More than just a dope track: An interview with Govinda

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Live instrumentation has always been a heavy subject when it comes to electronic music. Some people think that electronic music should solely consist of sounds made from computers or machines. And then, there are the people that believe that some live instruments accompanying electronically made beats still falls under the category of electronic music.

Besides the point, good music is good music, and there is one musician who is using his talent and knowledge of the classical violin and electronic music to captivate and elevate audiences around the country.

Govinda kicks off his east coast tour this May 2 in Atlanta. The tour includes three Florida dates: May 4 in Tallahassee, May 5 in Gainesville and May 8 in Miami. With a handful of club venues, Govinda will also be performing at numerous festivals throughout the summer including Wakarusa and Camp Bisco.

Follow the jump to find out how Shane O’Madden got into electronic music, his take on stage fright and what the future holds for Govinda.

Govinda is Austin-based producer and composer Shane O’Madden. He studied classical violin at the University of Texas where he fell in love with electronic music. He brings a new and refreshing sound through his beautifully interwoven symphonies of world, dub and electronica. His music has been featured on numerous television shows, and he has shared the stage with some very influential names like Thievery Corporation, Shpongle and STS9.

You’re really well-known for your extensive background in the classical violin. Do you play any other instruments? 

Shane O’Madden- I play a little guitar, and I sing a little and a little piano, just enough to record and write music. There’s a picture of me with a sitar, but I don’t really play the sitar very well. I would never claim to be a sitarist.  But, I think that was more on the theme of world music because my ancestors are from the Middle East. We’re Syrian. That’s where the influence from the Middle East comes from.

So, I’m guessing that you like to work with the violin the most?

Ya, that’s my main instrument and what I’ve focused on throughout my life.

You also have said that your world travels have influenced the music you make today. Are there any specific experiences that you had abroad that changed the way you view the world or music in general?

That’s a really good question, but I don’t think anything specific. Traveling in general and being inspired by different cultures around the world, different food, and dance, and people and languages — all of that together made me who I am. I’ve had some specific experiences like busking in Florence, Italy. It was just for fun; I just wanted the experience. There’s a lot of amazing musicians playing on the streets in Italy.

You obviously have traveled around the world. What has been your favorite part about traveling or your favorite place that you’ve visited?

I had a really magical experience in Nice, France. I haven’t been everywhere, so I think that I would like some places better that I haven’t been. I’ve been to Moscow, and that was pretty magical. It’s kind of dark and snowy, but I had some pretty cool experiences there. My favorite city in the world is probably San Francisco or Vancouver.

Really? I love San Francisco, by the way.

Ya, that’s my baby, my number one.

Would you say that any specific country has had the biggest impact on you?  

Well, I haven’t been to India yet, and I know that I’m really fond of the music there. And I haven’t been to the Middle East, so it’s kind of an incomplete journey for me. But, no, I don’t think that traveling to countries has been the biggest influence for me. It’s been more getting in touch with my bloodline, my roots, my grandfather who taught me about the Romani’s, the gypsies. He inspired me a lot to take my violin to the next level and really pursue the career within it.

Was there ever a point where you doubted if you could make a career with the violin?

Absolutely. Ya, when I was in college and high school, I wanted to be a classical soloist. And then, I quickly found out when I went to the university that I was nowhere near good enough, and it may never be. It’s just one of those mastery instruments that you have to dedicate every breathing moment of your life to the technique. I guess I was more interested in creating new music and new expression rather than playing ancient music that was written hundreds of years ago, which was also great. I was more interested in the composition aspect, so I went that direction. And when I did, I realized that I did have a career opportunity as a violinist. If I was going to be a classical soloist, I might not. I made it work for me.

Tell me about the first time you heard electronic music and why you decided to incorporate it into the violin.

I was a violinist first, obviously, and I wanted to create new music. I explored things like playing the sitar and doing singing/songwriting for a while. I was in a rock metal band. I was in a punk band and did not listen to club music. Then, I think it was when Portishead’s Dummy first came out, and I fell in love with it. I just wanted to make beats. That was my new passion. So, I got into whatever electronic-driven music I could find and learned how to do it. Since I already played the violin, I felt like that was a unique aspect. There’s a lot of people making electronic music. There are a lot of producers out there. They all were kind of just working with lead loops. Since I have this unique skill of playing the violin, I figured I would put it together. All of it together created the sound I have today.

So, more about your live shows. How did the decision come about to use dancers with your live performance?

I’ve always loved dance: modern day, different styles. I was brought up with dance around me. My mom was a ballerina. She has always done ballet, and it was a big part of my life. I loved anything visual, like the visual aspect of the performance art, aspect of dance. I felt like that was also unique. I’m very visually oriented and stimulated, so I try to create beautiful things on stage. Also, I’m not 100 percent sure I’m a performer. So, I kind of like to be a little bit in the background sometimes and create other little eye candy for people so they’re not focused on me the whole time.

