FaltyDL on Videogames, the Afterlife, Sexuality and Sobriety

Andrew Parks

By Andrew Parks

on 08.12.14 in Features

Drew Lustman wasn’t that nervous when he met Thom Yorke, but that was mostly because the mythic frontman made him feel right at home: He burrowed his forehead into Lustman’s shoulder, like a bear cub nuzzling its mother. Supporting Tom Jenkinson’s pivotal Squarepusher project a few years ago, however, was another story — a rare instance of the rising producer feeling starstuck. Or maybe a better word is dumbfounded.

“Remember when that reporter at the Grammys had a stroke in the middle of an interview?” asks Lustman. “It was like that. Tom was like, ‘You all right mate?’ It was very funny.”

It also says a lot about how the New Haven native sees his work as FaltyDL fitting into the artful, more-than-just-dance-music space held by heroes like Squarepusher, Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin. Rather than simply delivering the occasional anthem via Soundcloud or club-calibrated 12-inches, Lustman has the long view in mind. He releases singles when he’s feeling inspired, sure, but the ever-evolving concept of FaltyDL is much more gratifying when it comes to albums like In the Wild.

Aside from its twitchy lead single “Do Me” — which starts with a lovely melody and stumbles into a stuttering, mix-ready mating call — the record is something you need to devote an hour to in order to fully appreciate, piecing the samples and synths together like puzzle pieces. Meanwhile, he’s worked with British artist Chris Shen on an audiovisual project that literally drops tracks from the album “in the wild,” from a New York City subway populated by pop-locking dancers to a lonely page on Pornhub.

“It’s all about getting out of your head,” explains Lustman. “You know what’s funny? I saw The Matrix and my take-home was ‘alternate realities through drugs.’ It wasn’t, ‘Oh, this is a cool, fun action movie,’ it was, ‘Maybe if I smoke enough pot, I can be in the Matrix.’ So I did it, and I saw The Matrix, and it was crazy.”

Lustman and his friends used to call that phenomenon “tripping vision,” the point in a mind-expanding drug experience where everything seems to be covered in scales and silver, unlike anything that exists on this astral plane. He’s been sober for years outside the occasional drink or smoke, however, the result of a turning point in his late teens that both terrified and shaped him. In the following interview, we dig into all of this on a much deeper level, revealing the real-life stories behind FaltyDL’s consistently inconsistent — refreshingly, the Brooklyn-based producer never sticks to one sound or scene — back catalog.

I heard this album was loosely inspired by video games and the afterlife. Is that true?

Video games have been the last remnants of my childhood in a way. I feel like I’m digressing when I’m playing, because I’ll sink six hours into a game on a Tuesday afternoon and be like, “I probably should have done that remix I was supposed to deliver today.”

There’s a level of guilt when you play then?

It’s right up there with masturbation.

Because you’re over 30 right now and should be doing your “job”?

Right. I decided the other day that I think I figured out how to make a living off my passion — music — and now I’d like to figure out how to do that off video games.

Did you play games a lot as a kid?

I did. My parents definitely used the TV as a form of babysitter. They both had busy jobs; they were doctors and teachers, so they would sit me in front of the TV and it became my friend. The same with my sister. We had Nintendo when it came out in 1985, or whatever. I don’t know where I go in my head when I play them, but I’m very happy when I do. That’s for sure.

What’s one you got really lost in?

The game Shenmue, on Dreamcast when I was 17.

Dreamcast? I didn’t know anyone who had that.

Yeah, I got it just to play that game because I saw an amazing trailer for it. It takes place over a year in Japan, and the weather is how it was that day in [1986 and 1987]. Like August 3 was 98 degrees and 37 percent humidity. It’s a very funny, weird thing; I hadn’t seen that in a game yet. I was trying to complete the game before the cherry tree blossoms in front of my house [bloomed]. Just these beautiful concepts I got really lost in. It was at a time when I was 17 and basically going down a pretty bad path with drugs and alcohol. I got into a lot of trouble, then I cleaned up, and in my cleaning up, I found that video game. It really saved me for a while. I felt like my brain was literally healing itself from the amount of abuse I put on it.


Were drugs a problem in your family before?

Well, I found out, late in life, that my grandparents’ generation was rife with that shit. But it’s not spoken about much. Which is interesting, because I’m at a point where my parents are in their late 60s and I’m trying to figure out more about what makes me and them tick. Why am I this way in relationships? Why do I act this way toward drugs and alcohol? All these questions, you know? And I want to figure it out before they become unreachable. Like my dad’s been sick, and he had a stroke. He’s had a miraculous recovery but…

Strokes are terrifying since they can leave someone not being able to talk at all.

