(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Interview - Mashup Artist Summit

This is a mashup interview. I conducted separate interviews with five of my favorite mashup artists, some by phone and others by email. Afterwards, mirroring their creative approach, I created this collage interview as a Mashup Artist Summit. None of these artists were aware of how their interviews would be combined, but rather than warp their words for surprise or humorous effect, I've attempted to keep their ideas intact while recognizing their related perspectives on mashups.

For those interested in getting all the context behind these quotes and learning more about these five artists, please browse the source interviews.
Tom Compagnoni (Wax Audio) – interview
Bob Cronin (dj BC) – interview
Eric Kleptone (The Kleptones) – interview
Max Tannoneinterview
Mark Vidler (Go Home Productions) – interview

Jester Jay: Thanks for virtually joining me. How did you all get started?

Eric Kleptone: I've always made music. I played in bands when I was in school. I kind of fell into doing sound engineering and lighting and I got the bug and learned how to DJ.

Max Tannone: I deejayed for a while growing up in middle school and high school.

EK: I wanted to do live shows, so I taught myself how to DJ.

Bob Cronin: I made mix tapes in high school. In college, I made sort of pre-DJ music. I would play a tape and flip the tape over after 45 minutes. Doing those gigs made me always want to have something that was new, that somebody hadn't heard before.

Tom Compagnoni: I created my first digital “Cut & Paste” project in 2004, a 5 track EP called WMD …and Other Distractions. I cut up speeches from politicians of the time and mixed them with various beats and multi-track components.

Mark Vidler: I had been doing similar experiments on a Tascam Porta One 4-track recorder back in the mid-‘80s by overdubbing a cappella tracks from 12″ vinyl with instrumental sections from songs.

When I first started, I played in a band called Chicane between 1987 and 1995. I left the band in 1995, but by 2002, I was missing the action. The whole bootleg scene suddenly rose up overnight, and really pulled me back in. We called them bootlegs in the UK back then, “mashups” as a description came a couple of years later. I was convinced that I could use bootlegs or mashups as a vehicle to getting back into the music business. I set about doing my own bootlegs and knocked up Eminem’s “Without Me” vs. Wings’ “Silly Love Songs” (called "Slim McShady").

TC: It wasn't until about 2007 that I did my first mashup, Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”, called “Whole Lotta Sabbath”.

BC: I started making my own music and doing hip hop and electronic music in the studio with a four track. I went online and I found this website called GYBO – Get Your Bootleg On. At that time, it was mashup oriented. I was a lurker there for a long time before I posted anything. I needed to start doing it. It was like I had come home. It was a totally natural medium for me. I made some tracks and people seemed to like them and it was really hip hop based.

EK: The mashup thing… I've always been totally into samples. I used to make pause button edit tapes, just trying to get things to juxtapose, to make really good mix tapes. If somebody asked me for a mix tape, they didn't just get a bunch of tunes thrown on a tape; they got little interludes, little bits and pieces. The whole mashup thing, when it exploded, which was like 2001/2002, immediately I knew, “That’s exactly the sort of thing that I've been waiting for.” The first tune I did, the mashup happened in my head, which rarely happens. It was a mashup of “Ray of Light” by Madonna and “Cannonball” by the Breeders.

MT: I knew what a mashup was. I was familiar with The Grey Album, but I never tried it.

EK: Dangermouse’s Grey Album is okay, but it was very hip hop. It’s very American.

MT: One night, I don’t even know why, I just looped the Radiohead song, “I Might Be Wrong” from Amnesiac. A few years later I was listening to Jay Z’s American Gangster album and those a cappellas had come out. They were easy to find on the internet. So I just grabbed the a cappella to his song, “Pray”, and put them together because they had the same vibe going. It was just called “Wrong Prayer Remix”. A few weeks later, I did another Jaydiohead track, what became Jaydiohead, called “Ignorant Swan”. I chopped [Thom Yorke’s] “Black Swan” up and looped some pieces from that and put on another Jay Z vocal.

BC: There have been so many Jay-Z mashup albums, with lots of Jay-Z a capellas available.

MT: There’s a lot of rap a cappellas, so there’s a lot of source material to work with.

