Mako Kicks Off Solo Career with Breathe Tour [Show Review & Interview]
Alex Seaver AKA Mako just started his Breathe Tour in support of his new band, new stage setup, and frontman status. We caught up with Mako at Bottom Lounge in Chicago to have a chat.
Sensible Reason: Your tour just started, how’s it been so far?
Mako: I think this is show 5? It’s been so fun.
SR: How’s it been working with a live band?
M: Amazing. We did the first tour last year with a live band and that was kinda terrifying because I’d never done it before. Right off the bat it was amazing but it just keeps getting better, I love it so much. It’s so fun and rewarding to sing your songs to your fans. That’s obvious for most musicians, but for a DJ it’s different.
SR: How does it differ in stage presence and overall showmanship on stage?
M: It’s a huge transition in a couple ways: DJ-ing is a performance art in a way, too, because you’re not producing the sound you’re playing. It’s just happening, so it’s a lot of excess energy. On stage, it’s a lot of energy but you’re actually doing it all yourself so you can only focus on so many things at a time. That is probably where the learning curve is the steepest for me, just becoming a more confident and comfortable performer in this context. But the band sounds great, I’m so happy with how everything is sounding, we have great lights this time around. We also aren’t really calling this as a live tour, so people are kind of expecting a DJ set but, talking to fans, people are all about it. So, that tells me people are having a good experience.
SR: Where did you get your band? Where did you find them?
M: [My tour manager] helped me find a lot of them. Tyler, my guitarist, has been with me for two tours and we brought him onto an acoustic video we did for “Smoke-Filled Room” maybe two years ago. I found out that he and I were literally soccer rivals from San Diego, and he is just one of the greatest human beings. He’s been with me and then [my tour manager] found Gabe, our violinist, and Keith our drummer. It’s a good hang, we’ve got a great group of people.
SR: So you’ve recently gone solo. What brought that about?
M: So, Logan was in law school for the last 3 years of Mako and we didn’t really talk about it much but at the end of it he got this insane job offer. I was always making the music in Mako anyway, he was sort of the DJ. So, he’d be making the live sets while I made all the music and we would meet in a city and go play it. Around the same time and unrelated to Logan, I started falling in love with more Indie Rock and live stuff. I had been producing with more live instruments and started to come into my own with the singing. Naturally, it turned into not a DJ set at the same time Logan is a big-time lawyer. We’re still super close, we talk all the time he opened up for us in Michigan and I’ll see him a couple more times along the tour.
SR: Tell me about the creative process, where do you start when creating something?
M: Generally, I always start with the songwriting. I feel like if you have a great song, that is an immovable force that everything else can function around. The tough part is sometimes you have a great song and it takes forever to find the production which is classic with me. Emotion and authenticity are the biggest things for me and I don’t move forward on a song unless I’m feeling that. So, that is where I’ll hover around in the creative process, and then it’s about making the final product.
SR: Writing a song is like poetry.
SR: So, what has been your most vulnerable piece?
M: I’ve had some very vulnerable ones that have not yet come to light. It’s interesting, I find that the more real it is to me, the less anyone seems to react when I share it with people. So, they never get made. I don’t know what it is, there are some that I’m just crying in the vocal booth like an idiot and then I play it and people are on their phones. That’s how it seems to go. I think my more popular ones are generally the ones that are the most sincere out of the ones that I do write and that’s no accident. People are intuitive and they want authenticity and they want to be moved.
SR: Tell us about “Breathe.”
M: This is so behind the scenes, but I’ve had so many identity crises about what kind of music I want to make. “Breathe” is the one song that emerged out of all of that. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the vocal that drew me to it. It was the cinematic, organic-meets-pop production. I love movie scoring and I do a lot of that stuff, so anything that has that beautiful element to it with the instrumentation hooks me. “Breathe” rested right on top of that and I got to work with some great other producers on it. It just felt very me, but it still hangs out in a pop world. I try never to copy whatever trend is [popular] I just find myself inside whatever everyone else is jamming to.
SR: Who has been your biggest cheerleader?
M: My parents are the most amazing people on the planet. I was a French horn player. If your son says, “I want to be a professional French horn player,” and you don’t kick him out of the house, you’re a saint. It’s hard, and if I had kids who said that I’d be like, “No, homie, be a lawyer.” My parents have always led their lives by just doing what they love, so they set just a great example in all my moments of existential crisis. I call my mom and she sets me straight. I’m super grateful to have them.
