By DJ Dolce
As an Armenian American, it’s always a special experience for me to meet another person from our small diaspora and to connect on our shared experiences that unite us as a community. These experiences become even more special when I can share similar sentiments with them on another common ground: music. I recently had the lovely opportunity to (virtually) interview Bei Ru: an Armenian American producer, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist from Los Angeles.
On October 16th, Bei Ru released his fifth album Custom Made Life which showcased the artist’s vocal talents for the first time in his music career. Drawing inspiration from a wide variety of genres like house, psychedelia, soul, hip hop, and jazz, the album showcases a creative compilation of everything that inspires the artist to create his own unique sound. He says the title implies a sense of custom making or “curating [his] own life”. Not only did the inclusion of vocals make the album especially personal, but also the theme of some of the songs, most notably “Anahid”. Bei Ru wrote the song about his recently passed mother and opened up about the difficult emotions behind losing someone who means so much. “I’ve always been more of a private person; I don’t share too much of my personal life” he says. “It was a little frightening to expose that part of me to the world, but at the same time, I felt like doing vocals in general has a vulnerability to it so I was like ‘if I’m gonna do this then I gotta jump in with both feet’. It’s a genuine expression of what I’m feeling, so I felt like it would be wrong to not put it out there.”
Bei Ru’s previous albums gained popularity from his use of old Armenian and other Middle Eastern records which were sampled and blended with electronic beats. From the first album Little Armenia (L.A.) released in 2010 to Pomegranate Juice which came out earlier this year, his heritage is incorporated into the music in a way that recreates songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s and turns them into tracks for the modern era. By doing so, Bei Ru has brought to light a number of old records that would have otherwise been left forgotten in dusty crates and has opened the door for a new generation of young Armenians to connect with their heritage, while also attracting others to hear the sounds of a culture that they may not be familiar to. Though Custom Made Life doesn’t incorporate the use of South West Asian melodies, Bei Ru explains that “anything I create will have that [Armenian] undertone in there, even if it’s subtle, even if it’s not noticeable”.
Though the day Custom Made Life was released should have been filled only with celebration, it unfortunately ended up being a bittersweet day for the artist, as war had just broken out in Artsakh: an autonomous Armenian region that lies southeast of Armenia’s border. For context, here is a quick overview of what’s been happening:
Despite the fact that Artsakh is a historically Armenian region, the government of Azerbaijan (currently led by Ilham Aliyev and supported by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan) has been trying to gain control of the territory since the fall of the Soviet Union. Though Artsakh gained its independence after years of war in the 90s, Aliyev’s military attacked the capital Stepanakert on September 27. Following this attack, weeks of fighting continued with multiple ceasefires being blatantly ignored by the Azeri government. When a second ceasefire was broken by the Aliyev’s military on October 16th, it was made clear that Armenians were officially at war with a genocidal state and had to protect their indigenous lands. While many in the West did not know about this horrible war (largely due to the lack of media coverage coupled with an unfortunate propagation of biased news) or simply thought of this war as another regional skirmish in the Middle East, this war has brought up over a century’s worth of intergenerational trauma for Armenians passed down to us from our ancestors who were victims of the 1915 Genocide, perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks. When the war finally ended on November 10, thousands of lives had been lost and land had once again been stolen, leaving the global Armenian community divided over political decisions, wounded by another attempt at ethnic cleansing, and deeply saddened at how the world turned a blind eye while it all happened.
“As much as it felt a little strange to have to promote something while there was a war happening in Armenia, I did have people reach out to me and say ‘thank you for this, we needed some sort of relief from everything that was going on’ so that was good to hear” says Bei Ru. It just comes to show how unifying music can be in difficult times and how profound its impact is in calming the soul even in the midst of the worst storm. As we continue to witness an increasing divide within our community, we both agreed that unity and support is crucial in this moment. While this support can come in a number of different forms, from monetary donations to spreading awareness on these acts of cultural erasure, another form of resistance is joy. I find that much of the happiness I’ve experienced in these difficult times has come from art, and more specifically from music. Custom Made Life, along with the rest of Bei Ru’s discography, and the work of countless other Armenian artists serves as a form of cultural preservation in the post-genocidal moment and continues to bring life to smiles to not just the Armenian people, but to all communities experiencing oppression.
TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW:
DJ Dolce: So I really want to start off by talking to you about what’s been going on in Artsakh right now, or has been taking place…I just think it’s really important for all of us as Armenians to use our platform, no matter how big or small it is, to raise awareness on the matter, and I know you share the same sentiment too. So yeah, I just wanted to see how this has all been affecting you as an Armenian?
Bei Ru: It’s been tough…yeah, it was really a sad thing that happened…it’s kind of hard to even articulate all the feelings. I think it kind of brought up a lot of things that were maybe passed on from previous generations from the genocide, or just general oppression that Armenians have gone through, and even though we’re younger of course and didn’t go through those things, I feel like the sentiment, like the feelings that our great-grandparents went through, was always there. You know, we learn about these things, so we try to imagine what it must have been like. And not to say that this was on the same level as the genocide, but just generally just as far as the oppression and the human rights violations and the unfair treatment of our people, just brought all that to the forefront, and it was really crazy to see all this happen in 2020. I don’t think any of us saw this coming, I mean how could we? But I think it’s been a really difficult time in that sense. I think the most important thing for all of us to do is to unify because I think this has created a lot of separation which is just adding itself to injury. There’s already a lot of different organizations, lot of ways of thinking in the Armenian community, so this was like…it’s one thing for them to take our land but then to create this divide between the people, it’s like playing into what they want really. I keep hearing about Armenia is just in disarray, there’s like protests and riots and all this shit, so I just really think it’s important to put our differences aside as far as what we think…you know, we’re a very strongly opinionated people, but I don’t think it’s the time for that now. I think the time right now is to try our best to…not direct our anger towards one another. Because I think that’s what’s really happening, so I think that’s the one thing we should all focus on and it’s the one thing we can control. We can’t control all this other stuff right? But the least we can do is control that and maintain some sort of unity in our community, like the way it was weeks ago before this final thing was settled. I think there was a lot of unity throughout the world in the diaspora and that was beautiful to see, and I feel like it’s starting to crumble. I can’t even look at that shit on social media, like all the people arguing and stuff, like I don’t want any part of that. I don’t think it’s beneficial to any of us, it’s not productive, it’s counterproductive. It’s difficult for us to try to unify at this point, but I really think that’s what we should try to do.
DD: Yeah absolutely, I don’t think you could have said it any better because just like seeing the divide is just insane in such a short period of time. Like you were saying, we were just so unified and this one decision led to all of this now, like all the work we’ve been putting in for weeks on end, you know? It’s also just such a downward trend from the many years we’ve been trying to unite our community and our diaspora after the war in the ‘90s as well… I don’t know I just it’s insane what all went down.
BR: Yeah, I think we’re all kind of in shock, and I think we’re still kind of in that stage.
DD: Absolutely, and I don’t see the shock going away yet…I think the shock is still going to be something that’s apparent in our community for a while like even though it’s off the news now, it was never really on the news that much to begin with, which is a whole issue in and of itself, but that kind of leads me to my next question. Since you’re in LA, there’s obviously a huge huge Armenian community in LA, and so a lot of the artists you work with, whether or not they are Armenian, have an Armenian friend of colleague or what have you…have they been vocal during this time or do you still see a lot of silence even within LA?
BR: Well I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that because there might be instances of things happening or not happening that I’m not aware of but in my experience, people have been vocal. Even within just the Armenian community, it unfortunately didn’t really do much…and I hate to say this because we all great intentions with the protests and the social media campaigns and everything, but I think the things is, in my opinion, and again I’m probably not qualified to answer this, but I think we might have been able to go about this in a better way just because like driving around LA, there’s just Armenian flags on everyone’s car, some cars have the AK-47 with the “Defend Artsakh” written on and… I just don’t know what that looks like to non-Armenians like I don’t know if that makes them feel like they want to investigate things or if it just creates this weird disconnect like “why is there a flag and a gun on this car”, you know what I mean?