BC: I did a record with Phillip Glass and different hip hop artists and I was like, “All right, I want to do a mashup album.” A friend of mine posted a YouTube clip of the song, “Another Day on Earth” by Brian Eno and I had never heard that specific record. I really liked the progressions and the sound quality and the rhythmic sense of it. And I thought I could use this.

So that’s how you came up with Another Jay on Earth?

BC: It was so natural and fit so well and so easily. The cool thing about Another Jay on Earth is that Jay-Z’s vocals sound almost plaintive. The bluster sounds a little bit thinner. The music might have sort of a melancholy or sad vibe to it and it makes it sound like Jay-Z’s being introspective about his situation, about what it’s like to be a black male in America and getting mistreated and those sorts of concepts. Or when he’s doing the bragging thing, you’re kind of like, “Well I can see that this is a device he’s using to protect himself.”

MV: The best tracks are the ones that the choice of tracks is so disparate that you are not expecting them to work. I’m not a fan of ‘rap’ vocals being placed over a hip-hop track because you’d expect them to work without little or no additional creativity being needed by the remixer in question. The best mashups are the ones that contain a big surprise element in the choice of tracks used and the way in which they are put together.

EK: I like the big ideas. That’s the thing that inspires me. It takes quite a lot of effort to make a mashup that can grab people’s attention because people like novelty. There was a band about 20 years ago or so, Dread Zeppelin. I saw them. We were like, “Can they actually do this live?” “Heartbreaker Hotel” — there’s a mashup — a bit of “Heartbreaker” and a bit of “Heartbreak Hotel”. They were fucking unreal.

MT: I was super into an album of Bob Marley and Mobb Deep mashups that was hosted by Swindle [note: it was Jon Moskowitz and DJ Swindle]. There’s a lot of extra stuff happening and I really like that project. Anything that makes you thing “Wow, I never heard this song in this context.”

BC: “Call Me A Hole” is a perfect example of that.

TC: By Pom Deter. I thought it was a brilliant mash.

BC: You can say he’s making fun of Carly Rae Jepsen by playing Trent Reznor’s vocal over it, but it’s so much more than that. It sounds like its own song. It makes you say, “Maybe I was wrong about Carly Rae Jepsen.”

TC: A former member of Nine Inch Nails called “Call Me A Hole” an insult.

MT: Everyone likes what they like. It’s cool if some people don’t like it

TC: I've not had any negative feedback from any of the artists I've mashed so far.

MV: I tackle the mixes with a healthy dose of respect for the artists. On several occasions, my unsanctioned mashups led to the artists getting in contact with me to set about having them officially released.

EK: I put out A Night At The Hip-Hopera. I found a double Japanese CD of Queen karaoke. It took on a life of its own — all this stuff about copyright, it was self referential to the whole mashup thing. Brian May, from Queen, notoriously hated it, because he didn't get any money for it.

I think he’d argue that you and other mashup artists are taking advantage of his art instead of making something new.

EK: It’s based on other people’s music, so you’re never going to get away from people saying that. It’s just collage and appropriation and a means of expression, as much as picking up a guitar and playing the same three chords that 80% of guitarists play when they pick up a guitar.

BC: Fine, it may be a lesser, derivative art. You know what? That’s been said about so many forms of art over the years that it’s not even worth worrying about those folks.

MT: I see the argument, but sampling can be really interesting and inspiring.

TC: Most people are dismissive of lots of styles of music and art; it doesn't bother me at all.

MT: To invalidate it just because it goes against your viewpoint, that’s like saying anyone who plays guitar isn't a real musician. It’s the same argument in a new era.

MV: I used to staunchly defend mashups and what they represented in interviews 10 years ago. Saying it was the new punk in terms of attitude. It felt like mashup culture or attitude was at the forefront of something new.

BC: You can say that punk rock was the same way. It was primitive and used basic structures and therefore it was a lesser form of music. People said that about the blues and African music.

MV: All music or art borrows from the past, whether it be using a few blues licks or Beatles chords to create a new song. Hip-hop was the first to physically borrow little bits of other people’s works.

MT: I think that if John Lennon or Jimi Hendrix were alive today, they would be super into sampling and remix culture.

