Jon Spero, Matt Simmers, and Chris Barlow, are the three components of bass music group known as Terravita. The trio that is Terravita has been producing music for well over a decade now. The guys got together to form the group back in 2004 when they met in the Drum n’ Bass side of the rave scene in Boston. Terravita began solely making Drum n’ Bass music in their early years as a group, but they did not just stick to one genre. The trio gained serious popularity in 2010 when they released a track called, “Up In The Club” which made the top 5 of Beatport’s Dubstep charts, as well as being featured several times on the Beatport Top 100. The track was said to help define the subgenre of Dubstep that is known as Drumstep. The guys have been working non-stop with releasing EPs, remixes, touring, and playing at several music festivals like EDC (Vegas, Chicago, & Orlando) and Shambhala, just to name a few.
The last time Atlanta had the privilege of experiencing Terravita was brought to us by Iris Promotion at the classic rave venue known as Rush Lounge. The group has a large following of fans here in the city of Atlanta, and it is to no surprise that they certainly enjoy coming to Atlanta for that very reason. They have been a part of Iris Promotion’s shows many times over the last few years, and they continue to deliver outstanding sets to sold out crowds time and time again. Their combination of Drum n’ Bass, Dubstep, and a little fusion of Hip-Hop makes this three-headed monster of a group a beloved part of Atlanta’s bass music scene. Shortly thereafter the group’s most recent performance with Iris, I got the chance of talking with Terravita’s frontman and MC, Jon Spero. We talked about life before Terravita, his thoughts on Drum n’ Bass, and much more.
The last time we spoke while you were here, we talked about Atlanta’s rave scene. Being from Boston, how was the rave scene there back in the day?
It was crazy! We’ve been around since late ’99, early 2000, and there was a sh*t ton going on back then as far as “illegal” raves and warehouse parties. There’s this one place in particular, which is closed down now, called The Asylum in Springfield, Mass which was the mecca of raves. It was like a dingy, boardroom club but it was more like a warehouse. Wasn’t the safest place in the world to be, but they threw some unbelievable parties. They would have like Tiesto in one room and Ed Rush & Optical in another, but this was back in like 2002 when no one really gave a shit what went on at these shows. So the experiences we had back then were insane. Not to mention the fact that they weren’t actually legal, so that factor made it even more fun because we were, you know, breaking the rules. There was a ton of guys throwing parties back then, but Asylum was the only one that was just legendary. There were some other places in the surrounding cities, but they were even more of a dump than Asylum once was. *chuckles*
Tell me, what was Jon Spero doing before Terravita came to be? Did you have an involvement in the music industry before that?
I’ve always written music but it was more of a hobby than anything else. I used to write for hip-hop artists back in the day because there wasn’t really a market before Eminem for a white rapper from my standpoint. But before then, I was just a bartender. I did that and I framed houses for a while, so pretty much just odd jobs really. I did go to the Marines right out of high school but I didn’t do that for long. It just wasn’t my thing so I just went back to bartending.
You guys started out as only Drum n’ Bass but soon adapted to Dubstep when it was born. Did you want to stick with Drum n’ Bass or did you guys want to change it up?
We only did D&B in the beginning, but we did adapt. At the end of the day, you kind of have to adapt. Our style really wouldn’t have stayed the same anyways. I wouldn’t say that we’ve gotten too far away from the music that we like to make, because if we did that we would just go back and make more house music instead. *starts laughing*
Speaking of house music, tell me about this side project, Hot Pink Delorean. We haven’t seen much from it for a couple years, what happened with that?
We liked making house music for Hot Pink Delorean, but we honestly just got too busy with Terravita. I mean, Terravita was what we always wanted to do in the first place. We just decided to stick with what we love which was bass music instead of just making music that we like, and not having it hit home for us. Hot Pink Delorean was a ton of fun, but musically it was more of a job for us because out hearts were just not 100% with house music. The music we were making for it was awesome and we loved it. But honestly, house music has changed so much that we can’t make the style of house music that we would want to make anymore. So ultimately we decided that Terravita was the way we wanted to go.
