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living out the garage band dream with Suzanne Kraft

Little disclaimer: we don’t have the answer as to why Suzanne Kraft. The most we can promise you is at least you’ll know why not. 

We spoke with LA-born and Amsterdam-based Diego Herrera about his dreams of being in a band and how much of the music he makes is driven simply by his desire to experiment and try new things. We have much to thank dublab for paving the path. Since then, it’s been surely a hell of a ride. He moved halfway across the world to pursue music for a living.

What attracted you to move to Amsterdam?

At an early age, the only place I ever wanted to live in the States is LA. The next immediate option was somewhere in Europe. I thought “What if I try basing myself somewhere in Europe and see if I could make a living off of music?” At that time, Amsterdam is where I had the most friends and still do actually! So it was as simple a decision as that. I moved where it felt the least different.

Do you go back to LA often?

I’ve never spent so much time in LA since I moved to Amsterdam in 2015. I came back to be with family during the lockdown and I’m still here. I might come back to Amsterdam in October, just to check in on basic life things. I’ve been neglecting my studio and apartment. 

Let’s talk about music. What are you listening to for the moment?

Now I’m using this surplus of time to revisit the rock stuff I flirted with at a younger age but never got into. Grateful Dead, Tim Buckley and The Pretty Things have been very big for me the last couple of weeks. I am also listening to new stuff from Christelle Bofale, Westerman, ML Buch and Protect​-​U.

You travel over the spectrum it seems! The music you make is also so varied yet so distinct. What gravitates you towards the music you make?

I’m not sure what it is but I’ve heard people say it before. The thing is: The sound I make is a result of me trying to figure out doing what I like in other records. I’m always trying to change it. I’m never satisfied with it. Perhaps it’s just a result of trying not to get stuck in a pattern. But then again, if people say I have a distinct sound, then I must be stuck in some kind of pattern that people recognize.

Is that something that bothers you when people say you have a distinct sound?

No, it doesn’t bother me. It’s really nice actually. It’s so much better than “oh, you sound like everyone else.” For me, it’s just a good reminder to never stop. Never stop working, never stop trying to change.

Does your mood affect the music you make?

As far as life goes, all I do is just make music. I couldn’t say: When I’m feeling this way, I like to make this. There’s no direct connection with what I feel and the music I make at all. Sometimes I could be happy but make music that’s dark and aggressive, just because it’s fun. But I wouldn’t say there are necessarily obvious connections.

So the music you make is purely based on experimentation? It doesn’t start with a feeling you want to express in sound?

Most often, it starts from me wanting to try a new effect or wanting to get a guitar part done. Through the process of it, it will affect my mood. So they definitely inform each other in the moment. It will either encourage me or discourage me from exploring.

How has your music making evolved over the years?

Cool, I never think about these things!

I grew up playing music in school. My parents made me. It was almost like a requirement to have a creative pursuit outside of school. Then in high school, I got my first laptop and I started to do just very basic recordings. After high school, I started working at dublab here in LA.  Going to dublab was like my university of recorded music and experimental music. That’s when I really started getting interested in samplers, sequencers and how to make the stuff I was listening to.

Even when I was living in my mom’s garage, I had a studio set up in there and I would try to record things in the most basic way. I would tinker with the guitar, or the bass, or try singing even. It was like living my garage band dream. It was mostly for fun, but I think the fascination for recording came from always wanting to be in the band. It’s always been my dream to have a really fun tight band to play with. I’ve just never been in the right situation, so recording was my way of putting a band together. I just play all the parts and then there’s a band.

As far as early releases go, I was mostly doing computer-based and more house records. Eventually when I moved to Amsterdam, Jonny and I got a studio space together almost immediately after he moved and that was like the next phase of it. Having a dedicated studio to go to everyday and start seeing making music as a job. 

Recording was my way of putting a band together. I just play all the parts and then there’s a band.

Did Amsterdam influence the way you make music?

Amsterdam, I’d say no, but the whole move itself of me now committing to doing music as a full-time thing. My income in the last 5 years has just been mostly from DJ gigs that only happen on the weekends. So all of a sudden, I was faced with nothing but creative free time. That freedom certainly has had an impact on things. 