MV: There was a period of years when artists and labels were more than happy to have mashup remixers plunder their material; the mixes were free viral promos for their back catalog!

EK: I've got to remind myself that Brian May is plenty rich. You can see the different ways that artists handle their legacy. For example, the way that the Beastie Boys just put their a cappellas on their website: “Here they are, have some fun with them. You can’t possibly duplicate what we did. But you might come up something really cool.” Queen would only do that if there was a financial gain involved.

BC: It’s not like anybody can get rich off it.

That’s a good point. So, maybe you have to focus more on artistic success. Each of you has created some distinctive work. Can you give us an inside look at your creative process?

EK: I’m really proud of 24 Hours. I can’t remember exactly where the sort of eureka, moment hit, but I kind of sketched out the day, the 24 hours. Put it on a massive piece of paper, a flip chart on the wall: so this is the wakeup bit, this is the going-to-work bit. I’m going to come home from work, go to the pub, go to the club. I had a folder with 50 tunes in and I’d work a little bit on each tune. I think it took me about six months, but it nearly sent me insane doing it. I got so locked into the idea that I thought that, even if nobody else likes this, I've created something I’m proud of.

TC: I decide in advance what the grand vision is, usually a concept for a complete work like an album. The piece that I’m proudest of is 9 Countries. It’s an album I produced by taking the skills I developed as a mashup artist and applying them to a huge archive of sounds I recorded whilst traveling across Asia. A single looped beat would comprise sounds from a procession in Indonesia, temple drumming in India, the bell hanging around a goat’s neck in Tibet, monks chanting in a monastery in Laos, street hawkers in Myanmar, etc. The whole project took me about 4 years to produce. It’s probably the least heard work that I've created, but the few people who have taken the time to listen have told me how much they like it

BC: It’s much more than sticking A over B. There’s a lot of thought that goes into it, tweaking, and additional elements brought in and fragmenting the sound source. I did one that used a lot of new avant-garde electronic, early electronic performers and composers. That was kind of like using something more abstract and being able to use them as samples, with a beat, to create something really groovy out of something a little more far out.

EK: The challenge now is to come up with something that I think is artistically viable, that’s a good idea. But a good idea now, as opposed to what would have been a good idea ten years ago. Ideas are now the most valuable currency. It makes artistic judgment more important.

MT: I start the projects from an idea coming from sounds. So, I want to do a project with… then insert some kind of music: “punk”. That [note: Mic Check 1234!] was definitely the most challenging of any of the mixes that I've done. The main issue is that you have all these songs that are 120 or 130 beats per minute. Obviously, you have to worry about tempo.

TC: The vast majority of mashups posted on YouTube and elsewhere are poorly produced and amateurish. If rhythm and pitch are not perfectly synched, it makes the result sound painful to listen to.

MT: Yeah, I had to find fast rap songs to use or a slower punk song. That really narrows your scope of a cappellas that you can use.

TC: The only clash I want to hear is a clash of genres.

MV: Splice Captain Beefheart with Abba and I’d definitely give it a listen!

BC: The humor makes it healing to people and makes them smile or pay attention for a second. But in the end, the track has to be good.

EK: I find it really hard to listen to other people’s mashups because I can’t help but pick them apart technically. Particularly if you've got two whole songs and one goes up into a chorus and the other one doesn't change. To me, that’s a killer. I want the changes to kind of work perfectly.

BC: I like stuff that’s really structurally coherent: verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus or intro-verse-chorus. It sounds right to me to attend that sort of a structure.

EK: I like that structure. If you have two tunes and they both go into the chorus at the same time and the change in key and the change in pitch is perfect, you just sit there and listen to it and go, “That doesn't need anything done to it, does it?”

MV: I like to think that I've always delivered mashups with a healthy dose of humor. A big smile-factor…

EK: I’d like to see Mark do an album. I know he’s got a real love of psychedelia and I’d love to see him really cut loose and make something really quite extreme with his style. I would love that.

MV: I have a fairly wide-ranging taste to be honest, but my main focus & love has to be psychedelia. I just loved the extreme experimentation at the time from these bands who were obviously dropping acid or pretending to drop acid!

Thank you all for your time and for being good sports about letting me mix you.

(This mashup first appeared on Spectrum Culture)

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