Having Sushi with Pumpkin at SXSW 2014 | [Artist Interview]

As SXSW came to a close and the streets of Austin began to settle from the leftover traces of chaos, we met with producer Nicholas Alvarado, better known as Pumpkin, for an interview. We decided to meet over sushi, and Austin’s notably delicious Piranha Killer seemed a perfect fit.

His flawless mixing, impeccable song selection and signature style of revamping classics allows him to set a wide span of moods for his audience during every set. Known for playing sunrise slots at festivals, Pumpkin’s sounds are playful, loving and inspiring. Upon meeting him for our interview, I realized his personality was exactly how I’d pictured through listening to his music; he was completely heart-warming and genuine. We sat down for over an hour talking about circus antics, the burner scene, and exactly how the name Pumpkin came about in the first place.

CYM: How are you today? I’m glad we could both agree on sushi!

Pumpkin: I’m feeling really good, sushi sounded perfect actually. Yelp told me this place would be a good call.

CYM: How are you enjoying Austin?

Pumpkin: I love it! This is actually on the short list of places that I’ve played where I feel like I could just stay and live here. SXSW has been great to me though. I’m happy to get to spend another week here after the chaos is all over.

CYM: It’s really crazy to see how calm it is on the streets.

Pumpkin: Dude you’re telling me about it! I have been to Austin a couple of times but had never been for SXSW, Everyone warned me it would be a crazy shit show, and it absolutely was! Walking down an empty 6th street is just crazy. They knock it down really fast.

CYM: You and Nico Luminous, who we’ve also had the pleasure of interviewing, have played a lot of showcases together during this South By. You guys played back to back at both the Street Ritual showcase and the Whomp Smoke Shop day party. Do you usually end up on the same lineups?

Pumpkin: Yeah, we’re homies from the same area out in LA, so it’s not uncommon since we’re in the same scene. Plus we’re part of the same Burning Man crew.

CYM: Oh awesome. What’s your group called?

Pumpkin: Dirty Beatles.

CYM: Where did the name come from?

Pumpkin: One of our camp members kids actually. He’s been going to Burning Man, he’s only like 10 or something, but he’s already been like 5 or 6 times. Maybe he’s a little older than that, but yeah, he was just being a silly kid and it stuck somehow. We’ve just ended up keeping it since then. I was in this circus group based out of LA called Circurk Berserk and I was one of their first clowns. That actually started as a Burning Man camp also, and they all were different kinds of performers. The weather was just gnarly out there cause it’s so hot, and we just decided we needed a circus tent. So they fundraised for months and months to buy a circus tent. 2005 was my first year, and it was also the year we fundraised enough to bring a circus tent out to Burning Man.

Pumpkin and Nico Luminous. Vinyl in Austin,TX during SXSW 2014

CYM: I would’ve never visualized you performing in a circus. How’d you get into circus arts?

Pumpkin: I’m just a physical comedian. I don’t juggle or do any of that sort of thing, so circus arts might be sort of a stretch. [laughs] Basically I was at this underground burner warehouse party in LA being a goof ball and this girl approached me, she’s one of my best friends now actually, but we hadn’t met before that night. She just walked up and asked, “Do you want to be a clown in my circus?” Without hesitation I said ‘Yup’. [laughs] It was kind of dark, weird kind of circus shit, so it was especially fun. I’m afraid of heights, so I don’t do any aerial stuff, I don’t have the discipline really to learn to juggle or anything like that. I can take a fall really good, physical comedy is just the most fun.

CYM: Seeing how you were into circus arts, how do you feel about the Fungineers?

Pumpkin: Oh I love the Fungineers. One of my favorite acts in the scene right now. I like taking people to their shows that have no idea and have never heard of them and not say anything. I never mention the MC being a puppet.

CYM: You play a lot of sunrise sets. Is there a particular reason for that?

Pumpkin: It’s because the particular music I play is pretty and vocally stuff. It’s really fun for me, because you know like after people have danced all night you can kinda go to a lot more places musically on the dance floor for people when people are focused on moving, they won’t get bored, they’ll stand there and sway. They’ll laugh, smile and hug their friends. A lot of the songs I play are sappy love songs and stuff. It’s turned into kind of a thing, like Random Rab, he’s booked for pretty much only sunrise sets, to the point that he’s like wanting to get actual night time sets. I’m not quite there of course.

CYM: You’ve got a thing for playing lengthy sets as well. I remember you playing for three hours straight at Art Outside in Apache Pass about 2 years ago.

