Grindin' x Daniel Biltmore
Grindin’ x Daniel Biltmore
Grindin’ sat down with Baltimore based producer, DJ and one half of Chad Hugo’s MSS CMMND Mr. Daniel Biltmore to talk about his newest projects and how it’s like to work with the legend one half of The Neptunes and multiple Grammy Award Winner Chad Hugo.
Where did you grow up?
Silver Spring, MD – right outside of Washington, DC.
Let’s talk about the Name, what’s the meaning behind it?
As far as my DJ name goes, in college I had an indie hip-hop-focused radio show called “Independent Thought” at The University of Maryland. My show was on Friday nights, right after Peter Rosenberg’s (Hot97) show. A bunch of people started calling me “Hip-Hop Dan” because of my show, so it stuck. A few years later, as I began branching out towards other genres, the name became a bit confusing to a lot of people. At the urging of Kenna and Chad, I decided to go with a new name, and Chad came up with the “Biltmore”…he said it “sounded rich” Laughs.
For our group name, MSSL CMMND…there wasn’t a ton of meaning behind it, but I am a big video gamer, and we were taking too long to come up with a name, so we just ran with something that payed homage to our time spent in arcades back in the day. Chad is really big on making sure there is appropriate meaning behind a name, so we spent some time coming up with an acronym. So as a sort of subtext, we began saying “My Soul Shall Live ‘Cause My Mind Never Dies.”
How did you meet Chad Hugo?
Chad and I met through a mutual friend, Jason Rodman. Jason and I knew each other through the "streetwear" industry, but I had no idea he knew Chad. He called me up on a random Thursday and asked if I could be the opening DJ for an event Chad was doing in Baltimore for T-Mobile. I immediately canceled everything else I had going on that day and went home to prepare. I essentially treated the gig as an audition, and probably pushed myself to perform harder than ever before at that moment. It was an amazing night. As I was leaving at the end of the night, I happened to run in to Chad outside of the venue as he was heading to his hotel. We spoke a bit, and kept in touch frequently after. Eventually I started making regular trips to Virginia Beach to work with Chad, and just went from there. It was all a very unexpected series of events.
How is it working with Chad?
Interesting and inspiring. You hear Pharrell say it all the time, but Chad is absolutely a creative genius. He can play so many instruments it's like being next to an entire band, and the things he hears sonically are light years beyond most humans comprehension. The nuances he picks up on are truly eye opening. One of Chad's best qualities is not only that he knows when to add things, but he also knows when to take things out. His curation of sounds on any given piece are sometimes the crucial difference between their success and failure in my opinion.
Recently, the author Malcolm Gladwell aired an episode of his Revisionist History podcast titled "Hallelujah." It was essentially a meditation on the nature of artistic genius, which attempted to classify creativity as "conceptual" (immediate) and "evolutionary" (building over time). I couldn't help think of Chad as I listened -- I think his success is primarily "evolutionary" in that he will tirelessly revise his work, but he also has a bit of conceptual genius inside of him as well, which helps with the more urgent execution of an idea.
Daniel Biltmore II
What did you want to be?
I always thought I would grow up to be an illustrator when I was younger.
What genres really influenced your music?
I don’t mean to be vague, but virtually all genres have. I’ve gone through periods in my life where I have intensely listened to classic rock, lovers rock-era reggae, deep house, jazz, hip-hop, trip-hop, and just about anything else that’s I’ve been able to absorb. If I had to mention a few specific artists, I’d list Portishead, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The xx, Roberta Flack, and De La Soul as some of the big influencers in my life.
How does a initial writing process starts for you?
I’d say it really varies. Sometimes I’ll get a melody stuck in my head and I’ll make a quick voice memo on my phone of it, and then explore it and flesh things out more at a later time. Quite often I’ll hear a sample I am really into and use that as an inspiration or jumping off point to create new sounds. When I am working with Chad, we will do a lot of bouncing back and forth with pieces of music that have piqued our interest or popped out of out brains, until we get to the point where we can sit down and take these components and create something cohesive. I probably spend 95% of my time creating on my couch using my laptop as opposed to spending the majority of my time in the studio. We’ve literally made complete songs working out of a bedroom closet…and I’m not even talking about a walk-in closet. A closet closet.
