Growing up in both the Upper West Side and numerous small villages of central France, the electronic music performer has explored the world of sound on a quest for finding himself in music.
In Chapter 1: The Ruins, a 12-chapter electronic narrative, Mistier explores the spectrum of modern sound to tell the post-apocalyptic story of two people dancing through a heavily surveillance City of New York.
Now with Chapter 2: Ritual Dream on the way, Mistier is preparing to hit the city stages.
From the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada to gypsy villages in France and the bright lights of NYC, this performer has brought a world of inspiration to his most recent home of Greenpoint.
I met up with Mistier just blocks from his home last week at Five Leaves in Greenpoint, to discuss his road to electronic music and his take on the expanding world of music.
How did you know music was your passion?
I had been playing music since I was five. I was a classical pianist then I took guitar when I was 13. After I went to Yale for comparative mythology, I was quite sure I was going to be a theater director. That’s what I was doing there and that’s what I was doing here in New York after I graduated from school.
Right around the time my first theatrical debut was coming up in New York, my dad died. So I was also dealing with his death, going to his funeral and I was acting in this play, so I decided to leave New York and become a ski bum and I moved to Lake Tahoe. His death kind of propelled me forwards to find a voice.
I had always played music, but I never really got it. I had played before but I never really had a reason or a purpose for it. But then everything just made sense and it was how I had to express myself.
What brought you back to New York?
Most of my life has been relatively linear since then. I went out to Tahoe, I started a band out there, the band broke up after nine or 10 months, I sent music to some friends of the family, including the only guy I knew in the music business – who’s name is Mike Rogers. He said, I really like the songs you have and the ideas behind them, but I really think the instrumentation you’re getting out of this is not really what your songs should be doing. And that was one of the things I had been feeling for a long time and one of the reasons the band broke up as well.
He said, “why don’t you come to New York to work with me?” I spent the next year and a half getting a kind of unofficial masters in modern music. He taught me how to become a much better composer, guitarist and lyricist. He taught me how to use Pro Tools and how to mix and engineer and all that stuff. I came out of that with an EP that got me signed to the record label, STM Records, and that band ended up being called Ism.
We had two or three albums with STM Records, we toured nationally and internationally for eight months a year for five years or something crazy like that. Then it ended and I was looking to figure out what I was going to do next.
What did you do next?
In the last six months of the band a friend of mine asked me to do the soundtrack to a film. I decided that it would be first time I would do everything myself. I played and mixed everything. It never actually came out, which was too bad because I didn’t see the final draft of the film, but I was really proud of my soundtrack. I wish something had developed out of that. But when I did that, I really enjoyed it better than my band, and I enjoyed the process better than my band at the time.
The band seemed to be going well at the time, we were signed with this label and there was talk with Sony, so I didn’t think I could quit this band. I thought maybe this could be my alter ego. I’ll do these side projects and that would be my “adversary.”
Then by the end of the band, The Adversary became my “fame thing.” The idea of we’re all kind of our own worst enemy, we’re all the one thing that gets in the way of ourselves the most in terms of our own evil Jiminy Cricket, over-evaluating ourselves in terms of either being unable to be objective about yourself or being the self-limitations of fear that we put on ourselves to stop us from being ourselves. I decided that I would be very obvious that I am that for myself, so I would be that for myself.
How did growing up in both France and New York City have an impact on your musical influences?
One of my big theories about modern sound is that we exist in this whole spectrum between the organic and the very electronic. There will always be human voices and bird chirps, violins and pianos and what not. But we also live in a world of electronic sounds and elevators and cell phones and bleeps and words. I think that we need to, whether we use all of that or not, we need to acknowledge that that is the spectrum of sound that we are existing in at the moment and be conscious about that relationship.
My normal default setting is some element of travel and that has made me aware of those sides. Also, a lot of my time in France was in smaller places. I lived a year in a fishing village. I spent a bunch of time in central rural France in a town of 500 people with gypsies and horses and stuff like that.
What tools do you use when making music as the Adversary?
Some of it is recording live instruments, some of it is recording live instruments specifically for the purpose of messing them up with effects and cutting them up to make new sounds out of it. Some is more of the standard electronic stuff. I use a number of soft synths, hard physical synthesizers, Pro Tools and a few different beat programs.
Basically there is a lot of computers, bleeps and words, a lot of live sounds and then a lot of hybrid sounds. I will sing a vocal and run it through 10 or 20 filters, and cut that up and run it through a bunch of other filters and keep going until I get the sound that feels and sits into a mix electronically, but that there is an organic human texture to it, that if I isolate it, it sounds like it’s coming from a human voice. Mixed in you wouldn’t notice because humans aren’t perfect.
Where do you find your influences?
Probably the biggest influence musically, performatively and philosophically at this point is Burning Man. To me, that was a very important part of my life. After I finished the soundtrack, I went to Burning Man for the first time in 2012, and one of the things I was looking for was research to find people who were doing this mix of electronic stuff in a way that I hadn’t thought of before. I won't say it's not there, but in my experience I didn’t find any of it. It was like 95 percent DJs, and what live music there was was much more organic live music – much more folk or reggae and funk bands.
I was like, “I’m not finding the thing that I wanted to find for myself here.” By the end of the week, I was like, oh I get it. This is about self-empowerment. So I went out to make the thing or be the thing that I wanted. The basic idea was, I love the genre of electronic dance music at Burning Man. It is my favorite thing to dance to. What I love about it is the limitations and that it’s so mechanical and rouge that it makes this hypnotic experience that makes everyone come together and lose themselves in this communal place. It’s wonderful.
At the same time, the fact that it’s so mechanical and rogue makes it not human, somewhat distancing. You can advance music that is structurally okay to have the same part not change for a while, and vocals are more of an instrument than a storytelling tool. I was like, I want to find a way to combine these two things, to keep the beats and the general mood of tech-house and that same energy for dancing, but to add a little more of an intimate component. I want people to be able to choose their own involvement and their own experience in my music.
Look for the Adversary’s newest single off Chapter Two: Ritual Dream EP on June 24.