Now/It's: An Interview with Bantug

If you've been keeping up with the site since it's inaugural post, first off, thank you, secondly, sorry, and third, you've probably noticed the name Bantug once or twice in an interview. Granted, we did feature a live recap (review, analysis, appraisal, evaluation, whatever you want to call it) from Bantug's opening set for Daniela Mason way back when, but her name has popped up in a number of interviews, to boot. The running tally presently sits at five interviews (this one excluded, for obvious reasons), in which someone has either mentioned or praised Bantug's pronounced and modish take on pop (or as she jokingly calls it "alt-alt- country") in Nashville. As you'll learn in the interview, genre ascription isn't necessarily something Bantug is concerned with, so we'll do the same and lay the generalized airy sentiment of "pop" music to rest, and for the love of all that is good in the world, we won't dare use the terms "dreamy" or "ethereal" outside of this precarious lede. The truth is, Bantug is a musical dynamo, swiftly shifting the overall perspective of music in Nashville into a wider, more multi-dimensional realm. Or in layman's terms, Bantug's music kicks ass, and the world has and will only continue to take notice. So, consider yourself notified.

Now/It's met with Bantug at 51st Taproom, in The Nations neighborhood of Nashville.

N/I -  How have things been going?

Bantug - They’re good. I finally got final mixes [for an EP] a couple days ago.

N/I - Is that the stuff you’ve been doing with Grayson [Proctor]? From BIYO?

Bantug - Yeah. It’s just Grayson - no BIYO in this part. I wanted to work with him because I always liked what he was doing two songs in when he released BIYO stuff. When did I send it? We started in August of 2017, I think. Like very early August, then wanted to finish by September and here we are [laughs].

N/I - Despite its cliche nature, “Better late than never” has some meaning behind it. I assume it’ll be finished before the end of the year?

Bantug - It’s just funny. Everything I’ve ever done is usually on a timeline, but it almost always ends up being two months after I anticipate it finish. But that’s cool.

N/I - Sure. I’ve never really known anyone who was actually capable of getting things to happen right on the dot of when they might like for them to. There are almost always too many external factors that have an impact. So I think you’re good in that sense.

Bantug - I think I’m right on time for being on that path.

N/I - So how many songs is it? Two?

Bantug - Five.

N/I - Five. So a full blown EP, then?

Bantug - Yes. This one’s a little more thought out, just because the last one was a collection of all the singles I had just released, with “Just Like A Dream” being the single, of the introduction of “Here’s the last year.” And it kind of worked out, because I don’t think the EP ever feels like five different songs…. [Looks at TV above bar] Are we watching some Star Trek right now?

N/I - We might be getting ready to. Some Jean Luc Picard Star Trek.

[Bartender places a tasting glass of beer in front of Amanda]

Bantug - I like it. Let’s do it!... I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. I just drink here.

N/I - You’re more convincing than me.

Bantug - It reminds me of Dale’s [Pale Ale] a little bit. Cheers.

N/I - Cheers. Thanks for meeting with me.

Bantug - Of course. Thanks for rescheduling.

N/I - No big deal!

Bantug - I thought I was going to be so much more free after that last show, but then I never really wound up with any free time.

N/I - That’s a pretty good problem to have. Especially if you’re in the midst of getting recording done and getting masters back.

Bantug - It was funny, because my manager [Jacob Stewart] was like, “No rush, but when are you going to get the mixes?” And I was like “Actually, in a few days, sir.” [laughs]

N/I - How have you liked working with Stew as your manager?

Bantug - I hate him.

N/I - He’s the worst, right?

Bantug - No he’s great. Since Bantug became a thing, there have been people who were interested, but seemed kind of slimy and not genuinely interested at all. Some people would send really brief emails and ask if I had a manager and whether I was interested in working with them, and all I could say “Do you know anything about me?”

N/I - Exactly.

Bantug - And Stew is awesome, because he sent me this email and was super stoked just to reach out, and it was obvious that he was trying to connect with me on something. And he never told me that he wanted to manage the band until a couple months after we had started corresponding, and it was kind of a surprise for me. So it’s just been really nice, really natural. We get along great. We have a lot of the same taste in things - I just don’t care about comic books the way he does [laughs].