DD: Yeah like further perpetuating xenophobia that already exists for us…
BR: Yeah! See I think that’s the thing, I feel like there’s a fine line between patriotism and creating a divide between you and other people. And being in LA, that’s the most important thing, Armenians are already pretty united here, so I think the goal is to connect with non-Armenians and I just don’t know…I mean I hope it was…but I just don’t know if that was done to the fullest…like if you just see a group of people with flags you might be like “oh that’s something going on I guess, but you don’t really know what it is, you know? And not to say that I have all the answers, I don’t have a better way to do it, I just wonder if we could have done more, but I guess we’re all kind of thinking that. None of us know what we really could have done, we all tried to donate what we could monetarily and spread the word as far as social media and things…at the end of the day, it’s hard, it’s a really difficult thing. And even some people volunteered to go fight on the frontlines, and I even heard a lot of people weren’t allowed to go because they were short on supplies, so even then you really don’t know what to do. It’s a tough one…I wish there was some sort of guideline or someone in the community who said “this is what we need to do” and that’s what we all did, and it worked towards what we were trying to do but yeah. It’s weird because there are so many Armenians here, but there’s still kind of a lot of like…insulation I guess? Because there’s a lot of Armenians who went to Armenian school here and that’s what builds some of the connections here…I went to Armenian school for a short while then I went to public school, so I’ve kind of seen both, but I’ve noticed that a lot of people who have just kind of grown up in the Armenian circles don’t really associate as much with non-Armenians, and of course there’s exceptions to that, but I’ve noticed a lot of times there are groups that just associate with each other. And that’s totally fine, but it’s hard to get a sense of what non-Armenians would see this and how to help get the word to them if you’re only within your own people.
DD: I think that’s a really interesting observation because personally, I see that as a huge obstacle in our community too of so many people are so sheltered within just the Armenian community, which isn’t to necessarily say it’s always a bad thing to be around your community. It’s amazing, like I grew up outside of a big Armenian community so I do kind of wish I had that to a certain extent, but also it is interesting how some people have difficulties looking beyond that, like you were saying “what do other people see this as, how are other people interpreting this?” and also how do you explain what’s going on to them in a way that makes them want to get behind us and support us and be allies?
BR: Yeah like I know when the Black Lives Matter protests were happening out here, there were definitely a good amount of Armenians who were involved in that and who were pushing that narrative and trying to raise awareness, but I know there were a lot who weren’t, and I think a lot of it is a lack of exposure to these other groups of people. We all have very similar plights, but if you’re stuck in your own bubble, you don’t see that, you see them as something else, so when it comes time to spread our message, they might see us as something else. So I think we need to build those bridges between certain communities in LA that can help each other.
DD: Yeah absolutely, I think a lot of people lack this notion of intersectional solidarity, you know, we can’t always be looking out for ourselves and only ourselves because freedom for one people is freedom for all people. We all have to be supporting one another and all of our causes are connected at the end of the day, and there’s no point in trying to exclude people or not get behind one thing because it’s not relevant to you but then expect people to show up for your cause. I just think it’s really silly….another thing I wanted to ask you about all of this right now was do you see your art and your music, but additionally the art and music of other Armenian artists, as being a form of active resistance and cultural preservation as something that can kind of help awareness on this matter but also to keep spirits high and to keep our culture going?
BR: Well I think regardless of our intentions that’s something that will inevitably happen because of our influences as far as our culture and all these other things that are just there even if it’s not overly present in the music or in the dialogue or lyrics or whatever. We’re all working towards that at the same time. As far as cultural preservation, you can look at it in different ways. Like my first album was Little Armenia so that was obviously very much within that culture, but of course it had other influences too, but since then, my newest project isn’t related to that but at the same time, I’m being who I am. Anything I create will have that undertone in there, even if it’s subtle, even if it’s not noticeable. So unless you’re completely cut off from your culture or from the community, I think what’s more important is the intention you have, and I think anything you do creatively will have some sort of connection to the culture whether it’s subtle or overt.
DD: Yeah, absolutely, and like it’s interesting to see how your work has evolved from your first album to this most recent one, I’ve definitely noticed that thread of “Armenianness” so to speak kind of carrying through all of them, even though it’s not as obvious as it was in Little Armenia. And I think that’s really cool that you carry your culture and who you are into your work because there are very few, in my experience, other Armenian artists doing that right now, and I’m sure you know this too, but your music really does help to bring our culture to a broader audience because it’s not what you would think of as just Armenian music, it’s not just like what you would think of when you go to a wedding or just like Tata Simonyan you know or whatever, and it really is a new Armenian sound. And one thing I wanted to ask you about that was because of your heritage, do you ever feel like your work is boxed in as just being defined as just being Armenian or because it’s a lot more different than what we traditionally hear from other Armenian artists, do you see it as being excluded sometimes from that narrative, or what are your thoughts on that?
BR: I think with my first album and in part with my second album to a certain degree, it may have been the case but those weren’t necessarily representative of, you know, those were really concept albums, so I never thought of them as “this is what I’m going to continue doing with this sound”, so no, I don’t think so. I think if I kept making sequels of Little Armenia and kind of sound, if I kept working on that over and over, I could see how that would probably be the case, but you know it’s just one of those things where like “you made that” and that’s there, so to keep replicating that, unless I genuinely felt some sort of inspiration or something to want to work on it or to take it somewhere else. I don’t think any artist wants to stay within what any particular release or theirs is like, so for the sake of keeping myself interested and inspired, I’m always trying to come up with different things and ideas and concepts and sounds. And it kind of branches off of the same tree, like it’s not like I’m making heavy metal or country music now, it’s still similar vibes definitely. I just think it’s important for me to stay interested and inspired, but I think if you keep making the same kind of sound, then you risk being bored creatively and that’s the last thing you want.
DD: So do you see yourself shifting away from these concept albums and just kind of shifting to being more open with what you can put into an album creatively.
BR: Yeah, I mean I’ve always liked this idea of concept albums, and I think you could even say that the new album Custom Made Life is sort of a concept album in the sense that musically, there are a lot of different types of things in it, like there’s some house, there’s some psychedelic things, there’s some soul, there’s some hip hop stuff, some jazz, and these are all things that I’ve always been really into so I kind of wanted to try to have all these different influences be a part of it but it still have some sort of consistency in it. So that’s kind of what the title implied, to custom make, like curate your own life. So I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily stepping out of the concept thing per say, I may in the future, but I just like each concept be completely different if that is what I’m trying to do just because that’s what keeps me interested and that’s the most important thing, because when you’re interested, that will likely translate to the audience as well.
DD: Absolutely, and I think that it kind of shows how much your work has evolved too, and I think it’s really cool to hear that that was your intention behind the way and how they all kind of encapsulate a different theme in a way, and I think that’s really awesome. So in what other ways would you say that Custom Made Life is different from your previous albums? Like I know for instance that you said this was the first time you’ve sung on an album, so how did that feel?
BR: That was kind of an accident how it started. I had written a reference track for a vocalist that I wanted to work with and I just recorded the vocal idea I had and sent it to her just so she had an idea, and I kind of just liked the way it felt to just do that and after a while, it just felt like… not really a challenge, I mean it has its challenges, but it was a new exciting thing to do. Because with just instrumental music you’re very…well you’re not very limited, but you’re limited to what’s there musically but once you incorporate vocals, it becomes a whole other thing. And of course, I worked with a lot of different vocalists on this album which is not something that I’d done on my previous albums so it was kind of a bit of both. I really love doing it, and it’s something that I continue to work on and develop a little further, but it’s like a whole new road opened up and it’s like “oh yeah, I can go here too!” so that kind of broadens the potential of what I’m able to do and it’s way more exciting to me.
DD: Yeah, I see what you mean when you have vocals and lyrics in an album, you’re able to better convey the message or even just the vibe you’re trying to encapsulate within a song whereas with instrumental it’s more up to interpretation.
BR: Yeah, and it’s a lot more personal too you know because it’s your voice and your words and I think you’re able to connect with people a bit more.
DD: Which song on the album would you say is the most personal or meant the most to you?
BR: I would say “Anahid” definitely. That was a song I had written about my mom who had passed away some years ago and it was like a cathartic thing, and I didn’t intend to make a song about that, but once I had the music there, that just kind of opened up that channel and it was a way for me to reflect and come to terms with things that maybe I had suppressed. So that was definitely the most personal song.
DD: How did that feel, putting that out there into the world, like something that meant so much to you?
BR: It was a little scary to be honest because I’ve always been more of a private person. I’ve always been pretty private and I don’t usually share too much of my personal life so it was definitely a little frightening to expose that part of me to the world. But at the same time, I felt like if I was gonna do this thing with the vocals, like doing vocals in general has a vulnerability to it, so I was like “if I’m gonna do this, I gotta jump in with both feet” so I just felt like I just have to put this out. It’s a genuine expression of what I’m feeling, so I felt like it’d be wrong to not put that out.
