Interview: Todd Osborn

Ypsilanti, Michigan's chameleon producer Todd Osborn celebrates his 50th mix show for RBMA Radio. We rap with him a bit below about hovercrafts, electron microscopes and his cassette collection among other oddities.

Todd Osborn is a strange man. We mean this in the best sense possible, mind you - but he is indeed peculiar. Whether it's piloting his aircraft to get a milkshake, prank calling miscreants on Chatroulette, wiring video arcades out of hospital equipment or creating automobile Lego superstructures, he's always  involved in something, well - different. And we haven't even brought up his music yet.

With releases spanning hardcore jungle, Detroit booty and arena metal under a handful of aliases on a handful of labels (Ghostly and Spectral Sound being predominant), Todd has demonstrated a virtuostic knack for melding his odd flavours to the structures of dance music (and not dance music). So when the longtime Academy studio team member announced the recording of his 50th mix show for RBMA Radio, we figured we would check in on the enigma to see what he's been up to in his free time. Read the interview below.

RBMA: First off, we wanted to get a few legends out of the way. You're a trained pilot from your Air Force days, and you inherited a plane. Have you ever flown to gigs?

Todd Osborn: Well first off, to be specific, I first tried flying in the Air Force but didn't really get into it until after. Anyhow, it's much more fun to just fly somewhere to have lunch or whatever than the hassle of flying to a gig. Maybe if there were still raves out in fields around here it would be good to do nowadays.

RBMA: You built a hovercraft as well. Was that from the back of a Boy's Life magazine? Does it really work?

Todd: We removed the engine about two years ago to make way for a bigger and better one. Just waiting for the right engine to come along. Last year I read about some dude getting decapitated in his home-built hovercraft when one of the blades flew off... I may need to do a lot of safety wiring.

RBMA: You've also purchased an electron microscope, but it leaked chemicals onto the street. Can you explain?

Todd: That's too long of a story, but I can tell you the end result was that the insulation oil had small amounts of PCBs so I had the University of Michigan take it back (but I kept the pallet full of manuals).

RBMA: Have you been doing any other science experiments lately?

Todd: Nothing notable. I was starting to get way into making animated vector graphics on oscilloscopes by using audio - that's the last thing I can think of.

RBMA: When did you decide that you wanted to start messing around with making music? Was there a specific album or song that sealed the deal?

Todd: I'd had various things ever since I was little - drum machine, piano, etc - but I never thought about making music seriously until around late '96 because the style of jungle I liked started to go out of fashion and Tadd Mullinix and I wanted that style to continue.

RBMA: Now, regarding your formative days in Michigan, were you a radio taper? What was your favorite show or some show memories?

Todd: Oh, of course! Tons of recordings at all times. Electrifyin Mojo, The Wizard (Jeff Mills), and Dr. Demento to name a few. Lots of great radio. Then starting around '84 or '85 I started trading Detroit radio shows to dudes in NYC for live hip hop concert cassettes like Zulu radio and WBLS. Then quickly that evolved into trading to dudes in Chicago for WBMX cassettes. And while all this was going on I was also trading prank call cassettes with people from all over the country. I have around 500 prank call cassettes in my closet that I've never found time to encode.

RBMA: Were you much of a concert-goer or clubgoer? Did your parents approve of your music and influences?

Todd: I never went to clubs. My friends that I would breakdance with would always want to go battle people, but we were too young to get in. We'd end up doing things like going to see 'Beat Street' over and over and battle other crews in front of the screen during the credits. My parents never had a problem with my musical tastes. In facy my first copy of "Egypt, Egypt" was my dad's because he heard me playing it on a Wizard show I had taped and really liked it. He also took me to concerts such as Run DMC's "Tougher Than Leather" tour, They Might Be Giants in '89, etc.

RBMA: What else did you do as a boy?

Todd: Stuff.

RBMA: Can you explain what each of your aliases sounds like in your own words?

Todd: Hmm. "Todd Osborn" is basically house and techno that I couldn't release as "Osborne", or just solo piano music. "Osborne" is house/techno stuff on Spectral or Ghostly records. "Soundmurderer" is jungle. "Superstructure" is melodic analog music and lots of goofy electronic tracks. "Starski & Clutch" is booty and electro. "Musk" is arena metal and ballads.

RBMA: What else are we forgetting?

Todd: The secret things.

RBMA: You seem to have an honest love of music in all forms, but of course as one can tell with your aliases, you must have some periods where you prefer listening to and making one style over another... What is the sound of January 2012 for you?

Todd: I haven't made any music in a long while now. Lots of weird things just kept coming up. Hopefully soon. I've just been helping other people finish tracks and put out records when I have time.

RBMA: When we click on some of your releases on iTunes, John Tejada keeps coming up as a recommendation. Thoughts?

Todd: Don't know enough about him to say.

RBMA: What do you think about the internet anyways?

Todd: Quite amazing.

RBMA: Do you think attention spans are getting shorter? How is yours?

Todd: My attention span has always been short, but I tell myself that it's for the best.

RBMA: You've had a long partnership with Ghostly. What is it about the label that you enjoy (other than that they release your records)?

Todd: I've always liked the owner, Sam. He's a smart guy, a nice guy, and has good taste in many areas. It was great to see a local label grow to what it is.

RBMA: You've done 50 radio shows now for RBMA Radio. We calculated that each show has an average of 33 songs, therefore you have recorded no less than 1650 songs for the radio show. Where are you finding all your music? Mostly digitally now, or still in the flesh?

Todd: Mostly digital, but not a whole lot of downloading or buying. The majority is trading tracks with friends that we've encoded. Also, most of the newest music I love is made by friends so we trade lots of original material as well. I really enjoy blogs as well for finding out about odd releases and strange niches and subgenres. When I do get a record now it has to be pretty special... In fact, no joke, just tonight I traded my laptop for one 12"! A rare Detroit hip hop record from '92.

RBMA: Do you prefer to be comprehensive or curated in your iTunes digital library?

Todd: I think my son's iPod Touch is the only Apple product in my home... But to get to your point, I used to be a lot more completist about things and to a degree I still am, but now I try to take time, maybe three times a year, to go though everything and make sure I know everything I have and that I really want it.

RBMA: One of your radio shows was a Todd Rundgren special. What is it about Todds?

Todd: Either you have me confused with someone else (which would be awesome), or that joke flew totally over my head.

[Ed. Note - we confused Todd with Kirk Degiorgio. Sorry about that Kirk. Sorry about that Todd. But we do recommend listening to the Todd Rundgren special nonetheless.]

By Red Bull Music Academy on January 16, 2012

On a different note