You grew up in
Cincinnati, where you played in a few bands before becoming
a DJ. How did you make the transition from rock to hip-hop,
and was it easy to get noticed in Cincinnati?
It was easy to make the transition from rock
to hip-hop because I was always a hip-hop fan. Even
when I was playing in hardcore or punk bands I was still
listening to hip-hop. Once I moved to Cincinnati I really
did not have a solid band I was playing with so I wanted
to explore things on my own. I had always had an obsession
with turntables, so once I was old enough to get a credit
card I went out and bought those. After that I focused
mainly on turntablism and what was called ‘downtempo’
at that time. Cincinnati during that time was fairly
easy to penetrate. There were several small venues that
would let young DJs showcase their talent. The new school
turntablism was new to Cincinnati in the early nineties
and people were excited to see it in their venues. We
also had a great, yet trashy, community radio station
that was easy to get on. Those two outlets really helped
me make a name for myself in Cincinnati.
Who were your influences at the time, and do
they still influence your work today?
Well, in the early nineties, I was really influenced
by Fugazi, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Pharcyde,
Black Sheep, Bowie, etc... Those huge fuzzy guitars
and pounding beats and intelligent lyrics were both
so appealing to me. I remember being obsessed with Thurston
Moore’s guitar rig and wanting every pedal, guitar
and pick that he used. I also felt like in the early
nineties, rappers started actually saying relevant things
rather then just bragging on boasting as they did in
the eighties. I am still a big fan of all of those guys,
but their influence on my music is in the past. I am
sure the influence is still there in some ways, but
How did you get to record for Mush, and was
it how you got to work with Doseone on Circle?
Robert, who owns Mush, lived in Cincinnati
at the same time Adam (Dose) and I were there. Adam
and I had hooked up through a class we were both taking
in college. We were hanging out a bit and Adam would
come to my DJ gigs and freestyle during open mic nights.
It was rad. There were times where Slug from Atmosphere,
Sole, Dose, Why and Mr. Dibbs were all at my nights
and just unleashing their talents… discovering
themselves. Robert came out to a benefit show that I
was doing where I asked Adam and Yoni (Why?) to improvise
over what I was doing on the turntables. That gig was
truly the start of Circle. Robert was there
when we got off the stage and stated he wanted us to
do a record on Mush. Circle was originally
Yoni, Adam and I. Yoni decided to go to Spain instead
of staying and recording with Adam and I, so Circle
ended up just being the two of us.
Judging from the interview I did with him around
the time his album with Subtle was released, he seems
to be a bit of a character. How was he to work with
on the album and on the tour that followed?
I love Adam. I really do. He is very entertaining, witty
and a pleasure to tour with. Although, I see right through
him and it is hard for me to see him through the eyes
of his fans. He knows that. That is why we are such
close friends. We see each other for who we are outside
of this music thing. In a way we don’t really
take each other that seriously.
How did you two work on Circle? Was
it a true collaboration or did you have the music ready
before Doseone did his lyrics?
I had a few things, but for the most part we did it
all in the two-months-period in the studio. I would
go home and work on a few loops and chops and bring
them to the studio the next day. He would be writing
poetry outside on the catwalk to the loops. While he
was writing I would go around the city for interesting
sounds and record them. After a few hours and a few
bear claw pastries from the bakery downstairs, we would
start recording. We worked very rapidly on that album.
It was absolutely a 50/50 effort on our part. If I needing
something more than the loops and samples I had put
together that day or the night before, I would pick
up a guitar or start banging on the sink to fill in
the holes. When I listen to that record I can almost
smell the studio we were in. It captures so many sounds
and environments that we were surrounded by.
Most of your records have been released on
Lex. How did you make the transition from Mush to Lex,
and why choose a British label?
I choose a British label mostly because I was trying
to get into the pants of the Queen. I was always a big
fan of the British instrumental hip-hop scene so it
was exciting when someone as established as Warp came
to me with an offer. I knew it would be a good move
for me and help me get exposure overseas. Mush was great,
but at that time I wanted to get some exposure in the
UK and in Europe. Mush did not have a distributor over
there. My contract with Mush was fulfilled and the timing
Although Seed To Sun was a bit of
a departure from Circle, perhaps because it
was almost entirely instrumental, there were some similarities
between these two records, especially since it was largely
inspired by hip-hop culture. How did you approach working
on Seed To Sun?
Seed To Sun was the sound of isolation.
I don’t remember much about recording it. I do
know that I was setting out to make an album that truly
captured my mood and emotions during that period. So
I would try and record in extreme situations. If I was
completely wrecked from a death in the family or some
worldly disaster I would go and record. If I was ecstatic
and comfortable, I would go and record. I just tried
to capture a moment. The next thing I knew I had a record.
