[Interview] Big Black Delta aka Jonathan Bates Talks Influences, Mellowdrone, and Solo Work

Jonathan Bates has been heavily involved in music for over ten years, having been a founding member of Los Angeles rock band Mellowdrone, and, more recently, working under the solo moniker of Big Black Delta. He recently released BBDEP1, which included the track "Huggin' & A Kissin'," and is currently hard at work on his debut LP, tentatively titled BBDLP1. You might also remember a certain track on the Tron: Legacy Reconfigured soundtrack, in which Big Black Delta remixed the Daft Punk track "Fall," from the original Tron: Legacy Soundtrack, alongside SKoA favourite M83.

I recently had a chance to shoot Jonathan some questions regarding his musical influences, his history with Mellowdrone, what it was like working with Anthony Gonzalez (aka M83), as well as what's in store for Big Black Delta in the future. You can check out the full interview after the jump.

Some Kind of Awesome: Growing up in Venezuela and then Miami, how has that influenced the way you view music? And how has it influenced the music you’ve created over the years?

Jonathan Bates: In a lot of latin music, triplet feels are very prominent. It feels like a skipping rock, like falling down the stairs and landing on your feet. I love it when music does this, and I sneak it in whenever I can. Also, the use of brass in mexican and cuban music is pretty much the blueprint to a fucking good time.

SKoA: You formed Mellowdrone back in 1999, how did that come about?

JB: It started out as just me in Boston. My Dad had gotten me a Darla soundcard for my birthday, since it was the cheapest analog to digital sound converter you could get. I was at Berklee College of Music in Boston and had a lot of hacker friend, so one dude gave me Cool Edit Pro and I went to town on that shit. Boston is a cold, windy place, and I'm a scrawny guy, so I mostly stayed inside and tried to make music. Sparklehorses "Good Morning Spider" had just come out and completely demolished me.

Up to that point, I was a prog guitar player who could play you any Dream Theater song on command. A friend of mine, Shawn Bradley, invited me out to LA to help record some demos.  I crashed on his couch, recorded a demo, couch surfed some more, and played open mic's or whatever I could get until, eventually, I got a record deal. I met Tony Dematteo along the way and we locked pretty tight. He eventually recommended his high school buddy Brian Borg to play drums, and he's a fucking badass drummer, so he was in.

SKoA: Over the course of ten years, Mellowdrone released four EPs and two LPs. How has Mellowdrone’s extensive work influenced the ways in which you make music, whether it was negative or positive?

JB: 100% positive. Musically, I would hope I've become better at getting to the point of things. Mellowdrone has taught me WAY more than songwriting. Because of constantly unpredictable shows, I saw shit, and people, I never would have dreamt of. Most importantly, I found re-occuring themes that all of us are subject to, regardless of position, shit all of us go through but don't usually acknowledge. When you try to attempt to make cool stuff and involve commerce, its always a curious scene.

SKoA: After the release of Mellowdrone’s Angry Bear, you felt as if you had to move on from the “band” aesthetic. Why did you feel this way, and what made you decide to move on to your solo project, Big Black Delta?

JB: We had all grown exhausted. Tony, Brian and I are hard fucking workers man. Meet these dudes and you'll see for yourself. But, nearly ten years of "packing up the van and seeing where it led us" got kind of old. We'd been through everything, including fights, getting jumped, beat up by cops, etc. There was one night where we reached our limit. One night, ten minutes before going on, we were truly debating whether or not to tell the promoter one of our girlfriends had been kidnapped. Pretending to be too upset to play, we would pack up our shit and leave. In retrospect its funny, but at the time... I think that was our last show.

SKoA: Upon starting your solo project, you set out to make music that wasn’t restricted by rules and boundaries. Describe the processes you went through after starting a project where you ultimately had complete freedom.

JB: I was surprised at how it easy it was. I feel the way I output never changes, but rather the final definition attached to the result changes.

SKoA: BBDEP1 was released last year as a free download for fans, and now you have plans to release BBDLP1 in September. Have you been pleased with the reception of your solo project, whether it’s your EP, your remixes, or your singles?

JB: People have been very kind, and I'm still very new to this and hope to get better. It's always cool when someone gives a shit.

SKoA: You teamed up with M83 to do a remix of Daft Punk’s “Fall” for the Tron: Legacy Reconfigured album. What was it like working with M83 on the remix, and how did it feel remixing the music of Daft Punk?

JB: It was a very fun weekend for me.  Anthony's a dope musician, so its always enlightening to have a dialogue like that. Plus, my french is shit, so we had to communicate sonically. It's like three chefs making you a stew to stick your dick in.

SKoA: The first LP under the Big Black Delta moniker, BBDLP1, is set for release in September. How are you preparing for the upcoming release, and how are you feeling personally? Are there any plans for a tour in support of the album?

JB: I'm preparing by giving the music out and letting people digest it on their own accord. With this project, if you want more, you'll let me know kind of thing. My friend Caspar at Version Industries has designed a lot of wonderful artwork so the listener can see it the same time. As far as a tour goes, if you want me and Mahsa and Amy to come play, let that shit be known as well.

SKoA: You have an upcoming show on June 29th at The Satellite in Los Angeles, and will be joined by Violet Tremors and The Present Moment. Can you describe what it’s like to perform live on-stage And what do you like, or dislike, about live performances as opposed to working in the studio?

JB: Playing live is like a compliment.  When you hear it, it usually makes you nervous and suspicious, but, if you take it for face value, its wonderful. That make sense? Thought so. In the studio you can undo, when it's live you can't. Is one better than the other? I ask myself that all the time.

SKoA: One last question. What is the future plan for Mellowdrone? Any new EPs or LPs in the works?

JB: Nothing now, but never say never.