Balthazar Getty Faces Himself

Published October 13, 2015

ABOVE: BALTHAZAR GETTY. PHOTO COURTESY OF AMANDA DEMME.

A man of many talents, actor-musician-producer Balthazar Getty is back with a new musical project: Balt vs. Beats. In 2013, we spoke with the Los Angeles native about SolarDrive, a project he embarked on after receiving a Pro Tools kit, but Balt vs. Beats chronicles his evolution with production. This fall, Getty will release an eponymous Balt vs. Beats debut album filled with trap, hip-hop, reggae, and cultural influences heard throughout tracks like “Ethiopia1,” “Ethiopia2,” “Nomads,” and “Cars Drive By,” the audio and video for which we are pleased to premiere here.

“I wanted to capture the L.A. car culture,” Getty says of the video’s influence. “I grew up idolizing those kinds of videos, whether it was DMX in Yonkers or early West Coast Snoop Dogg in his neighborhood. I’ve always been obsessed with that culture and look, so that was the inspiration—to capture that street culture, the cars, and dancing.”

Like SolarDrive, Balt vs. Beats will be released via PurpleHause, Getty’s multimedia label. In addition to purely sonic work, however, there will also be a series of videos shot in Italy and with collaborators, including Patricia Arquette, The Walking Dead‘s Norman Reedus, and Gia Coppola. Just before Getty ran out the door to catch a cross-country flight, we spoke to him over the phone.

EMILY MCDERMOTT: Why did you choose to name this solo project Balt vs. Beats? And why depart from SoloDrive?

BALTHAZAR GETTY: I’d always been tossing that idea around. I grew up with a lot of those reggae albums, where you take two artists and verse them against each other. SolarDrive also had a lot of guest vocalists. Balt vs. Beats was finally just about me. It was my project. I conceptually liked the idea that it’s me against my drum machine, in a way, in a battle for dominance.

I wanted to step out of the shadows, but I didn’t want to go by Balthazar Getty either, because that didn’t feel right. Balt vs. Beats came up a while ago and I always held onto it. Then the album just came together so organically and the name seemed to make sense. Once we establish this brand, it can be Balt vs. anything—god willing, it’s Balt vs. Adele. [laughs]

MCDERMOTT: So you do envision it to bring other people in?

GETTY: Yeah, that’s what the evolution hopefully is going to be. We’ll end up doing a vinyl of the album and then different editions. As I do those, I’ll incorporate artists onto the project. But ultimately, Balt vs. Beats II would really be me versus many artists. The idea is to expand and bring in people to collaborate with…My tendency is to be the guy in the back, even though I often end up being the guy in the front. For now, I want to just focus on me, in a way, and what I believe I have to contribute.

MCDERMOTT: What is it that you want to contribute?

GETTY: I think I have a very unique point of view and sound, hopefully. I’ve been so lucky—I’ve been to Africa, I’ve been to South America. I also grew up very much a part of the hip-hop movement in the ’90s in L.A., with [The] Pharcyde, Volume 10, and The Beastie Boys. Then I was very lucky to also have European parents. So I think I have this sound that’s very much inspired by hip-hop in one respect, but then also [influenced by] my exposure to cultures, countries. It’s a melting pot of sounds and ideas.

MCDERMOTT: What was the inspiration behind “Cars Drive By”? Who are the vocals done by?

GETTY: For the last two years, the dominant sound in hip-hop has been trap or drill or whatever you wan tot call it, which is a very slow tempo. It’s 55 to 65 beats per minute with this very loud 808. So production and tempo wise, “Cars Drive By” is the record the homie can put in his whip that has the crazy system, or it can be played in the club. It has that rhythm that kids are recognizing. I stay current with music, tempo, where it’s going—I’m not someone who’s just into old school—but I want to do it my way. So “Cars Drive By” has some trap elements.

Initially I had this little hook where I was using that LL Cool J line, “Cars drive by with the boomin’ system.” That’s what I was referencing. I had constructed the beats and the whole album, then I had my homegirl Res come in and start riffing. I’ll have a vocal idea or a melody or a lyric and she’ll come in and dump a bunch of ideas, and I”m like, “Holy shit, she’s fucking amazing!” She brought something so unique and badass. Then I’ll go in and edit and sample. There’s live trumpet and live bass too. I did the whole album in three days.

MCDERMOTT: That’s very quick.

GETTY: It is. I have a habit of recording records very quickly—and not in a haphazardly way, not in a way where I’m not focused on details, because I’m a freak when it comes to that. So often you can stretch an album out and it ends up being a two-year process. More and more, I like to challenge myself and give myself a timeline. It pushes me to be more creative and actually do these things, not just dream about them. I did some touchups mixing wise, but the whole record was programmed, written, tracked, in three days. Then we were able to film it as well. So we have lots of content, that as the album runs its cycle, we’re gonna release.

MCDERMOTT: So you shot videos in Italy, but you also shot with collaborators, right?

GETTY: Yeah, so Patricia Arquette did two videos. Basically, I spend the summer in Italy with my family and we have lots of good friends come in. My cousin, we did all of the SolarDrive stuff together, I brought him in and we did five videos in a week in Tuscany. Patricia was there and spearheaded two of them with me as the producer. These five will play together as an installation at the release party.

MCDERMOTT: What do you think you learned most about yourself during this project?

GETTY: Because I’m such a studio guy, I really trust my process. I really believe in myself in the studio. I’ve had Ringside, last year I had The Wow, which was myself and a rapper, and then I also had the Abstrakto album, which was myself and Asdru [Sierra]—a lot collaborating with people. When they’re finally able to do their own thing, it’s very gratifying. For me, it feels like this is my time to step forward as an artist, not just the producer. Hearing the record and seeing the response is affirming that it was the right time and right choice.

FOR MORE ON BALTHAZAR GETTY, FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER.