Michal Menert And The Pretty Fantastics Talk How They Came Together iEDM Interview
Michal Menert and The Pretty Fantastics are a super group of talented musicians morphing genres and instruments in unique live electronic performances.
Michal Menert was involved in building Pretty Lights Music and was even the first artist to be on the label. He is an electronic music producer and founder of Super Best Records. The Pretty Fantastics and Michal Menert Big Band were curated by Menert's selecting process.
At Hulaween, iEDM got to sit down with Michal Menert and The Pretty Fantastics just after their magical set. Here is what they had to say.
iEDM: How do you feel about your set?
Michal Menert: I felt great. Playing early, you don't know if people are going to be up or worn out from partying the night before, but people came out.
We had a good crowd, good energy. We played a lot of new songs that we wrote in August, for a new album. It’s a new set, ya know? So, it was fun to try those out and keep refining the songs that are still fresh, in the formative states, so to speak.
iEDM: Michal, when did you start producing?
Michal Menert: Mid to late 90s. I started getting into it because my dad had audio recording software on our computer that allowed you to take samples and splice them together. I would just do what people did with cut and paste tape editing. I would cut a snare on top of different stuff.
iEDM: How old were you?
Michal Menert: I was 14, 15. I just messed around with that for a while, and then got this program called Ask Pro 2.0 in like '98-'99 for Christmas. I fell in love with using the computer. I played in bands. There are like two parts of my creativity. There is the part I can do by myself and I get good ideas from this part, but I like to perform with people. I feel like this is a way to combine those two. I can do what I want with the band and on my own.
iEDM: How many instruments can you play?
Michal Menert: I can make noise on the all the instruments. I can keep a drum beat if I need to, play a few chords on the guitar, strum around on some stuff, and I can play keys well enough to get some ideas across here and there.
Matt: You've got an ear for what you like.
Michal Menert: I think production through having these samples. Early on, I realized I’ll never be able to play a hundred different instruments. I needed to find people that can play those. I think about how samples really go together playing instruments.
Realizing that when the song becomes the instrument, you can play around with it more is why I love the MPC. You can chop whatever you want on the pads and have it sound exactly the same every time. You can still play different rhythms, and stuff. One song can be a piano. The next song could be a harp. The next song could be a whale in space. It allows you to have the instrument you want rather than the instrument you have to learn.
iEDM: Tell me about Michal Menert and The Pretty Fantastics. How did this all come together?
Nick: We were just talking about this.
Matt: Michal's always had really grandiose visions for music, and he's always placed people before money. It’s fun to have his friends play with him. So, he hired all his friends. We all got together and made something special.
iEDM: Where did all of you meet?
Michal Menert: We met because he was in this fun band up in Bellingham. I was looking to do a Michal Menert Big Band. So, I was going take the musicians I knew from Colorado and find another band that was already tight-knit themselves. If you just hire a bunch of musicians to play all the different parts, you need to be top notch players and I can't afford 22 people who are the best in the country. Nobody can do that. You can work with people who already have a group with rhythm and a dynamic within a band. Especially with funk. You guys did covers of a rare funk band from Germany. So I was like, "Oh, these guys play funk and they know obscure funk that was produced by DJ Shadow. This is cool". Will, the trumpet player, had been saying "If you ever need horns or whatever." I wanted to, but also wanted to wait until I had the ability to create a whole band.
I met them as Snug Harbor and they became half of the Michal Menert Big Band. Then I had some people I knew from Colorado like Paul Basic.
Clark, who was on sax at the time, was in DYNOHUNTER. He's an amazing sax player. I had Mikey Thunder on cuts, and Marcello Monty playing bass. I had a bunch of people from my crew in Denver, so it was more cohesive.
I'm just giving you a brief overview. So that led to then trying to bring it on the road, and you can't bring 20 people in a van. So we had to scale down to The Pretty Fantastics, and then that's just been ... We've been working with different people. We had Willdabeast, which is Will and Dan, as the horn section for a couple years. Now I got Nick and Matt and we recorded an album for two weeks.
Matt: We had the luxury of time.
Nick: We met on the road when I was in a different band. Thats's how I joined this band.
I was in this band called Cosby Sweater, and we would open for him or do shows with him every once in a while. It was really organic.
Michal Menert: So we crossed paths, and I had been looking at my band and thought, "I love all these guys, but I need to find a way to slim this down to a touring unit, otherwise we're all going go broke."
It's a hard decision. It sucks because, you know, these are your friends, these are your family, and you have to be like, "Sorry, you're going to have to stay home for this one.”
For the sake of writing music, it's easier with three people. You can't have a creative force of 22 trying to push a song, because no one's going to be like, "Alright, I'll fall in and play the part." Three is a good number for writing. Lyrically, I work with Juvi and we round out the songs.
iEDM: I read that you co-produced the Pretty Lights album Taking Up Your Precious Time, which was the first album on the Pretty Lights music label. How did you get connected with Derek?
Michal Menert: He and I knew each other growing up, pretty much. I met him in eighth grade, started being in a band together all through high school called Listen with my current drummer Cory. He was also the first drummer in Pretty Lights. Pretty Lights was mine and Derek's side project for our band. Again, the production stuff you do for yourself and that’s something you do for the band. We just made an album, and all of a sudden people from all around the world were downloading it. Three months later, I got stabbed, and I had to watch that project blossom and grow without me. When out of recovery, I dealt with a bunch of stuff and went through life. I became the first artist on the label as a way to help promote my solo stuff. Derek, being a friend, was like "Hey, let's piggyback on the fold."
Matt: Childhood best friends.
Michal Menert: Yeah, his mom's like my mom. We built a skate ramp in his backyard when we were growing up and stuff like that.
Matt: Only so many people know you so well.
iEDM: Do you still work together?
Michal Menert: We've been talking about it a lot. We did a reboot album. It's not over for us, in terms of collaborating together. This last year a lot of us have been going our own ways then coming back “Like, I miss you.” It's cool having friends back. Only time will tell if we have more work ahead of us, but I'm confident that there is. We're both creative guys and I don't think we can hang out with each other without doing something for the rest of our lives.
iEDM: What inspired Super Best Records?
Matt: Too many ideas.
Michal Menert: Trying to get pho with Manic Focus in Minneapolis with this guy.
We were trying to go to a pho place, and every place was closed. We're driving and I was like, "Oh that place is open, I guess it's the best place.” He's says, "I bet it's the super best place," and I thought, "what's better than super best?"
Michal Menert: Nothing. You can be the best, but you're not super best.
We were looking for something and it came about like that. Everybody sees record labels. People have vanity labels, in media where they have their own label, and it's like, "Here's my peons and the people that are under me." It becomes this thing where, rather than a crew, it's like, "Yeah, I'm kinda helping these people out." I just wanted to be like, "Listen, everyone takes this so seriously. This isn't serious, it's Super Best." Clearly this is recorded in a basement, and isn't done through a major label.
iEDM: What are your biggest inspirations as an artist?
Michal Menert: The ocean. Eddie Harrison.
Nick: Probably Alf.
Michal Menert: Alf.
Matt: I think sharing what other people are doing inspires me. Hearing what other artists are doing and trying to be a part of that conversation is really gratifying.
iEDM: How would you describe your style? You seem to have many.
Michal Menert: I would say, I grew up loving everything from classic rock, to indie rock, to hip hop, to instrumental stuff, to EDM, to classical, everything. Even some Johnny Cash. My dad also turned me on to weird, ambient kind of, droney, weird, synthesizer music.
I would say my music is me walking into a record store and being like, "This is what I want from all of these." It's me trying to present that to the world. I want a little bit from this, a little bit from that, a little bit over here. I would say, obviously it's rooted in the electronic dance music culture, because it comes from being a DJ.
iEDM: So what are you working on now? Can we expect anything new?
Michal Menert: I just finished an album with Mickey Hart from The Grateful Dead.
Matt: They're a band from the 70's. It's kind of a jam band thing. You ever heard of them?
Michal Menert: We co-produced an album called RAMU, and that's out November 10th on Verve. I'm working on an album with these guys, The Pretty Fantastics. It will be our first proper album written together. The first album we had was me being like, "We want to tour in a month. Let's write songs, record them, and send them to people. We'll all play parts and send them back." So, it wasn't like the studio experience that this one was.
Matt: We all went and lived in a studio for two weeks in California. It was pretty awesome.
Michal Menert: Yeah this place up in the Redwoods, by the ocean. It’s a nice little retreat. We'll have something out by New Year's, in terms of a single. Then we'll probably have the album around January, February. Probably February, knowing us.