Pierce Fulton On Shirts & Skins, Why He Plays Instruments, Touring Live: Interview
For some in the electronic music industry, it seems as though their careers are handed to them on a synth preset-laden platter. One simple track can propel some DJs to stardom, but for others, it takes time to build a lasting career and do so with the help of a more organic sound. Los Angeles-based Pierce Fulton is one of those guys who has been putting out music for several years now after playing in a variety of bands and crushing weddings as a child.
With his breakout single "Kuaga" garnering much of the attention lately, Pierce has slowly started to shape a new, more instrumental direction with the new track "No More" and his remix of Life Of Dillon's "Overload," while promising more tracks like this.
We had a chance to catch up with the former University of Vermont student and talk about his recent music, how he plans on incorporates live instruments into his tracks and his upcoming tour, his side project with Ansolo, titled Shirts & Skins, its future and much more.
Read on check out our in-depth conversation and see some rare pictures of a very young Pierce.
MT: A lot of your recent songs have vocals. Do you write the lyrics to some of your songs?
Pierce Fulton: Yeah. I sometimes write with other people. Lately I've been trying to do it myself because it takes a long time to work with someone else sometimes so I just try to do the whole thing. When you do work with someone that is like pretty compatible with you it happens really quick luckily. My song "Landmines" was both JHart and I writing that so we just sat down and did it in 20 minutes.
Sometimes it just pops up out of nowhere and it works but other times you're trying to work with someone and it takes a long time or you just don't like how they are writing. So that's why I'm trying to do it a lot myself but it's pretty frustrating sometimes.
MT: So it took 20mins just to write the lyrics and topline?
PF: Yeah, well it's funny because we were in a session for another song. It took five hours because we had like endless looping and monotonous writing. By the end we were like "alright we have about a half hour left." We started packing up and I started jamming out on the piano because I was bored and then he was like "ohh, let me sing this real quick", and within 30mins the whole song came together.
MT: That's a happy accident.
PF: Yeah exactly. And I didn't end up using the first song at all which was pretty funny.
MT: Speaking of your other collaborations, is there a future with Shirts & Skins?
PF: Yeah, we tried to work on something the other day. It just happens or it doesn't, that kind of thing. If it works, if not you just put it off until later or something. Also I'm not very good at working with other people in the room, I usually like to do my own thing and then send it over and let them do their thing. You bump heads sometimes and end up just settling stuff when you're producing alongside someone. At least from my point of view. If I'm working with a vocalist it's a lot easier.
For Ansel we'll just do separate stuff and send each other stems like that. We both been so busy with our solo stuff it's been tough to devote real time to Shirts & Skins. I mean I could just finish up this one idea that we've been doing for a while and he could send me some stuff and we could really bang it out quickly but I just takes some sort of effort.
MT: Your music now has a lot of live instruments in it, was that a conscious effort?
PF: No, it was another one of those by chance things. It sort of started with my live version of "Kuaga." I just kind of did it for fun at the same time I was actually working on "Landmines". It's a really old song so I had been working on it back when I was doing "Kuaga" stuff.
MT: How did you decide to put which instruments on the track?
PF: Depends on what I'm messing around with. I just bought a bass. I've been doing a lot more bass. Little bass licks and stuff and that's been fun. It hasn't been prominent in the front, its more background and more like textural, which is nice. It really just depends on what I'm messing around with that day. Sometimes I'll record something and it just doesn't sound good at all because either I was playing like sh*t that day or might have done it a little differently than usual.
So that's the interesting part about it. Some days you can have exactly what you want but it just doesn't sound the same as you think it would. For example I did a song yesterday that's pretty similar to "No More" as in the guitar licks are a little funkier, a little bluesier. The day before I did more of a Coldplay type thing but it didn't sound that good. Maybe it was the way that I processed the guitar. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Usually when you are working with plug-ins you get the exact same sound every time. Having the room for error when you are recording instruments is kind of interesting. Its more rewarding I guess is the best way to put it. When you nail it, it's like really awesome.
MT: Is that how you always start a song, with instruments?
