Episode 025: Lexfunk AKA Alexis Vasquez - Making Beats
Alexis Vasquez (Lex), TEN7 backend developer and avid beat maker, audio engineer and DJ, is widely known as "Lexfunk". Ivan and Lexfunk discuss his love of creating music and its origins in this episode of the TEN7 podcast.
Here's what we're discussing in this podcast:
- How the handle Lexfunk came to be
- When, where and how the love of music evolved
- Music as a family affair
- Sampling music and rebuilding equipment
- The Band of Thieves
- Sampling classic oldies
- Creative inspiration
- Beat maker vs musician
- Sibling collaboration
- The TEN7 podcast scoop
IVAN STEGIC: Hey everyone. You're listening to the TEN7 podcast where we get together every fortnight to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I'm your host Ivan Stegic, and in this episode of the podcast I'll be talking to Alexis Vasquez, also known as Lex and Lexfunk. He's a web developer here at TEN7, a DJ and a self-described beat maker. Lex, welcome to the podcast.
ALEXIS VASQUEZ (LEXFUNK): Thanks for having me.
IVAN: It's a joy to have you, it's lovely that you can join me. I'd love to try to keep this as riffey and remixy and open as possible, and I'm hoping that we'll be able to hear some of your recent work some of your earlier work as well, so join me. Let's see your name, DJ Lexfunk. I wanted to ask about that where did that come from?
LEXFUNK: One time we were hanging out. I was with my cousin and my brother and we were watching SportsCenter, and this golfer Fred Funk, I believe his name is was on there. This guy's a golfer. He's got a cool last name Funk. I wish my last name was Funk. My cousin called me Alex Funk, and that's kind of like where I came from I just started using it. I shortened it to Lexfunk though, so it's a golfer. It's not as cool as a you might sound, but I make it cooler.
IVAN: I always thought that the funk part had to do with the music you liked.
LEXFUNK: That's what it means to me. I just the origin of it as kind of weird one.
IVAN: And how long ago was that?
LEXFUNK: That was probably when I was a senior in high school so like 2004, 2003.
IVAN: Wow, so it's been around for a long time, and you've got all the Lexfunk handles online. I would assume.
LEXFUNK: For the most part, lexfunk.com. I'm a web developer, and it doesn't really do anything, but I have it. Lexfunk on Twitter. Yeah, those are the two most important ones I think.
IVAN: When you were with your cousin, and you came up with that name did that happen in Minneapolis, or were you somewhere else?
LEXFUNK: Yes, that was a Minneapolis.
IVAN: But you didn't grow up in Minneapolis, did you?
LEXFUNK: I was born in Minneapolis, but I think I was in first grade when we moved away from Minneapolis, and we moved to a small town called Randolph, Minnesota, population like 700, seven something, not very not a very big town. It's like a mile by a mile wide actual town is, no street lights. Just you know two bars and a school. So yeah, that's where I grew up. That's where I spent most of my grade school days in that whole area to be so like a adjacent to Randolph is Cannon Falls, and so I split my school time between Cannon Falls and Randolph growing up, but then I actually graduated high school from Farmington, so I went to like three or four different high schools. I just kind of bounced around, but they're all kind of in the same area, so I still had the same group of friends the whole time.
IVAN: Were you interested in music that early on?
LEXFUNK: Yes. I've been interested in music all my life. My dad's a drummer, so his dad's a musician as well, so we, music's always been in the family. I guess. They had a you know of a family band. He's always been in bands, and that's kind of how I first got into it. I guess.
IVAN: Was it with the instrument or were you kind of into electronic right away?
LEXFUNK: I was always curious about the electronics. I really do like the drums, and it was fun. You know when we got to play the drums obviously you get to make as much noise as you want as a kid. Kind of the coolest thing, but yeah like I always liked keyboards and synthesizers, and drum machines and just all of the kind of electronic music making instruments.
IVAN: So, you've never had any classical musical training have you?
IVAN: Do you remember what the first thing you ever recorded?
LEXFUNK: I think the first recordings were I always was always really interested in DJing and turntablism and mixing and that whole thing growing up. So the first thing was obviously just you know making mixtape mixes. You know with the cool songs come on the radio make sure you're listening. I always have a tape in the deck ready to go. Then eventually I got so I got creative one day, and I had a tape deck it had two decks so you could you know play record from a CD or from any external source. I ripped out the mechanism of the tape deck that allows you to record over something recorded already, and so it would just layer it on top, and so that's how I would mix songs that way. So it made it so I couldn't record over the tape like I only have one chance at it, and so that's kind of how I did it.
IVAN: Wow, that must have been challenging to figure out. I mean there's no internet that you can look up how this thing's wired and what it's doing.
LEXFUNK: Yeah, I think I came across by accident. It was a birthday gift and some would say maybe I broke it, but I think I just hacked it in a way that worked for me.
