Creating Dense, Multi-layered Music With Mystery Skulls
Luis Dubuc, better known as his (current) electronic producer moniker, Mystery Skulls, is coming at funk-inspired dance numbers with force. Traipsing the line of duality between aggressive, hard-hitting dark bass lines intertwining with blissed-out funk-tinged melodic lines, Dubuc creates his own take on a genre that’s slowly becoming saturated in recent music production. Working in a record shop where he was introduced to the world of music sampling and a plethora of genres for inspiration, he takes elements of different realms to create dense, multi-layered music.
After leaving his previous project as The Secret Handshake, Dubuc is having a reaping heaps of acclaim as Mystery Skulls. After living in Venezuela before moving to Toronto in his teen years, he later transplanted himself to Dallas before making his current, final move to Los Angeles in the last year. In that year, he’s been signed to Warner Brothers, opened for and touring with massive acts like Flume, Chromeo, and Yeasayer, collaborated with Nile Rodgers and Brandy, and released his debut album, Forever, to much positive acclaim.
While on tour with Cherub, I had some time to speak with him via phone while they had a brief break in Raleigh, North Carolina.
What’s it been like for you since signing with Warner Brothers and releasing your album? Congrats on that, by the way.
Thank you! Yeah, it happened almost a year and a half ago. It’s been a crazy experience. It was a year to the date from moving to LA [from Dallas] that I got signed to the label. For a year I was freaking out and writing a new record and didn’t stop hustling to pay rent, then got signed and thought I could relax but realized I couldn’t. It’s definitely great to be out here and have that hectic of a life.
I read that you spent your teen years in Toronto, and actually LYFSTYL is based outta there and Vancouver. Are there any specific things you do whenever you’re back in town?
[Laughs] yeah! Before I came on they told me you guys were based out of there. So I grew up in Toronto and moved there when I was about 8 and lived there until I was 14. I loved it, and have the most fond memories of Toronto and Canada. I’m still Canadian, I’m a citizen and friends who ask if I still feel Canadian I tell them, of course! My heroes are all Canadian. When I went back recently I went to Sneaky Dee’s with some friends and had a good time. Always like going to Queen Street and feeling the vibe. [Toronto] is one of my favorite places on Earth, and even Vancouver is great. I wanna be booked at Whistler and play a set on the mountain. Gotta find a mountain booker [laughs].
What’s one thing you try to do, or even NEED to do in any city you travel to? For example, I have to find a city’s best pastry shop and fried chicken joint before I can move on.
[Laughs] Oh man, I feel like you’re after my own heart! I haven’t done pastry shops but I always look up fried chicken joints or chicken and waffles for brunch. Here [in Raleigh], we’re looking to go on really fast go-cart racing. We found a place so now you know what to do here [laughs] You know what I’m excited for in Chicago? You gotta recommend new places but I ALWAYS go to Kuma’s, every time. That place is so good, though the wait there sucks. I know I sound like a 300 pound man but I brought my running gear with me on tour so maybe thinking about running will encourage me to actually do it. Positive thoughts lead to positive actions, right? [laughs]
So, you’re known to be very into anime. What series have shaped you, and also, which soundtrack(s) impacted you most?
The last two I really got into in terms of series were Accel World and I really liked Sword Art Online – that one is unbelievable and has the coolest concept. My girlfriend actually pointed me towards it. [After briefly discussing the Sailor Moon reboot] I need to watch the new Sailor Moon Crystal since the OG was so good itself! For soundtracks though, I love a lot of them but I don’t listen to a ton of anime soundtracks to be honest with you. I do really love all the Ghibli ones and as lame as it sounds, I got the Ni no Kuni soundtrack before the game even came out which is nerdy but it’s great. They’re so beautiful and peaceful and when I finally played Ni no Kuni I’d get excited and go ‘I love this song!’ [laughs].
Any plans to head out to Asia or have you traveled there previously?
I’ve never actually been before, so I’m really excited to head out there. What’s happening right now actually is that my record got released in Japan and I was hoping it would go really well. I get tweeted at every day from Tokyo and I recently found out Tower Records had a Top Five list with like, Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, all these pop dudes but what was crazy was that Mystery Skulls, I mean MY record had the fifth spot! I was like, HOLD ON, Top Five Western Artists and I’m number 5?! It was crazy. I hope we get to go over soon, I’m excited and I’ve always hoped to go and spend a few extra days there if I tour in Asia. I feel like I can’t wait, and I know the email for the “please come to Japan!!” is coming soon.
