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Eric Busse of Mel Gibson and the Pants on Music and Arts Education

How did you get into making music, and how did arts education (or lack thereof) affect you and your music?

I’ve always been interested in making things while at the same time being extremely lazy. I got into listening to music after hearing Nirvana in the early 1990s. I started playing guitar but never got very good. Then my sister’s boyfriend, who was living with my family at the time, bought a Korg workstation keyboard. It had a built in sequencer with which you could lay out 16 track songs. I remember thinking that I wanted one as soon as I saw what it could do. So, I put all my effort into getting a keyboard.

I don’t remember exactly how long that took, but I think I got my first keyboard when I was 16 or 17. I immediately began to make sequences and would write some of the parts that would go into the (largely unheard) first Mel Gibson and the Pants project three or four years later. The thing that I liked most about sequencers was that I could do everything by myself. I had no band (I lived in the middle of nowhere) so being able to create entire songs with just one piece of equipment was essential. I didn’t know how to play piano, so being able to layer parts and make my songs sound much fuller taught me a lot about simple things like chord and song structure. I later went on to take piano lessons for a while, but nothing taught me as much about making music as sitting in my bedroom by myself arranging songs on my sequencer.

When I went to University I worked at a television station in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I worked overnights by myself so I’d bring in a keyboard or something to play during the night. One weekend, I had to train in a new guy on overnights. When I showed up, he was out in the parking lot smoking and playing a broken acoustic guitar. That new guy turned out to be Ryan Olson (of MG, Digitata, Building Better Bombs). He asked me what music I was into and when I told him the Residents, he pretty much asked me to join MG then and there. We recorded some things at work (and accidentally blew out the control room speakers with an accordion), but eventually Ryan wrote his resignation to TV-13 on a piece of toilet paper. I didn’t see him again for a few months.

One day, while I was sleeping at around two p.m., Ryan burst through my bedroom door unannounced. I was wearing only tighty whities but Ryan seemed unfazed. He was wearing a Limo Cab hat, which was this super shady taxi company in Eau Claire. He said that we had to record at his parents house. Then he left and again, I didn’t see him for maybe a month or two. It was a coincidence that would have us meet again. I was at a party with some of my friends. We were all pretty drunk so we decided to call a cab. Ryan shows up to give us a ride. So, we took my friends home and I rode around in Ryan’s taxi for a while and we listened to tracks he’d been working on. After that, we started recording at Ryan’s house regularly.

We eventually had a 19 track project that we decided to put out by ourselves. There were something like forty or fifty people who had recorded at Ryan’s house so I was always being introduced to members of Mel Gibson and the Pants that I had never met before. Sometime before it was released though, Ryan decided to move to San Francisco.

That was when fate would intervene for a second time. In honor of Ryan’s departure, I decided to smoke some illicit substances with a few of my friends and fellow MG members. A few days later, I got a random drug test at work. Not knowing what else to do, I left the TV station to itself for a few hours and met with those same friends again. I had to quit the job, but it pushed me out of my comfort zone (I’d worked there for over two years). After that, I became friends with JR (MG rapper), Drew (MG drummer), and Riley (MG guitar player). We started getting ambitious and kept the project together while Ryan was away. We played a few pretty successful shows when Ryan came back to town (including our first show in Minneapolis after which our DJ was arrested and our car impounded for three days) and eventually we all decided to move to Minneapolis. We moved, got a new bass player/neuroscientist (the amazing Ben Clark), and the rest is history.

I had very little formal training in music. Just getting out and doing it has always been the best way to do it for me. I was in high school band, but it contributed next to nothing to my development as a musician. I also listened to very little music when I was younger. I think that lack of musical background led to me being a relatively clean slate. I couldn’t sound like anyone else when playing, because I had so few influences. I just played what I could play.

I’m an English teacher in South Korea now, so I guess my writing degree in University has helped me somewhat, but the most important part of my high school and college years was learning to play my keyboard and sequencer, and then learning to play in a band. Ryan was always the one whose vision we were following with MG, but I don’t think we ever really realized that vision. He would tell us something to play, and we’d try to play it in our own way. I’m sure the results were nothing like Ryan had imagined, but that is what our music would become. During the years that I was performing and writing with a band, I stopped sequencing almost entirely. Though I was growing in other ways, I felt like my only real talent was going nowhere. That is why I decided to leave. I bought a cheap, early ’90s sequencer (much like the one that was in my first keyboard) and moved to Korea. For the last two years I’ve been writing my ass off and I feel the same excitement for music that I felt when I first began. I’ve more or less given up trying to really excel at an instrument and instead focus on just writing something that sounds good to my ears. I’ll be moving back to the States next fall, and I look forward to getting back into the swing of things, but with an entirely different way of working.

I left the band in 2006 when I moved to South Korea for something to do. I fully intended on rejoining the band after one year, but here it is late 2008 and I’m still in Seoul. In these last two years, I’ve been concentrating on writing and sequencing music for both MG and my own side project, Medici Slot Machine. In a way, I’ve been more productive since I left than I ever was when I was in Minneapolis. I’d be nothing, though, if it wasn’t for my friends back home and my band.

This is really the first decent Medici Slot Machine song. It is called “Sleep, Baby” and we recorded it in just a day or two (which is why the quality isn’t so hot) for a movie that we made called Savage Lanes. The movie was about why I moved to South Korea. The song was recorded in the original MG style with Ryan bringing in various musicians to track over the original ideas laid down by him and myself. With any luck there will be many more Medici Slot Machine songs coming in the near future.

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