Right. He couldn’t talk in the hospital for three days. He was just writing bullshit, and I was like, “Fucking hell.”

Was it out of the blue too?

Well his mother had a few, so it’s in the family, I guess. And I know he didn’t take good care of himself. But I never thought that would happen to him. He was kind of indestructible, you know? Just my dad — “He’s just going to get really old and that’s it.” But that was scary.

Were you there when it happened?

No. I was here in New York and he’s in New Haven, so it wasn’t that far. I got the call and I went to the hospital that night. But my thinking is, the next one’s really going to kick his ass if it happens.

Do you feel like the clock is ticking in terms of talking to him?

Yeah. And I’m trying to not be angry at him for other stuff. I can be angry, but it’d be a better use of my time to figure out more about him and my lineage. It’s a weird thing.

Angry because he was so consumed with his work and you never got to know him?

That’s pretty good. My dad ran a VA hospital in West Haven, so he’d get home around 8, eat with us, exercise in the basement, and go to bed.

‘My ambivalence toward putting a genre name on something is the same as my ambivalence toward putting a sexual preference on someone, or a spiritual or religious belief.’

He probably felt like he needed alone time the second he got home.

Absolutely. Here’s the thing: I get that. I have that quality from him. And my mom’s the complete opposite. She’s the neediest person I’ve ever met. So I’m a mix of the two — I need my alone time, but I also need people around me, at arm’s length. Which can send a mixed signal. I’ve had problems with relationships and friendships because of that. My cousin teases me; he’ll be like, “Oh, you’re doing a Nancy. And now you’re doing a Jeff.”

I feel like my albums are articulating a bit of that, in not-so-clear terms. My ambivalence toward putting a genre name on something is the same as my ambivalence toward putting a sexual preference on someone, or a spiritual or religious belief. People have been asking me that blanket question, “What’s this album about?” And I say, “Sexuality.” They’ll be like, “But what does that mean?” I don’t really know. I’m still figuring it out.

Where does that come from? Were you not brought up to be accepting of people with other sexual preferences?

No, it was the opposite. My mother is a leading researcher and analyst in transgenderism. Most of her patients are transgendered kids.

She helps them transition?

Yeah — kids and adults. She’s next level. I’ve read her papers; they’re incredible. She’s very forward-thinking about that.

Was she doing that when you were younger too?

No. When I was younger, I was sorta fucking around with drugs in my room, my sister was in her room, my father was away at the hospital all day long, and my mother was dealing with herself. It was a very independent group; there was no family core.

When I go with my girlfriend to Spain, I hang out with her family and it’s the total opposite. She cuts her dad’s hair, she washes her mom’s hair, they take care of her grandmother, there’s four generations in the house. At first, I was like, “Uh.”

Almost like disgust.

Yeah, I just didn’t know what to do with that. But I was jealous. Now I’m like, “This is so beautiful; it’s amazing.” I go there, I let my guard down, and I hang out with this family. It’s really cool.

Is your sister older or younger than you?

She’s older. But it’s funny; I think I got us both into trouble, then I got us both out of it. I fully cleaned up just before I turned 18.

‘I don’t drink because I don’t like the physical feeling of being drunk. I do know that I don’t need to see what Oxycontin feels like again.’

On your own, or did you go to rehab?

No, I did all that: detox, rehab, AA for about seven years. And then I slowly made the decision in my mid 20s of “What is my new relationship with these things?” When I first moved to New York I was still sober, for all intents and purposes. Then I had a drink or two and was like, “Oh, nothing bad happened. This is cool.” But I don’t drink because I don’t like the physical feeling of being drunk. I do know that I don’t need to see what Oxycontin feels like again.

Did your parents help you with your recovery? Or did they wash their hands of it because they didn’t know much about addiction?

They didn’t wash their hands of it. I think they handled it as best as a parent could.

Were they shocked because of the distance that was there between you and them?

Yeah. It was a wakeup call for everyone. Definitely. That’s why I don’t want to be angry at them anymore. It is what it is. If my kid comes to me with a problem in the future, I think I’ll handle it a little bit differently.

How so?

Did you see that Louie episode where he gives his daughter a hug at the end? Well, that was dope. That was really fucking right, Louie; you really nailed that. Be her friend.

Instead of just shouting?

Yeah. Instead of being, “That’s bad!” Is it bad? It’s almost legal. Give it the right context, you know? It’s the same thing with music.

