According to a recent press release: “Regarded for his slick, genre-bending electronic rock, Bret Autrey - commonly known as Blue Stahli - produces cyberpunk anthems of the fringe zeitgeist: Doom/disco; Industrial/pop; Chillwave/glitch-hop; avant-garde inspiration from David Lynch and Philip K. Dick merge with the saccharine excess of 80s and 90s straight-to-VHS films to define the tempest at the core of Blue Stahli - visceral connection to a massive range of sonic emotion. Bret returns to his tracking roots on Obsidian, the third of the trilogy of albums following Quartz (released on 10/2) and Copper (11/13). Using modern tracker Renoise to craft the newest iteration of the Blue Stahli sound, his latest music is a window into his journey through being his mother’s caretaker as she battled malignant brain cancer and mourning the loss of his biggest champion after she passed away in 2018 while additionally reconnecting with his family origins after the loss of a major cornerstone. His mother’s piano is where many of these songs were crafted with its raw, untuned tones making appearances on some of the recordings.” We get Blue Stahli himself to discuss new music, reflection on his past, and much more...
1. Tell us a little about your latest release. What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through? Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?
Someone just seeing this album pop up, may not know that it’s the third album in a trilogy of albums, called the “deadchannel_Trilogy,” all released about a month apart from each other. The musical styles of each record are every bit as thematic as the ordering of the albums, and the accompanying video content that’s been surrounding all of this. The album Quartz was like a blast of reconnection to 90s cyberpunk action and things that inspired me back then, while the album Copper is an electronic expanse and is quite a bit weirder than a lot of stuff I’ve done previously. Obsidian is the combination of those two, and also serves as the “destination” from Quartz, while Copper is the road trip in between. Diehard fans may have seen a small glimpse of a few of these tracks via my Instagram stories when I was initially working on them. So someone may have that moment of recognition and think “oh THAT’S what that turned into."
2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?
I have to credit my mom for that. When I was a kid, she rescued an old beat up piano from being taken to a dump. She wanted to have some bit of music in the house, even if it was a piano that was supposed to be junked. I would mess around on that piano and teach myself little melodies. Hell, when I started making electronic music, I would even sample it along with my ratty guitar amp via a cheap Radio Shack microphone straight into the computer. I pay homage to all of this on the Copper album by including that very same piano in some of the tracks. What made me want to actually BE a musician was the fact that music is what provided me with a lot of catharsis during incredibly difficult times. When life was too much, I would escape into headphones, and later, long drives listening to music. The fact that it felt like such comfort (even if it was fleeting) made me want to do that for other people, even if the stuff I’m creating only really makes sense to me.
3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?
More than there being just one specific song or performer, I was big into making mix tapes and mix CD’s of various songs to either fit a mood, serve a purpose (like night driving), or just be a wild mix of different genres. I think the fact that most of what I listened to was strange collections like this, as well as being way into movie soundtracks that had a range of different bands, that guided the way I viewed music and albums. In listening to these things that would swing wildly from different genres, I would always think “why can’t it just be one band that does all of this?”
4. Who would be your main five musical influences?
90s sci-fi/horror/cyberpunk flicks on VHS, old electronic music made on oldschool DOS/Amiga tracker software, long road trips across a vast expanse and losing yourself in an album, the way David Lynch makes films, and the way that playing a guitar through copious amounts of reverb when it’s past midnight just *feels* different and more of a moment to live in rather than during the day.
5. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?
The ultimate dream would have been to work with David Bowie. The way he was able to traverse so many genres and bring a unique artistic flair to everything he did was unmatched.
6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?
Blue Stahli is a range of beat-heavy electronic music that also incorporates rock. That’s probably the most concise way to put it. I honestly never really pay attention to comparisons or get hung up on it since I do a range of different genres, and that may only be applicable to one element, and I totally get that it doesn’t quite fit neatly into a box.
7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?
I’m the only member of Blue Stahli, so I guess that would all fall to me. The extent of my cooking skills stops at “somehow not exploding the microwave when heating up a burrito”. Though the burrito does in fact explode. Hopefully I get the hang of it some day.
8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?
While it’s not someone I’ve seen in person, I probably have to go with Joe Pera because I was just enthralled with every aspect of his show ‘Joe Pera Talks With You’.
9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?
For me, it’s the fact that I have an outlet when dealing with difficult things, or if it’s just something I’m excited about. All the way from discovering a new production technique that I want to explore, to the heavy stuff of dealing with loss and grief by connecting it with art. I’m literally not good at anything else, and am extremely fortunate to make my living by making weird music. I’ve enjoyed making most of the music videos and the extra video content for this trilogy, so sticking with a creative path would rule. Though before going full time making music, I had also spent some time working in medical in a small capacity. While that can be incredibly stressful, even at a small level, there’s also something huge to the fact that some of that stress has been in the service of helping someone.
10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?
I would love for someone to ask if it was possible to save yourself from being trapped in a vat of salsa armed only with an endless supply of chips. It would force me to see if this was possible . . . for science. Conversely, I would get tired of people constantly asking me to please just use the various ropes, ladders, and other lifelines thrown to me to escape this salsa vat, as it would distract me from my spicy hypothesis.
11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?
Oh absolutely, everyone has those, but I’m more focused on the here and now. Recently I lost my mom to a horrific battle with brain cancer, and dealing with something like that (especially in a caretaker role) only reaffirms how little time we have, and how many things ultimately don’t matter in the long run. I hope everyone focuses on doing what they can with the time we all have left.
12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?
I wouldn’t want to ruin the magic of great albums by stumbling in, but it WOULD be amazing to just be a fly on the wall to see how some of the singular moments you love came together. Just something like being in the room while Billie Holiday sang “Gloomy Sunday” would be incredible.
BONUS QUESTION – Due to the current world situation with COVID-19 / quarantine / shelter in place, what have you discovered you miss the most from your life before the pandemic struck?
Definitely the moments that are missed from not being able to see family. I’m looking forward to the day when everyone can get together without worry.
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