Posted on Feb 4th, 2009 in FG Q&A by Nick Catchdubs
You already know dude as one of the architects of Spank Rock and a massively creative and in-demand remixer and producer from everyone from Santogold to the Kills. But do you know his feelings on roast pork? Hit the jump to find all the dirt on kitchen hints, DFA studio internships, P-Thugg keyboard reccomendations, and upcoming projects (which include tracks on the forthcoming Kid Sister LP and Bag Raiders EP). Our man got joints! You can also catch a DJ set from XXXChange at the Guggenheim (!!!) in NYC this Friday, Feb 6th.
How would you describe your earliest musical history as a kid? We heard long hair and mega drum fills were involved…
Haha yeah when I was younger I listened to Guns N Roses and stuff, that’s how I got interested in playing drums. I played in metal bands, punk bands, I studied jazz for a long time too.
Eventually you ended up at two different music schools. What was that experience/environment like?
Originally I went to NEC in Boston studying music performance. It ended up being more geared towards training kids to play in orchestras and stuff like that so I got disinterested pretty fast. I didn’t really know what i wanted to do yet, but the competitive side of things at music school got pretty ugly. I realized i wasn’t going to make it just as a player right around the same time that I got really interested in electronic music and making sample music so it was a pretty natural progression from one to the other.
After dropping/failing out of NEC, I went to NYU because a few of my buddies from Baltimore were going there. NYU had a really great recording studio, and even though I wasn’t a music-tech major, they let me have the job of locking up the studios at night and opening them the next morning, so I started learning about all the recording gear, and recording stuff at night after everybody else had left. I probably broke some of their expensive gear just trying to figure how to work everything, but I swear I used those studios more than any of the kids who were actually taking the classes!
How did you end up working at DFA’s studio? What music did you work on while there, and what was the working/recording process like?
My buddy Tim Sweeney, who I went to high school with in Baltimore, got an internship over at the DFA studios because he was a music technology major. He was familiar with Tim Goldsworthy’s history in UNKLE so he started working over there as an intern. A band called Zero Zero, who were getting produced by DFA while Tim was there, needed a drummer so I ended up playing drums with them on Tim’s recommendation. Playing in Zero Zero, and being friends with everybody in the band, I got to spend a lot of time hanging around DFA and after a while I started interning there too. I was pretty inexperienced on the technical side of things so I didn’t get asked in too much when they had big clients coming in, but i did get to see some of the really fun stuff get made, like “Losing My Edge” and their LeTigre remix, so that was really cool. And it definitely changed my perspective on dance music, which i wasn’t really into until that point.
Were you DJing and playing out / going out at the time? What were the records and artists inspiring your own music?
We used to all go out to Plant Bar to drink, go dancing, and see James Murphy and Marcus and Dom from Plant DJ. That was really fun because they would be playing a really great selection of classic dance records as well as new records they had made, and the sound system was really good. Also, that was around the time that the Rapture’s “House of Jealous Lovers” and the first LCD singles got really big in the more underground clubs. That’s when I started to really get into going out dancing and getting dance records. I didn’t start DJing until much later, but i was definitely buying a lot of records then.
How did you link up with Naeem and start making Spank Rock music?
Naeem went to school with my good friend Chris Devlin in Baltimore and we had been working on and off for a few years. I had tried to help him engineer and record some stuff he had done in Philly, but it never went anywhere really (and truthfully i was a pretty shitty engineer!). He was kind of in a transitional phase where he was switching gears from underground backpacker stuff into doing more fun party oriented things. I was still in Zero Zero but after a couple years that band broke up. I bought their Pro Tools rig from Dave Idea (Zero Zero guitarist) for about $500, and that was the computer I recorded the beat for “Sweet Talk” on. Up until then I was still doing stuff mostly on a MPC or other crappy samplers that I could get, but when I got the computer things really opened up for me. When Naeem heard the music I did for “Sweet Talk” I was trying to get him to rap over some other bullshit but, he was like “I need to rap over this” so that was the first thing we did that really clicked. After that, I did “Backyard Betty” and “Rick Rubin,” and those three established the core of that record [YoYoYoYoYoYo].
The earliest SR shows were pretty chaotic (in a good way), you were bugging out with the megaphone at a lot of them. What were some of the most memorable moments / gigs?
Doing those first SR gigs was not as big of a deal for me as they were for the other guys, I think, because I had been in bands before and done shows about that size or bigger, it was when we started doing the really big shit, 5,000 people or more, that I really got freaked out, like, what the F am I doing up here?!?! I’m not a rapper! that’s when I decided that I should learn how to DJ so Chris and Ron [Devlin and Darko] would let me DJ whenever there was some time left before or after the show. That was on the first tour we headlined.
What was the “oh shit” moment where you realized just how crazy it was getting?
When I got asked to remix some of the bigger stuff that I did, like Thom Yorke, Bjork, Beck, stuff like that, people who I’ve always looked up to. To find out that those people knew our music, that was flattering.
There were moments where the whole Spank Rock crew and extended cast of characters felt like a really fun, fucked up kind of Peanuts gang. You had a pretty regular set of collaborators – as a producer, did you take a different approach for a Pase Rock song featuring Amanda vs. an Amanda song featuring Pase, or was it more of a “just put it all together in the studio and see what makes sense” kind of vibe?
Well, not really. It’s like I give beats to whoever, usually something pretty sketchy, and then we finish them off together, I’m not a huge “beat tape” guy. I like to collaborate, then work on the stuff by myself later on to refine it. Pase is pretty particular about his stuff, because he’s also a DJ, so he likes to have a lot of input on the production. We argue a lot but I think it’s a good for the quality control of the records. But yeah, with the guest artists thing it just seems like it’s whoever happens to be hanging around the week that we’re working!
When did you first meet and start working with Kid Sister?
I first met Melisa when we were on the road with Spank Rock and she opened for us in Chicago. That was 2005? We spent some time emailing back and forth, at that point I think she was rapping mostly over other peoples instrumentals, so she sent me “Let Me Bang” so I could do a beat for it. That was the first thing I did with her.
Then came “Control” and more recently “Get Fresh,” which you worked on with A-Trak. What’s the process been like?
It’s been different every time, the only thing that’s been consistent is that I’ve never recorded her vocals, I think she usually does that in Chicago.
You and Trizzy have done some other stuff together too, like the James Pants remix.
Working with Alain has been really good, he’s perfect for the role of executive producer, he’s got a really clear idea about where each record needs to go and is able to delegate responsibility to the right people. Personally I’d never be able to do that! I always want to do every last little thing myself! “Get Fresh” for example, he told me which part he wanted me to work on, gave me a couple of really clear references and we were done in like two days.
There’s always a welcome looseness to your stuff, and it’s enhanced by the fact that you mix a lot of analog, “live” sounds with all the crazy Logic production. Can you describe your general studio setup and workflow?
I think I had so much fun at DFA watching them work that I kind of try and do stuff like the way I saw them do it. Laying out a couple minutes of the basic bassline or chords or whatever, then just playing all kinds of stuff into the recorder over that basic bed. But really just doing TONS of ideas, all kinds of instruments, synths, special effects and guitar pedals plugged into each other, whatever you can think of. Then you edit it all down ruthlessly when you’re feeling a little less manic. I’m way better at editing than actually playing.
What’s the best new piece of gear you’ve picked up?
I got a buch of old analog stuff recently, but honestly the thing that’s been getting used most in the studio lately is probably Ghostdad’s old Casio SK-1! That and P-Thugg reccomended a vocoder, the Roland VP-330, which I was finally able to find and it’s the best I’ve ever used. That one’s getting some use, but really I’m a sucker for cheap thrift store instuments, anything with a little soul.
One of the best parts of the Fully Fitted blog is when you post up all the unapproved and on spec remixes you’ve done – they’re almost always awesome, its an interesting look into your own music and how the world at large ends up perceiving it.
Doing remixes can get frustrating, lately I’m rejecting everything. I feel like I’ve had my little run, now I just want to get back to making original music. It’s frustrating when your stuff gets left in the can for whatever reason, that’s why we started posting some of the better ones up online. I’m not sure I ever started out to be a “dance remixer” and none of my older stuff really works that way. I think a lot of people would call for remixes expecting a Baltimore club track and would get pissed when I turned in a do-wop version or whatever. Recently I’ve started to make more house-oriented things because I’ve been playing bigger DJ gigs and that’s the kind of thing I want to play in my sets, but up until a couple of years ago I wasn’t really thinking about making the remixes work on the dancefloor or anything, I was just trying to have fun and be creative, treating the remix more as if someone had asked me to produce that song in the first place, like “this is what I would have done!” Lately though I’ve been DJing a lot more and I just want to make bangers! All my principles went out the window!
What current projects are in the works, from stuff you’re still recording to finished records that are waiting to be released – please spill the beans on as much as possible!
Me and Chris and Ghostdad have been working on some music that’s sort of a cross between old 70′s psych rock and more modern dance-type record production. All our old mix tapes always had these interesting psychedelic strands of meaning woven through them, so I think it makes sense to make an album like that. Also because the Fully Fitted EP that we did was so satisfying creatively, I think it’s going to be really fun to do something similar but with way less samples, more original production and “found sound” type stuff. Pase has a bunch of really, really hot 12″s more or less finished so you should see that stuff released on Dim Mak pretty soon.
You just got back from the desert with Gang Gang Dance – what’s that about?
Oof. Too early to say! No comment?
What’s your current secret DJ weapon?
If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret anymore now would it!
Ok, enough investigative journalism. What’s your favorite new recipe? Who’d you like to step to in an Iron Chef cook off?
I’ve been doing a lot of roast pork lately, because it’s good for the winter time, but now I think it’s time to branch out and learn to make curry or some shit, that’s one area I haven’t really explored yet. I heard Pretty Titty’s a good cook but he hasn’t stepped up to a proper cook off with me yet!