N/I - Oh man, and that’s a big thing with him.

Bantug - I think one time he texted me and he was like “If St. Vincent released a comic book, I don’t think I’d know what I would do.” and I didn’t know how to reply, so I just didn’t. I love it. He’s a dork, but he’s the best.

N/I - Absolutely. His musical tastes are fantastic, and he’s just an all around incredible guy. I’ve known him for while - we used to be roommates - so through that, he got me marginally into comic books. I was never into them, and then being around him as much as I was, I got into them. Through sheer proximity alone [laughs].

Bantug - You love him [laughs].

N/I - Absolutely [laughs]. So was that something that you anticipated, as far as people reaching out as soon as Bantug hit the Internet?

Bantug - I don’t think I really expected anything. I just put it out there. I didn’t know how to do anything when I put out my first single, which was “Waiting.” I think that was almost two years ago? Maybe. I don’t know. I set up an email and a website, but I didn’t know anything about blogs, really. And during that time, it was super important, where now, it’s kind of like crazy. Weeks later, a small tier blog would put something up on its page, and that was super cool. Someone wanted to do my PR, and they would just help me out, so that’s how I learned about that world, pretty quickly. The more songs I would release, the more I would understand the silly game of it all. So eventually, they would get playlisted on a Spotify playlist. I don’t even remember which one. So a lot of things have just been people reaching out and telling me they like it and just wanting to help. But I do feel like I have reached that threshold of “We really like your music, let us help you out for free!” but now I really have to hustle and figure this shit out. Which is nice, because when I thought about doing Bantug, I was like “I can use the Internet to my advantage.” So I’ve definitely been doing that. That’s why I didn’t really play a show for almost two years, because I realized that I didn’t really have to - in my opinion - just play shows to play.

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N/I - The whole “endear yourself to the community” method of hoping the live shows translate into things outside of the live realm. In a clever way, you’ve almost done the inverse of what people think they have to do.

Bantug - And I think that’s what you had to do years ago. But now it’s just like, we’ve got the Internet. Because I’ve played music for a long time, and I have friends who have played shows that turned out to not be all that necessary, so I don’t have to do that right now. I think it can be worked a different way. The thing is, now, I feel like I’m in the season where I just need to play shows so I get better as a performer. So now we look for decent lineups and better venues.

N/I - Like the Basement East. Was that your first time playing there?

Bantug - Yep. It was our best experience. I mean, it was our fourth show, so of course I thought it was our best experience. It was great.

N/I - So with that being your fourth show, what’s your preparation for that look like?

Bantug - It’s been progressively getting different. I usually like to have the whole day free…. Are we talking about what I like to do during that day or just a general thing?

N/I - Either or. It’s something where you said you had two years to really map out how you do things as Bantug, and some people that I’ve talked to or read about, they’ll practice every day for four hours or something ridiculous.

Bantug - That’s a lot.

N/I - It’s a little intense.

Bantug - I think for my first show, I was really nervous, because I hadn’t played a solo thing since high school. So I was practicing a lot, but I would run through the set once or twice, every day for a couple of weeks. But now, as a band, we’re just meshing well. Our rehearsals are to the point where we just go through them like that [snaps]. So I’m a little more comfortable - I feel like I don’t have to practice for a few weeks leading up to things. But we’ll throw in two or three practices before. Do you know who Colton Thomas is?

N/I - He’s your drummer, right?

Bantug - He’s insane. He and Andy have been playing longer than I think Andy and I have known each other. So it’s already a really great chemistry, and I don’t have to worry about them, which is nice. But day of - like Daniela [Mason]’s show, I had this really nice yoga class. I got some new tinctures. I have this new one where it kind of calms you. I always get pho, day of a show. I freaking love it. But I usually try to take it easy, because I’m still trying to figure things out - I think my anxiety manifests literally in my throat, it just tightens up a lot. I can run through a two-hour rehearsal like nothing, and then the show, I feel like the third song, I’m so exhausted. I know I can do it, I’m just trying to figure out where to manage my nerves. It’s just weird, because once you’re on stage, I’m totally natural. It’s just the leading up to it that gets me.

