Alex Botwin, better known as Paper Diamond, keeps his music multifaceted by way an immeasurably high dose of creativity and distinct method in song production. With much excitement, he immediately tells me he’s working on a new mix before our conversation even begins. Lazerdisk Party Sex, Sazon Booya, The Neptunes and other artists came up in conversation and he continued to express his admiration and future plans to collaborate with these artists. “I’m just trying to learn and do a bunch of different styles. I’ve always been a multi genre producer, so for me, all these new sounds and ideas that these guys are coming up with is intriguing to me,” states Botwin. As the headliner for his current Night Vision Tour, owner of Colorado based record label and design firm, Elm & Oak and an artist of many of projects, Botwin expresses his gratitude in technology when it comes to collaborations. He adds, “it’s dope to have so much technology that we can send files back and forth over the Internet where we don’t even have to be at the same studio.” Here, Paper Diamond gives us a taste of his musically rich background and answers one of the hottest questions in the electronic dance music world: Is a DJ a musician?
Life + Times: At the KahBang Music Festival, I was fascinated at the fact that you really didn’t stick to just one genre. You incorporated dubstep, house and moombahton while really interacting with the crowd. What was also worth noting was your use of a wireless mixer. Using that mixer, do you put together a set before a show or do you improvise when you are live?
Paper Diamond: It’s totally improvised. Generally before the show I pick where I am going to start. I’ve been making music for a really long time since I was super young. I’ve had different projects where I was doing hip-hop, and then I started getting into dance music and all these different things. I have every song that I have ever made in a file and I can flip through and pick wherever I want to go. A lot of the times, before the night of a show, I go through and use Ableton Live. With that (Ableton Live), you can highlight songs in different colors. So I’ll say, “Ok, I’m in this part of the country, this is the vibe of the show that I’m playing, this is who is opening up for me, etcetera.” So, I’ll go through and pick different colors of what might work for the evening. Then, what I might do is go up on stage and I’ll see what people are vibing to and I’ll see what I’m feeling. It’s changing every night and that’s how I’m able to do these big tours and keep myself entertained. Literally every night there’s something different from me and the crowd is different. It’s very exciting.
L+T: Highlighting your Night Vision Tour and based off the tweets I’ve been following regarding a new mix you are currently working on, what helps you to balance touring and putting together your next project?
PD: It’s crazy because I’m actually in the middle of so many projects right now. It’s hard for me to talk about them all at one time. We just unveiled this new custom LED wall for the whole Night Vision Tour. You can see pictures of it on my Facebook. Basically everyone has those LED panels. What we did is ask, “How do we take a common element, such as a square, and make something unique with it?” We made this crazy diamond shape form that I’m actually inside of during the shows. I’ll be taking that on the entire tour. We unveiled that at the Denver show last week. I’ve been personally making video content with a couple of different video guys to make sure that what we’re blasting is on the video walls during my shows, like, content that I feel fits the music. My light guy and video guy, they run the show live. So, that’s another form of improvisation between me and them. There’s that and I’m working on a new EP. I’ve been talking to Mad Decent about that. I am finishing a new mix. I have a bunch of singles coming out and I’ve been collabing with a bunch of different people. I was just in the studio with Chad Hugo from The Neptunes. I was down in the studio with Mannie Fresh in New Orleans recently. I was just out in L.A. working with a bunch of different people. There’s a bunch of really exciting collaborations coming up and music videos. My store, Elm & Oak, is not really just a store. It’s an art gallery, design firm, record label, clothing line; it’s basically an all-in-one artistic hub where all these artists come to help support each other and make really dope projects. In Denver, we have free monthly art shows at the gallery. We have new clothes coming out all of the time. We are actually teaching on a college campus in Boulder. We started the Elm & Oak Academy.
L+T: What’s involved with that program?
PD: It’s the first non-student run student group to ever get funding through the college. We’re really proud of that. We’ve been bringing in inspirational artists, graphic designers and DJs. We have all these plans for the upcoming semester. We’re getting to bring people that are still on the forefront of what’s happening with music now. So, it’s really cool to be able to give back to the community in that sense while working on music and videos and touring non-stop. It doesn’t really leave that much time for sleeping.
L+T: So, with Elm & Oak, it’s a little bit of everything. Going along with what you just said, I also read that you sponsor pro snowboarders and skateboarders. Can you tell me how it actually evolved into what it is now?
PD: When I was a kid, I wanted to make music, be in a band and make art work. I always excelled at computers. I was going to studio school and I went to college for music production with a minor in music business. I was always intrigued by graphic design, so I learned all the software. I want to learn about all these new techniques and new stuff. So, I’ll find out what books the colleges are teaching right now or go to the school where the most technically state of the art stuff is happening. Then, I’ll take those books and make notes like I’m even in college. I want to be the best at what I’m focusing on. I really dive in and try to learn everything in all the new techniques. It’s really about pushing and being ahead of the curve.
L+T: Tying in with what you were saying about production classes, I read you played the violin in your childhood. How do you think your musical background has shaped your career as a producer and a DJ?
PD: Well, I came from a musicianship background. You know, I played the violin when I was four and I started playing guitar, bass and drums at twelve. My mom was a piano player. I would always wake up to her playing songs on the weekend. My grandmother was a piano player. I grew up with music. I love all kinds of music. Moving into high school and college, my whole life revolved around music. With one year left in college, I dropped out and my parents cut me off. I moved to Memphis, Tennessee to be in a band. We really hit the road immediately. We had a manager from the beginning. The first thing we did is record a demo in a studio. That’s the way you did things. In 2006, I did 226 shows. I was on the road for an entire year. I signed to Columbia Records in Japan when I was 19. For a couple of years in a row, I was going to Japan up to 18 days at a time. From there, I moved to Colorado and as my band started touring less, I was making music under the name “Alex B.” I was doing more hip-hop type of stuff for fun because I was in this dance music band. Flying Lotus hit me up and asked me to make a mix for his label, Brainfeeder. So, as my dance music project started to tour less and not enough for what I was interested in doing wasn’t really providing me with the outlet I needed as far as where my electronic music production was going. It really made the need for the Paper Diamond project and where it stems from. So since I was a small child I’ve been immersed in music, when I was in college I was immersed in music, when I dropped out it was my livelihood. I was 19 when that happened, and I’m 28 now and I’ve been doing it since. Hopefully, I will continue to do that.
L+T: I’m really curious as to how you will answer this next question considering you come from a background as a musician who can read music and have played multiple instruments. Some DJs have their varying opinions of the definition of a DJ. Do you think a DJ is a musician?
PD: Yeah, of course. I feel “DJ,” “musician,” “artist” is interchangeable. It’s funny for people to classify art. What’s art to one person, may not be art to you. Who are we to judge what other people like? As long as people are doing things, keeping it fresh and pushing the boundaries musically while still expressing themselves, it’s relative. I’ve been taught that music is a conversation. I personally use music to express my voice.