By: Camila Álvarez
When I asked Mario De Los Santos where he got the name for Telescope Thieves—his atmospheric, downtempo, electronic hip-hop project— he told me he had approached it as a math problem. He picked a bunch of words that he really liked and arranged them on an excel spreadsheet by the amount of syllables they had. Then he paired the ones that made either 3 or 4 syllables in total, since he noticed his favorite artist names had that amount of syllables in them. He said Telescope Thieves jumped out early and he immediately knew that was it.
Telescope Thieves had its genesis after Mario was inspired by the acoustic experiments of the guitar player of MorningWar, a Miami rock band for which he played the keys. His friend would sit for a couple of hours and make a song out of whatever came spontaneously to him, and Mario found this practice liberating, unlike the long and meticulous process that his band followed from the conception of the songs to their release.
Two years have passed since the genesis of the project and Mario already has two albums under his belt: Interstellar Alchemy, self-released in May 2012 and Elixir, released under New York labelThe Brio Life last December. There’s also a compilation album with some of his early experiments called Bloom, released by AvantRoots.
Mario was recently signed to Space Tapes, the new Miami label we introduced last week. He will be releasing his next EP this upcoming June.
CA: Tell me a little bit about you…
TT: I grew up here in Miami and my parents are Dominican. That’s a big part of who I am because a lot of times in the summer time there would be nothing to do and they would send me over there, where I would spend months. Otherwise, I think I would be a spoiled American kid.
What got you into music?
The first thing that got me into music was hip-hop. Growing up in the 90’s there are a lot of great hip-hop artists out right now, but the difference I think is that in the 90’s there were many different artists with many different sounds. I remember when I first got into it in the mid 90’s, you had Outkast coming out with Rosa Parks, probably the same year Tupac was coming out with albums, the same year that Wu-Tang was coming out with things, you had Dr. Dre in the West Coast, and all of these sounds are very distinct from each other because everybody had their own producer, who worked just with them and had their own sound. Now you just have the famous producer and he produces for everybody.
Who was your favorite?
MC? It’s hard…I’ve gone through stages, when I was in middle school, Tupac was like the best thing in the world, and then in High School I had a huge appreciation for Jay Z, for his flow and his wordplay. After high school I got into older stuff, like A Tribe Called Quest. Kanye was a big influence on me beat wise when I first started making music. His production when he first came out was amazing.
How did you start? What’s the oldest memory you have of you making music?
In middle school, I used to write poetry and raps and stuff, and then I met this kid named Jamie and we started hanging out and formed a little rap group in 9th grade. We stayed with the rap thing for like another year or two and it got to a point where we were rapping to famous people’s beats. But then I wanted to make original music, I wanted to take the next step and get into production and make my own beats, but after a while I realized I was not a rapper [laughs]. I guess I got really entrapped by the production side of it– it was more fulfilling creatively and so I went that route.
And what happened next?
Right after high school I got to a point where I got into my ends in hip-hop, I felt things weren’t sounding as good in the radio anymore, artists weren’t being as unique and I started to really discover rock, and like band music. Incubus became a really big part of my life. And then I got into Radiohead — first into In Rainbows and then there was another chapter where I discovered all of their discography.
I joined a rock band called MorningWar, we played at Bardot a couple times. That’s how I met David Sinopoli from Space Tapes, the new label under which I’ll be releasing my music.
Why did you come back to hip hop?
I started coming back to production with a new vision. Before all my beats were strictly 16 bars and the chorus, something that a rapper would rap on and you would hear on the radio. When I came back to it, I had gotten into a lot of experimental music, a lot of rock music, and just expanded my mind basically. I met this guy, probably nobody knows who he is, named Mid Airwhen I was going to school, and he showed me some of the music he was doing. He played instruments and he would also sample things and his songs never stayed the same, every 16 bars something new would happen. There were like these compositions, but they were beats, it totally sparked something in me. I was like wow, you can make a song out of beat music — it doesn’t have to be like you make a beat and then some rapper buys it. I realized that as a producer, I could still be the artist and that was revolutionary to me.
How was TT born?
The guitar player of MorningWar, one of my best friends, he played electric guitar in the band, but he did a lot of little acoustic stuff on his own. He had made a couple of tracks and he showed them to me, and I was really inspired by that. What he was doing was that he would come home and sit for like 2 or 3 hours, and like, whatever happened in that moment, that was the song. In the band, we were really meticulous and we would write a song for weeks, and then recorded it, you know, it was like this long process for us to get a song done. And this new thing was so freeing, it was just sitting there and releasing something and posting it and people liked it. So that’s what I did, just sit there for like 1 or 2 hours at the piano, add some drums, make some beats, and whatever happened that night was the song. I had like 5 songs, and my friend had another 5 songs and we released a split EP. After that I started releasing songs on mySoundcloud and people were responding well to the little experiments I was putting out, so I started reacting to that and taking each song more seriously until I reached a point where the songs were getting to become well produced and I was finding a sound and that’s when Telescope Thieves came out with an album called Interstellar Alchemy in 2012.
Tell me about your creative process…
Before I would always start at the piano. Always chords, I guess it’s because I was the keyboard player of the band, I feel like the chords are like the meat of the songs. Until I find the right chord progressions, my songs won’t go anywhere, and they have to have the right mood, you know? And after that everything just kinda comes out.
What do you look for when you look for that “mood” that you mentioned?
I like sad music. Something sad, but that isn’t cheesy sad, like Evanescence or something [laughs].
And what do you do after you find these sad chords?
Definitely the drums would come next. As of late, I think that’s one of the processes that’s changed in my music in the last year or two. I used to really be concentrated on chords and melodies. And as of late, I still feel they’re important, but I feel that for a big part of my musical life and production, I ignored the drums too much, and now I want to have the perfect drum groove. Lately, what I’ve been going for is somewhere in between a good house track and a good trap, hip-hop beat.
What’s coming next? I heard you’re putting out a new song every month…
Yeah, that was the goal. After I release my last album, Elixir, with The Brio Life, I had decided to do that, but the only reason I’m breaking away from that is because of Space Tapes. I have a lot of confidence in David, he’s such a cool guy, and I know he’s got a good vision for this, so I’m going for a new EP.
*This article was originally posted on Culture Designers