Interview with Blue Stahli February 4, 2013

February 12, 2013 by: admin

February 4, 2013



Detroit, Michigan

By: Shauna O’Donnell

Hi Bret, thanks for talking with me today. How are you?

Bret: I am fantastic. How are you doing?

I’m doing well. I’m so excited to talk to you. I’m such a big fan of yours. Let’s talk a little about how the project Blue Stahli got started. You actually started off under the name Voxis.

Bret: Oh yeah, Voxis, that was a long time ago. That was the first musical thing that I had ever done. A friend of mine who is now a horror author does a project called Strangeties where he does short fiction and stuff like that and he incorporates Blue Stahli into it. When we were in high school, his brother Shawn (who does a lot of my artwork now) and I would mess around with computers and sequencing. We would make this weird, noisy, God awful electronic music on cassettes. We would distribute those around, just passing them off to people. We would get weird messages from people and we did not know how they even heard some of this stuff. It would be some DJ in Norway that said “We just played this song at a rave!” We were like “Wow! We don’t even know how you got this.” I mean that was from high school. We just kind of kept on doing that. I wanted to do music all the time, but I had zero confidence in myself and in my abilities, so it pretty much just relegated everything to “this will be a fun hobby until I get into a car crash.” That pretty much gives you the frame of my mindset at the time. I was not overly positive about my future. It was more like “Okay I’m going to do this weird thing on the side that will never do anything because I’m not good enough.” The only Voxis album that is out there that you can readily find is one that is kind of a collection of all the weird demos and stuff that was done between 2000 and 2006. We decided to just make one big collection of all this stuff for the few people who do care because originally I was just going to say “Let’s bury everything in a hole and walk away.” There were a few people who actually really wanted it and said “If we made a petition and met enough signatures would you guys put this out?” I said “I suppose. I guess there are worse ways to waste your money.” So we said that we would do this, but only on the condition that no one makes any money off of it. Once all duplication and printing costs are covered then every penny would be put towards charity. There was a women’s shelter in town called Chrysalis that I called. I didn’t want to just hand over a check because money can be misappropriated. I called them and asked them what they needed. They said they needed things that people don’t think about like toiletries, toys for the kids, and things like that. So anything that came in from the sales I would go out and buy stuff like that, show up and deliver it. That album marked the end of Voxis. It didn’t end on a bad note or anything, it was just that all of our heads were in different places and we wanted to try different things creatively. We still supported each other and hung out all the same. It had just reached its course.

You became Blue Stahli after being approached by FiXT label head Klayton in 2007 to move to Detroit and record at Celldweller Studios correct?

Bret: Yes, I had done a re-mix for “Own Little World” that was done under a project called Remorse Code with another guy I was collaborating with. I flew up here to Michigan for a week and met with Klayton and he said “Okay, here is the deal. I need a studio assistant. I need someone to do time correcting, editing, bitch work and the whole nine yards. I’m not promising anything. I think you are at the right point in your life where you can come up here and give it a shot for a year. If you hate it, no harm no foul. You can move back. If you dig it, then keep being a studio assistant and learn things.” So that is how it was supposed to be. I wasn’t to be an artist or anything like that. When I arrived and it was time to show me how to use Pro Tools because I had used different programs for putting things together and the studio worked off of Pro Tools, I had to learn how to use it. He said I am going to learn by writing a song as I normally would and when I get to an impasse then I’m to come get him. So I start writing a song and the song I was working on eventually became “Kill Me Every Time.” Just off the basic music, he sent it to his publisher in L.A. The guy said “I want to hear this kid sing.” Klayton came back and said “Do you think you can do vocals?” I was like “Nope! Let’s try.” I wrote lyrics and threw down vocals and that is what you hear. It was the very first thing that I wrote as Blue Stahli. Before it was even finished it landed in the DVD collection of a TV show called Witchblade. At that point Klayton said “Okay you are no longer a studio assistant. You are far more valuable to the label as an artist. Anything that isn’t a job writing music is a waste of your time, so any other job you have to keep yourself alive you need to quit and do this full time.” Before I could begin writing my debut artist album I had to write an instrumental album jumping around from genre to genre for film and TV. That was production boot camp. That is why the instrumental stuff that I do for film and TV gets branded with the ANTISLEEP title. It is Blue Stahli, but it is a different thing. Anytime you see ANTISLEEP, it is going to be instrumental and it is going to jump around with the styles.

