Lithuanian producer and multi-instrumentalist Ernestas Kaušylas aka Brokenchord is gathering momentum internationally. His first EP was discovered by British radio host Mary Anne Hobbs at BBC Radio 6. Aged only 18, this success led Ernestas to make a remix for Radiohead’s Give Up The Ghost (The King of Limbs, 2011), but as he says, “it was a long ago and life goes on.”
So talking about recent releases, yesterday he just dropped UFO Walk, a new track and music video exploring his feelings of alienation and detachment from society that we present exclusively. But the song isn’t negative at all. On the contrary, he tells us it’s his “way of saying that it’s ok. Enjoy yourself” to his audience. Because Brokenchord can’t stop creating, producing, and releasing music – he’s been into dropping singles lately as it’s a way to avoid accumulating unreleased music in his laptop, something related to his mindset as a DJ. Since the release of his first full-length, he likes to put himself in a continuous flux, playing internationally both live and as a DJ whilst finishing new work. For the interview, we visit him in Vilnius, Lithuania, to catch up and dig into how things look for him at the moment.
Your debut album, Endless Transmission was released in 2017. But when did actually Brokenchord begin?
Brokenchord started when I was around 16 years old, back in 2007. My older sister was taking me to clubs and forest raves, this was a huge influence. Then I released an EP under my same artist name, it took about two years to get it done. At that time, I was more into hip-hop kind of beats inspired by artists like J Dilla, who was RIP J Dilla, a good friend of Madlib – I know you took pictures of Madlib (chuckles). Also, Flying Lotus was an influence back then sonic-wise. I was like, ok, beats, let’s do beats!
I think that with Endless Transmission, you started to explore sort of a hybrid approach combining electronic sound and droned guitar kind of ambient sounds. Could you expand on this?
I released a couple of EPs and started to get some hype, small and local, so people were asking, ‘are you going to make an album?’ And for three or four years, I was stuck. At one point, it hit me, I thought I had to put it out because I couldn’t stand anymore looking at my computer folder. By then, I was finishing my bachelor thesis at the Institute Of Sonology in The Hague, and I got inspired at the moment to close this chapter with the album too.
In a sense, it’s a screenshot of where I was at that particular time and my surroundings. I recorded car alarms, ambulance sirens and used those sounds in the album. Everything I explored that felt like part of the environment I was in, I managed to put into some sort of box, everything was melting in between. Thought this could be a fresh thing to do, anyways.
Why Brokenchord?
Because I started playing the guitar and I got invited to play for one show at high school. I think I played two tracks, and right before starting the show, I was tuning my guitar and one string broke. I was really scared. So all my friends started this joke about the broken string, so I translated this – broken string, Brokenchord. Maybe this is how it was supposed to be, and I took it as part of my identity. It’s interesting, you can’t choose things sometimes (laughs).
How does the writing process work for you nowadays?
I like to make soundtracks for night walks and spend time thinking what’s the meaning behind the music I’m making. There is always some sort of meaning within the sounds, what I actually want to say, and  I guess it reflects who I am as a person. I don’t sing but I try to look at my voice as an instrument, but in general, I tend to look at what’s happening around and how I feel about it. I often feel out of place… I love Vilnius – where I live – and I’m very lucky to have a lot of friends, but at the same time, I have the feeling that I am on my own. It’s not even a sad thing, but an amusing feeling that I am very much on my own.
So I channel that energy, asking myself, ‘can I translate this into music? It’s interesting that making music is more about the sound and how it relates to my thoughts, as well as tapping into the culture and music references, so I think, in this sense, I am evolving. It’s not about finding cool beats or crazy textures but about saying, ‘yeah, this is who I am’. It is becoming more personal.
From there, you play with structures, at least with Endless Transmission. I wanted to have this ‘snap’, like you press play and you’re immediately in it. That’s why some of my tracks are just three minutes long. For now, I don’t need to go over five or six-minute compositions, but probably in the future I will develop more orchestral or longer, not now. It’s all at one flux.
I think this also motivated your last track, UFO Walk.
Yes, I think a lot of people feel this way or had similar experiences. It's my way of saying that it's cool being out of place. Enjoy yourself. Also, I'm obsessed with aliens and have some good friends who have seen some weird stuff, including myself.
You’ve also recently uploaded another video, When You Sleep // Transmission, where you play live. As I understand, the tracks live differ from the studio version. Do you explore your own compositions and like to give room to improvisation?
Definitely. I work with album material but I don’t want to repeat myself. I show different parts because sometimes, it’s nice to emphasize hidden details like the drums or flip the main theme of the track – it’s kind of what I do live. Also, the audience’s energy is super important. I go with my instinct on the live show, it isn’t set in stone. At the same time, because I also DJ quite often, I get inspired by this and try to transform what I’m playing into more ‘bodily music’ – I overlap and merge two songs, so there are transitions as in a DJ set.
Could you tell us more about the When You Sleep // Transmission Live performance video? How and where did this happen?
This is the National Sea Museum of Lithuania, in the peninsula of Klaipėda – you need to take a ferry to go there. For some reason, they were open to having me there and I liked the idea. I talked about it with my good friends Saule Bliuvaitė and Jurgis Matulevičius, who helped me to put this together. I wanted this to be away from any kind of studio feeling, so we thought of this location, it was quite unique. Also, I felt like the droning and ambient sounds fit really well in the space. We recorded that in November 2019, rented a van, took some friends there, and it ended up with this surreal feeling. It was fun (laughs).
Are you working on new material?
Yes, always.
Is it a new album?
I really wanted to say that, in my head, I dream about another album. I’m going to do it eventually. It’s amazing to hold a physical copy with the artwork, and it adds so much more value to the music itself. It’s super important for me as a musician to produce more artefacts as such. I plan to drop a few things straight online because I don’t want some of my music to be in a computer folder for several years, but eventually, I'll drop something physical, and it's definitely gonna come out on my record label, Black Acre.
I believe the format has changed in the last decade, I would say. Currently, people tend to listen to music through streaming platforms rather than buying a record and play it straight.
Yeah, I guess in my case it’s just a period; this might change for me later on. But in general, I feel now in the air like this sort of approach that draws people in.
Please tell me a bit more about this mindset to drop new tracks separately rather than wait until you have material enough for an EP or full-length.
I just want to make more music and see how things evolve from here. The idea of putting things straight out is thrilling to me. You need deadlines and get out of your comfort zone, otherwise, it will take forever. I love the feeling of working till night just to finish something. Of course, there is going to be EP or full-length, I have this in my mind. The most important thing for me is that I’m working on music every day. Let’s see what this year brings music-wise. I’m super excited about it!
How do you think your music has evolved from your first album to what you do currently?
I think it reflects me better. Now, I like to put on my headphones and go for a walk while listening to music and make a soundtrack only for this. Before, I was younger and looking at other things around, looking for myself, but now I feel I know myself better and I want to go through this world into music. I feel more comfortable using my own voice.
Do you know when to stop the writing process for a song?
I definitely feel when a track is over and ready. I have a vision, I have no issues technically speaking. I work with the computer, it’s a stream of consciousness, but at the same time, it’s not fast enough. Just instinctively, I splash colours, and that has a lot to do with what I listen to. I have quite a solid idea of what I am aiming for. I listen to my tracks a lot, which sometimes can be physically painful, so I tend to jump into other material and retake the previous one fresh. But I still have this specific idea from the start. I like to see where I can go with one specific sound, a lot of sculpting, a lot of EQ and things like that.
I do understand as an artist you are shaping your voice. I guess it all comes down to what type of formula you feel good with when writing music.
Indeed, at first it used to be more synth-oriented. I had a lot of elements, using a lot of colours to combine. But now I managed to narrow the tools I’m using. I picked up a couple of colours that I know feel closer to me. Those colours are electric guitar, bass, and drum samples. Now, it all starts from real guitars and a bass. I sample them, play some bits and transform them, I process them through the computer. I consider myself a producer and low-budget session musician at the same time. It is never like I play and it sounds right, it’s always about tweaking and expanding into something else. I sample real drums as well.
I can grasp that connection to artists of the likes of Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, or even Sonic Youth. Do you consider these as influences?
For sure, I draw a lot of inspiration from electronic music and live bands. Although I still consider myself an electronic music producer, definitely. I use instruments, but the laptop is my main instrument still, which I think is going to stick for a while. It might change in the future, I don’t know. Speaking about influences, Boards of Canada, maybe I listen to them sometimes now, but I listened to them so much when I was a teenager that it’s inside my DNA (laughs). It’s weird, My Bloody Valentine is also inside my DNA, and to me, it’s electronic music. It’s not about guitars, synths, but certain moods and textures. I see a lot connection between them and BOC. But still, the format for me has a more electronic approach.
Speaking of music influences and indie bands, you did a remix for Radiohead. Please tell me how that happened in the first place.
This goes back to the first question of how Brokenchord started. When I released my first EP, it got released by radio host Mary Anne Hobbs. At that time, I listened to her shows and I sent her a track – I didn’t even say hi or anything, just dropped the link to her inbox. An hour later, she contacted me back saying she loved it and that she’d play it on the radio. That was mind-blowing! (Laughs) By then, I wanted to have a vinyl – I think it was 2009 –, so I spoke to her and she hooked me with Black Acre, which ended up being my record label in the UK, and who were enthusiastic about releasing it.
I guess from that, Thom Yorke put it in his official chart. He had a sort of blog for Radiohead where he uploaded the top ten tracks he liked. This was when he was working on The King of Limbs, which for me was the most electronic-oriented then. He invited me to the remix album party in London – I was living there at the time –, so we had the chance to meet. The entire thing was like a dream.
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