September 19, 2012
Difficult Second Album Syndrome (DSAS) has been the clichéd undoing of many an ambitious artist keen to recapture the magic of a well-received debut, with either a misguided attempt at a new direction or a desperate re-treading of former glories usually to blame.
How To Dress Well’s Tom Krell would be forgiven for suffering from a touch of DSAS, considering everything he’s been through in the two years since Love Remains — his influential first album that mixed washes of ambient noise and reverb with touches of early-nineties R&B and a haunting falsetto vocal. Instead, the Berlin-via-Brooklyn resident built on that album’s strengths, and crafted an emotional document of grief entitled Total Loss as its follow-up.
“I started writing in early September of 2010,” says Krell. “I was in the throes of a really fucked-up period in my life. My best friend had just died, totally unexpectedly, and I had gotten into a long-distance relationship, which is emotionally rending. And then my uncle passed away, and he was quite a figurehead in my family. It sent my mum into a depression from which she has not recovered, which rendered her silent for about two months. She couldn’t speak. I’ve never seen anything like that happen, you know?”
Understandably, the collection of songs that Krell accumulated over the following winter was incredibly dark. Most of these tracks haven’t made the cut for Total Loss, but one that did — positive closer ‘Ocean Floor For Everything’ — served as a framework for the album over this period.
“It was one of the first songs I put out [from Total Loss]. In that winter, I started to feel that if I didn’t figure out how to get out of the darkness that was taking over my life, it was just not gonna go well for me. And so I actually started using ‘Ocean Floor…’ just like a beacon, like as an end that I wanted to chart a path towards.”
In all, Krell estimates he made around 23 songs for the project. So what of those that didn’t make the album?
“The thing with the dark songs is that I’m very keen to release them, and I’m excited to release them, but I can’t imagine touring them,” he admits. “They’re still too depressive. There’s something magnetic about depression. It starts to pull you back into its rhythms and affects. I really look forward to releasing it in the future, but it just wasn’t right now.”
Despite a noticeable clarity in the production on Total Loss — in stark contrast to Love Remains’ blurred, cavernous aesthetic — stylistically the album has Krell’s “narcotised strain of R&B” dialled up to the forefront. And considering the state of mind of its creator during inception, there’s an unmistakable positivity to the release that sits comfortably alongside Krell’s musical ambition.
No sign of DSAS here, then.
Read this interview in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON
July 22, 2012
Brother Ali sounds tired. It’s not surprising. The Minneapolis MC is speaking to us from Bergen, Norway at the end of a European tour on which near-enough the whole crew from Rhymesayers — Ali’s label — has come down with a chest infection that spread among them like wildfire.
“I got it first,” he explains, the infection’s lasting effects still audible in his voice. “Then everybody else got it. Grieves and Budo, who are the openers on the tour, they had to go home. I’m back about 90 per cent, probably.”
Perhaps it’s the illness or the rigours of touring, but there’s a note of restlessness to the tone of a man best known for conscientious and sharply observed lyrics, and questions dealing with subjects outside those he feels necessary to discuss illicit tersely clipped responses.
Questions about touring with rap legend Rakim receive a curt, “Yeah, it was great.” And hip hop’s recorded history — a topic on which it would have seemed Ali would be willing to go back-and-forth all day — also coaxes little response.
“There’re too many to name, you know?” he says, cutting himself short after mentioning Boogie Down Productions and the back catalogue of Public Enemy.
Yet get Ali on a subject he feels to be pertinent, and he springs to life. It’s hip hop’s importance to society, not his love of it, that Ali believes to be the more discussion-worthy area.
“The voice of the people who have been kept invisible — that’s what hip hop means,” he states, matter-of-factly. “It’s the opportunity for us to hear stories and voices of people that have been socially engineered not to know. And so all [hip hop records] are important. I love all of rap, you know?”
Ali is equally vocal about the messages in his own work, and what he strives to achieve when creating it. The title of his upcoming album, Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color, refers to an infamous Reagan campaign ad known as ‘Morning In America’, and encompasses all the connotations the name suggests.
“It’s a socio-political message kind of album. I have songs on there that are my definitive statements about life in the industrialised world. The people at the top — the power elite — have sucked all the resources up to the top, and the old social structures that we’ve had have failed us. So now we’ve found a situation where we need to create new ones; create new alliances; have new ideas and new energy.”
Conspiratorial it may all sound, but Ali has been ploughing this particular lyrical furrow his whole career, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed in the corridors of power. His defiant, confrontational 2007 single, ‘Uncle Sam Goddamn’, caused a stir when its accompanying video clocked over a million views online. Ears pricked up in the US Department of Homeland Security, and Ali became marked.
“I was in Australia playing shows,” he explains. “And the promoter wired money home to Rhymesayers’ bank account. The Department of Homeland Security froze that transaction and seized the money, and I had to register with them, give them everybody’s names that perform and travel with me.”
The problems continued. A short time later, Ali was kicked off a tour with a “famous hip hop group” due to the tour’s “corporate sponsor” fearing his outspoken nature. Is he willing to name either group or sponsor?
“Nah, it doesn’t matter,” he replies, restlessly. “The group definitely doesn’t matter — it wasn’t their choice. And the sponsor doesn’t matter, because it’s not important which company we’re talking about. They all behave the same way. They see to it that music that challenges their stronghold doesn’t get played; doesn’t get heard; is ignored.”
It’s obvious the questions have riled him, and after saying his piece Ali returns to his shell. Subsequent talk about whether the provocative ‘Letter To My Countrymen’ will open the new album (it will) or the influence an extended period of homelessness had on his writing provoke little more than one-line answers or rehearsed platitudes from him.
Most questions about his personal life are fobbed off with references to various albums of his on which each particular issue is dealt with, and it becomes clear that everything this man wishes to express is done so — vigorously and in detail — through his music. He’s not snappy with us (in fact, his tone is largely calm and amicable throughout); he just feels he’s said all that needs to be said. About Mourning In America which is out in August, he says, “It’s my favourite thing I’ve ever done.” Clearly, you’ll have to wait till then to get the best of Ali.
Read this interview in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON
June 12, 2012
Portrait by Megan Howland
Back in the halcyon days of the early-nineties, ramblin’ country music star Willie Nelson got in a little hot water with those suit-and-tie folks at the IRS. It transpired that Nelson’s accountant had forgotten to pay the singer-songwriter’s taxes for a few years and that a hefty $32,000,000 (later reduced by half) was owed in back payment. Nelson turned to his fan base for support, auctioning off a few personal items and releasing The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memoriesalbum — all proceeds from which went to the taxman.
It took three years to clear the debt, but it was the way in which it was done that holds a very particular kind of relevance today. It could be argued that Nelson’s situation was an early, analogue example of an artist turning to crowd funding to remain active — a method now becoming commonplace in today’s digital environs. Numerous platforms, from Sellaband to PledgeMusic, allow musicians and other creative types to go direct to their fans for the cold, hard capital needed to fund artistic projects, often rewarding sponsors with limited edition or exclusive pieces of work relative to the amount pledged.
The likes of Jack Bruce, Gang of Four, and Stool Pigeon scribe Emmy The Great are among those that have wielded fan power effectively in the past, and even chart-botherers like Daniel Bedingfield and Charlie Simpson have had a pop.
But none have seen the kind of success currently being enjoyed by the charismatic queen of dark, brooding cabaret-rock, Amanda Palmer, whose Kickstarter campaign for an ambitious new album/art book/tour broke all records. On May 30, the one-time Dresden Doll cracked $1m (and celebrated by tweeting a topless picture of herself). By the time the campaign finished at 11.59pm the following day, the tally was set at a staggering $1,192,793.
It’s a week before and Palmer is taking time out of a pretty hectic schedule to chat to us from her Boston home.
“I’ve just finished yoga, and I’m about to go get a fuckin’ sandwich,” she says. “You’re in-between.”
Despite Palmer initially enthusing about both the album and the accompanying book of visual interpretations of its songs, conversation quickly turns to the Kickstarter success.
“Uh, I just made it up,” she admits, when asked about the initial $100,000 target set for the campaign. “It seemed like a nice round number. I was 99 per cent sure that we would beat it, but I also didn’t want to make it so low that it was ridiculous.”
Yet Palmer is adamant that she’ll see little-to-no profit from the scheme.
“I broke it down from a million,” she says, referring to a couple of recent blog posts that outline her plans for the cash. “You can see how expensive the process is, and how it absolutely doesn’t leave me with a million — it puts me more or less back where I started. But it puts me back there having put some incredible products into the hands of my fans, you know? And I’ll spend the next year on the road actually making money, knock on wood!”
Reference to Palmer’s fans crop up time and time again during the conversation, and it becomes clear how much she means to them — and how much she relies on them. Is this relationship part of the reason for the record-breaking totals?
“Oh, it’s not part of the reason; it is the reason. I’ve been in a relationship with my fans for 10 years and it’s a really solid relationship. I famously struggled to get off my major label [Roadrunner Records] about four years ago, and since then I’ve been playing with different ways of releasing my stuff independently. And then Kickstarter showed up at just the right time — the perfect platform. You know, before that, I was basically doing Kickstarter via my own website, just like a lot of other artists — basically saying ‘I’ve got an album coming out, I need you to pre-order it so I can pay for it!’” She laughs. “The system isn’t new, but as a platform it’s so cool.”
It’s clear that Palmer has enjoyed the process, adorning her pledging fans with everything from the customary free MP3 downloads (for $1 donations) to having a “ukulele-wielding” Amanda invade your home for a house party (for those prepared to give $5,000 or more).
As enjoyable as it’s all been, we get the distinct impression Palmer is starting to tire of the attention she is receiving for the Kickstarter project, or at least the amount of attention it has diverted away from the music and art that it was set up to fund. And when discussion turns to the album, Palmer’s excitement levels audibly rise.
“It’s totally fucking incredible. I’ve never been more proud of a piece of music,” she says of the as yet unnamed record, recorded over the first few months of the year with new band The Grand Theft Orchestra. “I’m just giddy as a dying fish to get it actually out into the world. Everyone’s focusing on the business model, and yeah, that’s all great — it’s all fantastic — but you haven’t even heard the record! I’m gonna feel fully, fully satisfied when it actually comes out, and people actually understand why I’m jizzing in my pants all the time!”
The art book she has compiled to go alongside it — prints from which will form the basis of an exhibition that will follow Palmer and the band on tour over the summer — seems to provoke similar exclamations of enthusiasm. Put together with the help of flatmate (and featured artist) Cassandra Long, the book contains work from both established figures in the art world, and musicians with artistic side-projects, some of whom were personal friends, others strangers.
“That’s why I reached out to Robyn Hitchcock, who’s one of my all-time heroes. He paints his own album covers,” Palmer enthuses, her validations gaining pace. “And Kristin Hersh [from Throwing Muses]… I read her memoir, and a lot of it is about visual art. And my old friend Conrad Keely from …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, who designed his own album artwork. And I said, ‘I know this is a little weird, but can you make album artwork for me?’ [laughs] Here’s the idea, here’s the budget, here’s the deadline.”
The list of contributors also includes designer and street artist Shepherd Fairey, graphic novel illustrators David Mack and Hans Rickheit, and an eight-year-old Amanda Palmer superfan by the name of Gavin.
“Once a week [Gavin] would send me one of his crayon drawings,” says Palmer, giggling. “So when I did my [previous] album with Ben Folds, Damian Kulash and Neil [Gaiman, Palmer’s husband], we reached out to him to draw the album artwork, ’cos we figured a kid would be the perfect person to draw the artwork for a record that we made in eight hours. We just told him the title, which was Nighty Night, and he made this beautiful little picture of someone going to bed. I’m still hoping that Gavin makes the deadline though, because he’s had writer’s block!”
Even the most blissfully naïve of artists have their troubles.
Portrait by Walter Sickert
Palmer herself is due to submit a piece — an interpretation of ‘The Bed Song’ drawn on sheets with her trademark Sharpie — and, as we speak, is in the process of writing the book’s foreword.
Yet, despite the vocal fervour for her artistic endeavours, conversation returns to the Kickstarter million. Palmer is unyielding in her opinion that it is the model of the future for realising projects, musical and otherwise.
“Oh, fuck yes. I envision that the development is really more on the part of the attitude of the artist, and the attitude of the general public, as people realise what’s possible, and realise that we don’t necessarily need the old systems that we’re all used to in the art world: the way that government art funding works; the way that museums work; the way venues work.
“I think it’s all gonna change a lot; I think it’s gonna be a cosmic change. And I think it’s fantastic, but I also think it’s gonna require a shift in attitude on the part of the audience where they realise they’re actually actively responsible for taking care of their artists and the art. On the other side of the coin, the artists have to take responsibility for communicating this and taking care of their audiences in a way that they’re not used to. Because the minute you have direct-to-fan anything, it’s a two-way street — and both people sort of have to play the game.”
It’s certainly a positive outlook, but maybe it’s a positivity based purely on Palmer’s own experiences with the Kickstarter system, as an established artist with a loyal and expansive group of fans that have been mobilised by the direct approach she has taken with them since her tenure with The Dresden Dolls. Palmer makes it sound very easy to raise a quick million and hit the studio, but the real test will come when artists far, far below the radar attempt similarly ambitious work. As for Palmer’s opinion on the matter, she took to Twitter soon after our interview to make her point clear: “I’m kind of sick of seeing the ‘Amanda Palmer Kickstarter Success: is it repeatable??’ headlines. Are people that asleep?”
During our interview, the overall total of Palmer’s Kickstarter campaign rose by $952.
Read this interview in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON
April 28, 2012
“It’s been almost two years in the making. When you live with something for that long, it’s sort of bittersweet to send it out into the world.” Raj Haldar, the rapper known on wax as Lushlife, explains of latest album Plateau Vision. “I’m hyped that people are finally hearing this stuff, but at the same time, I want to make sure that everything happens just the right way for this music. These songs mean a lot to me”.
Lushlife is a familiar name to those who follow underground hip hop of a certain pedigree. A prolific MC/producer of Indian heritage with a strong body of work to-date — not least last year’s much-vaunted No More Golden Days mixtape — Haldar now applies his take on the oft-confusing ‘cloud rap’ subgenre to his impressive second album.
Plateau Vision is a confident work; an organic blend of gauzy chillwave and golden-era NY boom-bap, all laced with Haldar’s self-styled “stress-rap tendencies”. As an MC, the Lushlife sound has flavours of everything from the Native Tongues groups to DITC-type Ebonics. More noticeably, there’s a stylistic kinship with fellow Philly wordsmith Black Thought, whose Roots crew lent another of their collective, Dice Raw, to one of No More Golden Days’ more memorable cuts.
But it’s an insatiable work ethic and respect of hip hop’s past and present that has contributed to Halder holding sway in the rap community: “I don’t like features, but I’ll do it for Lush,” drawls Das Racist man Heems on Plateau Vision’s ‘Hale Bopp Was The Bedouins’.
Speaking to us in the small hours of the morning from his South Philly home, Haldar ruminates on everything from the importance of social networking to his own explorations into the hip hop world — one that began as a child over 20 years ago.
“I guess, just like anyone else, I started as a fan. I started really listening to hip hop around 1990. Soon after, I got a set of decks. I must have been around 11 or 12.”
This began Haldar’s meandering route to becoming an MC, first learning the crafts of DJing and production before picking up the mic himself.
Cutting his teeth on the UK rap circuit in his early twenties during time spent living in London, Haldar’s first wave of success actually came calling from the Far East.
“I put out some stuff in Japan in the mid-’00s,” he remembers. “I had some joints that charted on their pop charts, and I got to travel to Tokyo for some shows around 2006. It was amazing.”
Being Big In Japan wasn’t enough though, and back in the States Haldar started work on what would become his 2009 debut Cassette City. Bits and pieces of material had appeared previously, but Lushlife concepts work best on the long player.
“I’m an album person” admits Haldar. “When I’m thinking about composing an LP, I’m not just writing a collection of disparate songs, I’m trying to write a cohesive work that’s hopefully greater than the sum of its parts.”
This approach is certainly evident on Plateau Vision, with Haldar humbly substituting his own dexterous production skills on a couple of tracks with those of guest beat-makers. Western Vinyl labelmate Botany, whose brooding work on leaked cut ‘Big Sur’ justifies this decision alone.
Haldar agrees: “On the real, Botany is a genius. He’s an intimidating dude to work with. I was just down in Austin for SXSW, and dude was playing me unfinished joints from his upcoming LP, and I swear each ‘unfinished’ track he played me would’ve been a finished A-side banger if it were mine.”
As well as behind the boards, collaborations in the booth are also a notable feature of Plateau Vision. From contributions by members of the indie community (ex-Titus Andronicus guitarist Andrew Cedermark appears on ‘The Romance Of The Telescope’), to Lox man Styles P’s opening gambit on the scattershot 8-bit banger ‘Still I Hear the Word Progress’, Haldar’s willingness to collaborate proves beneficial.
“It’s simple for me, really. I only breach the subject of collaboration when I think a guest or featured artist can bring something unique to the piece of music. It just so happens that featured artists come from across genre lines”.
Now into his 30s, Haldar has more perspective on hip hop’s progression than most. Being lumped in with a disparate community of performers known as ‘backpack’ rappers — a term used to describe those with a penchant for experimentation and who shun the genre’s flossier aspects — seems reductive to Haldar’s work. How does he respond to the tag?
“No idea, man. Isn’t that just what people would call anything that isn’t pop rap? It’s funny, I mean I talk about a lot of the same things as the mainstream hip hop dudes: smoking weed, bitches etc, but how Lushlife is ‘presented’ probably makes people reflexively refer to me as a backpack rapper, or whatever. All good, though.”
It’s a fair and modest assessment, and anyone with opinions to the contrary should take it up with Haldar’s highly responsive Twitter account (@lushlifemedia). In the meantime, you could do a lot worse than grabbing a copy of Plateau Vision and seeing what all the fuss is about.
Read this interview in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON
April 18, 2012
“Yeah, there are certainly some strange characters round here,” Rob Litchfield, co-owner of Southsea’s Pie & Vinyl, admits. “It’s almost like being in a David Lynch film sometimes. You see people rolling past in wheelchairs going backwards, using their legs to push…”
It’s an observation borne from affection, however, as Litchfield and business partner Steven Roger Courtnell both have utmost faith in their hometown’s ability to support a venture like theirs. Pie & Vinyl, a quaint café/record store located on the Portsmouth mini-city island of Southsea, must be one of the (very) few music retailers to have opened since the inception of Record Store Day in 2007, an annual event set up more to cherish than to save its ailing flock.
Southsea itself does certainly have an air of subcultural charm about it; a mesh of old Victorian housing, naval history and bohemia. The local area, too, appears to have been receptive to Pie & Vinyl as a concept. Throughout our interview, members of the public stick their heads round the door to enquire about opening times, or just to show support.
“Ultimately, people round here are passionate about living in Southsea,” Courtnell continues. “They are pretty receptive and open-minded to an idea like this. There are two comic book shops, an endless amount of vintage shops, two old-fashioned sweet shops, but no record shops.”
All support aside, there’s a reason for the large number of record store closures, and it ain’t a saturation of sweet shops. But perhaps Pie & Vinyl’s unique combination will see it through. “Pie and mash: it’s like a comfort food, isn’t it?” explains Litchfield. “We want people to have the idea that they can come in and relax, be comfortable. That’s why we’ve decked it out like someone’s front room.”
The heavily retro feel of the shop’s cosy interior, from the checked laminate flooring to the dusty piano in the back, is part of the Pie & Vinyl deal. “People like to imagine they’re in a retrospective era where things might have been — or you perceived them to be — easier,” Courtnell says, in respect to the décor. “You’d sit down, have pie and mash… it’s the whole experience. That’s something we’re wary of, and we want to provide that mixed in with a bit of modern.”
That ‘modern’ is supplied by another of the duo’s ideas: individual listening pods at each table that contain 20-or-so newly released MP3s. “I guess the idea is we’ll have a box with an MP3 player, with four headphones on the table,” Litchfield clarifies. “People can relax, listen to what’s coming out, and have the ability to order it from us.”
“We wanna get away from that kind of whole High Fidelity experience, where you’re thumbing through records in a quiet shop, then you take your selection to the counter and they laugh at you,” Courtnell chips in. “We wanna try to be open about the whole thing, and put our hands up and say if we don’t stock something, whether it’s Finnish tango or whatever, we’ll try our best to get it in.”
The pair are under no illusion as to vinyl’s role in music today — largely as an economy built on aesthetics and collectability — but they don’t feel stigmatised by this, as Courtnell explains: “At Christmas time you see John Lewis and Debenhams stocking vinyl purely to put into frames. I mean, there was a bit about vinyl on the flippin’ One Show the other night, you know. That’s when your mum’s about to tell you vinyl’s coming back!” He gestures up at the wall, where the likes of Perfume Genius, Tyler, The Creator and Adele gaze down. “I mean, they’re beautiful pieces of art. You’ve got the experience of holding the vinyl, looking at the artwork, putting it on, the stories of buying them.”
The focus here is most definitely on new music, something that would perhaps keep away the crate diggers and Quo fans (as well as the more Lynchian characters roaming Southsea town centre). “Record shops have that stigma: people are thinking you’re just stocking The Byrds back catalogue for £2.50,” says Courtnell. “But we’re very for experiencing new music and watching it develop and push forward.”
And then, of course, there’s the pie. Sourced from local butchers (as well as a few additions from festival favourites Pieminister) to provide a varied selection, Courtnell also hopes to get the personalised Pie & Vinyl edition, or, “a tribute to an artist or something. The Mama Cass pie!”
“The Karen Carpenter pie,” Litchfield chips in. “Might be a bit inappropriate…”
For now, Pie & Vinyl hold the monopoly on pastry-covered-meat-and-record combos in the Portsmouth area, and their Record Store Day opening period should provide an initial boost.
“Yeah,” says Courtnell, “until Cassettes & Jellied Eels opens up down the road…”
Read this interview in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON
January 27, 2012
“Who said a funk band can’t play rock?” queried Funkadelic’s George Clinton in the 1978 song of the same name. While he may have been bemoaning the pigeonholing of his band as exclusively a funk outfit (perhaps conveniently overlooking the group’s name), in the same song Clinton also asks “who said a jazz band can’t play dance music?” And now, 34 years later, another band is asking the same question.
To be fair, theirs is not an all-out rejection of a genre they are unquestionably grounded in, more a reasonable request not to be judged by its boundaries, for London’s Portico Quartet bring so much more to the table than jazz. The group established their sound from days spent busking on the South Bank — through debut album Knee Deep In The North Sea’s Cinematic Orchestra-inflected instrumentals, and its follow up Isla’s development of the same — and are now incorporating electronic elements into their music.
“Electronic music is a little less dogmatic now,” explains Keir Vine when we meet up with the group in a Dalston café. “Which I think is why you can be free to do whatever the fuck you want.”
It’s a bold move for a band that had, until now, built their identity on a keen sense of melody and arrangement, as well as the unique tones of the ‘hang’ — a tuned percussion instrument that the group use to good effect as a textural layer. Not that they’ve abandoned it in any way.
“We’ve reinvented the hang quite a lot, because we’ve resampled it and pitched it and pulled it around,” says drummer Duncan Bellamy.
Vine agrees. “Yeah, the sub-bass you can generate from shifting it down a couple of octaves is wicked. So we’ve got it all over: melodic, bass, textural…we just need to put it through a vocoder next!”
Despite the experimentation, one listen to their imminent third, self-titled, album proves that the group are skilled enough to know when to reel it in if it’s in detriment to the track. Longer, noodlier cuts such as ‘Rubidium’ and ‘City of Glass’ are balanced out by the Bonobo-type groove of ‘Ruins’, or a refined turn from vocalist Cornelia on the elegant ‘Steepless’. The Swedish singer was an ideal fit for Portico Quartet’s first non-instrumental foray, and the process was a natural one.
“It was a very basic sketch that we sent to her”, admits Bellamy. “But because she’s a friend, we trusted her, I suppose. She did her thing, we didn’t interfere.”
The band uploaded elements of the track for a remix competition on their website, a gauntlet taken up to interesting effect by a number of fans.
“It’s quite a good insight into the way a lot of our listeners hear the music”, bass player Milo Fitzpatrick explains. “Sometimes they’ll hear a drum beat, or a piano loop, or a high synth line that’s usually supposed to be in the background of the music, they hear that as the most prominent part, and decipher that in interesting ways.”
Good-natured and humorous, the group talk excitedly of an upcoming tour. It’s a rarity that four individuals who spend so much time together display no obvious friction, especially when considering that Bellamy, Fitzpatrick and saxophonist Jack Wyllie all used to share a house (along with blue-eyed soul boy Jamie Woon).
“Yeeeah” starts Wyllie, hesitantly, when asked about the period. “It was a bit intense, I think. Do you know what I mean?”
Was Woon an influence on the electronic side of things?
“He used to stand just outside the door of our practice room,” jokes Fitzpatrick, affecting an impression of the singer: “I need some ideas, guys!”
Bellamy chips in: “Yeah, like “Jamie, turn your recorder off! Jamie, turn that microphone off!””
“But no, we owe Jamie quite a lot. He was our technological guinea pig,” concedes Fitzpatrick. “We used to nick his stuff, and if we liked it, then we would get it!”
The relationship has also stretched to collaboration, with Woon contributing to a remix of a track called ‘Coy Carp’ for an upcoming EP. Other contemporary influences are discussed, such as Oneohtrix Point Never, Grouper, and Detroit house man Theo Parrish, and the band seem keen to emphasise their position outside the orthodox jazz realm.
“People that aren’t in to jazz call us jazz, and people that are in to jazz definitely don’t call us jazz”, explains Vine, referring to the characters the group have encountered at the stranger festivals of central Germany and parts of Switzerland.
“They’re a much older demographic,” Wyllie reasons. “We’ll be playing our electronic influenced stuff, and there’ll be someone else with a Zimmer frame singing bop!”
Surely that’s a collaboration waiting to happen?
Vine laughs at the suggestion. “Yeah, don’t get me wrong, the next album’s brewing and it’s looking pretty good!”
Read this interview in context over at The Stool Pigeon
November 30, 2011
Former future garage man on discovering ‘Atlantis’, and his twisted sense of humour…
Those for whom daily existence entails twiddling knobs and shifting rhythms around a computer screen into riveting arrangements of beats and bass are often the most reluctant to define what they do in words. Not through any rebellious inclination or desire to keep the creativity shrouded in a veil of unbranded mystery, but mostly because they don’t know themselves.
New York’s Drew Lustman, peddling his wares under the name FaltyDL, belongs to a constantly expanding group of chameleonic producers for whom genre is an inconvenient concept.
“The moment the discussion starts, and you start trying to decide what music is… I don’t want to say it cheapens it, but it definitely ends the discussion, in a sense,” he explains in diplomatic tones, possibly influenced by the Thanksgiving dinner he shared with a US envoy to Tokyo — where Lustman is currently playing a few shows — just hours before we talked.