Circle was different because it was a frantic
time. Adam and I were graduating from college and he
was moving out west to San Francisco at the end of the
summer. We had a lot of drive and energy at that time.
The only limitation we had to deal with on Circle
was time. Everything else was open.
It has been a while since the release of Seed
To Sun. How do you look back on this record now?
The album sounds green. Some good ideas were started
on there, but I feel I could have done so much more.
This is the case with everything I have ever done though.
Blue Eyed In The Red Room is the same way.
I just know I can do so much better. I am the type that
looks back on what I have done and try to learn from
it. I am not satisfied with what I have done in the
Whose idea was it to collect EPs and previously
unreleased recordings on Corymb, and how did
you think it worked as an album?
Well, during and after the touring for Seed
To Sun I had a lot of offers to do remixes and
also people offering to remix me. I wanted to take advantage
of that so I decided it would be good to do a couple
EPs of remixes and add a few new tracks on there as
well. We only did those on vinyl. I had also done a
Peel Session with my band and thought a few of the tracks
we had recorded were worthy of a release. It seemed
like a good idea to put all of these scraps together
to make a collection of work. I know people don’t
like remix records. That is why I put some new tracks
and the Peel Sessions on there. Hopefully, people felt
it was more than just a remix record. Corymb
is not an album. It is more of a compendium of work
done between Seed To Sun and Blue Eyed
In The Red Room.
You have had your work remixed by a variety
of people. Do you get to choose who remix your work,
and what makes you want to ask someone for a remix?
All the people that have remixed my tracks have been
friends of mine. That is very important to me. Otherwise,
it feels as if you are just using their popularity and
status to gain recognition amongst their fans. I don’t
like the idea of that. It feels much better when it
is casual and you and your remixer share a vision of
what the outcome may be.
You have also remixed a wide range of people,
from Four Tet to Amon Tobin and many others. How do
you choose to remix a track, and is there anyone you
would love to remix?
I remix people based on whether their music
is good or not and if I have the time. It is that simple.
I would love to remix some of the early Neu, Rolling
Stones, Glen Branca, James Chance or Can. Although,
I would be really afraid of fucking it up. That is the
problem with remixing your favourite artists or tracks.
You said once that you wanted to go ‘way
beyond hip-hop’. Do you feel you have achieved
that with the new album?
Well, I did not set out to go ‘way beyond
hip-hop’ with this album. I guess there isn’t
any hip-hop on there so in a way I have left it behind
for this record. It is my intention to take music as
far as I can take it. This record is fairly straight
forward and easy to listen to. There is a reason for
that. The next one may not be so easy to listen to.
I have big plans and lots of ideas that I want to explore.
This album dabbled in that a bit, but I was very sane
for this record. In fact, I was really comfortable in
my environment and you can hear that. I want to think
outside of my head for the next album and approach music
in an entirely different way. Who knows what will come
out? I am anxious to find out though.
Your music has relied on samples a lot in the
past, but you haven’t used any on the new album.
Were there times you were tempted to change your mind
while recording? Did that make your life more complicated?
To clarify a bit, a few samples were used on
the album. Mostly atmospheric bits and some drums. So
the album is 98% live instruments. There were a few
times that I thought it might be easier to grab a sample
and fill in the blank, but that only made me work harder
to come up with something more creative. It was nice
to be able to explore different recording techniques
and be able to record directly what was in my head.
Even when I am searching for samples, I have a good
idea of what the sample should sound like. I can skip
the searching process now and just grab a guitar, bass,
keys or drums and lay it down. Samples are fun, but
not nearly as fun as having a tangible item in your
arms and expressing yourself through it.
Why did you choose to play everything on the
album? Was it so the album was easier to transcribe
to the live environment?
When I first started on the album I had the
live show in mind. I was frustrated with doing live
shows with the sample based music I had created in the
past. I was either tied to doing deejaying gigs or doing
laptop shows. I just don’t feel that satisfied
or that entertaining when I am there behind a laptop.
I still do it every now and then and certain environments
are fine for that, but rock venues are not laptop friendly.
When you have a few hundred people staring at you on
the stage and all you are doing is bobbing your head
and staring into a monitor it can be perceived as boring.
In clubs where you are in a DJ booth then I feel a laptop
is fine. For some artists the laptop works really well
for the live show, but for mine I just don’t think
it does. A band is much better for this new album and
will allow more room for improvisation on the stage
than what I can do with a laptop.
With the new album, you explore a lot of new
musical grounds. Aren’t you worried some of your
early fans might get disconcerted by this?
