JT Nolan of Beats Noir on making a hip-hop hybrid
Although JT Nolan, who made his guitar debut at thirteen by playing Van Halen's "Eruption," and Paul Mulikin, who plays for the Boulder Philharmonic, have know each for a decade, they never imagined starting a hip-hop project until last year when they started passing ideas back and forth. The duo later brought in jazz bassist Matt Skellenger. In advance of the band's release of its debut, 13 Tracks From The Dark Side of The Beat tonight at the Oriental Theater, we spoke with Nolan about making hip-hop with a classically trained musician who's also a rapper into jazz.
Westword: How would you describe what Beats Noir?
JT Nolan: It's definitely hip-hop stuff. Paul Mulikin and I just started getting together, and Paul's a super interesting guy. He plays in the Boulder Philharmonic. He's a classically trained dude. He's a drummer, and he's an awesome piano player and guitar player. He's the rapper, he's the MC. I've got Logic, and he came over and we built these songs together. It was super fun. Then we got two other guys -- Matt Skellenger and Dave Miller -- and Dave's been doing Ableton. I've always been wanting to a project like this. He plays real drums, and he's got the beats and some of the other little horns and some of things that we can't do live. So he triggers all the Ableton beats and stuff while playing drums. It's super cool, because you get that big, fat sound with real drums and beats. We've done it a few times at Dazzle. This will the be the first time on a big stage.
Is there a jazz element as well?
Matt and I went to school at Metro State, and we were in Ron Miles's jazz groups. So we learned jazz from him, and now Matt actually plays with Ron. And Paul is into jazz as well. It's definitely jazzy. But for me, my last band was the Lovely and Talented, and it was more kind of gypsy alternative stuff. I was just kind of having fun. You know when you're creating music, especially if you're doing it on the computer... I didn't have to think about it on any terms, except that it had to really rock and bring in that rock element with Paul's classical background and hip-hop background, and then the jazz stuff. It's a little jazzy, but some of it has a little bit of Gorillaz feel to it, and some of it's maybe a little bit like Atmosphere. Paul's vibe is a little bit like that. It was just really riff-based. We'd come up with some ideas and I would just hack it up in Logic and send it to Paul, and he'd come over. So it was just kind of like friends getting together and then all of a sudden we were like, "This is pretty cool. Let's do something."
Do you guys do any improvising live?
Yeah. Where Ableton has really helped out is that we can that beat sound but that we have control over it so we can have improvised sections.
What's your role in Beats Noir?
I play guitar and sing, and I was the guy who organized a lot of the ideas and kind of produced it. I probably do vocals on about thirty percent of it where I'm lead. But Paul is mostly the lead, especially the rap stuff. Then all of the guitar and some of the bass stuff I did, but most of the bass stuff is Matt's.
Is the Lovely and Talented still together?
It's all my music and it's mostly under my name, but one of the members left. So this was kind of after all the seriousness of trying to put a band together. It was like, "Let's just get together and have some fun." This kind of came out of that. So our mantra is like, "We get together. We throw tons of ideas together and it's not like heavy, like, 'This is the band.'" Any time it's a band, it's like all of a sudden it's a drag. It can be heavy. So we're just trying to keep it project-based. But at the same time, I dropped about 1500 bucks into mixing it and duplicating it. So we're going to be a band at least for a little while, until I recover some of this money. It's really fun. I'm probably more excited about this music than I've been about anything in a long time.
Why is that?
Paul's more of the front guy and I've always been the front guy. It's like the less of me that's in there it's always not as heavy and I'm enjoying it. Making music with these guys is super fun because they're so good. It's rocking funky dance. It isn't as heady as some of my other stuff so it's a little more visceral. I wanted to make it so it would be just rocking and not have to be cool as much. Especially with these beats where everything is so big and full it makes it easy to do kind of sit band and enjoy it.