Mystery Skulls is the stage name of indie pop/electronica artist Luis Dubuc. Hailing from Dallas, TX, Dubuc has been performing since 2003, when he was the drummer for a metalcore band called Thirty Called Arson. After performing with them for awhile, Dubuc began to experiment with electronic sounds in his free time.
Mystery Skulls is the stage name of indie pop/electronica artist Luis Dubuc. Hailing from Dallas, TX, Dubuc has been performing since 2003, when he was the drummer for a metalcore band called Thirty Called Arson. After performing with them for awhile, Dubuc began to experiment with electronic sounds in his free time. Soon he took his new sound and release the album Antarctica under the name The Secret Handshake.
The Secret Handshake lasted from 2004 to 2010, and over that time recorded and released four albums and two EPs. After the band dissolved in 2010, Dubuc began working on his new project which he would go on to release under the name Mystery Skulls.
On December 30th, 2011 he debuted his newest EP, which was also titled EP, via Tumblr. Continuing to make music and tour throughout the world, it wasn’t long until he was signed to Warner Bros. Records.
On November 14th, 2014 Dubuc released his first full-length album via Warner Bros. Records entitled Forever. He very recently came through Richmond at the National while on tour with Cherub. Dubuc sat down with us ahead of his show that night.
What brings you to Richmond?
I’m on tour! I’m currently on tour supporting my new record, Forever. it came out in October, and I’m playing all the songs.
How is doing a record these days?
You know, awesome. I guess it’s different because there aren’t really CD stores anymore. As an ex-CD store employee, I know it is vastly different; but even though the way that people purchase music or stream music has changed, people inherently need good music in their lives. Everyone wants to listen to something that makes you feel good and is new and, if you’re the person that shows music to your friends, you want to have that music. So I feel really lucky that I can be that for some people. Even though it’s different the way people buy it, people really need great music in their lives.
Do you feel like the production process kind of shifts emphasis on individual tracks?
The way that I built Mystery Skulls was I did it all on Tumblr, so it was like Tumblr and YouTube and I was just definitely releasing tracks. I would write them the day of, and just release them. So I was like “here you go” and it was just a really nice way of self-expression, I think. But then when I did the label deal and really set out to make the record, I very consciously tried to not make anything that sounded like a singles collection, or even just, you know, sometimes you go to a lot of different producers and then it sounds like a compilation record. Even though I worked with a lot of different people, I had everything running back through my channels and through my chains to just give it this sort of cohesive sound. I think that’s why a lot of times people say “dude I love this new record front to back,” and that means a lot to me. Because you know, I was just talking about Frank Ocean the other day and it’s like, there’s just certain records you can jam to front to back. And when you can, it really makes you feel like a fan, and I think that’s cool.
Compared to individually releasing on Tumblr and producing like that, to be in the label structure, did you feel pressure there?
More or less. The pressure that existed, I probably put on myself, but I was really fortunate enough to get to work with Nile Rodgers, and that had its own interesting challenges just based on the fact that every song that he’s ever worked on is like the jam of jams. So especially for those songs, I felt like I had to achieve a certain level of greatness, and ultimately I think I pulled it off and I think the record came out amazingly. But I think those were the challenges. It was really just making something that I felt like could live up to or even just stand with [his previous work], you know, because the songs that he’s worked on are amazing. But we got two really great ones, we got “Magic” and “Number One,” and both of them are total jams.
Do you see yourself as a Pop producer, as an EDM producer, as an Electronic producer? I mean, especially as somebody who’s seen different eras, you’ve got to understand how there’s a very clear divide between what used to be the Top 10 then and what’s the Top 10 now. Ariana Grande songs could be club mixes from 15 years ago, so when you’re approaching music like that, do you put yourself in an EDM mindstate, do you put yourself in a Pop mindstate?
