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Ali McGhee has a Ph.D. in English...
Chances are that by this point you’ve heard of BomBassic (BruceyB and Cpt Hyperdrive), the electronic duo who consistently electrify stages around town with their sets. They’re one of the hottest acts in town, bringing in crowds with music that is always fresh and that never compromises its creative edge. They just headlined the last Beat Life show at The Mothlight, and their exuberant, layered performance kicked up the energy and got the crowd moving. They brought their own spirit of collaboration to the forefront of their set. Musashi Xero and DJ Spitty came on stage to emcee, Tin Foil Hat (Jared Hooker) played live guitar on one song, and DJ Kutzu held down the turntables.
BruceyB (Bruce Bijesse) works the keys, spinning sounds influenced by hip hop, jazz, and classical music, while Cpt Hyperdrive (Rob Gray) creates beats and manifests an infectious energy that spreads through the crowd like wildfire. BomBassic has been creating music as a team since they were in high school. They have a unique relationship that allows them to work together effortlessly and intuitively. It’s a rare kind of collaboration that results in a state of flow—an energetic union of two artistic visions coming together in harmony.
Now BomBassic is on the threshold of greatness as the word continues to spread about their performances. They recently played their first music festival, Kinnection, and there’s a lot more in the works. They’re about to embark on a tour of the Southern United Sates that will take them to Tennessee, Louisiana, and Alabama. They’ve also been working on an official remix album that will feature Asheville-based artists like RBTS WIN, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, and others. I sat down with the guys to talk about the trajectory of their relationship, the development of their sound, and all of the exciting things on the horizon for them.
Ali McGhee: How did you guys meet and start playing together? What’s your superhero origin story?
Bruce: We met probably when we were like, 15. Around there.
Rob: Probably between 13 and 15. The thing was that we had mutual friends in middle school. We knew of each other and hung out once in a while but it’s not like we called each other up at that point, but we had mutual friends. And we started becoming friends over hip-hop music and going to shows in Long Island.
Bruce: We were in Long Island, Stony Brook. We had one mutual friend who gave us a lot of CDs to listen to and we started going to shows all the time. It was a similar crowd and we’d see each other all the time. We weren’t really good friends in high school, but we were mutual acquaintances.
Rob: Afterwards we became good friends. I went away to college, and Bruce, what did you do?
Bruce: I went to community college, in Suffolk.
Rob: So I was away and I started doing my own thing and I wasn’t really in contact with Bruce. And my first two years of college were pretty rough, I made some really bad decisions, got arrested a couple times, three times, in Florida, in a year.
Ali: That’s a good place to get arrested.
Rob: Yeah, I found out it’s quite the industry, people going into jail there. I made poor decisions. I actually wanted to be an FBI agent, I was going to get a criminal justice degree from the University of Tampa, and that’s where I thought I was focusing my energy for the future, but obviously not since I was making these pretty poor decisions. So after the second year and all these arrests I had to make the decision to come home and live with my family and my parents because I had an issue with substances at that point, and I was now on probation, had a 10 o’ clock curfew, had to live in my parents’ house and report to out-patient rehab as well. So I was locked down, utterly confused with what I was gonna do with my future.
Bruce: What year was this? What age were you?
Rob: I was 20, 19 turning 20. It was my second year of college so I came back that summer. I was really just in a deep whole, because now my career was out the window. I felt kinda empty. And my friend Rob, he was one of my good friends from high school, that Bruce and I both knew and who gave us all this music, he would invite me to Bruce’s house where they would record hip-hop tracks. Bruce would make the beats. Rob was one of the emcees. At that point I literally just sat there and watched them make music. Sometimes I had some critique but really I just enjoyed the whole process and started coming more often because at that point all my friends were away at college, and I wasn’t allowed to go out into any situations where there were drugs or alcohol, so I would just hang out in BruceyB’s basement.
Bruce: Yeah that’s how we got to kind of meet each other. I started making music when I was like 16, 17, just putting my ear to the speaker, and trying to mirror what other people were doing with beats. And then I was in a hip-hop group, Illest Rhyme Droppaz –
Bruce: So I started making beats that way, taking all the parts and making beats off that. And then I started, when I was 20, I started taking classical piano because I wanted to go to UNCA, their music tech program, and it was just another way for me to get out of New York and start somewhere fresh. . . . I was interested in going to school somewhere in NC for music. But I saw UNCA had a really cool program in music tech, but you had to learn an instrument, so I started taking classical piano when I was 20 and moved here when I had just turned 21. It was 2008.
