“We Literally Shut Up and Started Playing and Somehow It Was Perfect:” An Interview With Human Error Club

Samuel Lamontagne interviews the Los Angeles electronic trio about forming after a Busdriver gig and the bond between L.A.'s beat and jazz scenes.
By    September 11, 2020
Photo by Sam Lee

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HUMAN ERROR CLUB. Released last July, the eponymous debut album of the L.A. trio seems a perfectly fitted title for everything 2020 has brought on us. And with the pandemic’s striking blow to the musical life of L.A., it is good to see projects emanate from the underground community, which while turned in on itself still finds ways to operate and support creation under unprecedented levels of pressure.

Long time musician friends Jesse Justice (keys), Diego Gaeta (also keys) and Mekala Session (drums) have been standing alongside each other in various L.A. music scenes for quite some time before ever collaborating. After playing together for the first time as a backing band for the legendary wordsmith Busdriver at the Inglewood house show series, Mickey’s Groj, they formed a trio for what was supposed to be a one-time thing for a backbeatLA show. Hungry for more, they took the chemistry from that night into the studio and literally just jammed.

Out of this came the fully improvised 8 track album, released exactly a year after that recording session took place on July 27th 2019. Highly polychromatic, the album radiates blistering energy, which besides an obvious jazz influence, shows nods to Krautrock, YMO synths, ambient textures and even Ghanaian traditional music. “Icing on the cake,” the final track, a new jack swing-infused remix by Berlin producer Max Graef (Ratgrave) closes the album on a note of irony.

The sonic range of the album partly comes from each member’s background. Formerly known as Max Baer, Jesse Justice has been an integral part of the beat scene as a producer and record digger before trading his MPC for a Fender Rhodes; trained as a jazz pianist, Diego Gaeta explores assorted palettes of sound under his moniker Club Diego and through a variety of projects and collaborations; Mekala Session is a certified Leimert Park head, he’s learned to play drums with none other than Billy Higgins and is the current leader of the ‘South Central Philharmonic’ created by Horace Tapscott, the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. Breaking down the influences of HUMAN ERROR CLUB however might take away the essence of the project, which value really lies in the raw feeling of the music and the alchemy of the three’s playing.

This interview was conducted a few weeks before the album’s release in June, which also earned HUMAN ERROR CLUB the distinction of being the first release on Preference Records, a new label with a hyper-local community focus. Full disclosure, I am part of the team behind the label, and the approach to it has been a family one — an idea rooted in friends helping friends helping friends, to foster the creative output of the community. — Samuel Lamontagne

Can you introduce each other?

Mekala Session: Diego Gaeta is a keyboardist and sound-experimentalist on Fender Rhodes and other things, and he makes beats under Club Diego. And Jesse Justice, formerly Max Baer, is an audio mogul, record collector and salty beat-maker who took a jazz turn and now plays keys [laughs].

Diego Gaeta: Mickey is basically the rhythm of life. Nothing makes as much sense as him playing drums.

How did you all meet?

Mekala Session: We’re all friends of friends turned musical associates/friends. Me and Jesse went to high school together, but we really started kicking it after he graduated. We became close through music. I met Diego at Cal Arts but we didn’t really play together that much then. After Cal Arts we played together a lot with Black Nile.

Diego Gaeta: I remember the first conversation we ever had. You were working at the library and you basically were like “Yo can you play at my recital?” I was really stoked. Then you gave me some Horace Tapscott to check out.

Jesse Justice: I don’t remember when I really met Diego but I remember seeing him at house parties.

Mekala Session: [Laughs] Jesus Christ I forgot about that.

Diego Gaeta: When we were juniors in high school I didn’t drive yet. My friend Samie and I lived closed together so we would carpool or rather she would drive me with other people and she was always telling me like “Dude this guy Max Baer, he makes beats like OMG.” So I always knew about Jesse, especially on SoundCloud and shit.

Mekala Session: Then I was talking to Jamael [Dean], Lawrence and Aaron Shaw [Black Nile], and they were telling me about how they remembered me from early high school when LAUSD all went to the same intensives like Colburn school and shit… So they remember me walking around. So it’s trippy like before we had relationships we were just kind of kids bumping into each other.

