100 gecs: “It often sounds like saccharine bullshit, but seriously, do what you love”
With their second album, 10,000 gecs, out now, Dylan Brady and Laura Les share the story behind their nostalgic inspirations, working with their idols, and relying only on the essential.
Image: Ben Bentley for MusicTech
The title of Dylan Brady and Laura Les’ second album as 100 gecs couldn’t be more fitting. Elevating the producer-vocalist duo’s maximalist approach to music, which the Missouri-born pair’s brilliantly-bonkers debut album demonstrated in 2019, 10,000 gecs screeches between dubstep, nu-metal, ska, hyperpop, chiptune and screamo – often in the same song.
Equally inventive as their eponymous first album, old-school sounds and motifs from the early-2000s are put through a meme-obsessed filter to form absurd earworms. I Got My Tooth Removed is Madness-meets-Mariachi ska; Frog on the floor sits somewhere between Phoebe Buffay from Friends’ iconic Smelly Cat and the theme tune for a trippy children’s show. Meanwhile, the trash-talk of Billy knows jamie recalls nu-metal bands like Korn. All this might sound hectic and lacking cohesion on paper, but somehow – for those willing to have their ears and patience tested – the manic chaos comes together.
After all, it’s this carefree genre-blending attitude that has catapulted 100 gecs out of the underground and into the mainstream. “I feel like it’s cool to do the most with the least,” says Brady. Rather than having a specific idea when they started the record, it was “more of an educated guess.” The pair agree that it feels good to finally have the album out – it’s been a long time coming, especially as they scrapped their initial projects. Or, as Brady puts it, “we had some shit, reassessed it, then we made more shit”.
Recorded across various spots in Los Angeles, including the iconic EastWest Studios (which is hailed as one of the best rock recording rooms in the world), Brady says “we used the crazy shit”. Working in the same room that Rage Against the Machine, System Of A Down and Red Hot Chilli Peppers had recorded in, he adds “it was nice to have access to that equipment.”
Subconsciously inspired by the setting, the album leans heavily into the duo’s love of rock and pop-punk; this makes sense when Brady recalls the first song on his iPod being Blink 182’s First Date. Les interjects with the first song she bought on iTunes: Hampton the Hamster’s Hamster Dance. “Incredible song,” Brady noddingly approves. “I bought a couple Blink 182 songs, but I think Eminem or Nelly were probably the first things I had on my iPod,” Les remembers.
Because of the place it was created in, and wanting the songs to have more natural room sounds, 10,000 gecs feels far more ‘live’ than its predecessor. “We were trying to make it sound more full,” Les says. Having not played any shows before the release of their debut, which Les retrospectively calls “super bone-dry,” Brady suggests that a busy year of touring before finishing 10,000 gecs “probably played a role”.
Consequently, more real instruments – especially guitars – feature this time around. “A guitar just sounds good – it’s ready-made,” Les says.
“You can’t cheat your way through using a guitar”, Brady confirms, having also used an eight-string guitar (one of many that hang in his home studio). “It was fun to be able to shred into that, throw a Shure SM57 in front of the speaker and call it a day,” he says. Meanwhile, the only vintage gear they used was the mics on the drums.
Talking of drums, the pair got in the studio with drummer Josh Freese, who has worked with Paramore and Blink 182, and gave the explosive headbanger, Hollywood Baby, a stadium-sized sheen.
“That was the easiest thing I’ve done during the whole album process,” Brady says of working with Freese. Les agrees: “Yeah, we literally showed him what we were thinking, then he would listen to the song two times and then be like ‘alright, I think I got it’. Then he would just go in and do a perfect take. It was crazy to see someone so professional.”
In the middle of the album process, 100 gecs also worked with one of Brady’s biggest production influences, Skrillex. Although the trio had tried several ideas together, Skrillex apparently heard a demo of Torture Me (from last December’s three-track EP Snake Eyes) and immediately wanted to get involved.
