Ford & Lopatin – ‘Everything is Working’
Ford & Lopatin, or Joel of Tiger City and Dan Oneohtrix Point Never respectively, have been pretty busy lately.
In the last few months they have changed their name (from Games), recorded and produced their forthcoming full-length album Channel Pressure, struck up a deal with Mexican Summer records to act as producers in residence for their in-house studio, and founded Software, an imprint label by which to publish the results.
As if this wasn’t enough, they’ve been touring too; FACT was therefore very happy to squeeze in an interview before their standout live show at London’s Ether Festival.
So why the surnames for the name change?
DL: “Well we weren’t going to be able to beat ‘Games’, so we were just like, fine, we’ll just be us and carry on.”
JF: “What happened was, when the label and the full-length were going through the process of copyrighting procedures their lawyer told them “there’s no way you can copyright Games”. Because the rapper The Game had changed his name simply to Game, and this was a plural of that, and so on. So there wasn’t a specific threat of action, but…Well, me and Dan love making music. But we also love eating. And being able to pay rent…”
JF: “…And the last thing we need, when we’ve put all of this effort in, is the threat that one day some industry type or lawyer will come up to us and say ‘Oh yeah, give me three quarters of all of that’ for no good reason. And it happens.”
Well, Ford & Lopatin sounds pretty prog, so I think you’re OK there.
DL: “[Laughs] Yeah, maybe more Kruder & Dorfmeister.”
Channel Pressure is released soon. I was interested to read that you’ve retained a similar approach to your That We Can Play EP, recording jams and reformatting them. They sound more like preconceived songs.
JF: “Well for the EP we were in my bedroom with limited technology and limited knowledge, whereas with the album we were in a real, designated studio, working with an engineer, more equipment, more knowledge, and more people. It’s really helped to produce a wider spectrum of sound, having more ideas to bring together and more time to work on them, and also produce more music as a result.”
DL: “But organizing a chaotic starting point is the really important part for us, the refining process.”
JF: “I think it’s very much a matter of experimentation, yeah, reducing the space between your brain and the technology you are using.”
DL: “And it’s really contextual too; like, sitting in a room with no air conditioning in the middle of summer…”
JF: “…Or with no heat or hot water in the winter.”
DL: “Yeah! During making the EP we were squatting in our own apartment because the place hadn’t been finished yet. But yeah, there’s this kind of contextual shit – life stuff, or state of mind, or whatever – that can make you rush through things and shape what you make. But I think the constant refining is a way for us to develop more intent.”
“The last thing we need, when we’ve put all of this effort in, is the threat that one day some industry type or lawyer will come up to us and say ‘Oh yeah, give me three quarters of all of that’ for no good reason. And it happens.”
I think people have been surprised at the faithfulness of your sound palette to late ’80s pop and have assumed it was largely sampled. How much is?
JF: “On the album, virtually none. Barely any.”
DL: “Yeah, the first track has some chopped up YouTube footage, and there’s about 2% buried treasure in there.”
JF: “There were a couple of tracks from the EP that were built initially from a little sampling, and then there were others that were clean and from scratch.”
When able to recreate the sound of an era that has obviously influenced you a lot, does it ever become daunting? Perhaps through trying to match the significance it had on you, while creating something original?
JF: “Well, yeah, in that you don’t want to be straight retro!”
DL: “Yeah, if that was a concern then we wouldn’t have made this record. I remember the same thing happening with Oneohtrix Point Never. I had always been making these particular kinds of jams that took reference from ’70s/’80s stuff. It’s just that we both like synthesizers, and that was the renaissance period for these instruments. It’s not because I want to wear a Members Only jacket and play Rubik’s Cube all day. I mean, give me a break, this is just the sound I like, and it isn’t like those period-referencing trends that come and go all the time. If anything it’s more like Tarantino, where on the face of it he may be reconstructing Blaxploitation movies, but when you look closer you tons of different things going on.”
JF: “Finding new processes to update it is a concern for us, yeah. New ways of creating sounds, new combinations, new methods of working, edits, cuts, all of these things become new ways to make music. It’s really exciting.”
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Ford & Lopatin – ‘Emergency Room’
What are your respective musical backgrounds? Have you studied?
JF: “Neither of us really studied music formally. All of my learning was in high school, I guess, all affiliated with school programmes. I played in orchestra and jazz band and stuff, playing trumpet, which…[sighs] I fucking hated trumpet so much [laughs]. But yeah, bass is now my main instrument, but I taught myself how to play that. I guess I always felt more rhythmically inclined than anything, harmony and theory in general just totally confuse me. So Dan and I work on everything by ear. We just try to go with the flow of the gear that we use.”
