Aaron Montaigne sat down with Los Angeles’ own Juan Mendez a/k/a Silent Servant who has infiltrated the techno and electronic scene with his rhythmic EBM-influenced tracks. His popularity is only growing with his carefully curated Jealous God label and his skillful DJ sets that he performs around the world. You can check out tour dates and info on Resident Advisor.
Aaron Montaigne- I’m here at the Peking Tavern. It is 20:29 at Peking Tavern LA with Mister Silent Servant himself. Alright, let’s get into it. Cheers!
Silent Servant- Cheers
AM-What are you drinking?
AM-Alright so you are a prolific producer, DJ, and techno DJ for the most part. Before we get into your music, I want to talk about – you were born in Guatemala, correct?
SS-Yes, I was born in Central America and I moved here when I was two.
AM-So, you moved here when you were two. I want to talk about what it was like growing up in z hood. And what it was like discovering punk rock and that scene.
SS-I grew up in the suburbs so it was part hood but part chill at the same time. I basically grew up in Orange County. But we had our fair share of drive-bys and gang shit, all that kind of thing. I mean I confess I’ve never been a ‘punk rocker,’ I’ve never been into punk. I just got into new wave shit at an early age. The first few records I had were Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths and The Cure. My brother used to hang out with these death rock skater dudes and that how I got on.
AM-What Cure records?
SS-Just Standing on the Beach, the singles, Columbia House 5-cent record mail order shit.
AM-That’s z jam. So did growing up in Orange County and being around that and your brother – I’ve met your brother – and what you’ve told me he was headed down a dangerous path.
SS-Yeah, you know my brother was involved in a lot of crazy shit when he was young. When he was like 14-15, he got into a lot of stupid shit that was dicey, but at the same time he was able to get out of it and straighten up as he got older. It was pretty normal, you know, gangs were like – it was the 90s. I started high school in ’92 so ‘89, ‘90, ‘91, my brother was just a kid getting into a lot of trouble. But before that he taught me how to skate and hung out with all the – you know the cholos knew the punks and the death rockers and the skaters, everyone who was cool kind of kicked it together. Everyone was just cool. Alternate cultures were chill, but with the gang shit that’s when it got dicey. Cultural lines were definitely set there, you know – Asian gangsters, Hispanic kids- the Hispanic gangs had a lot of white kids, too.
AM-So in the 90s is it true that you started the label Historia y Violencia?
SS-It was a bit later, it was in the early 2000s. It was just a couple of friends. We tried to do some stuff for Hispanic kids and their music. My other friend started pushing it a bit, I kind of got too busy and felt it ran its course so I took a bit of a backseat and let him run it. But you know it was cool, I’ve done a couple of things like that.
AM-And you started DJ’ing at 16?
AM-What kind of stuff and what kind of parties?
SS-It was like backyard stuff, parties, and high school dances basically. You know it was shitty electronic music but it was fine at the time, just a lot of backyard parties. Then I started going out to clubs when I was 16-17, and that was it. Just started going out all the time. LA has always been pretty good for that.
AM-Right. Party town.
SS-Downtown LA, we used to hang out here a lot but it was a completely different place.
AM-Right, nowhere fancy like this.
AM-Tell me about the Sandwell District and your collaboration with Regis.
SS-So basically I became friends with Carl when I was in my early 20s. He used to own a distribution company that distributed a bunch of records that we did back then and some other stuff in the same vein and we just stayed friends through that. There was the weird thing in the 2000s when the vinyl industry took a shit.
AM-Yeah! Forty bucks for that new Suede record, man. Forty bucks!
SS-Yeah, [laughs], it’s crazy. Yeah, so we just stayed friends through all the weirdness. He used to come to California for vacation and that’s how we stayed friends. At that time I was in some legal trouble and couldn’t really travel.
AM-Would you like to elaborate?
SS-Nah, uh, whatever. Stupid felony shit. But basically he would come and hang out in Southern California and long beach and I was DJ’ing at bars. He’d come to our bar nights and I’d be playing post punk shit. The reissue craze hadn’t really hit yet so we were playing a lot of James White and the Blacks and The Contortionists. It was right when the first Rapture record had already come out and the second one was in its prime, you know? We were playing Suicide records and DAF and shit and he was super stoked on that and let on that he grew up with all that shit and basically schooled me on that shit. We stayed friends and he asked me if I ever wanted to make music again to hit him up. And that must’ve been 2005, so I started making music for him and that’s when I started doing that Silent Servant stuff, around 2004-2005. So we basically started doing records together and then I took over on the visual identity stuff and we set up a hierarchy structure of who was in charge of what and it was me, Carl, Dave Sumner, and this guy Peter Sutton.
