Hudson Mohawke interview: “The sound of a door opening.”

11.08.11 Words by: Ruth Saxelby

With ‘Satin Panthers’, his first new material in almost two years (save for, y’know, that Kerri Hilson and Weezy bootleg that notched up 30,000 plays in just two weeks), Hudson Mohawke has switched his game up ten-fold and, as he explains below, even he’s surprised by the response.

He shouldn’t be. This is the guy, remember, who crystallised the Glasgow sound with his 2009 debut ‘Butter’ on Warp, taking the wildness of psychedelic funk, the slinkiness of glossy R&B and a heady dose of ADHD-level energy to fuel its unfurling in every direction. But back to 2011: from the juiced-up piano house of All Your Love (that’s him on the ivories) to the knee-quaking bass of Thunder Bay, ‘Satin Panthers’ is a 5-strong EP of supremely focused tracks – keener, stronger, smarter, better than anything he’s done before. And the best bit is, you know he’s only just getting started. This is the warm-up. I gave him a quick bell a few days ago to ask him about ‘Satin Panthers’, working in LA, how his sound has developed and mango Rubicon.

How are you doing?

Hudson Mohawke: Good, just trying to do all my press stuff at once this week. I’m moving house at the same time but everything’s good.

So, everyone’s been getting excited for a long while about when the next Hudson Mohawke release is coming along. ‘Satin Panthers’ is awesome so thank you for finally giving us the music!

Hudson Mohawke: Yeah, it took me a while to put things together. I ended up, not intentionally, but doing so many gigs in the last year or so that I barely had any time to be working. I realised I hadn’t released anything since the album came out in August 2009, almost two years.

You’ve made us wait but it’s been totally worth it. When did you make it?

Hudson Mohawke: It was basically done over the course of last year. I actually handed it in in December.

Hudson Mohawke – Thunder Bay by Hudson Mohawke

Tracks like Thank You and Thunder Bay feel most related to ‘Butter’, while Cbat and Octan feel newer?

Hudson Mohawke: Yeah, it was kinda more of experiment for me in doing dancefloor orientated stuff, even though it’s still not a dance record really. It’s a little bit of a departure from what I’ve done before – just for this EP really. I don’t really like the idea of making albums of dance music really but it is something I’m really interested in so I wanted to experiment with an EP and see how it worked out. I guess the next album will be – it’s coming together now – more of an album album, if that makes sense [laughs].

“With the ‘Butter’ album, there were so many different tempos, different sounds and different influences pulling it in loads of different directions.” Hudson Mohawke

This EP does feel incredibly focused. I remember when we spoke about ‘Butter’ nearly two years ago now, the one self-criticism you made of it was that you weren’t really sure of the ordering of it.

Hudson Mohawke: Yeah, it was sort of more like a collection of back catalogue stuff.

It was the perfect introduction to your world. I know this is only an EP rather than an album but it feels so much more focused.

Hudson Mohawke: Yeah, definitely. I had a bunch of other tracks which were going to be on it but got taken off it, kinda got shuffled around. It took a bit longer to come out as well. Some tracks were taken by MCs and vocalists and we had to take them off so it kept being held back because of stupid things like that [laughs].

I was wondering about that because obviously Olivier Daysoul was a big part of ‘Butter’, and there are snippets of vocals on All Your Love and Thunder Bay but there are no real vocals present. Is that because you wanted to make it more dancefloor or because you’re moving in a different direction now?

Hudson Mohawke: It’s partly because I wanted to make it more dancefloor and partly because I think it’s good on albums to branch out and do collaborations but for an EP I just wanted it to be more focused on my own production. Just more focused in general, not have too many people’s input from different directions.

So this is pure Hudson Mohawke.

Hudson Mohawke: Yeah [laughs].

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How do you feel your sound has moved on over the last couple of years?

Hudson Mohawke: I think it’s kind of…the stuff I’ve been working on recently is a lot more stripped back. A bit more concise, more…still with the main elements but stripped back, concentrated. With the ‘Butter’ album, there were so many different tempos, different sounds and different influences pulling it in loads of different directions. That’s what made it seem a little more difficult to digest I think. It’s just a more focused sound in general. When I was working on that first album I had a bad habit: I would never stop working on something. I would continually add in more and more and more and more. I feel like I’m enjoying it at the moment, playing around with just the basic elements and just having maybe a couple of elements in a track. Focusing in slightly more on those few elements rather than having 50,000 different things flitting around in different directions.

“I feel like I’m enjoying it at the moment.” Hudson Mohawke

It’s great to hear you’re enjoying it more – is that confidence?

Hudson Mohawke: No, it’s just…I don’t know what’s kind of caused it. It’s just a different sort of thing that sparks my attention when I’m working on my own music. I used to really get a kick out of having every last, little frequency range and space in every track to be filled up. I guess I’ve matured slightly, in terms of focusing in on what I think are key parts.

“I used to really get a kick out of having every last, little frequency range and space in every track to be filled up.” Hudson Mohawke

With Cbats it feels like there’s a bit of a footwork influence…?