Pumpkin: Yeah, in the dome. That was a lot of fun. If I have the option, if people don’t tell me to stop playing, I’ll go on forever. I’m kind of known for it at this point. Once at the Bounce Music Festival I played for 9 hours, a couple years ago. They had me play the last set of the festival, which the year before I think I played for 4 hours, so that became like a tradition. On Monday morning when everyone is packing up camp, they come dance a little bit, go back to packing, then run back and still dance. 9 hours was… hard [laughs].

During his set at Vinyl in ATX during SXSW March 2014

CYM: What was the most recent festival you’ve played?

I got back from Envision in Costa Rica in February. It’s just beautiful. I’ve played it 2 years ago also and that was at a different location. The location this year was so much better, it was like leaps and bounds. At the old location, to get to the beach you had to wade through this little river that had crocodiles in it. It was pretty cool though.

CYM: What would you say is another favorite festival of yours?

Pumpkin:  I’d have to say Shambhala. The first time I played was this last year and it was absolutely incredible. It felt like my first festival in a lot of ways. Just because they do everything so right and Canadians are so nice [laughs]. They are just some of the friendliest people. British Columbia, it’s gorgeous. It’s all on this farm, the rest of the year it’s a functioning farm and the part of the year it’s under water because the snow melts. It’s right on this river, Salmo, and the tide does get higher so a lot of the stages are under water. It’s the only festival that, at least I know of, of this size where they have built the stages as permanent structures cause it’s the only event that happens there year long. It’s just incredible, every stage is gorgeous, one of the stages is called the Ewok Village, because the forest looks like the Ewok Forest from Star Wars and the stage is built to kind of resemble their village – like tons of cat walks, and big trees looking down on the dance floor.

CYM: What festivals are on your agenda for 2014 this year?

Pumpkin: We’re still solidifying a few, but Lightening in a Bottle is a big one. I’m pretty stoked about it, I think I’m one of the only artists who’s been invited to play a couple years in a row now. They usually let you play one year and then you won’t play the next year, kind of a thing. This will be my fourth year in a row playing. I’ll also be playing Shambhala, Bass Coast which is also in Canada, Astro Harvest which is also in Canada, and Sonic Bloom. This will be my first year playing Sonic Bloom so I’m pretty stoked on that as well. The last couple times I’ve been in Colorado it has been as cold as hell. I’m really looking forward to being out there when it’s lovely summertime weather. It’s prime outdoor time.

CYM: What was the first festival you ever played?

Pumpkin: My first festival I don’t really know if it counts, but I guess you could technically call it a festival. It was an event that friends of mine threw called Zara Del Zera, it was like a Burning Man regional. It was out in the woods near San Diego, maybe you’d call it like a forest. It was awesome! They burned a little effigy and all that stuff. I was a part of this elaborate stage show for this band that preformed back in the day. So I got to go be a clown on stage with them and then that’s why I ended up going to the festival at all, and yeah, it ended up being my first camp out. I loved it.

CYM: It’s pretty safe to assume you’re a burner, and have made your way around the burn scene… How many times have you made it to Burning Man?

Pumpkin: I’ve gone to Burning Man about 5 times, and I’ve also done San Diego decompressions and LA decompressions, which I love. I always end up playing a ton around that time.

CYM: I imagine Halloween probably gets busy for you. Everyone wants to book Pumpkin, right?

Pumpkin: Always! Haha. My Halloween weekends are super busy.

CYM: That brings us to our last question…. what is the story behind your name?

Pumpkin: Well my mom called me it first, growing up it was always ‘Pumpkin face’ or ‘Pumpkin’ something. Then a girl that I was with for a really long time, who I was also in the circus with – we actually made this circus troupe together, it was really her troupe and I just did the music for it, but anyway – it was her pet name for me. We were together at the same time I had just discovered DJing and I had started out playing under Nick the Neck, still playing tech house stuff, which I still do from time to time. But soon I started playing whole sets of just really pretty songs, with actual words you know, like House-y stuff, but all remixes of classics.

I was playing a party called Fuente Eterno, but I played super super late and there were only like 6 people on the dance floor. I decided I was only going to play the pretty stuff just because the music was sort of cute and adorable. Pumpkin just seemed to make sense, and I thought that was going to be a side thing but it just caught on. The big turning point was in 2011 when I played Lightning in a Bottle. It was still pretty early, maybe like 11 am and there weren’t many people there at all. But the recording of that set got pimped so hard on the internet, man. It made all the difference. Do LaB pushed it huge and it got so many plays over the next year that when I played in 2012, a couple thousand people showed up. Thank goodness for the internet, because Facebook gives you insight into who your fan base is, so I can see I have a pretty big fan base in cities I hardly ever play, and now I can look forward to finally getting to those places. It’s mind blowing and humbling more than anything.

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