So you all are completely indie?
For all intents and purposes, yes, although “for hire” would be appropriate as well.
What have you learned so far that you would tell others in a similar situation?
I’m sure that a lot of people would give similar answers, but they are repeated because they are true I suppose. Firstly, the path to success is rarely a straight one…it has many twists and turns. Many times when I’ve thought to myself, “I’ve made it,” I’ve learned extremely quickly that I still have a long, long way to go.
Secondly, define yourself. Make sure there is meaning behind what you do.
If you are trying to make a simple pop song, allow that to be your meaning. If you are trying to make something more complicated, the same goes for that as well. I personally feel as though the strongest art will usually have a concept of some sort behind it. That helps it last. If you look at any great writer, he or she has excelled because they have found their voice. I’m still finding mine, and I may never stop.
Simply put – you are NEVER done. Whatever you are doing…you aren’t done.
What do you use for producing?
I primarily use Ableton 9, a Macbook Pro, and whatever controller I have access to. I also use Komplete by Native Instruments. Nothing fancy at all.
What advice could you give to a person that tries to get into Hip Hop/R&B and where do I start?
I don’t know if I have any advice that would specifically apply to those genres, but I do suppose hip-hop and r&b do “work” a little differently than other types of music. As far as production goes, the “producer” might have a whole set of tracks or beats that they’ve worked on that have no relation to a specific artist, and then they shop them around. This system has the potential to either work out extremely well or be too impersonal to a fault. I’m not sure if anything can beat working face to face with someone from the ground up.
I’ve also learned that a lot of people in the industry really do have extremely tight-knit circles, and it’s not necessarily easy in any way to gain access. For me personally, I had to have a lot of patience and be willing to put in my time in order to earn a spot, which I think I am still earning. Also, you can’t discount the importance of using social media, etc., to make connections that would have never occurred otherwise. I know plenty of people firsthand who have made some very real and important connections through Twitter, Instagram, and so forth. Personally, I’m not great at working angles that way, but you can’t overlook them.
Do you have inspirations for certain pieces or writing in general?
Inspiration can happen anywhere at anytime, when you are least suspecting it. Two places that it seems to happen for me often (and I think this goes for a lot of people in general) are the shower and in the car. Places where you’re sort of in a little isolated bubble and no one’s listening.
I also like to consume a lot of different media. Video games, film, books, whatever. While doing so, I find myself digging into meanings, history, and other contextual cues for what I am audience to, which then leads to stumbling onto other things. While I don’t want to sit and copy anyone else’s work, it’s always interesting to ingest something and see how it is reflected in what I do.
What is your process to do a collaboration with another artist?
It depends, really, although I think everyone would prefer for it to be organic. Sometimes I feel as though throwing people in a studio together can feel a bit forced, or over-pressured. It’s great when you can develop comradery with other artists and allow that to reveal itself through the creative process.
Do you play any instruments?
Unfortunately I don’t. I had a guitar once that I never learned how to play, and then picked up the turntables when I was a teenager.
What is the smartest way to go about getting into and participating in various collectives (If there are any)?
Whether you are or are not part of an actual “collective,” it can be really helpful to be part of a community of like-minded artists, especially as a DJ. It’s a great way to trade ideas, develop your craft, and also find work. If you are on your grind hopefully you will find your way into a collective without necessarily have that as your initial goal. If you just sit inside your house and just make music for yourself and don’t let anyone hear it, you definitely aren’t going to be able to create a network for yourself. Work begets work.
Hands down, pizza. I prefer Chicago-style over New York-style. I like a thicker crust and a generous portion of sauce.
You can find Daniel at:
Official Site http://danielbiltmore.com/
MSSL CMMND http://msslcmmnd.com/
Sounds like a really cool, down to earth dude.
@Mari I rock with everything he said here. (except his pizza choice but no one is perfect)