Not really. If someone is truly a fan they
know that every album I have ever done has had the combination
of live instruments and samples and dabbled in different
genres. As the albums have come out I have used less
and less samples on each one. Circle had strong
rock elements on there and Seed To Sun had
a few tracks that were more rock based than anything
else. So I don’t think people should be that surprised
by the sound of the new album. Those who only know me
through the eyes of the media might be shocked because
a lot of times the media makes me out to be just a hip-hop
producer. The true fans will understand.
How did you get to work with Gruff Rhys? Did
you know Super Furry Animals before working with him,
and was it a reason why you got together?
I got to know Gruff through touring with SFA. I was
one of their support acts on a tour of theirs. At that
time I had never really heard SFA, but went out and
grabbed a few albums before I committed to a tour. I
really enjoyed the way they went in and out of pop tracks
with unexpected electronic elements. After the tour
I was asked to do a remix for them and in exchange for
payment I asked Gruff to do vocals on a track for the
new album. The guy has an amazing vocal range and I
wanted to work with someone that was really capable
of nearly anything vocally. I had only worked with rappers
in the past, and Adam, so it was uncharted territory
for me. It proved to be very satisfying.
You have now collaborated with a few people
on your records. Are you planning to work with more
people in the future, an dif yes, who would you like
to work with?
I am sure I will work with vocalist in the future. I
like what it adds to my music. The most desirable collaboration
would be with me. I really want to begin singing myself.
It will be much cheaper and less of a headache.
There seem to be more and more issues with
albums being leaked on Soulseek or other P2P. Scott
Herren recently posted a virulent reaction to his forthcoming
Prefuse 73 album being leaked. What is your opinion
on this, and would you take a similar step?
This is a touchy subject these days. There are really
good arguments on both sides of the fence. I guess it
really comes down to statistics doesn’t it? I
am on the fence about it. I know it feels good when
your album is downloaded and the demand is there for
your work, but I also know it feels bad when your album
sales are low and you don’t recoup yet everyone
you talk to has it. I think the record labels really
need to address the situation because CDs are not that
exciting a package. The vinyl buyers out there have
always supported and always will because you get more
for your money and vinyl cannot be replicated easily.
I can’t blame someone for not wanting to spend
$14 on a piece of plastic when they can get the music
for free but I can blame someone for realizing they
are not supporting independent artists and still not
give a fuck. We need incentives from the fans and labels
to continue doing what we do. Otherwise we have to get
day jobs and touring is not possible, nor is putting
out records for years to come. People just need to be
aware of what they are doing and realize there are consequences
to their actions. Moderation is fine, but don’t
abuse the industry. Just be conscious and compassionate.
John Peel was a very respected radio personality,
not only in the UK but around the world. You have recorded
a couple of Peel Sessions with him. Had you heard of
him beforehand, and what did you think of him after
I really did not know who John Peel was until
I was asked to do a Peel Session. I knew about the sessions
themselves, but never knew about the man behind the
curtain. It was not until I was in Leeds on the Mush
tour at our soundman’s house that I saw a BBC
documentary on his life and realized how important a
figure he was. Once I recorded the first Peel Sessions
I started listening to his program as often as I could.
I was blown away by his diversity and knowledge of music.
It was incredible. The next Peel Sessions I felt slightly
star struck, whereas before I was relaxed and really
just felt he was a nice guy with a radio show on the
BBC. The last time I saw John was at Sonar this past
year. He was there with his grandchild and he was so
proud. We were both genuinely excited to see each other
and not one bit of the conversation was about music.
He was an extremely friendly and sweet man and he will
What are your projects for the next few months?
Can we expect to see you play live in Europe and the
US soon? What can people expect to see?
The next few months are dedicated to touring.
I am deep in the rehearsal process right now. I will
be doing Winter Music Conference in Miami, Florida this
year and then off to Europe with a four piece band to
do a rather large UK and European Tour. We will be there
for the entire month of April doing shows. Then I return
back to the States to do the Coachella Festival and
then an East Coast and Midwest tour with Mice Parade
in May. Once that is finished it is off to the West
Coast to do a headlining tour with Fog supporting. Once
we recover from those two months I may take a small
break and then back to Europe for a few festivals in
late summer. I would like to fit Japan in there if possible.
The band is a four piece, made up of drums, guitar
bass and synth with lots of little toys. The members
are Hazen Frick (Pearline), Matthew Alsberg (AntiMC)
and Kenneth Holland (Her Space Holiday) and I. People
can expect new renditions of old tracks and much harder
hitting versions of the new. It will be loud and it
will be hard. Don’t expect the slow or sappy songs
for this tour.
Email interview February 2005
Thank you to Bryan, Tom and Justin
BBC Collective: interview