Studio Session with Paper Diamond
Last week, bass music innovator Alex Botwin aka Paper Diamond was in NYC to help support Bassnectar at MSG. Not only is Alex regarded as one of the nicest dudes in the game but dudes team had the gumption to invite us into one of his studio sessions while he was in the city.
First off, let me start by saying this was no ordinary studio. I assumed when I first got the text to meet him that sure, there'd be some monitors, a bunch of nobs and buttons that went way over my head, and who knows what else... Turns out, this was the studio Notorious B.I.G. recorded 'Ready to Die' in. As if playing at MSG wasn't enough, Alex was crafting beats in the same lab as Biggie Fuckin' Smalls!
The building was incredibly modern, with floor to ceiling abstract art and fluorescent light bulbs. When the elevator doors opened to the second floor, It seemed as if the building might have been under renovation. Cinder blocks and insulin stuck out from holes in the wall. A TV mounted in the corner predated the YTK scare. Wallpaper was faded and peeling. Plaques on the wall. As if Biggie was a modern day jesus, many aspects of the studio remain untouched since Mr. Wallace's departure.
I entered the studio and Alex was already mid session with a keyboardist, playing each other songs and vibing. Upon my arrival the soundtrack was 'Do You...' by Miguel.
It turns out, the aforementioned keyboardist is Harold O'neil. Harold is an incredibly talented musician and actually helped record 'Do You...' with Miguel's team. When Paper Diamond played Harold the infamous Cashmere Cat remix a mild look of bewilderment washed over his face. How had he never heard such a popular rendition of a song he helped write? That reached an entirely different market and audience?
The focus then shifted back to Harold as we watched a clip of him getting down on the keys.
At this point Alex turned to me and asked if I was in a rush or if I minded sticking around for a bit... My response was something along the lines of - "take your time this is the coolest shit ever."
Harold & Paper Diamond continued to play each other a few more songs, including cuts from Disclosure's hit album, before Harold began jamming out on the keys. Between different notes, patterns, and melodies - Alex told Harold to just vibe out and he can edit the dope parts afterwards.
Eventually, it was my turn. I assured Alex the questions wouldn't take long and he kicked everyone out of the studio to get it done quick...
Elektro: So... Madison Square Garden, Tomorrow.
Paper Diamond: “Yezzzir! It’s Crazy!”
Elektro: You recently finished up your “Cold Crush” tour with LOUDPVCK & Branchez. How does your approach for a show like MSG differ?
Paper Diamond: When I’m on tour and it’s my show, it’s interesting. My show, my production, I can really flex in terms of playing my music the way I intended it to be played. Whereas, for this MSG show, I’m playing a bunch of new stuff and things I know will I go off. It’s just different though because I’m only playing for an hour and although there are people coming to see me, they’re also coming for a full night of music so I’m going to play a little different than if I were to be closing it out. But I’m so excited!
E: Would you say this is your biggest show yet?
P: Hmm… I don’t know. I mean, I just did Red Rocks [For Rowdytown III] and I’ve been doing the whole festival thing all summer. It’s hard for me to say exactly until I’m actually at the show. I have no idea about the numbers side by side, I don’t really even think about it like that. I’m more focused on just creating that connection between me and the audience and how they’re feeling and what they’re vibing too. For MSG, I have ALL my music that I’ve ever made. Like all the Alex B stuff, all the Paper Diamond stuff, whatever, I have it all in one file. So whatever the crowd is vibing too I can keep it moving.
E: From Alex B to Paper Diamond at MSG, It feels like every chapter of your career has been a large step forward. Where do you see Paper Diamond going at this point? Is there something that comes after?
P: I’ve never really stuck to one thing. Like if I was a painter, I’d never want to paint the same shit every day. You know? So it’s been a constant progression of music and writing, learning as a musician, engineer, mastering engineer, producer, and I’ve been writing lyrics… it’s been interesting.
Over the last couple of years I was managing bands, like I found Cherub and I was putting out their records, and I had a clothing line, a design firm, a record label, an art gallery, I owned an all this shit. So at the beginning of Paper Diamond, I was feeling like… “What is my contribution to music?” I’m not one to hype shit if it’s just… it’s not about hype for me it’s about putting out quality music. During that time, I sort of took a step back from writing everyday and was focusing on too many different aspects. I’ve let it all go except for the music.
Writing music is like riding a skateboard. If you stop or slowdown you won’t be as sharp as you were… but right now I'm back to writing every single day and I’m so on point right now, I can play you a bunch of new shit...
E: Please do.
