Sunday, July 19, 2009


Q&A: Richard Jankovich (Pocket)


Frontman of electro-pop band Burnside Project, Richard Jankovich (aka Pocket) moved to Los Angeles after having lived in New York for a little over a decade. His current project is music-by-pocket, a compilation of remixes being digitally released, one song at a time. Remixes include songs by The Chameleons, Joanna Newsom, Cat Power and Radiohead, and they are just a few of many musicians on his checklist of collaborations and remixes. Richard recently dropped by at our studio in Echo Park and spoke with us about Los Angeles and the art of remixing.

EM: Tell us about your reasons for moving from New York to Los Angeles as a working musician.

I was in New York from ‘96 ’til 2007. I’ve always wanted to live in different places, and I love New York City, but it definitely was time for something new. I’m married as well so my wife and I actually moved to Portland, Oregon first, and we were there for a year and a half, and it just wasn’t the right fit. And then we came [to LA] and we’ve been here almost a year.

I’ve always wanted to move to L.A. since about 2006. I just think it’s a really interesting city. I think that particularly in the last five years—not that I’m a scholar by any means on L.A.—but I think really in the last five years the city has changed a lot. There’s a really healthy music scene here, there’s a really vibrant arts scene. It reminds me a lot of New York, when I moved there in ‘96. There’s a lot happening, and you can see that it’s going in one similar progression. L.A. is really becoming a real hub for culture in America. I think the music scene’s already surpassed New York’s in the last couple years, just in terms of the sheer volume of quality bands that are coming out of L.A. And I wanted to be able to afford rent. [laughs]

EM: How did you come up with the name “Pocket”?

That actually was sort of an accident. I had done that Joanna Newsom remix, and it was the first thing that I ever did that wasn’t Burnside Project. I was friends with Dave from Brooklyn Vegan, and he really wanted to post it and asked me what he should call it. Because [Newsom's] voice is so tiny, I just called it “My Pocket Mix,” meaning that it was small enough to fit in your pocket. When Dave ran the feature, he referred to me as “Pocket.” It started spreading through the Internet a little bit and I thought well, it’s good a name as any. To be honest, it doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning. It just sort of stuck.

EM: Your remixes and singles include a wide range of musicians from varying genres. How did you develop such an eclectic appreciation of music?

I didn’t get the music bug until high school. I grew up in a largely unmusical family, meaning music wasn’t that important to my family life, but I grew up playing the piano. But I didn’t feel a real kinship with music until high school. I was listening to the radio like everyone else, but I started hanging out with these kids who were listening to New Wave and punk. Literally, a lightbulb went off. I thought, oh, this is why people are so excited about music. Culturally, it was different and really spoke to me. I first discovered hardcore, punk music from the late eighties—I’m old if you haven’t figured that out yet. [laughs] The music at that time was Jesus and Mary Chain, New Order, The Cure, The Smiths, all those typical name-check bands. I also started getting into the techno/rave scene in the early nineties, like acid house. From then on, I started consuming music in massive quantities, from nineties indie rock to D&B to trip-hop, as well as glitch, IDM and all the various post-rock genres.

EM: Part of your project involves a long check-list of musicians, recent and past, that you aspire to work with. Tell us about your progress in this effort.

I contacted about half the people on the list, and while I didn’t work with all of them, I felt that since I made the effort to work with them—whether they could or couldn’t—it’s like they’re off the list, you know? [laughs] Some people were in for awhile, and they dropped out. But I’ve been able to have a lot of conversations with those people as well, which is very rewarding. I’ve worked with about 25 artists who I’ve been really interested in working with, but there’s still a lot more.

EM: How do you convince people to work with you?

That’s a really good question. My band Burnside Project achieved a few things. We weren’t a household name by any means, but our name was recognized in the music business, especially in the indie music business. But I was really surprised when those first couple of singers signed on to work with me. Once I had those first three people onboard, it was much easier to get the others on the list, because they look at who you’re working with and by affiliation you increase your respect.

