Alex Botwin has been a busy man. Just turned 27, the former bassist for the young, thriving live dance music trio Pnuma, has since evolved into something of a modern day renaissance man. Forgoing the extensive bass work for an abundance of studio production and festival sets, Botwin has now become not only an established and respected producer and DJ, but also owner of a record label, design company and store owner (all under the Elm & Oak moniker in downtown Boulder nonetheless). Today sporting his latest and greatest musical incarnation to date, Paper Diamond, Botwin is helping to shape a sound and culture in Colorado and beyond to a genre that continues to flourish in many of its flavors-electronic music.
It’s been an unremitting rise for the classically trained musician. In 2005, Pnuma was a relative unknown fresh from school and just getting their feet wet in the dance friendly live electronic subgenre. At the time, there were the likes of the Disco Biscuits, STS9 and The New Deal bridging the gigantic gap between the stretched improvisational rock of the jam band circuit and the more concise, beat-driven resonance of electronic music. What Botwin and Pnuma were able to do in just a couple years was to effectively bridge that gap, but in a different way. There’s was a more visceral and energized take; a vibe that laid the foundation for Botwin to begin honing his craft from his ensuing solo foray, Alex B, all the way through his current form, Paper Diamond.
Paper Diamond enjoys a stylistic sonic quality that while it adheres to much of the dance music formula, provides a completely unique, incredibly artistic, high octane barrage of sound that’s seldom seen in today’s scene. He has deftly coupled intricate melodies with booming bass lines to produce a sound that can at times focuses on choppy key strokes while others venture into heavier dub step or even a dash of downtempo. With the new EP, “Paragon,” coming out soon and a headlining Turnt Up Tour about to begin, Botwin is taking Paper Diamond and Elm & Oak to the people, and they won’t be disappointed.
Glide caught up with Botwin before he hit the road for two weekend sets at Jazz Aspen Snowmass and the North Coast Musical festival in Chicago to discuss his evolution as a musician, running a successful record label and store and just what the future has in store for one of today’s electronic music’s most promising acts.
So let’s delve right into it. Tell me about Paper Diamond, what your sound is focusing on and what you’re latest musical incarnation brings to the table.
Well basically, with Paper Diamond I haven’t really put a specific ideal on it except for right now that I’m making dance music. Recently I’ve been releasing stuff that appeals directly to people who want to come to live shows. When they go home and listen to the record, it has a whole new meaning to them. My influences and my musical tastes are always changing and I like to keep the music fresh and moving forward. It’s certainly changes the outcome of my music and I like that and I tend to embrace that. So right now, I’m making dance music and have a new EP coming out called, “Paragon.”
Paper Diamond, as with Alex B previously, is all about making your own music in the studio and performing it completely live. Tell me about your style and song writing process and how you take those original productions to the live setting.
It originally started with me growing up playing music and playing in bands until almost a couple years ago. It started out with instrumentation and learning music theory in high school and then moving into studio work when I was in college and from there I was pretty much in a band full time. So music and graphic design has been something I’ve done since I was little. I started off making upbeat music in the band that I was in (Pnuma) then going home and making kind of offbeat hip hop stuff just for my own enjoyment. When I started touring less and less with Pnuma I realized it’s time to take what I was doing by myself seriously, as I still had the need to make dance music. So this is basically my new outlet to make dance music and enjoy playing it.
Speaking of the live setting, you absolutely killed it at this year’s Outside Lands. I’ve seen you many times over the years but have never seen you rock a crowd like that show. How did it feel to get up and have such a boisterous reception?
Well. it’s been quite a crazy summer, something like 16 or 17 festivals this summer so far. I’ve basically been taking out all my new songs and playing them to all these new audiences and figuring out what I want to change and going back. Then I’ll go home and figure out what is and what isn’t working on stage for me and the audience as well and really go back and fine tune the songs and make it so I’m getting to test these things live. It’s really been an enjoyable process for me. It’s interesting for me as I’ve been able to start all these songs on the road and go back into the studio and change it, so I can be inspired by a bunch of different things.
Yeah so, the crowd at Outside Lands was definitely one of my favorites this summer. It was one of the few big moments this summer that I was like, ‘wow, this is amazing.’
