Following edifying and entertaining instalments from Surgeon, Tyondai Braxton and Dam-Funk, Paul White is the latest modern musical maverick to sidle up to FACT and chat about five records that he holds dear.
Those who have heard his debut album The Strange Dreams of Paul White will know that the sonic universe our man inhabits is a colourful one, where elements of hip-hop, library music, avant-jazz and prog blend together imperceptibly. His five records are accordingly interesting and out-there, so read on…
01: PETER HOWELL & THE BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP
(BBC 7″, 1980)
So why did you pick this one?
Paul White: [laughs] “I just had to pick Doctor Who, this is one of the first ever records I got as a kid. My mum got me this, along with Fraggle Rock and some other funny, “Paul’s Birthday Record”. Anyway this is one of the first records I had, but even I didn’t have it then I’d want to buy it now. The sounds just blow my head off every time man, I don’t know how they did it. I don’t know how they do it today let alone how they did it then. Immense…The power, the energy in it is incredible.”
Did you say before to me that your neighbour was in Dr Who?
“Ha! Yeah it’s funny, the house we moved into about 13 years ago, it turns out the neighbour was in the original series.”
And you’ve gone for the Peter Howell version from this infamous youtube clip, not the Delia Derbyshire version we might all know better. The flipside is ‘The Astronaut’.
“Oh yeah, I stumbled across one of his solo albums the other day, ‘Looking Through The Dark Glass’ or something like that. It’s a crazy record. The first A-side is just, 28 minutes of soundscape madness. It’s a trip man. There’s loads of other tunes on the other side, one of them is the B-side of that Dr Who 7″, which is incredible, quite disco-y.”
Imagine if you got a chance to remix the BBC Radiophonic Workshop music.
“That would be it for me man. I wouldn’t leave the house for ages, i’d be stuck on that. I grew up loving Star Wars too, i’d love to do a whole beattape soundtrack to that. Nothing can compete with Dr Who though, nothing can compete with those BBC radiophonic dudes. It’s a full organic experience, you can feel the energy and emotion in [their work]. It’s a full visual experience.”
02: GEORGE DUKE
So now we’re gonna talk about George Duke.
“I just thought I’d pick ones that meant something to me in the long run. Again, that was one of my mum’s records. She wasn’t a musician but she loved music, and this is one of the best records she had. It’s incredible, the mix of funk and jazz, and just.. I just love George Duke, the way he’s just so creative, he does things so differently to me. It feels like he wants to experiment in so many different areas, sonically. His use of synths on this album is particularly amazing, i think thats why i like it and it stands out for me. He just goes off on his own kind of journey, he’s got a deep background in jazz and funk but he’s really off trying to do something so different. There might be stuff that he’s doing here that he’s ripping off but it sounds unique to me. And the feel of it – like the name of the album – it sounds to corny to say it, but you can feel it. The feeling of fun and joy in all the new sounds that they had. You can feel his love of music.”
I don’t know if you know but George was really a synth pioneer, he also applied those sounds to his work with Frank Zappa. Is that part of why you chose it?
“For sure, I think you can hear the enjoyment he’s having with all these new sounds and this new creative thing that he’s found, and you can really hear the fun he’s having with experimenting to me. It’s just fun to me man, I think that’s why I love it. You can hear the feel in it.”
03: MILES DAVIS
IN A SILENT WAY
So we’ve just been watching Miles Davis and Joe Zawinhul play that song on Youtube. Why did you choose this one?
“The reason i picked that is basically cause of Joe Zawinhul. I’ve always loved the song, I had this on a tape when i was a kid, on a Gilles Peterson radio show. I didn’t even record it, i didn’t know who Gilles Peterson was, I didn’t know the track name or anything, it just got passed to me. I just remember being young and listening to that song, at an age when i wasn’t listening to jazz, i was listening to rock, and hardcore and stuff like that, dark rave music. This was the only jazz song I listened to at that age. I always loved it, got older and discovered who it was, and found out Joe Zawinhul wrote it. I just completely fell in love with it, he’s definitely one of my favourite composers ever, the way he plays with sound and feel, it’s one of the most organic, feeling songs I’ve ever heard. I’ve seen him play a couple of times and he just blows my mind man, he talks with music, a true music language expert.
“I love Weather Report, my dad played a lot of Weather Report in the house and i got to hear Joe through that as well. This song is like that, a beautiful lush journey, but it has different moods, there’s an upbeat bit in the middle, which picks you up and then drops you back down…One of the best journeys in music.”
