Text and Interview: Andy Fenwick
Images Courtesy of Terrorbird
With Dark Time Sunshine, DJ/producer Zavala collaborated on two sharp hip hop records: 2010’s Vessel, and 2012’s Anx. MC guests ranged from Aesop Rock to P.O.S., or Busdriver, with notable vocals by Reva DeVito, but oh: those beats. In between those albums, Zavala released The Dark Time Sunshine Instrumentals, a testimonial to how beat-deep-wonderful Vessel was, and also a throwback to when artists like Company Flow would quietly drop instrumental full-lengths alongside regular releases.
Four years later, Zavala releases his first album of original material, Fantasmas, on Fake Four, Inc, in January 2017. While some of the sonic touches of his hip hop-oriented work remain intact, “Mirrors,” his first single, is straight-up house. It makes sense, though, Zavala being Chicago-based, and given the fact that electronic music is more genre-blind than most genres. Plus, if you go back to the Vessels instrumentals, you’ll think, “Oh. Oh yeah sure” when you hear the echoes of house on tracks like “E.R.,” or the hints of straight-up techno in the beats on “Just An Old Flame.”
Zavala’s Spotify playlist for Ravelin spans the IDM spectrum: the joyous, deep house of Leon Vynehall; the spooky, atmospheric techno of Kassem Mosse; the unclassifiable Nathan Fake, the now-legendary Legowelt, and Pictureplane’s unapologetically pop-oriented burners.
Electronic music seems increasingly – and wonderfully – genre-blind. How would you describe the music on Fantasmas?
I would say it’s more or less a sped-up version of what people know me for, with a house/UKG/Techno influence, I guess.
Big difference between Dark Time Sunshine and now your solo work, like “Mirrors” or “Ego Death” — although on DTS records like Vessel, your Vessel instrumentals, and ANX, I hear echoes of house in “View Items 2” or “Forget Me Not.” How did you get to Fantasmas from hip hop? Or have you always juggled both interests all the time?
Yes. Those echoes are directly related to my major influences growing up and have been a signature in everything I’ve released. A lot of the DTS stuff is a great example of that. A huge part of my sound was birthed by the early/mid 90’s in-house, and what I was hearing at the roller rink. Songs like Nightcrawlers’ “Push the Feeling On,” Fast Eddie’s “Hip House,” or Alice Deejay’s “Better off Alone,” just to name a few. I mean, those particular songs actually shaped my thought process in making tunes.
What’s your favorite piece of equipment you used on Fantasmas? Your favorite overall?
I wouldn’t be able to pick a favorite, they’re like kids, I guess [laughs]. I’m into the dirty, the old & flawed, warm & dusty. A majority of what I use is older synthesizers & hardware. However, more than half of Fantasmas was recorded on the road on a laptop with software synths and I literally plugged a cable from my headphone jack on my laptop and recorded it into my home studio through an old ARP Mixer from the early 80’s. So … I’m all over the place.
Was Fantasmas all you, all alone, or does anyone guest? Any live instruments incorporated?
It was all me, with the exception of my homegirl Sara Z who lends her magic, vocals, and writing on the song “Chrysalis.” Mastering was done by Daddy Kev (Low End Theory, Alpha Pup Records).
As a producer, who would you love to work with? Any plans in the works to collaborate soon with anyone?
Honestly, I have a ton of work I wanna purge. Fantasmas is my first actual album I’ve released in my lifetime. I feel like I have a lot of energy bottled up & much more solo stuff I need to get out before time ends, ya know? I’m now starting to work in video production to accompany my music production, that’s my next step. Definitely a new Dark Time Sunshine record, and making tunes with friends. New Mount Mantras w/ Terra Lopez (Rituals Of Mine) and more work with Sara Z.
I’m reading that Fantasmas comes out of some personally heavy times. Did that make Fantasmas easier or harder to record and/or finish?
Yes. Harder. Definitely!
If you want, please tell us about your Spotify playlist selections. Can’t wait to see/hear it.
Yeah, umm … It’s basically a bunch of tracks I pulled off my Itunes or tried to, as Spotify didn’t have certain stuff, but just tracks I’ve dug in the past few years. Chosen in no order or rhyme or reason. Hope you all enjoy. Cheers!