What was the area you grew up in like?

I grew up in New Haven proper, five minutes outside of downtown. If you go to Yale, it’s a great place to be, but if not, you kinda want to get out of there. You either go to Boston or New York, because it’s in the middle of there.

I was there recently and noticed a lot of poverty when you get outside the school area, too.

I mean, there’s a reason New Haven keeps making that list every year, just beneath Baltimore, as one of the most fucked-up places in the world. Because there’s all this focus and money placed on these castles at Yale and everything outside that is struggling so much — gun violence, poverty, all that.

But you weren’t around that as much were you?

I witnessed a lot of that actually.

Because those areas were close to you?

That’s the thing — you drive through it. Or I’d sometimes park there and smoke weed with crackheads or whatever.

Did you romanticize it as this other world you weren’t a part of?

No, because that was dangerous. I always knew that was a fucked-up place for anyone to be, including myself. So that wasn’t the fantasy. The drug fantasy was more the rock star thing. I wanted to be a rock star from a young age.

What fucked-up rock star did you idolize then?

I really looked up to Kurt Cobain.

And you couldn’t see how badly that ended?

No, because I was really young. And once I was full-on addicted, it fueled itself. It no longer was about idolizing anyone else. It was just something I gotta do now. But by the time I discovered electronic music, it was so much healthier. Like, Aphex Twin doesn’t have an air about him that’s druggy. It’s more of just a weird thing that’s cool: “Oh I can get down to this.”

So your changing musical tastes helped you clean up a bit?

They kinda did. And then I found out later how many drugs are in the club scene.

You had no idea about that?

No, because there’s no clubbing in New Haven.

What is there then? Hardcore?

Yeah, hardcore.


Right — Jamey Jasta, man. I have an old Marshall stack head from the band he was in before Hatebreed. I don’t know how I got that. But yeah, Toad’s Place was this great venue bands would play in between New York and Boston. I saw all of Wu-Tang there, a lot of hip-hop, a lot of reggae. I was also into classic rock because any radio station there plays the same five songs over and over — Led Zeppelin, Cream and all of that shit.

Did your parents teach at Yale?

They were big in the child studies center at the psychology department. But I was different; after high school I taught at a preschool for three years, then I was a sushi chef for a year, and I washed dishes, and I did construction and demolition. Then I moved to New York and was part-time at City College, trying to get a degree in sonic arts. Which was super boring. My classmate was Baauer. Neither of us had released a record yet. We were just friends in the back row, goofing off.

‘Teaching kids stretches your frustration levels and tests your patience, especially when you’re dealing with weird parents. My study halls would turn into me teaching the kids how to moonwalk.’

Was that class a way of being introduced to sound design?

For me, it was a good excuse to come to New York. I also had a good part-time job teaching at Friends Seminary, the Quaker school in the East Village. My friend was the principal there, so I was doing that, and going to City College but not paying attention. I dropped out eventually, as I slowly got signed to Planet Mu. Then I just did teaching and once I started getting enough gigs, I stopped entirely.

You didn’t need a teaching degree to be at that Quaker school?

No, because it was a private school and I was substitute teaching. I’d do, like, recess, lunch and study hall, but I’d also fill in for fifth-grade science or math. And these were bright kids. I taught Julianne Moore’s kids. Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman’s kid was in my class. So I’d see these people pick up their kids at the end of the day, which was wild. I love teaching.

What do you love about it?

It scratches a different itch. It feels like a less selfish job, because it’s so tough. Teaching kids stretches your frustration levels and tests your patience, especially when you’re dealing with weird parents. My study halls would turn into me teaching the kids how to moonwalk. I remember Julianne Moore was outside the door waiting for her son once, just looking at me. She smiled and I was like, “Hey, your mom’s here!” She was cool man, such a good mother — just on it — while other mothers would come in with a full entourage.

How did teaching preschool full-time compare to that?

Well you can have much better conversations with kids who are 14. You can have fun conversations with a 4-year-old, but it’s got a limit. The preschool was very fulfilling, though. That’s around the same time FaltyDL was taking off too. I had a version of [the recording software] Reason — the same one I use now — and I’d go home and try to sound like DJ Shadow.


‘I think I’m ambivalent about my own sexuality. I’m very much in love with a woman right now, but I’m very much attracted to all sorts of people.’

Going back to what you were talking about earlier, themes like gender are not something people are going to immediately get when listening to this album. Are you trying to express those ideas more subversively, like through the samples you chose? And does it carry over to the videos you made for the album?