P: [Laughs] So yeah right now I’m on top of my game and pushing my boundaries in terms of what I’m doing with my music and what I think is dope. I’m confident right now in what I’m doing and am very excited for the new material to come, it’s been too long. I’m about to put out as much work as possible. It’s time!
E: So what's good with Elm & Oak then..?
P: So like I said before, I was spreading my self so thin. I was doing so much shit and really loving all of it but it came to a point where I was like… “I can be a manger when I’m old" I don’t need to waste the time when I’m mega inspired to help other people when I should be writing. Closed the Art Gallery in Denver, definitely going to keep up with the live events and parties, still working with artists but all I care about right now is Paper Diamond and writing some new ground breakin' shit.
E: I heard there’s a Big Boi collab in the works?
P: Big Boi invited me to the Stankonia studios in Atlanta. His team reached out and I played him a gang of music and you know, nothing happens instantly… ever. I don’t think anything came to light from the first batch of songs I gave him, It’s cool though. I ran into him in san Francisco last weekend and he was like “Yo I’m working on my new album, send me some shit” so yeah. We’ll see what happens.
E: And there’s another track with Lupe Fiasco?
P: Yeah so with Lupe… I became good friends with his producer Simon Morel. Insanely dope producer. He started bringing me into their sessions and I ended up working on about 3-4 records that… nothing is set in stone until it’s set in stone, but should be going on his next album. There’s also a song we are working on for one of my Ep’s, I don’t have a final version of that yet so until I have that signed and sealed… yeah.
Oh! also that dude PSY from gagman style, [Lupe’s] doing a track with him. So Simon invited me to that studio session and it was so funny man. The dude from Gangnam style! Which, PSY is a fucking genius by the way. If you didn’t know, he writes all of his own music, which it’s not my style but… I moved from Colorado to LA and got a new management pushing me to work on different projects. Since then I’ve found myself in the studio working on all these crazy sessions. Like PSY & Lupe Fiasco.
E: "______ Makes the World Go Round"
P: Music... and Weed.
E: Favorite Place to Eat in NYC?
P: The Radiance Tee House. It’s this little tea house, they have dim sun. It’s absolutely bananas!
E: What about back in Colorado?
P: Oak At Fourteenth and Acorn. My Buddy Steven Redzikowski opened them and they’re great! Or the weed store… Dabs. Dabs for breakfast.
E: Do you remember the day you first wore wide frame shades?
P: Actually yeah. I had a pair of the Gazzelles. Gazzelles were the real joints. I had a fake pair that I wore out one time, they were just giant. Everybody was trippin’ like ‘What Are You Dooooing, you like hilarious” so I was like fuck it. I found this pair and my girlfriend at that time was like, I don’t care if you always wear them. So I’m like “yup, I’m wearing these all the time, I don’t care to impress anyone else.”
E: Pro-Tip for an up and comer?
P: Learn about EQ & Compression
E: Any pet peeve's within the Music Industry?
P: Hasty Decision making, non-tasteful ideas.
E: Thank you for introducing us to Tea-Quila [from Zed’s Dead Coffee Break]. What's your favorite tequila?
P: Don Julio silver. I have two drinks of choice as of late that I’ve been making. First is a Mexican Mule, Moscow Mule but with Don Julio instead - Fire. Next is drink I made called the Seymour: Muddled jalapeño & lime, pour in Hendrick’s Gin, Tonic, and a lime on top.
E: Have you ever messed up using the iPad?
P: Yes. It’s my worst nightmare. It’s crazy. My iPad never really gives me any trouble, it’s been great. I set up my own Wi-Fi between my computer and iPad so that’s how I’m triggering everything wirelessly. Sometimes when I’m at those big, open-air festivals it’s just so big that it messes with my signal and at first I was like “What the fuck is going on!” So I have all the same commands back on my keyboard. So I’m still triggereing everything live. So if my ipads fucking up I just go back behind my keyboard, but that pretty much ruins it for me.
I’ve considered not using Ipad, but I’m probably going to switch it up for the next tour. Bring some intruments on stage, maybe play the keys. I could do that but I’m just figuring out now the next few elements of my show
Elektro: Lastly, What's Next for Paper Diamond?
Paper Diamond: I’m on tour January 10 – March 10th. I love to hand pick everyone on my tour so I can’t reveal the lineup just yet but it’s going to be a great group. Finishing up my Ep have a few videos in the works. I really deeply care about how the show goes and the evening in general. It’s going to be insane!
Elektro would like to personally thank Alex aka Paper Diamond and his management team for inviting us into the studio. A truly enjoyable experience. Stay up-to-date on everything Paper Diamond...