Ross Birchard’s latest album under the HudMo alias, ‘Lantern’, has released via iTunes one day ahead of schedule and with six years between this album and his last full length effort, he’s had a lot of time to think about what he wanted his latest project to be. The result is something that skews away from what many have come to expect from his production and it’s already receiving glowing praise from critics. A few days before ‘Lantern’ premiered, we sat down with Ross and asked him about choices and experiences leading up to his sophomore studio effort.
You’ve said this album is very much about you wanting to present yourself to the world as an artist in your own right and not just a beat maker. How did that idea shape the musical direction of the album?
Just in the fact that previously I’ve been very focused on rap and hip-hop beat making, and a lot of that is very loop-based, rather than sequence-focused. This project is something where I tried to explore sequencing songs rather than just making an interesting four bar loop and then doing eight-sixteen-eight-sixteen-eight-sixteen, which is the typical structure of a rap song. So it was a bit more kind of carefree, maybe it could go in this direction, and maybe at this part it doesn’t necessarily have to do this, it could go into this section. So, it was kind of more of an experimental process for me.
You’ve worked on albums for some very big names: Drake, Kanye, Pusha T. It’s a gutsy move to avoid including any of those kinds of names on Lantern when these days, many audiences judge albums based on their features alone. Were you worried at all about the vulnerability of putting yourself out there on your own with those kinds of expectations?
No, it was almost an intentional thing for me. Because, you know, it’s very easy to just work off the back of having collaborated with another artist in the past or something like that, whereas this record was very much about me as a solo producer, as a solo record-maker. It would be very easy to fill an album up with A-list features, but then it becomes more about them than it does the fact that it’s actually your record. In terms of the features who I picked for the record, it was very important that they were people that I really loved and appreciated their art form, but who equally were not going to outshine me in terms of their celebrity status, as it were. Because as soon as you involve someone, even if it’s on your solo project, if you involve a massive A-list artist, it immediately just becomes their song. So that was something I kind of was trying to avoid with this project.
The process you’ve been describing with this album is that you’ve tried to only keep what’s necessary. Were there any particular songs on the album that you really found difficult to trim back or shrink down to their current forms?
Yeah, I think definitely ‘Lil Djembe’ and ‘Brand New World’, which is the last track. In fact quite a lot of tracks, to be honest, because as far as creating initial ideas, it’s definitely in my nature to just continually add more and more elements. Just the idea of kind of stripping layers back off the whole record was something that was kind of important to me. Because you know, previously I’d done my first solo LP which was very, I guess people use the term maximalist. There are a lot of layers all over the sound stage in terms of, if you listen in headphones, there are a million sounds in every direction all at the same time. That was what I really loved at that particular time when I made that record, and it’s still a record that a lot of people reference these days and there’s still a lot of music around like that. But, I kind of felt like I’d sort of done that and that was 6 years ago, so this record was more of a challenge for me. It was kind of a bit more of an exercise in restraint and not overdoing it, and that’s something that I’ve learnt from working alongside people like Rick Rubin. It’s just the art of being able to build a song from very few elements but make it sound as if there are many more elements happening.
With artists like Miguel and Jhene Aiko on the new album, R&B seems to be something you’re getting quite good at crafting. Comparing it to rap, it seems like R&B would require much more of a collaborative artist-to-artist approach; have you found it a different experience to work on songs like those ones?
I mean it’s been a funny thing for me because, I can’t remember exactly, but I think it might be one of the first ever pieces of vinyl that I ever released was a record where I’d taken a couple of R&B acapellas and just ripped them from Limewire in 2005 or 2006 and re-made the instrumentals for them. I just pressed a bunch of vinyl and didn’t clear any of it, but they were vocal R&B songs. I mean that was some of the first stuff that I ever actually properly released. So, even though a lot of people associate me with being more of a rap producer, my first songs were all R&B songs. Coming from an instrumental producer background, my approach to production has always been more sort of melodic-focused rather than straight up rap beat-focused. Because it’s been more melodic-focused, it seems to kind of gel more with singers as opposed to just regular rappers. I wouldn’t say it’s something that’s exclusively R&B either, because as far as working with Antony Hegarty and various other vocalists, even the Kanye stuff, because it’s more focused on melody, it’s something that I find myself having much more of a kinship with, rather than just being like ‘wow, I’m going to make a bunch rap loops and just send them out to people’. So it’s something that’s about me keeping myself interested really.
