It's partially Fun in the Murky's fault. Or, more in particular, Trevor Wilkes'.
Before I hit Tokyo in 2001, I'd somehow landed a copy of Paul Birken's Speaker Freakin' on Communique from about 1997, then his and Bob Brown's insanely brilliant Immediate Conclusions vinyl 3 years later through Brown's label Framework Music; neither record has parted company with my moth-eaten, beaten up, beer-stained record case.
Then I got married in 2005 and had my daughter in November that year, so for a wee bit of time at least, I lost track of vinyl releases by people I dug.
Last year, after a long time rocking along to Bleep Radio and skimming through the reviews by Trevor right here, I got in touch and started liaising with Mr. Wilkes, and thereafter finally, somehow, got in contact with Paul Birken in late 2008 (something about one of his samples that he uploaded to this site, and I accidentally incorporated into a Little Nobody track), and found one of the most laid back, carefree, coolest, soon-to-be second-time dads I've ever met.
It should be no surprise, then, that I harangued him into remixing one of my tracks, Robota, which I cut with Toshiyuki Yasuda late last year. Paul's crazy, sublime, futurist-blues mix is set to be unleashed through Aussie label, Hypnotic Room, on 25 March.
Paul is also one of the most incredible, more fun, and hilarious interviewees I've had the pleasure to mess with over the past 15 years, so in transcribing this repartee, I decided to leave it in its purist Q+A form:
How did you get inspired to start making music?
"Teenage wasteland of realizing that being a one-man band was possible with my Commodore 64. This was in the mid '80s, and I was around 12 or 13 years old. I had to work a lot of jobs to save cash for gear. My parents were supportive in letting me work after school a bit to earn the gear on my own dollar. It would take me a long time to save up for pieces so after I got something, I would learn it inside and out. Some of the first things I had were a Roland TR-505, Roland MC-202, Roland MKS-100 (rack sampler version of the S-10), and a Yamaha DX-21 synth. It has just progressed over the years of trading things around and taking time to learn pieces and how it works with other gear. Hearing all the synth-pop bands and emerging industrial and hip-hop pallets of sounds kept that early interest fueled. While I'm crazy about live musicians playing and creating music, there is something about the very quantized sound of machine grooves that I can't get away from, nor do I want to."
You've been producing music and interacting within the music industry for a long time. What keeps you motivated, and what integral changes have you noticed over the years?
"It's never the same when you sit down with the machines. You know what they do, but the endless possibilities keep the fascination level high. I don't care about failing, or what 'might happen' if I try something, so there's a lot of strange routings and control signals and manipulation that get attempted. It is non-stop entertainment when you keep surprising yourself and saying 'What the hell is causing that to happen now?!'..."
"I've mostly just used my own name, but occasionally tried to tie something to a project. I've never given it a lot of thought. I write so many different styles that I generally feel it should just represent me."
Which current crop of artists and labels are grabbing your attention, and why so?
"Not even going to start listing things. I find something every day that makes me feel like I shouldn't even try to compete. I assume anyone reading this is more skilled than I am at making tunes. Actually, that is the case with most things I hear, so when I listen to things... it is a juggling act of experiencing it as a music fan, and then the critique of 'wow, that is crazy, or amazing... how did they do that?', and I try to figure out the process that put it together."
When I was browsing through your Twitter site last month, I noticed that you'd blogged on February 7th: "Nearly done with the remix for Andrez... never had so many changes of ideas in a remix before the final version. Crazy Muddy Waters mindset." The same day, you wrote: "Commute today was powered by Radiohead, Neil Diamond, Gene Krupa, Bad Religion, Ronnie James Dio, Foghat, Terrence Fixmer, Cristian Vogel." ...so, what's the story here...?
"My music collection is vast and varied, and serious and ridiculous. I own a single turntable to listen to my record collection on, and occasionally sample something. CDs and tapes line the walls. I guess my ear is like the Sarlacc pit. I want it all."
What's also the idea behind the Dirty Party Snakes and your recent collaborations with Freddy Fresh?
"Dirty Party Snakes developed out of my admiration and fascination with the timeless legacy of blues music. I own a lot, and listen to it all the time, and started to think what if I used six oscillators in some synths for the strings of a guitar... what would happen, and can you do it? It is progressing, but I've started to put out some of the tracks. There will be a lot more. Alan Oldham [DJ T-1000] did a painting for the next record that will be the jacket. Bluecid Recordings in Sweden--through Joseph Garber at Membrane, and the TSR guys--is picking up this acid blues theme, so it should be cool.
