Last week we had the opportunity to chat with jack of all trades Klayton from Celldweller about his social life, plans for a trip to the UK and his label FIXT helping international artists. Of course, we also discussed the themes and ideas that are present on his new album ‘Wish Upon a Blackstar’.
“I can’t just be satisfied with making beats and playing guitar riffs I have to start a label, a remix competition and have a clothing line”
To set things in motion, we asked how important surroundings were to the creative process of Celldweller. Klayton explained that typically, he doesn’t take too much notice, “I am a New Yorker and moved to Detroit a few years ago. I think I was pretty much tired of living in New York because I had been there my whole life. There and in Detroit I have found it is pretty much the same deal, once I create my own studio and that’s as far as I move or where I go. So really, being in these places as cool as they are, they don’t really affect what I do very much.” Klayton also mentioned that whilst there isn’t a lot going on to impress him outside of his welcome cell, there is much for him to enjoy on the inside, “The music scene here has changed so much. This was the birth place of techno, there was a lot of industrial activity and things have just died down. I have my studio here, and I’ve got an artist on my label [Bret from Blue Stahli] in the facility. He’s working on his album right now. So there’s a lot of activity within my own little circle but outside of that I don’t really talk to people very much.”
Given the very personal nature of Klayton’s material we asked if he had a song that meant the most to him. Reflecting on the past and personal emotions he said, “It’s hard to say because the first Celldweller album is really just one big personal experience. It’s a reflection of my own life or it was at that time. That album has been out for around six years, so that’s where I was then.”
He explained that though he is proud of each Celldweller song and the way that people have connected with his words since the release of his self-titled debut in 2003, he is constantly moving forward and making progress both personally and musically, “I think as people we change. I think that’s reflected on the new album. I think lyrically it will be a lot different. I can tell you that with the first album there were a lot of songs that when I was out touring and singing them live I would just shut my eyes and it was like I’m feeling and remembering why I wrote the words. I’ve always written things to deal with what I have gone through. Fortunately it seems like other people have heard these songs and can relate to them which is great.” He continued to discuss his attitude towards past material, “When I finish a song I am pretty much done and I feel like it’s time to move on. I always think I am going to do something better than I did the time before. Once the music is finished and gets released, I phase out of it.”
When the subject of an international tour came up we were pleasantly surprised that Klayton had some interesting plans, “I am not sure how it happened but around a year ago I was talking with Bret [Blue Stahli] about DJ culture. I have always toured as a rock band, and we were talking and he just kind of threw out there ‘Why don’t you try just touring as a one man deal?’ and for some reason I had never thought about it. That idea was so exciting to me that I’ve re-thought the whole concept of touring and playing out live.
He mentioned that the desire to create a bigger visual element within the live arena came from a missed opportunity to support some friends, “When Pendulum did their US tour a few months ago they had asked me to come out and support them and I wasn’t ready to do it as much as I really wanted to be able to hang and play with them, I couldn’t pull it off. That confirmed to me that maybe I do need to be thinking about a live show. Though I can tell you that this time around for sure, I will find some way to make it to the UK and I will find some way to get to Europe and Japan to play live.”
Klayton’s epic ideas are continuing to expand towards further exploration of fan participation, video and film, “I am approaching this album in a completely different way – I am not only considering videos for it, but videos for every single track if I can make that happen. As with the FIXT remix competitions where I have put up a bunch of remixes from the first Celldweller record up on the site, I’m going to be doing that for this upcoming record and I am going to be doing that for every single song. So, on this new album every track will become its own little entity.” Klayton revealed that there will be some interesting opportunities coming up for listeners,“We’re telling people they can download tracks from me or get the ‘Soundtrack For The Voices In My Head’ album for free and if you’re a video maker, go and make a video, submit it and if we like what we are seeing this stuff could end up being released at some point on DVD and we’ll feature it on the site.”
Moving on to discuss how he fights distraction within the studio environment Klayton explained that although he loves to get things done, recently, when it’s been time to chill he has been looking into new ways to communicate with his supporters and cellmates, he said, “I’m not a guy who likes to sit around and wait for things. I like to get things done. The problem is the music I make is so complicated it just takes so long to do. So I really do find times when I need some kind of distraction because I will lose my mind otherwise.” He expanded, “Recently I’ve re-skinned Celldweller.com. So now when you go there the first and only thing you see on the page is my blog. I am pretty consistently writing text or doing video uploads, I am probably going to be debuting sound clips from the new album soon. It gives me something to do when I want to take a guitar and throw it through the window.”
Having recently taken part in a panel for Canadian Music Week, we asked Klayton whether he might consider doing something similar in the UK or internationally to help potential artists and he seemed eager to pursue the idea. “I would certainly do it depending on the situation and the time. I think the beautiful thing about the technological age that we are in right now is that we [FIXT] are now able to present other artists to film and television industry because we already have the connections. Most recently we’ve got tracks from Technical Itch and Skynet – they’re submitting music for film and TV so there you’ve got some big guys in the Drum & Bass scene. We’ve worked with various artists who are in the same boat where it’s like people are looking for ways to get in. You do have to have a certain quality to your music and it has to be built in a certain way but once you do this and understand the principles there’s room for growth.”
He explained that there is a way for UK artists to get involved, “For people in the UK, they could go to FIXTonline.com and submit music and if we are interested we could get people going on music for film and television. As an artist it’s hard to infiltrate certain structures that are that large, I mean, how do you approach the film and TV industry? It’s huge! So you have to know somebody and it takes a long time to get in. He continued, “With Celldweller we have been building that for many years. So, a lot of those relationships are in place. Blue Stahli has a track up for Star Trek, he’s getting a track up for Race To Witch Mountain and he’s getting a track up for Wolverine. There are three pretty big movies and he hasn’t even finished his first record yet. He’s making really great music and we’re taking it to the right people and they’re saying this is great so we’re looking for artists all the time that have a good sound.”
On the subject of the popular FIXT remixes, Klayton excitedly talks us through the inspiration behind an idea which has given a number of mainstream and up-and–coming artists a chance to showcase their skills. “It was 2000 and it was the song ‘Symbiont’ – I took stems from the track and just decided to put them out there. That was really before I had heard of anybody doing that kind of thing. I’m not saying I invented the concept by any means whatsoever because there have been plenty of people that have done it, but it was not as prevalent as it is today.” He moved on to discuss about how he set the idea in motion again some years later, “It was actually Jimmy [Rhodes] who brought that back up. He tends to remember things that I block out. He was a fan of my music for so many years; he remembers some of the ‘nitty-gritty’ details that I have tried to forget. He was like ‘you did that remix competition’ and I had forgotten. So I pulled up the old sessions and stated exporting wav. Files and just launching into it. Every time we released another set of remix files it meant that the contest would grow and more and more people would get involved.” Klayton explained that with the new album, there will be some major guests involved, “Right now we have Toksin, and he’s going to be remixing ‘So Long Sentiment’ and then we have BT lined up to mix ‘Louder Than Words’. So, for every song on this record we are going to try and get some bigger level guys to do mixes so that we can put together another whole album and the title of that is going to be based on title of the new Celldweller Record [‘Wish Upon a Blackstar’].
On a brief but enjoyable tangent we moved on to talk about Klayton’s clothing line which shares the same name as his label. “FIXT Clothing actually happened before FIXT music and the label did,” he said. The clothing was the first thing that I branded FIXT. I had created around 40 different designs for clothing that I wanted to develop at some point and really it was a question of timing, money and having the right people in place to make that happen.” Klayton then disclosed what led to the project being put on an indefinite hiatus, “we just ran into a lot of brick walls, it was something that the artistic side of me just wanted to jump in to, but the practical side of me told me to wait a while. So really, we did a few pieces of FIXT clothing and we’ve pulled the plug on it for now. I say for now, because I am the type of person that’s just driven to do many different things. I can’t just be satisfied with making beats and playing guitar riffs I have to start a label, a remix competition and have a clothing line.”
