Amtrac interview: DJ talks about the release of a new album during the pandemic
Cornett talks to Dance billboard three days before Odyssey falls via his own label Openers and RCA Records from Sony Music. Given the circumstances, the producer is admirably optimistic.
The biggest disappointment, he says, is the cancellation of the shows. “I was really looking forward to doing a live tour. It’s a shame that I can’t test these songs on the road and see how people actually react.
For now, Cornett is staying at home with his girlfriend in Los Angeles, where he has lived for just over three years. “We live in a big loft where I can make music all day,” he says. “My girlfriend is also a singer, so we collaborate every now and then. Everything is working out, we have not yet taken the lead.
LA is an ideal base for a busy producer and, until recent events, a touring DJ. However, Cornett admits the city doesn’t quite feel like home. Home is Morehead, Ky., A small town no one thinks of as a hotbed of dance music.
Cornett grew up watching Chemical brothers and The Prodigy on MTV. The internet has facilitated countless other discoveries, including acts on Adam Freeland’s Marine Parade Records label, like Evil Nine and Alex Metric. In 2009, the Kentucky athlete was training on his first CDJs.
Life in Kentucky, to borrow one of Cornett’s favorite words, is much “colder”. In the conversation, the producer embodies the cold of his hometown. Even in the face of a global pandemic, his drawling and polite voice never falters.
Odyssey is reconstructed from eight years of work. His songs were created between Kentucky, Los Angeles, and various hotel rooms throughout Amtrac’s rise to fame. After his first album in 2011, Came with, Cornett switched to a steady drop of EPs, standalone tracks and remixes. Fans never went long without a new version of Amtrac. He remixed the likes of Alesso, Axwell & Ingrosso and Zhu, and collaborated with Kastle, Kaskade and his early inspiration Alex Metric.
Amtrac’s melodic and groovey house tunes “Those Days” and “Hold On” wowed fans exhausted by mid-decade EDM excesses. In 2017, he launched the Openers label with his 1987 EP. 1987 has crystallized the Amtrac sound: warm pads, rubbery bass, accessible melodies and atmospheric flourishes worthy of the snowy scene of the EP cover. His flagship songs “Never Lost” and “Piano Boy” each have more than seven million streams on Spotify.
All the while, Cornett was picking up tracks that he knew would fit the arc of an album. He was obsessed with the synth scores of horror filmmaker John Carpenter, then got to work on his own Access Virus TI synthesizer. “I’ve had [the synth] for 10 years and that’s pretty much the lifeblood of my entire setup, ”he says. “I always get new gear to DIY, like guitar pedals and effects, but I don’t stray too far from what works for me. “
OdysseyThe cinematic reach of was no accident. “I used to play muted movies behind the computer I was working on,” says Cornett. “An emotion or something on the screen would drive the patterns of the synthesizer. So pretty much mark a film that never sees the light of day. “
The recent single “Stratego” lived the longest on Cornett’s hard drive. Its simple guitar and drum beat is a side step from bloated house. “I was waiting to put it on a body of work where it would make sense,” says Cornett. “If I put this song on [earlier] as a single people would think I’m an independent band now.
Odyssey changes moods and textures throughout, from the direct house pads of “Radical”, starring Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, to the luxurious and dreamy “Wish I could”, influenced by “a lot of IDMs, like Autechre and things on Warp Records. “
Cornett built the album to reflect the peaks and valleys of a live spectacle. He’ll do a three-minute radio edit, but that’s not his natural instinct. “I’m a big Godspeed You! Fan of the Black Emperor, “he laughs.” I’m not afraid of a 15-minute song. “
The live energy is palpable in the deep breath of the title track “Oddyssey” and the Soulwax-inspired “Replica,” “where you can tweak the arpeggiators. [onstage] and get really knotty and noisy.
Cornett also became a singer on the album. “I don’t think I’m a great singer or particularly like my voice,” he admits. Still, he is confident when others tell him a song is good to go with his placeholder voice.
The album also features vocals from German electro-pop group Lali Puna on “No Place” and Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Saint Kenaire on “Teenage Love.”
Cornett is particularly proud to have convinced Alex Metric to take the microphone on “So Afraid”. “I was always pestering him, like, ‘Yo, I have to blackmail you on something,'” Cornett recalls. “Finally, I got it in the studio. Her voice has a certain cadence that works.
Now the producer is using the lockdown to work on the next phase of Amtrac. Although he is rarely absent from the studio (“I have to create to some extent all the time,” he says), the self-isolation has sharpened his focus.
He points the finger Odyssey cuts “Between the Lines” and “No Place” as a clue to the “faster dance-punk vibe” he is currently channeling. “These two songs could [indicate] where I soundly move into the next chapter, ”he said, then paused. “But maybe not. I’m doing a lot of weird stuff right now.
As the coronavirus crisis escalated, Cornett wondered if now was the right time to step out Odyssey. In consultation with RCA Records, he decided to stay the course. (Streaming numbers and digital sales for the album’s first week are still being counted.)
“It would be worse not to release music then,” he explains. “I hope this music can bring some joy to the world.”