Ann Arbor-based electronic music producer, DJ, and prolific abstract expressionist painter Tadd Mullinix is a man of many musical personas and interests. Like any good crate-digging former record store employee and producer, his musical tastes are all over the musical spectrum.
Instead of letting these genres run amok on albums, he tends to hone in on one style per project. His first Ghostly album as Tadd Mullinix, Winking Makes a Face (2001), was inspired by his love of abstract techno genius Aphex Twin and sounds from exceptional labels Warp and Rephlex. Dabrye is the outlet for his J Dilla-inspired hip-hop; Dilla himself appears on the classic "Game Over" single. His releases as SK-1 with Soundmurderer (Todd Osborn) dive into jungle; while James T. Cotton is his acid outlet; and MM Studio is his dub collaboration with Daniel Meteo.
Mullinix's latest release, the double LP Luxus Steroid Abamita (Bopside), is the third full-length under his Charles Manier alias: dystopian dance floor jams inspired in equal parts by Suicide, David Byrne and Brian Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Very similar in spirit to Detroit's Adult., it's a fitting soundtrack for these very heavy times. Metro Times talked to Tadd about the new album released this week, joined during the conversation by his wife Nayiri and their ridiculously cute dog Albi (photos available upon request).
Metro Times: I hear lots of Suicide, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, DAF, Eno-era Talking Heads, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and even a little bit of Adult. in terms of influences. Is that fair to say, and are there other artists who helped inspire Charles Manier?
Tadd Mullinix: You said Suicide, and more specifically this VVV project Vainio and Vaisanen from Pan Sonic did with Alan Vega for record label Blast First [1998's Endless]. That was a huge deal for me. I remember Carlos Souffront DJing that. Actually, Carlos Souffront is probably more of the influence because he would mix all of those different artists, that you mentioned, together in a session. And then some new stuff I had never heard of before. If anybody was the most responsible, it would be him. But yeah, Talking Heads. Oh my God, my mom used to play that stuff all the time. You hit the nail on the head with that list.
MT: Carlos is all over the place! I remember him dropping a Terry Riley track out of thin air and it blew my mind. Speaking of Carlos, how does being a DJ yourself and your love of DJ culture influence the Manier album then?
Mullinix: There's definitely a dance element to Manier. And when I was discovering German New Wave, Neue Deutsche Welle, I was finding out about a lot of Dusseldorf acts like Der Plan and Pyrolator. So this is like one of the bigger influences for me. They used Korg synthesizers, specifically MS-20s; that was the synth that Chrislo Haas used for DAF and Liaisons Dangereuses and his side project called CHBB. This synthesizer sound made a huge impact on me. As a DJ, I was seeking out music from these camps that was specifically dance-floor friendly and that had a big influence on the Manier stuff.
MT: How is Manier influenced by Detroit sounds?
Mullinix: Bernie Worrell! Especially the Talking Heads records like Remain in Light and Speaking in Tongues are a huge influence on Manier. My mom used to listen to those records all the time.
But also Jeff Mills and Carl Craig were sampling Liaisons Dangereuses. There's also a huge connection between Chicago and Detroit and a couple Liaisons singles were often played by DJs in Detroit and Chicago, so they became part of the tradition of techno music. That was a huge impact.
MT: Is there a typical day at home for you? Do you tend to just focus on one project at a time, or do you have a lot of plates up in the air at once?
Mullinix: One project per day. I can't switch modes in the middle of the day. So if I work on a Dabrye beat and I'm done by noon I'm like "Yay! I get to play video games for the rest of the day."
MT: What's the balance for you between painting and music?
Mullinix: I don't strike a balance. (Laughs.) I usually do one or the other.
MT: Do you think you spend more time on painting or music?
Mullinix: The urge to make music is more consistent. But it's hard to really say though because I'm very "phasey." I get interested in one thing and that's all I do for a while. So if I'm working on a painting that's my focus; I can work really hard on it all day. With both 2015's American Manier album and now with Luxus Steroid Abamita, the bulk of them were done in two or three weeks, because I was so determined, so inspired, and knew exactly what I wanted. I like to incubate my ideas, you know. I love down time with my wife and my dog. I think about my ideas, and then I just go at it super hard for a week or two.
MT: Manier sets have been rare; are live sets going to become more of a thing in the future?
Mullinix: Yeah, I think so. I spent a lot of time building the live Manier set and the response has been pretty good. The live set is not so dance floor-oriented, it's more experimental.
MT: On the new album, when the rhythm kicks in on the first track "Just-World Believers," for a brief moment I'm reminded of Timmy Thomas' soul classic "Why Can't We Live Together." Given your broad musical tastes, are there some other unexpected influences on top of the aforementioned artists that go into the Manier palette?
