Did you learn to play music growing up?
Yeah, my mum was the musician in the family, she was the creative one. She was good at art and music and she played the clarinet. Actually, the very first thing that got me into music was my dad’s uncle, I’d heard stories that he played harmonica really well. We went to a family gathering, I was really intrigued, I was a kid, so young, and all night I was waiting at this family do waiting for him to pull his harmonica out and play it. I knew he had it in his breast pocket and he never did. Then we went to the car park, as we’re walking to the car my dad shouted to him “ah, Malcolm, you didn’t play your harmonica” and he just got it out in the car park and shredded it up and I was like, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen so I started playing the harmonica at six or seven I think. I really got into it and did that for a couple of years, and then my mum got me into classical clarinet so I played clarinet for a while too.
Do you still play?
No I haven’t played for years. I probably could bash out a tune though if I had one. From there I went onto guitar, as you do when you are a teenage boy, then went on to piano as well. Picked up a bit of drums at college but nothing serious. Those were the main instruments really.
Was the music you were listening to at the time in line with those instruments?
With the harmonica stuff I was listening to blues, then more classical pieces through the clarinet, then with the guitar I was really interested in the shred guitarists (laughs) like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. Just watching videos in bed and sitting for hours in my room learning how to tap and learning shred licks, stuff like that. It was the technical prowess that I was interested in for sure and I think that’s the same with anything I do in music, I’m always interested in the technical prowess within it, especially with production. Even if the song’s not that great, if the production is amazing I’m totally into it. I think with the guitar it was mostly shred stuff and sitting with a metronome for hours, alternate picking and getting the metronome speed up and being like, yes, I can do this many notes (laughs), stupid.
But you were listening to that music as well?
Yeah, I was into that but I got into breakbeat around the age of 14. My neighbour who was a couple of years older than me, he got a couple of decks. He would buy breakbeat vinyl and told me about beat matching. I could never do it at that age, never had the time to practice but I’d always go to his and have a go on the decks. I didn’t really know the artists I was listening to at that time, to me it was interesting music, all these sounds and stuff I hadn’t heard before. I asked him, “how are they making these tunes what’s the process behind it” and he actually showed me a very early version of Ableton, I downloaded a copy that day I think, then I ended up buying Reason about a week later. I think I was about 15 or 16, I started trying to work that out. I wasn’t really aware of mixing, it was more just making sounds. A lot of the early stuff came out quite drum and bass-like and break-beaty.
It’s funny when you look back about what led you down a certain path. Had you not been living in that location you never would have found electronic music at that time….
Yeah, and the other thing that got me into the sound design and synth world was that I downloaded an album that I thought was something else. I thought it was some heavier guitar thing perhaps and it turned out it was a guy, Distance, who did the deeper side of dubstep, the more respectable side not the brash side. I listened to that, all the movement in the low end and the subby stuff, I was like, that’s insane, all the evolving synth sounds, I was really impressed and was like that’s what I want to do.
And it was an accident….
Yeah that was an accident, I downloaded an album I thought was something else by complete accident and it was deep dubstep and then all through Uni I was obsessed with learning soft synths. That was all I did when I wasn’t at uni, it was just soft synths and producing.
It’s funny, people often refer to one of their parents as the “artistic one”….
Yeah well my dad is a tradesman, he’s an electrician.
It’s funny as your music also has a mix of electronics and organics
Yeah, personally my ear is drawn to organic or warm analogue sounds, if I hear a tune with a digital synth that’s really bright it doesn’t do it for me. I prefer well rounded analogue stuff, piano, strings….I sample a lot of real instruments but then change them, put them into the tape then jam my fingers into the spools (laughs).
I was interested in the process because I know you like to use tape…..
Yeah it was only with the last release I got really into the tape stuff. I’m still going to use it but not as drastically as I did. With the last release everything was run through tape and it led to everything going in and out of tune with each other I guess, which gives it a vibe, but I just wanted to use it a little bit more sparingly I think for the next stuff. But yeah, running things out to tape but also recording a vocal to the tape machine and then damaging the tape afterwards, so getting a pair of scissors and scoring the tape after I’ve recorded onto it and then playing it back. It sort of like breaks apart in a really cool way, it will crackle and do all sorts of weird shit. Even if you scrunch the tape up loads it does cool stuff. I tried burning it as well. There is loads of different things you can do with it, it has a real vibe when you get some damage on the tape.
I know you are interested in photography. Do you feel that outside mediums influence your music?
Yeah 100%. I guess it’s only in the last two years I’ve realised the power of visual stimulus. I’ve always drawn mostly from other music and then it’s only in the last few years I’ve really had that feeling of like, you go to an exhibition or a gallery and see a beautiful painting or some amazing photography exhibition and there’s definite inspiration that comes out from that. But also being behind the camera I find that just choosing a picture and developing it a certain way, obviously I like developing the film myself, under-developing it so it’s darker, it’s this mood, this poetic image and then that mood needed to be in the music as well, it goes hand in hand.
Do you listen to other contemporary music now?