You’re about to embark on the very ambitious “Turnt Up Tour” featuring several artists from your Elm & Oak Label and Pretty Lights Music. What can your fans and newcomers alike expect?
We hand-picked everybody, it’s all going to be friends where we’re playing a bunch of special events and it’s going to definitely a party. We’re excited to roll with all of our friends because you know it’s going to be a good environment. And when you know all the musicians and all the people that are traveling are happy, it makes it so people play well and in turn, everyone has fun. I’m really just excited to go out.
As a fairly young guy, you’ve already launched a pretty successful musical career and also your own label, Elm & Oak. Tell me about the product you’re putting out there and just what it takes to wear so many hats.
We started Elm & Oak (www.elmandoak.com), myself and Berk Gibbs, and we run a design firm, a record label, a clothing boutique and an art gallery; and basically a brand. We make all kinds of clothing, we do design work, and we fulfill merchandise, online promotion, web design and graphic design. And not only that but we treat everyone that’s on our label as family and work with them and really help them grow as artists. Everyone is really just helping and supporting one another.
Continuing on to Boulder, when I lived there five or so years ago, it was quickly becoming an electronic music Mecca of sorts in the middle of the Rockies. How has the burgeoning culture allowed you to expand your horizons and offer you the ability to grow as an artist?
Electronic music is always been something that’s been an interest of mine. Having a store on the main walking street (Pearl Street) in downtown Boulder has really been a great place to give us a way to connect to a lot of the people around here. It’s the music that I personally like and it’s something that we’ve been looking forward to for some time.
“Levitate” (Paper Diamond’s previous EP) is a very well produced EP and also a tasteful musical evolution from your previous work as Alex B. Was that a conscious choice? Talk to me a little about the transition from one to the other.
I’m sure that had something to do with it, but for me, it’s not like I’m intending to do different things it’s just where my wants lie. I just enjoy making dance music, hip hop and beats. Nothing has really changed for me. With Pnuma, I was just trying to make dance music and play it live and now I’m just doing that for the Paper Diamond project. But before, it would take us a long time to put things out because we wouldn’t really agree on stuff. Now, I’m just trying to make the best music I can and hopefully people are down. It’s turned out well so far.
You’ve got the new EP coming out soon, “Paragon.” Discuss this collection of tracks’ sound and how it’s a continuation of where you left off with “Levitate.”
I’m planning on doing three EP’s leading into the new album and I’m treating each as essentially their own unique piece. They each go through a few different genres of dance music and it’s still stuff that I can play live. It’s even more dance-y than the previous record. With the tracks that I’ve been playing this summer, I’ve been noticing that the new ones are the ones that have been getting the best reaction from the crowd. So then I take them back into the studio and go back to figure out how to make them even better. I think that people will already be like, ‘wow, I already heard that and it sounds crazy now.’
I first wrote about you and Pnuma all the way back in the fall of 2005 in my New Groove of the Month column. It seems so long ago when you playing bass with Ben and Lane, seeing you in clubs throughout Colorado. Do you ever envision yourself going back to being a bass player?
Yeah I would say so. I’m not going to limit myself to anything I don’t think. For instance, for some shows recently I’ve flown out and played bass with Big Gigantic. We opened for Bassnectar one night and it was just me flying out to play bass to someone else’s music and that was a lot of fun. It’s not to say that Pnuma won’t ever play a show again or that I’m done playing bass, I’m still playing instruments when making all the songs. I’m just not as sharp on bass as I was when I was practicing every day, but all I need to do is just get back into it.
One last question for now-you own a company, a store, a label as well as all your music. What’s next for Alex Botwin? When I talk to you again in a few years, what other endeavors are you going to have under your belt?
I think right now we have so many projects going on that we’re really going to lock in and harness all these aspects that we have going on. Musically, I’m just going to continue to be searching for that sound that I’m looking for and just making music all the time and by the time we talk next time, the bands that I’m managing like Cherub out of Nashville, Tennessee and Two Fresh off the label are just going to be killing it like they should be. All these people are working so hard, so I think we’re going to continue building the store and building the label and build everything and just keep it going and really represent electronic music in Colorado.