Eric Shans: Impassioned Stories of Time

R.A. Bakr

New York Producer and DJ, Eric Shans has been making his mark known in the industry nearly 20 years. His influences of melodic, dreamy sounds transform his unique sound which some may say adds a sort of grittiness. Both under his own name and moniker Phenotract, he has a many releases and remixes that span the electronic music spectrum of deep house, tech house, techno, and ambient/downtempo. The music he makes is truly reflective of the sounds he loves to hear – forward thinking and at times, wrapped in a sense of nostalgia. His DJ sets are also an embodiment of this as well, combining ethereal vocals, driving dirty bass lines, and emotive melodies for the heart, soul and mind.

Eric is no stranger to the New York scene. He’s played venues such as: TBA Brooklyn, Cielo, Louie and Chan, and many more. Eric also co-runs the labels 3Bridge Records and 3Bridge Elements based in Brooklyn and is one of the founders of the inTRANSIT parties which take place in New York City mainly at TBA Brooklyn, one of the borough’s best clubs.

Listen live to Eric’s CHILL Featured Artist mix on Wednesday December 26th @ 2PM EST [convert timezone] or tune in anytime after on-demand.

First, I’d like to start out by saying “thank you” Eric for taking time from your busy schedule to do this interview. I’m excited to be a part of your journey in giving a glimpse into your world for your followers and Frisky listeners. Tell me about your upcoming mix. And describe your thoughts about being FRISKY’s Chill Featured Artist?

And thank you! So, being my first time on Frisky I wanted to take some music that I’ve collected over the years as well as highlighting some stuff on a newish record label that I help run called 3Bridge Elements. It’s a sister label of 3Bridge Records (which is our dance focused imprint) and it focuses on the downtempo, ambient, and meditative sides of the aural spectrum. The show will feature a wide range of sounds from the drone to the dreamy as well as melodic, glitchy, and beat driven tunes. I was very honored to have been chosen as the Featured Artist as I think FRISKY is an outstanding platform to showcase artists with their sounds and visions.

I hope to tell a story through the sound, rhythms, and atmospheres. Due to the instrumental nature of many tracks, as listeners, you’re able to often conjure up your own images through the music. I really like this, it can do a number of things, for instance transporting and shifting one’s mind to other worlds and zones or it can serve as good background music too.

Briefly describe your journey as an electronic artist. Is there anyone that has helped shape you as a musician?

I started making music back around 1998! Which is really crazy for me to think about. It’s hard to say whether one musician in particular has shaped my style, but I think collectively it would be a blend of genres and musicians: lots of new wave and 80s music, industrial, shoegaze and as far as artists/bands; Bill Leeb (from the Front Line Assembly, Delerium, and his many side projects!) And a few of my favorites, the bands: In The Nursery, and the Pet Shop Boys. Hearing great music when I am out at a party also helps. I love it when DJs push envelopes and play / weave together music that’s interesting and original as well as peppering sets with some classics.

I see that as a deejay & producer, you seek to experiment more impassioned expressions of electronica, together with your own stylish blend of chill. Kindly explain, what philosophies shape your creative musical mindset? What drives you to keep pushing the creative threshold and your approach when making new tracks?

I think the philosophy is that if you’re feeling it, put it down on “paper”. In recording terms this could be a myriad of things whether that’s sketching out lyrics and/or ideas for songs or firing up your music software/hardware get your creative juices flowing. As far as my own way to do it, I think two approaches work for me personally. One is blocking out time for strictly creative endeavors and this also means focusing and not having interruptions (looking at your smart phone, social media etc). This could also be scheduling time for collaborating too, which I’ve been doing a lot of this past year and it’s been really fun. The second is just perusing music you haven’t heard before, whether it’s old or new and getting ideas and inspiration from it, and to also jot down those ideas you might have from listening to it. Our minds are so crowded these days with the state and speed of technology and the world, so it’s good to just ride the inspiration wave when you get it.

You are a busy man, with what appears to be lots of side projects. What type of challenges have you faced within the industry? And how do you look back on your experiences?

I think the challenge really lies with getting people interested in what you’re doing and getting heard. The music industry is so flooded these days that people get overwhelmed easily, myself included. But I always take the time to listen to music that’s recommended to me as well as playlists that get generated by streaming services like Spotify to discover new (and older) artists. The other challenge is throwing events especially in NY – there’s always a ton to compete with and there’s no rhyme or reason sometimes why a party is packed or isn’t. It’s an interesting climate at times.

It’s also tough to get people to also realize even though that lots of new music gets heard by the way of streaming, it’s still art and takes a whole lot of time and patience to make. Therefore, the mentality of “well I don’t buy music anymore” is not really something I adhere to. For example, I don’t get why people would pay $12 for a cocktail but balk at paying $10.00 for an album or even $2.00 for a track. It’s just psychology, I guess. And well, I am showing my age [laughing].

Looking back, I don’t think I’d have done things much differently. My first 3 “official” albums were on CD, but then I switched to mainly digital as the cost wasn’t really in my favor anymore. One day I’d love to have something on vinyl just for my own collection. But, of course *listening* back to your own records, of course you always wanted them to sound better to you or you’d have mixed them differently. But this is just how it goes and part of the process.

What has been your most memorable music project? How has that experience transpired/affected musical projects thereafter?