"Freddy Fresh is one of my musical idols. His output and variety of electronic tracks is mind-boggling. We live relatively near each other, but never had our schedules line-up to work on any sort of musical project. Now they have, and we're diving into the machines like crazy. We're both pretty laid-back, but share a similar view of working 'hands on' in the studio. I expect there will be a lot of upcoming projects we do together, and I'm really excited that he was interested in seeing what we'd come up with. The first few times have been jam sessions and we just let the tape roll for hours with things going on all over the place. I'll be editing some of those up into coherent tracks, and then we'll also do some proper tracks."
You've worked under aliases like The Tonewrecker, Tone Broke, and Land Of The Lost, as well as with Frankie Bones as Birken & Bones, etc, etc. Which aliases are you continuing to use these days?
"Not sure. Music projects pop up unexpectedly sometimes. I'm always wondering if it just ends up confusing people in the long run. I don't have any licensing or publishing issues tied to my real name, so there's no specific need."
What's afoot with your label, Tonewrecker Recordings?
"Still have the back-catalogue available through Veto Distribution. I launched a new, strange label called Slappy Recordings, which will be on Input-Output Inc. as a download only label--two releases are already up. One of my own, and one compilation. Hey everyone, send me your weird funk, and we'll put it up if is the fit and legit. I pair it up with some of my doodle art, and *poof*...another one bites the dust. Tonewrecker still has some legs. I want to get a few things on there. The comp that was TW14 was a great mix of stuff, but was only a download for now. Time keeps on slipping."
Surgeon dropped in one of your tracks (with Tony Rohr) on the Warp Records compilation This Is For You Shits (2007), depositing you alongside Throbbing Gristle, British Murder Boys, Scorn, Monolake and Aphex Twin. What d'you think about these guys?
"Very flattering to be included on a mix of that nature. I own music from everyone in that track-listing, and consider them all leagues above and apart from what I am able to slap together. Thanks, Tony!"
You have a decent-sized history, having released your music on vinyl and CD, as well as releasing 12-inches through various labels like Communique, Drop Bass Network, and Tonewrecker Recordings. CDs seem to be a disappearing facet of the electronic music industry, and a fair amount of people are cutting back on vinyl production these days because they say it just doesn't make back the money invested. How do you feel about this?
"Personally, I only have my music as an outlet to keep myself sane and entertained in this world. Records on my own label are sold to recoup the pressing costs and put another release out (if possible). I think if people are trying to put out music just to make some money and line their pockets, then you are sinking your own ship. These days, I'm happy to see that more people can reach each other to share ideas about music and get tracks out directly to the fans, or DJs, or whomever wants it. Any of the labels that I do releases with I like to trade music with. Bartering can be the best solution between artists. I don't want to be bogged down in any business side of this. I don't have enough hours in the day around the rest of my life."
Is vinyl dead? Or just becoming more of a select option?
"I'm sure that it'll come back up. The distribution chaos made it tricky over the last few years--shops have gone under, and labels are kind of stuck with how they can move a couple hundred copies of a release to get the pressing costs back, which doesn't leave cash for the next release. Kids need to go find the magic of digging through dusty bins. Everyone should experience it even if you end up shopping online later."
You have a decent, growing presence on Beatport and other online digital carriers. What do you make of the digital download phenomenon?
"I guess there's a few things I've done, showing up on Beatport these days. It's funny, because Beatport rejected my label Tonewrecker initially, which was fine. I understand if it didn't fit in with the 'techno' stuff they were labeling. I've landed the digital catalog for the label over on the Input-Output site, and it is a cool little group of labels there. I seem to end up on all sorts of different types of labels. Some have digital stuff available, some don't. I assume this would expand more in the future with the push over to digital-only for some of them. More people have access to it from home, so that's fine with getting it to them that way."
Do DJs really need to continue to use vinyl, or can they instead construct entire sets out of stuff they've downloaded off the Internet?
