When he was a college student, Eric Luttrell auditioned to be the guitarist for Santa Barbara sunshine-reggae band Iration. He didn’t get the gig — which, in retrospect, is probably for the best.
The sunshine never left him, though. Having been a part of the S.F. act The M Machine for several years, Luttrell began putting out solo work three years ago. Remixes with heavy hitters like Moby and Lane 8 swiftly followed, and now he’s blowing up, having released the well-regarded Into Clouds on Feb. 1. Walking from the main stage at CRSSD in San Diego last weekend, he couldn’t even get to his own meet-and-greet without being stopped by three women wearing mustaches, ecstatic to find the DJ milling about. SF Weekly caught up with him shortly thereafter to talk about his work ethic, Burning Man, and whether the M Machine might come back someday.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
We were following you at at discreet distance on the way over here and saw those three women all had mustaches. Does that feel a little strange?
It’s cool though, it’s just people having fun. I try to be a catalyst for that.
I appreciate you throwing Animotions’ “Obsession” into your set just now.
I just made that recently. I was like, “I want to throw in old ’80s songs that I like.”
“Hungry Like the Wolf” is your guilty pleasure, right? Is it the album art?
I guess both. The Duran Duran album art was always really cool. Who’s the guy, the artist?
It’s so rad. I would love to get one of those prints.
You find them on the street from time to time. They’re not very highly regarded, but I think that aesthetic is amazing.
Exactly. It means a lot to people who care about it.
Into Clouds is doing quite nicely.
It’s been a really, really awesome response. I think I got one negative comment the whole entire time.
What was it? Not to dwell on it.
It’s gotta happen at some point, right? You can’t have just 100-percent love. Some person on Reddit was like “Oh, you know it’s kind of all same-y, all the songs sound the same, I’m not really into it.” It’s all good.
What is the best piece of good-faith criticism you’ve ever gotten?
I guess when I was remixing Lane 8, he was pretty critical of the first draft of the remix that I made for him — and you know, he gave me cool ideas, like instead fo using a snare or a clap, try using different voices or try a really heavy shaker on the two and the four. Mix up the songs, don’t just do what you would normally do. That was good advice.
Did you take it?
Yeah, I did.
Because you wanted to make him happy or because he knew what he was talking about and you’re like “You know, what? You’re right”?
A little of both. I wanted to make sure that he was happy with the remix that I did and also that it was the best it could possibly be. I’m definitely not one of those people who’s like, “Oh, I made this and it’s masterpiece.” If someone says, “This sounds fucked up,” then I’ll try some stuff and go, “They were definitely right.” A lot of the way I produce is just experimenting. I don’t think I have some secret thing. If I start a track and it’s going in a direction that I like, I keep going. And if not, I just throw it away.
You’re kind of a workaholic, right? You’re pretty methodical.
You have to be. If you don’t keep doing new music or hustling to play shows, you’re just — it just feels like a wasted opportunity. And I’m doing what I love. It’s not like I’m doing accounting or doing taxes, and I have a lot of people helping me out. When you have a good team, you feel a lot more confident that the work you put in is going to be pushed by other people.
Is Luttrell all of you, or are you pouring a portion of your overall aesthetic into this one thing or is there room for side projects?
Right now, definitely, because it’s pretty time-consuming. If I’m not on the road, then I’m in the studio trying to finish remixes or work on the next album. It’s definitely crazy but super fun. Right now there’s not time to do other things, but I definitely want to.
What else you’re interested in that are not part of this?
I definitely want to do a more darker techno thing, like a heavier kind of project.
Do you feel like you brought any pieces of M Machine to your project?
Yeah, there’s darker and more emotional, cinematic stuff. It’s not all super-lighthearted stuff but some of it’s more emotional. The Moby remix is a side that I would like to explore more but I haven’t yet. I really like doing that kind of music and then also I really want to start just a more indie band, play some indie rock.
A completely separate project?
Totally and it probably wouldn’t be a thing I would do for a career, just in San Francisco.
What was your last day job?
Working for the census, canvassing around S.F. You get to work outside walking around and it pays decent, so it was chill. But that was a while ago.
You still get to work outside.
Ever since then, it’s DJ stuff and the M Machine. We did that for seven years. We were doing it and working little side jobs and the moment we didn’t have to, we just paid all of our money to rent and just existed, which was great.
When are you going to auction off your Big M in your parents’ garage?
It’s all ready to go. You can hook it up and turn it on, it’s in big crates. I’m still homies with both those dudes and we still talk about making music together, at least an EP. We haven’t closed the door on that at all. One dude went off and worked for Google and he’s having a kid now. And he got married. The other guy Swardy is doing a side project and it’s really rad. He’s done really well the last six months, millions of plays on Spotify. It’s electronic, chill and groovy and definitely a little more avant-garde. Beautiful stuff. You’ll definitely hear a lot of M Machine in that.
Selling out the Independent has to feel amazing.
Yeah. And I literally live down the street from it!
What was the first time you went solo?
It doesn’t really count, but the first solo set I ever did — that I curated myself, without other people — was Burning Man 2015. The camp Ego Trip booked the M Machine to play, but Swardy couldn’t go, cause his sister was getting married. I played [his first single, from 2016] “Away,” and I played a lot of techno that I was feeling back in 2015 and I got to do a full set at — and I themed it: “Eric’s Mustache Goes to Burning Man.” It was an M Machine set, but I made it clear that it was my own thing and I wanted to do something that was different.
Is the M in M Machine for “mustache”?
I’ve had the mustache the whole M Machine… since 2010. We had to drive out to Denver. We rented a car and drove to Denver cause we were broke and Swardy and I were like, “Let’s grow mustaches for this trip.” So we did for a week and he shaved his off and I never shaved mine off, so I’m a mustache now. I see pictures of myself from college, and I look like this dude-man, this guy at the party drinking out of a red cup, playing beer pong. There’s nothing wrong with that. He was a fun person, too, but I like having a mustache.
Luttrell, Saturday, March 9, 9 p.m.m (sold out), at the Independent, 628 Divisadero St., theindependentsf.com