IVAN: That's ingenious. So your first mixtape was actually layered music that was in analog on a cassette, and what did you progress on from there? Did you just keep doing that or did that quickly evolved into something else?
LEXFUNK: I did that for I mean for a little while. I think I was in 7th grade at the time or 8th grade. You know around that time, and the thing that got me away from just doing like you know taking songs that already existed and creating a better one with the tape deck was a I guess you would consider a video game. It was called MTV music generator on Playstation. And what it was was basically like a digital audio workstation, but on your PlayStation, much like Ableton is now or you know some of these other apps. That's how I started you know making my own music right on a PlayStation. It came with a bunch of samples. You could sample from other audio sources as well right into your PlayStation and save those things. The only thing from there is you wouldn't be able to create an MP3 or anything like that. You would just have to record it so I would put it on tape so I had a bunch of tapes of original work.
IVAN: Do you still have any of those tapes?
LEXFUNK: Not from those days. No unfortunately. We had a house fire in 2006. Those all went up in the fire, so I lost all of the my original works from, then but since rebuilt you know.
IVAN: That's such a shame, but logistically you can try to build it up for what you can remember, but what a shame to have lost that, that's unfortunate. So I know you prepped some music for this podcast you're going to play something. Why don't you give us an intro to what you're going to play and can talk about it on the other side.
LEXFUNK: I was in high school at Farmington, and we had a television show and, so it was like a news show you know so we would I was the producer of the news show, we would do a show every Friday. I think 2 p.m. 2:30 or something you know it's 15 minutes, so I did the intro music for it and all the bump music for you know all the packages.
IVAN: What is bump music?
LEXFUNK: Oh, so it's like the music that you play like when you're going into like a new package or in the background of an interview or something like that or you know if you ever watch like Adults Swim, and they have like the words on the screen and the music in the background, those are bump music. Like when like radio show comes back, and they just had music playing. That's bump music.
IVAN: That's wonderful. I never heard that term, bump music. So this is Circa 2004?
LEXFUNK: Yeah, 2004. So I was into a cheesy dance music back then and well I was into a lot of music, still am into all out of music, but here's the intro to 'Farmington in Effect'.
IVAN: So this is the original music that you created. Composed, is that right word?
LEXFUNK: Composed is probably generous. But yeah, it's all original. I created this like three-minute long track. We were going to use it as the intro. It has to be 30 seconds. I'm like well. There's so many parts to it out. I guess squeeze them all in.
IVAN: I'm sure that at Farmington High School there is a library archive of all the shows that were ever produced.
LEXFUNK: Yeah, I'm sure at some point they'll end up on YouTube and that'll be, that'll be fun.
IVAN: So you also created the intro music to the TEN7 podcast and also the outro music to the podcast and I've always liked when you when you played that it made perfect sense that that would be something we'd use. And I've always wondered how you start a project like that? Do you start with one sample, do you start with a baseline? How did you come up with Farmington TV news show intro, or the TEN7 podcast intro, what's the process like?
LEXFUNK: I don't know what I was thinking back in high school for sure. I was just trying to mimic stuff I heard and just trying to you know make something that sounded like something I would want to listen to. I don't know if I'd want to listen to that now. For the podcast intro I don't even know how I started that. I usually start a lot of times it starts with one element, so it's either drums, or a sample like you said. Or I think in this case was just the chords. Just a loop of chords, and then just add it on from there. And just layer things. I would say like the intro to our podcast isn't really a full song. It's like you know a couple loops. So I mean that took maybe an hour to make one day when I was this kind of messing around. With all the hip-hop stuff I do though I tend to sample a lot, and so usually it starts with samples and cutting up samples and then adding drums and layering drums and bass underneath that. I can play an example of that.
IVAN: So I think I could hear the samples in what you just played and some of it sounds like the singer is famous, but I'm not sure where it came from. So the question is where did you get samples from?
LEXFUNK: That was like the one thing I didn't want to disclose, but that's fine. I think this one's fine. That one was from the Band of Thieves which was my dad's band from the 70s. They played a lot in the 70s early 80s. In Minneapolis, so they recorded one album and released one album and that song that I took the sample from was on there. I get a lot of samples from that it's like the gift that keeps on giving.
IVAN: And do you ever instead of sampling audio that already exists, do you ever make your own sounds and then tweak them and change them and add frequencies and lower frequencies and stretch them and do things to them?
LEXFUNK: Yep, that's like I mean there's so many things you can do with an app like Ableton where you can just you know take a sound and stretch it and turn it into several different sounds. So that's you know that's some of the experimental stuff I do now, and I sample like maybe a loop from you know a synthesizer or something like that, and cut that up as well, so it's not always sampling from old records, but most of the hip-hop stuff I do is all old records from my collection.
