T.H.E Interview – Illuminertia

Illuminertia interview

Illuminertia is the creation of Eric Mantras, a multimedia producer and sound engineer. He is a multi-instrumentalist and audio-visual alchemist who’s released over 20 full-length albums throughout his career thus far.

His songs have made the top of the bilboard charts in two categories and he has performed on and engineered track with many world-class musicians. Some of his most notable collaborations have been with grammy award winning Bubba Jones, Eark Harvin, Seasunz, Salar Nader and Rob Shrock a grammy award winning pianist who’s performed on countless hit albums that have been playing on the radio over the past few decades.

We spoke to him about his brand new album – Mystery School, and his musical background. Read our chat below!

T.H.E – Hey Eric! Welcome to T.H.E – Music Essentials. How has 2019 kicked off for you?

Illuminertia – Big thanks for having me. I appreciate what you guys are doing for music and dance culture. Is it really 2019 already? I swear no matter what year it is I’ll always be searching for that hot drum beat that was banging in a lot of the good soulful hip hop albums in the ’90s. Certain sounds are just more timeless than others if you ask me. 2019 started off with a show called The New Bohemia NYE 2019 at The Mint in San Francisco. That’s where I unleashed the Mystery School album was dropped in front of a live audience for the first time. The place is a trip because it used to be where is the city’s financial stuff was handled during the gold rush, but now it’s this epic space where cutting edge music events happen. It was a great honor to perform there with the Opulent Chill crew, and the entire event was put on by Opel. The Vaud De Vire circus performers were there as well so that made the event really bonkers from a visual standpoint. There were dance troupes, stilt walkers, freaks, belly dancers and a bunch of wild costumes. Imagine a little slice of the burning man taken into an indoor urban setting with huge Greek columns and Moroccan style decor. It was definitely something that I’ll never forget.

T.H.E – Let’s talk about your alias – Illuminertia. What does it mean, and how did it all begin for you?

Illuminertia – Illuminertia is a fairly cool word that I made up and trademarked. I wanted to come up with a unique alias that wasn’t already in use on the search engines. It was born out of the Secret Studios, a noisy and rather cramped rehearsal space in San Francisco which is actually just around the block from the Mint SF. We were holding rehearsals there with a core group, and other bay area musicians a couple times a week. We even had the legendary Salar Nader (protégé of Zakir Hussain) swing through with his tablas on occasion. Side note he’s one of the nicest, most humble and talented musicians I’ve ever met in my life. It was a creative hub for us at the time, and a place where we would prepare for any shows that were coming up. It was electronic beats mixed with live percussion and a variety of other acoustic elements. There was a global influence on the sound because the musicians I was connecting with there played various styles of music from all around the world. One day when we preparing for a show at the exotic Bissap Baobab club in the Mission District I came up with the name. Essentially it’s a made-up word that has a couple of different meanings for me, and I think that it could mean something different for each person who explores the music for themselves. I was looking for something that was an antithesis to the fear-based society that was surrounding me. Basically, I wanted it to represent something that was a catalyst for joy, self-discovery and positive transformation to the world. Take one look at the state of the U.S. and it’s very obvious I’m not doing my job. I need to try harder.

T.H.E – How best would you define your sounds?

Illuminertia – I like to pull from a large array of musical inspiration and talent so it really does depend on the album you’re referring to. I’ve worked with many different artists who come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some of these artists play multiple instruments, and I feel like each player brings their own personality to the mix. Govinda’s violin playing on the first Mystery School track definitely brings a strong gypsy vibe to the mix. Evan Fraser plays the Ngoni on the title track of the Mystery School album. That song ended up being one of the very first releases on the new Ecstatic Dance record label. Evan plays more world instruments than anyone I’ve ever seen before. It’s a massive array of sonic possibilities when that guy shows up on a track. Spending the past 15 years in the SF bass music scene has certainly influenced the sound. Back in 2004, I used to spend every Sunday at the Dub Mission in SF. DJ Sep and all the other amazing dub artists who performed there had a huge impact on me and the style of music that I wanted to create myself. You’ll hear a strong dub influence on the second track off the new album called “Free The World”. That track features some great trumpet moments by Portland-based musician Saqi as well. At this point, Illuminertia has become an ever-evolving collective of musicians from all around the world doing their thing over the musical foundation that I lay down in the studio. Collaboration in the creation station really is my favorite aspect of all of it.

T.H.E – You have released over 20 full-length albums in your career. How do you ensure that each album is different from the others?

Illuminertia – It’s funny, that you ask that question. The big thing about music marketing is having a specific genre that you can put your tracks under. For a while, one of my biggest challenges was that my recordings were so different from one another that is was hard to tell they were even from the same project. One of my goals over the last several years has been to make more theme-oriented albums that are a little easier for everyone to wrap their head around. People like neat little packages. Later on, I even reorganized my whole catalog of tracks and placed them into more genre specific digital archives. If my style is anything it’s eclectic. Sometimes marketing people don’t like that and I understand why. It’s easier for fans to identify something and say I like it, I love it, and I want more of it. Probably better if I just say I make dance music now. If you type in Electric Living Universe in a search engine you’ll get to hear the rock collection. That album features bass playing by Bubba Jones the touring bassist of the Digable Planets. Even though he played in a legendary hip hop group he was also really into making rock music apparently. I learned a ton about sound engineering from that guy. The Sound of Tao is a more meditative album you do Tai Chi or Qi Gong to. After all the musical experiences I’ve been through now I tend to see music as a limitless playground for big kids where anything is possible. In my opinion, we have so many production tools at our fingertips these days it’s hard not to explore all the possibilities that exist. That being said I love making music that people can dance to. The past decade has been a lot about producing music that makes you want to move. I have been producing tracks more geared towards the ecstatic dance community over the past few years. There’s a spiritual, heart-centered element to it that I actually really like as well. It’s a cool opportunity, because it’s a dynamic omni-tempo musical experience which I really love producing. I do believe that the dynamics, arrangement, spirit, and soul are some of the key ingredients found in music that stands the test of time.

T.H.E – Talk us through your process of producing an album. How is it conceptualized?

Illuminertia – With today’s production tools you can really go in any direction with music so I find it helps to pick a theme and direction when approaching a new record. First, I get inspired by listening to other artists that make me want to bob my head. Then I jump into the creation station and start crafting tracks that I feel really good about before I even begin inviting other talents into the mix. For Mystery School, I had a handful of tracks that were already making me feel all the way live in the studio by myself before I even reached out to the other musicians. Lately, I tend to like working with one musician at a time in the studio because that way it’s a bit easier to focus. Also, I am technically able to bust out an album by myself, but that can get a bit lonesome. It’s nice to get other creatives involved so that I’m not so isolated in the space station. Each album comes together differently. Sometimes I start a track with the Rhodes piano. Other times I make a beat first, and then lay some guitars, keyboards, lyrics or melodica over the top. I really want to get a new fender bass soon, and start making more electric bass-driven songs. Sometimes I’ll just start with a poem. Approaching songs from different angles usually produces unique results.

T.H.E – Your latest album – Mystery School, what does it signify, and how long was it in the works?

Illuminertia – I started making the beats for Mystery School about a year ago. It’s one of the biggest collaborative achievements of my life because of all the super talented souls I was able to sync up with on the recording. Having Olivia Curry, Govinda, Evan Fraser, Heartwurkz, Fllow, Ahmed and Jef Stott all together on one album is a real dream come true for me. I swear I had Govinda in my car for like 6 months straight one time. He was way ahead of his time. Listening to his album Worlds Within changed my life and gave me a totally different perspective on what is possible with using acoustic instruments like violins layered on top of electronic music. Evan Fraser is a monster of a musician who plays in a couple of my all time favorite bands like Beats Antique, Stellamara, and Dogon Lights. Having him in the mix was a huge honor. Jef Stott has been releasing tracks on the legendary Six Degrees record label for over a decade. One of the main reason I migrated to San Francisco to make music was that of the incredible sounds I heard coming out that label. To top it off one of my all-time favorite visionary artists Olivia Curry worked with me on the album cover. We have to understand that is an artist who worked on the sets for the Marvel smash hit Black Panther. I’m just so grateful that I was able to be a part of this collective effort to make something cool. I really do have massive respect for all of the artists who put their time and energy into the production.

T.H.E – Which song was the toughest to create?

Illuminertia – Every recording has its own set of obstacles. However, figuring out how to capture some of the amazing Turkish instruments that Jef Stott brought into the studio was a unique challenge for sure. A lot of the challenge with sound engineering comes during the editing process when you’re trying to sculpt the acoustic instrumentation so that it moves in a dynamic way over the top of the rhythm section. Having soulful acoustic elements mixed in with the electronic dance music is critical in my eyes.

T.H.E – We are extremely big fans of ‘Unified Universe’ with Govinda. How did it come about, and what samples did you use for the track, if any?

Illuminertia – Thanks so much for the love! I honestly crafted the beat with my homie Fllow in the studio. We came up with the idea of making a cosmic trap with 808 drums and that provided the foundation for the song. I crafted the beat using MIDI arrangements and Fllow played the guitar dubs. Later on, after I felt the track was solid enough I invited my musical hero Govinda to lace the track with his magic. I was overjoyed when he agreed to do it, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

T.H.E – Lastly, what can you tell us about your plans for 2019?

Illuminertia – Ultimately, I’m always looking for more opportunities to collaborate with others in any way possible. I’ve got two really dope well known female vocalists on deck for the next production. I’d love to drop this album in front of more audiences first though. Next show is going to be at the revolutionary new interactive art space and venue called Onedome. I’d also like to get more involved in music for the film. Right now I’m really focused on generating an entirely new way of sharing my music with the world. It seems there’s just so much out there these days. There are so many DJ’s and producers. Which is great but it’s kind of important to distinguish yourself these days as an artist. I can’t go into too much detail about it yet, but I will say it’s going to be something spawned out of the farthest reaches of the imagination and I can’t wait to share it with the world.

Download the album here.


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