Below, you can read our interview with Ian Smith of New American Hustle, check out their website and social media platforms, and listen to their album, The Climb And Crawl Of Dizzy Starlust And The Riders From Oz. Check out our full music review of The Climb And Crawl Of Dizzy Starlust And The Riders From Oz, HERE.
Q: You’ve mentioned that you began performing 1993. Take us a bit further back. When did the musical muse first come to you? What was your first instrument? Where was that first gig and how did it go?
A: Probably seeing the grunge explosion in 1991 inspired me. I was 18 at that time and seeing Peral Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains made me wanna pick up the guitar. Before that, my dad gave me all his Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, and Rolling Stones records. My first album was Guns N’ Roses “Appetite For Destruction”. My first gig was at a coffee shop in the early ’90s, straight outta the Rock Star movie with Mark Wahlberg. I broke my guitar strap and had to play the whole gig with the guitar in my lap!
Q: Not long ago we reviewed your previous project, Zero Frequency. When & what made you move on from that? Would you describe New American Hustle as an offspring from Zero Frequency, or something altogether different?
A: Zero Frequency ended mostly due to conflicts with the use of that name on streaming services. Another band had already claimed the name. Also, I had some issues with getting artwork clearances. New American Hustle is very similar but a bit more experimental musically. My audio engineer and friend, Alessandro Salza has played a larger role with New American Hustle. He has recorded many of the live instruments on these songs and he’s had a huge hand in the production, mixing and mastering with this new project.
Q: Tell us about how you maneuver the “virtual band” model in your work. How and where do you find the contributors?
A: I love The Gorillaz, Nine Inch Nails, and Moby. Those bands are all powered by their leaders (Damon Albarn, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, Moby). My role in New American Hustle is to write the songs, arrange the loops, produce the recordings and let the musicians do the rest. Allesandro is basically a de-facto contributor, but many of the vocalists are hired through Airgigs.com or Instagram/Facebook. Sometimes I’ll lay in vocal loops or phrases as a starting point for the female vocalist to work from. I encourage them to experiment and add their own spin to the songs. Many of the vocalists are under contract with other bands/labels, so most can’t be credited on my project or chose not to be. Since the band contributors are anonymous, I had to come up with the whole “virtual” band idea, taken directly from the Gorillaz band concept. I imagine these vocalists like the famous Motown girl groups of the ’60s, or like “guest” vocalists from projects like Chemical Brothers or Massive Attack.
Q: Do you perform live, or does the virtual band situation prevent that possibility altogether? If so, where do you like to gig most often?
A: I have never sat down and rehearsed the songs from scratch with a band per se. I know Omar Rodriguez-Lopez used to record random parts for Mars Volta albums, without telling the musicians what they were playing or in what context they were playing in. The results were truly streams of consciousness and a surprise for everyone. I’d love to hire a band and teach them the songs and do some gigs. Maybe this summer in northern California, I’d like to work something out in the near future.
Q: How long did “The Climb And Crawl Of Dizzy Starlust And The Riders From Oz” take to record? How many virtual performers are on the album?
A: The album was stared as a tribute to my friend Timothy Christopher Randall. Tim was the singer in my first virtual band called Tonto’s Fist. He and his brother Kevin and I worked out all the songs and recorded mix-tapes back in the mid-’90s before there was such a thing as mix-tapes! We used a Tascam 4-track cassette machine to record. Tim gifted me with all the music I love today, such as David Bowie, Prince, Motown/Soul, The Velvet Underground, and countless others. He was the big brother I never had and his taste for music was impeccable. If Tim considered you a true friend, you knew it. He might not call often or come to all of your events or follow your life through social media, but when he saw you he made sure to tell you that he loved you, and was always quick to tell you why. Tim found value in everything, believed in people and could help people to see what he saw and make them believe in themselves. He was an example of true love through friendship, and always wanted to share his friends with everyone. I remember several occasions where he couldn’t wait to introduce people to each other, and the look on his face bringing people together was priceless. Though sometimes a recluse, he was, whether he wanted to be or not, a people magnet. Tim was living with Fibromyalgia and Huntington’s Disease and found peace from his pain on June 16, 2013. This album was inspired by his love for Ziggy Stardust and The Wizard of Oz/Dark Side Of The Moon movie sync-up.
Q: Tell us a good studio story…something crazy about the new world of virtual projects!
A: Well, I’ve literally written a song in one day, recorded it and had it mixed and mastered within 48 hours. It’s amazing what technology can do now, compared to my old Tascam 4-track days. I also feel like a film director with some of the female vocal performances. Describing a character to them and the context their vocal performance should have. A good friend of mine told me, she thought if I’d had this technology years ago I’d be dead by now! She thinks it would have made it easier to break in back in the ’90s and I surely would have entered Club 27, no doubt in my mind. In a strange way, having a virtual band keeps me from indulging my worst vices, but helps me indulge my musical vices! I’ve got over 70+ songs recorded right now and waiting for release.
Q: Perhaps in some unspecified amount of time, your musical career explodes in the best of ways…what does that look like for you?
A: Writing music for film, television or for other virtual performers. Playing some summer festivals perhaps. I love the idea of being like a Berry Gordy or Phil Spector figure for the digital age. I’m too old now to shake my thing on stage, but I think I can be a vehicle to help other artists to shake theirs!
Q: You get to collaborate with anyone of your choosing. Who is it?
A: Alive, it would have to be either St. Vincent, Goldfrapp or David Byrne. Deceased, definitely David Bowie, Nina Simone or Lou Reed.
Q: Your favorite album of all time?
A: U2 “The Joshua Tree”.
Q: Your favorite song of all time?
A: “The Wild, Wild Sea” by Sting
Q: What would you like fans to know about you that they’re most likely unaware of?
A: That I’m also a graphic designer and arts educator.
Q: Any shout-outs you wanna make?
A: Allesandro Salza and his band Malbianco. My friend Kevin and of course Tim for inspiring my life with great music.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: “The people who are really great are not those who try to belittle your ambitions but those who make you feel that you too can become great” —Mark Twain.