2017 has seen some major milestones for Claude VonStroke as we are currently witnessing an evolutionary expansion in his career. With the release of his first hip hop collaboration album (as Barclay Crenshaw) and the Dirtybird collaboration EP, the house music leader is stepping out of his comfort zone and giving us an earful of his outer-worldly side.
We talked with the Dirtybird founder to find out what’s presently driving his experimental creativity. We also regressed into his past a bit, discovering how he transitioned from urban hip hop influences to jungle drum and bass and finally house music.
Read more about Barclay’s history and what all is coming up for the rest of the year:
2017 has been a noticeably productive year for you. Out now we have the Barclay Crenshaw album; the Works Well with Others EP; the Birdhouse radio show surpassed its 100th episode. Not to mention all the upcoming shows. How is the momentum feeling?
Everything’s good. It can always be better, but everything’s great. It’s all coming together.
You played at Red Rocks this week, opening for GRiZ. How was it?
That was played as my hip hop name – my real name. Then I played the after party as Claude VonStroke. I’ve never been to Red Rocks before.
Did it feel like a career high point?
It was pretty amazing. I’m hoping some day I’ll be the headliner. I’ve also played Madison Square Garden but just as an opener. It’s cool.
How did the “Gotta Push On” song on GRiZ’s remix album come about?
They’re originally from the Detroit area and so I am. We kept running into each other. I really like their whole team. They’re nice guys. So they called us and I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” I was launching this new project and I thought that would be a cool remix.
Tell us about the more hip hop driven Barclay Crenshaw album. How long was this project in the works after its inception?
About a year. I had done some sample stuff before then but I hadn’t really worked on it.
Which songs have generated the most feedback so far?
I think the one with The Cool Kids gets the biggest club response – but on Spotify the really old-school 90s sounding track has almost three million plays in six months. It’s called “Respect the Source.” It seems like that’s the one that’s gotten played the most, but it’s weird because the club is different than Spotify. The more hip hop tracks like “The Gene Sequence” and “I’m Up Here” do way better in the club, and the more old school vibey stuff does well on Spotify. I feel like Spotify is what you listen to when you’re driving or making food or having a party. The mellow stuff does better on Spotify. That’s just what I’ve been noticing, but I really don’t really understand it. [laughs]
As for the music you grew up on, did you primarily listen to hip hop?
Yeah. I played the cello for a long time as well so I listened to a lot of classical. I listened to hip hop kind of from the beginning when commercial hip hop was becoming popular, around 1984 until the end of the 90s. I was really into it and then I got into jungle drum and bass. It took me a long time to get into house music. All my influences were more urban, rawer stuff.
Do you keep up with current hip hop at all – mainstream or underground?
No. It’s interesting because the underground sounding stuff was mainstream hip hop when I listened to it. Now that’s not the case. Now hip hop is pop music. I still like music on the weirder side of it. One of the main reasons I did this project was because I really like Gaslamp Killer and Eprom and all these guys who were really adventurous, taking risks and playing weird sets. I just thought it was cool! It reminded me of the beginning of jungle drum and bass. These guys were just way out on a limb doing crazy sound design and playing stuff no one had ever heard before.
We saw Gaslamp Killer live in Orlando not too long ago. I can see how that spacey, experimental style would coincide with the alien theme of your alter-ego album. So what has it been like juggling two music personas as far as the show bookings/business side as well as changing up from one type of music to the other?
I think it’s pretty clear-cut. We kept the branding clearly different. It’s very clear that Claude VonStroke is house and techno and Barclay is an off-beat sound, hip hop beats and weirder stuff. It’s slower b.p.m. and I wear different clothes. The visuals are way different. I do everything different from top to bottom.
Speaking of the Barclay uniform, what’s the covered hat thing you’ve been wearing and promoting? It’s becoming popular.
[laughs] So my elementary school, Roxborough Elementary, made those hats. I hadn’t seen one since then and I loved that hat. I thought it would be cool to bring it back. It’s almost like a safari hat but when you wear it you almost look like a samurai. It’s got that shape. I just like it. We made my whole outfit from scratch. We had someone sew it together.
You’re selling those hats right?
Yeah! I’m bringing it back. Actually, they’re really popular believe it or not. We’re now making a second color.
Are you going to make them for girls?
A girl can wear it. I don’t know to make it for girls. How would I do that?
You just make it in pink.
[laughs] Oh, ok. That’s not a bad idea.