Do you have stage fright?

No. I used to have it really bad as a classical musician, but I don’t get it anymore. I guess it comes with  confidence that I feel better about what I’m doing. But, performing is a whole different animal. You can be a great musician and a really boring performer. So, I want to create a show that is really stimulating for people and really exciting to see.

I was just talking to some friends about how crazy your performance at Gnarnia in North Carolina was. They put you on an indoor stage, and so many people were there that they had to control the amount of people inside.  

I actually had to go to the bathroom, and there wasn’t a men’s room inside. So, I walked out, and I couldn’t get back in the building to play my show. There was this huge line, and they weren’t letting me back in. I was like, ‘Dude, I’m about to go on stage. They’re waiting to see me. I have to go in.’

Haha. So, do you use dancers for all of your shows?

I used to, but now there are few that I don’t, and those tend to be the lower budget ones. Obviously, you have to pay them. I used to fly around with dancers, but that got too expensive so I started hiring regional dancers. So, that’s now what I do; I work with regional artists around the country who will show up and dance with me. It gives it more variety. At the same time, I prefer to work with a few different people who know the music really well and can do some choreography too.

That’s really cool. It gives a local aspect to your show.

Ya, I agree. That’s the cool part about it. I might start using the same dancers again in the future. When the budget is there to have some people fly around with me and do some shows, then I’ll do that. But right now, I’m kind of in-between.

Nice. I think that even though you aren’t doing that, your alternative methods are very effective. To switch gears, what do you think about DJ sets versus live sets?

Well, I play live violin in all of my sets. I always do that. That’s the unique part of what I do that people want to see. So, I’m actually not behind my laptop the whole time.

So, do you DJ or have you ever?

I don’t DJ because that would be playing other people’s music, but I do an electronic live set. So, the difference, obviously, is that it’s all my original music. You would call that a producer. I’m back there doing an electronic set with my laptop, which I guess some would call DJing, but I’m actually kind of a shitty DJ, so I wouldn’t say that. It’s all Abelton Live. A lot of producers started using that to play their own music these days.

I was just at a Big Gigantic show, and I think that the element of live instruments completely changes the electronic music experience, and not a lot of people realize that. For you, what would be the most ideal environment to make music in?

Well, I love putting on big shows that have a huge visual element, obviously. So, in a theatre. I like people to be up, dancing. I don’t like them to necessarily be seated because then it gets sleepy, and I have a lot of energy in my shows. So, I think maybe like an old Gothic theatre or church that has a performance stage with a really dope sound system and people who are willing to take the journey and not get torn away and do shots. I mean, that’s fun too, but I want people to be engaged in the show.

And from a production standpoint, if you could produce anywhere, at any location, where would it be?

I love dramatic landscapes, so mountains and beaches are definitely really inspiring to me. If I could have a really beautiful home with a huge window that overlooks the ocean and a mountain, ya, that’s probably my number one. I feel like Northern California has always worked well for me.

Out of all of the tracks and albums you’ve made, what has been your favorite or the one song that sticks out to you the most or the one that means the most to you?

The song “Contact” on my last record is really special to me because my daughter actually sang on it. The lyrics came from a dream I had where my best friend who passed away, and the mother of my daughter, came to me. I woke up and wrote these lyrics, and it was about making contact with that dimension, with somebody I loved in a different dimension. So, that song is really special to me. I’ve definitely come further with my production technique and capabilities since then, but as far as the song, I think it has everything I’ve dreamed of doing.

In your opinion, what is the single most important thing that people should take away from your music?

To be inspired. To make art or music in their own lives, whether it’s in the form of art and music or what they bring into their daily lives with a sense of inspiration and elevation. I guess I want to inspire people on a higher, more spiritual level rather than just them walking away with, “That was a dope track.”

I agree. I think you accomplish that on more than one level. This will be your second year at Wakarusa, what are you going to do differently this year?

I actually am going to be doing a different set than what I normally do this year because I’m doing a sunrise set this time. I rarely ever do sunrise sets, so I’m not even sure I know what the hell I’m doing because the set list I put together has very much of a rising-action feel, so I usually play at night. The sunrise set, I don’t know how to treat it, like if it’s going to be more chill or if I’m going to keep the energy going. Last year, I saw some sunrises, and everybody still wants to party and dance. So, I think I’m going to try to keep the energy up musically, but I might just do some different stuff.

So, what is next for Govinda in 2013? 

I’m working with a visual artist, Boris Karpman out of Denver, to do projections and 3D mapping. It’s going to be on the dancers or with dancers. It’s going to be more of a live visual show. That’s my main focus. I have a new album in the works, and it probably won’t be done until the end of the year because I just released some music not too long ago. But, it’s a full-length album, and I plan to release it on a label this time.

via Bionic Beatlab

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