Mary Knoblock, otherwise known as DJ Mek, has only been creating and releasing music for the past year or so. However, the Heart Shakers album, and in fact every release of hers to date, presents a series of complex, intricate musical compositions; all of which suggest a much more experienced artist at work. We caught an interview with the artist and producer to find out more about her work and what drives her to create. Here’s how it went.
* * *
Hi Mary. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about your music and your creative process!
You’re very welcome Rebecca! Thanks for taking time to listen and comment on my discography via Stereo Stickman. It means the world to me.
I believe you’ve only been putting out music for the past year or so, what inspired you to start?
I saved this question for last! It was the hardest to answer. I honestly can’t pinpoint a moment in time where I was inspired or knew I had to start publishing my music. But I do know that the past two decades I’ve been in love with music and the idea of creating music.
Another inspiration for me came through my favorite Heart Shaker who was an amazing musician as well and supported my odd artistic and musical creations. I remember sending him a synth compilation 7 years ago or so, and that was probably my first attempt at publishing lol! I knew I had to make a decision with my music. I was writing songs on average 2-3 hours a piece. I figured I could keep writing but didn’t want to just let my songs build in an endless library that no one could hear or enjoy. Publishing an album just felt right and the next natural step.
I believe being an artist and painter since a young age helped me make that final step as well. I had grown used to producing and showing my artwork to friends and family, so producing an album seemed like the final piece of the puzzle for my music library that was growing. I was also lucky enough to have someone else in the music industry take note of Crystal Hallways and give me encouragement to keep making music too. So the folks who review and listen and develop musical talent inspired me as well.
How do you begin when making a piece of music – do you sit down to create, or do ideas come to you when you’re out and about? And what comes first – the beat, the ambiance, a riff or a melody?
Oh by far, sitting down to create is when ideas flow for me. I know some musician friends who hear melodies walking around. I’ve never been that type of person. I will certainly get a feeling of needing to compose a song, and as soon as I have started the process, the riff comes first followed by the ambiance, beat and melody last. Putting the bass line in first usually makes the song harder to compose for some reason. It’s a bit like painting. You have to layer the sounds in carefully so they balance, so they have a good push/pull to them.
The songs on the Heart Shakers project have some interesting titles and the sound varies quite significantly between tracks, often including vast and detailed soundscapes. Do you often have a concept in mind for the music you create? And are you a multi-instrumentalist, or is everything programmed or sampled?
Heart Shaker was such a love story lol and the interesting titles were part of that love story. All my songs have a strong emotional component and concept to them. I’m always making mental notes when I’m out and about as to what experience I want to capture in a song. I kind of do a mental snapshot of those moments in time, and store them away for future song writing sessions.
When I start writing a concept or past experience-snapshot will surface and I’ll know how the song will develop conceptually at that point. The last part is the title that evolves as the melody and overall landscape of the song develops. I know I’m close to the end of a song developing it, when the title comes to mind. I’m musically inclined with a bit of piano and classical guitar, but for my albums, they are all programmed. For example, to get a complex piano piece to develop I have to mix multiple strands of different programmed piano notes. Or if I have a great piano melody programmed, I’ll take that and build off of it. I’d say I feel more like a composer, or a conductor. And the sounds are just my little symphony that I get to command around to sound just so.
Hawthorne Rooftops has something of a 90’s hip-hop rhythm, but soon enough it grows into something much more complex and atmospheric. What sort of music did you listen to growing up, and has your taste in music evolved over the years?
Yes, Hawthorne Rooftops really resonates with a lot of people. The beginning is just so wonderfully strange and when I wrote it, I remember being frustrated that the song developed with a thinner start and complex end. It really was a memory of walking down Hawthorne and seeing people on their rooftop patio celebrating and yelling down to us, “Cheers!” as we walked by. It was just this normal stroll in the neighborhood and then all of a sudden, party on the roof! And it reminded me of Guatemala, all the dogs that would run on the flat roof to guard the houses. So I always find roof top behavior peculiar. And well that song is peculiar so I guess it worked! 🙂
Growing up I was surrounded by sound. So I listened to my father’s cello, violin and classical guitar playing as well as my mother’s piano and flute. A typical musical day for me growing up would be waking up to hear my father’s morse code beeping in the background while my mother’s baroque classical music wafted in between the morse code and created this strange melody probably much like the melodies in my music.
As a musical day progressed, we’d have guitars playing and radios changing through the 70’s to early 80’s music and then back to classical baroque music. I memorized all the U2 songs by sixth grade and had an obsession with Segovia and Chopin in college along with any classical composer and got into the Indie scene a bit. So I suppose it’s progressed.
I love the bass lines in hip hop and didn’t need all the words, so I just gravitated more to electronic music which is where I think my musical home is. It’s a place of unlimited creativity musically speaking and the only other transition I can see in my musical taste would be learning the classical composers more in detail. I like EDM that is dense, but found it hard to find an EDM band that I felt had an emotional component or story telling component to their music which is why I started writing my own to listen to for fun. There are some EDM artists that are really brilliant though that I admire.
As the music progresses, you often introduce these snippets of unusual sounds that add to the scene and tell a sort of musical story. Do you plan these things, or do you set to work creating and then just review it afterwards?
I create and layer along the way. The snippets of unusual sounds add complexity and narrative to the music and often for me can be different voices in a memory or become opposing forces that make the song dynamic and tell the story a bit better.
There are certain types of music or artists that work well when listened to at particular times – for example, out driving, calming down for sleep, or getting geared up to go out, amongst many others. What sort of atmosphere would you say your music is best suited to?
I recommend my music for chill days, or days when you’re driving or biking or just relaxing. There’s a few songs that are high energy but the most feedback I’ve gotten is that people like listening to the albums when they’re relaxing. I’ve also had people mention they’d be great in a swanky jazz club in NY. So more chill places I suppose.
How do you feel when you’re creating, and how does it feel afterwards, to listen back to something you’ve finished – is there a therapeutic element to the process for you?
It’s really an indescribably amazing feeling to write a song and listen to it after, almost euphoric. It certainly is therapeutic to listen to it the first time after it’s been completed. The Wooden Music Chair was incredible to write and play back. I remember being in a daze after that melody came together. It was such a strong memory, sitting in that wooden music chair, just knowing that a meaningful song would evolve from that experience. I believe that’s the gift to musicians. Hearing their song for the first time. It’s likely only them hearing it the first time if they’re an underground artist like myself publishing their own music. And that moment is pure, and true and untainted; art in it’s purest form.
Will you be taking your music out on tour?
I don’t have any plans yet to tour, but am looking at local venues to have my music played.
Is there anything else you’d like to let readers and listeners know about you, your music, or your plans for the future?
My listeners and readers are on of the reasons I keep creating music. Best way to keep in touch is on Instagram or Soundcloud. Thank you for listening and reading and I hope you love what you hear and that your life is inspired a bit by listen.
* * *