First appearing in 2009 with releases for major electronic music player Planet Mu, Lustman was immediately lumped in with ‘future garage’, an ambiguous genre tag referring vaguely to the type of hard-to-pin-down bass music produced by Joy Orbison and others. It’s testament to the speed at which electronic music moves now that by the release of Lustman’s impressive You Stand Uncertain earlier this year, there was already a new generation of kids touching on ‘future garage’ as just another influence on which to call, simultaneously making the term obsolete.
Mild-mannered and insightful, Lustman takes time out from his Tokyo schedule to share with us some thoughts about, among other things, his new EP for Ninja Tune, ‘Atlantis’: four cuts of ominous beats underpinned by Lustman’s irresistible melodic sensibilities. Tracks range from schizophrenic beat workouts (‘Can’t Stop the Prophet’) to the brooding, icy tech house of the title track. Though it would seem ‘Atlantis’ is darker in mood than its predecessor, this is an opinion its creator disputes.
“I think my gauge is just off from other people,” he laughs. “’Atlantis’ actually seems very playful to me. I basically have two moods when I’m writing music: ‘Is my heart broke, or am I happy?’. You Stand Uncertain was me coming out of one relationship into another, and watching that fall apart. It’s a really dark album, but I don’t know if that’s my own warped sense of humour, because I often watch comedies and think they’re these dark comedies, and my friends are like, ‘No, this is hilarious!’”.
A notable feature of Lustman’s production that’s again crops up on ‘Atlantis’ is a prevalent use of vocals, both as hook and as textural layer.
“There are many arguments against this, but I think there’s a ceiling on instrumental music, on its tangibility, you know?” Lustman muses. “So if you can’t write a hook with a synth, you can definitely write a hook with a vocal sample, and that’s something people know and like.”
You Stand Uncertain found Lustman working with live vocalists alongside his usual samples. “Yeah, that was really good,” he says, describing how one of the guest vocals was chopped and rearranged, pitched up and down and everywhere in between. “I ran into Lily McKenzie at Plastic People a few months ago, and she was like, ‘You made me sound like a man!’. I was like, ‘I know — but it sounds good, right?!’”
As well as an inescapable UK influence on his work, more recently a Detroit Techno has crept into his tracks. “I’ve been listening to so much Theo Parrish, Moody Man and Rick Wilhite lately,” Lustman explains, pointing out their influence on his recent mix for The Stool Pigeon. “My newer tracks are these eight or nine-minute house burners with all these samples that stop and start; fall out of place and out of tune.”
Despite the global reach of the Detroit sound, Lustman doesn’t see much of a ‘scene’ around his music in his homeland. “I pretty much know what I’m gonna get when I’m in England or Germany, you know? And then I just played in San Francisco, or Vancouver, and it was like ‘meh, that was alright’” he says, non-committedly. “I have three gigs in New York in the next month, and one is going to be amazing, and two are going to be ‘meh’”.
Nevertheless, his future looks promising: a collaboration with like-minded souls Sepalcure is in the pipeline, as well as remixes for the likes of Bonobo and Roots Manuva. There’s also the small matter of a new long player in the works.
“I feel a little bit up in the air about my next album” he admits. “It’s an interesting feeling, I haven’t felt this way in a few years. Like, ‘Where am I going to land? Where’s my home gonna be?’”
Planet Mu and Ninja Tune have both expressed a desire for it to be in their respective camps. Wherever it may be, the originality and creativity of FaltyDL’s music and that of his close contemporaries signals a strong future for bass music, one that shows no signs of slowing down the constant sonic dialogue between its producers; rapidly pushing it forward into new and exciting territories.
See this interview in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON
March 1, 2011
Jamie Woon may be a name only recently arriving in the collective consciousness of music fans, yet the Londoner has been plying his tuneful trade for a few years now. Essentially a soul/R&B artist who’s recently found an ear for cutting edge electro-dubstep production, Woon has been steadily honing his craft since graduating from the prolific Brit School for Performing Arts a year behind Amy Winehouse; a singer who can’t claim to share Woon’s seamless genre-splicing and unique compositional approach.
2007’s Wayfaring Stranger EP, picked up and released by Polydor, featured Woon’s first foray into dubstep-type fusion: a remix of the title track by sonic architect Burial. The collaboration led to the enigmatic producer lending a hand on Woon’s forthcoming debut long player, Mirrorwriting, due for release on April 4th. The album comes at a good time for the singer; having just made the BBC’s Sound of 2011 list, as well as experiencing a wealth of positive buzz around lead single ‘Night Air’.
Catching up with him towards the start of a short UK tour, it’s obvious he is well equipped to deal with the hype.
“It’s been really cool”, Woon explains, discussing his reaction to the Sound of 2011 poll. “It got so many people to hear my music. Plus, it’s nice that I’m getting positive messages from people who have been following me for quite a long time”. His manner is composed and confident, intelligent and softly-spoken, with a quiet sense of genuine modesty. “In a way, I don’t really buy into the whole concept of it,” he continues, “but I am obviously benefitting from it, so I can’t exactly shout it down!”
Another artist to feature on the list was one James Blake, also an electronica-based singer-songwriter, and a constant marker for comparison with Woon. “I think there are similar influences,” Woon agrees. “His stuff is kind of low key, and he’s got the soul influences as well. I think we were thinking the same thing, but I don’t call my stuff dubstep”.
As lazy as the comparisons are, there’s no escaping the fact that both Blake and Woon have arrived in a similar place at a similar time, albeit from opposite directions: Blake as a producer-turned singer, Woon as a singer looking to make music with sufficient space for his vocals, and finding that space in downtempo dubstep. “I think it’s also because both of us had quite a lot of hype and not much music to listen to. When my record comes out, I don’t think there will be many comparisons!”
While he may occupy a similar place in the market as Blake, Woon’s style is much more akin to members of the neo-soul movement that began to take hold in the mid ‘90s. A mention of one of the scene’s prominent figures, the troubled genius D’Angelo, causes Woon’s face to light up. “I love [D’Angelo’s influential 2000 album] Voodoo,” he enthuses. “His stuff is just so liquid; I definitely aspire to doing something like that.” He goes on to explain parallels in the ways the two of them approach their production, referring to Voodoo’s drum sound in a similar way to how he later waxes lyrical about Burial’s – the celebrated south Londoner who earns a production credit on Mirrorwriting (under real name William Bevan).
Burial’s involvement with the album has been a source of focus for those chronicling its development so far, yet the role was far more back seat than is assumed. “I wanted to credit him, because he definitely did have a role, but I produced it from beginning to end” Woon clarifies. “But he definitely pointed me to a whole bunch of sounds. The remix he did for ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ opened my mind to that. We spent a bit of time, and he showed me some stuff with the computer.”
Did that change his approach to song writing? “I had quite a lot of songs lying around that I wanted to get out, but I wanted to try and find a means of making music – and a tone – that would fit the sentiment of them. I got really excited about the space and ambience, bass, and sort of clicky-clacky drums. There’s so much room for the voice in that. Plus reverb on everything!” Woon laughs, admitting his fondness for the bass music effect du jour. “There’s one tune [on Mirrorwriting] called ‘Street’, where I trying to do something garage-y, and it just came out like the Eurythmics! It might be to do with my voice or my song writing, but, you know, I’ve made my peace with that!”
Annie Lennox imitations aside, Woon has amassed a large pool of influences on which to draw, not least from his housemates: the Mercury Music Prize-nominated Portico Quartet. The working methods of the contemporary jazz four-piece had an impact on the singer. “They’re annoyingly good!” he laughs. “They have such an amazing sense of space and rhythm.”
Any chance of a collaboration? “We spoke about it for ages, but it’s that classic thing when you live with someone, all you wanna do is drink tea and cook dinner!” Woon certainly took a lot from the band’s working methods, however, and drummer Duncan Bellamy has even provided artwork for Mirrorwriting.
The album itself has been a labour of love for Woon, beginning life just after the release of Wayfaring Stranger in 2007. “‘Night Air’ took the longest: about two and a half years, on and off” he recalls. “I was working incrementally, really. I didn’t really set myself a deadline to make the album, so I got a laptop and kept going. I got a deal, so I was able to do that”.
Having shifted compositional style from one-man-and-a-guitar acoustic singer to electro-soulman, Woon began to assemble a new live setup that could handle the tracks. This also meant a change in Woon’s performance approach: “It’s a new thing for me; I’m not playing that much guitar. I’m used to being on my own and responsible for all the music, so it’s quite liberating in a lot of ways.”
As he takes the stage at The Brook in Southampton in front of his three-piece line up of drums, various keys, samplers, and guitar, it soon becomes clear what all the fuss is about. His vocal delivery is effortless, soaring above the crisp neo-soul rhythms that his band lock in to. It’s impressive how much sense these compositions make in a live environment: the looped acapella brilliance of ‘Wayfaring Stranger is an intimate delight, while addictive single ‘Night Air’ gets an extended funk vamp out.
Leaving the stage after three encores, the singer looks visibly humbled by the appreciative cries of “Wooooooooon” ringing throughout the exultant crowd. He can certainly expect more of the same up and down the country; a pleasing reaction to an artist that has put in the time and undoubtedly has the talent to stick around for a while yet.
READ THIS REVIEW IN CONTEXT AT HYPONIK
Mirrorwriting is out April 4th on Polydor.
Woon and band are currently touring. Go to www.jamiewoon.com for more info.