“HE SAID “DO YOU WANT TO COME TO EDC?” …
I SAID “WHAT IS THAT?“”
“It’s In Vegas”. Logan Light was of course referring to Electric Daisy Carnival while speaking to Alex Seaver for the first time when their dads, former college roommates, introduced them in 2011. However you want to look at it, their introduction, whether fate or pure circumstance, was serendipitous and life-changing at the same time. “I didn’t know a single thing…We walked up to Vegas and it was Swedish House Mafia, and my response was, “What the fuck is this?”” says Alex Seaver, sitting in the green room at Irving Plaza in New York before the final show on Mako’s 2018 Breathe Tour.
That’s how Mako started in 2011, as the two recent graduates were thrust headlong into the scene at one of the largest electronic festivals in the United States. Seaver, a classically-trained French horn player by way of full scholarship at the esteemed Juilliard School in New York, had recently moved to Los Angeles to score films and television in Hollywood. Logan Light had recently graduated from The University of Michigan with a degree in Communications, and was in LA trying to make a career out of DJing and producing electronic music.
There at EDC, surrounded by iconic artists like Tiesto, Skrillex, Steve Aoki, and Calvin Harris, Seaver was immediately captivated by this new musical world.
“Seeing the relationship of artist to kids, rather than what I was doing, which was concert hall to silhouettes of old people – it was just like holy cow – I had never felt this way with my peers around music. There’s something communal about it, but still beautiful, epic, cinematic. I started listening to the chords, listening to melodies. And then the idiot in me thought, you know, “Oh, I can write that.””
“Beam” by Mako & Dannic:
From there, Seaver and Light formed Mako, a duo that burst onto the scene in 2013 with progressive house anthem “Beam”, a song that has heavy influences from Logan Light’s electronic background. While a phenomenal song and one that has amassed more than 50 million streams since its release, Mako needed a way to set themselves apart.
“ONE THING I NOTICED LIVING IN LOS ANGELES IS THAT EVERY SINGLE DJ WOULD COME TO TOWN AND NEEDED VOCALS. EVERY SINGLE ONE.”
At the time in electronic music, feature artists were scarce, and a high-profile collaboration could change the fortune of an artist instantly. “At first, when we were trying to get Mako moving forward, we were asking ourselves “How do we rise above the noise, or get noticed?” One thing I noticed living in Los Angeles is that every single DJ would come to town and needed vocals. Every single one.” As a Juilliard-educated artist familiar with composition and songwriting, Seaver figured the easiest way in would be to do the writing for them and carve his way into work with some of the electronic industry’s biggest names. The only problem? Seaver himself wasn’t a trained singer, and didn’t know any male vocalists for the songs he was writing.
“I needed to record a song with a guy vocal, and I didn’t have anybody in my studio. So I tracked it myself, auto-tuned the bejeezus out of it, and just sent it out assuming that if we got it, somebody would go ‘Okay great, let’s get a different singer now.’ I got the ‘Okay, great’ and then I never heard anything about replacing the singer. I didn’t tell anybody it was me. That was just the song we’d put out, and it was a song we eventually released, called “Way Back Home”. I think just sneaking one in the gate like that kind of encouraged me to try a couple more.”
Once Seaver realized Mako’s ability to write and sing on tracks was both unique and desirable, the idea became transformational for the project. “As soon as I started to realize that it was something we could offer that no other DJ could offer, that became really the pivotal moment…There’s 80 million DJs that can produce so much better sounds than I can, so much more aggressive, or beautiful, or tight. But everybody’s voice is uniquely there own. So if we could turn it up to be about that, I think it’d be really special.”
The group’s next official release would be exactly what they needed to cement their identity. The duo released “Our Story” as the first published track featuring Seaver’s own vocals. Since it’s release and over 30 million streams later, “Our Story” is what Seaver describes as a fan favorite. “For me, I write from what I know, and what I know is sort of an emotional angle on innocence and loss of innocence. Beauty, and love, all of the things that swirl around my own life…I’ve had a really beautiful life, so those are the things I write about. I think there’s a universal aspect to those feelings for our generation especially. I wrote that song in a style that has a sing-a-long rhythm to it so that people can really chant along with it…Having it also connect with people still to this day – I mean, we close with it, it’s one of our strongest songs – it’s a really cool feeling”.
“Our Story (Hourglass Finale):
Once the pivot was made to focus on Seaver’s singing and songwriting, the identity of Mako changed, as did life circumstances for the duo. Logan, the turntable savvy other-half of Mako, decided to return to New York to pursue a law degree, something that he began in 2014. While in New York, Light stayed on the Mako project, building their festival and club DJ sets, and guiding Seaver’s production over their debut album, Hourglass, which released in 2016.