N/I - So have you always been a big proponent of yoga or more meditative practices?

Bantug - No. Literally, Andy and I - maybe a month and a half ago - we were at Target, and he was like “There are some yoga mats on sale, do you want some?” And I was like “What the fuck would you do yoga?” And then…. Do you know Liza?

N/I - Liza Anne? Yeah.

Bantug - We’re really good friends, and she got me to go to this yoga class, and it’s changing my life. It’s dumb.

N/I - How is that?

Bantug - I freaking love it. I go to it three times a week now. It is a very mindful and mental thing, but the type of classes I’m taking, it’s still very physical, so I have to focus. I have to focus on what I’m doing, but it’s nice to just get a good sweat, and kind of be in a different place for an hour. Release some stuff.

N/I - Sure. Get some endorphins going.

Bantug - It’s been really good. I’m just a little yogi. Look at me.

N/I - So how do you and Liza Anne know each other.

Bantug - We’ve known each other for four years now. I think mutual friends from school, but I was in this project with my best friend, years ago. I was just playing guitar and singing background vocals, and I think Liza was just doing her house show tours, and we did one weekend tour with her. So Liza and I are both from Georgia, and we both have a lot of friends in all those college towns - we did three cities - Athens, Milledgeville, and somewhere near Chattanooga. Family friend of hers. But we became good friends through that. But the past year we’ve become really, super good friends.

N/I - As in a more collaborative sort of way?

Bantug - Yeah. I mean, she’s just so encouraging and empowering. She’s great.

N/I - I’ve always thought that one of Liza’s biggest strengths was that she really seems to actively seek out and empower people.

Bantug - She’s incredible. She’s an angel.

N/I - She has managed to foster a community of you, the Keeps guys, Josh Gilligan, Thad Kopec.

Bantug - Yeah. She loves those guys.

N/I - It’s pretty cool to see. Do you find yourself leaning into that crew a whole lot if you find yourself having a hard time creatively? Or do you try and figure it out on your own?

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Bantug - I think I’m going to lean more towards the latter. I think mostly because I’ve just become so independent in anything I do. But there are pros and cons to it all. The pros are that I figure it out. I lean more on the community more when I need someone to listen to it and for them to give very brief notes, but creatively, if I’m not clicking with something, I just let it sit, or it just bugs the hell out of me. Which I know a lot of people say “Let it breathe,” but….

N/I - Well right - how would you determine that? Because some people say “Let it breathe,” but how do discern how long that it should be left to do so?

Bantug - Right. I mean, if I try so, so many times, I understand that it’s probably a lost cause. But it’s just funny when a lot of people tell you that you can’t force something. And it’s not like you’re being lazy - there are times when you can’t force something, and that’s okay - but you don’t have to let it breathe, you can just approach it in different. So I think that’s how I’m approaching it right now. I have this demo, and I’ve worked it so many different ways, but then it becomes fun, because you’re testing yourself and stretching yourself further. You can do a couple things for one song. So that’s cool. I mean, I am still pretty new - not to songwriting - but I just got Logic for this most recent EP I put out. But the first thing I put out was all voice memos or ideas on GarageBand, but they were never fully tracked out. But this one was, and then I just sent everything to Grayson [Proctor]. So from Blue, to the next one, which is going to be called Red, it’s just such a different transition, in a good way. But back to your question, I do lean in for more encouragement, but I kind of like doing things on my own. Like I don’t really like cowriting all that much.

N/I - Sure. You resolve things on your own, but maybe benefit from the occasional opinion here or there. Especially if they have specific experience.

Bantug - Absolutely.

N/I - That makes sense. Have you done a lot of cowriting? If you know well enough that you don’t enjoy it?

Bantug - Officially, only once. But sometimes, I would bring ideas to people and then we would co-write to figure it out, but nothing from a blank slate.

N/I - Nothing like “Let’s meet on Wednesday, and we’re going to write five songs,” or something like that.

Bantug - Right. “Waiting” was something I brought to Jake McMullen and then we hashed that out. And then everything else, I kind of had the bones of. Do you know Jared Foldy?

N/I - I know the name.

