Thereís definitely something
about early summer afternoons in London, as it becomes
this almost Mediterranean city, when people come pooring
out of pubs and cafés to enjoy the sun. Iíd arranged
to meet with Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, in Neilís
Yard, in the heart of Covent Garden, a few yards from
the Rough Trade record shop. After trying to find a
quiet table somewhere, we finally settled for one of
the benches in the Yard, so we could talk about his
formative years, Fridge, and of course, Four Tet. Kieran
turned up a bit late, but relaxed and ready to answer
questions for themilkfactory. Uncontrollably shy, as
he talks with a soft, hesitant voice, Kieran is before
all a very open and charming man, driven by his passion
for music in all its forms.
How did you come to music?
When I was at school, I started playing guitar. I was
twelve or thirteen. The school was involved in forming
bands and stuff, playing whatever we could, like Jimi
Hendrix or Led Zeppelin songs. I did that for a while,
got better and better, and eventually formed Fridge.
I was about fifteen. And then, I met someone in a record
shop in London, and I just got chatting to him. He said
he was in this band called Emperorís New Clothes, on
Acid Jazz, and they were produced by Trevor Nelson at
the time. The guy asked me if I could send him a tape,
so I did and he gave it to Trevor. A Week later, Trevor
phoned up saying he was setting up a label and that
heíd like to put our records out. We went to meet him;
he asked us what we needed. We said we needed some recording
equipment, and a few days later, we had a multi track
recorder delivered to our house, that we set up in the
drummerís bedroom and started recording. We did two
albums and a whole bunch of singles.
The music you make with Fridge and with Four Tet
is very different. What are your influences?
Around the time we formed the band, I was into the sort
of Riot Grrrl or American lo-fi stuff. It gave me the
confidence that everybody could form a band and put
a record out. There was this band called Quick Space
Supersport, and I was going to all their shows in London.
There were doing these fifteen-twenty minutes-long tracks
with no vocals. That was very inspiring and made us
push forward ideas about what we were going to do. Also,
at the same time, drumíníbass was really kicking off.
I was at a big comprehensive school in South London,
with two thousand kids; youíd hear jungle everyday.
We had a little café with a stereo, and weíd
play hardcore all day, so I got pretty interested. And
there was the music that I was hearing at parties, around
me. So it was kind of bringing it all together, all
those things. The Four Tet thing was when I got to university.
We were only able to do the band during our holidays
because I was at college. So I bought a computer with
my student loan, and started to mess around with my
own music. I was really into avant-guard jazz and free
jazz, and I guess I was kind of pissed-off with the
records that were coming out, saying that they were
jazz influenced but were blend and woosey.
Dialogue, the first Four Tet album, had
a lot more jazz influences than Pause. Is it
because youíve moved on?
Well, Iíve already explored that on the first album,
and I never wanted to do the same thing. Every record
I make is different. It doesnít mean that I donít like
that music anymore, but it was like, what I am going
to do next. I wanted to retain the same kind of atmosphere,
but push forward some of the ideas. It was going to
be a lot more adventurous with sound. At the time, I
was listening to a lot of American RíníB, garage and
two-steps. Those are the sorts of sounds that influenced
the new record. I was listening to stuff like that,
and people are a lot more daring with the sort of sounds
they are willing to incorporate, like harp or flute
sounds or whatever, and put it as the lead instrument,
in an unusual sort of context, and I really admire that.
It gave me a kick in the ass in the way that I should
be a lot more daring about the sort of sounds I use
on this record. Whereas in the past it would be kind
of bass, drums, maybe some guitars, keyboards, a saxophone
or something, Iíve got this harp, three guitars, four
drums, and Iím gonna add six harmonica solos. I wanted
it to be a lot stranger on the arrangements.
Do you sill do everything with a computer as opposed
to work in a big studio?
Yes. Thereís nothing, no mixing desk, no effects. Only
my computer and my hi-fi. Thatís all I used on my album.
I record stuff, or sample records, or television, or
radio. I collect most sounds and then put them on the
computer and start messing it all, manipulate them,
mock around with them. Thereís nothing on the record
that is just straight play. Everything has been highly
edited, constructed. I might sample a few notes and
change them. For instance, thereís no bass on the record
at all. Every single bass-type sound on the whole thing
is actually other instruments in the track slowed down.
On Untangle, besides the drums, every single sound is
made out of this one harp sample. I got quite into taking
one or two sounds, messing with them loads, trying to
make all the sounds I need to make the whole track,
with just one little second-long burst of music.
Youíre mate with Dan ďManitobaĒ Snaith. How did
you meet him?
We met at Big Chill festival a couple of years ago.
We bump into each other and became friends. A couple
of months later, he told me heíd started making music
and sent me a CD. I thought it was very good, so I passed
it onto the Leaf Label, told them they should put it
out, so they did. And then he did his album. Iíve just
emailed him the parts for him to do a remix of one of
the tracks from Pause.
Your universe and his are quite similar. Would you
ever consider working with him?
Heís all the way in Canada, and is pretty busy at the
moment. We never really talked about it. Weíve got similar
tastes, and weíve became pretty good friends. Iíve been
staying in Canada with him and he stayed with me here
in London. Maybe, one day, if weíve got time, weíll
do something togetherÖ I think heís started to work
on his next record, and Iím really busy at the moment,
soÖ well, thereís this remix going on as well, so itís
kind of working together I supposeÖ Weíre also doing
a big gig together in London, on July 25. Itís kind
of a double headline, Four Tet and Manitoba, in Brick
Is there anyone in particular you would like to
Thereís no obvious person on top of my head. Sometimes,
I might be working on a track, and Iíd love to work
with a great pianist on it, or something like that,
someone itíd be great to have around at that moment.
