Home Interviews Interview: Treavor Moontribe

Interview: Treavor Moontribe

40 min read

Treavor Moontribe is one of the founders of the Los Angeles based “Moontribe Collective” and its legendary full moon desert gatherings. Since 1993, these events have been at the core of Southern California’s underground electronic music scene and these events are still ongoing to this day. Treavor established himself as one of the top Djs in LA thru these events and has since traveled the world from Brazil to Japan to Morocco, Portugal, Germany and all over North America. As a Dj it’s always been his diversity that’s set him apart, as his love for music spans multiple genres and his DJing reflects this. Over the years Treavor has also established himself as a dynamic music producer having released music under several project names. His most notable project is Desert Dwellers with his partner on the project Amani Friend. In recent years he has started a new solo project called PheuZen that focuses on more abstract forms of Electronica.

Beyond music production and DJing, Treavor has also been deeply embedded in the music business itself. From 2005 to 2012 he was the Director of Dance/Electronic at INgrooves Music Distribution, starting with the company when they had less than 15 employees and leaving when there were well over 100. He also co-founded the record label Desert Trax with his fellow Desert Dweller, Amani Friend. Their label helped launch the careers of several prominent names in the downtempo/chill out music scene and has over 120 releases to date. In 2019, Treavor left Desert Trax to start up two new labels of his own called Dreaming Awake and Alien Breakdance, both focused on more uptempo music styles. Currently living in Costa Rica and coming out of a global pandemic that drastically changed the trajectory of his music career, Treavor has a renewed focus on DJing and music production, and of life itself! While Desert Dwellers is getting back to occasional touring, Treavor has shifted his focus over to his solo projects, DJing, his record labels and getting back into event production. One thing is certain, Treavor’s love and passion for music is as strong as ever! We had a chance to catch up with Treavor on the cusp of a new release for his Dreaming Awake imprint. Enjoy!

Hi Treavor, thanks for joining us. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

Thank you for having me!!! I’m currently a bit nervous, because tonight is my first event I’m promoting here in Costa Rica. We have D-Nox here and just really hoping everything goes really well! Last night I was tortured with some super cheesy commercial house music at a local venue so I’m best off to erase it from my memory! Hahaha!

How’s your year been so far? And what are your plans for the coming week?

Actually 2022 has been really great so far! I’ve had some really nice gigs, been working on a lot of new music and enjoying the property we moved onto at the end of last year. This coming week I plan to take it easy after many weeks leading up to my event here. I’ll also be working on music and getting ready for a big release on my label! I’ve also got a gig for one of Costa Rica’s most well respected promoters so excited for that!

Do you consider yourself a DJ or producer first? And which do you enjoy more and why?

Well I started producing in 1992 and DJing in 1994, but really I don’t know if I consider myself one before the other. I definitely enjoy DJing more than producing as there’s a certain freedom and ease to it that feels so natural. Producing is difficult for me sometimes and can take me quite a while to finish a song. When I do make a song that I feel is really good it’s definitely very rewarding!

Do you think growing up in the US had any effect on your career path into music? And if so how?

I’m not really sure what my path would be if I grew up elsewhere, but I was very into music as far back as I have memory. My Mother had a nice vinyl collection and I was big into all sorts of stuff as a kid. I started playing guitar when I was like 11/12 and was in choir as well. So yeah my upbringing definitely led me to a music career and where I grew up definitely pointed me to the more specific path I took as an adult with throwing desert parties and such.

What are some of your best memories from first going to clubs? Were there specific nights or sets that really made you feel you wanted to pursue electronic music?

I was just talking about this last night! In 1992 after going to a couple raves and really not liking the music I found myself at an after hours club called Flammable Liquid in downtown LA. The music was super psychedelic and way different than anything I’d heard. I finally found a sound that tickled my ears in a way nothing ever had. That DJ was Doc Martin and between him and some mix tapes by Frankie Bones I really found what made me put the guitar away and buy some electronic music gear.

You moved to Costa Roca recently, how has that been? How does the nightlife there compare to Los Angeles and what was it that prompted the move?

To be honest the first 5 months here in Costa Rica were quite challenging. The first house we move to got robbed twice within a month, while we were home! Scary! We then moved to the south of the country and the humidity was absolutely miserable! We were about to give up when we got turned on to the mountain areas of the capital city San Jose. Before moving here we never thought we would want to be by the big city, but we have fallen in love with it! We found a sweet house on a huge beautiful property and having access to the city has been awesome.