Well the greater idea is In the Wild: Once I’ve created something and someone’s consumed it, whether it’s a stream on Spotify or they buy the album, it becomes their possession. I can no longer dictate how they enjoy it. So what I’m trying to highlight is how it’ll mean something different to everyone. For me, it’s 17 versions of me trying to crack my own code. Because I really go into my own onion. I try to peel it away and figure out what’s going on with myself. This album is my shield toward the world.

I’m pretty articulate, but music speaks volumes for me, much more than my words can. So the many ways it can be interpreted are like the many ways sexuality can be described. I think I’m ambivalent about my own sexuality. I’m very much in love with a woman right now, but I’m very much attracted to all sorts of people. Not in the sense that I want to sleep with them but…

You can see the beauty in different people.

Totally. And if I look back, that was always there. I just never consciously accepted that until a few years ago. I’m just glad I’m in a place where it’s OK for me to be that way. It feels like the highest level of evolution — to be bisexual. To me, that’s just genius, you know?

So the long answer is you’re getting a lot of these ideas out more for yourself than anything that’s as direct as the first single, “Do Me,” which is pretty self-explanatory.

Yeah, I think so. And that’s fine. All of it’s real, but part of it’s a story. Hardcourage was a love letter to this woman I was trying to win over, which was successful and epic. You Stand Uncertain was sorta the same thing I’m doing now — me not really knowing anything, sort of admitting my own lack of awareness about everything.

So now that you have what you wanted, you’re confused again?

Yeah [laughs]. “Is this what I really want?” That’s more along the lines of what I need to discuss with my dad. Do my issues with commitment and intimacy come from him? Or maybe I should just stop thinking about all of it.

Do you discuss all of this with your girlfriend?

Yeah, we talk about all this stuff. She’s definitely been like, “Look, if you’re gay, just tell me.” And I’m like, “I’m not! I’m so into you, girl.” But she’s also Spanish Catholic, so she has a whole different set of views. She’s not going to show her folks my video on Pornhub, you know?

But that video has nothing sexual going on in it.

Right, except for the fact that there’s a MILF ad next to it.

Is that the point — leaving it abstract?

That’s sort of it. Porn is entertainment. A lot of people enjoy it, so why not put something into that context and ask, “What’s the difference?” They’re both guilty pleasures.

‘I had an awakening in my early 20s where I realized I’m actually making people feel uncomfortable and it’s not always a great thing. Pushing buttons only goes this far.’

Were you also trying to tempt people who may have wanted to go to that site before but felt too ashamed to?

Yeah. Which I know is kinda fucked up, but it’s also kinda cool to put people in an uncomfortable situation. I’ve been doing that my whole life. My friends would always say “Drew’s got no filter; he says crazy shit!” I had an awakening with that in my early 20s where I realized I’m actually making people feel uncomfortable and it’s not always a great thing. Pushing buttons only goes this far.

So in other words, you’re not trying to just be funny?

None of it is trying to be funny per se, but it’s also not serious. I mean, it’s cool. I’d like the next video to drop on LiveLeak. I like the idea of you watching that video, and the next thing that comes up is a beheading video, or a Syrian missile attack. That shit’s real, you know? The other night I was in Tokyo and couldn’t get to sleep, so what did I do? I go on Digg and read 10 articles on the Malaysian plane crash, 10 articles on the guy getting choked by those cops on Staten Island, 10 articles about Gaza, and I’m just like, ‘Fucking hell!’

That’s pretty brutal.

It’s something I do sometimes. I don’t know man; I’ve got a lot going on right now.

You mentioned the afterlife before. How does that play into this album?

I’m a bit concerned, because I’m not convinced I’m going to grow old. Here’s the thing — every three or four years, I do something really stupid. Like, I’m about to go to Spain and ride a motorcycle for a month with my girlfriend and her dad. I’m not gonna die — I hope — but I’m going to get fucked up. That’s why I don’t own a motorcycle: because I know I’ll ride it really fast. I push things to the boundary all the time. I did it with drugs as a kid, and I’ve done it with cars and other things, like friendships.

You always need that sense of danger then?

Yeah. Like, I used to put my hand on the stove as a kid. When the coil would get red hot I’d go [puts hand on imaginary stove] and I’d have this blue thing for a week, then six months later, I’d do it again.

To bring yourself closer to the edge?

I have no impulse control. It’s gotten better as I’ve gotten older.

‘In getting sober there’s this whole underlying higher power thing. So I definitely got a spiritual connection, if you will, and it helped me believe in something for the first seven years of my sobriety.’