AM-Is it defunct now?
SS-Yes. We stopped in 2011. I think. You can verify that online.
AM-When I first moved to LA 2½ years ago, right when I first moved here, one of the first shows I went to was one that you, Regis, and Veronica were doing – and you played a set too – it was fucking sick. Do you consider your music warehouse techno? There are so many different genres of techno.
SS-It depends, you know, I make different stuff with the same ideals. I grew up DJ’ing so the music I make is more functional because that’s just how my brain works. I think I just kind of figured this out, that first and foremost I’m a DJ, I’m an artist, like I don’t really enjoy playing live so much. As far as music, I think I’m better at the curatorial aspect of it than I am, say, making records.
AM-So speaking of records, tell me about the Jealous God the label you run.
SS-The label’s a project-based, issue-based thing. The initial idea was to run it like a magazine. We basically curate different artists, female and male musicians, if you look at it you know we’ve used a lot of really great people here in LA. Also musically, we’ve covered a lot of ground from a diversity standpoint. And in a way, the label is how I would program a night if I had the opportunity to do a festival that’s how I’d do it; it’s curated in the same way, in that fashion.
AM-Like a gallery.
SS-Yeah, a gallery in my brain, basically.
AM-It seems like in your music you’re blending EBM, some new wave – a lot of the synths are very new wave.
SS-Yeah, at the end of the day it’s what I really love. New wave stuff, industrial stuff. I really love EBM shit. Some of that stuff I really came into later. You know, LA has always had a really good scene for these post-80s clubs that existed since I was in high school. In backyard parties, even if it was a gangster cholo party you would always hear New Order ‘Blue Monday’ and then you’d hear some Prince jam and then Egyptian lover, shit like that. So it was always mixed and fun.
AM-So your music – and this is going to be kind of a weird question and you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to – to me it’s very sensual. It’s great music to fuck to. Do you ever think about that? People making love in the dark to Silent Servant?
SS-[laughs] Not necessarily. I mean, theme-wise, I’ve always been into cinematic themes. So if that plays into it, that’s cool.
AM-Yeah, it is, you know, it always has the beat.
SS-Yeah, that’s good, it’s consistent.
AM-You know, next time you write music, think about that: dark room, lovers…
SS-[laughs] I will. It’s always cinematic, semi-somber themes… Lately I’ve been trying to think of things like the classic notion of there’s no light without dark or vice versa so, the play on that is important to me.
AM-Start shuffling those cards while we’re talking.
SS-Ok, cool. [to the waiter] Yeah, let’s do shots, two more shots.
AM-So, Jealous God, what do you have next, what do you have coming out, what’s in z nearest future for Jealous God and Silent Servant?
SS-We’re going to end the label in probably a year and a half; it’s going to stop. We want to do a book at the end to put the whole thing together. The Damian Dubrovnik record just came out a couple weeks ago, a month ago. We have a Phase Fatale 12” that just came out this week in Europe, it will be out in a few weeks here. In the US issue, all the artwork was done by Jenny who makes movies, she’s a director. So the US issue comes with a DVD of her films, which is pretty killer. Then after that we this Italian guy [name inaudible], it’s more of a techno record. Then after that there’s a dude from Chicago, Alex Barnett, making a record under the name Champagne Mirrors. There’s a tape already out of the record but we decided to put it out on vinyl. Then after that, there’s this dude Black Merlin.
AM-So you’re finishing up with Jealous God, why?
SS-I just think it will be time, it will have run its course basically.
AM-Cool. So shuffle the cards I want to have you draw a card to see what the future of Silent Servant is, I hope it’s good. [pulls card] The Chariot! Oh, Major Arcana! It’s journey, obviously it’s a journey card. Conveyance, war, journey, progression. Vengeance, trouble.
AM-OK, one last question for you. What is your favorite Morrissey or Smiths song?
SS-That’s a hard one!
AM-I know! It’s a hard fucking question!
SS-Can I give you two? A Morrissey and Smiths?
AM-Sure! No rules!
SS-It’s between ‘Wonderful Woman’ and, though I would say ‘How Soon is Now?’ Is one of the best, but I’d say – how about ‘Well I Wonder.’ Then, as far as Morrissey, damn. It would be between ‘Last of the International Playboy’ or ‘Bengali in Platforms.’
AM- Merci. Fin