Bantug - I wanted him to play synths on it, and he would give some ideas, because we’re so different, but I think we complement each other, so it doesn’t clash. I wrote everything on Red. Grayson added some production stuff, some twinkles here and there.

N/I - Some flourishes.

Bantug - Right. So I don’t necessarily like co-writing right now. I’m sure I will later, I just still don’t know how I write, entirely.

N/I - Do you feel like that would be something you need to do? Co-writing?

Bantug - No. I like myself. I like the way I write [laughs].

N/I - Sure. I feel like a big part of determining whether or not you need to co-write is to know who or what you’re writing for. You’re Bantug, so you write for Bantug, as opposed to writing songs for a large, faceless audience. It’s interesting, because it seems like you can straddle both sides of that fence, in terms of being a pop artist in Nashville. Would you still say you’re kind of pop leaning? I know one time you said you were alt-alt-country.

Bantug - I am alt-country now [laughs]. I wish I could actually make that a thing. Maybe not right now, but later on. I’ll just keep it in my back pocket. I guess I’m pop music because there are catchy things in there, they’re simple grooves, and there are synths, but other than that, I wouldn’t say it’s pop. I’d say it’s some sort of subgenre.

N/I - Sure. Well I apologize for so hastily ascribing the pop moniker.

Bantug - No you’re good [laughs]. I think eventually, when I have to describe it to people that don’t know my music - a lot of blogs say it’s dream pop. So whatever you imagine dream pop to be, that’s me.

N/I - I’m curious on what your take would be in terms of music writing in general. I’ll speak from experience - there was a time when I would really lean into describing a rock band as “butt rock” or “garage rock” but also has some “zydeco!” But at the end of the day, it’s like butt rock, garage rock, what’s the real difference? Does it matter?

Bantug - It’s where you sing from.

N/I - [laughs] Exactly. Where the energy comes from…. But at the same time, I have tried - because I’ve learned how limiting some of those labels can be - to avoid labeling someone one particular genre. I’ve tried to find specific things that it might remind me of, like song x or artist y. So do you find that when people have talked to you about Bantug, do they throw out blanket statements, or has anyone been super on the nose of understanding fully what Bantug is.

Bantug - Well sometimes, even I don’t fully understand what it is that I do. So when someone describes it, I’m almost just like “Cool. I’m really glad you saw it that way.” I’m never disappointed, but a lot of the things that blogs do is read other blogs. So they sort of check in to see what everyone else is saying and then they put their spin on that. Which is fine, because they have to write so many different things at any given time. But the blanket statement I’ve seen the most is “Bantug has this mysterious, ethereal voice, with dreamy textures.” Which is cool and awesome, but I want to see what other people have to say outside of that. So that was kind of the thing with Blue, so I’m excited to hear what the response to Red would be. That’s a blanket statement, which is fine. I think when I was working with someone that was writing some press stuff for me, I was like “Please don’t say ethereal, please don’t say dreamy….” [laughs].

N/I - It is funny, the word “ethereal” in particular….

Bantug - It’s so vague [laughs].

N/I - It’s such a vague term, and it’s one of those words that you’d never use conversationally….

Bantug - I don’t think I have. Maybe once or twice.

N/I - I figure I have, just to be obnoxious. But realistically, that’s a random word that’s really overused in music writing, for whatever reason. You could say Bon Iver is ethereal. You could say Bantug is ethereal. You could say Sufjan Stevens. And it begs the question of what the actual commonality is. And that is likely, “Well, it makes me feel emotions?” But that’s not the textbook definition of ethereal. All that to be said, I am glad that you’ve called out the use of the term “ethereal.”

Bantug - [laughs] I’ll call out anything, shit. It’s been a funny experience trying to figure that stuff out. I don’t know how to describe myself, and I don’t really want to. I mean, I guess I should for the sake of having to meet certain people.

N/I - I would figure that in more business oriented settings it might help.

Bantug - I just hope that every EP that I put out is different in certain ways. There’s always going to be me in it, but I don’t have a formula for writing. So I think there are elements that will continue to be carried through that will make things Bantug. But I don’t think a lot of my songs sound like each other. So when the time comes, it’s fine. I’ll be cool with that.