Rithma Interview by Rocco Tyndale Music / Art / Label / Interview

Rithma

Subtempo Guest Mix 020


Bio

Topanga born Etienne Stehelin (aka Rithma) first emerged between 1999-2001 with a string of 12”s on Om Records, Tweekin, Beau Monde, and others. After 2 full length albums and many sleepless nights, Rithma disappeared in 2009 to explore his addictions, several rehabs, and various career options. He is now safe, healthy, and making music again, living with his Wife & two children in Los Angeles.


Surrounding the release of this mix, we spoke to Rithma, aka Etienne Stehelin, about what inspires him, house music, mixing audio for TV, all while being a dad and having a family.

Hi Rithma, first of all, thank you for taking the time to craft this awesome mix for us and doing this interview.

No problem.

I wanted to start by asking you about the mix. How, where and when did you record it?

Its a secret. Actually I did it on several lunch breaks at work. [LAUGHS]

Is there a theme to this mix?

I haven’t done a mix in ages, so I kind of piled in a lot of the stuff I have been listening to lately.

At first I went in thinking I would keep one theme throughout the thing, say, like a poolside with ketamine sort of vibe like the first few, but then a couple heavier tracks came out, and then I thought - I’ve been listening to a lot of ambient music before bed lately, so why not change gears completely, clear the dance floor, and put on a few of those.

Is it mostly originals or did you do a mix of tunes from other artists?

There are 2 originals on there, one ambient thing at the beginning, and one house track towards the end. Everything else is stuff I’ve picked up on bandcamp or some of the bigger DJ sites.

You and I met a while back, in 2005, during my first Burning Man, and I think this was around your ‘Music Fiction’ release on Om Records. I remember bringing it back to Spain and sharing it with some of my DJ friends, and still to this day it remains a hidden gem. Lots has happened since, but you’ve consistently been putting music out?

Thank you! No! I wish.

Have you taken any breaks? While I was researching for this interview, I checked out your spotify page and seems like the output has continued since.

The majority of Rithma tunes out in the wild were released between 2000 and 2009. Towards the end of 2008 and 2009 my addictions really took the drivers seat, I ended up in rehab and sober houses for awhile, then after that I found a wifey and we made babies… for several years I juggled addiction and fatherhood which REALLY doesn’t leave any room for music production.

Once in awhile through that I would get inspired to make music and go on some crazy basement bender, producing an album or two like the “High Fidelity” double CD (2014 or so).

Rithma The view from Rithma's new home in Los Angeles, CA.

But overall, I didnt really make music from 2010 to 2018. I finally sobered up completely in 2015, took several years to even feel comfortable in the studio again. I was honestly afraid of sitting down in a music studio, afraid I would end up with a meth pipe in my mouth or opiates in my blood. That sounds crazy to normal people, but after struggling with it for so many years it really felt like that. Anyways--- Now I am back to making music again. It felt really weird at first, like here’s this thing I love and ran away from, and now I am learning how to do it all over again. Maybe like what it feels like to be in love with somebody and break up for a decade, then get back together. I think the awkward phase has passed tho; ideas are coming out quicker than ever and I am learning how to finish them in the small amount of time that I have.

Wow, that must have been quite the journey, thank you for sharing such a personal story. We are seeing more and more dj's and producers open up about addiction and mental health, and it seems to be paving the way forward to a healthier and more honest dance community.

Good on you for sobering up! And now you are a dad and started a family. How’s that going for you?

Its amazing. Now that I’ve got my head out of my ass for a few years and am on stable ground, we are all closer than ever.

Do you find that it’s been a positive influence on your music? You mentioned it’s hard to find the time!

