While the Balthazar Getty is a name most synonymous with outstanding work in the mediums of both film and television, music has always been his one true passion. This multi-faceted artist has been making music in various capacities for the past 25 years including producing the highly acclaimed Ringside project as well as various hip hop and electronic albums. His years of musical exploration have now led him to the creation of one of his most unique and ambitious projects to date, Solardrive. For the project, Getty spent a manic three weeks in which he holed up in his pool house-cum-home studio, self-producing an album using a Pro Tools rig that his wife and close friend Joaquin Phoenix together bought him, roped in a slew of his talented musician friends for impromptu recording sessions, and walked away three weeks later with an organically created debut album under the moniker of his new project, Solardrive. At the helm of Solardrive is Getty, the driving creative force, beat maker and producer on the record. Joining him are guests ranging from Ozomatli vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Asdri Sierra, Mother Tongue bassist David Gould and Rain Phoenix (Joaquin’s sister), among others. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught with this amazing artist to discuss his musical roots, the origin of Solardrive, the process of bringing the album to life and much more!
I want to go back to the beginning and have you tell us about your first memories of music.
I remember hanging out with my mom a lot and driving out to Marin County. She would always play Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan and Bob Marley. She really turned me on to all of the great classics. Even in the ‘80s, there was early electronic and I remember falling in love with Laurie Anderson and OMD, the early ‘80s synth stuff. It was really my mother who, early on, turned me on to music. As a kid, I played the violin and the harp. I played all of these classical instruments. I think my love for music started with her. I have these strong memories of driving to Marin across the Golden Gate Bridge and, again, listening to Cat, Bob and Townes Van Zandt.
Whom do you cite as your biggest influences, be it musicians you look to for inspiration or even a personal mentor?
Musically, as a mentor, as a teenager, my nom had a boyfriend named Olaf Kramer. He was a kind of rockabilly guy. He had this band called The Legendary Golden Vampires. He was the one who really started turning me on to dub music from Jamaica and really underground stuff when I was about 13 or 14. He turned me on to bluegrass, dub and early German electronic. A lot of my foundation in music was handed to me from Olaf. In terms of inspiration, I am sort of a ‘90s hip-hop kid. A lot of my stuff is rooted in hip-hop in terms of my production. There is Wu-Tang Clan, before them Big Daddy Kane, Run D.M.C. and Public Enemy. Bob Marley has always been a huge influence. I love albums you can listen to from beginning to end and have that spirit.
What kept you inspired along the way and fueled your creative fire?
Music is the ultimate platform. I feel it is the ultimate art and it crosses all boundaries, barriers, races, religions and speaks directly to your soul. Nothing moves us like music. If you are breaking up with somebody, if you listen to that album 20 years later, you are right back in that place. I feel like music is the soundtrack to our lives. For me, everything starts with music and I feel it is the ultimate form of art.
Your wife and Joaquin Phoenix are responsible for getting you on a Pro Tools rig. Obviously, you are no stranger to creating music but what doors did this gift open to you as an artist?
I always had small studios growing up. You know, a little four track studio, mini-DAT recorders and I even built a two track with a tape machine and an answering machine when I was a kid where I recorded demos with David Arquette when I was a teenager. When I finally got into Pro Tools, which is really a professional level recording studio, it just allowed me the ultimate freedom. I could sit there and record vocals, instruments and track after track after track! It allowed me to do so without having an engineer, studio space or needing a bass player to come in. It gave me a format to be able to record completely on my own, along with allowing me to mix and engineer. It was very empowering. I was finally able to do it all on my own and not have to rely on anybody else. There is nothing like writing and recording a song! The feeling that you get, the instant gratification you get, moments, minutes or hours later, when you press play and listen to what you just created! It is a truly awesome feeling.
Your latest musical endeavor is called Solardrive. How did you arrive at that name for the band and what does it mean to you?
Solardrive is where I recorded the material. Initially, it was just a name to type in and reference the material. The more I lived with it, I don’t know, there is solar, which is the power of the sun, and then drive, which is the movement. I feel like they are two words that work nicely together.
What were the major influences for this album?
