INTERVIEW: Big Data chats “3.0”, artificial intelligence and much more!
Alt Nation radio is known for breaking so many big acts. Giving them their first radio play which hopefully leads to the rest of the world catching on. As well as playing great music, they also put together a tour (or two) each year and showcasing some of their top faves. The headliner of the most recent one? Big Data, created by producer Alan Wilkis, who plays live complete with a full band to bring the important music to life. While in the past, the focus was data and privacy, now in Wilkis’s words after they now have the data, his focus has moved to artificial intelligence.
We caught up with Wilkis about a quarter of the way through the tour when it hit Boston and Wilkis gave me the scoop on his next record “3.0”, the new upgrade of the operating system. Find our interview below and keep your eyes peeled for much more from this different in a great way act.
I know you started this tour on the 14th and Alt Nation kind of does these tours like twice a year bringing together bands that normally wouldn’t tour together. How have these first few dates been for Big Data?
Awesome! Crowds have been so fun, super enthusiastic. The venues have been a range of different sizes so it’s just been really fun because it keeps every night really different. When we’re in a more intimate venue, we’re right in everybody’s face and it’s really fun but when we play in a much bigger venue, that’s it’s own sort of animal. So it’s just been really fun! And we’re getting along with everybody really well. We’re sharing a vehicle with the Fitness guys so we’re getting to know each other extra well and it’s awesome because they’re really good guys. The Castlecomer guys are really sweet.
I saw you just did a remix of one of their tracks.
Yeah we just did a remix for them. Oh yeah!
Maybe then coming into this run, you are obviously something a little bit different from the two other acts on the tour. You release your own albums but you do these remixes as well for so many artists. When it comes to your live set, how do you put it together?
When I started Big Data, I looked it a lot more like a producer project. Like I was going to work with different featured vocalists. And it all happened very quickly. Like my life changed very quickly and I wasn’t really thinking about how to perform (live) when I started working on the songs. But when the time came, quickly, I knew I didn’t want to do things like a DJ thing because I play instruments. I’ve been playing them my whole life and I like playing with other players on stage and reacting to each other. That’s the fun of the whole thing. That’s why you do it or one of the reasons why you do it.
So I knew right away that I wanted to have a proper band and do it much more like a live show rather than a press play on a laptop thing. So over the years I’ve just been arranging songs for a proper band. Usually I have a bass player, drummer, myself singing and then Liz, the female vocalist in my band. We do a lot of harmonies. I’m going to try to incorporate video stuff as well.
As the tour progresses?
Yeah! At this point now, with all the new music I’m writing, it’s more based around artificial intelligence rather than just privacy and data. It’s kind of where you go with data after you have all the data. So I’ve been trying to frame this show like it’s driven by an A.I. who’s name is Lizzy. So the A.I. Lizzy kind of inhabits both Lizzy on stage as well as the brain of the show. And it’s all kind of housed inside of this Big Data smart speaker who’s name is Lizzy. In between songs, the speaker appears on the screen and addresses the audience. Sometimes I interact with it, I try to make things weird. I mean it’s weird already, I’m just weird to begin with, but I try to keep the show sort of theatrical. Anyway that I can bring the conceptual stuff beyond the songs themselves, I really try.
And you talked about how you’ve been writing a lot. I know from reading some interviews and that kind of thing, there’s a new record on the horizon.
The record, it’s basically done. Let’s say it’s like 90 %are done. Maybe even a little more then 90. So the plan is that as soon as I get home from tour, I finish that last 10 %. Because that’s always the part you put off until you really need to finish it. I’m thinking about a February release date, it’s going to be called “3.0” because it’s the next upgrade in my operating systems.
Then in working on this album, it’s obviously more focused on artificial intelligence.
Yeah every song is about A.I. in some form. Not every song is directly about A.I. but I kind had a long list of subjects that are relevant to A.I. So it might not be specifically A.I. Like one song, “See Through” is about specifically VR (Virtual Reality) and VR is part of the A.I. story. Because one way that A.I. might play out is that we’re enslaved by the robots. And if they need us alive, it might keep us in simulations. Which will essentially just be really awesome VR. It literally is the Matrix. It’s the plot of The Matrix. It’s one way that our future might actually play out so VR is a part of the A.I. story. There’s another song, a new song I’m going to play tonight called “Unglued”, that is unreleased, and it’s really about uploading the brain. So that’s not directly about A.I. but it’s part of the whole thing. If you upload your brain, then your brain might essentially behave as an A.I. Then when your physical body dies at some point, the A.I. version of you might be able to continue on. And it might be able to be downloaded into another body or multiple bodies. Really crazy, crazy shit might happen. I basically just read a lot of books by a lot of very smart people talking about what the future might look like and that’s really how all the inspiration for the songs came together. And all of these very smart people more or less agree that these are possibilities. Like real ones, so it’s pretty mind blowing where we’re headed and it’s very scary if it isn’t handled very carefully. And I don’t have a lot of faith that it will be handled carefully which is really one of the main reasons why I write about this stuff. Is that I want to get people to think about it. At the core base level, I just want them to enjoy my music and it’s the obvious reason why I do it but if they want to go a little further into what it’s about. I want to open peoples’ eyes about these kinds of issues because they’re going to affect us and they’re going to hit us like a freight train and we need to think about it now so it doesn’t knock us out.
And you’ve been doing Big Data for years. You talked about how you play to be happy, you want people to come out and have fun but is it something where this is what you wanted to do? The kind of material you wanted to make?
With music? No, no, do you mean like I wanted to write about technology forever? No, definitely not. I started playing music when I was five and I definitely wasn’t thinking about any of that.
Obviously not when you were five but when did this project, when did Big Data really come together?
I started Big Data officially in 2012. That’s when I was like I’m calling it Big Data and it’s going to be about technology somehow. And that’s what I started working with Dan from Joywave. So that was 2012. Before that, I was just writing about whatever but as far as once Big Data was created, the vision for it and the subject matter kind of got more and more specific. Just the more I do it, the more I kind of chip away at what am I really trying to say. We were writing about privacy and stuff but that was before the Snowden story came out. Then when it did come out, we had basically written the first couple songs and then the story dropped and it was like ‘Oh my god.’ Like I knew this was important but it just put things in perspective. That this was urgent and really important. Not just funny to think about or something. The A.I. stuff at times, it’s dark, it’s actually terrifying how things might go. It’s fucking important basically what I’m trying to say.
And people are coming out and obviously supporting that.
Yeah! That’s been one of the really cool things on this tour. A lot of people are coming up to me after the show and are just like ‘We love what you’re thinking about and we’re happy that you’re thinking about these things. Because people don’t think about it enough.’ And that’s very rewarding. I mean obviously it’s nice to feel loved but it’s nice that the actual messages are getting through to the super crazy fans.
Then to end it off, you still have quite a ways to go on this tour. I’m sure “3.0” is the big focus.
Yeah we’re one quarter through. Little over one quarter. We’d have to get into sub divisions. Let’s say a quarter, that’s easy!
Then you haven’t announced a full date but “3.0” is planned for around February. Is that just the focus or the goal for these next few months?
Yeah after this tour, we’ll finish the recordings that aren’t done. Most of them are done then just kind of keep working on all the extra. The fun stuff, like I have some pretty weird video stuff that’s coming out soon. It basically explains the story of Lizzy and then I’ve got some other music video stuff coming and remixes. The pieces that kind of come with the album, that’s what I’m working on now.