I wanted to ask about the 99th episode of The Birdhouse with Doc Martin. It was a phenomenal mix. Have you worked with him in the past?
I made this documentary about how to be a DJ back in 2001. He was one of the guys that was nice enough to be on it. I always thought he was one of the nicest DJs and he saw me grow up in the industry. He agreed to do the show and that was it.
I wanted touch on your story coming up as a rising DJ. You mentioned the documentary days. You have a real started-from-the-bottom story from what I’ve read, were there times you wanted to quit?
Yeah, I quit three times…maybe more. I made electronic music with a four-track recorder when I was eleven years old. I had a sampler when I was fourteen. I quit many times. I quit for about two years when I was in college and decided to study for a while. I always came back to it.
Well, that’s good for us. Switching over to the Claude VonStroke EP, Works Well with Others, how did it come to include Will Clarke and Sebastien V?
Before this year I never did collaborations with anyone. Then I did the hip hop album which was a lot of collaborations. I had all different musicians playing the instruments as the sample source material. It was a big, major collaboration. Then I realized it’s not so bad. [laughs] So then I thought, ‘Why don’t I start working with some of our guys.’ Now I’m working on another one.
The “Tiny Tambourine” record is a standout in the club. We were at a Rabbit in the Moon show not long ago and Will Clarke was DJing. The song grabbed my attention as being very polished and it gets people moving.
Awesome! Thank you.
Related reading: [Interview] Will Clarke
Speaking of your label, you and several of the guys will be playing the Dirtybird Players stage at Imagine Festival this year. Is this your first time bringing a Dirtybird Players party to Atlanta?
Yes. In fact, we don’t play Atlanta that much. This is great. We’re kind of coming into a new market for us. I’m excited about it.
We’re also covering III Points which you will be playing in October as Barclay Crenshaw. How would you say a Miami party compares to other places?
Miami is a really old electronic music town. First of all, the hours are usually 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. instead of 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. That changes the whole attitude of the event. It’s more of a late-night vibe. You can go a little bit weirder and more underground and more adventurous on the sets.
Then we are looking forward to seeing you play as Claude VonStroke at Hulaween again this year. Do you do costumes for Hulaween? I don’t believe you were dressed up last year, but it’s hard to remember.
Last year I showed up with one minute to go before my set. We made a mistake in the drive time. We went to the wrong airport and we were racing to get to the gig – like all the way across the state. It was crazy. So I didn’t have time to do anything special. What’s the theme this year?
The Hulaween theme hasn’t been announced yet. It’s usually a theme related to a specific era in music. But if you could be anyone or anything from any time period, who or what would you dress up as for Halloween?
I have no idea…Chris Farley. I don’t know.
I could see you channeling Chris Farley.
I could just be up there living in a van down by the river.
Ha. Yep. You also announced you’ll be on Holy Ship! 2018. What do you have in store for the cruise?
We have a Dirtybird Island party on the boat that I’m on. And then we have a club night on the second boat. I think there’s four or five dirty bird artists on each boat. Justin Martin will be on both.
How would you describe the live music cruise ship experience?
It’s fun. It’s definitely an endurance test. It’s totally a blast but if you go too hard you’ll end up sick. It’s a non-stop party for days.
So pace yourself and drink water. Got it.
Pace yourself. Exactly.
How long have you been doing the Dirtybird Campout?
This is year three of the Dirtybird Campout. It’s gonna be awesome.
Who puts together the campout extracurricular activities? It looks so fun. When I was reading the agenda I felt like I was in the movie Step Brothers – like, “room for activities!”.
The creative idea was mine, but I definitely have to give credit to The Do Lab. They also produced Lightning in a Bottle. They pretty much execute the idea. I also have help from someone on our side named Lisa Sunday. They keep vibing off the original concepts and keep growing it and making it more and more crazy every time. It’s a blast.
What’s the attendance like?
It’s grows about 10% every year, nothing out-of-control. We try to keep it fun. I think if it hits a certain number it might not be as fun because there are so many personal activities. It’s maybe 8,000 people this year, maybe less. It started at 4,000 so it’s doubled in 3 years. But I don’t think we’d ever go more than 10,000 because it won’t be as cool.
What’s coming up for the radio show?
We just recorded our two-year anniversary show today. It’s my birthday set recorded live at the Amnesia Terrace when I played with Marco Carola.
Beautiful. That’s all the questions we have for now. We’ll make sure to tune into the radio show and we’ll see you soon at all of the events.
Cover image by Gourmandj