The nightlife here is just coming back to life and it’s absolutely incredible! The people are so into the music and super energetic on the dance floor. In many ways it reminds me of the Los Angeles scene and has really made me feel at home.

What have been some of your favourite venues since arriving in Costa Rica? And have you managed to DJ there yet yourself?

The greatest thing about Costa Rica is it’s nature. The most amazing place I’ve seen where events happen is called Selva Armonia which is owned by one of the guys who does Envision Festival. I’ve had the pleasure of playing there a few times and even proposed to my fiancé there! In the city I’ve not been to a lot of venues but I did get to play at Antik recently which was awesome with fantastic sound!

What do you miss the most about USA?

The insanely high rent prices! Lol just kidding. I miss my friends the most!

You’ve been in the industry for I would guess around two decades or more, what has kept your relationship with electronic music passionate?

30 years! Honestly it’s the music continuously moving forward, bringing in new generations of people and proving that it’s not some trend that’s gonna disappear. Electronic music culture is like rock and roll, hip hop etc etc, it’s a real powerful culture that is here to stay. I’m lucky to be a part of it!

You have a new remix out this week on your Dreaming Awake imprint, tell us about that and how it showcases your sound.

Yes, lately I’ve been having some of the earliest tracks I made with my partner in Desert Dwellers remixed into updated versions. One of those is a track Wise Man Speaks which was originally released on Bedrock Records back in like 2003-2004. I’ve always wanted to revisit it and the timing just felt right for it. I wanted to keep a lot of the original parts in tact while also bringing it into today’s sound. I went with a Progressive House vibe on it and I think it turned out quite nice. I also got GMJ to remix it as well so it’s a really nice release! We are also including the original version just so people can hear where it all came from.

What does your set-up like? Do you favor physical gear over digital? And what studio tools featured heavily in the writing of this remix?

Well before moving to Costa Rica I sold my entire studio. All my synths, everything! I’m literally now working with just a laptop and speakers. Honestly though that’s what I mostly work with anyways so it’s not that different. On my latest remix I used Serum for the bass and leads which I often use as well as Omnisphere for pads which is a go to in most tracks I make. I’m actually getting more music done with a minimalist set up.

Generally speaking, do you find it more difficult to come up with original tracks than remixing a track from another artist?

It can go either way really. Sometimes a track just flows so easily and other times it’s like pulling teeth!

What do you look for in a track when considering taking on a remix project?

I really have to instantly have an idea in my head for it that’s not only different than the original, but also different enough to not compare to the original. If I don’t feel like I can do something that compliments the original or if I think the original is just too perfect already then I likely won’t take the remix on. Sometimes an artist has already done exactly what should be done with a track and I don’t wanna mess with that.

You are part of the famed Desert Dwellers duo who have been mostly known for downtempo productions, but of late you’ve been focusing a bit more on the dance floor, tell us about that and why did now feel like the right time to start expanding the scope of the groups output?

Well when Amani Friend and I first started making music together in 99 we were making dance floor tracks. We called ourselves Amani Vs Teapot and got support from a lot of big DJs. We started Desert Dwellers as a downtempo side project, but it wasn’t long before we just released all our music under that name. So if you go through our large catalog of music you’ll actually find a lot of uptempo dance floor tracks. Certainly it’s our chill out music that’s become most popular over the years so most do associate us as a downtempo act. With our last album Breath though we had a full remixes album of it of all uptempo versions and that got me thinking it would be great to have new remixes of a bunch of our older tracks done. It’s been really fun and we even did a 124 bpm remix of one ourselves of our track Musiki Ukabili. We have got quite great responses from our fans for showcasing a side of ourselves that many didn’t even know we had!

What’s the task you enjoy the most when producing and what is something you’d rather have taken care of by somebody else?

The creation of musical ideas is my favorite. Getting the groove going, the bass line, melodies all that is super fun and I find easiest. The arrangement is where it gets challenging, but I’m getting better at it. The mix down is my weakness and I outsource that side of things nowadays. The man I have doing that is Jamie Stevens and he saves my songs from being good ideas to great sounding ones!

What’s a piece of gear or software that always gets used when you’re writing a track?

I use Logic and I’d say Serum and Omnisphere are in most tracks.

How much road testing or friend feedback is done before you’re ready to say a track is finished? And who is someone you share your new music with first for feedback?