Alongside his reputation for helping new artists, as a musician within the crossover genres (blending electronics, dance and rock music) and as a designer, Klayton has also created quite the stir for himself providing music and scoring for various games and films. Some of his best work has been heard on trailers for the third Spiderman and most recently Iron Man. We asked him to explain how his music is picked up, “Essentially what happens is that when I have finished a track and have new tracks to hand out, they get circulated to the people that we know. So they’re getting these new tracks and if they feel that it fits they will go with it. Like the queue that was used in Iron Man is ‘Birthright’ from the new record. It’s not even the final version; I haven’t even finished it yet. But, they got the song and heard certain parts of it and said yeah we want to use this.”
When asked if over the years his ego has inflated since he has discovered mainstream success, given that it’s likely everyone reading has heard a Celldweller track whilst watching a movie without even knowing it. He asserted that he would never let it get to that point, “I try and not to have a big ego about it and think that I am better than I actually am. I’m a human and I can tell you this, that when you write your next ‘shitty’ song or album and they hear it, if it sucks they are not going to use so, I don’t ever let myself get to a place where I think that I am that great that no matter what I do it’s going to get used. You know, I tell the same thing to any of the artists that I have around me. It’s like,‘You’re as good as your next song, and you’re as good as your next album.’ He did admit though, that it can feel pretty cool sometimes to catch his music attached to a great film, “If I happen to go and see a movie and they will then play a trailer for Iron Man or something and I will actually get to hear my song. Wow, that’s a cool feeling but I don’t go out of my way to gloat about it because you’ve got to keep moving forward you know?”
Given his appreciation for fans, we wanted to know if he thought that this kind of thing had been lost in the music industry, Klayton explained that appreciating those that buy the music and giving back to them is a real key to success, “For me in the beginning of my career I didn’t do this type of thing, really it was based on my insecurity I really didn’t think anybody was going to like what I was doing, there were no pictures and I was not accessible at all. Nowadays as an artist you have to do that because if you don’t reach out to your fans why are they going to continue to follow you.”He moved on to talk about how important it is as an artist to keep fans “in the loop” with what’s going on, “In this day and age people are so much more accessible than they have ever been. You can go and post a blog even on something like Myspace and instantly reach the entire world if they are watching. What it is, my fan base is always looking for some kind of update and truthfully over the last year it has been difficult because I haven’t really been doing as much as I would have really liked. I am trying to do a few things now, where I am getting people on board to shoot some video and then they can upload it so then I don’t have to worry about anything else but actually doing the video and blog then going back to work. I do think that it would be helpful for bands and you do see a fair amount of musicians reaching out to their fan base because that’s really all you have right now.”
Klayton is constantly working to find new and interesting ways to please his following; having already released a number of studio blogs, he told us that there are more ideas in the pipeline. “We are looking into a site that allows you to stream live video in real time so I am thinking about at some point within this process just throwing the web cam up and letting it stream for an hour or two live in the studio and whatever happens, happens. I am looking for little things like that which can give people an insight into how I am making the record and why it’s taking so long and hopefully when the end product is done, they will be able to feel a little bit more like they were there whilst it was being done.”
Klayton mentioned that the whole album process is exciting to be a part of but that there are some parts that he enjoys working on more than others, “Once vocals are done, I’m always glad but it’s not my favourite part of the process. I love creating melodies and creating harmonies along with stacking vocals, it’s really a lot of fun. However the work involved in doing that – there’s a fair amount to it. Truthfully, just being able to sit in-front of a computer or a mixing desk and just dialling up sound and doing sound design, blowing things up and running things through different plug-ins and different hardware, just making weird sounds and then trying to incorporate that into a track is way more exciting.”
