Hailing from Denton, TX, Spencer Stephenson makes beats as Botany, a rising DFW electronic artist and the subject of this week’s Texas Spotlight. 2011 saw the release of his first EP, Feeling Today, but it wasn’t until this past October that the world received a proper, full-length debut. Lava Diviner (Truestory) arrived as a fully-realized, immersive concept album that showcased Stephenson’s strongest suits: an evocative, highly abstract sci-fi narrative, a knack for catchy hip hop rhythms that refuse to leave your head, and an expert use of samples of guitars, bells, flutes, tape recorders, old desktop computers, and more.
We were lucky enough to catch Botany perform this past Saturday at the “Nuisance Goes to Camp” exhibit at Fort Worth’s Grackle Art Gallery. After finishing his groovy set played from the comfort of an armchair, Stephenson sat down with us to answer some questions. He’s playing a show with Exploded Drawing in Austin tonight; find out how to RSVP here. Check out our interview with the beatmaker below:
Radio UTD: When did you start making music?
Botany: It’s hard to say. My dad’s a musician, so I always had it around. I started playing when I finally reached the age when I could carry a guitar or a bass over my shoulder without feeling like it was gonna knock me down. I started making electronic and loop-based stuff when I was 15 — and I started sampling at the same time. I guess to put it in context, I’m 25 now, so it’s been 10 years.
Radio UTD: What are some of your major musical influences?
Botany: Well, I guess I could start at about 18-years-old. That’s when everything kinda opened up for me and I branched out musically and started finding stuff that made sense to me, instead of listening to stuff that my older brother turned me onto. I was really into hip hop at around 15, 16. I wanted to make hip hop (and that’s kinda what got me into trying to make beats,) but then I discovered artists like Four Tet, who opened the palette up for me. It made me realize that I didn’t have to just sample soul songs and I didn’t have to just do what the YouTube videos on how to make hip hop beats would show you how to do. Four Tet started the ball rolling on this expansion of sonic textures. I’d say that’s a pretty prime influence, and early Caribou, back when he was called Manitoba. Sample-based stuff that had a kind of rural feeling to it.
Radio UTD: If there’s any contemporary artist(s) that you would want to work with — your dream collaboration — who would that be?
Botany: Oh, let me think about that one… Are you guys familiar with Julianna Barwick? I’d really like to use Julianna Barwick’s voice for something. I’ve been a big fan of [her] for a long time, I’d love to use her voice for something. But that doesn’t even scratch the surface, I feel like there’s so many more.
Radio UTD: Do you have any exciting upcoming projects?
Botany: I’m working on an EP right now that I’m trying to get out by the summertime, and that’s about it to be honest.
Radio UTD: Is it going to be concept-based, like Lava Diviner?
Botany: Nah. It’s gonna be everything that didn’t fit into that. I’ve got a lot of stuff that I really like that I wanted to put on Lava Diviner, but it would’ve made it like a 70-minute album. [This is] just b-sides and music that I’m feeling right now without thinking about putting into the context of a full-length; just some spare tracks.
Radio UTD: You probably get this one a lot, but what’s the history or meaning behind “Botany”?
Botany: It means a lot in my head, to me, but when I put it into words… it’s like somebody telling somebody else about a dream they had. But I was in this particular period where I’d go to the botanical gardens in Fort Worth. I was working not too far away and I’d take my lunch breaks there and just put my headphones on and walk around … Something about [“Botany”] at the time really resonated with me. I think the longer you have a name, the more you want to change it — or at least I do — but I’m sticking with Botany for the foreseeable future.
Radio UTD: We just thought of this last one: If you owned a 3D printer, what is the first thing you would print?
Botany: Ah, s**t… I would print another 3D printer, with that 3D printer.