Of course, the positives of moving to Amsterdam also come with negatives too. The trends are much more pronounced here. Everyone has their taste but everyone wants to hear the same thing, so that sometimes also feels saturating and discouraging. Last year, I was really burned out from all the wave stuff that I used to love. All of a sudden, you just can’t escape it. Even during the sunniest festivals, they would just play that kind of music in the middle of the day. Trends blind people to context, really.

Since you DJ a lot, do you prepare for your sets or are you more of an improviser? 

I’m kind of both. It really depends on my mood and the seriousness of the gig. The most fun yet most stressful time I had preparing for a DJ set was for Giant steps in London. That remains my best example of preparation paying off, as the crowd was really receptive to it and you just knew they were there because they want to hear good music whatever it is.

When it comes to your music, you’ve released on different labels. Do you choose which label to release on depending on the music you make?

I don’t have conscious decisions of being in this label or that label. It’s mostly just personal connections. I don’t think I ever released anything on a label where I don’t know the person behind it personally. Because of that, they kinda always know what I’m up to, so  it’s more just a matter of plugging in the right things at the right time. 

How involved are you with Melody as Truth?

Jonny and I make so much music together in the studio, so inevitably my ideas seep into parts of the label. But Melody as Truth is really Jonny’s thing. He has total control over it and I’m just happily entrenched in it.

Jonny Nash on the grand piano
Suzanne Kraft on the organ

Do you also have plans to start your own label?

I started a small side-label called P&D a few years ago with Parker (P Relief) who’s a good friend of mine. We release music we make whenever we feel like it, leaning more towards electronic and club music.

You release under different aliases as well. How do you decide which alias to use for a release?

The records I release do not come with any genre or label attached. With Suzanne Kraft, I’ll release a club-oriented record this month for example and the next month I’ll be releasing something more ambient. It’s never really been a question of meeting expectations or being aware of what people are looking for. To me, they’re just little sonic experiments. The SK U Kno is a more recent thing that came about casually, so I think of it as a new little play area with a more casual approach to things. 

You have done a lot of collaborations lately. How do your collaborations come about?

I usually don’t know what to say when someone I don’t know reaches out to me for a collaboration. I like my collaborations to be as natural as possible, but there are some exceptions of course. For example, the new album with Suso Saiz was a collaboration constructed on behalf of Music from Memory. We got along immediately as friends, which I guess is the biggest indication that something will work out. If you feel comfortable with someone, how could it not work out? Even if nothing comes out of it, it will still be a better experience than working with a complete stranger.

Do you have a preference of what format to release your music on?

I’m not a purist at all, so I wouldn’t say that vinyl is the only way. But as far as my work is concerned, I would like to have a physical version of it. Something that can’t be deleted accidentally, whatever that may be. That’s something I’m very aware of when putting a record together. I have a standard in my head that it shouldn’t be a waste of plastic and shouldn’t harm the planet because of some ideas I had on guitar. It just should be good enough to come into the world.

I have a standard in my head that it shouldn’t be a waste of plastic and shouldn’t harm the planet because of some ideas I had on guitar.

Do you have any advice on what’s the best way for people to listen to your records?

Growing up in Los Angeles, most of my music listening experience is around the car. There’s something about traveling in a car that’s pretty unique. You’re on your own bubble, you have your own environment in there and the music becomes part of it. The music informs how you see your surroundings or how you hear what’s happening outside the car.

What is your favourite concert setup?

When I perform live, I get the impression that the audience needs to see something happening for them to enjoy the experience better. I’ve never had that impulse. To me, the act of observing something changes the experience fundamentally. Your thinking is instantly changed once you see how something is done, for better or for worse. So I’d much rather not be seen and just have some kind of visual representation in the form of projections or stage design. Something that influences how you listen, but can also be interpreted in your own way.

Jonny & Suzanne at a live gig

Lastly, why Suzanne Kraft?

I’ve never answered that question publicly, so I will have to pass on that one again. I do have my philosophy around it. My favorite thing in music or in the presentation of music is not knowing everything about it and still being kept wondering. I guess that’s the main thing.

check out Suzanne Kraft’s releases in store

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