Filed under: Interview
From the beginning, Stewart Walker decided to stand out from the crowds. After ditching the guitar, and unlike most opted for a synthesizer and not a set of 1200’s. With ambition to move a crowd with his music and nothing but, he has developed his sound with his creativity. This in turn led to creating his own label Persona in 2001. Originally based in the US, Stewart decided to change scenes and moved his imprint to Berlin. This change of location influenced his sound to a more “micro rhythmical” mix.
Higher Frequency was able to catch the one of a kind label boss to ask about his latest album, Persona and its artists.
Interview by Nick Lawrence (HigherFrequency) _ Introduction by Len Iima (HigherFrequency)
HigherFrequency (HRFQ) : In the past couple of years your original productions have all been released through your own label Persona. Is this because your finding your music veering further away from what might be considered the norm?
Stewart Walker : Persona began as a way for me to control where my music was coming from. Before when I had those strong label affiliations, I found that I was too busy trying to maintain these label relationships, and I would subconsciously think of what label I was making music for while I was in the studio, and my inspiration would inevitably go in the opposite direction. If I was trying to make music for a techno label the end result would be melodic house, and if I wanted to make some kind of clicky ambient thing I was create the hardest techno sound. So the inspiration to create my label was to have the only rule be to sound like me. You’re right to say that my music veers but it’s only because I never want to make the same track twice. Now I have the freedom to trust myself to create something fresh even if it doesn’t fit into today’s ever-narrowing genre guidelines.
HRFQ : At the same time Persona seems to be going through a period of expansion and growth. Is the label at a place now where you are 100% happy or are there still some goals you want to achieve?
Stewart Walker : I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% happy because it’s easy to look at the music around you, or the labels, and feel competitive . If you think they’re making good music or selling more records. But rather than being vague I’ll give you a couple of clear examples of what I’m looking for to give me happiness both as a producer, and as a label owner. As a producer, I feel pleasure when I listen to a piece of music I made a year ago and I no longer remember sitting in the studio and editing all the silly little MIDI fades, and the music sounds like it’s always existed … like it’s a part of the canon. Time in the studio follows that dictum of 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. It’s fun for the first 45 minutes until you’ve got a sweet groove, and you have to think of a good way to stretch this groove into a song, and that’s when I find the process difficult. On the other hand I have a lot of work left to accomplish as a label owner. Persona is operating for the first time ever in its own office. Now that we have opened ourselves to the complexities and difficulties of seriously running a record label, it appears there are more problems to solve than we ever conceived. I find I spend so much time correcting the mistakes of our partners that it’s impossible to dream about the big picture, or any artistic or social implications. But, on the other hand I believe we’ll learn our standard operating procedures as second nature and from that point we can improve.
HRFQ : What attracted you to the music of Reynold and Touane, the other two artists who feature prominently on the Persona roster?
Stewart Walker : It’s becoming a trend at Persona that the music we like is coming from people who have had some kind of musical experience before becoming producers. Not necessarily a formal music education, but at least its people who have messed around with bands, or made recordings on 4 tracks from a young age. I remember reading an interview with Jeff Mills in Jockey Slut magazine a few years ago where he was explaining his pride at having no strong musical skills and how he didn’t wish to acquire them, because he thought knowing music theory would polarize his own productions and make them more conventional. At that time, I was really excited about the possibilities of this “noble savage” approach, and I think it was very successful for him. But, I no longer think this approasch is the best way. When people who know nothing about music sit down in front of a computer to record their first tracks, they frequently come out with the same prosaic rhythms and basslines that they’ve always heard. I remember being a kid playing “Blue Monday” for my older brother, and him hating the track because, “all techno music sounds like boom-ahh boom-ahh boom-ahh” These days when I check out new music on Beatport, I don’t often hear the growth or progression I’m looking for. What made Reynold’s and Sam’s music more interesting for me was that it contained depth and density, and it sounds like it came to life with more purpose than just selling 1000 dance 12”s that would fit the sound of the moment and be forgotten next week.
