Friday, November 16, 2012

Interview with KJ Sawka (Pendulum)

After Pendulum, arguably one of the biggest drum & bass acts in the world at the time, broke up this summer, people had mixed reactions. Fans of their recent electro-rock style pined over their split, and the people who were severely disappointed with their shift from the classic jungle style of Hold Your Color decided that the split was a good idea. However, it's impossible to say that the six members of the band no longer influence the EDM world. Lead singer and bassist (and two of the three founding members) Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen are back in the spotlight as Knife Party, a huge electro duo who have cracked the DJ Mag Top 100 after only one year of existence. DJ Paul "El Hornet" Harding (the third founding member) is on tour under the Pendulum name, doing DJ sets all over the world with Pendulum MC Ben Verse. Guitarist Peredur Ap Gwynedd is apparently taking some time off in his home in Wales, much deserved after years of touring with the band.

And the drummer? KJ Sawka, a member of the band since 2009 and a producer himself from before his time in Pendulum, is restarting the solo career he abandoned after joining up with the group. His recent single on Simplify Recordings, "Repeating Cycles," is a solidly-produced DnB banger that's a good example of the new-school mid-range focus. It comes with some fantastic remixes as well, including an especially good glitch hop rework from Samples that changes the feel of the piece completely. As this single shows, Sawka is still at the top of his game, and he doesn't intend to stop his top-notch production and live shows anytime soon. We were fortunate emough to be able to ask Sawka a few questions recently about life, touring, and the future of electronic music (and Pendulum).

First off, introduce yourself for the readers.

I'm KJ Sawka. I produce music and play drums worldwide on stage and in the studio.

I'm gonna go ahead and ask the question that's on everybody's minds: what happened to Pendulum? It seemed like you guys were at the top of the drum & bass ladder, touring all around the world, and it was kind of unclear as to why you guys broke up. Is that still unclear even to you or could you shed some light on why the split happened?

We are just on break.  We smashed the scene hard for many years and many years before I joined.  It seems to be destiny for everyone to do a multitude of music projects.  We'll come and smash it up again eventually. 

Now that you're producing as a solo artist, what's it like to have more control over your own releases, schedule, and touring?

I've produced solo for many years prior to joining Pendulum.  Ive played in many bands and still play in a couple bands. While Pendulum was touring it definitely took over my schedule. So it's nice doing my solo stuff again as well as other projects.  It's most fulfilling when I'm touring solo.

Did you think you had a significant say in the creative process of Pendulum? What does it feel like to not have the same creative feedback that you did before - that is, having the other guys in the band say "Oh, here's a good idea for a beat" and then someone else says, "Well, I think it would be better if this happened," etc?

Pendulum members all contributed ideas to the album and live sound.  Its Rob's band and he does almost everything. It's great producing with people and bouncing ideas off each other. I find the best stuff comes from that. 

"Repeating Cycles" feels like a really nice synthesis of a lot of the more popular elements of today's drum & bass and glitch hop scenes. What do you think about the sort of disconnect between "classic" DnB like the guys from Metalheadz and Critical and "new-school" DnB like recent Hospital and Shogun Audio releases?

Well I mean classic is classic. It's always gonna have the sounds and vibes of back in the day in was invented keeping it classic.  I think I know what you mean by the disconnect.  Basically  you have folks you who love the old styles and are very excited to hear new stuff come out in that older classic style sound.  Then you have new stuff that is just flat new. New beats, new tones and new vibes. I love it all. But I mostly love creating something unique and fresh.

On that note, what do you think about guys like Friction and Spor changing their sound between those two types of DnB?

Well Spor to me has always had his sound.  Crazy dnb to halftime melodic. I love how some of the Dnb guys like Spor created an alter ego (Feed Me) in different more popular bass styles.  Genius. Pure genius.

I for one am a huge fan of Samples and I love the reworking he did of "Repeating Cycles." What was it like hearing people reimagine your song in so many different ways?

I love what Samples did. His remix was the first to come in.  He really put a nice twist on the track.  It's always very exciting anticipating the outcome of each individual remix. I only turned down a few.

Favorite producer/song of 2012?

Nero. "Promises."

What's your live setup? Do you do a standard DJ show or do you do some drumming too (or neither)?

I do a full drumkit  / dj / laptop live show.  I have a basic acoustic drum kit with triggers on each drum. The triggers fire off the drum and other sounds for each tune I'm playing programmed specifically.  I throw in some friends tunes and mix it up a little like a dj set.  I also do a conventional dj laptop set, replacing the full kit with a small drum brain.

If you could do a collaboration with anyone on anything (not necessarily music), what would you do?

Phil Collins record would be sick!

What's a typical day like in the life of KJ Sawka?

During the weekdays - wake up. walk the dogs. Fresh mean green juice and popped rice. Workout. Studio. Coffee.  Monster salad. Dog walks.  Hang with the wife.  Cocktails. Sleep.  Thursday leave outa town. Get home late Sunday night.  Repeat. Repeat. Sleep for 24 hrs straight.  Repeat. Long tours I'll still keep the schedule very similar except for the wife and dogs.

Glitch hop has always struck me as a genre with a whole lot of potential to grow - it's relatively new but some of the biggest names have started to get major attention recently. What do you think about the future of the genre?

It's genre filled with depth and variation.  Many styles get lumped into the genre on beatport from dnb to moombah. Glitch hop has been a solid genre and will continue to make marks for many years to come.

Thanks a ton for your time!

You can buy "Repeating Cycles" on Beatport here, and you can follow KJ Sawka on Facebook or Twitter.

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