Searching For The Perfect Sound
There is something deeply self-effacing about the Mancunian spirit, earthy and unpretentious, it feels as if artists that emerge from the North of England have their feet firmly planted on the ground.
In his rounded accent, electronic producer Andy Stott, a former automobile spray painter, chats to us about his rise through the ranks. Over the years he’s become a poster boy for the dark and dubby sounds of electronic music. A true musician’s musician, everyone from Martin Gore (Depeche Mode) to Jake and Dinos Chapman appreciating his output.
Yet it seems that most of this is new to Andy. Now a full time professional, he is still visibly awkward as he tries to open up about his work and creative process. Too Many Voices is his new record and has all the classic hallmarks of a very thoughtful producer, following on from the publicly lauded Faith in Strangers from 2014 and 2012’s Luxury Problems. But all the hype and media attention doesn’t faze him. Andy is just a man with a computer looking for the perfect sound.
I was at your show the other day and one thing that really struck me was the diversity of the audience. Are you aware of that?
Yeah it’s funny, I’ve never clocked it before. I actually stood in the crowd early on in the show, but with most shows you’re backstage and then when you come on all you can see is lights, and when you finish you disappear backstage again, so you don’t really see the sorts of people that are coming. It’s interesting to hear you say that there are so many different people.
Yes, there was even one guy dressed up like the devil, he had horns and everything.
I definitely didn’t see him.
This was my first taste of your music live and I thought it was more experimental, more industrial and brutal than the sound on your records. To be honest I don’t always find that industrial side so accessible, but when you move into certain tracks on your new album like New Romantic and On My Mind, it’s a much more accessible side.
Well actually New Romantic is super distorted but I think there’s quite a nice progression. I think it’s just a good offset and it does make it accessible to people that don’t normally get on with that noise pallet.
Of course everyone hears something different and gets something unique from your music. You genre twist a lot.
I was chatting with a guy recently at one of my shows and his background was grime. He was quite a young kid and was saying that he was starting to open up to more genres. What he took away from my show was the grime element and how I’d interpreted it. He was saying, “I never knew that sounds from this genre could be used in this context.” So like you say, it’s what different people take away from it.
One of the best ways in which I’ve heard your new record described is “the sound of a brooding heavy weight champion deciding he wants to take up tai chi.”
Wicked. [Laughs] That sort of makes sense. Overall I think it’s quite a restrained record. I’ve never thought about it like that though.
I find that your music messes with the listener a bit. It can be very intrusive and unsettling, then there are moments when you let go and relax, and other moments of building up serious tension.
I think it’s important to have a build-up in order to get that release. If you build up, and build up, and then have nothing it’s like – where’s the payoff? And if you’re going to build up the sound you’ve got to give the listener somewhere to breathe, to have a minute. So yeah that’s definitely all incorporated into the way that I write. Shlom, [Sviri] who runs the label – he ends up sequencing the record so that’s something that he incorporates as well.
Have you had a chance to reflect on this latest record yet? And has there been a consensus made by critics about it?
I don’t know what the overall consensus is yet. I’m still living with it, if you know what I mean. It takes me a while after finishing a record for me to actually hear it. I need to leave it alone to the point where I’ve almost forgotten how I did those tracks and then I can hear them for what they are. Whereas now I can still hear the edits that I’ve made, it’s still really fresh to me.
I’d imagine that when you listen to one of your tracks back, you hear a lot of the exposed sounds. On New Romantic you can hear a really exposed bass sound, you can even hear the distortion on it. So when you listen to it back are you hearing a lot of the things you’d like to change?
On New Romantic that hum you can hear is actually just a desk being pushed. I like that human element. There are some things that when you listen to them again and again begin to irritate you, but when you get to the point that nothing irritates you, then it’s done.
Too Many Voices is the latest in a long line of your records that have been very well received by critics. Does that fuel your hunger to please or are you apathetic towards the opinions of the press?
If they get it then it is fantastic, but it’s not the intention of making a record. With each record it’s about progression and moving forward. It’s about trying really hard not to do the same thing twice and for us, Shlom and I, it kind of indicates influences and things heard over the period of making that record. I’m making music regardless, but I’ll hear something and it might be something so unique that it will end up creeping into whatever I write. I need to understand how this stuff is made and it comes out in the music.
So it’s like you’re leaving one part of your brain constantly open to influences?
Yeah I think you have to. Shlom played me a track by Theo Burt called Gloss. The first time I heard it, I’ll be honest, I was nearly in tears laughing. I’d never heard someone use pitch bend that much, and it’s not a mess but I was like – what is he doing?! And then halfway through that first listen I realise, my god, this is so forward, and it just wipes the smile off my face. So that stuck in my mind, to use pitch bend as much as he does. That’s just one influence that came out while I was writing this record.
Is there any part of the process of making a record that you find boring or unenjoyable, from the conception to its release?
I don’t find anything boring but there are definitely parts that I find difficult. Writing tracks I don’t have a problem with. I’ll do that day in day out. Then there’s a point where I’ll write a track and send it over to Shlom, and it’s like the beginning of something. It’s something strong that we can build off. That’s the first stepping stone towards the next record. Then I’ll write, write, write.
What I find difficult is writing different styles with a similar sort of strength to it. It’s getting easier, but that’s what I find difficult. Do you know what I mean?
"I find it difficult talking about myself. I struggle with interviews."
