Q&A: THE MARS VOLTA | DJMag.com Skip to main content

Q&A: THE MARS VOLTA

Cosmic, psychedelic and extraordinary, Eric Volta's music is as far out as the man behind it. We asked the maker of 'Love Your Illusion' to explain his inexplicable writing process...

In literature a 'volta' is the moment in a sonnet when everything changes — where the writer turns full circle, switching viewpoint. For Eric Volta however, with a handful of energetic signings to labels such as Maceo Plex's Ellum Audio (July 2012), Seth Troxler's Visionquest (September 2013), even Dirtybird (2010), his name inferred the electrical unit (named after Alessandro Volta) rather than a stylistic writing technique. Until last December, that is.
After moving to Berlin for a fresh start in October of last year Volta's world started to change. Downsizing to “the smallest room ever”, he spends most of his time in the studio these days, living with what he needs rather than the things society teaches him he wants. It was there, around Christmas time, that it suddenly clicked. 


Some time behind closed doors presented a “Eureka!”moment. All of a sudden writing started to make sense. A youth spent listening to and writing jazz, psyche rock and metal equipped him with a broad musical skill set. Another eight years making house brought him to this point. It was this week that encouraged Volta to make a conscious decision to shelve everything made before November 2012, so as to focus entirely on this new writing process; a period in which he knocked out a remix of Ejeca for Lokee, one of Louis Fresco for Jonny White and Nitin's No.19 imprint, and another slated as a future release for the label. Then, there's 'Love Your Illusion' (out now) also for No.19; the one that's really kicked up a storm.

A video teaser on YouTube showing Art Department dropping the tune on the world's biggest stages during the summer — Cocoricco, Melt Festival, Burning Man, EDC — sent the tastebuds of tech-house heads ballistic. Spliced together as a montage of simultaneous drops, the video pays homage to the deadly impact such a weapon has on a dancefloor.

Crossing curt, metronomic percussion with Vangelis synths and squelchy ripples of acid, 'Love Your Illusion' is more than just a devastating track, it's a psychedelic experience — an exercise of the mind as much as the body. Leagues apart from anything we've heard from him before. We decided to get to the source of Volta's wonderful transformation...

Listening to a chunky, warm house cut like 'Believe' (on Ellum Audio) and 'Love Your Illusion' there's an enormous difference in style. Why is that?
“They're really different. It was quite old too. The release on Ellum, that's pushing four years now, but it only came out last year. I make a lot of different types of records, but there is a huge jump in evolution in how I am writing at the moment. Now if I attack a particular record I have my writing style behind it. Then, I was still experimenting with the way I was doing it.”

What's the difference? Is it the actual hardware you are using or the theoretical way you are going about it?
“It's about the thought process that goes into it. I was conscious of trying to work out a sound for myself. It's a killing process. If you manage to define the sound, fantastic, you've got it, then how do you re-apply it? I've been focusing on a writing process, so I don't incur blocks. I know how to get out of problem situations, I know how to be creative constantly and at the same time how to channel — sounds a little pretentious! — how to pull something out of myself and put it into something and push it in a particular direction.”

Almost like a scientific process or mathematical equation...
“Well, yeah, it's been a three-year long journey. It clicked. It really clicked hard around Christmas last year. And it's been — I wouldn't say effortless, because I'm being even harder on myself — but it's been enjoyable. It's been the most enjoyable creative process of my entire life.”

This formulaic approach. What does it actually entail?
“That's the in-the-air conundrum itself. It's about having no rules whatsoever. I think I've learnt the rules over the years and once you've learnt the rules you know how to destroy them — break the rules. Anything goes at this point, but at the same time I understand them, and being accepting of anything and everything, allowing yourself to throw yourself in any direction. We are still trying to be specific here...”

But it's not necessarily a specific thing you can put your finger on...
“I can't explain it. I have been practising my musicality over the past few years. In the last year, it's been a lot better and that's opened doors. I've done a lot of engineering and ghost-written for people. It's been about practising skills and learning new skills. I have got a varied history in live music — in jazz, reggae, dub and rock and metal — and each one of those teaches you something specific about how to write something in a particular direction.”

The more you experience, learn and consume, the more you have to draw from your library, as it were?
“Yeah, and such is life, isn't it?”

Is there a sense that 'Love Your Illusion' is taking things next level for you?
“I knew something special was happening in the studio when I was making it. You cannot deny that, being there at the point of inception, when something fantastic is happening. This is the addiction I have to the studio. My favourite place to be in, is in the studio. The point where it all comes together at the same time and the journey that's brought you there. When it first clicks, even before it's come together, the bare bones are there, and you can hear it and you can see it in your head, visualise what it is and how amazing it is, and there is this sense of 'wow'.

Then there's this dedication to pursue it and to manifest it as best possible. It's a relentless addiction or a pursuit and honour that I'd kill myself for.If you've got something that's burning and great inside you, you need to do it until you fall to the ground. Like I said, feeling comfortable with a writing method and my state of mind, becoming more curious and explorative while I was playing. When you chase the golden moments, these moments of clarity, at that point you become the instrument and the music writes itself, and you become the witness to something that is happening. There is a lack of consciousness.”

Are you quite spiritual in life in general or is this mysticism existent only in your music?
“I definitely have my spiritual beliefs. For many, many years. Extensive psychedelic experiences in jungles in Asia, with friends going to full moon parties in Thailand. Exploration. I'm pro psychedelic experiences. Everybody has something within them. My beliefs are never religious, but I'm a big fan of the universe and astrophysics.”

You can hear it in your music...
“That's good to hear.”

What about the psychedelia in 'Love Your Illusion'? How did that happen?
“It's a jam from what was happening. Let's put it down to a musician sitting in a room having a jam. There was a pre-recorded loop that had the bassline in it already. Acid squelching over the top and I was playing over it. And it works because it was written as it was recorded. It's not been cut or edited. That's one performance and it's a good performance, I think. I was sitting here and you can feel it when it's right, or feels right.

I was using a Moog Voyager running through a Thermionic Culture Rooster and a UBK Fatso pre-amp. It's all hardware. It's all recorded as it is. I am very particular about the chain it goes in. Everything that gets recorded in gets recorded through this pre-amp. It excites all the harmonics we are not used to listening to.

All this exciting stuff in the top sits in there, and it distorts all the lower harmonics, the stuff that makes your ankles rumble. I don't work with too many synths and those I do [use] I use very well. Digital works on set increments whereas analogue is slightly irregular, and when you distort those forces of harmony that's when it gets exciting. The Moog always sounds beautiful. And you run it through this thing for a little added beauty.”

Topics