Rob: I moved here in 2012. Actually it’s a funny story. I remember when Bruce told me about moving to Asheville – I think at that point his family had already decided to move. He has a big family—triplets and another brother—and they’re literally huge people. His mom is 6’ at least.
Ali: How tall are you?
Rob: His other brother’s like 6’4 or 6’5.”
Bruce: Zack’s like 6’7.”
Rob: Jesus! He’s a big boy. They literally have a big family, and it’s very expensive on Long Island to support a family and have a house that size and not be suffering from paying all that money. But he was going to Stony Brook, the state school in our hometown, literally a block down the road from him, and we were still focused on making music and I remember he went into finance, and it was probably the 2nd or 3rd week—
Bruce: It was the first week.
Rob: I worked at Stony Brook and I met him for lunch, and I said, “So Bruce, how’s finance going?” and he said “Ah it sucks, I hate it, I’m actually dropping out and I’m just gonna study classical piano for a year straight and go into this school called UNC Asheville,” and I was like, “That sounds like a pretty bad-ass decision.” And that’s exactly what he did. I remember he worked very hard and practiced really hard to get his skill level up—
Bruce: Because you had to audition.
Ali: And you went?
Rob: That’s how I heard of Asheville, and his moving here really changed how our music was made. Up until that point it was very centered in hip hop, and like more traditionally New York style hip hop—it’s called boom-bap style, with sampling, records, pretty punchy drums—
Bruce: Not really any instrumentation, just finding a sample that loops really well and just bringing the beat over it—
Rob: —and maybe adding some stuff but not much.
Bruce: I kept doing classical piano for about 3 years of intense study, like lessons every week, and that really developed me into being more music-oriented, where I can record myself, or just lay down piano and have more of an understanding of instrumentation and musicality and that really changed our sound a lot.
Rob: I would say also that Asheville really influenced the style of music we started making. We were really deep into underground hip hop, we knew a lot about that, but I remember one time [Bruce] sent me a batch of beats he made, and it was some other artists he heard here (one of these happened to be Pretty Lights), and I was like, what is this music? It was this coupling of hip hop beats with this futuristic, electronic dance sound that I thought sounded super fresh, and that kind of just opened a whole wormhole of what electronic music really had to offer. Ever since then we keep discovering a lot of new styles of it, new artists that inspire us to challenge ourselves to make new sounds.
Bruce: Yeah, I think that really helped give us the understanding that you can have a cool song where the instruments tell the story, rather than having vocals or a singer tell the story.
Ali: How do you actually collaborate, what’s that process like? How do you split up work, production, performances?
Rob: So as far as the level of collaborating on making music, it’s pretty awesome because we have a variety of processes that happen. All that I would say is it’s pretty organic, but we recently (over the past year) realized that if we want a developed song we should have an idea around it, an emotion we want to convey, and maybe a certain tempo. I think it’s good to put constraints on your music, so you can really get down to writing rather than noodling around and getting nothing done. But also we’ll ether just turn on our instruments—I have some Moog synthesizers, Bruce has another analog synth, a Juno, and we’ll either be practicing our live set or just have our instruments on and find a great beat and start jamming, and there may be a line that comes out, and we’re just like, “all right!”
Bruce: Yeah, something catchy that will catch onto us.
Rob: Yeah, and I’ll usually be the person who will hop in the captain’s seat—
Ali: Because you’re Captain Hyperdrive (laughs)
Rob: Yeah, and I’ll start recording Bruce, getting the sounds right,
Bruce: Trying different sounds. And I’ll just be playing, and he’ll be going through sounds.
Rob: And then one thing I think I have musically—because I’m not really talented outright musically, I don’t have the greatest dexterity, that’s been something I really have been working on—but the one thing I think I have is an ear for certain sounds and styles, so when I hear what Bruce is doing I can say, “All right. Let’s go with that” and hold it down and also try to get some other ideas I’m feeling within that sound. And we work pretty well because we’re not afraid to tell each other that we don’t like something. It’s something that you always have to deal with, because you attach your ego to the music you make, but just like your ego in real life you need to just let go of it and not hold onto it and think it’s something that’s so important, because more times than not, if somebody wants to change it, it could probably be better, so you just let it go.
Bruce: Sometimes you have to compromise and pick which way to go.