DD: So you were saying that you’ve worked with a lot of vocalists on this album, and I’ve noticed that Custom Made Life had a lot more features than your previous albums, so I was curious how COVID impacted that for you, and what change did it have on the whole recording process?
BR: You know it didn’t change much because everything was more or less finished by the time lockdown started. What it did affect was the release of the album, like it got pushed back a couple times just because of everything going on in the world, and unfortunately the date I decided on was the day the war happened in Armenia…it was just…the whole was just…I don’t know, what can you do? It was what it was, but at that point, it was already in motion, and I couldn’t continue to push it back. Honestly, as much as it felt strange to have to promote something while there was a war happening in Armenia, I did have people reach out to me and say “thank you for this, we needed some kind of relief from everything that was going on” so that was good to hear.
DD: Even though the timing was fucked to say the least, for lack of a better word, like I definitely think that art has an impact on people that can really serve as kind of an escape during these times, and I definitely think that having music put out by another Armenian artist just meant a lot to other Armenians out there who were just struggling at the time and just trying to cope with everything that was going on, so…definitely don’t think of it at a bad thing or anything…but that is interesting, I did not realize like I just totally forgot that it came out on that day like so much has just changed in such a short period of time quite frankly.
BR: Yeah yeah but fortunately it wasn’t like a party album like that would’ve been a lot more awkward to be promoting…
DD: Definitely, definitely…so this has an impact on touring and how you’re gonna promote it and everything, so how was that been, just dealing with that in general during these times right now?
BR: It’s unfortunate, I was really looking forward to going on tour for this album, and it was a whole new thing to do vocals…but what are you gonna do, you can’t fight it, it is what it is, so I’ve just been trying to stay busy with other projects and trying to be more productive and to make the best use of this time. You try to make lemonade out of lemons, you know?
DD: Yeah absolutely. Do you have any scheduled projects that you know are gonna come out at a certain time or nothing quite yet?
BR: Yeah, I finished up a project with a vocalist whose name is Krista Marina. We’ve been working on that, we actually started just before lockdown and that’s something we’ve been working on throughout lockdown actually so that’s been interesting just sending stuff back and forth. But that came out really really good, so I’m excited about that, that’ll probably come out early next year. I’ve been working with some other artists here and there…I haven’t quite started working on my next project yet, but I’m in the process of getting to that pretty soon. I’m still kind of getting over all the shit that happened in the last few months, so I’m kind of just trying to gather my thoughts and come up with new ideas and things, so I think it’s on the horizon pretty soon. But yeah, the project with Krista I’m really excited about, that’ll probably be like January or February.
DD: That’s awesome, that’s really soon! That’s crazy that you’re just like putting out project after project like so soon.
BR: Yeah! I’ve just been working so much throughout lockdown, I just have so much new stuff, so I just feel like it’s a good time to just put out whatever you have. I’ve been more selective throughout my career, not putting out too much stuff, but I’ve kind of changed that mentality this past year, so there’s gonna be a lot more releases next year.
DD: Awesome, awesome. Do you feel as though to a certain extent there’s this pressure to keep putting out music because you were saying these past two months you’ve had to take time for yourself, but even within that time, do you ever feel as though there is this certain pressure on you to stay active as an artist.
BR: No, I don’t think so. I’ve never had any issue with being productive as an artist; if anything, I feel like I’m a little too obsessive about it like I don’t allow myself too much down time without feeling guilty. I actually quite like it, I definitely don’t have any problems with it. I think it’s a good thing. I think more people should be open to just create things and put them out, like we’re all too self-critical which is good to a certain degree, but you don’t wanna get too much into that or else you get really picky and then things never get finished, and you never put things out.
DD: Is that something that’s changed over time, like as you’ve been making music longer, have you been more confident in your work and just more comfortable with making something then immediately after just releasing it?