Mullinix: Timmy Thomas is a really good example of an organ drum machine rhythm. One of my favorite artists is Ekoplekz. His name is Nick Edwards, he lives in England, and he had a music blog called Gutterbreakz. He's just managed to formulate his sound using this organ drum machine he has in his house. He just eight-tracks it, and comes up with great stuff. And it's not blatant industrial or a post-punk No Wave type thing; it's very in between. It definitely has that sort of sound that I like.
There's also definitely a lot of electro-acoustic influence so you know Stockhausen and Subotnick, Bernard Parmegiani, Herbert Eimert, David Tudor's work with John Cage, Ilhan Mimaroglu, and there's more I'm forgetting. A lot of avant-garde classical stuff. So in Manier, there tends to be an underlying pulse which comes from the Dusseldorf and Sheffield post-punk era like Cabaret Voltaire. This underlying rhythm. And then, a sort of pseudo-arpeggiating bass line or something like that, and then a lot of incidental sounds or taped sounds and things, experimentations that I managed to sort of squeeze in, in these particular times that I want them to happen. A lot of that influence comes from that avant-garde electronic, academic electronica.
MT: There's a dystopian vibe to a lot of the Manier material. Is that inspired by the American political climate?
Mullinix: There's a lot of socio-political philosophy in forming the content and the lyrics and the vibe of the album. I'm a little less explicit than if I were to be doing a political punk album or something. I like to keep things a little bit surreal and a little bit more mysterious. But politics definitely played a big role.
MT: There's an abstract and expressionist quality running through most of your paintings as well as the Manier material; is that a coincidence or more deliberate?
Mullinix: It's super deliberate. I am very inspired by lyrical and somewhat psychedelic lyricism, by Surrealist literature and imagery. And Manier taps into that. I tap into that with my painting too.
MT: You've been hitting painting a lot harder the past few years and were part of the Red Bull House of Art in 2014. What lead to you pursuing visual art more?
Mullinix: When I got signed to Ghostly all my focus was on music. And then when Encore Records [the Ann Arbor store where Tadd worked for over a decade] changed ownership in 2011 when owner Peter Dale retired, I had to think what was I going to do? And with the support of Nayiri I could make that leap into the life of a full-time artist. Once I got the day job out of my head that gave me the headspace to revisit the visual art that I used to do back when I was younger.
MT: What can you tell us about the upcoming Dabrye Three/Three record? Who's on it and are there any plans for Dabrye after Three/Three?
Mullinix: Unfortunately, I have to keep who's on it under wraps. I can tell you this shit's going to be crazy! Like childhood dreams coming true. that kind of thing. The support's been unreal, hot contemporary MCs and golden era classic MCs. It's amazing.
We have a contract to keep going. The trilogy just sounded like a good thing at the moment, a nice concise little package for me to focus on. But yeah, I plan on working with Ghostly more after that. Same sort of thing too, MCs on the beats and I think I'll be producing other MCs' albums, too.
MT: You worked in Armenia last year. Can you tell us about that and how that's influenced your work?
Mullinix: Armenia's incredible. I wouldn't know about Armenia if it wasn't for my beautiful wife. I mean, I had seen Arshile Gorky's paintings before, but I didn't know how artistic Armenians are, as a generalization. Culturally, the arts are a huge part of their lives, and going to Armenia sort of reinforced and inspired me further in an artistic way. There are sculptures on every city block in the capital Yerevan. The people are really informed, the children are so open-minded, so inspired, so informed politically and culturally.
I went there and I taught kids how to make hip-hop beats at the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies; the facility is incredible. It inspired me to be able to see kids interested in what I do. And they had no frame of reference for it, whatsoever. They just heard that they could learn something from me and signed up. It was amazing, they totally learned how to use Ableton in two weeks. I just can't imagine that happening here.
What else to say?
Nayiri Mullinix: Well it did inspire you to finish your Dabrye record...
Mullinix: Yeah that was a big deal. The Dabrye album was a long time coming at that point — 10 years, and people were kind of continually nudging me. There was a campaign called Free Dabrye, #freedabrye. (Laughs).
I went to Armenia and I had to create tutorials and software to show these kids what I do. I didn't want to use just old stuff; I had to make some beats so I could show them the steps. And that inspired me to make more music, and got me back into the zone mentally, the Dabrye zone. So yeah, that had everything to do with Yerevan, Armenia, and my wife, and these students. It all had everything to do with me finishing the Dabrye album.
Luxus Steroid Abamita is out June 16 on Bopside Records; find it at your local store that stocks new records, or at bopside.bandcamp.com.