Ya know, I loved early Massive Attack records, Portishead and Tricky — right when electronic music was starting to penetrate the mainstream but equally at the same time, you had these great records where you would have all these guest vocalists. It wasn’t clear whether it was a band or just one artist. You would have a reggae song, a soul song, a house song and all the instrumentation was consistent. I loved all of the guest vocals. It felt much more like a project and less a band. I wanted to make a record you can play beginning to end that captures a mood. I feel like it is very akin to those great electronic records that I mentioned listening to growing up, something you can put on at a dinner or at a party with some friends and have it playing.
For fans who have not had a chance to grab the release yet, what can they expect from the record sonically?
I think it’s rich, it’s gritty, it’s soulful, it’s sexy, it’s danceable. As I said, I feel like it is a record you should listen to from beginning to end. It is really a body of work. It is not a single driven album and it is not about buying that one single. It is about the whole body of work. It is a gritty, electronic, hip-hop production with sometimes soulful and very haunting vocals and lyrics over it.
Can you tell us about your songwriting process and how you typically go about bringing a song to life?
I have an old drum machine called an SP-1200, which is a classic piece of machinery. Cypress Hill did their first album with it. Bomb Squad guys used it on all the early Public Enemy stuff. It is a 2-bit sampler that has 10 seconds of sampling time on it. It has a very low-hi sound but nonetheless that is some of the charm of the machine. Normally, I will start with some drums. I will sample a kick here, a snare there and hi-hat there to construct the foundation for some drums. Then start inserting sounds that turn me on. It could be anything, a weird little synth line, a bass line or a sample off of an old soul record. Then usually a melody will come into my head and I will create the melody and write the lyrics that fit that melody. It sort of happens organically. The beat will start, I will create a melody around the beat, I will create a vocal melody in my head and create lyrics that work with that melody.
When it comes to creating songs, are you doing anything differently these days than you did early on?
I think I am evolving as a producer and engineer. I am somebody who is always playing with new gear and plug-ins. I think I am more mature and my ability is greater but, ultimately, the same thing pushes me. You can do so much more now and it is so much easier. When I first started recording, everything was on 2-inch tape. You would perform your mix-downs. You would do two or three performances and pick the best one of the group. Now, you highlight an area you don’t like and mute it. You don’t even have to punch anything in. The technology has come so far in the past 10 years, you can basically do anything.
When you were first starting out to make this record, what were your expectations?
That was kinda the cool thing! I didn’t have any! I had just gotten the new Pro Tools rig. I had just set it up and started recording. People were coming over and wandering into the house. I would rush them to the back. It was like, “You sing. Alright, jump on this!” It just sorta happened and some weeks later, before I knew it, I had 10 to 12 songs that I ended up narrowing down to the nine I picked for the album. I think when you set out to do something, sometimes it loses some creativity. This project just kinda flowed like a painting and weeks later there was an album there. Hopefully, I will put a couple of the ones I didn’t pick out as B-sides down the road. I think one of the songs I think we are going to release very soon. It is a song called “Be Alright.” There is a video to it as well. It won’t be on the album but I think we may do a free download. There are definitely a few fun B-sides I am excited to share.
You have quite a few collaborators on the album. What can you tell us about them and how did those collaborations come about?
There is a good buddy of mine named T.C. who is a very talented singer and producer. He is someone who has an unbelievable voice, this soulful falsetto. He has done quite a few songs. He and I had met through a mutual friend and I just loved his voice so much, I had to get him on as much as I could. Then there is Asdru Sierra from Ozomatli. Our kids, actually go to school together and we met through that. He is another amazing multi-instrumentalist who is a singer, songwriter, he plays the keys, he plays the horns and does it all. Again, people would just kinda come over and if they happened to be there I would pull them into the studio. David Gould, who is a very talented artist from a very famous ‘90s L.A. rock band called Mother Tongue, hadn’t sung in years. I pulled him back into the studio and got him on the album. Then of course, there is Rain Phoenix. She has this beautiful voice and I think we created a beautiful song together, which was something she had written. It is the only song on the album I didn’t write or co-write. She had written those lyrics and done her own version of that song. One of my oldest friends, Kevin Hicks, spit some rhymes on the album. He is like my older brother. I grew up with him. It was just family and friends. I didn’t reach out to anyone, things just happened organically.
