INTERVIEW: Tritonal (2012)
American trance superstars – it has a nice ring, doesn’t it. Tritonal, the duo of Chad Cisneros and Dave Reed, are from Austin, Texas, and have risen quickly in the trance scene. Early support from big names like Armin van Buuren, Above and Beyond, Ferry Corsten, and Markus Schulz helped propel them in the scene. Their debut album ‘Piercing the Quiet,’ released in 2011, featured eight top 20 Beatport singles (five of which topped the Trance chart). A double-disc set of remixes, ‘Piercing the Quiet: Remixed,’ was released in September with rerubs by Beat Service, Super 8 & Tab, Seven Lions, Maor Levi, and others, as well as remixes by the duo themselves. Listening to their tracks, it’s easy to see why they’ve developed such a massive legion of fans, who call themselves ‘Tritonians.’
Ron Slomowicz: Were you guys DJs or producers first?
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): Obviously producers, still to this day we consider ourselves producers who DJ.
RS: How did the two of you meet each other?
Dave Reed (Tritonal): An online dating service… Just kidding, we met online through forums discussing sound design techniques.
RS: Are you Logic guys?
Dave Reed (Tritonal): We use a handful of programs, mainly Logic now, but we have used ProTools, FL Studio, and a lot of Ableton. These days, everything is really centered around Logic.
RS: When you all are playing live, do you use Ableton or CDs?
Dave Reed (Tritonal): We use SD cards and sometimes iPads.
RS: I haven’t heard of the iPads yet, what software are you using on it?
Dave Reed (Tritonal): There is a new software called Record Box by Pioneer that you can just hook right in.
RS: So the SD card goes right into the iPad and you can use that instead of a CD-J 2000?
Dave Reed (Tritonal): When we are playing with SD cards it’s different, it is one or the other. The SD card is just like a USB stick and it goes into the CD-J, when we work on the iPad it hooks up via USB into the CD-J. You wouldn’t play off of both at the same time. There is actually a new CD-J player out called Nexus that is even better.
RS: That sounds cool. I keep hearing the quote that you “complete each other’s musical sentences,” how do the two of you collaborate in the studio together?
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): When we first started it wasn’t like that right away, there was quite a learning curve between both of us- not only in terms of each other’s personalities, but also creatively. When we work together now it’s just a couple guys sitting in a chair trying things out, exploring directions, and getting each other’s feedback on whether we like something and envision it on a track. It is a process that we have gone through a lot of times. We have written about 150 tracks so we know each other and where we want to get to. We also talk a lot about what we want to achieve on the floor at a festival and how we see our record fitting into our sets.
RS: When you are making a track, is how it is going to sound on the dance floor a major part of what you are doing?
Dave Reed (Tritonal): Yes, exactly, we sit in the studio and make sure that everything sounds as clean as possible. Usually everything from the studio translates into the club pretty well these days.
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): That wasn’t always the case.
Dave Reed (Tritonal): We used to have to get our ears adjusted to the rooms, and we thought we had problems with our speakers but it was really just the rooms that we were in. We have learned a lot and now we have a studio that is really just…
RS: Okay, is there a track that you think that you got it right for the first time, like a transition track?
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): That is a good question, I remember the first time that we did the remix for Ferry Corsten’s “We Belong” and played it out, it sounded really nice. It was such a relief because so many tracks were not translating. Like Dave alluded to, it really is a growth process figuring out your room and monitors and how they translate to the club.
RS: When you work with vocalists, do you start with a track and have them write to it, what is the process with that?
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): Yeah, we may start with a melody or a chord progression first, something simple that they can have their way with, and then inevitably that all changes. A lot of times our best mixes are sometimes after we have gone through and produced an entire track with the vocal, and then completely stripped the vocal out of the song and rewritten the chord progression and melody around it. Sometimes it is 2-3 maybe even 20 projects later that you really nail the magic. That certainly was the case with our album.
RS: Talking about your album, was it a collection of singles or did you write the album and the singles came from it?
Dave Reed (Tritonal): Actually, that is a good question, we did have some tracks that were originally going to be singles for when we came up with the idea to put an album together. We went back through to some of the singles that we never released and put a check mark and noted them in our mind to go back and scrub the tracks up for an album.
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): It definitely was that we wrote the album and the singles came from that. We weren’t like, “now we need an album so let’s take our last 5 singles and slap on a couple more and call it an album.” Hell no, we wrote everything originally, and once the album was done, and only then, did we start putting out the singles as well as the club mixes.
RS: You work with a lot of different vocalists, how do you find the vocalists that you work with?
Dave Reed (Tritonal): It is a little bit of a witch hunt, you have to go out, eMail, and call. Cristina was a blessing; she lives in Austin and is a friend of a friend, so it was pretty organic. A lot of the ones on the album, we were referenced and we got through our publishing company or we hooked up through the record label. A lot of them worked out and a lot didn’t, collaborating online can be challenging.
RS: So some of the vocalists you haven’t even met in person, you just did everything online with them?
Dave Reed (Tritonal): Yeah, a lot of them we have never even seen, but there is a lot of chat like this via Skype, IM, and eMail.
RS: Your tracks got picked up by a lot of the big guys very quickly, what was your reaction to that and did you think that it would happen the way that it did?
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): No we didn’t, we look up to all of the big guys like Ferry, Armin, Above & Beyond, and Gareth. A long time ago, when Armin got excited about one of our tracks, “What I Say,” and played it on A State of Trance, we completely shat bricks when we were in the studio. It was a milestone that we had accomplished. It was way before the album, so it goes back to how we originally felt- it was being globally supported by a lot of those same artists and it was gratifying. It felt like we had accomplished something that was great and related to a lot of people for them to have wanted to play them on their shows and in their live performances.
RS: Weren’t some of your early records on Markus Schulz’s record label Coldharbour?
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): They were; we released a slew of singles with Armada, and it was a different sound. At the time we were so driven- we still are, but we were really keen to getting our footing that we were releasing tracks all over the place, Anjunabeats, Armada, Black Hole, Flashover, and we actually had tracks coming out on top of each other. We have really learned to settle that in, now that we are releasing tracks on our own record label, taking them one at a time and making sure that they are the right record. Early on we were slamming them out like they were hotcakes.
RS: Why did you start your own label?
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): For that reason, so that we could put out records how, when, and why we wanted to and not to have to get anyone else’s feedback or opinion. There were so many times that we would get an opinion from a label and we would totally disagree, eventually we had to trust our own instincts. Eventually we felt like we were producing records that were good enough and that we didn’t really care what they thought anymore; we were done trying to please them. It allowed us to mature and it allowed us to really ask ourselves if the records were ones that we wanted to release and play at every set. We were tired of living by other people and what they thought was cool, they weren’t the Wizard of Oz, nor did we need to pay attention to what they wanted and liked. It was like us saying that we were going to do it by ourselves and that we didn’t need them anymore.
RS: You have used the word trance a few times, would you call yourselves trance DJs and trance producers?
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): I don’t know, I think that other people definitely do. We have played a lot of house and progressive music as well, and we produce house and progressive house as well. Do we produce trance and play trance music? Yes. Is that the only thing that we play? No. However you want to categorize that is up to you.
RS: There has been talk that after electro, after dubstep, and after brostep there is going to be a whole trance revival. Do you see that coming?
Dave Reed (Tritonal): Yeah, actually we do. You can already kind of hear melodies being taken off into a lot of commercial music that have been stripped from trance itself. Not necessarily going back to the 138 BPM hard trance, but I think that it is going to come back in a more evolved, mature form.
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): Yeah, it’s progressive- everything is sort of crosspollinating. Commercial house is trance, they are big melodies, they are big ass leads that are just slowed down to 128 and they are ripping trance off, basically.
RS: What was the inspiration for the remix album?
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): The inspiration was to allow artists that we felt were either our favorites, or in some cases artists that we really admired, to have their own say and take on what we already felt was a good piece of music. We had five #1 singles from the album that charted globally on iTunes in the top 5, and had a very good response globally, so for us it was a lot of fun to hand select some of our favorite producers and tell them that we love and have always loved them and ask them if they would be interested in remixing our record. We were fortunate to get such a great assortment of artists that we support all of their tracks.
RS: What was it like when you made the move from just doing clubs to doing the big festivals?
Dave Reed (Tritonal): We were definitely thankful to be able to be part of festivals, that’s for sure. When you play at a club it’s a little more of an intimate vibe, there’s not as many people there, but when you play at a festival it is almost as if everyone welcomes any of the tracks that you play and everyone goes nuts. There is so much energy on the floor that they vibe off each other and it translates from us down to the floor as well. In the club it is a little more bottle service-y sometimes, and it depends on the venue, but honestly I like the festivals much more than the clubs, but sometimes it is a nice break to play at something a little smaller.
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): I think that our energy level on stage works a lot better for the festival environment than for the small clubs. There are obviously two of us, so being slammed into a small DJ booth with low ceilings doesn’t necessarily translate to our music or our energy level the way that a massive stage can.
RS: When the two of you DJ live do you play track after track, or how do you guys do that?
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): We have a headphone splitter and four decks in front of us that are all linked up, so I am hearing what Dave is doing and vice versa. Our playlists are digitized, so there is a pretty good synergy up there, and we switch back and forth, mixing every single record so it is both of us going for it simultaneously.
RS: For one of your sets, do you usually have the tracks planned out before you go in or does it vary up?
Dave Reed (Tritonal): Yeah, you can definitely put together a playlist of tracks that you think might be cool for the night, or new ones that you want to play, or even new productions that you’ve finished, but inevitably when you get there, things change and you can end up going in a different direction based on the vibe of the room. Being versatile as a DJ and being able to take things on a different course as need be is a good skill to have. We have been doing this for a while, we are in our 4th year, and we were DJing right off the bat, although not at large festivals, we were playing locally in Texas, so this is not our first rodeo. We know how to work a room and floor and we have so much music that it doesn’t really matter, there are so many ways that you can go at any given moment.
RS: You say that it’s not your first rodeo, I am just curious that due to the age difference between the two of you, has that come into play at all in your professional relationship?
Dave Reed (Tritonal): Yeah, I guess sometimes, I can be kind of stupid.
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): No, not in terms of him being able to get into a club or drink.
Dave Reed (Tritonal): I moved down here when I was 19, so early on I wasn’t really able to go into clubs.
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): The promoters usually just let him play, so it hasn’t really affected anything, and Dave is pretty mature for his age so it has been awesome for us.
RS: Talking about starting out, I first heard about you because you were working with Francis Preve, what did you learn from him and how did you work with him in the early days?
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): We took a few of his classes, the personal ones where he came over and we dug into the hard core sound design and let him go on his rants that he likes to do and had a lot of fun. We even did a collaboration and remixed one of his tracks. We picked his brain; he has a brilliant mind and is an amazing guy and an amazing professor. Anytime that you can sit with somebody like that who has so much wisdom around synthesizers- it’s a good thing.
RS: How did the two of you react to making the DJ list last year?
Chad Cisneros (Tritonal): We were so pumped, it was such a good experience. Hopefully the Tritonians will continue to support us the way that they have been. Big shout outs to all of them because we definitely wouldn’t be where we are without them.