“Around the time he was finishing law school, I was getting really into bands and singing more, really taking more of a frontman role.”, says Seaver while describing the process of Mako’s changing identity. “We made Hourglass, and at the time we released it and kind of thought about performing and touring off of it. It just didn’t feel like DJ music. It felt like a band, a hybrid thing. So we tried it. Logan came out for a couple of dates, but he doesn’t play any instruments, so we just had him do shakers and stuff.” Light’s role in Mako had always been one that revolved around Mako’s live DJ sets, and with the shift toward a live band rather than DJing, his role had become less clear, and Mako was at a crossroads.
“I Won’t Let You Walk Away” feat. Madison Beer:
Having passed the Bar in 2016, and following an offer from Jones Day, the largest and top-ranked Law Firm in the United States, Light stepped away from Mako in early 2017 on excellent terms with Seaver, to focus full-time on his legal career away from music. Leaving the project’s creative control and the identity of Mako in Seaver’s capable hands, Alex then became the sole face of Mako as he finished out the remaining Hourglass Tour dates in spring of 2017.
While losing Light was certainly new, Seaver did note that Mako’s creative process remained unchanged, as he’s been the only producer for the project from its outset. Mako might have missed Light’s energy and DJing prowess, but the core of Mako’s capabilities remained intact.What Light’s departure did give Seaver was the opportunity to steer Mako’s sound in whichever direction he wanted to take it.
“I FIND THAT THERE’S A LOT OF INTIMACY IN ORGANIC INSTRUMENTS, AND A LOT OF HUMANITY IN THE IMPERFECTIONS OF ORGANIC INSTRUMENTS.”
After spending time following the 2017 tour creatively reconfiguring Mako’s future identity, Mako released its first single as a solo act, “Breathe”. The single is one that further pushed Mako into new territories, as it’s mid-tempo, driving indie beat, and creative percussive elements are put on center stage along with Seaver’s seductive, airy vocals.
Listen to “Breathe”:
Describing how “Breathe” fit into his vision for Mako moving forward, Seaver revealed that it was styled in a way that was personally motivated. “The ultimate interest was to make a pop record that sounded like a pop record, but using almost exclusively organic instruments. For me, there’s something so personal about a lonely guitar in a room with a voice over the top of it. You can communicate authenticity in a way that’s really cool. I find that there’s a lot of intimacy in organic instruments, and a lot of humanity in the imperfections of organic instruments.” That style was very different than the calculated and mechanized methodology Mako had previously been fashioned with prior to the release of Hourglass and “Breathe”.
Following the release of the single was the announcement of a massive 33-show tour supporting the new single and the Hourglass album, while featuring a full live band. Working with a band instead of a turntable, though, has taken some adjusting. He explained that playing the set live has been, and still is a work in progress. “I was really terrified on the Hourglass Tour, singing for the first time. We’re lucky to have some amazing musicians with us that were brought along for the Breathe Tour too. It’s just different performing as a DJ, versus performing with a band on stage. The first tour was a lot of adjusting, and this tour has been a lot about really flexing and getting comfortable out there.”
Playing music live also presented the challenge of disassembling tracks that were originally made entirely on a computer, in order to fit the songs within the confines of tangible band instruments. “It’s not the smoothest process,” he says while trying to find the right words to describe the laborious effort of assigning parts to band members. “There’s a lot of creative remixing being done. Some songs are straight up off the record, they sound just like they [are written]. Sometimes there’s special versions that sound better with this ensemble.”
Luckily for Seaver, working with his band offers him more than able-bodied hands alone. When his wingman left, he lost his feedback loop in relation to Mako’s music. He regained that through the live band, explaining “The nice thing about having musicians that are this good is that they give me input because it’s foreign for me. I didn’t grow up with bands, I grew up with orchestras.”
“AT JUILLIARD, YOU’RE NOT TRAINED FOR ANYTHING ELSE. IT’S LIKE COMING OUT OF PRISON.”
When you look from the outside, rewriting stage parts for a live band is not where Alex Seaver was supposed to end up. Seaver admits that his original plans were to move to LA and pursue a career in film-scoring. An endorsement and scholarship from the ASCAP gave him that opportunity, and he all but threw it away to invest his time and effort into Mako.
