Isaac Sleator, CC ’17, didn’t start off making psychedelic music or rock music, but trained as a jazz pianist in high school. Now he’s been playing shows around the city and is working on several music projects at Columbia and in the rest of the city. Spectator sat down with Sleator to talk about his music and his inspiration.
Neha Sundaram: So, tell me a little about how you would describe your own music and style.
Isaac Sleator: I have a couple different styles and different projects that I’m in. All of them are somewhat psychedelic, somewhat spacey—full of ethereal noises. I’m in one modern psychedelic rock band called Suchaporn, and I’m also in a new project—we haven’t created a name yet—but it’s electronic singer-songwriter music. Kind of like James Blake, but we’ve got guitars in it. I was trained as a jazz pianist, so it’s kind of interesting that this year I’ve really taken off with the psychedelic production and rock and roll.
NS: So how did you make the jump between being trained in jazz and psychedelic rock?
IS: Well, I played jazz up until last year. ... I started messing around with GarageBand. ... That’s how I started writing music. And then I met some of my greatest friends from high school [LaGuardia High School], and they were in this band called Suchaporn. I joined the band, and that encouraged me to start making more psychedelic music. When you’re playing jazz, a lot of the time you’re playing other people’s music, so in a sense it’s less creative. But at the same time, it’s all improvised, and that’s very creative. The stuff I’m doing, it’s more effectual and less pure melody, so I can do what I want. I listen to everyone else, try to figure it out on stage.
NS: Could you tell me more about your musical influences?
IS: One of my biggest influences is Flying Lotus. Another huge influence has been Radiohead—probably my favorite band of all time. For the psychedelic, spacey vibe, I’d say Tame Impala has been a huge influence on me this year. I found out about them last summer, and I’ve pretty much been listening to them all the time ever since.
NS: Now, you’re playing shows across New York. When did you start getting more into composing your own work?
IS: It all started with GarageBand. I don’t write out any of my music. If anything, I’ll write it in my head and come up with the ideas and remember them, and then teach the musicians that are playing them, but I never start with a pen and paper. So in a sense, it makes me feel like what I’m doing isn’t really composing, but people compose in all sorts of ways. What I usually do is I record my music, and that’s my process of composing it. I’ve got a bunch of different keyboard instruments, I’ve got guitars—and nowadays it’s really easy to record things not at a studio. Dorm rooms can be excellent places to put together entire albums if you have the right equipment. I layer tracks, and I end up with a final product that one could say I composed, but to me it feels more like messing around with the software, and I just put it all together, and that’s how it comes to exist.
This new electronic project—probably going to be called “Moods,” because in each song, we try to capture a different mood—that’s made entirely on Ableton. The week before winter break is when we started working on this project. Me, another producer [Lucio Westmoreland], and a vocalist [Julian Soto], we sat together and somehow made all this music. We were just in the zone completely. And in two days, we came up with three tracks and decided this was good enough to make a project out of, and we’re planning on doing this hopefully for a long time.
NS: Can you talk more about how you came into your style?
IS: I think the most obvious answer is who I listen to. Sometimes, I find listening to music even more pleasant than playing it. It makes me feel really strong emotions. Also the musicians I’ve played with, and my friends ... who’ve definitely influenced my style a lot. They exposed me to different artists, and just working with them was an experience.
NS: Turning our focus back to music at Columbia, how do you find the music scene? Have you met any other artists here?
IS: At Columbia, I’ve met some of the most talented people I’ve ever met—even more talented than in high school. My roommate is an incredible jazz pianist, one of the best ears of anyone I’ve ever met. A lot of people are doing it on the side—they wouldn’t even call themselves musicians, but they’re dabbling around, and they’re making progress. I know that there are student bands, and I know that people want to perform—I would love to perform at Columbia’s underground music venue for the students, but we don’t have such a thing. It’s a little frustrating, but at the same time, we live in New York City, so there are places.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.