My initial project Phenotract was the very first thing I did. I put out an album that was “unofficial” – 9 tracks that was sort of on the industrial dance side of things with distorted vocals, heavy beats etc. I’ve released a few albums under that moniker – the sound has evolved to a softer, at times dreamy palette but with heavy synth-pop overtones. It’s still my baby as I have a long history with the “band”. I’ve used different vocalists and producers too over the years to assist with the songs. The last few albums I’ve done all on my own and for the very first time for the last record called “It’s All We Feel, Every Day”, I did all of the artwork as well. It was a huge undertaking but it was cathartic for me. There will be a new EP this year as well which I am looking forward to. As far as how it’s affected other music projects, it’s sort of laid the foundation down sound wise for the other genres I work on. I come from a very song-oriented approach and think this is evident in the more dance stuff I do.

Would you kindly share with me if there are any artists you’ve always wanted to collaborate with? Why?

There’s a few but would love to work with such as Apparat, Ulrich Schnauss, and this band Sun Airway. I think there’s a certain “touch” they have about their music which always hits me in some way. And for a different style, there’s a band called Slowdive who I really like too. I could go on and on about this as I like music from so many different genres! It really runs in my DNA.

You shared with me that you like to reflect sounds of what you love to hear sort of wrapped in a sense of nostalgia. With this in mind, what type of listeners do you believe you generally appeal to and/or would like to? How important is it for you to have listeners grasp the context within your music? And in what ways do you attract a broader audience?

I think across the board, people generally like nostalgia. A lot of times it reminds us of good experiences from the past, whether those be from years back or as soon as last month. So, as far as attracting listeners, I believe the theme is a common thread amongst most therefore the sounds might appeal to a wider audience. One of the best things to hear from people is some form of “well, I don’t generally like or listen to this music, but I really like what you’re doing”. That means you’ve crossed over and got people’s attention that you might not normally would have. It always brings a smile to my face. I do this in my DJ sets too when I play parties. People always like to hear recognizable things in a mix, they attach something subconsciously to it, it seems.

I also see you’ve done releases and remixes that span across the genres of deep house, tech house, techno, and ambient/downtempo?

I have a lot of fun doing remixes whether that be for bands, or other electronic producers. It often makes you be more creative in that you’re taking someone else’s vison and translating it to your own. It pushes you out of your comfort zone which I think is essential in growing as an artist. And what is even more fun it was when the people you do it for really love it; it’s almost like a synergistic moment.

I’ve listened to your track ‘Heaven is a Wave’ that was recently released. It’s very ethereal if I may add. Tell me more about it and what kind of meaning the track has for you.

X Miss Ella, the vocalist, lyricist, and co-writer of that song, was inspired mainly by surfing. She dragged me on a crazy trip to Morocco because she’s obsessed with it (surfing). It was my first time on a surf board ever! But I learned and did relatively ok [laughing]. Quite an experience it all was!

We also brought in a guitarist, Dratsum, to play some of the parts who was a front man for the NYC band The Hydes who were a metal surf rock act. The guitar has a very surf-esque sound which fits the nature of the track and it was very fun to introduce this element to it. We were really happy the outcome. She and I also performed it live not too long ago and it was really fun to do.

You also released your latest ambient /downtempo EP via 3Bridge Elements, entitled ‘In Another Place’. It has 3 warm tracks, which anyone can cozy up with on a cold winter’s day. How would you best describe your creative process? And basically, what insight can you share about your unique creative process that goes into your tracks?

Thank you! I’m glad you hear that in the EP as that was the intention. Usually I start with a loop that I’ll create myself or use a sample, and that could be any type of sound. From that I build my own layers on top of things, almost like setting the foundation color on a canvas. I often don’t know how something will come out. In fact, I almost never do [laughs]. But, it’s always fun to see how things morph and change from start to finish. All of this process does take time but you start to learn short cuts as you go and what works for you creatively and what doesn’t; this also applies to engineering and mixing your music as well.

What’s your perspective on the state of world music today?

My perspective is that it’s totally insane to me how many talented people making music there are. On a regular occurrence I hear something and am wowed by it. On one hand, it’s great but also with all of the good comes the stuff that I’m just not really connecting to. This is also subjective of course, but this creates a real overflow at times and that I think lies the bottleneck with getting your music heard and noticed. That said, I also think there are new licensing opportunities these days and other avenues to supplement your income but you just have to research, be smart and persistent about it, and have some strokes of luck too [laughs].

When not making music, what do you enjoy doing the most?

I enjoy watching good films and TV shows, as well as doing photography. I also handle all of the creative direction for the labels 3Bridge Records and 3Bridge Elements as well as A&R so this also can keep me busy. I also juggle those with my full- time job which is web development and design. For the New Year, I want try to try cooking more because I am not great at it as well as trying to guitar better and doing more video stuff because that’s also one of my passions.

Thank you Eric for taking time with me and FRISKY in sharing your thoughts. It’s been fun! Plus it’s been a pleasure getting to know you and better insight into your musical world. Therefore, before we conclude our interview, do you have any final words?

If you’re a producer, keep making music and trying. Express yourself, do what you feel, not what others think you should do. And if you’re a DJ and not producing, try to learn how. It will only help your journey. Most importantly though, have fun while doing it. Thank you too!

Follow Eric:
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DJ Eric Shans / Phenotract

Tune into Eric Shan’s CHILL Featured Artist mix on December 26th @ 2PM EST [convert timezone] or listen anytime / anywhere after with a FRISKY Premium Subscription & FRISKY Mobile Apps.