He continued on to discuss how his last release ‘Soundtrack For The Voices In My Head’ meant a chance for the normally chaotic artist to relax and regress into the past a little”, he said. That’s where I came from. I mean in my earliest musical creations [Circle Of Dust, Argyle Park] I was into heavy metal and graduated from there into the Industrial thing. It was all based on sound and sonics you know. The ‘Soundtrack’ material, I really haven’t done anything that specific in a long time. So, taking a break from the new Celldweller record to do that was a pleasant lull. I spent two months putting that together, and based on how I work I put that together relatively quickly. It felt good to just wrap something up and to approach it in a different way where I didn’t have to worry about vocals.”
Speaking on the “pay what you like” scheme championed by the likes of Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, Klayton described how with the FIXT store and the True Anthem widgets that offer free music are providing a new source of exposure for independent artists like those on his roster, “You can blame it on the economy, but at the end of the day things have changed pretty radically. We [artists] are still trying to figure out ‘how can we get music to people?’ and I’ve always been a guy who’s about sharing if I didn’t have to charge for my music and I didn’t have a mortgage every month and have to buy food to stuff into my fat face I wouldn’t worry about it and I would give my music away for free. What I’m trying to do is find a way to be fair.” He added, “The whole FIXT mentality is to bring other artists in and with things like the store and our artist spotlights. I’m trying to create a model that’s fair so that artists are making some money and we can make some money and create exposure. We’re trying to create a network where artists are happy and people who are buying music are happy.”
From the record industry, the conversation moves towards important themes on the new record, and we ask if Klayton is in a better place as a writer and musician these days since his dark introspective debut. “I’m one of these guys, I am not going to fake how I feel and when I made that first record my life was in the ‘shitter’ you know and everything sucked” he remembered.“I am sick and tired of being miserable all the time and I’m sick and tired or being sick and tired all the time.”
Klayton continued to explain how his mindset has changed over the years, and how this will reflect on ‘Wish Upon a Blackstar’. “This new record by no means is going to be like an Abba record and it’s not happy-go-lucky by any means, In fact what I think is uplifting and positive is probably still pretty dark. I can say that I have kind of consciously moved away from this whole ‘woe is me’ mentality because my head is not there anymore.” Klayton told us how the aforementioned song ‘Birthright’ from the record reflects his personal progression and current mindset, “I essentially wrote the lyrics for this record within the span of a couple of months so I was writing the themes all around the same time. So I was in a similar mindset and that made the whole thing cohesive. Again, it goes back to some personal experiences.‘Birthright’ is essentially describing this mentality that I’m sick of being hopeless and lifeless and something’s got to change.” Speaking on the future, Klayton elaborated on his plans to bring music and film together in the name of entertainment. He explained, “The one thing that’s always driven me is the tie in between music and visuals and I would love to create a movie. It could be a ten minute piece that connects music with visuals and that tells some kind of story. I feel like, if and when I get to a live show there will be some element of that, playing music live with a story behind me. It’s down to time and man power.”
It needs to be said at this point that very little is known about Klayton’s personal life, and we wanted to know some more about the man behind Celldweller, and you may be surprised to know that the Chicago-native does venture out…occasionally. “I have a few people around me. I’ve got my girl and I’ve got my cat and that’s about it. Sometimes if I’m going to unwind, that means I will watch a movie and sit on the couch’ I couldn’t care less about going to a club.” Klayton’s discipline has always been inspired by his passion to learn. He reflected, “What I would do when all my friends where hanging out and getting wasted – I would have my nose in a manual reading stuff that would probably bore the average human to death, for me that was so exciting just learning about a piece of gear and how to make it work”.
Finally and most importantly we discussed what the man would want to do if he came over to Europe, “If I was going over there to play a show my biggest concern would be ‘how is it going to be?’ and ‘where is the venue?’ along with ‘are people going to show up, are they going to love what they see and hear?’ He concluded, “I’m relying on you guys to tell me where I want to go and where I want to be.”
Something tells us that he will find people easily enough.
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Check out Celldweller’s video for ‘Switchback’ below: