Not fitting a scene as inspiration – Interview with Caleb Straus
Based in Austin, Texas Caleb Straus is one of those artists that you will surely have a hard time putting in a certain genre category. However, his twisted, experimental and unorthodox approach to music-making in combination with influences varying from Nine Inch Nails to The Dillinger Escape Plan make his work really stand out and his presence and appreciation in a tight, supportive but also very honest community as Drooble is a proof artists should seek their true selves in order to be noticed in the busy music world. Hear it all from Caleb in the interview below.
Hello, please, present yourself. How did you become a musician?
My name is Caleb Straus, and I am a vocalist and composer, as well as an actor, director, and writer based in Austin, Texas. I run the multimedia production entity Snout Productions (www.snoutproductions.org), which is a housing entity for my film and music works, as well as some printed media. I’ve been obsessed with music since I was about 14 years old. Hearing Nine Inch Nails ‘The Downward Spiral’ for the first time was made me realize that I had to do this.
Introduce your current musical projects and tell us what makes each one special for you!
I currently compose, sing, or front for three projects, Wurmhole (my solo project which is a mix of r’n’b, dark jazz, and some industrial sounds), Emzy Enzy (a mix of hardcore industrial, metal, punk, lounge, and cinematic sounds) and PLUS (a fictional rock band that is part of my multimedia IT’S OVER Universe (https://www.snoutproductions.org/it-s-over). All three projects give me different opportunities as a musician, and they keep me balanced. I also compose film and theatrical scores, both for my own films and productions, as well as for others.
What keeps you inspired?
That’s a tough one because I don’t know… it never feels like work? Things just pour out and I feel the responsibility to document them. I purely trust my gut and instinct. I’m not a very cerebral musician. Other than some vocal lessons I picked up along the way while performing in musical theatre, and some trumpet lessons briefly in 7th grade, I’m self-taught. And I suppose, to an extent, I’m rather selfish about it. I don’t adhere to one genre or scene. I get into certain sounds or styles and I ape those things. Guys like Mike Patton and David Bowie are my biggest inspirations. It’s always chasing a question, “What would happen if I did THIS?”
What is your all-time favorite record and how did it change you as an artist?
This is like choosing a favorite child, but I always have to come back to ‘The Fragile’, by Nine Inch Nails. It was the first record that made me tune my ear onto the idea that a single artist, or a single record for that matter, didn’t have to stay in one musical place. It could bob and weave and take you on a journey that was almost cinematic. And that meant dynamics! I can still put that record on a front to back and go on that journey. It’s a total nostalgia trip for me, and I embrace that, but that’s the one that never leaves. Other contenders are ‘California’ by Mr. Bungle, ‘Outside’ by David Bowie, Slipknot’s ‘Volume 3: The Subliminal Verses’, and Dillinger Escape Plan’s ‘Irony is a Dead Scene’ EP.
How is your local music scene in your perspective? Do you feel like you belong there?
I don’t mean to sound like I’m whining, but I’ve never really felt like I belong to any musical scene. I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. The times I’ve played shows in my current city, other bands were always very supportive and encouraging, so they’re nice people! But musically, I don’t feel like I have much in common with them. Everything is very genre-specific in most local music scenes, and this is not the way I prefer to work. I realize that might kill my marketability! But I’m at total peace with that. I just want to keep creating and sharing it with whoever I’m lucky enough to talk into listening.
What are your favorite software and hardware tools for music production?
I use whatever gets the job done. I’m not a gear head at all! I use Reason for programming and sampling, and I use an ANCIENT copy of Magix Music Studio as my primary DAW. I find most DAWS do all the same things with different interfaces. I also have a Numark DJ/Media unit that I use in live performances for the electronic components of my music, and we use it to do some sampling and scratching too. I have a couple of cheapish Fender cut guitars I use and I’m pretty sure my bass guitar was from Wal-Mart. So yeah, I’m sophisticated.
What is your songwriting process like?
It varies from piece to piece, but it typically involves me either messing around on my guitar, on a piano or in Reason. I find that my primary strength as a composer and songwriter is my ability to take several simple musical layers and lay them on top of one another to make a more complex whole. I’m always trying to stretch beyond that, but that is the drawing board I go back to when I need to cleanse the pallet or ‘reboot the proverbial hard drive’.
Out of all the live shows you played, which one was the most memorable, and why?
The most memorable honestly wasn’t even one of our best shows. It wasn’t bad, but there were sound problems. Emzy Enzy was on a bill with several other local acts in Austin, all of whom were more from the “indie” scene, whatever that means. Here we were, this industrial juggernaut playing all these hardcore songs with a drum machine next to a band that looked like lumberjacks and sounded like Coldplay, a band that seemed like it was a 70’s horror movie theme rockabilly thing, and the headliner I don’t even remember. I’m not sure who put that bill together, but they were either a mad genius or they qualify for an entry in the DSM. Our set pretty much frightened all the straights and nuns in the audience, but it was the aftermath that made it all so memorable.
There was this guy, who took an interest in every band playing that night, for whatever reason. When I say “took an interest”, I mean giving unsolicited advice. He then claimed that he was one Scott Putesky, a.k.a Daisy Berkowitz, Marilyn Manson’s original guitarist. Now, every member of my band is a huge Manson fan, and we knew better, but we played along. My guitarist, Dustin, whom I started the band with (may he rest in peace) had um…well… he had a few. So he starts playing up this huge hero worship scenario with this guy, and telling him what a huge fan he is, and how is Marilyn in real life? Would they ever get back together for a reunion? And the guy is eating it up, certain his scheme is working. I don’t even remember how it escalated, but our friend “Daisy Berkowitz” pissed off one of the members of the other bands. Fists were thrown. This local, hipster dude in lumberjack clothing who seemed to be terrified of us after we played mopped the floor with this guy. His nose was gushing blood, and he got ejected from the club. The lumberjack guy cries out (still believing it!) “You can shove your 1996 credentials up your @$$! No one gives a f*** about Marilyn Manson anymore!!”
My guitarist, Dustin, who’s been sucking up to the guy all night, puts his boot on his butt, shoves him out the door and yells, “Yeah!! Get the f*** outta here!!”
The look on the impostor’s face was pretty priceless. What stands out to me as being the most delicious thing, is the fact that this guy left never knowing that we knew he wasn’t Daisy. He left thinking we all bought it and didn’t care. That was definitely a night we’ll always remember. My bass player and I still talk about it.
What is your biggest musical goal?
To continue to make music on my own terms, release it to the world, and have people enjoy it. On whatever scale that is possible.
How has being on Drooble helped you as a musician?
This is what I’ve been searching for years! Facebook and Twitter have left a sour taste in my mouth. People yelling at each other over everything and anything. It doesn’t foster an environment that I feel is healthy or beneficial to artists. To see something like Drooble, where Karma not only exists, but it’s a tangible currency, and see so many artists of all walks and styles contributing to a group conversation and genuinely supporting their fellow artists is really refreshing. It feels like this is the way social media was supposed to be. I really appreciate this site, my fellow artists who share this space with me, and anyone whom I am lucky enough to get to listen to.