I really dig your funk-based styling, and I can hear the multitude of influences in your music. I even caught some Nakata-esque bass synths on your ‘Chandelier’ remix. How do you approach making your remixes?
I always try to start with vocals when I’m doing remixes. I always keep the a capella and try to keep the music and work backwards. I ask myself, “how does it fit into the vocals?” and obviously in olden times you wouldn’t have someone do vocals and then make make the underlying music. It’s like a reverse puzzle, there’s obviously a number of chords that could sound good, and when you get the right one or when you get the vocals that get more emotive or takes on a new dimension and it’s different from the original, it’s a great feeling. This guy in a car in LA was playing my Nico and Benz remix and I told him that was my remix. He went “no way, this is my favorite one!” I actually don’t think he believed me for a minute and I was like “YES DUDE THAT’S ME” [laughs].
For other remixes, I’ve done one for Theophilus London for his new song ‘Tribe’ that I play out at the end of the set. I did the Ciara ‘1, 2 Step’ remix recently, and in Richmond I dropped an Aaliyah remix which people went nuts for. When I’m in the city I try to play a mix that fits in with the vibe of those people.
So I geek out over artists’ uses of duality in their music making, and while your music comes off as blissed-out love songs, there’s still an underlying notion of aggression and charged-energy. How do you approach balancing that sound?
That’s actually a really good question. I’m not really sure where it comes from. I think early on I saw there was a gap between scenes and gaps between sounds and that let me live in the middle. As far as lyrics go, I don’t know what I intended the sounds to be and when I wrote the record it took on a life on its own. Whenever I was flying out to these shows I was writing new music and being influenced by my surroundings and that took shape. The album is autobiographical about moving to LA and leaving a lot of other stuff behind. It’s not necessarily entirely purposeful and the sound kept evolving as I made it. Honestly, I could talk about this for hours on end [laughs]. Moving to LA definitely made my music more happy with the sound and I think where you are effects that sound. Being around positive people and experiencing some victories made [my music] happier. I don’t know if I could’ve written those in a different headspace or a different place, it could’ve only been written then and there.
If you could have anyone play your music out, or be tapped to make a mix, which one would it be? Any personal favorites from 2014?
I love BBC Radio One Essential Mixes and I would love to be tapped – it would be a huge honor. I love what !K7 does with the DJ-Kick series but I don’t know if my music would be appropriate [laughs], or maybe something like a Triple J mix. For a favorite mix though, I feel like I rinsed out the Rustie Essential Mix one from two years ago. I was also a really big fan of Glass Swords and then obviously the new record. The Todd Terje one was really good too and so was the album.
You can buy his debut album Forever from iTunes. Catch him on tour with Cherub at the dates below slash you can find me at his Chicago gig this Valentine’s Day at Concord Music Hall.
Feb 11 – St. Louis, MO – Old Rock House
Feb 12 – Urbana, IL – The Canopy Club
Feb 13 – Milwaukee, WI – The Pabst Theater Feb 14 – Chicago, IL – Concord Music Hall
Feb 15 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue
Feb 17 – Des Moines, IA – Wooly’s
Feb 18 – Carbondale, IL – Hangar 9
Feb 19 – Bloomington, IN – The Bluebird
Feb 20 – Grand Rapids, MI – The Intersection
Feb 21 – Pontiac, MI – The Crofoot
4/21: Orlando, FL; The Social
4/22: St. Petersburg, FL; State Theatre
4/23: Tallahassee, FL; The Moon
4/24: Jacksonville Beach, FL; Freebird Live
4/25: New Orleans, LA; House of Blues
4/28: Baton Rouge, LA; Varsity Theatre
4/30: Dallas, TX; House of Blues
5/1: Austin, TX; Stubbs Bar-B-Q
5/2: Houston, TX; House of Blues
5/5: Little Rock, AR; Revolution Music Room
5/6: Columbia, MO; The Blue Note
5/7: Omaha, NE; Sokol Auditorium
5/8: Kansas City, MO; The Crossroads
Rupa Jogani loves talking about duality, fried chicken, and any opportunity to nerd about anime and manga. She’s on Twitter: @r_jogani