It was really difficult at first, well after all the other shit I just told you I'm sure you can imagine. I took several courses recently, focused on finishing music in very small amounts of time. So for example, between full time work, raising 2 kids, and building a house, I really only have maybe 30 minutes a day to work on ideas, and maybe 2 or 3 hours on the weekend. But this bloke Mike Monday showed me how to really harness that time and get a lot more done, with some techniques that seem totally backwards at first. In my twenties I would tell people I absolutely need 12 hours in the studio to get into the groove. Now I am cranking out more solid tunes than ever, on a fraction of the time. Check it out: www.makemusicyour.life

Rithma Fun times with the fam.

And you’ve been working as a sound engineer in the TV industry in LA, correct?

I mixed sports for TV for many years and now I mix news. It beats shoveling asphalt. [LAUGHS]

As someone who works in the creative field as an art director, in my experience it’s not the same to work in the creative industries and working on your own stuff. The exclusively artistic output uses a whole other aspect of the brain for me, even if my day job is creative it’s not quite the same. How is it for you?

I think having a time constraint really forces the creative stuff to flow when it can. I am grateful to work with sound for a day job, I get to sit in front of a mixing console and push faders and buttons and watch all the blinky lights, but it isn’t very creative. I got to make a living being creative in my 20s, but I took that for granted, really, like “this has been granted”. It was really a lot of fun. Now I am paying my dues.

Rithma Rithma's day job, sound engineer for TV.

I was researching your tunes a bit, and I was impressed, some of your earliest releases are from 2001 or even earlier! You’ve been at it for a long time man! What are some highlights over the years for you?

I was a kid going to raves in the 90s, and playing on my mom’s synthesizers. Then, making tunes in my bedroom and saving up all summer to get a record pressed with some of those tunes. Taking that first record to (Groove Riders in Sherman Oaks?) show it to the DJs there, 18 or 19 years old, literally so nervous I am shaking, and they said “the tracks are okay, but this is a terrible pressing”... Crestfallen! Saving up all next summer to get it mastered and pressed again! That is the one DJ IZ (Joshua) from Tweekin records somehow got ahold of and called me, saying ‘we want to do a remix and realese it’. I was basically a teenager and so nervous and excited, then Om records got ahold of me and altered the course of my life forever.

It was all a blur but it was all so exciting and so much fun. The most fun I had was when Liason Artists (called Blue Collar at the time) really had me working hard as a DJ. Flying out of town every weekend, partying in different towns with different people, sleeping on all their couches, missing flights home and exploring so many cities…. really a very magical time. Yes, now is great too!

That's amazing, sounds like you got your lucky break with OM Records. What would you say are some of your earliest musical influences?

Earliest?!? When I was 4 or 5 I listened to a record called “Waiting for Colombus” By Little Feat, a rock band from Topanga Canyon, the same area as I am from. That thing is burned into my soul. I also listened to Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky around the same time.

Maybe this is a good segway to talk a bit about your production methods and style. Where is your studio currently?

Basically in a large closet at the back of my house. Its tiny and sounds like dog shit. I’ve been building a new house for a couple years now and it’s almost finished. There’s a good sized area roped off in the basement for the new studio. Very exciting!

Rithma Rithma's current studio set-up is in his closet. Where there's a will, there's a way, they say!

What are some of your essential studio tools?

Lately Ableton has served as the meat & potatoes for beats, sequencing, arranging, and mixing. My two main synths are a Roland Alpha Juno, and a Korg EX8000. Both of those are generally a pain to tweak on their own, but I added Retroaktiv control surfaces, which turns them into fully tweakable synths. The Juno is actually the same one (my mom’s) I’ve been playing with since I was 8. She finally gave it to me. Also, during the years I was not making music, I got really heavy into building my own synths, studying analog circuit design etc… so I have a pretty nice eurorack rig that is 100% DIY, all hand soldered and everything... I've been jamming out on that lately too.

You have a lot of outboard gear. What are some of your favorite studio additions as of late?

It’s funny, when I stopped making music in 2010 or so, I stored all my outboard gear in a friend’s studio in San Francisco where it slept for many years. I drove up there last winter and brought a bunch of it home, which I spent months repairing and cleaning and getting everything working again. An old EMU6400 sampler, an Ensoniq DP/2 effects unit, and a bunch of other things. So my favorite studio additions are all my old studio gear. I Recently bought a Sebatron tube mic pre off an old friend. That thing seems to sweeten up all manner of synths very nicely.

Do you still use your voice as much as in those earlier records? Love the sound of your voice!

I have a REALLY hard time singing in my actual singing voice if I am not certain nobody can hear me. I know, it is really stupid, but it's just how I am. I think I will be singing a lot more once the new studio is set up.

Do you play any instruments, work with musicians or mostly sample? I hear a lot of sax, trumpets, guitars…

On the old rithma albums, Trumpets were played by Mitch Manker, Sax by Dan Boissy, female vocals by Monica Brooke and my mom, guitars and male vocals by me. I would like to get more musicians involved soon, especially in the new studio space.

Rithma The multifaceted Etienne aka Rithma, on one of his multiple expressions.

How does a Rithma track typically start? Is it the beats or melody? Or does it vary every time?

Over the last two years I’ve been learning how to work through a lot more material very quickly. In the early days I would start a track, then spend weeks, sometimes months beating it into submission and making it “perfect”. But now typically I start with a synth or a guitar and get a little groove going, build a beat for it (I dont like sample the sample loop craze, I usually make my own), quickly arrange it, bounce it out and then I don’t listen till a week later. By then I have 6 or 8 ideas done, and maybe one or 2 worth moving forward if i am lucky. It could really start with anything though, sometimes found sounds or singing a melody into a voice recorder.

As an engineer, when you compose, do you spend a long time refining the sound after the initial take or do you try to do that on the way in when you record?

Some of my simpler stuff has been created, recorded, and mixed in a day or two, The real elaborate tracks from Music Fiction or Sex Sells albums took months. There was one summer, maybe 2006 or 2007 when I had a friend/intern living with me...he said I would work in the studio for 12 or 14 hours, fall asleep in the chair, wake back up the next morning and keep working. It was wild amazing times.

What keeps you inspired these days?

This is going to sound nerdy but I love synth technology. I love building synths that seem completely impossible to build, and then figuring out how to get them to work. Building eurorack modules and working those bizarre sounds into a new track. Finding old garage sale sound machines and breathing life into them again Also that feeling when I know I only have like 30 minutes to work on something and it starts sounding really good.

What’s next in Rithma’s world? Any plans to release new music?

I’ve got a couple tracks coming out on No-Fuss Records soon, and I think a piece of Vinyl on Minim records. Putting the final touches on my own Bandcamp label where I can release more new music into the wild. It’s been so long since I regularly put any music out, it will be interesting to see how it goes. Check my bandcamp for some newly released tunes.

Well thanks again for taking the time and for this excellent mix!

Thank you good sir!


Tracklist

  1. Rithma - Drown [Self-released]
  2. Shigeto - Pulse [Ghostly]
  3. Breger - Cup of Joy [CopyCow]
  4. Bengal - Sun Salute [Kindish]
  5. Felix Leifur - Feels Like [Dirt Crew]
  6. Timboletti - Most Busride [Sol Selectas]
  7. Harry Wolfman & LG - The Swan [Suicide Robot]
  8. Cpen & JT Donaldson - Just Cant [NoFuss Records]
  9. Claude F. - Garmonbozia [Frosted]
  10. Hauswerks & Doorly - Ayahuasca [Get Physical]
  11. DJ Statik - Count On Me (SEBB JR remix) [Blockhead]
  12. Rithma - Uptown Downtown [Self-released]
  13. Datasette - Hands & Faces [Shipwreck]
  14. 猫 シ Corp. & telepath - Dawn over the Metropolis [Hiraeth]
  15. Heare - Constructed Waves [Modam]

Follow Rithma

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