There arenít people that I sit there and sort of dream
that one day, itíd be great to work with. Thereís an
enormous list of people you could say would be great
to work with, like Busta Rhymes.
Youíre music, either with Four Tet or with Fridge,
is totally instrumental. Would you consider working
Yes, if the right person comes along, if Iíd bump into
someone and I felt it was going to be a real natural
thing. Iíd want them to be as influenced by my music
as Iíd be with their vocals. Iíd never want to force
vocals onto one of my tracks. I donít want to be in
that situation where someone says I should have some
vocals on that and then give it to some singer who would
try to construct a song thatís going to fit onto it.
Iíd rather work more closely with someone. It hasnít
happened yet because I havenít tried to force the issue.
Pause is a lot more laidback than Dialogue
was. Was it deliberate?
It was made in a calmer environment, all at home, usually
late at night, just in my spare time. Iíd be like, working
a little bit on some tracks. They were done over quite
a long period of time, like, six months. Iíd never ever
set a time to do it. Iíd never say that Iíd work on
the record all week. Iíd just get up in the morning,
make a bit of breakfast maybe, work a little bit on
a track while eating it, stop to watch a little bit
of TV, and maybe work a little more on it. All of it
was done in a very laidback environment. I didnít allow
myself to have any pressure at all. So I think thatís
why it came out so mellow.
Pause has a very live feel to it tooÖ
I suppose itís me getting better as a producer. When
I did the first record, Iíd only just bought the computer,
and I was learning how to do everything. With this one,
Iíve mastered the technology a lot more, do my own thingÖ
How do the other guys from Fridge look at Four Tet?
They both seem to really like the stuff. Four Tet is
a lot more hip-hop, and neither of them are into hip-hop.
A lot of it is the things we donít do with Fridge because
the guys are not into it so much. Adamís been writing
some songs recently. I think heís more into song based
music really. And heís also involved in theatre. Samís
doing web page design. We all do all kind of things.
In an interview youíve done a while ago, you seemed
pretty hacked up against the music industry, making
references to how releasing an album had to be carefully
orchestrated, to ensure maximum exposure. Do you feel
the same now?
Itís a pain, but you get used to it. You could rebel
against it, but I want to make a living out of what
Iím doing, so I kind of play the game. The album has
come out at the same time as everybody elseís. People
are working hard to put my records out, so I donít want
to jeopardise the whole thing by being fussy about it.
All the big albums of the year will come out now.
Youíve also set up your own record label, Text Records,
and you will be releasing the new Fridge album on it.
Why didnít you release Pause yourself?
I didnít have a label up and running at the time. Itís
only just getting into the motion now, and I needed
to go with a more established label. I like to get myself
spread out over a variety of different places. Itís
an immense job putting a record out. Fridge is coming
out on Text in the UK, but itís coming out on Domino
in the rest of Europe, and on a different label again
in America. Thereís loads of different labels involved.
Youíre signed to Domino Records, which is a pretty
eclectic label. What decided you to go with them?
They came and offered. Very early on, they said they
wanted to release my album. Iíve been buying Domino
records since I can remember. They have so many great
artists. Theyíre not a big major label, but theyíre
not a small indie label either. Theyíve got a proper
distribution, a proper office, a big team of people
working. And I really needed to get some exposure abroad.
Iíve never really plugged any of my records outside
of the UK before. Iíve started doing some international
press now, so itís making a world of a difference for
me, reaching a much wider audience. The album is getting
very good response in Europe, especially in Italy. It
doesnít get released in America until the autumn though.
Youíve produced a lot of remixes for people as diverse
as Aphex Twin, the Cinematic Orchestra, or more recently,
youíve taken part in the Slag Boom Van Loon remix project.
Is the way you work on a remix very different from the
way you work on your own music?
Itís totally different because youíre given this really
harsh constraint at the very beginning. Youíre given
a song, which is your starting point for your track.
Instead of coming from you, itís coming from somebody
else. Itís much more an exercise in production. Youíve
got to force somebody elseís work into your context,
and then only can you get into working with it. Iíve
got to find the right melody, vocals or whatever in
the track that I want to preserve from the original,
and try to get it to fit into my sound. For the Slag
Boom Van Loon remix, Mike [Paradinas] sent me the original
album, from which I chose a track that I wanted to do.
All it really is is quite simple. Loads of keyboards.
I heard it and was instantly gripped by certain sounds,
and I just use those. They were very typical sounds
that I might have used in one of my tracks. The original
is very ambient. Practically everything, apart from
the keyboards, is mine.
How do you keep up-to-date with whatís going on
on the music scene?
I listen to hundreds and hundreds of records all the
time. I spent all my time doing that. I canít actually
get through all the records Iíve got at the moment.
In my room, there are records all over the floor that
Iíve been sent over the last couple of weeks. Only this
morning, I had about seven or eight singles and six
CD albums that are coming out. Manish [Kieranís on-line
press officer] just gave me a whole pile, and Iíll probably
be popping down to Rough Trade after this to buy some
more. Iím buying records to DJ with, a whole wide mix.
I only do it for fun really; I really enjoy playing
records and watch everyone dance on them.
Whatís next on you agenda?
Iím away virtually every weekend, playing at festivals
in Europe at the moment. And then, the Fridge album
in the autumn [24 September], and the Four Tet album
in America as well. Iím pretty much booked until the
end of the year. Itís been the busiest, maddest, year
ever, because Iíve made all this music last year, and
Iím trying to release it all this year.
Interview June 2001
Thank you to Kieran & Laurence