What’s the last stupid thing you did?

Sit on the back of my friend Ben’s motorcycle and go really fast. He didn’t even have a helmet on. So, the afterlife…I can’t think about it and not think of religion at the same time. That’s where it’s implanted in you. The Jewish belief I’ve always taken is there’s no hell. Or that you can go to hell for a limited time — for like 11 months, and then you go to heaven if you’re a good Jew. I got so resolutely against the idea of a god at one point. I wasn’t angry; I just thought, “Eh, not for me.” But in getting sober there’s this whole underlying higher power thing. So I definitely got a spiritual connection, if you will, and it helped me believe in something for the first seven years of my sobriety.

This was a long time ago?

In 2001, yeah. And I’m still aware of a conscious contact with a higher power. It’s gotten a little foggier but it’s something I think about.

And that’s not something your family discussed openly?

No. My dad wouldn’t even go into a temple or church. One time we got sent a cheap cross from a local church and it was on the kitchen table for about a month. I was like, “Dad, how have you not thrown that away yet?” “Oh, you don’t throw that away.” So he clearly had some fear in him. Here’s an object that means nothing to him and yet he won’t put it in the trash. I asked him if he wanted me to throw it away and he said, “If you want.” [Makes throwaway motion] “Look, we’re not burning!” But yeah, there’s a lot of fear involved.

How has your relationship with drugs and alcohol evolved?

Throughout my 20s, when most of my friends were discovering clubs, I was sort of over it because I’d partied so fucking hard until I was 18 and then got sober. There was no reason for me to go to a club at 23 and get wasted so when I first moved to New York, I’d go out with my friends for a little while and then when they went out [to clubs], I’d go home and make beats.

Was that lonely?

No, because I was very social; I’d go out until 10 or 11. I just didn’t need to go out until 3 a.m. and wake up the next day hungover.

Why didn’t you go out and just not touch that stuff?

I felt really tempted.

Moving back to music, do you feel like you don’t know your role in the scheme of things when it comes to electronic music?

No, I think I do. The trickle down has been huge; electronic music is massive. My record in Japan is killing it at the Tower Records there. It’s beating Plastikman, and beneath Hardwell, which is crazy to me. It’s just not that niche anymore, especially with worldwide distribution through Ninja Tune.

Are you still planning on putting an album out under your own name?

Yeah, the release schedule just got clogged up. There could be a record on [my label] Blueberry. I mean, I’ve got a couple hundred tracks. And I’ve put out records under another name this year too. Which has been fun, too.

How do you decide what’s under your own name or FaltyDL’s?

I’m not really concerned with that. Luke Vibert has done that really well: Kerrier District is disco, Plug is jungle, Wagon Christ is hip-hop, Luke Vibert is acid. Squarepusher is someone who hasn’t given a shit. He might be playing a kazoo with a couple records on his next record.

Was that classic Warp/IDM phase of music really important to you?

Yeah, it was huge. It’s so funny; people hate on that name — IDM — but whatever. They hate on the name trap now too.

‘I would love for this record to stretch their own imagination of what they enjoy about music. It’s very anti- what’s popular right now. Not on purpose; it just is.’

It sounds like you get a lot out of making electronic music.

Well I don’t go into the studio and say, “Today, I’m going to make a house track. It’s going to be at 160 BPM, because I need a track to play at the beginning of my sets.” I go in to my studio and I’m frustrated because of this or that, and all of that is consciously going into the music. Technically, I haven’t made leaps and bounds in terms of how I do it. I listen to records I love, I find a sample I like, and I start there — a little bit of magic to feed where I’m going now.

I’m coming at it from an emotional angle because I can’t turn off my brain from everything else. Music is an escape for me, but it’s also fueled by everything else that’s going on inside me.

If you could tell people exactly how to view this record, what would you say?

I would love for this record to stretch their own imagination of what they enjoy about music. It’s very anti- what’s popular right now. Not on purpose; it just is. It’s just more involved art. Now, there’s a huge place for instantaneous, gratifying music. I’ve made music like that and I’d like to do more, but I’m OK getting people to challenge themselves. Other people do that in their own way too, whether it’s Swans or Tim Hecker.

I’d love to be thought of in the same ranks as a group like Boards of Canada some day. Hopefully I have 10 albums in me over the next 10 years. I want to keep doing this. With my last album, I wanted people to feel loved. I think that worked to some degree. And with this one, I want to push people’s boundaries. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, great. Only good can come out of bringing you out of your comfort zone. It might be painful but I do believe that.