We had the good fortune of connecting with Mixtape and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mixtape, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Mixtape began as a project centered around experimenting and taking risks. On a practical level, when we formed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were not all living in Los Angeles full time. Nathan Ben-Yehuda was living in New York, and Michael Siess was back in his hometown of Portland, Oregon. When we all had a chance to jam and arrange together in Los Angeles, we made a critical decision to move to LA and continue working together on this passion project which involved many skills we had little training for, and due to pandemic limitations, recording and promoting all of our material ourselves.
What gave us all confidence in the decision was our trust in each other to take complementary roles of leadership. We could see from the beginning that we were all serious about our craft and knew largely where our strengths laid, whether that be promotion and reaching out to presenters or collaborators, maintaining a business model and setting objective career goals, organizing programming and creating a vision for our performances, or directing the flow of ideas during the arrangement and rehearsal process. While the risk of so many unknowns was palpable for us at the start, this trust gave us a mutual feeling that Mixtape was worth the investment.
Our artistic process involves significant risks as well. Mixtape’s broad vision of performing music across genres and drawing connections often means grappling with materials in foreign musical languages, and finding a way to translate them onto our instruments in a way we know how to. We mitigate this risk by always referring back to the source material for guidance. One of the most overheard phrases at a Mixtape rehearsal would definitely be “can we listen to the song again?” and queuing up our Spotify to hear exactly what happens at that amazing moment two minutes in that we are trying to capture, or something like that. We also constantly seek out advice from other musicians on how to bring music to life authentically. We have found such a wealth of knowledge to be learned from musicians of other disciplines, and this has greatly improved our ability to work without fear and take further musical risks.
Mixtape is also a risky entrepreneurial endeavor. There are very few bands like us, and we don’t easily fit into an existing classical or popular music infrastructure. We’ve been extremely lucky to have guidance from a plethora of musical pioneers on how to shape our own path, and we are always working on how to express what we do to people in a way that will make them excited about our vision and want to take part in some way. It also was oddly fortunate that we started working together during early 2020 quarantine times, when we were able to focus our attention on developing an identity for our group and a plan for how we wanted our careers together to progress. This gave us a strong sense of what we wanted to share with our audience.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Mixtape is a band composed of two violinists, a cellist, and a pianist. We play our favorite music, which spans many genres and styles. This includes the work of electronic musicians like Flying Lotus and Tim Hecker, to R&B artists Daniel Caesar and H.E.R., to classical composers like Jean Sibelius and Heitor Villa-Lobos.
We’re all classically trained and share a deep love for classical music, but in order to bring the classical tradition into the 21st century, we believe its musicians must embrace other art forms and styles of music. One of our guiding tenets is that no music we play, regardless of genre, is objectively of a higher order than any other. We approach music by a pop artist as fervently and purposefully as we would a string quartet by Beethoven.
Perhaps our most unique quality is that we’re classically-trained musicians that rehearse like a band. Rather than interpret a score written by a sole composer or arranger, we come up with the music ourselves in rehearsal. This collaborative approach through experimentation and improvisation leads us to create music we wouldn’t have been able to craft individually.
Mixtape originally began as a concert series. Our cellist Juan-Salvador Carrasco, and Violinists Michael Siess and Misha Vayman had a vision for a concert series inspired by playlist making- a set of pieces across genres arranged for an orchestra of colleagues and performed seamlessly live. Shortly after a successful debut concert in late 2019, the COVID pandemic abruptly thwarted plans for their upcoming concerts. In search of new creative avenues, we joined forces with pianist Nathan Ben-Yehuda and together began creating original arrangements. We’ve since maintained our original vision for seamless programming, now as a new multi-genre four-piece band.
As classically trained players, we were experimenting and redefining our approach to our instruments, and often working far outside our comfort zones. Fortunately, we have worked alongside true veterans in the field of multi-genre performance, Time for Three, a group that greatly inspired what we do with Mixtape. We have also received incredible guidance and support from our mentors from the Salastina Music Society and Banff: Evolution Classical.
Our greatest challenge — which is also our greatest asset — is that we are in a sense, musical pioneers. Not too many classical ensembles have crossed over to other genres of music-making, so we have only a few role models whose careers we can look toward. It’s hard to gauge what the future holds, but the lack of future expectation also frees us up to follow our tastes and passions, wherever they may lead. We’re certainly learning how to be open to and flexible to any opportunity that presents itself, no matter how unfamiliar. We’re also learning the value of setting goals and holding oneself accountable to one’s own aspirations, regardless of what anyone else is telling you to do.
We hope we are an example to other creatives that sometimes uncertainty and interruption of normal life can lead to exciting new ventures if you let your passions lead you. We are so glad we all connected during the early pandemic months and have since emerged from this unprecedented chapter in history a fully new entity.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
One thing that allowed us to rehearse seamlessly during the pandemic was the fact that three of us live together in an apartment near Little Tokyo in Los Angeles! We love our neighborhood and all the amazing food it has to offer. Some of our favorites are Marugame Monzo udon noodles and Sushi Enya, and we love the beer list and tasty fusion dishes at Far Bar. We are also locals to the Arts District, which has an incredible variety of great places to eat and drink- head to Ditroit Taqueria for tacos, margaritas, and definitely try their churros dipped in aztec chocolate.
When our violinist Misha first moved to Los Angeles, The Varnish was an amazing discovery for him: a speakeasy at the back of Coles Sandwiches on 6th street in Downtown. He now lives near Griffith Park, and enjoys hikes up to the observatory and its panoramic views. We all enjoy the plethora of delicious Thai restaurants near his neighborhood of Thai Town, and great Armenian restaurants not far away.
A hidden gem which is personally significant to Mixtape (it was where our first concerts took place!) is The Art of Living: a massive cathedral-like space in South Park, LA. Stop in for a yoga or meditation class, or stroll the grounds to witness its awe-inspiring architecture, which is unprecedented in the LA area.
Those wishing to venture a bit further out should visit Zuma Beach in Malibu. Our pianist Nathan grew up walking distance from this famous beach and its one of his favorite oceanside spots in Los Angeles County.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
We would like to extend our thanks to Ruth Eliel and Maia Jasper-White for their invaluable mentorship and support of Mixtape and our endeavors. Their work with LACO and Salastina Society have provided us with countless valuable resources and inspiration on our journey. Thanks to Margaret Batjer for her endless generosity and belief in us. Also to Claudette Lussier for supporting and encouraging us artistically during the pandemic by giving us a live platform for our work when there was nowhere to perform. Finally to Philip Fraiser and the Art of Living Foundation for providing the initial spark that kicked this whole thing off.