Chris Tillotson is a Los Angeles based DJ and musician with the cinematic, psychedelic neo-prog band known as Starving Daughters. Tillotson has earned his street cred in record collector and beat-head circles with a passionate obsession for everything groovy, funky, psychedelic and soulful from the 1960s and 70s, taking that musical love and infusing it within the unique sound of his own band.
We Were Eggs is the latest effort from Tillotson and Starving Daughters, an album which works as an imaginary of soundtrack to a hazy, smoky drug film of yore. Shades of Pink Floyd experimentalism weave their way through the musical tapestry of Tillotson and his Starving bandmates-Chris Holder, Mason Owen and Jack Hutchings-while the long lost groove of 1970s library funk and and space rock anchor We Were Eggs as a uniquely powerful listening experience.
Chris Tillotson explains further, detailing the confessions of a psych-prog junkie.
I can definitely hear all of the vintage influences from funk, library, soul, psych, etc, yet filtered through an approach which is modern and definitely not "retro." Would you say that this is a goal for the band, to represent those influences to a new audience, while being creative with a sound all your own?
Thanks for the kind words, yeah I think it's a goal to turn people on to all the music, movies and art I dig. I didn't want to copy anyone outright, like if you dig Sabbath...well we are the 2014 version! (laughs) I did want to incorporate all of those ideas and hopefully make something epic,timeless and new out of it. Another main goal we have is to never be scared to change everything up, if we want to make easy listening jazz record or a booty shakin funk record we should just always do what we want. Cause in the end we have to have fun but it's always very awesome if someone else outside our band digs it too.
Was it a shared love of weird and "out there" music which brought you all together in the first place? What was the impetus for Starving Daughters getting together and jamming out tunes?
Honestly, that's not what brought us together, when we first started playing in the early 2000's we weren't playing anything that strange, which you can hear if you check out our first EP; it's just run of the mill psych indy music. With that being said, weird and trippy music is what has kept us together so long. When I started getting into soundtrack and library music, it totally opened up doors in my creative process, I realized I had way more to say musically than vocally and I decided there's nothing wrong with that. Luckily everyone else in the band also felt the same way as me. I think at this point everyone in the band listens mainly to library and soundtracks from the 70's and 80's...to the dismay of everyone around us! (laughs) It's so amazing to get together with my buds every week, drink beers, jam out and talk about the new music we discover. Starving Daughters is kind of like a record nerd hangout sesh, and hopefully make dope records along the way.
How would you say that We Were Eggs improves upon Chill Birth? Would you say that this one properly represents the direction in which you'd like Starving Daughters to move on your next record?
Not to hate on myself, but I consider We Were Eggs the first record of which I'm really proud. I think it's the first time I said exactly what I wanted. Every single one of those tracks I labored on for months making sure I could get lost in them, like they were mini movies or something. I wanted the record to make you feel like you're on acid, like you wouldn't be able to focus on anything else while listening to it. I don't know if the next record will sound like this one, I've been listening to way different styles of music than what I was into during We Were Eggs but hopefully it will be good!
Have you been working on a follow-up yet? How have the new songs been sounding, and has there been any label interest? Do you guys even want to go that route, or continue to release your stuff independently?
Yeah in the past I wrote all the material but lately everyone has been writing some really great stuff. Our drummer Mason has been writing tons of rad, beat driven synthy psych stuff which blows my mind, and Jack has also been writing great Turkish psych sounding jams. I've been really influenced by [Italian musician] Rino De Filippi's jazz prog style lately but we haven't started recording yet. I would always be open to a label as long as they are like minded to our sound. Originally we were on a label...actually we were their first release, but later all of the other bands were cutesy indie bands-which is all good, but something of which I want to be part. To be honest, we didn't sell any records anyways, so I don't think they cared! (laughs). I also kind of like self releasing small press vinyl-only releases as well, cause it makes it more special. It feels good to sell out of a record even though it's only 100 copies, and I get to see all the different countries that they get shipped off to!