"If I only make releases available on cassette tape now, what are the DJs going to do if they really want my songs? The medium is irrelevant to the end-product. They can manipulate it however they feel. Some DJs enjoy searching things out, and some like to be spoon-fed. I guess the only issues are the licensing people going after laptop performers to find proof of owning the tracks. I've discussed with Jon [Cynthia Stern] at Input-Output that we make a zip file of all the audio parts a free part of the release, so people can remix it on their own. Value for the dollar, and I'll bet it would yield some amazingly restructured compositions."
"The Japanese seem to embrace vast arrays of audio arsenal, never getting pigeon-holed to a single sound or style. I respect and admire it, and someday hope to travel over and check it out first-hand in person. Some of my faves are Shufflemaster, from the Tresor stuff, and Warp for the machine-feel funk. I can't figure out why I just hate talking about music. I take it in and it is stored with a matched emotion and then I when I run inventory checks for my corrupt internal government I can exploit those feelings to make each day a little more magical. Note to self--Paul, that doesn't even make sense."
How would you define your remix of the Little Nobody track, Robota?
"A little bit country; a little bit rock 'n' roll. Thrills, chills, and spills. Running out of gas on a dirt road, with no moon to light your way."
Why did you decide to do the remix?
"I woke in the middle of the night with water dripping on my cheek, and running down past my right ear. The pillow was becoming soaked and I realized the window had broken from a tree branch that snapped in the wind. Water was flying into the house in a single stream, which was odd. When I grabbed a towel from the closet to dry myself off, I went to the garage to get some plastic and tape to temporarily fix the window and keep out the water, but heard a noise down in the studio that sounded odd. One of the drum machines had a single stream of water dripping into it, and was it hiccupping a chugging, slow pattern. I quickly hit 'record' to capture it and turn things off so I wouldn't get electrocuted. When I pressed 'stop', all the gear and my house dissolved into grey pixels and I fell to the ground and sat there in a muddy puddle with a small toy robot walking in front of me. It was muttering some fragments of a vocoded message. That was all I remember from the vision."
What gear/software are you making most use of in the studio at the moment?
"Was using the genoQs Octopus sequencer as the brain... very cool beast. MPC1000 with the latest JJ OS on it is brilliant. I mostly create all my sounds/noises/grooves/jams externally, and then record streams of audio to manipulate later. Arranging in Ableton as a simple multitrack tape deck approach these days. I did start with Version 1 years back, and have loved the work they've put into it. No time-stretching... keeping it lean and clean. I like to think that I could drop in anywhere and write music or perform a live set with what is available to me.
"Here's the list of other gear... the current Tonewrecker Studios gear list:
Akai MPC1000 with JJ OS 2XL
Clavia Nord Lead 2 rack
Eventide Time Factor
Acidlab Bassline V2
Ensoniq DP-2 fx
Novation DrumStation V2
Frostwave FAT controller Analog Sequencer
Dave Smith Instruments Evolver Desktop
MOTU 828 mk2
TSP Pervers Incentiv
Ulti-Mult by Bryan B
Flower Electronics Little Boy Blue Double
Grendel Drone Commander
The Harvestman Tyme Sefari (with The Sound of Thunder) and Doepfer A-119
Dwarfcraft Devices The Great Destroyer
Dwarfcraft Devices Power Struggle
Roland Cube amp
Zoom Streetboxx SB-246
M-Audio ProKeys 88 controller
Piles of software--I think that is it right now."
Which part of your studio is the most vital facet?
"Location! It's in my house, so I can work nights and still be available to my family, which is important to me. All machines are in close proximity to each other, so it is also easy to get them to interact. Sometimes they play nice, and sometimes it is a battle royale. A mix of midi control and CV/Gate stuff. External sounds, internal computer manipulation, or vice versa. The sky is the limit. Most days, it looks like a tornado went through the room, as stuff is moved around everywhere."
What food/drinks keep you fueled throughout production time?
"Big cups of water with some ice. Actually, I'll brew up some coffee and let it sit out for 24 hours to thicken up a bit like motor oil, and enjoy it the next day: Sludge. Woody McBride gave me a new juicer the other year, after my cheap one had taken a dive. That is always good. Message to the world... do not drink the juice of an onion!"
Care to add anything else?
"The end is upon us. Don't be afraid to fail. Bargain bins aren't always the best sale. Mix your machines with raw emotion, but never raw chicken. Squawwk. Thanks for asking me to be part of the remix project!"