You self-produced this album. What were the biggest challenges you encountered during the process?
No challenges really. Once you get your foundation and your understanding of the technical aspects, you pretty much can go from there. I don’t think there were any challenges. I wasn’t trying to achieve anything. I wasn’t trying to make a hit song, please anybody or fit in a category. I think the best thing to do is make music that you want to listen to and hope other people share your taste.
Looking back on the process, what is your fondest memory of working with your collaborators in the studio?
The whole thing was fun. It was never work. As I said, we never set out to do anything except make music and collaborate on music that turned us on. The whole thing was fun from beginning to end. We weren’t trying to do it to please anybody. When you are signed to a major record label, they just want to make hits. That is all they care about. You have a big committee of people who tell you whether or not they believe a song is a hit or not. This is very stifling and frustrating. For this project, we had no one to answer to. I have my own record label and we put out the records we like.
What other plans do you have for releases on your Purplehaus Records label?
We have Solardrive. We have The Wow, which is me and this MC named K.O. That’s my hip-hop project that we are really excited about! We have some singles out right now and a remix coming out next week with a rapper from New York called Vinny Cha$e. There is a video coming for that. We also have a video up right now called “Whittier Boulevard.” There is also a project called “Balt Vs. Beats” which is my instrumental album, which I have been dying to make for years! It is a collection of new material and old material, the instrumentals that have moved me the most. Then, of course, there is Ringside. Scott and I are working on a new album now. There are three or four things that we are really excited to get out with this label.
Can we expect to see more in the way of video aspects for Solardrive in the months to come?
Yeah. If it is not me directing, I definitely have a hand in all of the creative components of everything I do. The video form is such an important thing now. There is so much you can do now with the technology. As I mentioned, the video for “No Drama” is coming out very soon. Then there is the “Be Alright” video. I collaborated with my cousin on both of those. There is also the “Whittier Boulevard” video, which Amanda Demi directed. There is a bunch of other stuff for The Wow that Chris Young did. Those are just fun collaborations with people I respect and love. It is the same theme, we make videos we want to watch and we don’t have to answer to any authority.
Will you perform any of Solardrive’s music live in support of the album?
Yeah, we are not exactly sure. It was never intended to be a live touring band per-say, but we do like the idea of doing some speciality shows or doing something specific for the launch of the second Solardrive album. Live is not really where I love to be. The Wow will perform and I will do shows with all of the stuff, Solardrive, The Wow, Ringside, when needed but performing live is not really my thing. I like being in the studio and creating. All of it will have some sort of live component to it at some point or another.
How have you evolved as a musician through the years?
That is the funny thing, I am not even really a classic musician. I can’t sit behind any one instrument and impress anybody, quite frankly. I am sort of a songwriter and a producer. I think I have evolved because the technology has evolved so much along the way. You are always learning and wanting to keep up with what is available. I think I am always crafting and honing my skills as a producer to improve what I can create sonically.
What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to someone looking to pursue a career in music in the industry’s current climate?
I tell this to everyone and it is what I am doing — scrape some money together, invest in yourself, don’t ever take no for an answer and create what you like. We can record on our iPhones now. We can record movies on the device and upload them to YouTube and share them. I wouldn’t wait for anyone to open any doors for you. I think you have to open those doors and be in the driver’s seat. You have to be the one creating the opportunities. There is no excuse and there is nothing stopping just about anyone from manifesting their dreams on some level. Quite often, you will then end up getting some exposure and a label might come in and help you to the next level. Early on, I would just record, create content, build a website and tell people one by one to go see it.
The fans of your work waited awhile for this new chapter. Is there anything you would like to say to them as it makes its way to them?
It has been a long road in many ways and it has been very gratifying and exciting that the response thus far has been very positive. It has been a lot of work but it has been a lot of fun. I am really excited to share this album with everybody, it is a very exciting time! I want to thank everyone for their support and hope they will spread the word!
THE COLLABORATORS: As an added bonus, Balthazar Geety was kind enough to put us in contact with a few of his collaborators on the SOLARDRIVE project! Check out what Rain Phoenix, Kevin Hicks and Asdru Sierra have to say about working first hand with this gifted artist!
