The business of phone interviews is fraught at the best of the times. It’s a disconnected affair, invariably at odd times when you’re not in work mode/or alarmingly just awake - and then there’s shitty lines and mobiles, interviewees wandering the noisy streets, total no shows and all the rest. For the second time in a month since my trusty, old school, cabled 70’s beige phone passed on, I’ve had to write notes rather than record, as the flimsy and frankly fecal, gleaming white modern phone I bought to replace it, has played up. Naturally it didn’t when I dutifully tested it hours earlier, nope, fine then, however… just before I’m about to hit record - on comes the mother of all earth hums. So if any of the local readers know where to get their hands on one of these
or even these
or something similar (ie not brand new) please hail me up, because not being able to get a decent recording from home base is causing some severe frustration.
It nearly did my nut in when talking Rowland S. Howard (Boys Next Door, Birthday Party, Crime & The City Solution and These Immortal Souls etc) a few weeks ago too, fortunately Mr Howard (who transported me to instant idiot teenage Birthday Party fanboy status, not an easy task on a curmudgeonly veteran!) is a slow speaker, suiting my hesitant note takery. Even more fortunately so was Ross Birchard, the Glaswegian from the Lucky Me camp, better known as Hudson Mohawke, who dropped his debut LP ‘Butter’ for Warp in the UK last week. Stress was then subsequently increased by watching the slim timeframe of 15 minutes erode, only to find out that he’d been in the shower, for the first few times I’d called his number, bang on schedule. Bah! Below is what I could accurately salvage from my decidedly shabby note taking, and getting that written up and remembered as soon as I put the phone down.
I see you’re going to Australia and not coming to NZ, that’s a bit rude isnt it?
“Well it would be, but actually I am coming to New Zealand, it’s just not confirmed yet. I’m coming to Wellington and maybe another city, maybe Auckland. I have been to Auckland before, but that was an odd one." (A private Serato party where there were apparently, rather embarrassingly one might suggest, major problems with the decks!)
You mentioned a lot to live up to with Warp, how do you feel you've done?
“I’m not checking in everyday to see how it’s going, but I think it’s doing alright, had some good reviews and that.”
I actually meant within yourself rather than sales, it is quite a legacy to become part of.
“Well as I always say in interviews when people ask me this question (uh oh) I don’t think it’s like any of the Warp artists sat back and said I’ve just made a classic album. You just try and do as good a job as you can, and so I wouldn’t say I’m totally happy with it but I wouldn’t say I’m unhappy either. But it is a big legacy, you’re right about that.”
What is it with the two and a half minute songs? I’m not being funny, but everyone making abstract/wonky/whatever you want to call it hip hop tempo instrumental gear, seems incapable of writing anything longer? (he can and occasionally does btw)
“(Laughs) Well I don’t think it’s the length of the songs... or not just the length of the songs, (laughs)! There is a lot of very similar sounding stuff around, and I don’t really see myself as part of that..... hopefully. I think you can do a lot, and say enough, in two and a half minutes. It doesn’t have to be five or six minutes to justify itself as a song. I don’t believe that. I get bored listening to long records that just loop, so I guess I just try and avoid that.”
Which is fair enough if you can come up with svelte shock-outs like 'ZOo00OOm', 'Polkadot Blues' and 'Spotted', which all tell a full tale, and feel in fine physical fettle, without taking more than 180 seconds. Regrettably, as I was rambling on round these parts last week, there’s an awful lot of derivative drivel, that is merely aping the templates and palletes of the clutch of genuinely unique maneuverers and shakerators, like Mr Mohawke, his pal Rustie, Flying Lotus and a few others. I wonder if his background in the turntabilism game (a former Scottish DMC champ as a youthful DJ Itchy) has contributed to his musical short attention span and A.D.D. cut-up dynamics.
“Oh definitely yes. When you’re thinking in terms of 90 second sets or doing a whole routine in six minutes it definitely has influenced me, and that’s definitely also affected how I make my music.”
Another touchstone of what has rapidly become the Hudson Mohawke aesthetic, that has had the likes of Rihanna, Bloc Party’s Kele and Erykah Badu getting their people in touch with his for some deep-fried Scottish beat heat, is a definite ravey influence. Right down to the use of some sounds that otherwise might have been left in the dusty cupboard alongside Vicks vapourub, smiley faces, Altern-8 records and mobs of white boys with whistles.
“Well growing up there was always tapes of rave stuff, hardcore and jungle and I think that’s obviously rubbed off in the music that I make. But I agree a lot of it is in sounds and feels, rather than actually trying to make music that is influenced by that. That’s not really what I’m about.”
I find your music very animated, as if you can almost see the parts moving.
“Yeah that’s exactly it. When I’m writing it is almost as if I can see what I want the drums to do, not actually visually, but if I close my eyes. I definitely do have an image in my head of where everything should sit in a song. I try to do that, not to get sucked into staring at the computer screen for too long, because it’s not really conducive to creativity. I’ll sit in the dark listening with headphones on over and over again, to try and achieve the point of view of a listener, or I’ll take a pen and paper and write things down, just to get away from being stuck in front of the computer and having that affect how you make music. So animated is probably a good description.”
With Fruity Loops you’re using a relatively simple program that should help that process then?
“It does, definitely. Because if you don’t think of music as just being moving blocks of sound around, then it’s going to be a lot more interesting. I’m not really interested in trying to make records like anyone else but I am interested in making sounds that people might not have heard before.”
And just as it was getting good, and we were beginning to talk about the music in some depth, I had to halt the conversation and let the next interviewer have their shot. Damn your shower Mr Mohawke, don’t you know you can do a phone interview without being clean and pristine (and sounding like you’re still half way through your morning ablutions for the first couple of parries). I mean I never even reached the really big questions - like Rangers or Celtic? Whether he grew up reading Oor Wullie and The Broons? Or an in-depth discussion of the majesty of Scottish baking. etc etc. Where’s the justice?
As it goes I’ve been pleasantly and gently stunned by 'Butter' (I suspect that gentle is a word that wouldn't come up too often around HM's gear). It’s time and a place music for me, not something I want to stick on every day, but whenever I do, I repeatedly find new layers of complexity emerging, and am constantly struck by the fact that for all the noise and tricky editing, the Glaswegian geez has got a really strong melodic sensibility. I know he's got a bit of a prog thing going on in his listening habits, but I had been keen to find out how far he'd delved into Steve Reich/Philip Glass/John Adams kind of axis, as I can definitely detect similarities with some of his treatments, though of course his are tiny shards in relatively truncated pieces, the kind of things that ambient trio could work into an hour long piece, at the very least.
I look forward to seeing how his music develops, and there’s plenty to suggest that he’ll be still standing when the wonky-wagon has trundled out of focus to be replaced by whatever journalistic conceit (nueva cumbient…anyone? thought not) comes next.
'Butter' is spreaderizing in a store near you right now, or next week if you’re of the Southern Hemispherical persuasion, I don’t think I need to clarify that this is some gregariously grove-laden ghee. Hey come on, I got through the whole thing with nary a slightly past its sell-by date buttery reference, so I'm entitled to at least three at the end!
It’s on Warp so it’s incredibly easily accessible hence no buy link needed this time around
Up till next weekend Hudson Mohawke on Benji B’s show Some cracking gear on this.
You expect some music here right? Follow this link to XLR8R and a 192 of the stunning 'Rising 5' which has been terrorizing the b-Nets of late.