ABOVE: BALTHAZAR GETTY. IMAGE COURTESY OF MICHAEL MULLER
Aside from appearing in films and television as diverse as David Lynch's '90s neo-noir thriller Lost Highway and ABC familial drama Brothers & Sisters, actor, Getty oil scion, and Los Angeles jack-of-all-trades Balthazar Getty has maintained a fairly under-the-radar, but notably distinctive, profile in the world of music-making.
Getty, who has produced indie rock outfit Ringside as well as an array of electronic and hip-hop acts over the past 25 years, is now lending his own spin to the very zeitgeist-y DIY bedroom project with his latest endeavor, Solardrive. Conceived by Getty after being gifted a Pro Tools kit by his wife and his close friend Joaquin Phoenix, Solardrive's self-titled debut (out April 23) is the fruit of three weeks of Getty experimenting, writing, and recording in his pool house.
Solardrive, a charged, multi-genre fusion of blues, funk, and electronica, features a line-up of guest collaborators, recruited from Getty's circle of friends. The LP also marks the debut of PurpleHaus, Getty's multimedia management label. We're very pleased to premiere Solardrive's first single, "No Drama," today.
Interview connected with Getty last week in LA to discuss Solardrive's nascent beginnings, the liberating effects of self-production, and what's next for PurpleHaus.
COLLEEN KELSEY: You're an actor, but you've been involved with music in several capacities for quite a long time. Why did you decide that now was the moment to write and record a full album?
BALTHAZAR GETTY: I've been producing records, and as early as my late teens, early 20s, I put out a hip-hop record and then the Ringside stuff. You know, I just feel like I want to spend these years realizing all of my ambitions. I feel like we live in an age [in which] you can chase your dreams with focus and a vision. So, I just thought it was time to create my own label. This is our first release on PurpleHaus, and this was kind of a personal record. I recorded it in three weeks. [I] wrote it, produced it, and then co-wrote with the featured artists on it. I just feel like it's my time, in a way, and I want to share what I'm doing with like-minded people.
KELSEY: I read that the album originated because Joaquin Phoenix gave you a Pro Tools set.
GETTY: Yeah. Well, I had always been recording, but I was more of an old-school guy—you know, using four-tracks or just creating instrumental stuff on keyboards and drum machines, or going in and booking studio time and having an engineer. A couple years back, my wife and Joaquin got me this really great Pro Tools rig for my birthday. I stayed up for a week straight and just taught myself how to record, and just was completely liberated. I mean, to be able to record at that level. I'd always had the ability to record, but it was more like demo-quality stuff that you'd ultimately have to go to a bigger studio. To finally have my fingertips have the ability to record instrumentation, vocals, mixing, using in the plug-ins, using all of the technology... The Solardrive project was birthed out of that.
KELSEY: This is the debut release from PurpleHaus, and the album, as you explained, came about very organically. PurpleHaus has that spirit as well. How do you see PurpleHaus as an indicator of not only what's going on in the current music industry climate, but also where it's going?
GETTY: For me, it's like the old model doesn't really work anymore. The idea of going out and getting a record deal and turning over ownership of your material... for what? We have all these great examples around us, a guy like Macklemore, let's say, who goes out and creates a fan base and ends up having the number-one record in the country independently. I feel like it's been changing for years now, but more and more we live in an era where you can create something and load it and share it.
I have so many musical friends and business friends, and you always talk about, "Yeah, one day I want to start a label and put out my own stuff," and you dream about it. So I just said, "I got to get my shit together and get into action and actually try to realize these things," and that's what PurpleHaus is for me. It's my label, it's my baby, and we've got three projects we're putting out in the next six to nine months, Solar being the first one. I have so much talent around me, and if I can have the ability to release this stuff and to be able to fund some of it myself, use what I've been given in a positive way, that's kind of the idea.
KELSEY: I wanted to talk about the aesthetics of the album. There are a lot of genres coming together: funk, blues, electronica. How would you describe the aim of what you wanted to achieve musically with the record?
GETTY: Like you said, there's different genres. There's a rap track, there's more bluesy stuff, but I feel like it's very cohesive. There's nine songs on the record, and I feel like it's an album you can put on from beginning to end. For me, I liken it to some of those great records in my late teens, early 20s that were the soundtracks to my life, like early Portishead and Massive Attack and Tricky. These guys were so ahead of their time. They were doing what people are doing now, so I feel like it's one of those records that can become a soundtrack to maybe that period of time in your life, and hopefully people will use it for that.
Years later, you can hear a song, and it brings you back right to that moment, what was happening at that time, whether it was a relationship or a difficult time, or maybe a great time in your life, and you had that album you were listening to. Twenty years later, you can put on that song you fell in love to or your heart was broken to, and you hear that song and it brings you right back there. I think music is the most powerful tool we have.
KELSEY: I also wanted to talk about your first single, "No Drama." Was it inspired by anything in particular?
GETTY: It's the only rap song, for whatever that's worth, on the album. The guy rapping on it is a rapper named Kevin Hicks, Mr. Hicks. He's a guy I grew up with, just a really talented emcee, and I'm a total hip-hop kid. I grew up loving late '80s, early '90s New York hip hop, and so for me it's kind of like a throwback to a gritty '90s style. But it's got TC, that chorus, so even if you're not a hip-hop fan, per se, it's got that melody. It's got that soulful chorus on it, and it just feels kind of gritty. It's not a total indication of the entire album, but I thought it was a cool way to introduce Solardrive and what I'm doing, because what pushed me to get into music originally was wanting to be a DJ as a teenager, a hip-hop DJ.
KELSEY: As you mentioned, you collaborated with a number of friends. How was it to interact with them in this creative space?
GETTY: I have a studio up at my house, in the back, and people would be over, and I'd be in the back like the mad scientist. My friend David Gould, who's on "Desperate," was in this kind of famous LA underground rock group called Mother Tongue, and he hadn't really been performing in a while, he's a writer now. He's sort of gone a different path, but I was like, "Hey man, come back and sing." He just came back. I had people just freestyle vocals over a track. Then I might go back in and chop and paste and edit, and take a word from here and a word from there. So all this stuff other than the Rain Phoenix song ["Monster"] was all written on the fly, just there in the moment. The Rain song was just one of those happy coincidences. I made a track and then Joaquin, he said, "Oh wait, Rain's got this song," and literally we dragged in her a cappella over this track I'd made and they just synched up perfectly.
It's all been happening organically, but it's not easy starting a label and putting out your own records. It's required me at times to humble myself and really push and work hard to try to give this the best shot. I really want to share this with the world.
SOLARDRIVE IS OUT APRIL 23. FOR MORE ON THE PROJECT, VISIT GETTY'S WEBSITE.