Exclusive: Tricks of the Dance Trade with Amtrac
Speaking to Caleb Cornett, aka Amtrac, one would expect him to be the frontman of a four piece bluegrass band, perhaps playing the banjo. Despite his warm, Southern drawl courtesy of his Kentucky upbringing, Amtrac belongs to the genre of bass thwomping, dance your cares away EDM. Last year saw him touring in support of Kaskade on his North American tour, and this year the two have collaborated on several tracks this year ahead of Amtrac’s full length debut slated for release next year. About to embark on a stint of shows in Europe, Milk Made’s Jake Boyer spoke to the artist just before he left about his thoughts on performing live, his earliest musical memories, and how he feels about sharing a copyright patent with Stevie Wonder.
So I have to ask, are you named after the railway?
I don’t even know where my name really comes from. I do remember that it was on like a Modest Mouse flyer I saw in college: ‘Ride the Amtrak you broke ass!’ And I liked that, Amtrak is cool I guess. I took it up and never dropped it, it just stuck. And I guess the Amtrak train breaks down a lot, and I break it down a lot, so we have that in common.
And you added a C instead of a K for copyright reasons?
Yeah. But I like it more with the C, the K has too much edge about. I’m not edgy enough to spell my name with a K.
You’re about to tour Europe for the first time…how are you feeling about that? Nervous? Excited?
Pretty excited yeah. A little nervous. I’ve been to Brazil before and that was probably crazier, so I think I’m ready for it. It’s definitely where my music is more accepted. And a lot of things I’ve been inspired by came from the UK.
Take us through the construction of your songs…do you have a specific method?
Layers. No specific method, just layers. I do a lot of remixes. With remixes I rarely use anything except the vocal track. I try and find the tempo, lay it out. More than anything I sit at the keyboard and write melodies, I give myself a lot of ideas. A lot of times I only get to spend a day in the studio working on it, so I like to have a lot of recorded material. There’s a lot of trial and error, subtracting and adding things. Usually subtracting a lot of stuff and finding the minimal.
Is there a big difference between when you’re writing your own music and remixing?
Remixes give me a deadline, which means there’s a need to be creating all the time. I like having deadlines. Tell me to get it done and I manage it. I just like having little things to make you work. If there weren’t deadlines I would never be happy with it and I would just keep changing it and keep changing it. I just want to get it out of the gate and be ready for it to go.
When sampling, do you hear sounds you want to use first or find them later and weave them in?
Sometimes, but for the most part not really. I have a whole mixtape I made based around sampling records, called ‘Hey There Kiddo’. That kind of got my bug of sampling out. But I’m still very much influenced by The Avalanches and Edan Beauty and The Beat-this white rapper. I really like to sample but there’s all the red tape now. Sometimes they’ll clear it, and sometimes they don’t. But it is crazy once all is said and done, like I got a piece of mail showing a copyright notice that I co-own with Stevie Wonder. That was wild.
How much equipment do you need to make a song?
Mainly just my laptop. I’ve spent a lot of time making these files of things I’ve recorded that I can just chop up and manipulate anywhere. Say I go to a studio in Miami or LA and I get stuck. I’ll just plug up the nicest keyboards they have and play around. And then I’ll save it and chop it up whenever; detune it, mess with it. I get an entire synthesizer usage in an hour and then never have to touch it again.
Do you like performing live? Is it conducive enough for electronic music?
Yeah. I actually haven’t performed live since three years ago. I enjoyed that but it’s difficult to keep yourself busy on stage while doing something musical. I love DJ-ing, but live performing electronic music is entirely different; you can be doing a lot or you can be doing nothing when you’re standing up there. It’s kind of stressful. And you have to do visuals. I’ll probably do a proper, full tour for my upcoming album coming out next year.
When did you first want to start making music?
I think I picked up an acoustic guitar in 3rd grade 4th grade. Something just struck there. My dad was always pushing weird rock n roll records on me. I have a distinct memory of my dad making us wait in the car while we listened to ‘Welcome to the Machine’ by Pink Floyd. That was the first time I really sat and listened to a piece of music, really listened. That was the big ‘It’ moment.
Catch Amtrac on tour:
12/3 Seattle – Q Nightclub
12/4 Milwaukee – Bad Genie
12/5 Portland – Whiskey Bar
12/6 Miami – Basel Castle // Grand Central Miami
12/9 Austin – Kingdom
12/10 Denver – 1up Colfax
12/11 LA – Sound
12/12 San Francisco – Audio
12/13 Phoenix – Monarch Theater
12/14 Vancouver – Electric Owl