Field Notes: An Interview with Jon Ragel of Boy Eats Drum Machine

Jon Ragel (aka Boy Eats Drum Machine) is taking the concept of DIY to a completely new level. He not only produces all of his music, but he performs it solo as well. He effortlessly switches between turntables, looping pedals and saxophone—a truly amazing sight to witness. His recordings are equally engaging with tracks that meet in the middle of hip-hop and Motown. His beats are absolutely electrifying.

We caught up with Jon and picked his brain a little about his writing process, the concept behind his music and his thoughts about his recent collaboration with Cut.com's recent video "100 Years of Beauty in 1 Minute."


M: When did you start writing music?

JR: In high school, really. I got a guitar, plucked the open E and upper B + E strings, and thought of a melody. I wrote my first song about how cute my buddy's sister was. He did not seem to appreciate it. It wasn't a great song, but it had an effect, and immediately, I got hooked on writing, the idea of performance as conversation. 

M: What does a day in the life of a working musician look like for you?

JR: Here in Santa Cruz, I tend to wake up at 5 am and work all morning on the batch of mashups and original compositions I'm creating for the 418 Project, which is a community dance center in downtown. The 418 has an annual fundraiser called "What Is Erotic?", and I have the good fortune of being the music director of the production. And there are rehearsals, meetings, then my day job near San Jose to fit in, so my 'day in the life' trends towards "very busy". After the show finishes its run in February (in which I will portray a DJ whose solo set opens a fantasy realm btw), I'm not sure what I'll be working on. I love touring, I love staying home and grinding on music, and I'm also an aspiring novelist--so we'll see what happens next...

M: What was your inspiration for "Danny And The Devil"?

JR: Firstly, those drums! I found them on Bridgetown Breaks--a jam with Danny Seim of Menomena, Kevin O'Connor of Talkdemonic. I played all of the drums on my last album, M1, but tend to start with drums on the turntable, listening, listening, zeroing in on something that 'feels' juicy, sounds inspiring. Then I get into the turntablism part, what I like to refer to as "grifting and grafting"--twisting, pulling, manipulating, recording, then editing the 'sample' into rhythmic building blocks, the bones of a the song. As I played with the track, it become a journey through layers of BEDM elements: echoing strings, twangy guitars, analog synthesizer, but each featured in its own section. I was really into the idea of distinct sections during that whole 20 Beats project, as exercise, and as an aesthetic.

M: How do you feel your song complimented "100 Years Of Beauty"?

JR: I think that sense of journey in the track really worked with the time lapse elements. And there's a unique aesthetic contrast, almost a beauty/beast pairing--the bashing drums, the composed, lovely face; they create an arresting tension. I love the way that project turned out. The footage and editing are amazing. They made a daring short and it's an honor to have been a part of it.

M: What are you excited about for the future?

JR: I'd love to do more original composing for dance and musical theater. I love working with dancers, watching how music affects them, moves them, really--I've learned so much as an active participant in this project. Also, I'm halfway there with the writing of my first work of speculative fiction, "Blood Bag", for which I will make a soundtrack and audiobook. And, of course, I enjoy touring as BEDM--live performance, that active conversation--it always comes back to that.