I have to tell you that “Ultranumb” is one of my favorite songs EVER written. I listen to it every day. Your music is very motivational. It is music that you want to move to.

Bret: That is beautiful. I’m glad that this weird noise that I’m making can provide any sort of motivation at all. That is the entire purpose of Blue Stahli. I don’t care about being a rock star. I can point to those certain songs in albums by artists that kept me alive during the darkest times in my life and even now. That is what I want to do for other people. I want to give them the songs for that.

So you guys can get a feel of what you will hear on the debut record, check out this promo video with mostly tracks from the debut (this was done before Antisleep Vol. 03 was released, so it isn’t represented at the end):

Speaking of the song “Ultranumb” Here is a link to the official music video.

I think you are incredibly talented.

Bret: Thank you!

I think it is smart getting into publishing/licensing. Your music has been used in trailers and promos for films such as “Tron Legacy”, “Colombiana”, “Sucker Punch” and “Limitless” all the way to TV shows like “America’s Next Top Model”, “Bones” and “Criminal Minds” just to name a few. The list seems endless already and you have just begun. (To check out some of these, please check out the list at the bottom of the interview.) The way the industry is now, it is difficult for a lot of bands to make any money off of touring or record sales.  Do you agree?

Bret: Absolutely! Really with the way the landscape is now, I use the catchphrase “people don’t buy music anymore”, which isn’t entirely true, but it is true for the most part. If you form a really good connection with your fans they will know that you are an artist that really cares about them, is creating something for them and wants to have a dialogue with them rather than sit in his ivory tower saying “Kiss my ring now!!” They’ll say “screw that! I don’t want to wear that guy’s shirt!” Those fans will support you. I do the same thing. I love the singer Chelsea Wolfe and I own everything she’s made. I’ll go without buying food for a couple days if I can get a new Chelsea Wolfe record. I have a hard time seeing myself as that guy who shows up in movies. Even if I’m in the movie theatre with my friends and one of my songs come on. They will say “That’s so cool!” and I’m like “Yeah, that’s weird, it feels weird.” I’m just some dork. I’m just a guy who is making noise. I love it when someone writes me and tells me that my music did this and this for them. I love to get these messages from people because it tells me that the music is doing what it should. When I was doing the Celldweller tour, I loved the hell out of getting to meet people afterwards. We’d be on the road for ten hours, show up at the venue, no one has slept and we are on the verge of getting sick, but I loved meeting every single person there. That was a blast! I am very appreciative of every single person who buys a shirt and every single person who just listens to the music, not just the ones who buy it to help me buy tuna fish for the week.

You are a one man band, so obviously you write and record everything. How many instruments can you play?

Bret: I can’t play most of them well, but let’s see I do guitar, bass, I can’t say drums because I’m not nearly coordinated enough to sit down at an entire drum kit, keys and piano. I can also do the crazy programming and synths. I sort of throw things against the wall until something works or I just get frustrated.

Are you self taught or did you take lessons?

Bret: I cheated my way through three years of piano. There was a piano at my mom’s church that they were throwing away and she said “don’t throw that thing away. It was made in 1910. It should be somewhere even if it doesn’t work right.” They were like “well if you want it we will drop it off at your house.” So we had this cool old piano that I would tinker around on and I had made my own little notation system to remember the songs that I wrote on it. My mom decided to enroll me in piano. I would get assigned a song where I read the sheet music, I would practice and then come in the next week to do a recital thing. I also lived across the street from a guy who played piano and when he was home, which was a lot of the time, I would take stuff over to his house and say “hey, could you play this for me twice?” The first time I would listen to how it is supposed to sound and the next time I would watch his hands to see what he was doing. I could figure stuff out by ear, but I could not read music and still can’t to this day. I went three years of piano without being caught. She eventually stopped me in the middle of a song and said “Aha! You can’t read music! This isn’t this song. I had a feeling you were pulling one over on me, so I put a different song up here. I know what you are doing. How the hell did you pull this off?” That teacher’s son played in a rock n roll band, so during my lessons he would be jamming on a guitar. I walked in and asked “would you teach me to do that?” He turned his amp off a little bit and said “buy a guitar and teach yourself.” Okay fair enough. One of his friends was home for summer vacation from college and he was supporting himself by giving piano and guitar lessons. I took three months of lessons from him. It basically consisted of him handing me old blues tapes of like BB King, John Lee Hooker and also Queen. He said everything you need to know about rock n roll is in Queen. He said to play along with Innuendo and it was everything you need to know about music. You’ve got classical stuff, you’ve got rock n roll stuff, there are solos and there’s rhythm. He was big on teaching me the scale and whatever note I wanted to add into it, if it sounded good, then it was right. He said to play along with whatever I wanted until I approximated it and did it in my way. To this day I don’t know real chords on a guitar. I just made up my own, so they can be transposable.