With that being said, you will see that happening with several other artists as well. For example some of the D&B guys ditching that and going the Dubstep route. Do you think that they changed because they wanted to, or to keep fans entertained?
I think a lot of it has to do with popularity of a trending genre. In my opinion, what gets popular is not based off of good music necessarily. It’s more of like a new style coming out and producers will go after it because they want to be the next big thing in that genre. It’s kind of like more of an opportunity thing more than anything else. I don’t think that any of the established genres at this point will ever go away. I don’t think that they will lose much scene either. If you remember, everyone was claiming that whole “dubstep is dead” thing for a good year, and that has basically been proven completely wrong at this point. Trends will come and go, but fans of music will always be just fans of music, and they will follow it no matter what genre. Of course there are a few hipsters out there who just trend jump and that’s fine, they can be the so-called “experts” and honestly I don’t give a sh*t. At the end of the day I just make music that I like. We’ve had plenty of opportunities to trend jump and do a whole bunch of shit. We hope that people like what we make, and if they don’t, that’s part of life. To sum up that long statement would just be, we don’t worry about that stuff to be honest… Next question. *starts laughing*
So what you’re getting at is that the moment you’re worried about what people think, you’re kind of doing it wrong?
Exactly. You can’t be worried about what other people think of you in this line of work. I’m human just like everyone else, so when people say my music sucks, it does somewhat bother me. But you can’t take it seriously because there are people out there who just say these things to get a rise out of you. You just have know that what you are doing is what you love. It brings me to a big point of staying true to what you love. It’s really easy to not be happy with what you make because you are trying to do something, in a way, that’s not yours. So then, when you receive that kind of hate when you don’t love what you do, it can really take a toll on you. Dude, I haven’t read a single Souncloud comment in like a year and a half. I don’t look at it anymore because it would just bum me out. If I don’t like something, I’m not going to sit on the internet all day and just shit on it. I’ve got way better things to do with my time. I just wonder what fuck these people do with their lives to sit there and tear apart someone’s work of art. Like, okay dude, you’ve obviously got shit to do today. Maybe that’s what brings them joy, if so, carry on guys!
Speaking of hate, why do you think people like to hate on guys that have prerecorded sets vs. live DJ mixing?
People have to understand that some of these producers who make amazing tracks may not have had the opportunity to actually learn how to DJ before producing. I mean, learning to DJ takes years of practice and it’s not a cheap hobby either. You got guys who mainly know how to produce, but they are getting booked for shows like crazy to play their music. So really these guys don’t actually have an option because there’s no time to sit down and learn the art of DJing. For the bigger guys who may actually know how to DJ and still do prerecorded sets, it doesn’t mean they are lazy or anything. We are old school DJs man. You come to our shows and we don’t have a choreographed light show with fireworks and pyrotechnics. If you want to go to a show like that with all of that extra production, then you kind of have to have prerecorded sets. Nothing will go together if you don’t have something prearranged. People need to decide what they want at the end of the day, because you can’t have it all. So I’ve never understood why people rag on the bigger guys for having prerecorded sets if they have a huge production to go with it. The fact of the matter is, if they are popular then people are going to go see them anyways. If you really want to give someone shit about that, rag on the fans, not the artists if that’s the way you feel. The fans are the reason that these things perpetuate in the first place. I’ll put it this way, I would much rather listen to a well put together set that’s prerecorded than someone just fucking up an hour and a half long set who can’t DJ well because they are trying to “keep it real.”
You seemed a bit frustrated with that set when you last played at Iris. Why weren’t you feeling it?
It was just too samey. I wouldn’t say it was a bad set or anything. Just the first half of it, a lot of the songs sounded too alike. I hate it when things are too samey, but we fixed that the next night. We never play the same set twice, every one of them are different. We experiment and try new things, so sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Little things like that bother us, though. But as long as the fans enjoy it, that’s fine. We are always our biggest critics; so little things like that always bother the shit out of us even though most people probably won’t notice those mistakes.
You have a huge following here in Atlanta. So many people here get excited every time you get booked. I don’t think anyone there cared because they were probably just hyped to see you guys again regardless.