PF: No, I used to just plug notes into my logic keyboard. For a while it got kind of old just drawing chords and drawing leads. I started going back to guitar just for writing because I don't really play piano that well. I get by but I'm better on guitar so it's more fun to write on it. I'm more confident in my writing when I go to guitar. Maybe when I started doing it for "Landmines" and Life of Dillon, I realized that it wasn't as difficult as difficult as I thought to write music on a guitar. My sound has been going more towards like a bluesy sort of weird relative minor pentatonic. I do all this interesting messing with whatever key I am in when I'm on guitar. Like I'll have a song in the major scale and then play a minor pentatonic on it that adds a nice twist to it.
MT: You make stuff like "Kuaga" then you make weirder down tempo stuff. Would you like to release that stuff?
PF: Yeah, I have a bunch of it in a folder on my hard drive. It's just tough because right now a lot of people know me for my progressive house and a lot of people know the older stuff. It's just hard with timing because right now I really want to play off "No More" and just build off of that sound. I'd like to make this sort of rock style infused to progressive house because it's kind of fun and nobody is touching on that. The thing with me and my more downtempo stuff is that everyone is on that bender right now and it feels like a bandwagon at this point. Eventually I'll figure out a way to do it. Probably do like an ep or mini-album or something for free. It's just such a hard thing to plan because it takes so much time to really devote to it but we will figure it out.
MT: You've always been doing live shows whether it's crushing weddings or talent shows, what were some of those first memories?
PF: Well, the reason I even play music is because I was at my mom's cousin's wedding and I was like 3 or 4 and there was a reggae band playing and I hopped up on stage. You know those sticks that make the one tone? My parents were kind of like "oh wow, he's into this stuff." So for my birthday they got me this toy acoustic guitar and I would always mess around with it. I took a few lessons and I mostly learned by just covering stuff my parents would ask me to play.
They give me a Rolling Stones song and I'd just learn it by ear or go read the sheet music. It was a fun way to learn music as a kid. Being the jukebox for your parents and their friends. From there I had some bands, and I did shows when I was in 2nd grade and 3rd grade with my friend who played drums. I kind of just went all over different styles until I was like 17 and that's when I got into electronic music.
I owe my dad a lot for it. I was a shy kid and he'd always like telling me "go play. I'm sure they'd be happy to have you play for one song." And every time I'd be like "alright" and I'd go do it and have so much fun. It probably helped me not get stage fright now in my current state of performing which is pretty interesting.
MT: Would you try to incorporate that live aspect into your show?
PF: Yeah, I've been trying to figure it out. That's what I've been doing with my "I made a thing" videos on my YouTube. Playing with the idea of a live arrangement for my songs. It would be cool to do it in a way where I do a DJ set and let's say the set is an hour and a half it would be cool of 30mins in the middle would be devoted to a set of live music. The music would transition into live parts of it then go back into the DJ set. It would be cool it's just a lot of work figuring it out. Maybe next year.
MT: It would be hard to do that in a club.
PF: Exactly. And what's cool is eventually I would love to do a full live show but I want to play in like 200 person rooms, like small venues. Not everyone going crazy, just more of enjoying music. It would just be hard to transition right now from being an electronic music DJ to being a live-based act. I'd rather figure out a way to either do both side by side or incorporate one and the other.
That's what I do with these "Pierce made a thing videos", I go into the original session and mute whatever I want to play and then just bounce the song again so it's just missing all the parts which is kind of fun. Then I'll play it again live so that's probably what I'd do with my live show at least at first. Eventually I want to make it all loop based where it's like building loops from the ground up, more fluid and more experimental than playing song after song after song you can customize it every night and make it interesting.
MT: Are you good at darts? You're doing this dart thing.
PF: I'm actually not that great. I can play and finish a game. But that's the funny thing is that people will play and win a contest and say "ah you're probably really good" and I say "Nah I'm not that good. It just happens to be a fun game in a bar, we can have some beers and play darts and have fun." I love doing meet and greets before a set at a festival. The environment of being in a dive bar and playing darts brings you to a more friend level than "go meet your favorite DJ" meet and greets where you just take a picture and leave. It's a lot more fun. Last time I did Darts with Pierce was in Orange County and the guys that won came to the show with us and had dinner it was really fun. It's a nice way to break down the barrier of a typical meet and greet.
Catch Pierce on his upcoming So Much More tour across the United States in January, February and March and get tickets here.