Nestled soundly in the world of DIY, Sterling Bidler works within a musical space that might be best categorized as industrial. Incorporating electronic music within a heavy landscape of drum and guitar, his sound is at times abrasive, but one that makes more sense when recognizing his approach is built off influences ranging from Death Grips to Mr. Bungle. In this discussion, Bidler unpacks the pros and cons of recording and releasing music by yourself, the benefits that can be found in collaboration, and his approach to thoughtful chaos when attempting to categorize his sound, which is where we started the conversation.
villin: One of the things that first drew me to your music was its fluid relationship with genre—including heavy and electronic elements, it feels dated to call it industrial, but that’s what comes to mind. How might you describe your work to someone who hasn’t heard it before?
Sterling Bidler: When it comes to genre, I’ve always wanted to see how far I can break the rules of what you’re supposed to do within a given style. I never want to create something that’s been made before, being original while still making my tracks sound at least somewhat musical has always been my main artistic goal. It probably isn’t wrong to call it industrial; that’s usually how I describe my stuff to non-musicians, honestly. I think a lot of it is industrial music adopted to fit the 21st century, in which the electronic and heavy elements aren’t playing side by side with each other but instead are completely blended together in an evenly ground cacophonous slurry. I’ve always liked a lot of underground rap, especially a lot of the stuff that’s been emerging in the internet age. I have a lot of friends that make that kind of stuff and I think that style has influenced what I create a great deal. I guess what I do is take elements from every piece of music I’ve heard, fuse their disparate elements and throw my own brand of insanity in the mix. I like to think there’s a piece of every song I’ve ever heard and every emotion I’ve ever felt in my music.
villin: Citing Death Grips as your favorite band, what do you think you’ve adopted from them musically, or how have they influenced your own artistic direction?
Sterling Bidler: I guess a lot of what I just said relates to Death Grips, too. They use sounds that no one else would ever use and blend styles of music that no one else would think to, as well. I found them when I was like 13 years old and it completely shattered my perception of what music could be. I found them around the same time I was finding groups like Sonic Youth and Mr. Bungle and the like, so really they came at the perfect time for me. I basically have the same approach to making music as they do, I think Ride said in an interview once that they never want to move laterally, only forward with what they create. I want to do the exact same.
villin: The DIY element to your approach is something I also appreciate; I recall reading a tweet or something at one point where you were talking about going out to your car to record vocals so you didn’t scare your dogs? From drums to guitar to vocals, you cover it all, but how did you first get started recording?
Sterling Bidler: I’m totally DIY. I record, mix, master, and produce everything myself. I wouldn’t want it any other way, honestly. I think being able to do all of it gives me complete freedom to make what I want. I’m a loner and I don’t want anyone else muddying up the process. I also love the sound of things not having perfect fidelity. Most of my equipment is pretty rudimentary outside of my DAW (Ableton Live 11 Suite), so I’ve always had to get creative in order to make things sound good. I’ve found that it’s a lot better to embrace the faults of a piece of musical equipment than try to fix it to match some platonic ideal. I think everything has its own character and you shouldn’t try to shove a square peg into a round hole. I figured a lot of this out when I first started making music, making a lot of it on my phone with GarageBand. I think most of what I made in that era (of figuring out how to make music) is pretty bad today, but it definitely taught me how to utilize low quality equipment to my advantage.
villin: The Anna Pest collaboration you did earlier this year is one of my favorite tracks of yours, and it seems like there’s been more of an angle of collaboration to your work as time has gone on. The collaborative nature of some of the music comes in contrast to that do-everything-yourself mentality of some of your other work—has it been an intentional decision to start working with others to get out of your own bubble?
Sterling Bidler: I agree with you, that Anna Pest song kicks serious ass—shout out to her, for real. The longer I’ve made music, the more I’ve realized how valuable actually working with other people and even just advertising it is; I don’t want to just stay in a bubble forever. It definitely was an intentional decision to start working with more people, because that’s how you gain more connections and exposure. Other people have also taught me more things about the artistic process than I ever would’ve learned on my own. I like to work with other people to filter their sound through my own style and perspective. “Snow” would be a perfect example of that: It starts out as incredibly intense and energetic deathcore, with some electronic elements, and then I take the idea of intense metal + electronics and put my own spin on it. That’s why I think that track works so well: It’s like two songs in one, but everything is cohesive.
villin: I’m also curious to learn a little more about the Pretend Recordings label, which has been aligned with your releases this year. What is Pretend Recordings and who’s all behind it?
Sterling Bidler: Pretend Recordings is a online label ran by my good friends Paul, Ayla, and Amanda. Amanda was who introduced them to me and they’ve given me an incredible amount of support since I’ve been working with them. I’ve met so many great artists that I probably never would’ve without them and for that I am super grateful. My style is way different than what they typically put up, but they were still willing to work with me and for that I am super glad. Shout out to Pretend, and to everyone I’ve ever made anything with, and my friends and family, too.