“He has all this gear and all these synths, but then just uses his laptop, no monitor, no mouse, nothing,” Brady says, having been stunned by his workflow. “I never saw him play the synths once and he’s just making the best shit I’ve ever heard. All you need is a laptop,” he concludes.
Les enthuses that seeing Skrillex’s work process was “the craziest experience; watching him go on his laptop and put something together in just five minutes is insane”. She holds Brady in equally high regard. “It’s crazy watching somebody do it with such ease, and both [Brady and Skrillex] have quite the workflow. Even if it’s starting from different points. It’s like ‘okay, this, this, this, good’ – and it sounds like a million dollars”.
Brady says that while buying music gear is fun, “it’s nice to feel confident just having a laptop in your backpack because anything can be inspiring”. He recalls buying a Roland RE-201 Space Echo when he first moved to LA but, to his frustration, it broke immediately and repeatedly.
Les describes her recording process as “kind of scrappy.” She doesn’t have a locked-in setup, so says “it’s more important to get my digital workspace organised”. Having now worked with both processes, they’ve concluded, “we got the gear, tried it out, it was pretty good, but it’s not that much better than doing everything in the box. And it’s way fucking easier.”
During the recording process, Les tried using more outboard compressors. Hearing how vocals sounded through classic compressor combos running into the DAW made Les question if she should be using it too. She started looking around but decided that she couldn’t carry more in her backpack than a Shure SM7B mic and an interface. Because of this, she says “it was easy to slide right back to pretty much everything in the box”. She also got into modular synthesis, but says she found it too cumbersome.
Instead, they prefer a simple songwriting process. Brady says “sometimes we’ll just make a beat; I’ll take inspiration wherever I can get it”. The chorus of I Got My Tooth Removed entered his brain while he was in his kitchen, for example. “It usually comes from an idea, but more like ‘this is the thing of this song,” Les explains.
“For the Doritos & Fritos demo, Dylan had the harmonics, a bassline, some really straightforward drums and we were like ‘this is the whole song – we can extrapolate everything we need from that’. Anytime there’s something like that, it’s perfect.”
The album also features many of the now-signature sonic trademarks of hyperpop, the internet subculture that the pair first pioneered during lockdown – way before its metallic beats infiltrated the mainstream. Often hailed as the wizards of hyperpop – alongside scene-starters SOPHIE and PC Music – addictive sugar rush 757 channels this most effectively, combining static-heavy glitchy bleeps, warp-speed auto-tuned vocals and crashing snare drums.
Brady says music right now is “cool because a lot of things can be pop now”. Les hones in one particular aspect – “there’s a lot of wacky beats that are going crazy, different sounds [sic]”. However, she doesn’t feel this is anything particularly new. “It’s always like that; if you look at the top 40, it’s a bunch of shit that sounds pretty similar, but then you have some crazy synth standouts that have insane sounds”.
Analysing the wider concept of genre, Les says that while some of the terms are unnecessary, they offer the potential for discovery, via websites like Last.fm. “You go on there and see all the genre tags, and then you’re like ‘what does this tag mean’?”
Brady says he sees genre as “a useful tool – if you want to hear stuff that sounds like other stuff”. Les thinks that “it’s cool tracking similarities between things, for example, being granular into different forms of metal”.
As a group who have never been shy about sampling (the album may or may not feature the sound of a Stormtrooper’s lasers being fired, and the synth from Benny Benassi’s Satisfaction), Brady says “it’s a case of ‘we think that would sound awesome and hope that our label can get it cleared’”. For instance, the first sound you hear on 10,000 gecs is the iconic THX movie theme. Les expands on the point further: “we definitely wanted to see, now that we have a little bit of machinery at our back, if we could get some crazy samples.”
There were some samples they were thinking about trying at the beginning of the album – but their label was cautious: “we were just told ‘no more, you’re not going to be able to get that cleared.’”