Your use of sampled vocals is really unique, trippy and certainly a defining characteristic, I think. Can you recall when this idea was first brought forth, and how do you guys incorporate them into your music?
Ah, the sampled vocals...well a bunch of people assumed that we wrote the songs around the samples but actually the whole record was finished before I added them. I remember working on "Pig Boy and The Horned King" and I had probably heard it a hundred times by that point, and I wanted to make it sound fresh to my ears...so I thought I would play around with samples. I pulled out my old children's 45 records and found a record I thought would be rad. I chopped it up on the computer, and it instantly became way more epic. It's funny, imagine a bunch of dudes spending like two years working on songs, and then one day they come over and the producer has added a bunch of dialog over it changing the whole vibe...but it worked! Every one liked it, and gave the green light to experiment more with that idea.
So just like a rap artist or something, I dug through records and movies trying to maximize every song. I did treat most of them with heavy delay or backwards effects, thinking it might be fun for the listener to tell from where the sample was taken.
We've never played live with the samples, because no one wants to play to a metronome; we get a bunch of criticism for that, but what can I say, we're kinda lazy! (laughs)
Take us into your songwriting process: how does a track generally come together? Is there a lot of piecing together of parts to forge into a cohesive song? Do you write together in person, or compose at home separately? How does Starving Daughters work?
Well, generally the outline of a song is written solo by either me or someone else in the band, then it gets brought to the table and everyone shares their opinion. If we all like it, then we jam on it and hopefully expand upon it. Then when we record, it can take on a whole new life which is awesome. I've definitely pieced together parts, even cut and pasted different recordings together. There are no rules, as long as it sounds interesting. Thank god for computers, because I'm much too lazy for tape splicing! How does Starving Daughters work? Answer: Very slowly! (laughs)
A lot of the tracks have this cinematic, soundtrack feel, whether it be spaghetti western vibes, science fiction weirdness or cop funk grooves during "Full Moon Mutants." Would you say that achieving this cinematic sense is something for which Starving Daughters strives?
Hell yeah, that's definitely something I strive for! I wanted to make soundtrack music for some time now, and this record was my chance to indulge in that side. I wanted my music to be totally visual and take you to a fictional world like a horror or sci fi movie does. I wanted it to be a record you threw on to escape reality and pretend you were floating on a jolly rancher through space! (laughs). Each song has a different movie genre in mind like you said, from horror and sci fi to spaghetti westerns. I feel it makes for a very "what the hell is going on?" type of record...like all my favorite records!
Vintage film scores, library music and Krautrock/prog/psych is also something which you personally embrace, indulge and share in your DJ career. How did you get involved spinning records, and is it something which you devote a lot of your free time to outside the band?
Being a DJ is a very new thing for me. I do have a bunch of rare, rarely heard records in my collection but I never DJ'd before until Alfonso from [the L.A. based monthly club event] Rendezvous asked me to try it out. I thought "if I'm gonna collect all these records, I might as well go play 'em out publicly," and what better place than a soundtrack and library DJ night that features horror movies and erotica! I really enjoy it, though, and look forward to doing it more often when the situation presents itself. I spend most my of my days researching and collecting records, that's what really keeps me busy....well, that and trying to be a good husband! (laughs)
How does it feel to expose so many people to this amazing, obscure music? Conversely, is it great to meet fellow obsessives and commiserate over this shared passion for music?
Well, let me say it feels amazing and it's also humbling to meet other crazy collectors that teach me new things every day!
The library and soundtrack community is so much alive and full of amazing people; anyone who has a slightest interest should check out all the blogs and forums out there.
In a genre like library and soundtrack, some of these records with insanely small pressings have never been heard, apart for a few collectors. So when I do finally get my hands on them, I like to share at least soundclips and reviews with the world, so they get an idea of what they sound like. To me, it's the best music ever recorded of any genre, whether you like funk or experimental drone stuff. I was tripping out on "Specchio Di Una Psiche" by Rino De Filippi the other day, which is total ambient music (which I never would have jammed a few years ago) but I was staring at the walls exploring my whole being....Epic! And it was recorded for television!?!? I mean....what?!?
