Note: This interview is unlike any I had ever done before, and it’s all due to the fact that Alec Beretz is a philosophical and passionate musician, clearly seasoned in his art, though maybe not so much with conventional interviews. As a result, I had an hour-long conversation with a man running purely on iced coffee and enthusiasm, eager to use me as a sort of diary for his ideas about music, vibes, the human experience and Nikki Sixx quotes. I have no complaints.
So what do you do exactly?
I am a music producer and I’m currently the vocalist and one of the guitarists for SW/\Y. It’s not my band, per say, it’s our band, but I was one of the founders with my friend Matt Leyrat, and we were just finishing up our project Burning Loud, which was kind of a funk reggae band which we played for a while. I had all this material that I had worked on over the course of the year and we used that to sort of kick start a new project, which became SW/\Y, and we knew we wanted to play rock music, but we wanted there to be a more electronic component.
So I write a lot of songs, I produce a lot of music, I produce beats sometimes and I also work with hip-hop artists when I’m not working with SW/\Y, so it’s kind of comprehensive.
And then at school I’m a recording arts and music industry major and I’m in SOTA Productions, which throws multiple concerts and events over the course of the year, and I’m the director of A&R and artist development with them, so I’m basically in contact with all of the artists for our events. My job is to kind of nurture the scene and keep an eye on what’s cool and happening around town to make sure that we’re inviting the right artists to our events, playing at the right places, just sort of being in tune with the local scene, which makes sense because I’m always playing concerts.
So how did you get to this point?
My grandma had a piano, and at first I was able to just tap out melodies that I heard just from TV shows or classical music or songs that I’d hear at church or something. So I was only like four or five years old and I was able to play basic things by ear, so my parents got me piano lessons and I started learning how to sing.
I bought my first electric guitar when I was a freshman in high school, and I worked all summer for it, and it was a cheap $200 guitar. At the time a lot of my friends just listened to Top 40, shit like that, I didn’t like a lot of it, but then when bands like Green Day came on the radio, that inspired me a lot because it was so much better than all the other crap that was coming on the radio, so that took me down the road of pop-punk, which then introduced me to punk music, and I started listening to Minor Threat and The Bad Brains and Black Flag and Operation Ivy and just a myriad of crazy mosh-pit-esque music.
So through high school I played with two bands and they went well and I got to the point where I was able to play a couple gigs in Hollywood, just smaller gigs, but at venues that used to be prestigious, like the Whisky a Go Go or The Roxy. Now they’re a little more low-key, but it was still really fun and a good experience.
Then when I came to college, I started opening my eyes more to hip-hop and electronic music, so now it’s sort of like I’ve fallen in love with all these different parts of the industry and I want to fuse them in a way. I’m just looking for flavors in different genres of music that I can mix together into something new but something that’s still kind of familiar.
When I decided to come to Chico I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go to college because I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I was only interested in music, and it wasn’t until I realized that Chico had a music industry and recording arts program that I realized this is a way for me to do the music I love but become more of an entrepreneur and not play first chair violin for a symphony or orchestra because I had no interest in doing that, and it ended up being a really cool experience because that’s exactly what I got.
I got marketing experience, A&R experience, recording experience, and just the town of Chico itself is such a good training ground for musicians because it’s small and you can’t really leave to go have fun in another city because the closest cities are Sac and The Bay and I’ve never heard of anything interesting happening in Oroville or Redding, so we’re all kind of here, so if there’s a concert happening, people are going to know about it. It’s a great way to test marketing and see what kind of songs resonate with people, and if doesn’t work, you switch it up, and if something else is working, you do more of that. I feel like that has been instrumental for me, and if I had never come to Chico I don’t think I’d be able to make it as a famous musician; I’d be stuck in a box in high school with my mindset. Not that my goal is to be a famous musician, my goal is to inspire a lot of people and play festivals and be able to have big audiences. That’s more my focus. That’s my dream come true right there. If it never happens, that’s fine, I just love making music, but dream come true is headlining a festival.
So over the course of my life I just kind of fell in love with it and now I can’t really imagine myself doing anything else. I think it’s the only thing I’m good at, like it’s the only thing I can do, so I’m just committed at this point.
Let’s talk about SW/\Y. What do you do for them?
I sing and I play one of the guitar parts, and I guess I’d say I’m a producer. For electronic music, producing means you’re making beats and you’re making arrangements and you’re designing synthesizers or whatever, but for a long time, producing was just something about working with people and designing the band’s aesthetic to be more pure or more marketable or more focused, so I guess I have a lot of vision in the band as to where we should be going.
That being said, the idea behind a band is collaboration, so I don’t take the role of a megalomaniac and tell everybody what they should be doing. I give a lot of suggestions and I bring a lot of songs to the table; I’ve done probably 60-70% of songwriting for the band, but I don’t ever finish the songs. I’ll write like half the song and then I’ll bring it to them and have them complete it with their own vision, so I sort of set the direction and they complete it. We’re also writing songs together as a band now, it’s just that thus far the band is still pretty new, so I’ve been bringing a lot of material to the table. So songwriting, singing, guitar, producing.