Having managed to build an ever-growing community of diehard fans during 2020’s lockdown (many even made the pilgrimage to the actual tree that’s pictured on the cover of their first record), Brady says sincerely “it’s very beautiful and surreal, but overwhelming at times”.
However, as their community came together naturally, Brady “honestly has no idea” about fanbase-building tips, other than “just make music you really love.”
“All the cliche shit is so true,” chimes in Les. “It often sounds like saccharine bullshit, but seriously, do what you love.” One thing to avoid, she continues, is “trying to make someone happy – that’s a losing battle. But doing what makes you happy and finding people that gravitate around you who find what you do makes them happy as well, that’s the ticket.”
After seeing their online audience translate to sold-out crowds at their in-person gigs, Brady says “the shows are so fucking awesome.”
“When you’re just online, it’s almost scary – the idea that so many people are giving a shit about you, but then you go to a show and actually see that in physical form. It’s very nice,” Les reflects.
A ticket to a gecs show – aka “a strobe light in a blender”, in Les’ own words – has become incredibly sought-after. And it’s no surprise. With everything dialled up to 11, the energy transferred between the duo and their audience is electric. “Our front of house makes sure it’s using all the frequencies that are available,” says Brady.
“Turning up the bass,” Les says with a laugh. “We want to allow people to just be feeling it. You’re here to dance around and have a good time… and you can watch us too, if you want,” she says modestly – in reality, a gecs gig is full of blinding lights and rowdy mosh-pits. “And a lot of speakers,” Brady pipes up.
Their live show setup is fairly stripped-back, much like their studio setups. Brady says “we had a Behringer X32 32 mixer with two mics sending instrumental and vocals to the front.” Les reveals that the pair do all the processing on their laptop; “we have a MacBook Air that’s running a Logic Pro session with all of our plugins on it”. Because they have everything time-synced, they can make the most of MIDI. “I can sing any note for some of the songs, like mememe and 757 it’ll do the whole thing and sound super crazy.”
“We love the drawn-in MIDI vibes for a live show; it’s hard to fuck that one up,” Les jokes. “Any amount of ‘hard to fuck up’ that we can get, we’ll take it”.
Since transcending the cyber-sphere, 100 gecs have landed some seriously high-calibre support slots. Last summer, the pair opened for My Chemical Romance and Nine Inch Nails. “It was surreal,” Les says. “The best part of doing a show like that is that there’s always a nice spot you can go to since you’re playing before. For the MCR gig, I was down in the front pit area while they were playing”.
Although both bands’ audiences are starkly different, Les says the crowds were receptive to their opening sets. “You have to balance it out in your mind because they’re not there to see you, and if they don’t fuck with it you can’t be super surprised.” However, she ponders, “it’s more in favour than you would think”.
As well as releasing their album on vinyl, 10,000 gecs is also available in full-size jewel case CD – a format that the duo have loved since their teenage years. “I like CDs because they’re super high-quality,” Brady says.
“They are also really nice to listen to,” Les considers, citing the practicality of the format. “Not a lot of cars have vinyl players but a lot of them have CD players.”
Another aspect that they both love is the accompanying booklet: “it’s super fun,” Les says. “I love getting a CD and going through the whole booklet,” she adds, nerding out about The Knife’s booklet for their 2013 album Shaking the Habitual: “it folds out into a huge poster and there’s a comic on the other side”. Naturally, then, the booklet that comes with the 100 gecs CD is equally impressive. “We had our friend Steve do all of the graphic design, and it’s just cool to have that as another little thing for people.”
As for the future aspirations of 100 gecs, Les is typically down to Earth: “there are almost no goals at this point for me. I’m just glad people like the album.” Brady, meanwhile, is aiming extremely high: “straight to the moon.” The duo’s already received five-star reviews on their debut UK show, they’re currently on a massive American tour, and 10,000 gecs is clocking up streams in the millions. Given 100 gecs’ stratospheric rise, heading for the moon isn’t as unbelievable as it might sound.
10,000 gecs is out now.
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