I think so. You’re saying that it’s hard to create consistency on each record.
Yeah and I think that’s why the styles are so varied. When I first heard footwork stuff, like I said before, I needed to know how it’s done.
That’s what Shlom said about you actually, that you’re the most musically hungry person he’s ever met.
Yeah, friends of mine collect records and I’m kind of collecting sounds. There’s a sound I’m really struggling with at the minute actually, I need to know what it is. It’s off a track by the Gherkin Jerks called Parameters and there’s a square baseline on there, I think it’s off an old Roland machine but I need to figure out which one. I want it.
That’s very interesting. I feel that we’re starting to get to the heart of how you work. On one hand you’re totally consumed by the sounds and then on the other hand you’re just keeping busy creating music, and these two elements meet somewhere in the middle. Would that be correct?
Yeah I think so. On Faith In Strangers, that was the first time I’d got a bass because I’d been listening to John Maus and I really loved it.
You talk about John Maus a lot.
I love John Maus, I really do. The tracks that are funny are really fucking funny. The first time I heard John Maus, with his melodies and baselines, I thought, I really need to have a go at this.
Like I said, the creating side is constant, but Shlom plays me a lot of music. He’ll play me something like some old mixes from years ago, because I missed the first wave of grime. I don’t know why.
There are quite a few micro-genres you’re interested in. You mentioned footwork, I can imagine a bit of trap, a bit of grime, a mix of all these exposed genres that have surfaced in the last ten or twenty years because of the proliferation of technology. Is it overwhelming for you to work with so many sounds, genres, clubs, everything?
I think you need to step back and look at what’s grabbing your attention. I’m lucky in that I’m not a big record collector at all. I don’t go digging for vinyl. I’m just in the studio, a bit away from that whole world.
But yeah I’m easily influenced by things that I hear. I remember I was lucky enough to play at a Pitchfork festival in Chicago, and Lil B was playing. I had no idea who he was but he just blew my head off, and that put a pretty big stamp on the Millie & Andrea record. But I’m not as in it as most people. I’m just aware.
So you don’t collect records and you’ve talked before about how you don’t feel as connected to the club culture as you used to. Do you feel like something of an anomaly within the culture of what you do?
The culture just goes on and I keep doing what I do. I feel like I’m just doing my own thing all the time and as I go along I’m also going backwards, listening to old stuff. I’ve been listening to some Prince stuff that is really inspiring. I’m picking up things that are happening now and also picking up things that I’ve missed, so I’m just drawing influences from everywhere. I’m open to a lot and I take it all in.
You used to work spray-painting cars and I know that some of your earlier sounds even came from the workshop. Do you think your former life has helped you to keep your feet on the ground?
I don’t know. . . Sorry, I find it difficult talking about myself. I struggle with interviews.
"The culture just goes on and I keep doing what I do."
Andy Stott on clubbing culture
So why do the interviews? Because you don’t need to. Some successful bands, Boards of Canada for example, keep themselves very private and let the music do all the talking.
Well, if somebody did an interview with someone that I was interested in, I’d want to read it. I’m not saying for one minute that people are fascinated by what I do, I don’t think that I’m a massive topic of conversation. But if people want to know certain things and then they see an interview with me, they might find something that interests them.
I only wanted to talk about your background because I feel that not many of the musicians I talk to these days have such a grounded view of their life and work.
I’ve always worked hard for everything, even before music. I’ve got a strong work ethic and that’s transferred over into the music. You’ve got to put the hard work in. I’ve always believed that.
A lot of other musicians seem to really respect you. Hundred Waters, Martin Gore, Panda Bear, Doldrums, Jake and Dinos Chapman – they’re all fans of your work. You must find it exciting that other artists understand and enjoy your music.
It’s amazing. Martin Gore especially. My sister is ten years older than me and Depeche Mode was on in the house a lot. So I kind of grew up with Martin Gore without even knowing, and I’ve become a fan since. When something like that happens with Martin, you’re proper chuffed and a tiny bit smug. Just like – yeah, that’s cool. It’s just a really pleasant thing.
What do you think of your music being used by Chanel for their show?
It’s actually happened twice now. Shlom and I, when we saw the production of it and the setting we were just like – that is amazing! There were two separate Chanel shows and they were both amazing but I remember the first one being really spectacular.
The production and the fashion within it was amazing. And for them to choose something by me to fit that aesthetic was quite surprising. I was honoured and I thought it worked so well.
*Plays From 5m.42sec
Out of all the terms used to describe your music (and there have been a lot – delicate, warm, immersive, rich textured) is there any word that you’re sick of hearing?
Not really because I still use the same methods. When I get inspired by a certain sound and learn something new, I don’t discard the old techniques. It’s an ongoing thing, a collection of techniques. I don’t see any of those words as redundant, they’re all still in effect.
But the word warmth is overused. I’ve talked about this before with the use of external analogue equipment. Everybody says, you put something though a compressor and it makes everything really warm. Or if you’ve got a software version of a synth and then you use the real synth they say, oh it’s so much warmer. It just seems to be this cliché word, warmth.
Cliché or not your music fills a great void, good luck with your new album. Thanks for your time Andy.
Too Many Voices is our now on Modern Love
All images courtesy of Mike Massaro
I listen to that record and I don’t know what he’s doing. I’m into it but I don’t know how he’s done it. I love it.