Rob: And that gives it direction too, because if you flop back and forth—and honestly more times than not it’s going to come out with a better result if you change it up. But the thing is—the great thing about this type of music we make and the technology we have, is that when you don’t want to compromise there’s a Cpt Hypderdrive solo project and a BruceyB project where we can make our own music that we just want to represent as ourselves. But also since we both respect our sound we’ll ask each other for feedback and get critique on that to make it better, but that’s what’s really great about this—so ego gets stomped on and we always can be happy. It’s great to have music where you need to compromise. You learn a lot from it.
Bruce: It just comes out better.
Ali: Not only do you collaborate with one another, you also collaborate with other artists on original material, remixes, etc. How do you choose who do work with and are there any exciting collaborations on the horizon?
Rob: I think sampling is like playing an instrument, in a way, as long as you’re not completely biting it and just looping a song, there’s an art to it. So it helps expose generations to all different types of music. That’s how I learned about all of these 60s R&B and soul groups and all these 70s bands, through these vinyl records. Where was I gonna hear that music? Especially obscure stuff.
Bruce: There’s really interesting instrumentation.
Rob: One I always liked is Chuck Mangione—he’s a horn player. I remember ELO too, Bruce showed me one of those records and I was blown away by them.
Bruce: We are working on an Asheville-based remix EP. We’re taking stems, which are individual tracks from bands in Asheville (you’re getting the guitar track, the bass track, the drums, all separate so you can do what you want with them). We’re getting those from all local Asheville musicians and we’re doing an Asheville-based remix EP.
Rob: That’s all official remixes too.
Bruce: Yeah, other bands are giving us these tracks to do what we want with them
Rob: We’ve reached out to a wide variety of bands, and we’ve still got to lock down a couple more, but so far we have RBTS WIN confirmed, Josh Phillips Folk Festival Band, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, Brushfire Stankgrass, Papadosio. We have one more but we don’t want to talk about that until it’s confirmed. We want to get a wide variety. None of those acts are really too electronic—RBTS WIN is but it’s not your typical electronic music, so I think that’s something that will showcase our ability to remix. And after the fact we realize it’s a good marketing scheme because it’s going to expose us to the press that’s worked with these big bands—
Bruce: Asheville likes that stuff.
Rob: And I think that’s one thing we could use more is more local attention, because both Bruce and I give back to the community—we’re not just musicians, we do a lot of things here.
Ali: What do you think about the electronic music scene in Asheville? How connected do you feel the music is to the landscape? Where do you fit in the Asheville scene?
Bruce: It’s very saturated. Thinking of the population compared to the amount of musicians here, but we want to do something that’s organic, that’s fresh, that’s not like something you would hear anywhere else. Just stick to our roots of being who we are and making music we’re into, not doing away with that just to be popular, or just to make whatever’s hot. There are some people who spend all this money to get a really good music video.
Rob: But I think we have some of the best talent in the world. For example Marley Carroll, one of the best live sets I’ve seen acoustic or electronic in my opinion, absolutely amazing musician, he’s right here. I literally will be kind of almost disappointed after watching a set, but right then and there I look at Bruce and I’m like, “Dude, we should go to the studio right now and start working.” There’s a lot of artists here that all have different styles of music that I have a lot of respect for. But the thing is, as Bruce was saying, that’s it’s hard here to make it as just playing local shows in Asheville because there’s a huge national headline act, and three solid local acts, and there’s very few people here in town, as far as like just in general, 85,000 is not that much for a city, and if there’s a show, 3 or 4 nights a week of electronic music for example, people are gonna just choose one or two.
Bruce: I think that’s a good way of what we’re trying to do with Beat Life. We’re trying to build up this really cool brand so people outside of Asheville, just through the internet, will be like, “Oh what’s this thing happening here in Asheville?”
Ali: So it’s about reaching beyond Asheville for an audience.
Rob: The events are quality. The music, the sound, the vibes. And I think the most important thing is the vibes. Every Beat Life, I feel really comfortable and I think people who are new to it –it’s a comfortable atmosphere, so it’s exciting to be a part of. That’s what we would like to see here in Asheville, is more of a unifier.
Bruce: It seems like everybody’s by themselves, doing their own thing, in their own heads.
Rob: That’s why we try to reach out to many musicians. Beyond just other bands we work with instrumentalists, so literally every person I come across at Moog or in the street, I get their number in hopes of collaborating with them. That’s one way we like to reach out and work with a lot of different people.
Ali: How would you describe your own artistic vision and sound?
Rob: The style I like to say is funky, sexy, and soulful. We call it the futuristic sexy soul sound sometimes.
