For two years, Cryptic Productions has lived up to its commitment to Pensacola by bringing in genre-bending music, local art and vendors from across the region and city. Their 2nd anniversary party at Vinyl Music Hall will be no different. Self-described party DJ White Noise will bring his Southern rap and club anthems to the mix, while live electronic band Higher Learning combines DJ elements with those of a four-piece rock and roll band. Higher Learning drummer Rohan Prakash and bassist Ryan Renoud spoke with the IN about the perks of performing in an independent band, being adaptable on stage, and the differences between playing in the studio and at a live show.
IN: What separates Higher Learning from other bands in the live electronic scene?
Renoud: From most of the bands I’ve heard, I believe our sound is more “international,” and by that I really mean British. If you look at our influences you’ll notice most of them are from overseas. We like to use foreign language samples in our music to make it kind of hard for a first time listener to pin down exactly where we’re from. We really dig what’s been going on underground in the UK for the past few years.
IN: What’s the hardest part about reading a crowd?
Renoud: The easiest part about reading a crowd is by how they move during a song that’s made to be danced to. When we’re playing a high energy track, it’s easy to tell if people are feeling it. The crowd will be pulsating and moving like an ocean if they’re into it. When we play our ambient stuff, it becomes a lot harder to tell. Some songs are designed to create an introspective mood. The really tricky part is balancing that desire to please the crowd, while making cutting edge music that that is artistically fulfilling to us. Not that those two have to be mutually exclusive. We’re lucky that we’re usually playing to pretty open minded audiences. That allows us the freedom to focus more on making something new, rather than making something that will please the crowd.
IN: Are there things in the studio that you wish you could do live but can’t?
Renoud: Absolutely, but with modern technology it’s easy to work around. Some of the stuff that happens in the studio might be those little, random coincidences that are impossible to do the same way twice. In those cases, we sample that sound into a computer or one of our samplers for live playback. Some instruments like guitars or autoharp are usually replaced with a keyboard live. Vocals, guitar and percussion could be done live if we had extra musicians with us. Logistically, it hasn’t really made sense for us to have extra people up to this point. But having more people on stage is something we are strongly considering for the future.
IN: What’s the band currently listening to?
Prakash: Right now we’ve been on a Radiohead, Shpongle, Trentemoller, Aphex Twin, Amon Tobin, and Squarepusher kick, but we listen to a lot of Papadosio, String Cheese Incident, Zoogma, Boards of Canada and Lotus as well as many others. We sometimes listen to audio books while we are on the road too.
IN: How has the band evolved both in sound and approach to live shows in its years of existence?
Renoud: When Higher Learning started, we just really want to make an electronic music album. We didn’t think much about how we were going to play it live until well after the album came out. It took weeks to figure out how to incorporate a computer into a live band, because we had almost no experience using computers like that. We tried many different techniques. But as always, the simplest way is typically the most efficient. At first we relied heavily on the computers to produce sounds; we just didn’t have enough people on stage to perform all those parts. But that changed when we added our 4th member, Adam Chelton. Having the extra set of hands on stage let us back off of the pre-made sounds and let us function a bit more like a rock band. Not only that but when he joined he brought with him a wealth of knowledge about sound design, and a lot of fresh ideas. Since then our writing has gotten more minimalistic, taking even more pressure off the computers when were on stag
IN: What are the best and most difficult parts about being in an independently run band?
Prakash: Self-promotion is by far the hardest. We hate doing it. The best is being our own bosses. We have complete creative freedom, we set our own goals and deadlines, work with our friends, and no one can tell us what to do. That’s every child’s dream right? None of us have ever been in a “corporate” band but I imagine that we’d be miserable if we were.