What do you want to hear in a song?
Sean Robertson (aka Stanley Lucas Revolution): I just go for visceral responses. The melody, and if its got a good hook. If the voice changes register, it stands apart from the rest of the song. And a catchy melody that sticks with you.
So I guess the intent of music is to make it catchy, right?
Robertson: I hate seeing music when there’s nothing to really viscerally grasp onto, like there’s no hook.
But a kind of simple song can be made something more with lyrics, right?
Robertson: I think so, typically more so on record, than live. Cause you can’t hear the lyrics so much anyway when it’s live. It can happen, but…
So I heard that at 3-4am, there is a chemical released in your body that is supposed to create inspiration, is that true?
Robertson: My most prolific time always as an artist, for however long I’ve been doing it, has been in the daylight hours. It’s like a weird paradoxical thing I guess. Usually mid-morning, 11am until about 4pm. Smack in the middle of the day has been my most productive time. I think it’s just linked itself that way because that’s the time when I could physically make music. Mom would be gone at work, and for years when I lived with her, is when I pretty much developed all the Stanley stuff. When I had the coffee shop job, I would either be off a couple days a week when she was at work, or I would get home by noon everyday. So my most productive time just kind of developed into being, when I actually had time to rock out in the house without annoying anybody. I like to play loud, and I gotta do five things at once, and I don’t really write music by sitting on one instrument and working on a song. I need to do this whole thing that I do. It’s been so long that I’ve been doing this live looping bit and stepping on a button. Josh Cairns asked me if I wanted to play bass in a band that he’s starting, but I told him that I don’t know if I could even play an instrument for more than just 10 seconds in a row. I don’t know if I could play a bass for six minutes solid, all those different parts. I’m so out of the loop for that certain kind of music (laughs).
So how well do you know your scales?
Robertson: I know scales in a couple different keys, and that’s about it. I tend to lean a lot on F Minor, and then I do C Major, C Minor, F# Major. I don’t really play in a whole lot of keys. I play guitar in A Major a lot, but I don’t really know the scale. I don’t know a whole lot about music other than rhythm and melody. I don’t really know theory at all. Most everybody I know knows a lot more about music than I do.
You just recognized patterns, playing them enough?
Robertson: Yeah. There’s two different ways of approaching music I think. There’s approaching from the experiential way, versus through the calculated, learned way; which people who experienced it, learned and wrote down, so you can learn it from this side of the peak of the pyramid, or the other side. I’ve always attacked it from the experiential, that’s the most enjoyable thing about making art for me, is going through the process.
What about a hybrid?
Robertson: I always wonder sometimes if I’m too old, well not too old in the sense of age, but like an old dog stuck with my old tricks. Have I been set in my ways for so long that I don’t know if I can physically learn anymore? Plus, I don’t want to know too much, cause I think it kills art the more you know about it. I like to be a reactionary artist. Make songs in one note.
I think a lot of people rely on their calculations, but then there’s the FEEL. That’s what the whole music thing is about. If people rely on calculations, they lose that, right?
Robertson: Yeah, to a certain degree, definitely. I don’t think it’s completely exclusive, but there are a lot things. I was watching Justin Morales play something on the bass the other night at Westside Bar, and he was doing some shit I don’t really comprehend. From a musician’s standpoint, to just get floored, and be like, ‘I don’t really know what’s going on right now.’
Robertson: (Plays “This World” acoustic, on piano). I haven’t really done that before. I never liked it, cause it’s boring if I ever do anything with it.
I don’t think it’s boring at all.
Robertson: It’s really easy, it’s a simple song, cause like I was saying, I don’t know too much.
I’m watching your hands from the outside, and trying to pay attention, but you know where everything is already.
Robertson: Well do you know the notes? When you first look? Like what is that? (Points to a few keys).
Robertson: So you know them. That’s quick enough to know the chords. Then you’ve got an octave (plays a bassline. Repeats “This World,” while showing the chord progression).
Oh, I played something you haven’t heard, over the weekend. Both Saturday and Sunday night. Sunday I was at the Lab. And Saturday night, my stuff was falling apart. All my equipment is in the shop right now. My amp stopped working right as I was trying to set up on stage.
Which is always the perfect time.
Robertson: And I can’t use anyone’s amp, cause it’s gotta be able to handle what I’m doing to it. Which is putting so many instruments through it at the same time. That kind of fucks up amps, which is why mine breaks every couple of years. So I don’t want to do that to anybody else’s amp. No one’s really supposed to do that. ‘Can I borrow your amp? Sorry it’s blown up now.’
What kind of amp do you use?
Robertson: It’s a keyboard amp. I’ve tried a couple amps, but this particular one I have seems to work good enough.
Robertson: It’s hard to say, I bought one that I thought would be better once, and it sounded so bad. I don’t know why. It was a bass amp. And it’s not a money thing. Like this one, the one I have, it was from an old customer from the coffee shop, and he gave it to me. This older guy, his wife used it for playing piano at the church. And she got a new one. So one day it was, ‘Hey Sean, you want a Fender amp? We don’t need it anymore.’
So what about structure?
Robertson: That consists of little things that make a huge difference. All I really do is layering bits, and playing a pattern. Then repeat 64 times. But by adding little things on top of it, or underneath it, or taking them away, it gives the songs dynamics. Which I think is important. It gives the ear places to rest, places to get excited, rather than something that’s just constant.
More consistent I’d say. A lot of times, music happens in between the notes. And if you’re just constantly playing notes, a lot of times, there’s no room for the ear to naturally go off and wander for a second. I think that’s most important sometimes, when you make the listener naturally just disappear, and start humming the melodies in their head. Whether they want to or not, they just disappear into music. I think a lot of it is what happens in between the notes, which if there’s a lot of space, you can say so much.
Sometimes the music says it better.
I wish I could pull things out of my loops once I overdub them in a certain way. It’s always going up, up, and up. As far as adding instruments, and then the next part is even bigger, and the next part there’s another instrument. I can’t ever drop it down, or break it down. I can a little bit, but it’s very difficult. I can’t do it with my looper.
You have to have the full band?
Robertson: Yeah, or I have to turn off the looper, or just play one instrument. The hardest part is ending it, isn’t it? I struggle with that sometimes, but a lot of times, especially because of the looping, I can only do one or two things. A lot of times, I tend to fade it out. Spin my fader.
When you do the big crescendo, huh?
Robertson: When it’s doing a big bang, I can’t have it ring. I can either turn the whole thing off, and just play one instrument, but that’s kind of boring, and I can’t do that on every song. Usually I just end up fading it.
So it always fading as a loop?
Robertson: Yes, it either fades with the loop, or I’ll have to end with one instrument, like a keyboard note. Can’t really have everything ringing out through the end.