IVAN: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
LEXFUNK: I don't know I guess like growing up I listened to a lot of hip-hop. I really like DJ Premier. I like just I was more interested in like the production notes on hip-hop albums than necessarily like the rappers who were on them. I always like to see who made the music, parts of it. So I don't really have a driving inspirational force, I guess.
IVAN: Do you think it's a problem you're trying to solve, or are you genuinely just making changes and experimenting with those changes?
LEXFUNK: Yeah, there's no I don't think it's a problem solving. Probably creating more problems for myself than anything.
IVAN: It seems like the technology is quite different now than it used to be, and it seems quite advanced. Does it affect who can make music? Does it turn everyone into a musician? I guess is what I'm asking.
LEXFUNK: It allows a lot more people to attempt to make music. I wouldn't call everybody a musician. I don't know if I consider myself a musician to be honest. I don't play music. I make music. I don't know if I'm getting it to technicalities here, but I wouldn't say I'm a musician. I would never introduced myself as a musician.
IVAN: How would you introduce yourself?
LEXFUNK: I would say beat maker. That's what I like beat maker.
IVAN: Beat maker and that's either in your basement in your by yourself experimenting or maybe in some other form.
LEXFUNK: That's usually by myself and my basement experimenting.
IVAN: I've seen you DJ parties.
LEXFUNK: That's true. Yeah. I'll DJ the odd party every now and again. For me a musician is like somebody who does it as a profession. I just don't think that's what I'm striving to do. It's a hobby more than anything, and I don't think you necessarily need to make money off your hobbies. If everyone try to make money off their hobbies, I don't think any real work would get done. So you know I keep this this is kind of just my thing that I do outside of work. Keeps me happy and keeps me sane.
IVAN: Sounds like you're having fun with it, and that sounds like an amazing gift, relaxing gift.
LEXFUNK: It can be at times like there's times where it can be frustrating obviously, especially when you're trying to record like you know a 60-minute live mix or something like that. And you know you play it back you hear the mistakes, but when you play for a crowd sometimes they just they don't know.
IVAN: When was the last time you did that 60-minute mix? I remember hearing one. I think it was the fall. Maybe a few years ago. Is that the last time you did it?
LEXFUNK: No. I did one I think probably last, well a year ago. That's the last time I recorded one. Although I've been haven't been really really DJing too much lately, but we always my brother and I always try to come out with a mix for tax day, the tax day mix. That's what we do. So we've done that the last three years.
IVAN: So your description and the way I usually think of a DJ, it's a very individual, and it's focused on the individual. It's very much a solo thing. Right? You kind of sit with your synthesizer and your software, and you create. You mentioned your brother, do you collaborate with your brother? How does that work?
LEXFUNK: Oh yes. He's always been a part of everything that I've created for the most part. He's you know when you weight-lift you have a spotter. He's like my spotter, like me. We're always collaborating and you know bouncing ideas off of each other and you know we start heading down one direction with a track and you know or maybe I'll start it and he'll come in and he'll put you know his his taste into it, and then we kind of you know fight over it for a while and fight with the music and and then it comes out to I don't know either that or something bad. I mean it's there's so many ways that can go because we don't ever have a real plan. We're just making music.
IVAN: Does he have a handle that he goes by?
LEXFUNK: I don't know if he necessarily goes by it, but I call him Freaky D.
IVAN: Freaky D and Lexfunk in the house. That's wonderful. I was gonna ask you to play like your latest creation.
LEXFUNK: Yeah, we can do that.
IVAN: So I've been trying to think about what genre of music that this falls into, and the word house keeps coming into my mind, but it's not really house. There's certainly some elements of the 90s as well. What would you describe it as?
LEXFUNK: I would say hip-hop music is probably like the main focus for me. If I were I were going to release a project it would probably be a hip-hop project, hip-hop instrumental project.
IVAN: If you were...
LEXFUNK: If I were when I do. I don't know.
IVAN: I would very be very interested in listening to that and buying the iTunes download or maybe listening to it on Spotify.
IVAN: I think I'm hearing, what I'm hearing is, this is the first official announcement of a project in the works, right here on the TEN7 podcast? Is this a scoop? Okay! We just need a name for it now. You heard it here first on the TEN7 podcast. DJ Lexfunk scoop is a new album out soon. Well, Lex, thank you very much for spending your time with me. It's been a real pleasure to speak with you. Do you have any final words?
LEXFUNK: I don't I don't have anything to plug. Except for the album coming soon.
IVAN: And you're @Lexfunk on Twitter, and lexfunk.com
LEXFUNK: Yes, and lex@lexfunk and then on Soundcloud, Lexfunk as well.
IVAN: And on Soundcloud, that's Lexfunk. You've been listening to the TEN7 podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast, and if you have a second do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.