Diego Gaeta: Do you remember the Blue Whale contest?

Mekala Session: Yeah.

Diego Gaeta: We were in that together. We both had trios. We both lost to the really white UCLA jazz band.

Mekala Session: That’s right! Super white, super lame. I mean that’s mean. They were white, but lame is opinion [laughs].

So you were kind of all already around each other in high school?

Mekala Session: Me and Jesse went to VAPA, which is Grand Arts now.

Diego Gaeta: I went to high school with Black Nile though.

Mekala Session: Which is LACHSA.

Diego Gaeta: And Moki [Lionmilk], and Chris Fishman, and Jamael Dean. We were all in high school at the same time.

How did you start working with each other?

Mekala Session: I really started seeing Diego a lot when Black Nile would call the both of us for gigs. Because in like 2018/2019, that quartet did quite the run of gigs, which was fun as fuck. And Diego was just really cool because he’s real open and super spacey but also would just rip. So he and I had a lot fun together. And then with Jesse, it was just like he was the first cat I met in high school who was making beats and was really good at it. All of our friends were into hip-hop, either rappers or beat-makers so we did a hip-hop thing a long time ago, which is how Jesse and me got close. And then through music and other avenues our relationship turned into other shit. I feel like I’m answering a lot of questions, I should shut the fuck up.

Diego Gaeta: I remember the three of us came together in a social sense through music obviously. I was playing a gig with Harriet Brown at The Echo.

Jesse Justice: Yeah and we were doing Qur’an Shaheed’s gig.

Diego Gaeta: Yeah and I was so blown away by the gig with Qur’an. So that’s actually the night we actually started kicking it. And then I wanted you guys to play at another one of my gigs. After that we started really hanging out together.

Mekala Session: Yeah that night you both were riding your skateboards.

Diego Gaeta: I was just following you guys around. I was just like “Can I hang out with you guys?”

Jesse Justice: I think before we did Human Error Club, Diego and I jammed at my house a few times.

Diego Gaeta: Yeah that was before.

Mekala Session: Yeah it’s funny how easy it is for keyboard players to just squad out on like one computer or one keyboard and fuck around for hours.

Jesse Justice: Yeah we played with toys too. Diego brought his 808 over and we just used keys and 808 and it was really fun.

Diego Gaeta: Actually we had two monitors set up and two keyboards and we had just a mouse and we had Sibelius open [laughs].

Can you talk about how the group Human Error Club was created?

Mekala Session: For a long time, I was playing BackbeatLA which happened for a while like every last Wednesday and then it was every other week for a minute. Kat Bulay booked me there a lot with a bunch of different bands. In a sense I became the house drummer for a long time. It became a game. I would just put together bands of cats I wanted to play with. No material. We would pick covers and then make shit up. One night she was like “Yo we need really dancy shit.” That’s all she gave me. I was like “Aight bet.” Jesse was call one. And I can’t remember if it was his idea or mine to call Diego. But understanding that the three of us could do synths and drums and groove that was all that I needed.

Diego Gaeta: That was right after you called me to play bass for Busdriver.

Mekala Session: That’s right! Because I couldn’t find a bassist for that Busdriver gig so I was like “Diego, you do it.” And you did it, so when we needed a bassist I was just like “Let’s go Diego!” So we did that gig, and then we just recorded.

What was the recording process like?

Jesse Justice: It was pretty smooth for this first project. There was very little planning. Our friend Anton’s dad’s studio was open, and it’s right up the street from me so we were setting up a bunch of different things during the two weeks we had it open and Human Error Club was one of them. We tried one night where we were just messing around for a while and we came with a lot of cool ideas but they didn’t really become as fulfilled as what ended up becoming the album. So we set another date the next day. We kind of fit differently that day. Listening back to the whole recording, there’s probably like 4 or 5 jams that we did that lasted for a while. We did pretty little editing and arranging from that, and that’s the album. There was one tune that was pretty much already arranged from the BackbeatLA show but other than that it was pretty much all improvised.

Mekala Session: Even though we didn’t write that song that day, the way we wrote that song is how we wrote every other song. We just wrote it jamming and improvising. But it’s funny how all of this happened on the second day because we didn’t even planned for that day at first. We just all happened to be free on the next day.

Diego Gaeta: Tracks 2, 3, and 4 are just continuous. In the session we didn’t stop playing. It’s like three tracks in a row were composed, played and recorded in real time. I’m proud of that.

Since it’s mostly improvisations, how did the arrangement process was done?

Mekala Session: From my perspective it was both of you. When the drums were done I was like “Aight! Do it!”

Jesse Justice: A while ago I did a dublab show so I edited something up from that session really quick and it was really dope. The way I mixed it sounded really rough and aggressive but I played it out a few times and people liked it a lot. I definitively planned to edit it but there was so much that I felt sort of intimidated. But one day I was like “Fuck it.” I started cutting stuff up and put together a pretty good skeleton of the album. Then Diego and I went back and forth with it until the album was done.

Can you talk about your personal influences as well as the collective influences in Human Error Club?

Mekala Session: I feel like I am the simplest person to describe. I was just kind of funneled jazz as a baby until my adolescence. Hip-hop was that other thing that no one was calling jazz but it was kind of the same thing to me. That’s my two big influences. But I feel that one of my strengths as a musician is being really explorative, almost oblivious to the things that influence me. There’s stuff that I like a lot. Sometimes it’s not even music. Sometimes I feel like cartoons influence my drumming more than the actual drums [laughs]. But really, just the freedom from playing with these two, because they are both really open, and super big ears. They provide a lot of space between their ideas.

Diego Gaeta: I feel like we have a collective brain. That’s what I love about the band. We have this collective pool and are very different people. It’s like we have an unspoken agreement. We didn’t really need to talk about any of our influences. We literally just shut up and started playing and it was somehow perfect. You can’t fake that at all. But when I think of it, to describe it. I tell people about my experience studying with Sk Kakraba. I’d just play his instrument which is the gyil, it’s like a marimba with a buzzy sound. Learning traditional Ghanaian music with Sk changed the way I play keyboard instruments to a more percussive way. When I jam I play like a drummer.

Jesse Justice: There’s no real direct influences to think of other than just us being in the studio together that day. We recorded at Stones Throw a couple weeks ago and it was the same thing. We recorded for like 45 minutes and we got into a really cool jam. But listening back I can hear influences from library music, sort of like a genre that expands a lot of sounds, like funk film soundtracks. And I definitely hear some YMO synth stuff that Diego and I are doing.

What was the timeline like?

Mekala Session: We planned to release the tape July 27th, which is exactly a year after we recorded it. We recorded it July 27th 2019. At that time, I don’t know what I was really listening to. I had probably recently found out about JD Beck and Louis Cole, and they were influences on my drumming and me trying to reach and get better. That combined with new cats making almost genreless music. When it’s melting pot enough, why do you have to name everything that fit in. We can figure out what we call it, when the egg-heads have a whole decade to call this shit. And that’s literally what happened with jazz.

Diego Gaeta: Before this, Jesse was just a producer and a DJ. He started learning keyboards and then he was good immediately.

Mekala Session: I remember. He traded an MPC for a Rhodes. It was a piece of shit but little by little he fixed that thing until it was basically completely restored. Then he practiced his ass off and that was it.

Diego Gaeta: I think a lot of producers are trying to learn jazz. This is like an awakening.

Mekala Session: And the other way around.

Diego Gaeta: Yes, I’m a jazz musician and I’m trying to learn how to produce.

Jesse Justice: Yeah it’s so common. Aaron [Shaw], Devin [Daniels], Jamael [Dean] … all are super into beats. I had a realization that I was making beats but I never listened to beats, I purely listened to jazz stuff. Some day I was like “Wow I just want to make music like this.”

Mekala Session: That’s what Madlib did. That’s what most producers who are incredible at making beats do. They don’t even listen to hip-hop.

You’re all part of the same scene, you mentioned BackbeatLA and Matthewdavid’s event at Tierra De La Culebra park … How does the community play into the energy of the band?