Do you want to talk about the other people in your band?
Yes, absolutely. So, Matt Leyrat plays guitar, and I guess I’d call him the lead guitar player, we don’t really think about it as rhythm and lead, but my job is singing primarily, so he is putting all his focus into making the guitar parts, and his parts are just really cool and atmospheric and just raw, grungy, gritty guitar lines, which is awesome.
Trevor McCrary is the bass player and he likes anything from rock and metal to hip-hop and funk music. He’s really inspired by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Bootsy Collins or Victor Wooten, so he is just a monster; he just has a thunderous bass tone and it’s awesome.
Enej Huseinbegovic is the keyboard player and he is actually designing synthesizers in Ableton Live, which is recording software. His background is making beats. He actually works with Esquire Ali, and they’re coming out with an album called SCHWOGTOBER 3, which, in my interpretation is a crazy mash up of like psychedelic based trap-ish music and like conscious rap, things to me that ordinarily would not be mixed, but it’s just really cool the way they juxtaposed these different things. So Enej’s from a hip-hop production background, so when he comes into SW/\Y, he brings this whole other mentality and aesthetic to it, which is really, really cool.
And then Aaron Harmon is the drummer, and he strictly played metal before he came and played for us, but now he’s not super into playing metal, so he has this killer precision and he’s super powerful on the drums, but he’s open to anything, so now I have this clock of a drummer; he’s like a machine. I joke to the band that you don’t need to align him to the grid in the music software; he comes like perfect, lined up already, it’s awesome.
So between the five of us, we have found a really powerful sound in the last couple of months. Trevor didn’t even join until this semester, and in the beginning, SW/\Y’s first show was Enej DJing, not even playing keys, and Matt and I just playing guitar, it was like DJ instrumentals and two guitars, and it’s now grown into this bigger band where it’s more improv and more live.
Yeah, I feel like when I see you guys, you seem very in sync with each other, which is really cool. I think that’s what made me like it so much.
The thing about the five of us is that we’re really good friends. Nobody who has a big ego or anything and we’ve all had a lot of experience now in the last couple of years and we’ve all had successes and failures, so we all kind of know now what we like and what we don’t like and what’s good and what’s bad, so we don’t ever have any personal conflicts. We’re able to just get right to the music, and I think the way we trust each other really plays into that synchronicity that we get as a band, and I would agree that that’s definitely one of our appeals. I think you don’t feel like you’re watching five different musicians play together, you feel like you’re watching one unit, and it feels like that too. I feel like this is my squad, this is my clan, and we’re here to kick ass and take names.
Earlier you were talking about how you have a vision for the band. Could you talk about that a little bit?
Yeah, vision is interesting. It kind of sounds like a pretentious word. So with vision, the disclaimer is I think it’s important not to get too attached to a vision because ultimately, what’s natural and what feels good between people is what’s going to be successful. You don’t want to force anything. That being said, you can absolutely go in a certain direction. I like to think of it more as I’m recognizing what I’m doing naturally and then trying to do it consciously instead of subconsciously.
So my vision right now is to find a way to access all the kind of sounds that we like, but still have an aesthetic that appeals to a festival, so we were talking about how we need heavier bass. We need bigger drums. We could use electronic loops. We could use samples, but still keep an alive, improvisational, rock feel. The vision for SW/\Y is festival rock, and we’ve also been listening to a lot of Downtempo music, like Shlohmo or Nosaj Thing, where it’s electronic but a little slower, more chill, and it’s bass heavy, but it’s not just party music, it’s something that a little more thought is put into. Sometimes the word IDM gets thrown around, like intelligent, intellectual dance music or something, which also sounds pretentious, but that’s what it’s called.
And Enej has introduced us to a lot of trap music, which is hilarious because I never considered myself making trap music, but I really love the percussion and the drums and just the whole energy to it, so there’s that. Like, I’ve written SW/\Y songs that are inspired from trap music, and it doesn’t necessarily sound like trap anymore when it’s done, but that was absolutely a factor. I can’t tell you how much the song “Bitch You Guessed It” has influenced my music taste. Even though it’s so silly and so goofy, I’ve never seen songs that have gotten people that pumped. So there are things that you may never hear in SW/\Y’s sound that are influencing it.
Upcoming SW/\Y Shows
On Friday, October 23, SW/\Y is opening for The Stone Foxes at 9:30 at Lost On Main. They will play an hour-long set and will debut some new material.
On Saturday, October 24, they will play at the 1078 Gallery for Mocktoberfest where they will be dressed like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and cover their songs.
On Tuesday, October 27, SW/\Y will play at SOTA Production’s Monster Mash event at the DownLo with other local bands, and on Friday they will be playing with some hip-hop groups and bands for an event hosted by Esquire Ali.
In the words of Alec, it’s going to be rad.
Keep up with upcoming SW/\Y shows by following the band on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or listen to them on SoundCloud:
Written by Christine Zuniga, “Feature Friday” writer and web editor/publisher for Chico State’s KCSC Radio.
Christine can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @kissssteen.