The Future is Deltron 3030

As Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s gravelly voice informs us on the opening track of Event 2, the year is 3040 and society “continues to erode.” The only hope for the future: Deltron Zero and his trusty sidekick, Automator, the alter egos of producer Dan the Automator (Daniel Nakamura) and rapper Del the Funky Homosapien (Teren Delvon Jones).

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Event 2 is the second album from concept trio Deltron 3030. The members of the band—who also include turntablist Kid Koala (Eric San)—have mixed feelings about the future. “I don’t feel like things really changed that much,” Del tells us of the 13-year break between the band’s eponymous debut album and their new record. “It’s almost worse because there are more ways that you can abuse power now than before,” he continues. “It’s just been the nature of man,” agrees Dan.

Although corruption of the human spirit is a major theme of Event 2, the album is not purely pessimistic. “I think it’s an observational album,” explains Dan. “In the observations, there are some positives and some negatives, but I feel like anything that allows you to move forward is optimistic… Technology helps with the hope of the people,” he concedes.

Even if you do not recognize the band name, you will recognize the sound of Deltron: Del’s cadent rap and Koala’s scratches were immortalized on the Gorillaz’ first single, “Clint Eastwood,” and Dan the Automator has worked on albums with everyone from Gorillaz to Emily Wells, Clinton Sparks, and, most recently, actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

Many of Dan’s famous friends appear on Event 2, with Jamie Cullen singing on the final track “Do You Remember” and David Cross and Amber Tablyn providing two interludes. “We hang out a lot, actually,” Dan adds of Cross and Tamblyn. “We were actually hanging out in Canada together and I was like, ‘It would be really nice to get you guys riffing on what the future is like and the future past.’  So we went out and had a few big meals and recorded it.”

As for Joseph Gordon-Levitt: “Joe is a friend of mine. We go out and eat and stuff. He’s into the Deltron thing and he’s got a great voice, he really brings that depth back.  Not to mention, Third Rock from the Sun—he’s been futuristic for a long time so it just seemed like it made sense.”

EMMA BROWN: Let’s start with the obvious question: what made you decide to release a second album after a 13-year break?

DANIEL NAKAMURA: I think it was about that time.

TEREN DELVON JONES: For me, personally, it took that long to be able to do it—to write it.  It took a lot of work.

NAKAMURA: It’s such a complex record; there’s so many things going on. By the time we got to the second record it just had become apparent that the whole genre—when you’re talking about the future—you have to actually address the present. You have to address society in the current because that’s the only way you can go to the future. You have to have a basis to go from.  It’s a much heavier undertaking than you might have originally had assumed going into making a record like this. But when we did the first record, we covered the present and the future because that’s really the only way—you had to juxtapose the two. When you realize the actual nature and the meat of that stuff, it makes for much more complex writing.

BROWN: How did you two first meet?

JONES: We did Handsome Boy Modeling School.

NAKAMURA: Yeah, back when I did this record with Prince Paul for Handsome Boy Modeling School. Del did this song [with us] called “Magnetizing” (1999) and we’re from the same area, so we’ve been hanging out and doing things since then.

BROWN: When did Deltron start and how did Kid Koala become involved?

NAKAMURA: I had worked with Kid Koala also on Handsome Boy Modeling School,  so I had met him a couple years before that. I think it was Del who had brought the original concept and we said that we should do something—Del had the Deltron Zero character dreamed out in his head. I was like, “Let’s do this, with Eric as well.”

BROWN: Do you like to dance?

HOMOSAPIEN: I like to dance. I used to breakdance and get my groove on. Actually, as a producer, that informs the type of music that I produce—I can see it from a dancer’s point of view.

AUTOMATOR: I am a little bit of the reverse. I don’t really dance. I grew up DJing and when you’re a DJ—if you’re actually a real DJ, not the glammy party DJs, the by-the-bottle DJs, but the real DJs—none of them dance really well, partially because they grew up behind the turntables watching other people dance. But I’m well aware of it. I know what’s happening. I get the same effect when I put something on and watch people react to it from a DJ standpoint. It’s a cousin of the same idea.

BROWN: What is Deltron’s genre?

JONES: It’s its own, really. It’s a hybrid.  But if you want to ask me, I would put it in a rock category before anything else. Simply because rock would accept all the stuff that we’re doing.  No other genre would accept all of it.

NAKAMURA: I agree because the other genres—rap—trap you with what’s hot today. They’re very trend based. This band doesn’t really have anything to do with any trends, which is not on purpose. It’s its own work.  I look at this like: when Radiohead made OK Computer, for example, [people were] going, “That’s not really your regular rock record right now,” but they embraced it—that kind of feeling of, Well, it might not be exactly what I’m used to hearing but I really like it. That doesn’t fly so much in rap most of the time, but it will fly in the rock kind of context.

JONES: Yeah, exactly. Or, I would even say, if you want to go by the technical meaning of jazz, I’d say it’s jazz.

BROWN: I like that.

NAKAMURA: If you go by the real meaning of jazz, you could say it’s jazz.

JONES: It is true. The labeling factor is always an interesting or frustrating part of music because, when you get down to it music—especially in the last 15 years—[has] become very homogenized in terms of blending the genres together. The biggest rock records have rap beats underneath—they use drum machines—or the biggest rap guys are having Coldplay sing on a record. It’s not like, “There’s this thing in the Bronx and people break dance to it.”

Many years ago, I was working with this guy named DJ Shadow (Josh Davis). At the same time Massive Attack and Tricky and all these guys were coming out, so they decided, “Oh, this is all trip-hop.”  It really made Josh mad because he wanted to be a  hip-hop dude, but they had to coin a phrase for it.

NAKAMURA: But when you’re dealing with a commodity and something selling, you have to have some kind of label so that when people go to a store to look for it they can find it.  So that’s the dilemma. Or if you want to talk about it in discussion, you have to boil it down to some kind of labeling just to be able to have a discussion about it.  But I don’t think that labels should be abused. I think sometimes people abuse labels and they get lazy and they want to stereotype stuff.

JONES: I agree with all that.