Yeah, I’ve got a wide variety of stuff I listen to, I really love Tim Hecker. He’s a big inspiration, I love his stuff. Obviously love all the Warp stuff too, Oneohtrix Point Never is another one of my favourites, he’s amazing. Arca, I’m loving the Arca stuff at the moment he’s on the next level that guy, I love how all of his stuff is so original. Anything he makes you’ve never heard before.
Do you feel like your part of any scene?
That’s a good question. No, I feel like I’ve kept myself to myself for quite a long time. It’s only in the last year or so I’ve started collaborating properly with people. I mean I guess it comes under that electronic singer songwriter bracket I suppose which probably is a scene I guess, but I wouldn’t say I was in a collective of any kind. I probably should be.
It seems to be a double edge sword
Yeah you can be put in a box. Three years ago when I put out my first stuff and there was not as many comparisons for people then so it was just “oh, it’s like James Blake” and I thought, I’m not really making anything like him, I don’t think. But it’s just because it’s that singer songwriter making electronic music the journalists didn’t know what else to say, whereas now there is so many, loads of people doing it and it’s thinking about how to be a little bit outside of what everyone else is doing. I’m quite aware of that.
That’s the other hard thing I guess, once you are aware of it you don’t want to push away from something you want to do just because you’re trying to be different.
Yeah, it actually put’s blinkers on your creativity as well, if you sit down and I say right I’m going to create something original and unique I’ll be here all day making nothing, you’ve got to have a bit of a box to be creative within is good, having limitations is good, otherwise, for me personally at least you don’t have any direction and that doesn’t work.
Do you feel like you are on a good line or headed in any direction?
Yeah, for the next lot of stuff it’s going back to what my first release was like. Which is funny because the first release, I made that without any kind of label in mind, I wasn’t even thinking about the industry, it was before the industry had tainted me (laughs), and I wasn’t really thinking and I made it how I wanted it and it came from a really honest place and that was really nice. After that I worked with various people and they said oh, you should make more stuff like this, or make it a bit dancier, I got totally sucked into that and it really bugged me. It’s this thing in the industry of like everyone’s waiting for the next big single you’ve got and it’s like well that’s such a ridiculous mentality, you’re one person and they’re saying yes or no it’s like, this is nuts, no one’s heard it. I’ve got music on my computer that will never see the light of day because of their decisions, but that’s just how it is. So then recently with all the success with the advert stuff, it’s put me in a position where I was like I could kind of not have to think about making sales or whatever, then it’s like what would you make if you weren’t afraid. Actually Jane [Third] at Because Music asked me that question, I had a meeting with her and she said, what would you make if you weren’t afraid, which I thought was a really good question. Then I came back to the studio, had some free time and thought I’m just going to write what I want to write. And it came out a bit hip hoppy, sort of like a hip hop version of Burial (laughs), so I was like, no ones done this, this could be a thing, I don’t know, we’ll see (laughs).
It’s interesting that both experience and security enable you to do that, to free you up. If you don’t do the commercial work
I guess, when you are a little bit younger perhaps, you’re a bit naïve and overwhelmed by those industry folk and their saying things and your like, “yeah, I should do what they say, they know what they’re talking about”. Actually, they don’t know what they’re talking about, I think the most important thing for artists that I’ve learned now is that you have your own vision and you do what you want to do, and they’re there to facilitate your vision, not change it or alter it. Obviously a bit of guidance is fine but when someone’s giving you the yes or no on tracks it’s like, hang on a minute, these are my songs, you can’t say yes or no to them.
You go to someone else and they’ll give you the opposite answer..
Exactly, that whole setup was really crazy to me which is why I don’t have a manager at the moment because I found it just interfered with my process and I’ve achieved so much more from not having a manager.
Do you have releases due out?
I’ve got some writing at the moment obviously I’ve got all this stuff ready to get it sounding, I guess it just puts you in a higher league, having this outboard gear, a bigger sound, a bit more professional sounding, yeah, get these songs that are written get them through all this and see what they sound like at the end of it. I don’t even know yet what’s I’s going to sound like, I’ve got a rough idea in my head. Yeah, I’m really excited, I’ve wanted this kind of stuff for so long and I think that when you’re excited you make really good music.
What gear are you currently using?
Synths: Prophet 08, Prophet 6, Moog Sub Phatty, Korg MS20 Outboard: Thermionic culture Vulture, Thermionic culture Phoenix, Manley Massive Passive
The gear informs the sound and leads you down a path?
I like finding the little nuances in the equipment, you change something and it will do a weird sound, some odd modulation and then really zoom in on that and make it a centre piece of a song. Weirdly I find it so inspiring, the equipment. I love it, it really does get me going. When something sounds really nice it just makes me want to do more and more. Since I’ve got this I’ve been in here constantly, I haven’t left.
Do you have a timetable for your writing?
Most days it will be ten or eleven hours in here which is pretty excessive. I’m in here a lot. Most weeks i’ll come in here everyday.
And when you’ve got time off your taking photos and getting inspired?
Yeah, but I haven’t done that for a while because I’ve been enjoying this stuff. It comes and goes.