Words + Photos by Antonio.

With the press of a button, NO SIR E can fill an empty square with an with orange light. Each lit square, out of a total of 256 on his Monome controller, may trigger a snare, a hi-hat, a snippet of “Knuck if You Buck” or any of the hundreds of sounds at his fingertips.

NO SIR E, born in Seattle but now calls Delaware his home, is a beatsmith that assembles entirely new songs from anything he can get his hands on. On stage, he reconstructs each track bit-by-bit, giving listeners a nuanced rendition that is unique to each performance.

I first saw NO SIR E perform at HI$TO’s PSYCH’D party back in Feburary, where he played some of his own compositions and remixes. With a number of releases under his belt (two EPs, three mixes as part of his “discouragement” series and a number of remixes), NO SIR E is self-deprecating optimist – a natural artist that has yet to be satisfied with his own creations. With his first full-length project on the way, NO SIR E has come the closest he’s ever been to his own bastion of nirvana.

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NO SIR E discusses how the poignant origin of his stage name, how he discovered the Monome controller, and how he got out of his comfort zone. 

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Q: How did you settle on the name NO SIR E?

NO SIR E: It was a catch-all phrase for not being too confident in my abilities. Since it was a name that I chose really early on, it just stuck with me. When I first got the Monome, I blew like $700 – I got it off of eBay. I was going to go on a college trip to Ireland at the time, so I was wagering if I wanted this device, I don’t know how to work or do I want to go Ireland for the winter. I chose the Monome, looked it up, bought it, sent all my money towards it, and then just sat down and figured out how to do things.

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^ NO SIR E performing at PSYCH’D at The Crown Lounge, Baltimore, MD.

My technique, even though it was based off of Daedalus, it was still kind of my own style, so it doesn’t work in every situation. Sometimes there’s a lot of mistakes, other times people just don’t really feel your work. So I don’t really have a name after my first couple shows, I just used my whole name.

“As morbid and depressing as it sounds, it’s also an encouragement for me to always strive to be better than I was yesterday”

Those first couple of times, I didn’t know what I was doing, I was pressing stuff at random. There were a couple moments which sounded cool, but people just up and left immediately. After those first couple of mishaps, I settled on NO SIR E, which is just a catch-all term for not being satisfied, but as morbid and depressing as it sounds, it’s also an encouragement for me to always strive to be better than I was yesterday.

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^ NO SIR E in his signature lion mask, in downtown Baltimore. 

Q: How would you describe the music you make now? Is it what you set out to make?

NO SIR E: As of right now, I’m still not anywhere satisfied with the music I want to create. The productions I have out right now are pretty much just experimentations with the sounds I love. There are some clear influences. My first actual EP was called “Enabler.” That one was just me trying to make an experimental hip-hop sound.

Then I released another EP called Longingly which focused more on using R&B acapellas over a smoother sound. I just released last year another EP called Pocketed, which was just off-the-wall type of EP, where I was just trying to use different programs to use and different techniques. I’m still trying to harness a sound that I feel the most comfortable with, but hopefully it should come by, if not the end of this year, then the end of 2016, and you should see a full-length project.

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Q: Describe the tools that you use. You use a really interesting controller. How did you find that?

NO SIR E: It’s called a Monome, which is an open-source controller, which can use MIDI. It’s pretty much just a blank slate full of buttons. You can use programs, you can use Python or Chuck – or I use Macs – to program it and run the applications to control music.

“I went face-first and dove into the Monome, without any real training or know-how into what I was doing. It was a completely ground-up process of familiarizing myself with the program.”

It was around 2005-2006 or so, when I first came around the Monome. There’s an episode of the Boondocks called “Let’s Nab Oprah,” that had a couple Madvillain tracks in the episode. I looked up the songs from the episode, and that’s how I got into Madvillain at the time. Madvillain had a track called “Accordion” which featured Daedalus, and then I researched Daedalus and I saw his clips online. It was absolutely mesmerizing, the way that he was able to use music as an instrument – recorded music and also his own music.

From there on, the rest was history. I looked at the Monome website; it looked like it was something I wanted to take the time and money to invest in, and I went face-first and dove into the Monome, without any real training or know-how into what I was doing. It was a completely ground-up process of familiarizing myself with the program.

Q: Describe your process of making sounds. Did you have anyone else in mind?

NO SIR E: Daedalus has been my biggest influence. After I saw after he was using sounds to breathe new life into music when he performs live, I wanted to take some of his elements, and see where I can go with it from there. Early on, in my performance career, I sampled some of the same stuff he sampled or used some of the same techniques, as far as the way he triggers and repeats samples and brings new things in.

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^ NO SIR E on a vintage couch at the “Blaq to the Future” party at the Annex, Baltimore, MD.

I took some reference from there, and then as I focused my interest in music towards the West Coast electronic scene at that time, I took more interest into Madlib, Hudson Mohawk and Schlomo. I really like the heaviness of their sounds, especially in Flying Lotus, where everything is really saturated, really deep. It hits hard and takes you on a journey as well. That’s the sound that I wanted to capture when making music. I haven’t been trained in any type of electronic software, so I learned as I progressed. Hopefully one of these days I’ll get a little bit more formal training, but as of right now, it’s throwing everything on the wall and see what sticks.

Q: Describe how you chose the songs for the “Melt” mix you did. You went from 90’s R&B up to Lil’ B.

NO SIR E: When I lived with my mom, she was big on late 70’s jazz, but she would also be up-to-date on the New Jack R&B type of stuff on the radio at the time. I lot of the music I grew up with was styled off that early 90’s R&B and hip-hop. With the “Melt” mix, I wanted to incorporate the past, the present, and the future, with a lot of throwback cuts in there. Then I progressed to the music that I was listening in college, which was a little bit more electronic-based, beat-based. I ended with Lil’ B, because he’s pretty much the future, I feel like, of where rap music is going and hip-hop expression.

“In Delaware, as anyone can probably imagine, there really isn’t a scene. My desire to do things comes from the internet”

Q: Talk a little bit more of the differences in the music scenes broadly back home in Delaware and what you’ve seen elsewhere, and specially in Baltimore and elsewhere.

NO SIR E: Since I do live in Delaware, as anyone can probably imagine, there really isn’t a scene. My desire to do things comes from the internet. Being someone raised by the internet and looking through this big window where you see all these people doing amazing things, but they’re half-way across the country or something like that, I had taken it upon myself to involve myself in as many places as I could; go wherever things that I like are happening. It led me to a lot of adventures.

I’ve played a few times in Texas, played out in LA, Toronto, New York, a lot of the east coast, and just jumping on opportunities whenever I see them. Even yesterday, I played a show in Brooklyn. If it was five years ago or something like that, I would have probably been too scared to leave out the confines of my home and looking at clips on YouTube. Now there’s a definite need to affiliate to places where things that I like are happening.

Q: At what point did you have the confidence to travel to other places?

NO SIR E: I have a video of myself at an LA Monome-meet in 2011. That was the first big push into doing something, going way, way out of my comfort zone. I saw that they were doing a meet-up in LA at the time, on the Monome forum boards.

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There is a lot of really good Monome performers, people who really who have really innovated the technology, including the creator of the Monome himself, Brian Crabtree, who was performing there. Daedalus was performing there, and a bunch of other really talented musicians. I saw the opportunity and realized this probably only happens once every-almost-never, so I definitely need to take this plunge and just go ahead and do it and see what happens. I almost went broke, but I flew myself out to LA, stayed out there a few days. It was absolutely incredible.

“I felt that if I take these risks, then there’s a lot at stake that could be a reward.”

I kind of feel like I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t go out there because that Monome meet recap video caught a lot of people’s attention. If I were to talk to somebody who knew who I was, they would talk about that video. I’m so glad I went out there. And then that recap video made its way to the internet. After that, I felt way more comfortable going to Toronto. I started regularly going to New York, so I felt that if I take these risks, then there’s a lot at stake that could be a reward.

Q: Where will you be in 5 days, 5 months and 5 years?

NO SIR E: In five days, I’ll probably still be thinking about trying to lay down a game plan for making music. In five months, I’ll probably be really comfortable in a routine, on my way to releasing an LP. In five years, I hope to be more established in the label and doing music a lot more seriously. I have a 9-5 right now, but I see myself just taking the music industry a lot more seriously and being a lot more involved in it.

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Thanks NO SIR E for the dope interview! Check his Bandcamp for all his releases, and be sure to follow him on Twitter!

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