Nero's Joseph Ray On Classical Music, Being Inspired by Sci-Fi Flicks and Why People Bash American Dubstep
Nero's eclectic, electronic sound has always been a bit obsessed with sci-fi and spaceships. So it seems fitting that their profile has blasted off in the last year following the release of their 2011 debut, Welcome Reality. Their ability to build on the ferocity of dubstep for the last several years has turned producers Daniel Stephens and Joseph Ray into full blown rock stars in the EDM world.
Interscope Nero (left to right): Daniel Stephens, Alana Watson and Joseph Ray
Together with vocalist Alana Watson, their melodic club anthems like "Guilt" and "Crush on You" are about as ubiquitous as cage dancers and bottle service. Ahead of their dual weekend performance slot at Coachella on April 15 and April 22 and a performance at Club Nokia on April 19, we talked with Ray about how he and Stephens went from quiet, classical musicians to bass-rattling gods of the dance floor.
How does your approach to producing and beat making keep Nero from sticking to one genre in the electronic music scene?
Joseph Ray: We love dance music, but we love other kinds of music and we try to incorporate different kinds of vocals and various kinds of feelings in our songs that can take the music out of the drum and bass or dubstep categories and just takes people somewhere else for a moment. In our DJ sets we mix up the tempos a bit. Although we've been most closely associated with dubstep and a lot of our tunes are in that tempo, we don't really see ourselves as solely dubstep artists. We want people to come see us for what we are, not because we're tied to a specific genre. I'd say song structure and melody have always been essential to our music.
How would you describe your mentality when you first began making electronic music?
When we first started, [Dan Stephens and I] were both about to go off to university and this was just something we did for fun to start off. We'd be in our bedrooms with our little set-ups; we were still living with our parents. It was a pretty low key thing, just messing around. Then we had a couple of tunes that got passed off to the right people and they were interested. It was a gradual process. We're both 28 and that was about 10 years ago. So it was around 2008 when things got a bit more serious for us.
Has your songwriting process changed much with the success of Welcome Reality?
We haven't really written too much since then because we've just been touring it so much. After Coachella, we've got a few more shows and then we've got a month and a half off where we're going to start writing new material. I'm not sure how that's going to pan out.
Is there anything you still struggle with as producers in this genre?
One of the things we find hardest is writing lyrics because it's not something that comes very naturally to us.
You grew up as a classically trained guitarist and Dan is a classically trained cellist. Does that experience inform any of the electronic music you do now?
JR: We both had that kind of music training. We can both read music and understand theory. We were also in bands growing up. I was in a punk band; Dan was in a more post-rock thing. And when we came together, we had all these different influences. Then we ended up discovering drum and bass and jungle and techno music but we'd already loved all these other genres as well. Then last year, we had an orchestral piece that we wrote for the BBC Philharmonic, "Symphony 2808." When that option came along, we thought it was great. I guess compared to most musicians in the genre, we're a little more used to classical music. So I guess we went back to our days as musicians in that world.