Honestly not much road testing, but I do go back and forth on the mix down often and sometimes drastically change a song if it’s just not working once being mixed. Most road testing is done just to make sure the mix down works when played loud.

What led you to start the label Dreaming Awake? Is your first foray into running a record label?

My first label was in the late 90s called Lunar Cycle Music. It failed miserably and quickly! I then co-created Desert Trax with Amani my partner in Desert Dwellers around 2005. We have well over 100 releases on the label and I handed it completely over to him a couple years ago as our musical tastes and vision for the label changed. That’s when I started Dreaming Awake which is focusing on uptempo styles ranging from Progressive House to Melodic Techno, Melodic House, Techno and anything in between. I really just wanted to focus on these styles and follow my own vision for a label. I also have a newer label called Alien Breakdance which focuses on Electro Breaks.

In terms of DJs and artists who would say are the biggest sources of inspiration for Dreaming Awake?

Honestly I didn’t take inspiration from specific DJs or artists for the label.

If you had to pinpoint a few tracks that you released which were crucial in the development of the label what would they be and why?

Early on Stan Kolev remix of Elegant Sadness by Diamandy and Matan Caspi remix of Morning Station by Lemon Blue & Onyay Pheori, because as a new label it’s hard to get attention and these tracks charted quite well which helped give the label a big kick start.

Do you have someone who you get a second opinion from when it comes to signing tracks? A significant other perhaps?

Nope. I simply sign tracks I like and hope for the best.

When you get to a point with a track or set of tracks where you’re close to committing to signing them what can push the decision one way or the other?

I usually sign tracks straight away if I like them and the artist is happy to work with me on it. One thing I’m always listening for though is a tracks remix-ability.

What advice do you have for artists hoping to get signed to Dreaming Awake?

Listen to what I’ve released first. I’ve got a lot of demos that are so far from what I’ve released that I wonder if they even listened to any of the releases. Other than that really I’m just gonna sign a track if I really like it.

Is big DJ play a factor in signing something? From someone like Nick Warren for example.

Honestly not really. Again I’m signing music I like and think can be remixed nicely. Sometimes a track I think specific DJs are gonna love, they say isn’t their thing and the other way around too. I mean it doesn’t hurt if a big DJ is playing a track though.

What is your thought process behind remixer selection on a given project and how many is too many in your opinion?

I try to have no more than 2 remixes on a track. I usually try to envision what a specific artist would do with a track or I’ll hear something that I think a specific artist would like to remix. Sometimes I’m totally wrong and sometimes spot on. It’s always a gamble with remixes.

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

Great question! Not easy to answer either! Ok let’s see, this would have to be outdoor at an epic venue with perfect sound of course!

Robot Koch - night time with full orchestra and cinematic visuals

David August - morning set and he’d agree to play all his 4-4 and more dance floor tracks mixed with some of his experimental stuff

Younger Brother - sunrise live band!

Pink Floyd since we are just fantasizing here - 3 hour night set!

Me because I couldn’t book all these artists and not play, I suppose I’d bite the bullet and do the opening slot!

What would be a musical extravagance for your studio you would pay for, if you were very wealthy?

I would love to have a super high end perfectly tuned studio built from the ground up someday!

What’s a book you’ve read or film you watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

People’s History of the United States of America by Howard Zinn because we are lied to so much and it’s good to learn another side of the story

What’s a superpower you wish you had and how would you use it?

To cure all disease because disease sucks!

If you could travel anywhere for one day, all laws and limitations void, where would it be?

A galaxy far far away...but I’d wanna stay longer than one day...hey that rhymed!

In your opinion, what’s the biggest risk you’ve taken and what made you do it?

For years I threw parties in the California desert and whenever the police came I’d take it upon myself to stand our ground and never let them shut us down. I ended up in court once over it and won! Things could have gone badly.

What is your current favourite place to eat and what do you generally order there?

In Costa Rica we’ve found an insanely great Indian restaurant and their butter chicken is a must! I had it last night in fact!

Who would you like to be abducted by aliens?

All war making people and the aliens wouldn’t be friendly

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Spending time with my sweet fiancé

What does the remainder of 2022 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

I am working on my first ever solo album and I think it will surprise a lot of people as it’s likely nothing they’d expect from me. Lots of gigs coming up and hoping to get back to Europe and Australia.

'Wise Man Speaks' is available now via Dreaming Awake: https://bit.ly/3D7PmPV

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