Alex Botwin, aka Paper Diamond, has been rising to the forefront of the growing Colorado electronic music scene since being signed to Pretty Lights four years ago. Since then he’s founded his own label Elm & Oak, signing and supporting acts such as Cherub and Too Fresh. He may be the only well-know producer to use an iPad on stage, a decision that engenders a fair amount of criticism. We chatted with him under the trees of Electric Forest to understand what’s behind his production and performance.
Hows Elm & Oak doing, what are your plans for the future?
Elm & Oak has been going through a bunch of different change because I’ve been on the road. For a long time I was really focused on label and management stuff. When I first heard Cherub I loved their music so we put out their first two releases and I was really focusing on that. They grew so quickly and I was also working on Paper Diamond stuff so the two were taking away from eachother. Now I’ve stepped back and started focusing on music solely. We’ve closed the Elm & Oak gallery because I’ve only been to Colorado for five days in the past year. There are mad singers and rappers who I can collaborate with in LA, whereas in Colorado everyone kind of does their thing. I haven’t been that inspired to sample anything recently, I’ve been trying to write lyrics, write songs that are relevant to my life. Now I’m just waiting for the next project that I’m really inspired by because my time is so valuable to me that when I’m not touring I want to be writing.
Have you been working on the bus lately?
Yea, we wrote that song “WYLIN” [with LOUDPVCK] on the back of the bus and mixed it in backstage room. I’m writing all the time and I’m working on so many different types of songs. I’m working on a project with some rappers right now…
What excites you about those tracks?
I’ll listen to everything that’s on the XM rap stations, all the new Soundcloud producers so when I get up I’ll be super inspired by music, sometimes I’ll listen to Fifth Dimension on vinyl and just start jamming, freeform writing. I’ve been focusing on taking electronic music and turning them into songs.
With Touch OSC it seems you don’t have the physical limits of a 0-100 knob/fader. While this obviously wouldn’t matter on lows/mids/highs/filters, on effects and tempo shifts you can have the subtly of fine touches but the range of a broad stroke. What’s the most exciting part about Touch OSC for you?
Touch OSC controls two laptops for me. The first one is Ableton and the second one has Resolume on it which controls all the LEDs. Every scene in Ableton has a corresponding video clip synced in Resolume and I can also flash the LEDs, turn them off, speed them up from my iPad.
Basically I’m improvising live both the songs and the lights every night.
The second part is I can roll into any rig with two laptops, my iPad and an audio unit and play any size stage, ready to go. The mobility and the ease to go into somewhere and improvise with any of the songs in my session file which is 4 gigs of original material. I have the 2000 CDJ Nexus’ at my house and I know how to mix on them but I just can’t do as much.
The biggest impediment to the controllerism wave seems to be that is its still not really accepted in clubs. Fifteen years ago, people were saying ‘Oh we don’t allow CDJs, you’ve got to use vinyl.’ Now we’re at a point where smaller artists don’t have the pull to always play their own equipment, yet CDJs just don’t have the range of control in terms of beatjumping, sample decks, hotcues, etc. When you first started how were you able to get over that barrier?
Well it was different for me because I had worked in bands before. My first show was opening for Bassnectar at the Tabernacle on New Years eve. It was different for me, I came in already minority established. Speaking of which, I’ll be playing a bunch of dates with Bassnectar coming up.
You work with a lot of visual artists, who are your favorites?
There’s this kid Ben Chakin from my hometown Kansas City. He lives in Seattle and works for a company called Digital Kitchen. We’re developing something that no other artist that I’ve ever seen has done. It’s this new dimension of live production. Right now I’m just doing spot dates for the rest of the year. I’m going to Europe in two weeks to be in the studio and play Tomorrowland both weeks and then in 2015 we’ll be unveiling this brand new production with a new release. I finished Beat Tape Volume 2.
Are you releasing an EP or an album last year?
It’s hard to tell, my last EP had 11 songs on it. I’m writing all the time, I’ll fly home and have a session with a singer that night. Every day. I’m just writing as much as I can and then I’ll put a deadline on it and pick out my favorites, something that’s cohesive. In 2015 I’ll do a huge headlining tour.
Touching back on Boulder, you came up in the scene with Big G do you have any collabs going on?
I’ve been chatting with Dom, he’s one of my best friends. Before he knew how to use Ableton he was coming over to my studio every day and I was giving him little pointers. For a whole year he came over every day and we wrote music. I have so many different songs with him and we’re all over the place. We like to write in person, now that I’m not in Colorado it’s difficult but that’s my homie. My new EP’s about done with.
I’m working on so much that I attribute different songs to different projects. People hear your new release and think that’s your new direction, which isn’t the case for me, but in that regard I want to make sure what I’m releasing is representative of where I am right now.
Can you choose one song of the new EP and talk about the inspiration and the technical details to help out young producers?
For me it’s really about mixing, you can make all different types of sounds using the different VSTs, I’ve got keyboards and a Moog Voyager, but the key is to learn production and tricks and read. There’s a book called the Art of Mixing which is about spacial mixing and visualizing how the songs are supposed to be.
What are the most valuable production tips you’ve learned?
Knowing how to EQ and compress things properly. There’s also pushing that to the limit. Stuff like Flying Lotus and Mr. Carmack who do the opposite of what the standard is and create their own sound. That’s what I was doing with Alex B stuff so now I know all the tricks and I know how to use them so I can forge my own sound. Everyone’s mixing techniques define them.
You can catch Paper Diamond on tour by going here.
See you on the dancefloor,