What attracted you to collaborating with Balthazar Getty on Solardrive?
Rain Phoenix: I’ve always liked Balthazar’s music/beats/production and vibe; so when he asked me to collaborate on a song for the record, I jumped at the chance.
Kevin Hicks: Attracted? Man, I showed up to chill with the Family. The next thing you know, Balt’s got me in the studio with headphones on! Its pretty much always happens like that with me and Bzar, for the fact that he knows I react the best when the light is thrown upon me. Its raw and thats his magic power. He captures the RAW.
Asdru Sierra: Balt has always been a good friend. And our kids are buddies! Always fun to hang with. It’s always a good vibe being around him, so you can imagine what making music with him is like.
Tell us a little about your experiences working on this project and how it came together?
Rain Phoenix: I had this song called “Monster.” Balt had this amazing beat. He creatively merged my lyrics with his music, and they went perfectly together.
Kevin Hicks: Balt is like a little brother to me, we compete rhyme for beat. That’s our sibling rivalry. The Hotter the beat the Grittier and more ill my rhyme has to come and vise versa, So if you ask Balt he has probably like 50 songs of mine hidden some where so us collaborating on “Solar Panel” was a given. I usually win though. [laughs]
Asdru Sierra: We did it all in one night. When we hooked up, it might’ve been like an 11pm start time! We tried a few ideas first, but something about this beat he had was just jumping out the speakers. Sparked all sorts of ideas. I laid down some stacked vocals and it just got really exciting. By the time we got to making the story of the song, it was almost as if Balt was my acting coach, and a writing coach. Very encouraging and positive. Even though this song became about a misfit that was in love with a girl who’s friends wouldn’t approve of! I really felt this way when I was a kid once. Everyone goes through crushes, ya know? But this song has this dark humor that make it edgy. I’ve never cussed in a song in all my years making music. This is a first! It was really cool to step out of my norm. Balt is just one of those cats that can focus on facilitating creativity. I’m really proud of what we wrote!
What are your fondest memories of the creative process?
Rain Phoenix: When I heard how Balt had reinterpreted and envisioned the track.
Kevin Hicks: Smoking a lot of weed and forgetting my fondest memories of our creative process.
Asdru Sierra: I think one of my fondest memories is getting to the point of really feeling like the character in this song. In my mind I pictured the character in the song running away with the girl he loves, fighting thru the girls bad friends and breaking away. But, somehow it being stopped by those girls somehow. Would make such a cool video. Balt had some great ideas.
What do you perceive as the biggest challenge you encountered on this project as an artist?
Rain Phoenix: Balt made it easy for me, ask him that question!
Kevin Hicks: I usually don’t freestyle things that i would release to the public. Its more of a lyrical exercise or homework to keep my brain sharp, even though some of my illest rhymes have come from this its still more of a tool, So to freestyle it, especially in a singing type of gritty style that the song “No Drama” is would probably be considered a challenge as to what the public would perceive as a freestyle rhyme.
Asdru Sierra: Challenge? There was no challenge. This was fun. That’s what made it flow. The fun and excitement of the creativity flowing once we had a great concept. I hope to make more music somehow in the future with Balt. Maybe we can put our kids on the track since they’re playing music now, too!
What do you think Balthazar Getty brought to the table for this project as it’s driving force and producer?
Rain Phoenix: He is super talented and enthusiastic in the studio. He’s really passionate about music. His excitement and dedication to the project was inspiring! I feel fortunate to have had the chance to work with him.
Kevin Hicks: He is what a REAL producer stands for. He not only hears, creates and bring the beat to life, he actually gets in with the artist’s lyrics so its not just someone doing something over someones track (like the crap you hear in most of the music today) there’s no Milk with that cereal no more. Music now a days is a fuckin’ fruit roll up and these loud ass colors cats are wearing underlines it. Really though Balt is a Dope producer because he actually produces.
Asdru Sierra: Balt always brings his vibe. His creative force of being this kind of coach in your corner that encourages you and drives the emotion of the track. It’s almost like making a movie. If you can see it and feel it in your mind, you can sing the shit out of it. This really came out in the process.