Interview: Roger Sellers

How a one-man composer came to be.

By: Brian Chidester

March 26, 2015

I generally don’t try to think too much about the perfect title for a record. I’ve found that it usually just comes naturally and works. I was talking to it with my good friend during the recording process and he came up with the name “Primitive”. This immediately caught my attention.

The enigmatic and energetic one-man composer Roger Sellers had a big SXSW with The Deli, with not only a cover article in our South By print issue, but also headlining our showcase at the Austin Convention Center. Somehow between doing all of that and his other South By Southwesterly duties, Sellers found the time to chat with The Deli's own Brian Chidester about his career and his approach to music. Check out what Mr. Sellers had to say below, along with a few of his best recent tracks.

Brian Chidester: You were working in a roots direction not long ago. What brought about the new direction and interest in things like Minimalism, electro and "Pet Sounds"?

Roger Sellers: Minimalism is something that I’ve always been inspired by and practiced in my recordings through the years, but it definitely became more prevalent in Primitives. For my last 3 studio records, I would generally start from scratch to record and write simultaneously. Primitives was a much different approach. Most of the songs on the record had already been written and performed for about 5 years. Primitives was a way for me to release the songs publicly on hard media, so that people could enjoy them in their homes or cars, not just at a show or on youtube. While it does have many aspects of electro involved, most of what you hear was recorded acoustically.

BC: Tell me a bit about the "Primitives" title.

RS: The title was rather difficult for me this time around. I generally don’t try to think too much about the perfect title for a record. I’ve found that it usually just comes naturally and works. I was talking to it with my good friend during the recording process and he came up with the name “Primitive”. This immediately caught my attention. This made perfect sense at the time because the record is strongly influenced by simple repetition, triple type drumming and raw emotion. Not to mention I recorded all of it in my bedroom, so I wasn’t really utilizing the best modern technology. I decided “Primitive” worked but pluralized it to make it feel more like multiple sections of a single piece.

BC: Where are you originally from?

RS: I’m originally from (around) Houston. I was very active in recording and writing through my teens living at home. When I was done with high school, I moved to Huntsville and then San Marcos to finish school, which ultimately lead me to Austin, where I was able to focus more energy on music.

BC: How long have you been recording music?

RS: Recording has always been a huge passion in my life. I remember my adolescent years trying to multitrack by dubbing tapes on an old karaoke machine. Through my teen years I started to develop techniques using different outboard recording units until I decided to start working with software around age 15. Since then Pro Tools and Logic have been my primary tools for recording.

BC: Did you study music?

RS: Music was my major through most of college. It wasn’t until my third year that I realized how much the academic studies seemed to drown most of the passion and mystery out of it to me. Don’t get me wrong. There is so many great things I learned in many classes, but once it became such a chore, I realized it wasn’t for me at the time. I ended up with a general studies degree in Music, Media Studies, and business.

BC: I notice that lights and samples are a big part of your live show. Are there any inspirations in design or ephemeral cinema that you site?

RS: I absolutely love visual art and film, yet I can’t even begin to create it. I’ve been told that my music, especially the content in Primitives, speaks visually on its own. I’m one to see music in a visual way: seeing different tracks in different colors and textures yet I have a difficult time communicating it visually. I’ve been working with Topher Sipes, live projectionist and visual artist, for years now on many live sets. Topher understands what I’m doing live more than anyone. He’s able to represent the colors and vibrancy of the songs while I’m performing in a way that I truly trust. Because of our close collaborations with these songs, it also made the most sense to have him make the album art as well.

BC: Tell me about your writing process. Also about your recording process.

RS: When it comes to my released music so far, the recording and writing process are interweaved. I often will make a writing decision based on how the recording is sounding so far. I sometimes find it difficult to record something that’s already been written. This is what made Primitives an extensive task because I was adding layers and lines to songs that I had been performing for so long. I had to keep it fresh to my ears in order to get any work done. Within writing, stream of consciousness helps me to find what really needs to be communicated. Once I find it, i’ll record a line or a loop and work from there. There’s really no equation to it at this point, which helps keep it honest and pretty eclectic.

BC: If you could work with any artist or producer, who would it be?

RS: There are so many great musicians and producers that have inspired and pushed me through the years. I’ve picked up so much from so many different minds that it’s difficult to sort through all and pick one. I’ve lately been listening to Air a lot. I think they’re great both musically and as producers. Every sound paid such close attention to sonically, while they’re melodic vocal lines and textures send chills. They also seem to leave so much space in between the frequencies of the instrumentation. I think it would be really interesting to collaborate with that, being that Primitives is so dense.

BC: What's the best part of being in Austin?

RS: Austin has been so good to me so far. There’s a lot to love about it: the music, people, natural beauty, the food. Above all is the sense of community that the musicians have here is unlike any place I’ve been. My friends all seem to have each other’s backs in an industry that is so easy to get stepped on. Another thing is some of the venues. Austin spoils me sometimes as a musician because I regularly play in these great venues with (usually) a professional tech and production crew, great curators, and good crowds. Every growing city has problems, of course, but I will continue to support it as my hometown as its people have supported me.