Where there’s a will, there’s a way. That maxim couldn’t be more accurate in describing renegade producer, Will. With a varied and interesting background, including a stint as a drummer for a heavy metal outfit, Will is a person who takes music production seriously. Currently based in Toronto, this multi-talented semi-reclusive artist took time out from his busy schedule to share his experiences, not to mention his impressive collection of hi-tech toys.
F: Will, can you tell me what inspired you to become a producer?
W: It was a new frontier in the 90’s, creating sounds that didn’t exist in the real world through analogue synthesizers and Flex processors, psychedelic drugs, you know, mostly fueling the desire to make sounds that hadn’t been heard before. A line for just different musical perspectives. I was a hip-hop producer before I was an electronic music producer, and I took some acid and it kinda opened my mind a little bit and I started making synthesizer music and it’s come full circle now. I don’t touch drugs anymore, but I still make a lot of the same music, including the hip-hop, reggae, psytrance, jungle, drum and bass, dubstep, the whole nine yards; whatever I feel like making. I don’t really set a boundary on what I feel like making. If I feel like making something, I make it the way I want it.
F: Did you produce hip-hop tracks for local Toronto artists or international?
W: That was more out in Vancouver and Calgary area at the time. More just local guys. I did a lot of engineering for underground MC’s around there. At the time, I started going to these psy-trance nights in Calgary thrown by a group called The Techno Collective; it was a long time ago now. I had a lot of the equipment needed. I was mostly strictly sampling when I was making hip-hop; I was sampling from vinyl and whatnot. I had very little interest in synthesizer music until I actually checked the culture out a little bit and felt some real resonance with it, and I started trading in the MPC’s for Mini Moogs and Arps and Prophets and the list goes on.
F: Did you study music production formally or are you self taught mostly?
W: I was just self taught, just born out of an interest from playing in bands and whatnot. I tended to have a gravitation towards engineering. I always wanted to record the bands’ albums; record everything, engineer all my own stuff. I had a real huge interest in production quality and all that, so I just gravitated towards singular music, not necessarily style but a singular approach to music, you know; composing, producing, engineering, etcetera etcetera.
F: How important do you think it is for a producer to have basic knowledge of music in terms of musicianship; being able to play an instrument for example.
W: It can help but then there’s a certain level of creative genius that comes from musical naiveness. Not necessarily knowing which chord structures go together, or even what a chord is. I mean some of the best electronic music ever recorded has been done by people who know absolutely nothing about music theory. So I resonate that way and I think it can help; it does help me with a music background, understanding music from multiple, different instrumentations, but a lot of what I found with techno was trying to unlearn classical tradition. Being raised a piano player you have this sense of ingrained music theory which can turn out to be wrong and detrimental to the creative process anyways, and you take a look at Cole Porter, who knew nothing about music theory but wrote some of the best songs ever recorded.
F: Tell me about some of your influences.
W: Definitely wide-ranging. I’ve always been heavy into funk music, soul, RnB, dub kind of stuff was my main focus. I really like old jazz. I really like everything as long as it’s tasteful. I don’t really have parameters which I draw influence from. I just always draw from what’s good and what resonates with me. I don’t really identify with stylistic identity. I don’t believe that’s a really good thing because you just end up fucking pigeonholing yourself in some obscure sub-genre that only you will resonate with and that’s half of it, but at the same time you want to resonate with other people too. If you want people to listen to your music, if you want people to listen to your art, there are compromises you have to make and it’s not necessarily a compromise as it is just being open to different sources. You can expect genius from just as many radio friendly pop songs as you do the obscure, underground tracks that only five people know about. But the thing is, is that it’s getting those tracks those five people have written out there to a wider audience as opposed to creating something that is self-marginalized.
F: What sort of medium do you prefer to work with when it comes to recording?
W: I really like the flexibility you have with digital audio workstation. I tend to gravitate towards Logic everytime. I have Pro-Tools and Ableton and whatnot. I always end up back in Logic for the flexibility; it’s a world class program. But as far as results are concerned, I really like the old gear. Some of the best music I ever made was made without a linear based sequencer. It was all made using Adat multi-tracking systems and playing in specific layers at a time, and then recording and deleting them as I saw fit, but doing everything linear which kept everything non-linear. So there’s differences between takes and there’s differences between parts that were played at the beginning of a song, and parts that were played later on in the song because it was actually played. I used to use hardware drum machines; now I don’t really use hardware drum machines just because of the linear sequencing, but I still use all my old analogue equipment. I’ve got a collection of very sought after analogue synthesizers from the 70’s and early 80’s including an Arp Odyssey, Prophet 5, Mini Moog, Oberheim SEM, an Oberheim Expander, Arp Axxe and a bunch of other ones but I have my main sound generators and it’s pretty much an Arp Odyssey, Prophet 5 and Mini Moog and a Hohner clavinet which I use a lot too.