The very first person was Mark Burgess of The Chameleons, who are fantastic. You know that band The Horrors, who are really big right now? They sound almost exactly like The Chameleons. Anyway, when he agreed to work with me, I was really surprised. The second person was Steve Kilbey of The Church, another eighties New Wave/psychedelic band from Australia. Once I had those couple of names, it was easier to go out to other people and the process would be pretty simple. I would generally create a few pieces that I thought would be appropriate and then would send them over, and they would pick one that they felt a good vibe with.

EM: What makes a good remix? How do you generally approach a song?

Even though remixing is definitely for the dancefloor, I look at it as creating a pop song. When I’m doing a remix, I’m very aware of how easy it is to do a really bad remix. For example, you just throw a boom boom boom underneath, and suddently it’s a dancefloor remix. I look at it more as a producer. I ask, what elements of the song do I like and want to keep? Then I try to recreate the song from scratch. Sometimes it’s not a dance song at all, like my Radiohead remix. I try to make the remix a better song than the original, not just a dance version of the original. A lot of times, I’ll put guitars, mandolin, tambourine, anything that I have lying around, in addition to your standard dance elements like synthesizers and drum machines.

EM: In the past, you spoke of plans to perform your music on-stage. Describe what you’re planning for future live sets.

It’s really challenging, because my catalog has a different singer on just about every song. If you look at the single and remixes I’ve been putting out this year, there’s not one consistent voice other than my music. So I’ve been brainstorming ways to make it a live experience, something between a D.J. and a band. Some of the ideas involve having dancers on stage, moving stage parts—almost something like a play. The music’s going to be all pre-recorded, of course. There’s just no way I could get around having Robyn Hitchcock sing one song and having Radiohead and Bj√∂rk doing a duet on another. It’s just impossible. I’m looking at a lot of video art to bring the singers into the venue and have them represented but not necessarily physically there. I’m probably going to have a live drummer who’s going to pound through the whole thing. I’ve hooked up with an amazing video artist, or “digital stenographer” as she calls it. She’s done stage shows for Duran Duran and she’s a real pro. I’m really lucky to be able to work with her.

EM: Tell us about your more commercial work involving music and branding.

I consult with brands. This is basically how I pay the bills. I work with brands that are interested in using music in either their commercials or their retail spaces. I’ve done that for about ten years. I started work in advertising and representing catalogs, and now I consult. Some of the work I do right now is for ABC. My partner and I help them select music for their promos, like for Gray’s Anatomy and Lost. It’s really rewarding, and it keeps me in tune with music and feeds quite a bit of my creative side, because I have to listen to all the new music that comes out everyday.

EM: How have advertising and independent music intersected in the past decade?

I look back at ‘98 and ‘99, when Volvo used the Minutemen and Volkswagen licensed “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake. Those were big turning points. There have always been clever uses of music, but that really started a trend. Ten years later, brands at least think they want to use “indie” music. Some brands say they want that but they end up going the safe route. But a lot of bands are very interested in independent music. There’s been so much that’s happened in the last couple of years that’s interesting. For example, Bacardi signed Groove Armada. They actually signed a band, and they’re not even a label. When you look at the music industry and the declining revenues from consumer sales, there’s very little avenues for revenue except licensing. I’m sure you know about The Frey and how much ABC and Gray’s Anatomy were responsible for launching that band. I think a week after that song appeared on Gray’s in 2005, digital sales shot up by almost 300 percent.

EM: What do you think of music fans who take issue with their favorite bands being featured on commercials?

There’s always going to be the purists. In a way, there’s a part of me that’s a purist too, but at the same time, it’s just the evolution of the industry. In many ways, it reminds me of fine art, where it’s not necessarily driven by consumer purchases anymore. It’s driven by the patron model. I look at licensing similarly. I think that artists, somewhat begrudgingly, have gotten into these business relationships, because it’s hard to make money anywhere else for musicians, especially recording artists.


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