When I was on your website I noticed that you don’t have a tour section up. Do you play shows?

Bret: I haven’t played as Blue Stahli yet. I’ve only got my tour legs as the second live member of the two man Celldweller live show. I was not only a performer, but I was involved in the production of it as well. I was camera two on the backing videos when you see the really shaky crazy cam stuff. That was me saying “Oh! I’ve been given a camera to play with! Let’s do this before they take it away from me.” It’s just two of us on stage jumping between guitar, keys, drums, etc. with three screens showing unique footage (this was more of an “electronic” show than a rock show, just with the same energy). There is also a live DVD and Blue-Ray of this show out featuring our shows from America, Russia, and Japan.

The Blue Stahli live show is something that has taken a while to form in my head. It is something that I’m currently working on right now and it is probably the complete opposite of what people expect. That is why I like it. I pretty much have zero desire to tour with a big five piece rock n roll band where I’m jumping around screaming my brains out every night. I can do that, but it’s not really what waves my flag. What strikes me more as a cool challenge and a cool way to do something that is unexpected is to take those songs from the debut like “Ultranumb” and represent it on acoustic. At first my idea was to work out acoustic versions of these and then go play little coffee shops. I keep thinking to myself “Who is going to come see me? Who cares?” It’s just me. It will be one person showing up. As I started thinking about it, I do more than that and I’d like to communicate that, so I thought maybe I’ll throw some effects on my voice and put some production in there. I want to do something you don’t typically see and take what I’ve learned from doing the live show with Celldweller where we have the cool backing beats and tempo-synched effects that would fly in and out. There was some cool added production of “Oh! Holy Crap!” they put extra work into this to where it isn’t just someone plugging in their guitar and jamming to a CD. I do more stuff and would like to represent that to people who haven’t heard this before. So really it is being written from the ground up to function just in case the unthinkable happens and all the power goes out or the computers get stolen or blown up. No matter what I can just sit down with an acoustic guitar.  In an ideal situation when I play them together it is voice, acoustic guitar and some backing production.  The way I have been describing it to people is it’s an acoustic set from A Perfect Circle where it was re-mixed by Sneaker Pimps and DJ Shadow. They get the idea of what I’m shooting for. The main purpose is to bring a different light to these songs, an alternate way to present them.

Will you be making a new record with vocals soon?

Bret: Oh absolutely! ANTISLEEP 3 just came out. Just like we were talking about for the publishing side, that is stuff that I do for film and TV. That is how I am able to pay rent and buy food. That is not to say that those are done with an afterthought or zero artistic merit. I try to make them as cool as I would like them to be. I’m actually in the middle of writing the next vocal album right now. I have a bunch of demos thrown down. There is a song that just sort of happened. It just sort of came to me and I said it was too funny not to do. First because it is not a style I have ever done. It sounds like an 80’s workout video from hell! I have to do this song, but it is way too happy to be on the next vocal record, so I’m just going to make it a stand alone single. It is a song called “Never Dance Again.” It is a super upbeat slice of chainsaw pop and the vocal lines are super happy. It makes you want to sing along with it. The lyrics are actually really sarcastic and mean. I picture someone singing along to it and saying “Wait a minute! This is terrible. I can’t believe you said that.” I think that is way more subversive than making a death metal record. There is just no way it can go on the record because it is so freakishly different.  I just got the final mix finished on it by Klayton of Celldweller, so it needs to be mastered and have the artwork finished. It will certainly throw people for a loop. After that you will start to hear singles from the new vocal record. I’m also making a conscious decision to try something a little different this time around. With the debut there were a lot of guitars and it was rock n roll centric, but there was also a crap load of extra synths and production that went into it. The more I started messing around with guitar stuff, the more I wondered how much I could get away with turning the guitars into synths and weird things of that nature. I kind of want it to have a bit more of an organic feel, but also feel bigger.