DL: “And as the story goes, my mom is a piano teacher, and my father was in rock bands throughout the 80s, that was his passion. My mom tried to teach me, and there was a point when I was younger when I was playing simple pieces two hands together, but I was just a distracted kid, I didn’t stick with it. I think some of it stuck, basic things. But I can’t read music, I never really could. Even when I was training with my mom I would fake it, I used to listen to her and copy her instead, and she would catch me and get really mad. But my mind just works in a different way, and she now says that my dad and I can do things that she was never trained to do, through listening and improvisation.”
When did you come back to writing music?
DL: “Actually, I really wanted to be a screenwriter. I loved music a lot, I just didn’t really know how to make it and record it. It wasn’t until my late teens, when I learned some simple things about music production that that began to change. Like, getting my first sampler, chopping up some Return To Forever, some fusion jams…”
JF: “…That moment is stamped on my brain so hard.”
DL: “…Totally, that was a big deal. Then in college I got a Tascam four-track and started making guitar and synthesizer experiments, and it just went from there. So we’re much more from a school of doing things without having that sort of internal logic.”
Mexican Summer must have provided a pretty special opportunity to explore that with their studio, and imprinting your Software label. As an alternative model to the current, and arguably doomed music industry it’s curious and exciting. It’s also pretty anachronistic.
JF: “Yeah, it’s an incredible circumstance that we’re now a part of. Basically, Mexican Summer has a complex with a bustling label office upstairs, a studio downstairs, and a record store that they’re ramping up to integrate further.”
A bit like when American Apparel launched its vertically-integrated set-up. Except, you know…without the following lawsuits.
DL: “Well, at the end of the day, it’s an experiment. It’s Mexican Summer and Software coming together to try something out with a space that’s there and screaming to be used. We always knew we wanted more than seven days to a month in a studio, and more of a chance to really become the space. And it was an opportunity for them to do something with the space in a way that they had been waiting for too. So we’re all in the same page, and there’s no weird undercurrent of us having to produce results.”
JF: “One of the other things totally different about Mexican Summer is that I found it such a turn off talking to other labels due to the lack of actual interest in what we were doing. t was so…brutal. Like ‘oh, I saw you guys on the internet. Want to make a record? We’ll give you $10,000.’ Hell, for that I could buy a computer, and a decent mic pre-amp but still be in my bedroom.”
DL: “Exactly. Tom from Mexican Summer had the foresight to invest in the studio as part of the record label. And it makes sense because, how do you define the monetary value of making a record? There’s no price point to put on a record to make it good or bad. But what’s the value of the label if they’re just going to put muscle behind you? It’s fine, but doesn’t stimulate me as an artist in the way that this does.”
“I found it such a turn off talking to other labels due to the lack of actual interest in what we were doing. t was so…brutal. Like ‘oh, I saw you guys on the internet. Want to make a record?”
Speaking of stimulating artistic temperaments, in my review of d’Eon’s Palinopsia I said I thought he could really benefit from a studio environment. Then, only a couple of weeks later, I read about how you were potentially going to be using the Mexican Summer studios to produce others, and…
[JF & DL look at each other and laugh]
JF: “…We emailed him about that last night actually.”
DL: “d’Eon could be anything, man. What’s amazing, and what people don’t know, is that he uses a DOS tracker on a PC. A DOS tracker! And yet he manages to put all of this emotion into it and…it’s awesome. It’s part of the appeal, and not just stamping that out saying ‘you need to be hi-fi’. Although that is also part of it; there’s a counterpoint between the approaches, and I think if you respect both sides you can get some really interesting results.”
Being based in Brooklyn, how do you find the scene in America compared to other places? Is there a notable difference?
JF: “Definitely. I did a Games DJ set as an after party to the Oneohtrix show in Bristol and dropped a Scritti Politti B-side and everyone went nuts! That was amazing!”
DL: “Yeah that never happens in New York.”
JF: “It’s totally unheard of. I mean our friends would love it. But for a show that was pretty life-affirming.”
DL: “Over here is generally awesome. New York is a cluster fuck, no-one’s on the same page. Everybody’s generally looking out for themselves – which can probably be said for most big cities. But I don’t look to New York’s scene to form a community. I just need those moments where it works, and those moments seem to happen way more away from there, like here. I love London, I’ve grown fond of it. I remember I played Cargo last year as Oneohtrix and I was really nervous. I’d played London once before at the Grosvenor, and it was more of a sloppy night in general, kind of rowdy. But that Cargo gig felt like a big deal, all these labels were coming, and I was super freaked out. Being in London was a big thing, like how I felt when I used to travel to New York to play shows when I was younger, this sense of ‘I really need to do well tonight.’”
You did do well. My watch battery stopped during it. Which is about as apt as you can get, to lose all sense of time during a Oneohtrix Point Never gig.
DL: “Oh wow! That’s really cool!”
Maybe that should be the aim of your shows.
DL: “Yeah, it’d be like Inception every night [laughs].”