It’s funny that you like this because of Joe, not Miles – and you also picked Duke, another pioneering fusion keyboard player. Both very experimental in composition and new electronic sounds. Does this connect with your work do you think?
“I think so, their work of fusing sounds in that way definitely impacts me. Completely having fun with new sound, I guess, these are people that thought creatively and wanted to do something sonically different. In my work that’s what I do, I muck around with feelings and emotions and try to turn that into something sonic and create landscapes of sound.”
You keep talking about fun – and hip hop isn’t usually considered fun or funny. Some people sneer a bit at that fusion stuff – it gets a bad rep, it’s seen as overzealous and comical.
“Music is supposed to be fun and entertaining. People think too much about it in my opinion. It should be complete fun and complete joy. You’re here on this earth to be you, innit. Life’s too short and you’ve gotta have fun. If I can hear fun in a song, I just love it, it will always crack me up and entertain me.”
So we’ve been listening to this just now and the first thing you said to me is “yet another fun one!”
“I don’t think you can top Gong for having fun man. These guys were having some of the most fun out of anybody out there, with more than just music! I just love all the Gong stuff for their creativity and their mix of…They’ll just try anything. It’s like a book, their music reminds me of a whole story, takes you into a whole new world, drags you right to the depths of it, pulls you right through the other end feeling enlightened. Literally, a trip. I picked this one in particular because it has a couple of ambienty, atmospheric tracks that really remind me of what I used to make when I was younger. I made ambient music first before I had even heard these guys, it’s amazing to hear this stuff now.”
Is one Gong album more essential than the others?
“No! Not really, i couldn’t say that. There’s not one better than the next. I picked this one cause of the pure lush atmospheres and the instruments they use, they used all types of instruments here.”
Who are Gong?
“Steve Hillage was in them and left, he’s on this one. They did that trilogy – it was supposed to be a trilogy, but it spiralled off into seven albums I think. The main guy [Daevid Allen] grew up as a street poet, I heard this amazing interview with him, he’s one of the most inspiring.. His literature.. I’m crap with words! The way he tells his story.. He has this helper called Zero The Hero which is mentioned on the record covers, a voice in his head. He said in the interview “some people call it schizophrenia, I call him Zero The Hero!”. [laughs] This little gnome who appeared to him on mushrooms – he stayed with him and guided him. I was amazed he wasn’t scared, he was like “this is my life!”. He found his flute player in a cave, he was walking down the beach somewhere and heard flute coming from a cave. He wandered in – ‘you’re in the band mate!’ There was a family of them, for the first album they went to a farmhouse and lived off magic mushrooms. Some of the most trippy music known to man.”
You saw them live at the Big Chill right?
“The most amazing show I’ve ever seen.”
05: BLACK SHEEP
A WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING
Okay so let me guess…
“It was unintentional, but yes we’ve gone down the route of fun again. This was one of the first hip hop records I remember loving. At the time i was listening to lots of different stuff. I got into hip hop through skateboarding. All my mates used to skate and we used to meet up and listen to stuff. Everything from Nirvana, loads of rock, through to Wu Tang and stuff like that. Even though i was mostly in a rock phase at the time, I always loved this record. They’re having such a laugh with it. I can never remember any titles or track names – they just completely go off on one on each track. There’s no shyness, they just don’t care. We’re gonna do what we want, fuck what people think.”
So why this, why not some many other classic rap albums?
“Beats are nice, whole themes, whole stories. I’m bad at explaining! As a kid I was also listening to Rza, all the raw stuff, but this seemed to stick out, the good vibe and the feel to it. It’s come back to me in the last couple of years, I’ve come back to it and I’m re-appreciating it. It flows brilliantly and I love the fun they’re having. It’s packed with hilarious skits, like the one about ‘ho is just short for honey.’ And the one at the end – ‘For Doz That Slept’ – all the way through it just says “fuck you!”. They chop up this sample ‘fuck you!’ and orchestrate it. It cracks me up!”
Your beattapes are packed with skits. Some of them are hilarious.
“I just love to have fun in the studio! I love to muck around. I’m sure this kind of thing had a big influence on me. It was great to put you in the mood for skateboarding, this one, put you in a jokes kind of mood and you could go out and skate hard. I’ve never thought about it but this be maybe where my skits come from. I love comedy records.”