For me, ‘Ryderz’ is a standout track on the album, and it seems like a callback to some of the earlier productions of Just Blaze and Kanye West, along with the work of Dipset. I could very much hear someone like Cam’ron or Freeway rapping over the top of it. How did you go about putting that one together?
Actually funnily enough, Freeway is one of my heroes and I just met him for the first time last weekend or something like that, so hopefully we’re going to do some music. But I think it’s how a lot of those instrumentals that inspired me in the first place were created. You find a sample that you instantly click with and everything else falls into place around it and it really kind of makes itself. And again, it comes down to the art form of it just being incredibly simple, but very hard hitting at the same time, without trying to be overly technical or anything like that. There’s just like a vibe within it, without it needing weeks and weeks of work. It’s just something that kind of happens.
You’ve been willing to take risks with your DJ sets by incorporating live entertainment aspects. For example, the kabuki and samurai themes that we saw at your Boiler Room set. You’ve also been experimenting with the use of a live band recently as well. With the live shows that are coinciding with the release of the new album, which of these kinds of elements can fans expect to crop up?
Basically what we’ve done is, we’ve essentially deconstructed a lot of the tracks into their individual elements. We did our first show two weeks ago or something in New York with the new live set up. Someone wrote an article, I can’t remember who it was, but I remember a specific quote or a specific kind of idea, which was ‘putting the element of unpredictability back into an electronic live show’. Because, you know, so many “EDM” live shows, acts, whatever, just hit play and it’s the same show every single night. Whereas, we’ve kind of gone to the effort of deconstructing all of the parts of the tracks so that we’re actually playing the stuff live rather than, as I’m saying now, just kind of hitting play and waiting for people to cause a mosh pit or something like that.
So it’s a whole new experience for me. I’ve done some work with Redinho who’s part of the band and I’ve done some work with him in the past, and he has his own solo releases. The other member of the band is a guy called Ben who previously was in Two Door Cinema Club. So there’s now three of us in the new live performance and we also worked to make it something. We worked with a show designer who comes from more of a theatrical background and more of a sort of high fashion background. We definitely just didn’t want to do an EDM show with lots of like pyro and glitter cannons and this sort of thing. We wanted to do something which was a bit more organic and a bit more engaging so we built this new live set up which is, again, something that doesn’t resort to huge cannon explosions and all drops and this type of thing. It’s something that is more of a sort of evolving theatrical show, rather than something that relies on huge screens and ridiculous over the top fireworks.
Are there any plans for an Australian tour in the near future?
Yeah, so the next time in terms of the live show, we’ll be at Laneway next January or something like that. So we’ll be at Laneway, and I may be out there before that in terms of just doing solo DJ shows, but as far as the actual full production live set up, that will be for Laneway.
It’s well-documented that you’re a fan of Tim and Eric, and Eric Wareheim did a hilarious intro for your Boiler Room show. If you could dream up a full-scale collaboration with the guys, what do you think it’d look or sound like?
With Tim and Eric? I know that they’re actually both like pretty good musicians in their own right as well. I know that Tim Heidecker gets a bit of a hard time for his Heidecker & Wood project because I guess a lot of people think that he’s gone so far into the realm of sarcasm that people don’t know whether it’s serious or not. I actually really think that the songs on those records are genuinely good songs. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of his stand-up things on YouTube where he kind of goes out and intentionally fucks everything up, but he’s fully in control of the whole thing. It confuses a lot of people as far as what to make of the music. But I would love to do something with them; I guess it’d have to be something that came out sounding like Toto or something like that.