A Conversation with Balthazar Getty
Mike Ragogna: Hey, Balt, how are you?
Balthazar Getty: I'm good man, thank you. How are you?
MR: Pretty good. So this song, "Be All Right," this video, this is your first release on the newly-launched Purplehaus records.
BG: Yeah! So you know, basically, I've been writing and producing and making records since I was a teenager. I started DJ-ing when I was a teenager and I got my first keyboard and early four-track when the technology was barely even there yet. I was making recording systems with an answering machine and a tape deck in the eighties. Then fast forward years later and some records later, and with the success of Ringside about two years ago, I ended up making this album called Solardrive, which I ended up recording in this three-week whirlwind period and then kind of sat on it for a year. I then just sort of realized, "I want to start my own label and start putting my own content out there and start being the master of my own destiny and not just waiting around for opportunities necessarily to come to me but rather to manifest them and create those opportunities and Solardrive felt like the perfect album to release on my own independent label. It's been really exciting, the record's been really well-received and it's getting a lot of great write-ups. Radio's picking it up and we put out the first single, which was this song called "No Drama" and then this song "Be All Right" is sort of a trippy B-side that we didn't even put on the record. We wanted to do something special with it and we were looking for the right venue and then you guys came along and it felt like a good opportunity to just get out more content. This is sort of the first video I've put out with me kind of front and center on vocals. A lot of the Solardrive stuff has guest vocalists, some of it is me on the vocals. Most of the videos I've put out in the past from "Ringside" to my hip hop stuff called "The Wow" to the first Solardrive. Normally, I'm like the guy behind the guy. "Be All Right" is kind of the first one with me front and center, so it's exciting.
MR: Your song "No Drama" has been compared to The Roots, James Brown and Massive Attack by Vibe Magazine.
BG: If somebody were to say "What would your three dream bands be that you could ever dream to aspire to be even half as good as," those would be three of them. But I thought it was accurate in the sense that it's tough to talk about the genre of the record, and I thought that was a great leg, particularly that song because it's kind of soulful, it has this rap on it, it has this soulful hook being sung over it and it's got this sort of hip-hop, Massive Attack production, so whoever that journalist was, obviously, I was very flattered to have any comparison like that. But I thought it was accurate in terms of the mixing of all those genres.
MR: Balhazar, this Solardrive project came together based on you being "gifted," as it's put, a ProTools rig by your wife and Joaquin Phoenix.
BG: Yeah, that's right. I'd always been recording and kind of had a little home studio but normally when I really needed to get vocals done and do real tracking, I always had to rely on an engineer or I had to get into a studio. There was always that step that needed to be done. But a couple years back, Joaquin and my wife surprised me with the top of the line ProTools rig. I basically locked myself in the pool house and taught myself. Again, I've been recording and producing for years, and a lot of it I was already familiar with. But it's like learning a new language, essentially. It's a whole vernacular, it's a whole vocabulary, it's everything. I sat there for days and taught myself and not long after that this Solardrive album just kind of made itself in a way right after I mastered the rig and taught myself how to record. Most of the keyboards and all the stuff on the album that sound trippy and analogue-y and sounds like some old vintage key or something like that, we achieved with a Roland 505, a very minimal kind of keyboard but there's so much you can do with post effects and plugins, where you can take a very generic sound and do something very interesting with it.
MR: Right, and all the sidechains, etc., that you can throw in.
BG: Yeah, yeah.
MR: You had a lot of guests on this album, you have Mother Tongue, Rain Phoenix...
BG: It was cool, it was one of those things where whoever was at the house at the time, I was like, "Come on in, man!" Adri Sierra from Ozomati... they're a great band, they've been around forever. We had met, our kids go to school together and I called them one night at ten and was like, "Come on over, dude." It took him forever to get to my house, he shows up at like midnight, he comes back into my pool house... We barely knew each other but we just turned on the rig and ended up making this great song on the album called "Go Away." And David Gould from Mother Tongue... Again, he hadn't really been singing or performing in a while, he's actually a writer now. We didn't even really have a song, I just pulled up this instrumental and gave him--and I do this a lot of with people I write with, I'll give them a theme or a direction--and then I had him just start free-styling. After the fact, I edited the bits that I liked and created a chorus within what I had. Everything happened organically. The guy that sings on it a lot is a really talented artist, a guy named T.C., who's got that falsetto voice. Then the Rain Phoenix song--she's obviously Joaquin's sister--the song "Monster," which KHOW picked up and are spinning. We're actually getting ready to do another video for "Monster" so they're all amazing and talented people but nothing was forced. There was no objective, no agenda, no trying to make an album, per se. I wasn't trying to make hit records by any stretch of the imagination. It just sort of happened organically, making an album that I wanted to listen to.
MR: "The Wow" and "Ringside" on your label too, right?
BG: Yeah. So The Wow is me and this rapper named KO The Legend who is a very talented rapper. We put out a mixtape in December and we have a couple of videos out, over a million views on one of them, half a million views on another one. We've got a nice little underground buzz going and then this summer we're going to put out a Ringside EP, which is me and a guy named Scott Thomas. We had a deal on Interscope, and we did the whole major label thing. I think we live in a time where if you have the means and the ambition, the relationships, etc., and you want to do this, you can. You can put together a team, you can create your own content, you can produce and write, and now it's just been about connecting with the fans, connecting with the people.
MR: What do you do? Like what kind of social media do you work on?