BR: Yeah, definitely! I think early on I was waaay more self-conscious…and I was just very careful with what I put out, and I’d ask a lot of people like “what do you think” but…that kind of stuff just gets in the way is what I’ve learned. If you wanna make a bad decision, ask everyone what they think because that’s what’s gonna happen. I kinda learned that, it took me a while before I was like “you know what, I wanna make something I really like to hear” and eventually I realized that that’s what other people would like to hear too because that just kind of translates more, like they can sense the honesty in it. Whereas if you’re trying to get people to like something, I think people can also sense that.
DD: Definitely, I think being disingenuous kinda translates through music and you can kind of tell when someone’s trying too hard in a way, I hate using that term but…
BR: Yeah, it’s true, definitely.
DD: So what originally got you into music, like as a kid and when you were younger?
BR: I don’t know, I’ve just always felt really really connected to music as long as I remember. I took classical piano lessons for 10 years when I was a kid, I started pretty young and then I got into DJing, I got into different kinds of music. I’ve just always had this connection to music, I think it’s the greatest form of expression we have, and we’re lucky to have this. I don’t really know where it came from. My parents have always been into music, and there’s no musicians in my family, not professionally anyway. So yeah I don’t quite know where it came from, but I was lucky enough to be exposed to a lot of good music growing up so I think that helped to build up all the inspiration and things that have kind of led me throughout the process over the years.
DD: That’s awesome. What kind of music that you listened to when you were younger do you think inspires my work now?
BR: I think all of it honestly, I think everything inspires the work. It’s not even just the good stuff, it’s the bad stuff as well because then I know I don’t want to hear any of that so I’m gonna not do that. It gives you an idea of what you like and what you don’t like, and I think it’s also important to listen to music you would never otherwise listen to because there’s always things you can catch and be like “oh that’s interesting” so there’s always things you can apply to what you do even if it’s not the type of thing you’re into, and I think that probably applies to any type of creativity, but I think it definitely applies for music.
DD: Yeah definitely, and I think a lot of people just have certain misconceptions and just are so quick to put up barriers of like “this is what I like, this is what I listen to, and I don’t go beyond this certain realm” which was always really weird to me.
BR: Yeah I agree, I agree.
DD: So how have you been finding new music during COVID because I can tell you’re kind of a crate digger so how has that been not being able to go to the record store?
BR: I’ve been spending way too much money buying records on discogs, that’s definitely a thing…but I’ve also been going through streaming services and just always looking for new stuff. I haven’t unfortunately found too much stuff that I’ve really connected with this year. There’s been some really good releases this year, but nothing too inspiring…I mean maybe there’s some stuff out there I’m just not aware of but yeah, I guess it’s a bit of that like the old stuff as far as like looking for records and things and you know, digitally just digging through what’s out there. The weird thing is there’s more music than ever being released because it’s just so easy to do now, and it kind of sucks because there’s just so much shit to shift through and a lot of it’s not good whereas before there might have been like 10 releases and so even if a lot of them weren’t good, you’d find a couple but it’d be quick! Whereas now there’s a thousand new releases so even if a hundred of them are good, it just takes you so long to get to those, so it’s a little tougher.
DD: Absolutely, I feel like that’s just kind of like the pros and cons of having this type of accessible technology now, you know? There’s so much at our disposal, but then it’s like how do we even begin to explore everything that’s out there? It’s like the joke of how do you pick a movie on Netflix with your friends like it takes forever because there’s so many damn options now.
BR: Yeah, yeah same thing on Netflix! There’s so much garbage, so it’s tough to get to the good stuff, it’s hard to find it.
DD: Yeah absolutely. When you’re listening to music…is there a specific genre that’s like your go to or like how does that process start for you? Are you just like “let me see what’s out there now”?
BR: Yeah, no not really, not really. It’s just a feeling and that’s kind of what I’ve grown to lead me in my own music…as far as being able to tell if I like what I’m working on or if I don’t, it’s just a feeling, and I think that’s the same with anything I hear. I think I’ve just gotten better at honing that ability to just trust my gut as opposed to being more cerebral with it and thinking about it, it’s just like no. Usually, I think everybody has this but maybe we don’t necessarily listen to it, it’s pretty instant like once you hear something…there’s exceptions sometimes it might take a while to get into it, but I think for the most part, you quickly will connect to it or you quickly will feel something even if it’s not good necessarily, if it makes you feel something then you know there’s some kind of connection there so that’s really it for me. I try to listen to my gut, just sit back, not think, just kind of clear my mind, and just see how it makes me feel.
