Q&A: Before His Thursday PM Lounge Gig, Tim Sweeney Talks College Radio, DFA Records and Soundtracking Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
PM Lounge, one of the only venues in Dallas of late with the motivation, knowledge and budget to routinely bring big-name electronic artists from around the US and abroad into town, will be hosting DJ Tim Sweeney for this week's installment of its no-cover Le Magnifique Thursdays.
[Update: This show has now been canceled due to the snowstorm in the northeast affecting Sweeney's travel plans.]
Sweeney has been running the "Beats in Space" radio show on WNYU since 1999 and is a true electronic music connoisseur -- his work at DFA records and Rockstar Games, and his career as an international DJ have made him a sought-after selector and a bastion of electronic music in the States.
I caught up with him earlier this week via Skype to discuss his show, his travels and his new label. Check out our Q&A after the jump.
In terms of your show, have you noticed any kind of difference in interest with what you play since it started?
I guess it's more that my interests have changed from the very beginning to now. When I started it, I was doing a lot more hip-hop stuff and I was working with this guy Steinski who was telling me about a lot of old funk and a lot of early '80s hip-hop things. After that, I started working for the DFA guys and they turned me on to some more of the disco stuff and the post-punk things, and whenever someone turns me on to something it just gets reflected in the radio show. Then, after working at DFA I got a lot more into Detroit techno stuff, and now it feels like every year I just get broader and broader and spread out to find new things to keep it interesting for me.
Would you say that your radio show is what launched everything you do?
Yeah, the radio show is how I'm still able to do what I'm doing -- people downloading it and checking it out. For me, the radio show is kind of my home base, and I keep working at it. It's still college radio though, so it's still informal and unprofessional.
In what capacity did you first start working with DFA?
I was a studio assistant for Tim [Goldsworthy] and James [Murphy], helping them with recording. All the first early 12-inches, I helped them out with that. Also, not just with the DFA 12-inches, but I started working there a little bit before they started the label when they were just producing other groups, and that's when I was around.
Was your educational background in audio engineering?
Yeah, at NYU my major was in music technology.
So was the job at DFA the first job you got after getting your degree?
No, actually. It started out as a school credit thing -- y'know, you have to take an internship with someone. I think that was maybe my junior year or something, and I started working with them for school credit. And then, afterward, I just kept working with them because we all got along really well.
Is that still what you do with DFA to this day?
No, not as much anymore. I left working there in 2003 because then I started working at Rockstar Games, the video game company, and I started doing the soundtracks for their video games. Like, I did the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas soundtrack -- all the radio stations. So I worked there full-time for three years and then I left that in 2006 to focus on DJing and doing the radio show full-time. My DJing was starting to pick up, and once I felt like I could pay the rent with doing it, then I kind of made the jump to try and do it full-time with DJing.
So is that the main thing you do now full time? DJing?
Do you find yourself traveling every week?
Yeah, pretty much. This week, no, but last year it ended up being maybe three out of four weekends I was traveling, mainly to Europe. Which gets tiring, you know, because I go for the weekend and I come back and I do the radio show and then I leave again. So it'd be like I would be back in New York for maybe two nights and then I'd leave again to go to Europe, which maybe is a little weird, but I do like being here to do the radio show.
So every Tuesday you're back in New York, without fail, to do the radio show?
Almost every Tuesday. Like, when I went to Australia it was such a long trip that I had to do a prerecorded show for that, or if I went to Japan or something it's such a long trip. So I prerecorded it and, in the end, you couldn't really tell the difference. But I find the experience of being there and doing it live is more just more fun and exciting. I guess when you're prerecording a show, if you make a mistake, you can always go back and change it, and I like the feeling of, "This is live and you can't go back and change it." If you make a mistake, you're stuck with it. There 's something about that that's kind of exciting, so that's why I'm always trying to be here in New York on Tuesday to try and do the show.
What is the reason for this tour? Is it to promote something you have going on?
No, I just haven't been back in Texas in a long time -- I think it's been over a year. Maybe it was two years ago, so this is basically to go out DJing for the weekend. But I am starting, finally, this "Beats in Space" record label, and for that I'll be doing some more tours involved with that once the releases start coming out. For that, I'm just going to be focusing on some of the music I play on the show that's unreleased that I really like and I want to put it out that has nice artwork, and just keep a record label that's sort of similar to the radio show -- broad, but keep the level at a high degree.
Would you ever use the label to release one of your own tracks?
Oh yeah, yeah, for sure. That's a good question, and that'll happen. I'm working on it.
Are you working on your own tracks all the time in the background?
Yeah, but I've just been mainly focusing on doing edits just for DJing, and I haven't been focusing as much on making original tracks. But that's what I will start focusing on.
Update: This show has been canceled because of the snowstorm in the northeast.