For our latest installation of our St Andrews Sounds, we caught up with 3rd year IR student and creative producer Will Becker, also known as one third of Mahatma.
How would you describe your musical background? How did Mahatma come to be?
My musical background probably started when I was around 12. My Dad would make us do chores, and once my brother started playing drums around then he would gradually allow him to skip chores to play drums and guitar and stuff. Pretty soon afterward I bought a bass and taught myself how to play bass, and bass moved to guitar and eventually drums and anything I could get my hands on. In high school I played bass, guitar, and later drums in a Jazz Band led by (the amazing) Carl Grubbs, who I am eternally grateful for being my teacher.
Who are your biggest influences musically?
It changes a lot depending on what I’m listening to. My Dad and Mom were really into the classic 80’s/90’s jams like Talking Heads and Dire Straits, but my Dad is really into ‘alternative country’ so I had a lot of weird music playing around the house growing up. When we would go on road trips we had this thing where during the morning (anywhere from 5am till noon in the car) we could only play ‘morning music,’ which always seemed to be whatever he wanted, but mostly classical. At first for me I would say the ‘obvious’ Hip-Hop examples like Dilla, Madlib, A Tribe Called Quest and others. Now I would say folks like Sun Ra, Coltrane, Miles, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Fela Kuti are just as influential in my music. Before I was into Hip-Hop I was really into Punk and then the weird Baltimore/Wham City music scene, and so I would say that is just as much of an influence as well. I know my brother (who plays drums and guitar on a lot of tracks) is still really into punk, and Jared (the MC on most of the tracks) has always really been influenced by reggae.
Can you describe your creative process?
At this point my creative process is basically me sitting down with a sample I have in mind/instrument whenever I have the time to and it just sort of comes out. Before I would isolate myself and think about what I’m doing and what I want to hear, now since I barely have time to sit down and make it, most of the music making process just sort of happens when it happens. I sample based upon what I’m listening to at the time mostly. The first tape was predominately break-oriented and had more hip-hop samples, the second one I feel had more of an afrobeat/noisey vibe cause I was listening to a lot of Fela, Tony Allen, and Pharaoh Sanders and I could record live drums. The first one was done mostly in my room in St. Andrews, the second one almost entirely at my brother’s house in West Philly, with my brother and Jared right there to have their input and track with me.
You’ve jumped between a few names in the past, can you explain the choice of Mahatma?
Mahatma basically started for two (slightly stupid) reasons. I got locked out of my Reason 4 program – which I used mostly to make the Big Knives stuff – as a result of my disc drive breaking, and my friend Spurge showed me onto Ableton, which was a lot easier to record live instruments with. Hence Big Knives being more synth-y, Mahatma using more live bass/guitar/keys. Second, it’s pretty easy to find vocal samples and tags saying “Mahatma,” since the epithet was popularized in modern times by Mahatma Ghandi. Mahatma also roughly means ‘great soul’ in Sanskrit, which I dig because I feel like this music just sort of happens organically and speaks more to our inner selves, and at least for me, more than my older stuff. It’s a way to project that realness is relative depending on who emanates it, where they’re from, and what they’re about. For us, it’s a group, an identity, a mindset, and the sort of way we do things in general.
What are your future plans as a producer?
Well, to produce! I’m working on a sort of split EP with my boy Astronaut Club from back in Philadelphia. Right now the main goal is to release this next tape/album that we’ve been working on over winter break, which is definitely of a more chilled-out vibe than the last one and reminiscent of A Mobtown Suite vol. 1. We’ve just announced the release date as March 17th, and it will probably be around 18-19 songs.
What do you think of the St Andrews music scene?
Ummm hahaha….not too much..There’s definitely a strong DJ “scene”….no doubt about that. I would love to see more of a live music vibe though. I know there are people out there that make some sweet music like Kitan and Charles Field. Music is Love definitely does some pretty cool nights too with acoustic performances and bands. I didn’t get a chance to go to those ‘atb’ nights but they seemed cool and definitely in the right direction. I can’t really say I do too much music outside of the live storytelling performances I do with It’s a Wise Child, though. I feel that the platform that is required for a good night of live music – like trying out something new and giving people a chance – can be hard to reach for a lot in this town.
And finally, what is your St Andrews….
The Vic or The Lizard?
Probably neither but I would say the Lizard just cause I’ve had a better time djing there, though music can get pretty dire…except for Groove!!!
Union (cheap pints, yo) or the Criterion. And in Philly, shout out to the Brexel hookah lounge. Brexel boys you know who you are.
Favourite place to get coffee?
I drink mine at home but Old Union Diner Cafe is pretty swell.
Any Raisin Stories?
A man who shall not be named smashed a bottle of Buckfast against my living room wall last year’s raisin…other than that nothing too out of the ordinary for St. Andrews.
Dream Venue 1 lineup?
I have a hard time thinking about my “all time best concert”, but lets go with Outkast, Madlib, and Knxwledge since they’re all at least still playing.
Questions: Charlie Jaco