HRFQ : In a previous interview with HigherFrequency you mentioned that sometimes in the studio you have to stop thinking conceptually and think more like an engineer. How true was this with your new album “Concentricity”?
Stewart Walker : My conceptualization is even further removed from everyday production now, because I have a really strong idea of what I sound like and what I can do in the studio. I’ve been producing electronic music for 15 years and releasing it for 10. Conceptualization can be really fun, but after my first couple of releases I pulled away from it because conceptualization can also be called marketing. For me music improves once the marketing has worn off. Take a band like “Gorillaz” with their giant concept of being a cartoon band etc, and load that music into your iPod, forget about it for 2 years, and then it comes on randomly and you think, “what’s that? A solo project from the singer of Blur?” And it’s at that point that you can honestly evaluate the music, not the album covers, not the videos, not the interviews. My most conceptual work was the album “Stabiles” which came from an infatuation I had with Alexander Calder for a couple of years, and at that time I loved pretense and big gestures, and artist’s statements, etc. But now if I listen to the album, I no longer need to think about art and architecture and all that extraneous shit because the music is everything. If you listen in headphones with your eyes closed, then it succesfully takes you away. Finally, if we are to recognize the difference between artists and craftsmen, I guess I’d prefer to be a great craftsman. Because the secret is that’s where the art is anyway.
HRFQ : Listening to “Concentricity” it is interesting to note that the whole album is mixed. Any particular reason for choosing to present the album in this way?
Stewart Walker : Because electronic music exists on a longer timescale than pop music. I love both styles, and I feel I worked within the pop timeframe when I recorded the “Grounded in Existence” album. I tend to gravitate more to pop music because I have a short attention span, and I like to hear fast changes. But techno works best in a DJ mix or a DJ set (or live show, ha ha). But I’ll answer this question the easy way. I mixed the album because I wanted to make sure the tracks WERE mixable, and mixing them together was a good way for me to learn how to smooth the intros and outros so DJ’s could play the records easily.
HRFQ : Are there many differences between a studio production like “Concentricity” and what people will hear/see at your live shows?
Stewart Walker : I think there’s going to be a big difference because a studio album is all about perfection and special little details and a live show is more about power. So, in order to build that power, the components are more simple, because they have to be able to fit together whenever I throw them in. This last year, I’ve been playing more completed tracks in my live show, because it’s really my first opportunity to hear how my tracks will sound in DJ mixes. And they’re just weird. For the first time, I understand why DJ’s want their simple 16 measure intros, rather than what I was doing which was more like 1,2,3 go crazy with lots of sounds!!! So that’s been a good learning experience.
HRFQ : You’ve said before that you are most definitely a live act and not a DJ, is this a conscious decision?
Stewart Walker : A long time ago, when I was just getting interested in electronic music I had to decide whether I was going to spend my limited funds on either 2 turntables and a mixer, or a synthesizer. It was cheaper just to buy a junky analog synth than to buy the full DJ setup and new records every week. Plus I considered myself to be a musician, and I guess I always wanted my name to be on the record. As I progressed further as a producer, I felt like I should start DJ’ing, just because that was the way to go around the world and play your music. All of my producer idols at that time were also Djs, but I had heard horror stories of producers who had become popular and decided to DJ, and they just weren’t that good as Djs. I never had the capacity to stand in a record store and listen to 100 records and buy 2. So, when the first invitation came for me to come out and play, my friend basically told me “I’ve booked you for your first live show in two months. Get ready.” Once I got started performing, I couldn’t imagine DJ’ing because I loved the fact that I was making people dance with only my music. Lately, I’ve been wondering about DJ’ing again, since I started playing my own tracks in live shows, but since I’ve worked so long at developing this individuality as a producer and performer, it’d be pretty dull to give it up just for convenience.
End of the interview
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