No joke, Atlanta is one of our favorite places to play, it’s always insane there. We played at the Tabernacle a few years ago and that was probably one of the best shows we’ve ever played. That was the beginning of us getting so much love in Atlanta. So now every time we come back to Atlanta the kids just go fucking nuts singing along to the songs and chanting. Plus, you know, “ATL HOE!” You’ll hear that at least a hundred times. I love it because I know that if anything goes wrong when we are playing in Atlanta, I can just start chanting that and everything will be okay.
But I really just love coming back to play at Iris. It’s always popping there and the sound system is sick. But I love those old dingy, fucking grimy looking warehouse rooms because that is where I came from. Iris definitely a real rave experience and the environment is kind of like how it felt back in the day. That place is like the closest thing to that throwback rave vibe. If you want a real throwback rave experience and hear some dirty ass Drum n’ Bass or Dubstep, then go to something like Iris because you’ll get that.
Tell me about Shambhala. I have heard nothing but good things about that festival.
Oh man, Shambhala is literally the greatest place on Earth. It’s truly a religious experience. The first time we played there it was life changing, so we come back and play every year. The second year we played we did it for free just because we wanted to be there. It has the best people, vibes, and the environment is incredible. They’ve been building the stages that they have for close to 20 years by just adding to them every year. They care so much about the people attending. There’s no real security, but everyone just looks out for one another without it. You truly are in a safe place at Shambhala. They really take precaution in the people’s safety. They have sections that are just for females only so they can go to it if they are not feeling safe with guys bothering them. They even have drug testing booths there so people can know what exactly they are taking if that’s what they want to do there. I mean I’m not a role model, if you want to go do a bunch of drugs then fucking do it, that’s your prerogative. But when you go die because you didn’t look out for yourself, then you’re an asshole. It’s not that hard to be safe and pay attention to your body telling you things. I don’t know why that is a hard thing for some people to do. But yeah, as for Shambhala, it’s like being on different planet for real. It is such a special place for me and I will continue to go to Shambhala until I’m old and can’t do it any more. It just has that comfort factor like going back to moms house. That’s the best way that I could describe it… Like mom’s house! *laughs*
Being the Drum n’ Bass fan that you are, what’s your thoughts on Pendulum?
I mean back in the day when we were in the studio trying not to sound like shit, we always compared our stuff to. And by comparing what we did back then to a group like Pendulum, that can drive a human being insane. I really hope that they go through with the new album Rob Swire has talked about, but at this point, who knows. ‘Hold Your Colour‘ is still one of the most iconic D&B albums of all time. It really doesn’t get much better than than that album, it just doesn’t. “Girl In The Fire” is still one of my all-time favorite D&B tracks to this day. And you can’t hate on Rob Swire at all. Who can really say anything to the guy? Like, “Yeah man, well there’s that one song you wrote one time wasn’t that great.” Meanwhile he has two of the most successful groups in electronic music. Rob can say pretty much whatever the fuck he wants because he’s earned that opinion. Same thing with Joel [Deadmau5], that dude just speaks his fucking mind and doesn’t give a shit about what anybody thinks and I respect that 100%. Though I might not agree with some of the things they have to say, at least they have the balls to say it rather than try and “protect their career” so-to-speak by not saying anything.
You touched on the drug subject a little bit earlier when talking about the festival environment. You seem like you are more for the awareness of drugs in the music scene rather than the cliche mentality of just banning anything and everything about them.
Yeah I am totally for educating and teaching awareness. That’s what truly the type of awareness that needs to be out there instead of people saying, “We need to ban this and keep people from doing it.” Instead of being that way, maybe you could promote some awareness for the people who are just going to do it anyway. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter how many parameters you set in place, people are still going to do drugs, they are still going to get them, they are still going to bring them into these places, and that’s the way it’s going to be. So you might as well just make it a safer environment for them to do it in than worrying so much about banning everything. It’s so ridiculous that they think by banning things, it will keep people from bringing drugs in to places… Uh, no! They are still going to do it, and they will find a way regardless of how much you try and prevent it. I’m all for promoting safety and awareness and making sure people are going to be smart about what they are doing.