“This could have easily never existed for me.” he admits. “It could’ve never crossed my path, but it just happened to at a weird point in my life where I quit playing French horn. I was at Juilliard, and I graduated – you’re not trained for anything else. It’s like coming out of prison. You have no skillset to enter the workforce. I just threw it away…I don’t know what about it hooked me, but when you’re a creative person, I think you can’t deny it, and you should never stifle that. You should always pursue it.”
He didn’t throw all of his learnings away, though. As a classically trained musician, Seaver used his advanced musical ear and formal training to easily pick up on the makeup of the music he would then attempt to create. “I can break down rhythm, harmony, melody, form, all that stuff. I can break it down immediately, I can hear it quickly. The arrangements are not a symphony, it’s just a three and a half minute track.” But he quickly found that Juilliard couldn’t teach him everything, and that the underpinnings of electronic music were more nuanced than he had initially grasped.
“THERE WERE SOME THINGS THAT WERE VERY FOREIGN. IT’S LIKE A WHOLE NEW WORLD FIGURING THAT OUT.”
Learning to make electronic music, in his own words, has been a journey. Electronic music’s traditional lack of dynamics or complexity forced Seaver to try and unlearn the training he’s worked so hard at over the course of his youth. “It’s humiliating, and really frustrating. When you can hear advanced levels of music, like when I go to the Metropolitan Opera, or go to Carnegie and see the Berlin Philharmonic, my ears are tuned to hear music. So when you forsake whatever you’re doing, and start with dummy instruments, you know the entire journey how bad you are.”
He expanded, “The stuff that was brand new to me was frequency, sub-bass, grooves, choice of drums, pace – a lot of stuff that is inherent in music, but wasn’t inherent in classical music…There were some things that were very foreign. It’s like a whole new world figuring that out.”
Simplifying the way he thinks about his creative process has been a process in and of itself. “There is a huge element of dumbing it down… I could think forever about how interesting the chord progression is, or what the voice singing is. But when you get down to it, I think the most successful creators are brilliant and they can turn off certain switches in their brain at certain parts of the process, and that’s what I really want to learn to get great at.”
Being able to pull inspiration and perspective from various domains has given Seaver the chance to imagine music in ways that few others are capable of. He credits EDM and his orchestral background, saying “All the work I do with EDM gives me such a different perspective on how I score films, now, and how I write, and design sounds. That gives me such a different perspective on writing songs, and what people in their every day are listening to, and how people interact with music generally”. He’d also like to see more convergence between the two worlds, and reveres the artists who are capable of bringing them together tastefully.
“We need to find to the people that can create those sounds, like use the cello in a way that sounds modern…That’s what’s going to bring people back in and get people acquainted. That’s a goal for me too, to be one of the many artists out there that are starting to reacquaint people with that stuff.”
Whatever direction Seaver takes Mako, it’s clear that he’s both technically capable, and has the learner’s mindset required to continue to adapt and enhance his craft. While Mako is currently his main project, that doesn’t stop him from envisioning his future as an artist, though. Going back to his roots and circling back on his original career plan to create scores is something that he hasn’t forgotten about.
“It’s always been in the back of my head that I want to end up there, and I still absolutely do.” Envisioning the pinnacle of success in his eyes, he described, “The real goal for me and the prize would be, you know, twenty years from now, to have a bunch of albums under my belt, and be writing scores. That would be it. That’s really where I’m lightly pushing everything.”
“Legends Never Die”, The League of Legends Theme that Mako ScoreD:
“I love the idea of being really solid at a lot of different varieties of music, then later in my career, start to blossom with everything,” he continues, painting a picture of the journey ahead. Branching out in new ways with Mako seems more than appropriate for Seaver, having already taught himself the intricacies of EDM from scratch, and having flipped Mako’s sound on its head with Hourglass and “Breathe”. There’s no doubt he’s both capable and ambitious enough to continue to keep Mako’s music fresh and relevant.
“Music is always going to move on, and things are going to come and go from style” he says as he discusses balancing commercial influences when making his music. “The eternal warfare is between making commercial things versus cinematic-style things. But I think you can probably expect a healthy interchange of both of those kinds of styles going forward for Mako.”
At the end of the day, though, Seaver, a musical renaissance man who fell into the world of EDM by accident, says that he makes the music for his fans. “These are my people, these are my fans. This is what’s working for them. I know why [its] working, because I know where I was when I made it. I wasn’t in a commercial place, so I wasn’t strategizing…The one thing I really want to deliver is just more things that will make these people happy. Because that’s the end-all for me. If it works commercially, that’s obviously really great for a lot of reasons, and it helps keep things going. But, the reason we got into it was for this. So it only makes sense to sustain it that way.”
You can listen to my full interview on SoundCloud and Youtube: