Joe LiTrenta, a musician, director and actor based in New Jersey, caught CT’s attention with the music video Escape, which is a track on the Bengalfuel-album Roeblin on Twice Removed Records. After a bit of research, it was clear that Joe’s solo project Doc Deem had even more to offer in terms of sonic exploration. Once the correspondence with Joe had begun, a mystical reality took shape behind the creative explosions. In this interview you can read about Doc Deem’s creative processes, his painful childhood, the haunted house, why he had to drugs and why others shouldn’t, how to get rid of demons and how an angelic presence can clean your spirit.
Had a good day?
Yeah, yeah. I had a weird dream. There was a bug in my house and I squashed it with a water-proof book. There was orange-green-yellowish guts all over it and I cleaned it off with a tissue. You know when you have dreams with bugs? They just disturb me for a while; it has been bothering me all day can’t get it out of my head.
According to Wikipedia, the “cloud rats are a group of arboreal and folivorous nocturnal rodents native to the forests of the Philippines”. Does this have anything to do with the title of the album?
A few years before I finalized the track list, I was having a bad summer, starving. I sent a link in email to everyone I knew asking them to buy it for a few dollars, via PayPal. I called it Scrounge Rat, like a rat scrounging around for food, because I needed some cash. I meant it kind of as a joke. But then I added some new tracks and wanted to change the energy and make it positive. So I thought instead of a rat on the ground, scrounging for food, I’ll call it Cloud Rat, like the rat is high on a cloud now, he’s happy. Later I realized there is actually a cloud rat that is a type of rat in the Philippines. I don’t mind people having whatever interpretation they want to have. None of them are wrong. Once I share my music with the world, it’s their music, it’s ours. If you listen to my song, it’s your song too.
Doc Deem is not yet signed to a label, have you been in contact with any labels at all?
I used to try to get it out there via labels and got taken for a ride by many of the so-called IDM and electronic labels. They would tell me it was brilliant and want to release it but then once they got a few mails from me, they changed their minds. It was like ‘Huh, he’s an actor? He’s only 20? He lives in New Jersey? Fuck this guy, it must not be as good as we thought.’ I put a lot more focus on making movies and took a break giving myself an ulcer trying to figure out how it would keep happening, with every label. Then I decided to say fuck it and make my own videos and give it away free. Bengalfuel is just another project because I have too many ideas. There will be other projects in the future. Things do change as time goes by and at least Bengalfuel is popular.
What other feedback have you received from listeners?
Some people I play Deem for are blown away and tell me it’s the best electronic music they’ve ever heard. Some people just fucking hate me for it. For years I would play it and people didn’t even believe me that I made it. I just try not to let it bother me whether it’s negative or positive, sometimes the negative response is more fun than positive because you know it’s honest and haters make great fans. Same thing with my first movie, Daymaker, I got death threats for that movie because I had a feature in New Jersey’s biggest newspaper and there was buzz about it online. I lost some of my best friends because they hated me for going and doing what I said I would do. I’m not saying it’s a good movie, but it pissed people off.
Now Doc Deem is online and there are positive comments on the Youtube videos and someone can see 10,000 downloads. Some people hate me even more. Doesn’ matter, I have as much passion in my bones as anybody you’re ever gonna meet.
How do you go about your Bengalfuel releases?
No DVD company wanted to do anything with me so I made my own DVDs and with all the people online saying they hoped I would die, I was able to get pre-orders and sell DVDs to people all over the world. I made my money
back. Things work out, if I want to make a Bengalfuel video I’ll have hundreds of actors and models send me their headshot in the first day the casting notice goes up.
I try to meditate and attract the energy. Two hours before you emailed me I was meditating and saying I really need to do an interview with someone who understands what I’m about. I asked my spirit guides for help in attracting that energy. Then I went online and saw you on vimeo, and I was going to mail you but I decided to just wait and eat breakfast first. Then I saw you had mailed me. So maybe my energy is wrong, maybe I don’t allow myself to receive positive energy for Doc Deem. Maybe I hold on to the hate?
I was thinking about your frequent referencing to acid and marijuana in your films. Do you want to encourage your audience to experiment with drugs?
No, I wouldn’t want to encourage anybody. I think that everyone are just doing their own thing. When I was growing up I was around so much violence. There was a lot of violence in my family in general. On either side, my great grandfather was some kind of gangster and my great grandmother would tell me stories of his bullet-proof car and shit like that. A couple of relatives were killers and some had gone to jail for manslaughter. They were Bronx gangsters, men with guns. My father used a lot of drugs when I was a child and was always trying to kill my mother. Seeing the violence really screwed me up and when I was seven years old and saw someone making fun of a girl at school, I would beat the shit out of them. If a kid called a girl ‘bitch’ I would go over and knock them down. When I was twelve my parents finally got divorced and I started to smoke pot, which was probably the only thing that stopped me from killing someone or going out to find my father and kill him. In that sense I think that it was sort of ok for me to do drugs, since it mellowed me out enough not to go to violent extremes. There was such rage towards my father and I didn’t know what to do with it.
One of my first memories on this planet is watching him slam her head against a toolbox in the basement of the house we built when I was 3, and I didn’t understand. He was laughing and trying to get me to laugh with him. So I laughed, I had no idea what I was looking at, I was a fuckin baby. So anything after surviving his bullshit, when we finally escaped, it’s all pretty fuckin breezy. Sometimes I think my shit is all fucked up and I’m having a bad day, but I just need a little perspective. I not only was able to survive and not end up in a dead or in jail after what I learned from him, I actually emerged stronger and able to get my shit together and make art, and share it with the world. So I’m doin pretty fuckin okay when you think of it like that. I had a nervous breakdown when I was 13 and spent my 14th birthday in the psych unit with other kids like me. And I saw these beautiful, intelligent, wise people who knew more about the world’s bullshit than any adult I’ve ever met since.
Unfortunately a lot of them were probably fucked, never had a chance after what they’d been through. Some of them bounced and ended up dead, some of them probably are in prison or still in the hospital. And some of them hopefully got the fuck outta there and turned out okay, like me. I was able to go from that place of paralyzed, totally fucked up kid to doing union plays in front of a full theater and taking questions with the audience, even signing autographs for little kids who came to see us, inspiring them.
Doing LSD when I was around 15 helped me to re-visit some of the trauma and talk about it with others and deal with it better. It was a release. But as far the average person who doesn’t have that sort of background, I would never tell them ‘Oh yeah you need to try this. It is going to expand your mind.’ I think that’s just a lot of bullshit. Marijuana robs people of their drive. People start to doubt themselves and wonder whether they can or should follow their dreams.
Have you seen that in other people?
Yeah, there are people I know that smoke daily that definitely could have been very artistic, but they are very doubtful of themselves and kind of hate themselves. I don’t see how it can give you any drive or focus. But if you are homicidal, then maybe it can keep you chilled-out.
But it didn’t kill your drive, or maybe you don’t smoke? I got the impression that you were really into it from looking at your work.
I don’t smoke and I don’t drink. I haven’t drunk in seven years. It was a really huge problem for me at one point, because I have loads of alcoholics in the family and when I came in contact with alcohol I ended up drinking so much that I almost killed myself. I woke up in a hospital in a complete white room and when the white dressed doctors came into the room I was convinced that I had died and come to heaven. They asked me if I wanted some water and I thought to myself ‘Oh, this is what happens when you die. They come to you and offer you a glass of water.’ I was out of my mind and that did it for me. I wouldn’t even drink Listerine today. I was doing a play at the time and the director gave me an ultimatum.
You also lived in a seriously haunted house?
Sheesh, yeah, the house I moved from was like a portal to hell. I started wearing rosaries and putting up crucifixes, and I’m not religious in any traditional way, I’m just very spiritual and open. But in this place you could feel the evil and feel hell, there’s no other way to describe it. I heard snarling sounds and shit, and horrible feelings that would get on top of me, like something telling me to kill myself and it would just be on me all night. I thought possibly some of the energy followed me to my new house and was fucking with me just before you initially emailed me, I think that is why the angels are around me all the time. They’re trying to help me through it. About a week ago I had this psychic medium mail me a blessed St. Michael’s medal and I’ve had it around my neck. I’m not Catholic or Christian or anything, but it seems like the only thing that protects me sometimes. So I just go with the flow. Now I feel like I can meditate and I’ll announce beforehand that I’m putting a white ball of light around myself to protect me. But there is still a lot of pain there that I have to let go of, and I can feel my angels helping me.
Joe’s mum and aunt were bunnies at the original Playboy Club in the 70’s
Can you tell me more about the tracks on ‘Cloud Rat’ and the creative process of the album?
The feeling I had with that music was trying to get something like magic into what could otherwise be soulless electronic music. Some spells are from scrolls, some are from crystals, some are incantations from the heart speaking to a machine. For ‘Hug Girl’ I visualized these choruses where every cymbal crash was like a big hug. Translating that into sound was just going in there and being honest, electrically, I felt charged with love. But on ‘New Oyred’ I had just got into an argument with my girlfriend at the time, and I was pissed off because she was right (obviously). They say hit a pillow, I say program a hard beat. The title is meaningless nonsense. Sometimes I am going in with a certain kind of chaos I want to overcome with the track. ‘191’ was during a time where I didn’t listen to anything for months, nothing sounded right. I had the idea of just breaking the fucking program with metallic beats.
I had a dream and this guy actually said, “This is where the beats say they’re sorry” and there was this beat playing that kinda sounded like it was talking, like it would start and stop. I tried to get that into the track when making it. All of the tracks on that release were recorded quickly, most Deem is about just waiting and waiting until a good day and then I sit and knock it out. I’m like a surfer. The tide has to be right, I wait for the waves. Then when it’s good, I get on my board and get as much surfing in and then go home. 191, Hug Girl, etc. were recorded in one sitting, about two hours each. I like it to be spontaneous and explode my guts all over the track, and then just walk away from the wreckage like nothing happened. Feelin real cool about it, like this is it, time to surf. Then when the surfing’s over, it’s over. I rarely go back and work on the track later, I think there’s only one on Cloud Rat like that, I went back and added a little extra. Music is easy or I wouldn’t do it. What’s hard is living a fuckin life. Not a normal life, or an insane one. Just living in general. I wake up and the show starts, I’ve got all this energy and I better put it in the right place, be positive or it’s gonna suck. There’s a lot of peace during the time of those tracks, though. When I recorded ‘Sleepyhead’ I had finished something else and my cat came over and fell asleep on my feet. I didn’t want to disturb him by getting up, so I made a mellow piece of music and let him stay in his kitty slumber.
It sounds like your creativity is pretty much ruling your life?
I live in extremes most of the time., but I can get a lot done very quickly when creating. If you’re talking other Doc Deem releases, I did The Pepper Room and Steenykill in the same night. Christmas Eve. It’s how I remember dates. Thankfully I can justify doing absolutely nothing with a day sometimes because the day before I wrote 40 pages. Or we shot that half hour short film in one day, no rehearsals; we just went in and killed it. So it’s like, ‘Take that, motherfucker’ to my creative demons that don’t let me sleep. But if I have a few too many days without producing something, I fall into chaos. It makes relationships with people difficult because sometimes I can drive them insane, but we can also have some of the most beautiful, happy times. I feel like if I can maintain a healthy balance of plenty of surfing, I would be able to sustain perfect happiness all the time. If only life worked that way, ya got shit that comes up and there’s no waves for a while and then I lose my fucking mind on the people I love. And when there’s no one else around to help soak up some of the damage, that’s when I’m really gone.
Can you tell me more about your relationship to angels?
It started just recently I was really sick, a few too many days without food and I couldn’t get anybody to help out. So I felt utterly no sense of control, I just had to completely surrender. And I started to see triple numbers constantly, like 555 everywhere. I would wake up and grab my phone in the morning and it’d be 5:55, and it was just everywhere. I started reading more, and then I started seeing 111. Or 333. I’ve always been open to spirit guides and have been meditating this year and trying to be more open. So I read about the number stuff and basically a lot of what I was seeing is that angels try to get your attention and you see the numbers when you’ve drawn them to you. I felt like maybe they were around me trying to help me through a tough time. And the 111 is supposed to be like the universe is kinda taking a snapshot of your thoughts, and can manifest things really fast. So I’m thinking well maybe I do have control of something: my thoughts. And I try now when I see 111, and I’ve already seen it a bunch of times today, or 1111. The time on my phone, looking at a video and it’s 1:11 in length, seeing how many views something has, seeing how many likes something has, wherever my eyes go I see 111. I sort of made that wish, in a sense, when I saw it the day I asked for the interview, I had seen 111. And since it only took 2 hours, that would seem to confirm that it manifested quickly. I’m trying to think about what I want, and not be afraid to ask for it.
I’ve had some really positive times and probably was attracting a lot of good things to me. But I wasn’t really aware of the power there, I didn’t know what I was doing with it. I turned 30 in June and I’m here, just living with some cats, I really would have days where I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do with myself. So then along comes this triple number insanity, and it’s helping. It’s like I ask for the thing and then I say thank you to the angels and try to be at peace, and know it’s coming so just relax and receive it. It’s made me think a lot about the space between things. Distance; is it real? I’m only just here in my house, how the hell am I attracting energy with people all over the world? I gotta go deeper, meditate and really try to manifest the things I want. Sometimes it’s so difficult for me, because I hate money and I have guilt about feeling selfish in needing things. But I think the angels are helping me.
So that is the angels. What about the dark forces?
I’m used to hard times, which is probably why I have that fucked up perception about darkness. My childhood was all fucked up, my father beat my mother and we were all terrified for years, she was afraid to leave because he would have killed her.
Finally, we hid in this shelter for victims of domestic abuse. It was in the woods where no one could find us, there were other families there. We were there for months, completely cut off. No TV, and you couldn’t go anywhere. So my brother and sister and I just had to find shit to do, and it really opened up our creativity a lot. We filled notebooks with stories and drawings, basically had our own comic book series. And when we finally left there, I just kept writing and eventually got a video camera. Music came just as a need to have music in the movies. I would take a tape and record one layer of sound, and then play that tape and add another layer next to the speaker, totally primitive but I didn’t give a shit.
I recently started considering the light side, the positive side of it. I think that if you open yourself up too much and talk about demon this and demon that, you can open yourself up to it even if you’re not 100% believing in it. I needed to have angels around me now and that’s something that I am experiencing even today. When I am too open to thinking about ghosts or demons, that kind of dark energy can get in there and I will feel a dark presence around me. Sometimes it is overbearing and very intense and I suddenly feel something intense which is not natural, like a depression or homicidal. I have now called upon my guardian angels to get involved in my life and help me. I thought that if the darker side is real, I have to be open to the lighter side being real as well. Until recently there was a part of my brain that was believing in ghosts and demons, but for some reason I hadn’t even considered the light side, perhaps because I hadn’t been in contact with it. Now I feel it around me.
Joe’s painting ‘Mom‘
Did you ever go to a medium?
I talked to a psychic one time who was so accurate about so many things, and she told me I would be very successful to the point where I wouldn’t even be able to walk down the street. She knew details about the movie I was working on, she was for real. So I try to just take it easy and remember what she said. I just do my thing.
Are you making music at the moment?
I’m playing around with some Bengalfuel stuff.
I look forward to the new Doc Deem.
I am feeling a new kind of excitement Doc Deem at the moment and I will express my gratitude for our conversations in a song. I want to make a new album, something really cool for this year.
Do you have any advice to those people who suspect that they live in a haunted place or find that they are followed by demons?
I would think that it would be good to find out about the history of the issue. There are also things you can do, such as the Native American tradition called ‘smudging’, which is to burn sage to get rid of any negative energy. If you feel a hellish energy you can get blessed medals, St Michael’s for example. You can use holy water and do other things to keep the stuff away. It is important to be mindful of what is going on. If you live in a house where there is a lot of fighting going on, I think that can draw negative energy. Arguing, drinking and abuse invite them in. The best thing is to make your house happy! Be happy, be joyful, laugh and express love towards people; that will clean the energy of the house more than anything. You don’t need to have a priest coming in, but if telling them to get the fuck out doesn’t help, feed them with positive energy. The most important thing is to not accept what is going on.
If you are in the library and pick out a couple of books on demons, you are involved in it already, whether you are conscious or not. By pure fascination you are telling them ‘come on in’. You have to feed twice as much energy back if you’re going read that stuff.
Did you ever study cinematography or anything related?
I dropped out of school as soon as possible, I never went to high school for more than a few weeks, I was always out of school because shit was just impossible. I just educated myself, and watched as many movies as I could, listened to music, anything that got my imagination going. I did some theater and met actors and was in a few professional plays, that taught me a lot about writing and seeing directors work with actors, so my scripts got better. I had a pretty good camera eye from doing photography with my grandmother, and watching hundreds of movies. So by 23 I was making my first movie with SAG actors and shit, just doing the shit by myself, every detail. And still just going with it. I feel like it’s just getting started. If there’s a point here it’s don’t give up. Never give up.
Post-interview feedback from Joe
I have good news. I feel awesome. I was laughing all day. Whatever the hell was on me is finally gone. I feel fuckin normal, holy shit, what a relief! I can get back to being funny again and not all caught up in crazy fuckin medals and demons flyin out my ass. I let it go. I feel like it just left me, finally. Feel like I can get back to some of the ridiculous comedy that’s in me, like the silly ice cream video. I’m so glad I shared so much shit with you, and I really want that all in the interview. All the crazy shit about my father beating my mother, to that shelter, to having a nervous breakdown. I want that out there, it took your energy to get me to share that in a public kinda thing, and if anyone reading it can identify with that shit then we’re doing a great thing by sharing it. Somebody might really be inspired who was all fucked up and didn’t think they do creative shit because they had too much trauma. Just make sure to put the ice cream video in there too, so there’s humor with it. Anyway, I just had to mail you and let you know I feel like myself again. It’s really nice. You helped me a lot. Especially you telling your opinion that you didn’t think there needed to be darkness to complete a spectra, that shit has been on my mind and helped me release some of this feeling of hanging on to dark shit or something. Thanks. Truly.