BG: I mean, early on, we hired a company called J-3 Music, which is really funny. It's three guys named Jonathan and they started a company called J-3. Great guys--Jonathan Platt, Jonathan McHugh and Jonathan Anderson--and they kind of do the admin day-to-day for the label, and we brought in an independent marketing and promotion company, sat down and made a plan, basically. Then I reached out to some of my high-profile friends; "Hey can you shoot a Tweet for me?" I had Jared Leto send out a big blast for me the day the album came out. Lots of good friends. I always tell them, "Hey, check out the material. I'm not peddling some BS here, this is legit." A lot of people have kind of rallied around it. We did a big label album release party at Bootsy Bellows, which is this kind of trendy nightclub in Hollywood, and my buddy David Arquette is one of the owners. It's been a mixture of being very lucky and knowing people that have a certain level of influence, and then just kind of old-fashioned independent promotion--buying ad space, tweeting people, Facebooking people, getting it out there, creating the videos, hiring an independent video promoter. These are all things major labels do, but on a smaller, more independent level.
MR: Since we're practically on the subject anyway, what advice do you have for new artists?
BG: I get this a lot. I get a lot of young actors that still come up to me and are still fans of me as an actor and say, "What should I do?" And musicians... I basically tell everybody the same thing, which is if you have an iPhone, you have an album, you have a film. There's nothing stopping you from being creative. One thing that is really frustrating as a musician or an actor or just in many senses is you're constantly auditioning for whomever and waiting for somebody to say, "Yes," and then you're just reacting. So I suggest that they write things and they produce things themselves and that they put them up. Give it to the people, let the people decide whether it's good or not. Don't wait around for the opportunity to come because years will go by and they won't come. You really have to best it and you have to almost will these things to happen. You have to have the unwavering determination to make it happen. You're always auditioning, whether you're a band auditioning for a manager or an actor auditioning for a job. It's always going to be part of the game, but I think we live in a time now where the playing field has kind of leveled out. If you have a good idea and a smart phone, you can go shoot and cut a thing and then when you're going to present whatever that thing is, it's not just a kid with an idea but, "I have an idea, I have a short film along with the idea, I've collected the music, there's so much more we could do now."
MR: Good advice. Hey, I saw what I think is your first film, in which you played the Tom Chapin role in the Lord Of The Flies remake.
BG: Yeah, actually, I played Ralph! I was the lead in that thing when I was thirteen. That was my introduction to Hollywood, basically.
MR: What a good launch.
BG: Yeah, one of those freak things, right place at the right time. I have a movie coming out called Big Sur, which is a Jack Kerouac novel and that turned out really great. I just saw it a couple months ago at Sundance. I love to act, I love to make records, I love to write and produce and I'll try to do it as long as they'll have me.
MR: What role did you play in Big Sur?
BG: I played Michael McClure. He's actually still alive. He was one of the great poets back then. He was a bit younger than Kerouac, but Kerouac took him under his wing and he, like everybody, kind of idolized Kerouac. Big Sur is kind of the end of the end for Kerouac and he gets all of his delinquent friends together and they sort of drink themselves into oblivion in a cabin on the Big Sur.
MR: You were also in White Squall that really affected me. It was a very optimistic movie that turned a corner and became one of the saddest movies I had seen.
BG: You know, that was a true story and kids actually died. I actually hung out with the guy who was the role that I played. It was pretty intense. But I've been lucky, I've been able to do a lot of great movies over the last twenty or twenty-five years now.
MR: I can't believe how long the list is.
BG: I know.
MR: Forgive me, but you're part of the Getty dynasty, and I'm not looking for any kind of "gotcha" here. But what are your thoughts as far as your lineage?
BG: It's a fair question, it's something I talk about quite a bit. When I was young, I was always trying to do everything to rebel against it. I didn't want to be identified with it, I almost went to the extreme many times to try to have my own identity and the older I got, the more pride I've had in my family and where I come from and what my grandfather and great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were actually able to do. If you actually know the stories, they're remarkable. These are self-made guys that crossed countries on stagecoaches chasing a dream, you know? And then, of course, my great-grandfather left two museums here and in Los Angeles. I have kids, I have four of my own kids, and it can be a double-edged sword. You never want to feel entitled, you never want your children to feel entitled or "Better than," so I raise them with an awareness and having pride but also having humility. I have many other businesses, I'm doing an olive oil thing right now called "Getty Oil," an olive oil homage to my forefathers and doing Californian organic olive oil. That's another little side business I've got going. I'm trying to create a little legacy for my kids as well.
MR: Very nice.
BG: So you know, I can say now that I'm very proud of it, whereas as a youngster, I kind of separated myself from it a bit more. Nowadays it is who I am and no family is perfect.
MR: Right on. What does the future bring for Balt, his music and everything else?
BG: For me, the future's never been brighter. I'm a young man, I'm thirty-eight years old and focused. The next couple of years are really about manifesting my own destiny, creating and writing material for me to act and direct and really seeing this label out. We're going to do a Solardrive 2 next year, the Ringside album, The Wow album... I just want to keep pushing myself creatively and keep being a great husband, a great father, and keep pushing myself artistically. I'm doing another movie this summer in Boston and I'm traveling back and forth between Boston and Europe all summer and then Purplehaus and my production company called Bangers And Mash. So I kind of have a few hands in the fire right now, with a production company, a music company, and a little food thing I'm trying to launch, too. So it's just about being proactive and not being reactive and waiting for opportunities. I'm trying to create them.
MR: You're really taking everything into your own hands. Good for you.
BG: Well thanks, man.
MR: All the best with that, Balt. You got anything else we need to know?
BG: I'm just trying to collect fans right now that see the vision and what I'm trying to do and want to help me put all the pieces together. I'm just looking for friends and fans.
MR: Well, you've got a new friend.
BG: Good deal.
MR: Thanks, boss.
BG: All right, man, take care.
MR: All the best. Bye-bye.