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Since the release of Pause, the second Four Tet album, Kieran Hebden has been sucked in by a whirlwind of promotional work. When themilkfactory caught up with him, in Covent Garden, in the heart of London, he'd already done dozens of interviews, played at festivals across Europe virtually every weekend. His schedule is likely to get even busier later this year, with the release of his album in the US, as well as the new Fridge album schedule for release in the autumn, on Kieran's new record label. With us, he talks about his many influences, the way he works, and his friendship with Dan "Manitoba" Snaith.

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 Lane.

Is there anyone in particular you would like to work with?
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 with vocalists?
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

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