Bruce: Beethoven’s mine.
Ali: How do you feel you bring that classical music sound into the BomBassic sound?
Bruce: Beautiful melodies. Great harmony.
Rob: And there’s great basslines in that music. You just don’t hear it as the bassline you hear today, you just translate that bassline.
Bruce: The emotion. You’ve gotta bring the emotion.
Rob: We always want to have an emotion and tell a story. I was telling Bruce yesterday what the main goal I want our music to have, especially the live performances, is to feel like you’re in a movie. You know when you see a really good movie and you forget that you’re sitting in a theater and you’re literally on that planet they’re on, or in that crazy war, and you feel the emotions they’re feeling? I don’t know if we’re there yet, I don’t think we are, but I think if we keep working we can provide an experience for people like that one day. Totally immersive. Our emotions—we don’t really try to convey anything aggressive. If we convey anything it will be a melancholy, darker stuff, but it’s always something that has a message and a positive undertone to it. Like on the “Can I get A" Remix (Jay Z)? the original chorus is really vulgar. It’s like “Can I get a Fuck You to (these) bitches?” that’s the original song, and when we were remixing it we both agree –the original song bounces, it’s really danceable, but that chorus is really explicit and misogynistic, so we actually chopped up the vocals, so it just has a rhythm to it, but you can’t tell—
Bruce: It says, “Can I get a love love”? (laughs)
Ali: You Asheville’d it! (laughs)
Rob: So we always have that idea in mind, of just having a positive experience, a deep experience.
Bruce: A message.
Ali: You guys are very different, personality-wise. How does that work?
Rob: Our personalities are pretty different. I’m pretty upbeat, I talk a good amount, I’m really high energy. And Bruce has great energy but he’s more subdued and laid back, soft-spoken, so this chemistry just works. It balances each other out really well, because this is very difficult, to have. Relationships period are very difficult – period. This relationship is based on friendship and music.
Bruce: Definitely a marriage.
Ali: You guys are married?
Rob: I don’t think I’ve spent more time with anybody other than Bruce.
Ali: You would have a beautiful child. (laughs)
Rob: It would be interesting looking.
Ali: What about future projects?
Bruce: An EP coming out, Acceleration, this summer
Rob: We’re close, we’re doing the final mixing phases and getting the artwork done. About a year ago we were in contact with a label, which we won’t mention by name until it’s locked down. If it does happen it would be our first release on a solid label and would get us international exposure as far as our music, so we’re –this is some of our freshest stuff yet, and we’re really excited. We’ve played it in live sets. Either way we’re really excited to release it.
Ali: Other shows besides Beat life?
Bruce: We’re going on a New Orleans tour.
We’re playing a show with AF THE NAYSAYER. He got us the events, so shout-out to him, thank you for that. He’s a really great musician and person. Just a really great person. He’s got a good heart. So he hooked us up with both the Baton Rouge and New Orleans shows. We had shows in Birmingham, Alabama, and Jackson, Mississippi. All within the July 4th week. We’re trying to lock down Nashville, so that’s the first stop we’re making.
Bruce: We’re also playing Charlotte July 23rd. Trying to spread the music outside of Asheville a little bit.
Rob: In the fall we’re going to try to reach out and do college towns. I think that’s a scene we really want to reach because that’s the majority of people that take in that music. I know when I was 18, I knew the style of music I liked but there was also a lot of malleability with that, so you come in and if we – we want to have a fan that’s a life-long fan. We’ll probably have fans who are into us because that’s what’s popular, or their friend likes it. But we want somebody to really feel our music and wanna be with us throughout, and that’s gonna take a lot of work to do that, but that will give us a longevity as musicians and help us create the most authentic music that we can make.
Rob: I have an EP, Burning Roses, that I’m very close to finishing. I’m really excited to showcase it because it’s very emotional and downtempo. It still has groove for dancing but it’s more head music. I want people to really dive in. The songs go from 5 to 7+ minutes, so they’re more like stories. I’m pretty close to finishing that. I would hope that it’s done by the summer. I’m waiting on getting some live instrumentation, I’m done with a lot of my portion of it. I’m getting the artwork done. My friend J Christian Smilanic will take the pictures and do the graphic design.
Smilanic was one of our first fans. This is what I mean about true fans. He had no connection to us any which way, he wasn’t a friend, didn’t know friends of friends, and he heard through a friend about our music and came to one of our shows, and now we’re all best friends.