LONDON, ENGLAND – I had the honor of having a legit conversation with him on his last record. (You can read it here!) We talked about his new CD/DVD “Swift,” what inspires him, and what momentum looks like.
LAST YEAR IT WAS “FLINT,” THIS YEAR IT’S “SWIFT.” WHAT’S THE IDEA BEHIND “SWIFT” AND WHAT IS THE MAIN DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOUR DEBUT AND UPCOMING PROJECT?
For me “Flint” as the title suggests was all about the beginning of things. Even though I made albums before that, “Flint” was the first album I released. As the title suggests, it’s that first spark of inspiration. Now I’m trying to capitalize on the momentum of that album. I wanted to expand where FLINT left off. I wanted to keep breaking the boundaries among genres. Where there’s a deep groove track in FLINT there’s now an Afro-Beat track that goes through different phrases. Because Mike played a significant role in the last one and in SWIFT, he handed me the bat a little bit more as the producer, so I’ve tried to take the reins a bit more as a producer.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST PART FOR YOU DURING THIS RECORDING PROCESS?
We did a lot of overdubbing. I think it’s tricky laying down parts with conviction in that sense.
I think ultimately the second album is always the hardest, right? People seem to always say “will the follow up album going to be as good?” or “will he only be a one-album guy?” I felt the expectation. I tried to see past that and continue what I’ve started was one of the hardest things. I think once we’ve started, we built on what we’ve had before. I’m using the same rhythm section, the same mix engineer, recording engineer, film and camera crew. I’ve had this team and we’ve had the whole experience with FLINT to refer to. Whenever we did experience any problems we did regroup and find a way through. I think it’s living through and seeing past the expectations and do your own thing.
WITH FLINT, I REMEMBER SEEING THE FILM, (ANDY IS BRILLIANT,) AND I REMEMBER IT JUST BEING PROBLEM AFTER PROBLEM, AND SEEING YOU AND YOUR TEAM OVERCOME THEM ALL. WAS THERE ANYTHING CRAZY THAT HAPPENED IN SWIFT, OR WAS THE PROCESS SMOOTHER?
Ultimately, it was a lot smoother. I guess we were more prepared as well, because we’ve already seen the worst that it could be with FLINT. We did have a little nightmare when we arrived to the studio. We found that the cameras had been delivered, but there was no one to pick them up. They were at the Post Office and if we didn’t get them out we would lose three days of scheduling. So ANDY drove like a madman to the Post Office, and they were closed. He pleaded with them to reopen the office and they gave us the cameras at the final hour. To be honest that was the most taxing part. It was good to get away with it and be a smooth ride.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO BALANCE THE CREATIVE TIME THAT GOES WITH CRAFTING YOUR OWN MATERIAL, WITH THE TIME YOU DEVOTE WITH SNARKY PUPPY?
I would say that I try to do them simultaneously. I wrote both records on the road with SNARKY PUPPY. I actually find that traveling is the best place to write. By my environment changing all the time, I’m constantly inspired with my ever changing surroundings. Also, I use modes of transport too. With “U-Bahn” I actually wrote it from a train in Germany called U-Bahn. The groove of that song, the BPM, I actually took of the BPM of the train. I was using the groove of the sound of the train to be my metronome. I found a click to match the tempo of the train. I played those string pads at the beginning, which spawned the rest of the song.
I find that modes of transport are a great way to write. There’s a groove there to always fall back on. Particularly trains, and more recently I’ve discovered walking. I’ll whistle a melody of a song and I’ll use my footsteps as a pulse. I think motion is a great place for me to have ideas and feel like there’s something to bounce off.
With Snarky, even though we’ve been on tour so much, the reality is that we’re actually on stage for a maximum of an hour and a half. We’ve got twenty two and a half hours left to play with. Whether that’s on the plane, train, hotel room, or sound check, there’s lots of opportunity. In a way it helped me stay focused. If I had been at home in the studio, I would have been at home twiddling my thumbs.
