: Practically all of your songs on Soundcloud are freely downloadable, do you think this leads to more plays and fans? Would people still listen as much if that were not an option?
JG: No, I would only have like two fifths of my fans if I only sold stuff. This is only true for me, but Beatport gets one 50th of the traffic I get on iTunes, but what I get on iTunes isn't crazy. The traffic I get on Soundcloud shits on all of that. People just want music and I don't make music to make money. If you come out to the show and I play music for you, I make money. I'm not worried about if you downloaded my low-bit rate file on iTunes, I don't care if it's free or if it's sold, I just want people to have it, but people will get it faster if it's free. People also don't feel as exclusive or cool though if they get it for free, they don't know if people have found it yet and bought it. Yeah, free music is way better than selling music, but that changed within five years. It was not like that five years ago.
EM: Are musicians who give their music out only through online retailers losing audience interest or is there still any advantage to selling music (besides financial)?
JG: The word underground might be taboo, but the difference between me and say, David Guetta is that he's the biggest thing in the world. So it doesn't matter if he gives it away or if he sells it because if he does both, the same amount of people are going to buy it because they love David Guetta and they just want it instantly on their iPhone. But the numbers are different so there is an argument there, in my world, the numbers I work with, you should give it away for free. The perfect example of how to mix these two worlds is how Sonny gave away Recess and then sold it. It sold fucking great because people just wanted to buy it. Certain people will be supported. I love buying music, I love when I find a CD that I want, I'm like "Fuck Yeah!" I'll see a record that I've never found before and buy it, it's the best feeling. Kids are going to pirate music anyway, I mean I pirate my friends music.
EM: Even if it's other DJs or producers?
JG: If it's revolutionary or some insane sounds, I'd buy it without a doubt. But if I just want to hear it, I use newalbumreleases.net, all the time. If I download an EP and it's amazing, I cannot wait to play this song. I'll go buy the .wav on Beatport for $2.49 just to have the song in my set. People grab media differently, but it really depends what you want out of the whole thing. I don't care about my career or the money, I just want to people to have music and play shows for someone who listens, so I'll just give music away. I'll sell it at the same time though, but I'll push the free download before I push the 'buy here' link.
EM: Where do you see the future of music distribution going?
JG: This Facebook page 'liking' style of do this for this. Certain places on certain festival stages are dictated by musicians Facebook likes and their social popularity. I get if someone else uses a like for a download, but on the scale that I'm on, the smaller side, if someone hasn't heard of me and needs to like my fucking Facebook to grab something. I like people's Facebook's all the time and instantly dislike it, because I think, "I'm not ready to like your shit yet man!"
EM: Really? You unlike it after?
JG: It's a little like prostitution.
EM: Not even! You're getting the free material! I think what you're doing is worse to be honest, you're liking the page to get free music and then instantly disliking them.
JG: But if it's sick, I'll like it and I'll follow them. I'll message them and ask them for their number and tell them that their work is sick.
EM: Now for a series of quick questions. What has been your biggest accomplishment in the industry so far?
JG: Playing Red Rocks or selling out Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago every time I go. Whenever I go to some of my favourite cities the venues just keep getting bigger, that's the coolest thing to me. The biggest thing is nine years ago I quit my job and I get to do this. That's the biggest fucking thing, that's it.
EM: Longest set you’ve ever played?
JG: Three and a half hours. It was a couple of months ago, I played for two hours myself. No one knew Crizzly was in town, he was just in town, some weird place. He texted me saying he was in the town, I replied he had to play tonight with me. It was after the All Black Everything Tour, we just kept fucking playing, it was so fun.
EM: Last show you attended, but did not perform at?
JG: Ah fuck … The Kanye West tour. That show was crazy, it wasn't sold out either. You see all these advertisements that everything sold out, we were in New Orleans and it was roughly 25% packed. I mean the floor was packed, but the bleachers were empty. His production was nuts, he's an asshole I'm sure, but his production was amazing.
EM: Weapon of choice in post apocalyptic world?
JG: A very strong oak axe with a long tip or something. It has to be well constructed though, that's the whole thing. It has to be durable. You can't just keep bashing into people, it's going to eventually break, it breaks in video games. That or a metal bat.
EM: Deceased musician who you would have wanted to collaborate with?
JG: Probably Kurt Cobain.
EM: What has been your biggest regret in the industry?
JG: Not saving my money *laughs*
EM: Lastly, what type of milk do you usually drink?
JG: I'm semi lactose intolerant so I only drink almond milk and soy milk, but it still gives me the shits so bad. So I don't do it unless you find some "Opps! All Berries" or something and then I'll do it.
EM: *laughs* Alright, thanks a lot for speaking with us today Josh, it's certainly been a pleasure.