Kill The Noise on New 'Occult Classic' Album, Rochester Roots & Working With Dillon Francis

The upstate New York native drops his debut album and shares 'crazy' sampling stories.

Jake Stanczak, who makes music as Kill The Noise, grew up in Rochester, NY, and he credits the city with two important aspects of his artistic development.

He was drawn to the nearby Toronto music scene, where at the time, drum ‘n’ bass was popular, and this led him into the world of dance music. “The two biggest drum ‘n’ bass scenes in North America were Los Angeles and Toronto,” he tells Billboard. “Me and my buddies, the second we were old enough to start going to shows, we were up there.”

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At the same time, the small-town aspects of Rochester honed his instincts “finding and identifying opportunities. And also doing the best you can to turn them into more opportunities. That’s been my ethos since the beginning.” This has served him well as he’s put out a series of releases on Skrillex’s OWSLA label.

Stanczak’s latest project as Kill The Noise, the Occult Classic LP, hits stores today. Billboard caught up with the DJ/producer to talk about his new record, the importance of evolving as an artist, and the way he balances introspection and “blowing people’s heads off in the club.” Check out tour dates and highlights of the conversation below, along with a stream of his latest album.

When did you start putting together Occult Classic?

I started working on the album close to two years ago. I had been working on a bunch of new ideas, and I guess there was a point where I was like, “this is definitely something.” The first nine months or so was just me really trying to find time to work in the studio -- I was doing a lot of touring. And after close to a year of trying to balance the two, I started to realize, if I’m really serious about putting an album together, I’ve got to pull myself off the road for a period of time to really go in and get a vibe.

Most of your releases are EPs, was your process different to make an LP?

When I first started writing all these tunes, I was really going in there like, “I want to evolve as an artist.” I don’t want to get myself into a situation where I’m a touring electronic music guy that’s making club tracks and living in the club. You end up in this loop where you’re playing shows and making tunes to play in your show and there isn’t really a lot of room for you to create cool mutations to your sound that could potentially take you somewhere else exciting. I think the only way to really do that is to find a new environment to write in. I was in this place where I was just about blowing people’s heads off in the club. That’s pretty limiting creatively. You’re throwing away ideas -- like, “this is cool, but I don’t know if people are going to get it in a club.” But if I’m listening to Nine Inch Nails, for sure there are tracks that make me want to go in the mosh pit, but there are also these introspective songs: the whole record felt like a journey.

So at a certain point, I took six months off, just got in the studio and was like these ideas are fucking cool. One of the main things this record is about is exploring some of these other ideas [and] trying not to lose people in the process. You don’t want to totally throw people this crazy curveball where people are like I don’t even know what I’m listening to anymore.

“Lose Ya Love” really stands out on this album because of that vocal sample.

There’s a crazy story around that sample. I remember back in the day listening to drum ‘n’ bass, those guys were all sampling old ‘70s Motown records, funk records, that kind of stuff. In dance music now, everything’s been super pop-oriented -- it’s more about writing a catchy chord progression and making this really polished mainstream sound. But all the stuff that drew me to dance music in the beginning was gritty -- it felt like it was a dude in the basement making a tune. There’s a certain kind of energy about that in the club. There’s a certain kind of immediacy. I was trying to capture that vibe.

But it was so hard getting this thing cleared. We tried getting it re-sung so we only had to get the publishing sign-off and didn’t have to worry about the master. In the end, there’s something about the magic of sampling. You start pulling apart some of these pieces and some of the magic disappears. The song took me a couple weeks, and we spent months and months trying to make it work without the sample. It was a real pain. In the end we paid probably more money than we would’ve liked to clear it. There’s something about that point in time when that recording was made -- the way they mic’d the drums, the way they mic’d the vocalists. Sometimes the artistic call outweighs the business side. If I’m going to put this record on my album, I want it to be sick. Now that I’ve heard it this one way, that’s the way it has to be.

How did you connect with Dillon Francis?

We’ve done a bunch of stuff together. We did a song together for his EP probably three or four years ago. Then he did a remix for me right around the same time. He’s a guy I like working with -- one of a few guys that when you get in the studio, there are no rules. We got really excited about this dolphin idea. There’s some guys you get in the studio with and they’re like, “I don’t want to waste my time making a fucking dolphin song.” Someone like Dillon is like, “no, this is dope.” Even things that are supposed to be funny can be fucking awesome. At the end of the day I’m making dance music: it’s all about having fun.

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It’s funny because in that recent New York Times video about “Where Are U Now,” Skrillex described one of the riffs in the song as a dolphin sound as well.

[Laughs.] I love that video! He’s a sound designer. In our heads, we have a really abstract way of thinking about sounds. You’ll be in the process of sculpting a sound, and then you’ll be like, “it kind of does sound like a dolphin doesn’t it? Then let’s see how much like a dolphin we can get it to sound like.” When you’re going for something and you don’t have a clear idea in your head of what you’re trying to make, what you create is going to be really lukewarm.

In “All In My Head,” it sounds like you’re giving yourself a pep talk?

It gets tough when you’re trying to explore and grow and learn new stuff. Taking risks creatively is where all the exhilaration comes from -- and that feeling of accomplishment too. People in the audience have these expectations of what you should be doing, and you constantly have your peers’ work -- sometimes it get pretty confusing and lonely. There’s at least some people out there -- I like to think a lot of people -- who listen to music to relate and try to make sense of the world. At the end of the day, life is all about trying to find happiness. At the end of the day, a lot of what’s holding you back is yourself -- just worrying about what other people think.

Check out Kill The Noise's tour dates below.