I try not to limit myself as as far as any sort of mindstate. I’m definitely just a musician. I started in music just as a record store employee. Like, I was just a fan, and then I learned to play drums, and then I learned to play guitar, and then I learned to play keyboard and piano, and lastly I learned to sing. I feel like I’ve been a fan for so long that I just try to make a great song, regardless of the production. You know what they say–if you make a great song, a homeless dude can play it on acoustic guitar and you’ll know that song. Like, that’s a great song, you know? So I think I just try to make great songs and worry about the production later.
So, you’ve been doing this since 2011?
December 28, 2011 is when the first EP came out, yeah.
Have you been touring much consistently since then, between studio time?
In 2012, I started doing some fly-outs. That was before I had the label deal. I had this thing on my Facebook. People were finding me off the internet, and I remember posting this thing, and it was basically, “If you pay for my ticket and fly me out, I’ll play for free.” And so I had a ton of people hit me up, and one of the first shows I did, I played at Penn State. It was amazing, I played this really rad punk frat, if you’ve ever seen the movie PCU it was more or less “The Pit.” It was called Houseasaurus, and they had this crazy basement. I had written this track to play there and that track would end up being “Ghost.” So it was cool. I felt very lucky that some of these things were presented to me. Then 2013 was really spent writing and writing. We did some touring, and 2014 I did my first tour with Robert DeLong. I did like a week of shows, and now here we are. This is my first national tour really, first tour bus, first everything, so it’s pretty trippy.
Is it everything you thought it would be? You’ve got to set yourself up expectation-wise, but how do you even prepare yourself for that journey?
You don’t, I’m going day to day, so today’s Day 2. But when I was playing shows in the past, there wasn’t a record that was out, per se, so if you knew the songs it would be because you had to go on a Tumblr or YouTube. It would be a lot of people that would just be watching. You know, there would be some people that knew some of the words, but now that the record’s been out for almost three months, it’s cool. I see a lot of people at these shows who know every word, and that’s been amazing. So in a sense, its a welcome change, and I’m happy to do it.
Do you prefer the spontaneity of it? I’d imagine if you’ve got a record out you’d get expectations from fans. It’s got to be an incredible feeling to walk out into a crowd, to start spinning, doing stuff, and they know what you’re doing.
Yeah, and I sing a lot as well. Like I said, people know every word of the track. You know, in my sets I mix in a lot of songs, like remixes I’ve done and just other tracks I’ve done, and it’s pretty funny now. It used to be that the sets would just be people dancing, and now that the record’s out and now that I’m doing these mixes, people really know the album tracks. And then the other tracks, you just see them get really quiet–but they’re all dancing, so it’s really interesting to just see that kind of rollercoaster. I mean, they don’t stop moving the whole time, but just to see the ones that they know, it’s pretty cool.
Do you kind of have a favorite venue set-up?
You know, I think to date, my favorite city to play in would have to be San Francisco. I’ve played a bunch of shows there. I just did an amazing one with Viceroy at The Mezzanine and it was amazing. They’re actually having me back in February and I’m headlining a set for Noise Pop. It’s me and Blackbird Blackbird. I love San Francisco because, you know, living in LA, it’s just nice to be able to travel just a couple of hours and have this whole other scene, and they’re so supportive.
One of the reasons you stood out to me is that some of your mixes really incorporate some of that harder electro that I really miss, so thank you for that.
You know, a lot of people actually say that. I had someone tell me that literally last night.
I don’t know what happened to that sound.
You know, I think a lot of what happened to that sound is that, it can kind of be like when someone is tending to a fire and they sort of smother it in guarding it. Really, the moment it became known as the French House sound–and when you think about it, people always think Boys Noize is French but, no dude, he’s German. The moment you’ve limited that, I think it really might’ve hurt that sound. But I was always a big fan, I obviously loved Justice and I loved Breakbot and I just remember thinking I could probably do something that was like all of this but maybe more song-based and with maybe more aggression in a way, and it just has like bigger moments. I feel really proud and happy that you even think that, so thank you.