I also really love the song “Corner.”

Bret: I’m glad you enjoy it. There is a weird story of inspiration that went behind that one. My sister is a fine artist/tattooist. She does a lot of gallery shows with cool alternative art and stuff like that. She is also a tattooist and has done all of the tattoos on me. She does guest spots in tattoo shops all around the country because she is awesome and she cleans up when she does it. So she happened to be in Toledo, Ohio which is about an hour and a half from me, so I went over to visit her. Before we go back to the house, we swung by a Blockbuster because those still existed at the time. She ran in and grabbed the movie Martyrs. It is a French horror film. She said “You have to see this. We are watching this right now!” I turned it over and was looking at the picture and said “This looks like a torture porn. I don’t like it. That’s not my gig.” She said “No, trust me. It has that look and has that feel when you first start it, but trust me it is so much more.” So we go back and we watch it and sure enough when it first kicks in I said “This is exactly what I said it was going to be!” She said “Stick with it!” It runs its course with a beginning, middle and an end. Right when you think the credits are going to roll you realize it has only been half an hour. What the hell!! Then it keeps going and the movie that it turns into afterwards is like this philosophical examination of why people believe what they believe and examinations of the afterlife. It goes off the rails into the mind and was great. It affected me hugely. After it was over it was late at night, like 3 in the morning, I got back in the car to make the drive back to Detroit. I was house sitting for someone, so I was in an unfamiliar house in the middle of the night. It made all sorts of weird settling sounds, so it always sounds like someone is in the house, which is awesome after you just watched a horror movie. I could not shake this movie out of my head. My emotions were heightened because my grandpa had just been put into hospice. I didn’t listen to a single song on the drive back. It was completely dead silent except for the hum of the tires on the highway and there were barely any cars, so it was like you were in the middle of a black ocean. I was alone with my thoughts. When I got back to the house it was much the same feeling, but everything just felt amplified. Some of the concepts for “Corner” just started coming to me. I started feverishly writing everything down that is coming to mind. For that entire week after seeing that film I was in this weird headspace. I was certainly working on music, but I couldn’t listen to anything except one piece of music called “Hypnos III” by an artist named Hecq. It is like an eleven minute song. If you listen really closely there are all these weird little tonalities that pop out and form this Eastern feel. I always feel closest to songs with an Eastern vibe. It was weird. It was like everything was hyper real and you could feel every inch of your skin. The lyrics and concepts for that just sort of began spilling out of me. It is weird that one has since become something that a lot of people resonate with. I’ve gotten messages from people specifically about that song. I have to credit it with the weird situations that proceeded it.

Your sister is your muse. I love the tattoos on your arms. She does incredible work.

Bret: Thank you! Yeah the arms were the first thing that we did. At first I was like “Okay I’m just going to do my arms.” Of course you can never do just one. It piled up from there.

It’s true. Some people do not believe that tattoos can become addicting.

Bret: Oh yeah! They say “It’s not going to happen to me!” Then pretty soon you look like a model in a tattoo magazine.

I only have two.

Bret: Oh you’ll get more!

Thanks so much for the interview. It was so awesome talking to you and I had a lot of fun.

Bret: Absolutely! I did as well.

Here is the acoustic version of ‘Scrape’ (there are a few more weird freebies, mixtapes and the like on the soundcloud):


Here’s a more complete list of film/TV appearances:

Expendables 2

Underworld Awakening:

Hit and Run

Premium Rush

Men In Black 3

Victoria’s Secret Holiday commercial (directed by Michael Bay…yep, THAT Michael Bay):

3 TV spots for Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” featuring tracks from my debut album:

The Zoe Saldana flick, Colombiana:

From Paris with Love:

Even…Jonah Hex.

I was even in a Bollywood trailer:

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