F: Tell me more about the clavinet. What’s the story behind that babe?
W: That’s a 1962 clav, predates the Hohner D6 which was really made famous by Stevie Wonder and a bunch of other players up in the jazz scene like Herbie Hancock, who played clav on many, many tracks as well as the Arp Odyssey as well, which is why I gravitated towards it; Herbie Hancock being one of my favourite musicians. I wanted to get some of the sounds that he had gotten for my own interests, not necessarily for the synthesizer music part of it but more for just played music. I mean synthesizer music can obviously be played music but I think there’s a real line being drawn right now between, you know, what’s kind of self generated electronica and what’s played electronica. The two forms still exist and they’re both alive and well.
F: How would you describe your music?
W: I don’t really have a description for it. It kinda just needs to be heard to describe itself because everything varies from one track to the next. I’ve always had many different aliases for releasing music because I didn’t want to just make one style. I’ve never been a style person, it’s always been what I feel like, how I feel, what I feel like making, and whatnot and I would market, unquote, “market” it appropriately by assigning a new alias to a different sound, so I ended up having many, many different ones. Sometimes I just wanted to make heavy metal sometimes I wanted to make ambient jazz, chillout or whatever and you know, so just, had a lot of different lives. There’s been a lot of different lives to live through different music styles, I guess, or cross genre styles where it’s not really one thing, it’s kind of a little of everything but I mean, if I was to pick a word to describe it, I would usually just use chill. Even the fast tempo stuff I’ve made has always been fairly chill, so chill is apropos.
F: Can you tell me about the projects you’ve been working on lately?
W: There’s been a few. Currently I’m working on a rock project, just rock in the sense that it’s an edgy project. It’s called The Don Squad and we’re kind of like a world beat approach to rock n roll, you know very different styles of music being put forth in every track that we kind of approached, and we approached things from a different angle because we want to have a certain level of accessibility in a lot of ways that there’s a little something for everyone without making artistic compromises. So I guess it’s heavily drawing from hip-hop, reggae, jazz and rock n roll for the most part, and I’ve got various electronic projects that are on the go right now as well, not so much as my main focus. My main focus is The Don Squad right now, just because currently I’m very thrilled to be working with such a talented group of musicians right now that we’ve currently amassed and it’s a very eclectic influence, even on me and an eclectic influence on what the band draws from.
F: Tell me more about your stint in isolation in that shack that you built out there in the woods.
W: I built a shack on a squat out on Vancouver Island. It was out on the water; very beautiful place and just kinda sick of concrete jungle vibes and all these suit dummies and you know, everybody me me me me me; just wanted to be removed from that kind of life because it wasn’t and it isn’t a good way to be. So I built a shack up there and dragged some generators and some battery banks out and basically composed about three hours of really tripped out, psychedelic trance and tech-trance sounds about fifteen years ago, but I ended up playing quite a lot of shows with that material and it was very much a return to the source for me because again, it was a project that I was tracking all on Adat so it was a very polished trance sound I was able to get without using linear based digital sequencers, so that was very cool. I loved living out there; I lived there for three years. It was very very good, I look forward to doing that again, but maybe with a little more influences under my belt than just trance music.
F: On a final note, where do you see yourself heading in terms of your musical direction?
W: Definitely heading more in the world beat, funk, reggae, dub kind of vibes, more just because, you know, once you conquer a mountain, you don’t want to look at that mountain anymore, you know? You want to move on from it and it was kind of one of those things where I spent the last fifteen years amassing a huge collection of music equipment and synthesizers and keyboards and stuff for making one specific thing and now I just don’t want to look at them anymore (laughter) because I can identify the hardships I had to go through to make it happen. I mean, at this current point of time, I’d just be very happy to be locked up with my monitor, my soundcard, my Clavinet and my Mini Moog and I’m not even using the synthesizer and Mini Moog. I’m using it as a wah pedal for my Clavinet.
F: Wonderful. Thanks Will!
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