SR: French horn…how long did you play?
M: I played a long time. Probably 12 years, I went to Julliard as a French horn player so that was like the thing for a while. I wanted to do that, and it’s been 6 years since I haven’t played it.
SR: Why did you stop?
M: Have you seen the movie Whiplash?
M: It’s about a really unhealthy relationship between a student and a teacher and I kinda had a version of that. It really was a blessing in disguise because it taught me that my ultimate true love wasn’t French horn but music in general and writing music in general. In that time period, I thought I wanted to be a French horn player and this lady just ruined me. It was tough, I kind of fled from French horn I didn’t just decide to quit, I couldn’t face it. It sounds silly, because who plays French horn, but at the time it was everything. I’m so lucky because right at that time I met Logan and he introduced me to electronic music. It was almost like Indiana Jones, I just swooped one out for the other and the world didn’t fall apart.
SR: Tell me more about the relationship you had with this teacher.
M: It’s not that weird. When you’re in conservatories, the level of demand…it’s like Gordon Ramsay. He’s a huge asshole to the people that study under him because it weeds out the people who are really meant to be there and make it versus those who might wash out or not be totally committed. I had that experience. It was weird because I’m obsessed with music and working hard at things that I like. But, I just wasn’t cut out for it. I didn’t want it enough to be great at it.
SR: I can kind of relate. I played upright bass for 8 years, but I didn’t love it enough to keep going through college. I didn’t learn correctly, I was very robotic and didn’t learn chords at all. Plus, anything involving a bass is 10 times more expensive than a violin, so I simply couldn’t afford it either.
Do you have artists you’d like to create with?
M: Oh yeah, so many.
SR: Do you have any in line or are they just ideas at the moment?
M: I actually do. I have a collaboration with an electronic artist called Illenium.
SR: Oh, cool, I like him.
M: We have a song produced by him and Kill the Noise, and then I do the vocals for it. So, that should be coming out pretty soon. I keep seeing it on my calendar and it keeps getting pushed back. He’s been playing it out at shows, and I’m gonna tease it a bit tonight. I love Illenium’s music and Kill the Noise so it’s gonna be great. There are so many other people out there I’d love to work with, too.
SR: It seems like it would be an interesting juxtaposition with Illenium having that emotive quality and Kill the Noise goes hard.
M: Yeah, this track is hard as fuck.
SR: I know Illenium can be hard but not all the time.
M: Illenium is what I love, which is giant melodic stuff and Kill the Noise is unabashedly dubstep. So the track splits those two worlds. It would never be a track that Mako released because I don’t do dubstep. But, sometimes you put really different people in the room together and they create really awesome beautiful stuff. The vocals are very me, then there is this mix of melodic stuff and dubstep drops.
SR: It can be a cool juxtaposition.
M: It almost felt like we were a jazz trio, all kind of coming in with our own solos. You’ll hear it, it’s interesting.
SR: So this tour is really short but really intense, what do you have planned afterward? Any festivals, or are you going back to the studio?
M: Right now, no festivals. But I’m going to be living in the studio until I come up with another album. We finish mid-March, and then it’ll be crushing out as much new music as possible. We’re working on stuff right now on the road so we can release on the road. We have one ready to come out, that collab [with Illenium and Kill the Noise] and then another proper single.
Almost immediately following the interview, Mako came to the stage. His presence was taken with open arms by his audience. The front row was eager to slap hands, take videos, and give Seaver a smile as he grabbed the mic and began the set. Most in the crowd knew every song, they cheered at the intro to each track with a familiarity known only by fans. Mako’s band members had amazing energy as they coordinated with the singer’s movements on the small stage they shared. Seaver’s vocals translated flawlessly from production to stage, it was clear he has been honing in on his vocal skills. The third song into the set, Mako played “Breathe,” his latest single. The lights on stage reflected the mood of the track with soft blue lighting. With each song another color, and another mood, but each person on stage held the same high energy throughout. Gabe, the violinist, had out-of-this-world effects as he held the melodies where an electronic drop would have been placed in a DJ set. We’ve never seen a DJ transition to a live setting so well without sacrificing the visual and emotional aspects of electronic music. Even their stripped down version of “Smoke-Filled Room” brought the feels to the audience. Mako is still in the early leg of his Breathe Tour. Check him and his band out at any of the dates listed below.