As individuals, Justin Strauss and Max Pask have built up reputations for their notorious sets and unique mixes, and now they have come together as Each Other to release their debut EP Be Nice to Each Other on the DEEWEE imprint.
Having spent a good chunk of his childhood growing up in Long Island, the New York legend Justin felt the calling to music at a young age – at a mere seventeen years old, his first power pop band Milk ‘N’ Cookies were signed by Island Records. He then took to DJing and producing, and has enjoyed a career now already spanning over three decades, in which time he’s worked with the likes of Luther Vandross, Depeche Mode and Goldfrapp. He has also played at pretty much every nightclub under the New York sun, making him perhaps the most insightful man on how the scene there has developed over the past thirty years.
Although newer to New York, Frenchman Max Pask has carved out a place for himself on the scene, known for his synth-led and delicately constructed Noir sound.
We caught up with the duo to talk about their recent collaboration, their shared love of all things Brooklyn and the New York scene.
Justin, you’ve been a resident artist at many of NYC’s most iconic 80s clubs from Mudd to Output and Max you’ve been a key player in Brooklyn’s scene for years, notably as part of Throne of Blood. So how do you know one another? Is the underground New York scene the linking factor?
Max: Pretty much. I can’t remember where or when we met but it must have been the summer of 2010 or 2011 when me, Justin and our friend Lloyd, a great friend and DJ who throws this party called Tiki Disco ended up doing gigs that summer and becoming friends.
Had you played together before?
Justin: Yeah but sporadically, not together but at the same events, same nights. And I’d see Max around. In this scene everybody pretty much knows everybody and so people gravitate towards each other. One day Max had decided to start inviting people round to record tracks with him and so that’s how we started working on music together.
Amazing. And tell me more about this new collaboration on Soulwax’s DEEWEE, how did that come about?
Max: Dave and Steph are old friends of mine – we’ve known each other for almost twenty years. We’ve played gigs together, gone on tour, hang out whenever we are in the same city. About three years ago I was in Paris at one of Soulwax’s gigs and heard amazing things about their new studio. I joked to Dave after the show that if he gave me a job I’d move to Gent and work for him. And he said no.
Max: (laughs) Yeah, very matter of factly. He also said that I should make a record for them. And at time Justin and I were talking about a potential collaboration so I contacted Dave and asked how he’d feel about doing it with Justin and he was really into the idea because they had met Justin not so long before.
Justin: Yeah I had maybe met them around the same time, three years ago and we just bonded over a lot of different things, music and collections and all kinds of stuff that we’re into. They were very into the whole 80s New York scene and the thing about the DEEWEE is that everything that comes out of it is recorded at DEEWEE or mixed at DEEWEE – it’s not like you can just send in your music – they are very hands on, very involved in the every step of the way. And after years of trying to organise everyone’s schedule which is a monumental task and then getting all the studio free, we finally found one week when everyone was free and in the same place. So we went there for a week. We had one idea in mind and the rest we kind of made up when we were there.
Wicked. Max how would you describe the sound of this new release?
Max: I’m not sure how to describe it…what I love is that there seems to be something for everyone and that each track has its own audience. And it sounds very much like what it is which is me and Justin making music, injected with the Soulwax sound.
Justin, you counted the Beatles as some of your first idols, who else was up there and may have infiltrated your own sound over the years?
Justin: Yeah, I mean growing up it was The Beatles, David Bowie, The Stones, James Brown and later on the whole Kraftwerk was a huge influence on me when electronic music started happening, as well as the Human League and all the factory stuff. Between me and Max there are a lot of music influences that come through in the music, and we were also channelling a sort of sleazy New York vibe which Dave and Steph pushed us towards. They’re very enamoured with the whole 80s underground NYC scene and that definitely went into the music.
What about you Max? Aside from Dee-Lite who comes to mind in terms of influence and first album love affairs?
Max: Well, believe it or not, my very first love affair was Heavy Metal. It varied from Guns & Roses to Nirvana, Morbid Angel and Metallica. I fell into the electronic music by going to a rave and hearing Jeff Mills – I was maybe about fourteen years old and it completely blew me away. I was basically converted overnight. And then later on because of the whole French House thing that happened in the mid-90s, I started really looking into the New York and Chicago sounds which then led me to discover many new things musically from Funk to Soul and Disco, New Wave and Post-Punk.
Is that the reason you decided to pack up and move to New York?
Max: Well I wanted to be a sound engineer and I worked in a small production company in Paris who sent me there for three months to assist a composer. While I was there, I fell in love with the city and one of its inhabitants. And I never went back.
And Justin your parents relocated with you to Woodmere Long Island when you were nine, but you felt alienated?
Justin: Yeah, alienated and out of sync with the culture, or lack of it. But I did meet like-minded people and we got into a band called Milk ’N’ Cookies. We started making demo tapes and we landed a record deal with Island records so that was pretty life changing. And even though it eventually didn’t actually work out the way we thought it would, it led me to other things.
Yes, exactly. In fact you moved to LA shortly after the band began falling apart?
Justin: The band was in shambles so the three of us decided to move out to LA and restart there. Some people apparently knew of Milk ‘N’ Cookies out there and this whole band thing was starting in LA, there were loads of bands headed out there at the time. And there were places like the Whiskey and the Starwood where we were able to play gigs out there.
What did you make of LA in comparison to New York?
Justin: When I first got there, I thought it was incredible because it was so different. And the weather was nice. But after a while the lack of contact with friends and fact that everything had to be planned because you can’t just walk somewhere means life is not very spontaneous and I like to have more freedom. I met some incredible people, did some incredible things and it was a great experience but at some point, I knew I had to get back to New York.
And speaking of New York, what’s your favourite thing about the city?
Justin: There is something special about New York; it’s in my blood. It’s what motivates me, it’s what creatively inspires me. Being able to walk everywhere and feel the energy of the city is wonderful. It’s basically the only true twenty-four hour a day city which, being a creature of the night, is very handy. And there’s also the cultural thing with New York that everyone has to deal with each other – we don’t drive around in cars, we’re all crammed in the subway together.
Justin, you’ve said you had no intention of becoming a producer and yet it seems fate had another plan in store for you. In spite of your hugely successful career, do you ever feel nostalgic over the Milk ‘N’ Cookies glory days?
Justin: Well the crazy thing is that a couple of years ago, when the internet started blowing up, people started talking about Milk ‘N’ Cookies and we were rediscovered. A couple of years ago, a label in the states Captured Tracks records did a huge box set, 100-pages or so, where musicians, bands like The Ramones and basically everyone and their mother shared that Milk ‘N’ Cookies had been an influence on them. It became this cult thing and when the record came out, we played a few shows over the last couple of years.
Do you remember what the catalyst was for you parting ways at the time?
Justin: Well there were lots of things… being in a band, it’s like any relationship. I basically describe it as a sexless relationship. It sometimes keeps the relationship together and without it, it falls apart.
Yeah absolutely. And Justin these days you prefer not to plan anything specific for your live sets instead trusting in the moment. You’ve mentioned elsewhere you’ve never walked away thinking wow, I really fucked that one up. Max are you one to torture yourself over your sets?
Max: Well I never really plan my sets either, but I have a selection of music before the gig. For a long time, it was picking records on the night, now it’s throwing files on a USB and sometimes I find the ever-expanding amount of music you can choose from overwhelming. Of course, some gigs are better than others, but I don’t torture myself over a DJ set. I do torture myself in the studio. That’s what I loved about working with DEEWEE actually, they’d pop in a few times throughout the day, listen to the tracks and say we like this, or you should look more into that. And because we only had six days it really helped us focus on what was important.
Justin: It’s sort of a test and not everybody gets to make a record at DEEWEE for DEEWEE so it’s an honour to be invited to even do it and when you have that kind of opportunity it’s not something you want to blow.I know there will be another DJ gig, but I don’t know when I’ll get back into the studio. So you put pressure on yourself to do something to the best of your ability. The crazy thing is that the record was on hold for about a year before they got down to mixing it. We didn’t take anything home with us, and we hadn’t heard anything since we’d left, so when they sent us the mix I was blown away because it had been so long since I’d last heard it!
In a parallel universe where music hadn’t worked out for either of you, god forbid, where would you be today and what would you be doing to fill your time?
Justin: Honestly, I was actually thinking about this the other day and I don’t know. There was no Plan B for me. I knew from the minute I saw the Beatles or was moved by music I heard that it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And it’s not always easy, it’s often hard as hell. This music business is a roller coaster. There are some really good days and some really bad ones. But if you can weather that storm it really is great.
Max: Well its funny you should ask this because last year I actually gave stand-up a shot. I opened for the rapture in Philadelphia as a stand-up act and I did another set here in Brooklyn which went down pretty well – I think. But yeah, why not? I could see myself as a funny man in a parallel universe where music hadn’t worked out.
I love that. Stand-up is absolutely terrifying.
Max: It is terrifying. That’s why I did it.
Justin: We should combine the two; I’ll DJ while you do comedy.
There is definitely something in that. It was a pleasure to catch up with you both!