Where do you usually perform DJ sets, and how has the response been to such left-of-centre music? The stuff we're into enjoys a very niche appeal, yet it seems to be growing a bit in profile. Do you think more people have paid attention in recent years as to what sort of treasures lurk in those dusty crates?
I've only done the one DJ set so far, but I know some of the other Rendezvous people do DJ other cool places. I did have a going away party the other night where I DJ'd library music all night and turned a bunch of new people on to it. People I didn't know that well were asking me, "what is this stuff" and what not; I could tell it was opening up doors in their mind, as well. You get to that point where you think, "yeah I've heard all the Krautrock stuff and Beatles soundalikes, I've got it covered," but then hopefully someone shows you library and soundtrack and you realize that there's a whole world still out there.
I think tons of new people have been getting into this genre lately, but plenty of hip hop producers have been digging this stuff for quite some time. While that jacks up all the prices of these records-which is annoying-it does spread the word on the treasures out there. I remember I tried to buy some epic Pink Floyd sounding obscurity last year, but the seller had just sold it to a Hip Hop Producer, so now you can guarantee no one will ever hear it except for a drum break on a rap record. I just hope more people that care about the music not the breaks get a hold of the more obscure stuff for everyones sake.
I understand you had a set at Rendevouz in L.A. recently. Explain this monthly gathering to those who aren't aware. How did your set go? Was the turn out good, and did you get a lot of positive feedback?
Yeah it was a very special night for me indeed. Rendezvous is a monthly gathering of local Los Angeles soundtrack and Library DJ's to spin their favorite records for whoever wants to show up and listen. It's been going strong for a few years and seen quite a few significant people stroll through from the Finder's Keepers crew to the Death Waltz crew, as well as very dope collectors and musicians like Marcellus Wallace and Umberto. Everyone involved are very nice and approachable people so if you are in the Los Angeles area on a second friday of the month please stop by, I'll be there! They also screen obscure 70's horror and erotic movies, so if you consider yourself a fan of these genres you really are missing out if you don't roll!
Who do you look up to as far as other DJs who spin and enjoy the same styles of music? Is this something you can see yourself devoting more time to in the years to come?
I don't really know the whole DJ scene, to tell you the truth, I look up to collectors that have great taste that I relate to. It's as easy as hitting the play button on a record I've been dying to hear for years and appreciating the time, money and sheer passion it took you to end up with that record. I watched Marcellus Wallace kill it a couple months ago with countless thousand dollar grails and Heru Avenger slay me with his years of collecting wisdom. I have tons of respect for anyone at that level. The record for me is so much greater than the MP3 download, even though I'll jam MP3's all day if that's my only option. The response to my willingness to spin and get out of my house has been super positive and I hope to spend more time doing it.
Please tell us about the blog you've started up to share, trade and expose the obscure artists to the public? How has the response been, and how often do you find time to work on it?
My blog I've been doing for about a year now and I love it. I enjoy sharing and talking about my favorite records that I own. I've had many ups and downs with how I feel about sharing free rips of very expensive records, but I think I've found a way to stay excited about keeping it going.
Through my blog I've been able to meet so many other passionate people that I cherish and I've been able to share impossible to hear records with the public as well.
The hardest part is while a couple hundred truely dope people are tuning in, another bunch of total a-holes are also tuning in...but that's the internet for ya. As far as how much time I have to work on it, well it depends...probably every couple of weeks I share something. I'm not trying to have the best, most comprehensive library blog out there, I'm just trying to spark interest, have fun and hopefully connect with other real collectors.
Please fill us in on future plans with the blog, band and spinning, man! Final words are yours! Thanks again for speaking with us and cheers!
Well, I will continue to release records that I enjoy as long as I have something creative to say...hopefully forever! I will continue to spend all my money on other people's forgotten music and share them with everyone. I will continue to frequent Rendezvous, 'cause not only is it a great chance to meet awesome people, I drink every night so I might as well do it there on every second friday...hopefully DJ when I get the chance!