Mekala Session: For me it’s really convenient. I feel like I’m the least cool musician in the band most of the time, and I get up by my peers a lot. Half of the time I’m bandleader just so I can get to be in the band. This community is full of machine guns. Cats out here are hungry. So it definitively has influenced the way I operate. For me it’s like cats like my playing so we express together. It’s like having a real relationship through music and friendship. It’s really convenient. It’s good that everyone that is good isn’t a dick, at least my circle… or we’d excommunicate them real fast… like there’s no room, everybody’s too good and too cool.

Diego Gaeta: We’re constantly putting out this good energy. Not to be cliché but it’s a vibration. Everyone at the park is riding on that. You can feel it because there’s a current and if you have an overt ego or you’re being negative or you’re judging people you’re going to stand out because you’re going to be against that current. This is a very social music. That’s just like a dialogue. Everyone is trying to move it forward, and everyone is feeding off of each other but not in a competitive way. I feel like it’s super rare.

Mekala Session: It’s contributive not competitive, like Horace Tapscott said.

Diego Gaeta: Even though there’s hella artists and everyone wants to get their shine, there’s a lot of space.

Jesse Justice: That’s like the opposite of the East Coast where it’s super hard. Everybody is trying to top each other while we’re all trying to get to the same place together.

Mekala Session: Or different places at different times.

Jesse Justice: Everybody is growing and striving for what they’re doing but we complement each other and it creates this super communal thing.

Mekala Session: It’s really reminiscent of what the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra was doing, and what Horace Tapscott’s vision was in Leimert Park. That’s why as a Black man from Leimert park when I see this behavior, it’s my people. This culture is inclusive, tolerant and positive. Shout out to Matthewdavid. His event at the park is a moment where you have old ladies, babies and puppies, people selling vegan food… It’s a real community thing.

In the past couple years there’s been a shift from electronics to live musicianship and an explicit rooting in jazz. How do you feel about this shift?

Jesse Justice: It makes sense after DJ and beat culture was so prominent for so long. People are realizing that people can do this live and it’s more exciting. So it makes sense that people gravitate towards that after Low End Theory.

Diego Gaeta: It’s purely a cosmic balance. There’s no reason that it’s happening. It just is. It’s a generational thing. We were all huge fans of the Low End Theory beats and bass movement. That was really prominent for a long time. That was so special. Even Flying Lotus, he’s sort of the mecca, the top of that identified scene. And he’s still local, he’s still in L.A. Obviously all those producers who have that magic touch are all super tuned with the spirit of improvising and jazz and even song writing. Even Flying Lotus right now, he’s improvising with jazz musicians.

Mekala Session: Technology just changes and recycles itself decade after decade. What always happens is people emulate each other. As a drummer, I literally have emulated Devin Daniels making a beat emulating Marcus Gilmore on drums. Does that make sense? Like Chris Dave listens to a bunch of hip-hop and J Dilla, and he plays drums like an MPC. You just do impressions of what people are used to and you break down all these things people think are X. Suddenly you get new definitions and examples of shit. So that’s why it’s coming back, why people are interested in live music again.

What’s the story behind the band name Human Error Club?

Diego Gaeta: It comes from an Earl Sweatshirt song. I found this random YouTube thing. I was sad one day. When I’m sad I listen to Earl.

Mekala Session: That’s basically the blues.

Diego Gaeta: I was listening to a YouTube rip of a live show. It’s just bars. It’s so beautiful. His DJ is trying to do the thing where it cuts out and then bring the beat back in. But Earl’s flow is so slippery that the DJ gets offbeat so it just crashes. Then Earl is like “Shout out to human error.” I thought it was beautiful because it is exactly how I feel about jamming with these guys. That “error” is like the character, the depth and the grit of our music. And that should be celebrated more because that’s the thing that makes us human: error.

Mekala Session: To error is human.

It’s the first release of Preference records. Can you present this label?

Jesse Justice: It’s just like a sensible vessel for the creative output of this community we’ve been talking about. To put it simply.

Are you working on more stuff already?

Mekala Session: We recorded some shit at Stones Throw. It has a lot of different stuff. Other instruments, a real TR-808. It features other musicians. But yeah Human Error Club II, Human Error Club III, a thousand years of Human Error Club.

Diego Gaeta: We won’t stop making music until Capitalism no longer exists.

Mekala Session: And probably after that.

Diego Gaeta: That’s a threat.

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