DD: I think that’s really well said because there really isn’t a way to describe how you feel when you hear something that you like, you just know you like it, you can’t really put your finger on it.
BR: Yeah, like you get those goosebumps and you get the dopamine flowing, and you just know there’s something there, you know?
DD: Yeah exactly. Is that kind of how you decide which songs make the cut for the album, like are you kind of waiting for that feeling?
BR: Yeah, yeah, I think so, but also I think sometimes there’s some songs that I really like but they don’t work with the other songs. Like that was kind of the case with this album, there were a few that I had to cut at the last minute just because it wasn’t quite working. So yeah, I’d say it’s a bit of both. When you’re working with an album, you have to consider the flow of it as well. I mean you don’t have to, some people just put a bunch of singles on there, which is fine too, but the way I listen I like to have some sort of consistency and some sort of flow to the album, so I try to create them with that in mind.
DD: I don’t know if this is just a misconception that I have in my brain, but I feel like a lot of artists that like listening to vinyl kind of carry that methodology into picking music for an album because you want it to have that nice flow of like listening to a record of each song going into one another in a nice way. I don’t know could just be my own thoughts.
BR: Yeah, it’s kind of like a movie you know, it’s long form so there’s ebb and flow, ups and downs, whereas if it’s like a short of a TV show it’s a lot shorter so you don’t really have to have as much of that, maybe a little bit of it is in there but it’s not as much on your mind. I’ve always liked film more than television just because the format allows you to just tell a much more intimate or interesting story, so I like to have that in the music experience as well.
DD: That’s really interesting, is that what kind of led you to have those little samples from old Armenian films in your first album?
BR: Yeah, I wanted it to be like an experience, I didn’t want it to just be a collection of songs, I wanted them to be like tied into each other and make you feel like you’re having some sort of other dimensional experience that’s just different from the norm, and it tells a story almost, that has a bit of a narrative in there, I’ve always liked that about music.
DD: Do you feel like in a way, all your albums kind of tell a story about different aspects of your life?
BR: This new one definitely does, and to a certain degree the previous ones as well, but I mean I guess they all do, but I think the new album maybe a bit more because there are vocals included. But yeah, I think they all have bits and pieces of things that are there as far as my moods or ways of thinking go, whatever it may be.
DD: Another question I had about the artists you’ve been working with on this past album, how do you decide who you want to work with on an album?
BR: Well, I don’t necessarily think of it as who I want to put on the album, it’s just more or less who I want to work with and then I end up seeing which ones work best on the album. I’ve always created better that way, like I’ll make a bunch of music and then I’ll see what works best. It’s almost like I like to have a bunch of clay to work with then I kind of chip away and sculpt it into something, so I didn’t have an idea in mind of I want “this person, that person, to be on the album”, it was just like “I wanna work with all these people, let me see which one’s work for the album” so there were some that didn’t make the cut so that’s the way I like to work personally.
DD: Even though you can’t tour right now and go record, like in person in the studio, do you think that like in a way there are, not that there’s benefits to what’s going on right now, but just with everything happening, do you feel as though in a way it has opened more doors? Because you can just get on your computer and start making a project with anyone no matter where they are in the world.
BR: Yes but also it does take the human element away which I think is important in collaboration. It’s not as easy, and sometimes you can make great stuff with people you haven’t met before, I certainly have done that, but I think it’s always better to have some sort of a relationship with the person you’re working with, so you know, it’s a give and take, there’s pros and cons. It’s definitely cool to be able to do that, to reach out to anyone in the world, but the fact that you can’t see them in person and exchange that energy or whatever it may be, it does make it a little more difficult.
DD: Do you think that the setup that you have of your sampler, your keyboard, just everything that you use to produce music, like do you think it’s kind of relatively easy to do at home? Or not easy to do at home but like just cause you have a relatively minimal setup, do you think it’s kind of worked in your favor of it’s easier to do at home as opposed to some other artists?
BR: Well I’ve always had a home studio. I mean for a brief period I worked out of a different studio, which was cool, but I noticed there’s sometimes a distraction when you’re working elsewhere, so even with that, there’s pros and cons. On one hand, it’s a lot more convenient to be working from home, but some people could argue that because your home, you might not be as driven or whatever, you know you might get that feeling if you’re leaving the house to go somewhere it might feel more like work, so you know, I understand both of those, and I think I experience a bit of both, but I’ve always had home studios for the most part, so it hasn’t changed too much for me.