Hudson Mohawke: Yeah, those little 16th hi-hats at the end of it. Kind of, yeah. I’ve always made little tracks like that but I’ve never bothered with them, like it’s not anything worth ever putting on a record. I always thought of them as being so disposable tracks. Literally just half an hour ideas. I’ve got a whole load of tracks like that. There was something about that one Cbat, the particular sound of it – it’s like the sound of a door opening. I played it to a couple of people and they seemed to be really into it so I thought I’d put it on this record and see what happens.

What’s been incredible to watch has been the response you’ve been getting; the props you’ve been getting from ridiculous level producers as well nearly 30,000 plays in less that two weeks on that bootleg on Souncloud.

Hudson Mohawke: I’ve always been not really keen on keeping up with people are saying but it seems to be going well. I’m happy with it. Because it’s just like an EP I was expecting to put it out and get some good feedback or whatever but it seems to be doing really well, it’s got really good support from Radio 1 and 1Xtra so it seems to be going quite well.

Is the album just around the corner?

Hudson Mohawke: It’s not just around the corner but it probably won’t be too long. There might be a single before.

I know you’ve just moved but seeing with all the attention from the US, would you ever move to America? Be the big LA producer working with all the big R&B stars?

Hudson Mohawke: I would do it for a bit. I’ve been over to Atlantic Studios in LA this year, doing some stuff over there. My dad’s from LA, I think I told you that before.

Yeah, yeah.

Hudson Mohawke: There’s something about LA that’s never grabbed me but I really, really like New York. Given an opportunity to go and work there for a while then I probably go along with that. I’ve got a long-term American work visa so I can pretty much go over whenever I want.

Are you in talks with people?

Hudson Mohawke: Yeah, I’m talks with a few people but I’ve totally made the mistakes before of, like, announcing a load of stuff but you never know if things are going to see the light of day or be released or whatever until they’re actually finished. So I’m not saying too much about what I’m doing at the moment.

Is it stuff you’re excited about?

Hudson Mohawke: Yeah, definitely. It’s kind of weird. You might get an email every week or every few days with a big name being thrown about. Such-and-such is interested to do this… but whether any of comes to fruition or not is another thing altogether. It’s just the nature of all stuff.

Where do you get your energy from, your drive to create? What pushes you into the studio? Are you in the studio every day?

Hudson Mohawke: Pretty much but obviously not at the moment because everything is dismantled because of the move. I’m looking for a new studio space just now. Where I was living before I could have a studio in my house but then when I lived in Amsterdam I had a flat and a separate studio five minutes away and I found that was a really good way of working for me because you could keep the two things separate. You weren’t in work mode when you were at home and you weren’t also working on music while simultaneously laying around playing on Fifa or whatever. It’s good to have the two things split so I’m looking for a place that’s near my new house. As soon as I get that sorted it’ll be full steam ahead.

“It’s just trying to keep myself interested basically, keep things new, keep pushing myself as a producer – technically, musically.” Hudson Mohawke

But in terms of what brings me into the studio, it’s just trying to keep myself excited and keep myself on my toes. Every so often I have a little period of when I feel like I’m repeating myself or I’m not really hitting what I want to be hitting and it totally puts me off. I’ll have a month or something when I can’t be bothered doing anything. But when I hit a little run, I can usually run for while. It’s just trying to keep myself interested basically, keep things new, keep pushing myself as a producer – technically, musically.

When I first listened to All Your Love and that piano dropped in, I was just like “arghhh”. It’s just so good, so honky. Are you still sampling a lot? Are you recording live instruments?

Hudson Mohawke: Most of the high-pitched vocal in that is a sample but everything else is played, stuff that I’ve built around it. It’s a bit of a homage to happy hardcore days. I try and do much more played stuff now; to keep on with sampling is somewhat limiting. I prefer to try and make stuff from scratch.

So that is you playing the piano?

Hudson Mohawke: That little piano bit that comes in, yeah.

You’ve definitely got an alternative career as a happy hardcore live pianist.

Hudson Mohawke: [Laughs] I was thinking about doing that actually, under a different name or something.

Definitely! The more pianos the better. The massive, overarching thing with ‘Butter’ was that yellow brick road thing. Do you see a big theme for the new album? Do you think in themes?

Hudson Mohawke: Um, I mean, not particularly. The way that sort of came together was just what I was really into at that point. I think everything I do always that kind of bizarre, spacey theme or whatever. Mildly eccentric or whatever. I think that will always be a part of it. I’m not setting out to write an album in a specific tone or theme.

“I think everything I do always that kind of bizarre, spacey theme. Mildly eccentric or whatever.” Hudson Mohawke

How many mango Rubicons went into the making of ‘Satin Panthers’?

Hudson Mohawke: [Laughs out loud] Where did you hear that?

Your Twitter!

Hudson Mohawke: Oh right, okay. At least a four-pack every day. [Laughs] My skin is turning yellow.

I am sitting here with a mango Rubicon and a guava Rubicon on my desk.

Hudson Mohawke: Actually, I’m so biased I haven’t even tried the other flavours. I only ever have the mango one.

You have to try the guava.

Hudson Mohawke: I feel like I might be disappointed though.

Oh, okay. What’s next for you?

Hudson Mohawke: A few festivals in the next month or two. I’m also a resident of the Warehouse Project this year, so I’m doing all of them. And just trying to get the album finished really.

Warp released ‘Satin Panthers’ on August 1st 2011

Buy Hudson Mohawke ‘Satin Panthers’

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