ARE YOU A NATURALLY ORGANIZED PERSON?
I wouldn’t say so.
BECAUSE YOU LITERALLY HAVE SO MUCH GOING ON WITH SWIFT, FAMILY DINNER VOL. 2 (with SNARKY PUPPY), and SYLVA (with SNARKY PUPPY and the METROPOLE ORKEST), HOW DO YOU KEEP YOURSELF ORGANIZED AND SANE?
It comes down to diaries. We’re at a point now where with SNARKY, I know what I’m committed to up to the end of the year, and all of that is in my calendar. Anything else, aside from SNARKY, I know what to work with. It works out well that my manager is the same for SNARKY. We can talk about dates for SNARKY and my tour and make sure everything lines up accordingly. I have to have material done in about two months. I feel confident because I know it’s a really great team, and between the three of us (Mike and Sput) we’ll find the answer quick enough.
It’s amazing and inspiring to be doing so many different things. Each inform each other in their own way. They’re all different experiences, but everything I’ve learned about being a sideman in SNARKY I then get to put in a different context when touring my music; and equally MIKE does the same. He says that he finally enjoys not being the head honcho of the band, and he’ll be the sideman for my gigs. It’s nice to swap it around a bit and keep the variety.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SONG FROM SWIFT AND WHY?
I have to say I was really happy with how “U-Bahn” came out. It seems to have a lot of emotion to it. It seems to strike a lot of different camps that I’m interested in. There’s an incredible singer from Sweden that goes by Sirintip to overdub vocals over the vocoder part that I laid down. The idea is that you’re traveling across Germany on this train. When it rides the solo at the end, you’ve arrived at your destination. After all the traveling you’ve arrived at your destination.
I think one of the other tracks I’m really happy with is the title track. Sput (Robert “Sput” Seawright) helped me produce and he had a huge impact. I had about twenty ideas, I knew they were all decent ideas, but I couldn’t get the right structure. He basically said ‘put that one right there, move that one, get rid of that one, do that one again.’ He organized the ideas for me, we put the track together, and it turned out brilliant. It’s like a big Afro beat outro, the intro is more kind of like a deep hip hop; but more like symphonic, dramatic hip hop. I’ve got an endorsement with ROLI Seaboard, this new kind of rubber keyboards made out of silicone. It’s like playing a piano like it’s a fret board, so you can get the vibrato and tremolo happening. That’s featured on the track. I think those two are the favorite ones to record.
WITH YOUR SOUND I CAN TELL YOU ARE WELL TRAVELED. DO YOU INTENTIONALLY CALL OUT DIFFERENT LOCATIONS WHEN YOU WRITE AND EXPRESS YOUR MUSIC?
Absolutely. That’s what really interests me about music. It’s this universal language, everywhere you go people know and have an understanding, but it sounds completely different. I love to explore that and reflect that in my own writing. I’m actually in the process, I think it’s gonna be the next album, of conceiving an album of dance music from everywhere. There’s gonna be a track that’s an African groove, drum and bass, hip hop, swing, I’m interested in these different pulses. I’m still conceiving as we speak, but I want to reflect how people love to dance. There’s a unity in all those grooves no matter where in the world they come from.
HOW DO YOU STAY INSPIRED?
It’s just about creating a momentum. Now that I’ve got this foothold with FLINT, I’m carrying on from that. I feel a stronger desire and obliged to do this for myself. To capitalize on this momentum. It feels like getting up in the morning and making it happen. It feels relatively easy, I’ve got a specific direction. I’m much more productive now than I ever have been. I wonder if I would have had more direction then if I’d been farther than I am now. Obviously I’ve been very lucky to have had SNARKY as a platform and MIKE and SPUT beside me, helping me to bring this stuff to life. But I feel like there’s a finite difference between me now and me three years ago. As a result, I am now working a lot quicker and trying to be even more prolific. It’s a good place to be right now, for sure. Long may it continue.