DD: Ok, that’s cool, so it’s not a huge drastic shift to your normal way of production.
BR: No, no.
DD: Awesome. I think it’s cool that like, I’ve been watching you do little sets on instagram and just like seeing the setup of it just being your small sampler and keyboard, it just blows my mind how you’re able to just make so much music with such a minimal setup. Especially with samplers, like the original ones that you see that came out in the 70s, they were these huge things that would take up a whole table and now seeing how they’ve been compressed into such small instruments, I don’t know, it’s just crazy to me.
BR: Yeah the way I work is I like to be more minimal because when you have a lot of things to work with it can get kinda confusing sometimes and you don’t know where to start, so I just like to have the bare essentials, trim all the fat, just the sounds that I like, things that I like, so if I want sometimes, I know where it is, I don’t have to go through a bunch of shit, I don’t have to turn on a bunch of equipment, you know? It just helps my work to have all the fat trimmed and know exactly what I want.
DD: Well I think you do an amazing amazing job of that honestly. I really can’t express what a big fan I am of your work, and I really think your music is awesome.
BR: Thank you, thank you, I appreciate that.
DD: I know we’re slowly running out of time, and I don’t wanna keep you too much longer because I know you’re busy with everything going on, but I just wanted to ask you one more thing to circle everything back to what we were talking about earlier with Artsakh. Do you feel as though there’s anything that, not just artists, but like anybody who’s anybody, can do to like better help what’s going on right now even though treaties have been signed, land has been taken away, but obviously this is an ongoing struggle for people, and not any one person has all the answers, and I don’t wanna put that all on you right now, but like what’s something that you think people can do to make a difference, especially within the music industry?
BR: I don’t know, that’s a tough question…
DD: Sorry, I’ve been hitting you with loaded questions today.
BR: No, it’s okay, I can’t speak for the music industry, I don’t know what the best way to do that is. I mean, we’re all doing what we can as far as trying to raise awareness, but I think on a personal level, I think it’s important to try to tend to ourselves a bit more and try not to like…this is something that I went through too for a little bit, like don’t feel guilty about shutting off the news for a little bit, or even for a long while. Because we get this thing to where if we’re not tuned into everything then we’re not being responsible to our people or whatever it may be, and to feel this sense of guilt, so then you just turn on everything and get bombarded with all types of news, but if it’s not helping you in any way then how are you going to help others? I think it’s good to be informed, but I think there’s a limit. And that probably for all news in general, but speaking for what’s been happening in Armenia, if you’re just constantly looking at every bit of news that comes out, that will just…it will just ruin your day, it’s not fun. And then you’re just gonna walk around depressed, and what’s the point in that, I don’t think anyone wants that for any of us. So I think it’s important to tend to ourselves because as long as you’re doing whatever you can do then it’s important to also look after yourself. I’m not saying shut off everything, don’t help anyone, don’t do anything – do what you can do, but take care of yourself in the process. I think that’s a big part of it because I think if we all do that, I think we’ll all be in a better mental place, we’ll all have just better clarity or whatever it may be, and it’ll help us connect with each other more, but if we’re all under that dark cloud of the news that constantly happening, then we’re all just gonna be walking around depressed and that’s not gonna help anyone. So I think self care is important in times like these.
DD: Absolutely, I think that’s really valuable advice to give out to people, not just in our community, but to any community that’s marginalized or struggling right now. I had this conversation with my mom multiple times since the war started like everyday, she’d be on the news, 24/7, just so depressed, and I had to try and tell her like “turn it off, there’s nothing we can do” and it’s SO shitty to say that but like…there’s nothing you can do sometimes, and it’s hard. But you’re right, how are you gonna help other people if you’re under that cloud, I think you said that really really well. I always think of the example of when you get in an airplane, and the masks come down when there’s no oxygen, you have to put the mask on yourself before you can help someone else.
BR: Yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly!
DD: I forgot who said the quote, but it goes something along the lines of “self care is an act of radical resistance” in a way, and what you said reminds me of that, so thank you for that.