SOUND COLOUR VIBRATION INTERVIEW
Q&A WITH MR. CHOP FROM NOW-AGAIN RECORDS | INTERVIEW FEATURES
Posted by Nick Abitia
Mr. Chop / Now-Again Records
Mr. Chop, aka Coz Littler, has been pretty busy as-of-late, recently releasing a new full length LP entitledIlluminate for Now-Again records and overseeing the day-to-day activities as proprietor of UK’s foremost analogue recording studio, APE Studios. Everything from a EMS VCS3 used by Pink Floyd to Oberheim mono-synths made famous by Tangerine Dream are all within an arm’s reach, running together in perfect harmony though Chop’s self-proclaimed backbone, a Helios mixing desk that was once owned by The Who. With the amount of history engraved in each piece of equipment and such a wonderful caretaker in the pilot seat, a new sense of hope is created for the analogue era, bridging its timeless sound into the consciousness of a new generation. When Coz is not recording bands, producing tracks and collaborating with some of the biggest names in the game, he runs amok in the studio as Mr. Chop. With an almost alchemistic flair that combines a wonderful blend of experimentation and sonic exploration, he constantly challenges the concept of ‘traditional’; Chop does not bend the rules, he creates his own reality time and time again. Recently, I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Coz to talk a bit about his most recent release for Now-Again, his amazing analogue studio, and what we can expect next. Check out Sound Colour Vibration’s exclusive interview with the amazing Mr. Chop below.
Mr. Chop – “Cortex” – Switched On - Five Day Weekend
Q&A with Mr. Chop Conducted by Nick Abitia Summer 2013
Nick: Hello Mr. Chop! Thank you so much for sitting down with us today, we really appreciate your time. Your approach to sound is so unique. When did you start creating music and who were some of your earliest inspirations?
Mr. Chop: I’ve been messing around with sounds since my early teens and I had a few brief band stints but nothing serious began to take shape until I hit my 20′s. I started making music on my own at the height of the sampler as 90′s hip hop had already made a huge impact on me. I was digging Portishead and similar artists in that trip-hop world and it was DJ Shadow who made me realise that you didn’t have to be musical in the tradition sense to make music. My first experiments were on a 4-track Tascam porta-studio with a primitive record collection and an Akai MPC sampler. I released a few records at the time on Jazzman’s Stark Reality label, but soon after I realised I’d much prefer to make the sounds myself than sample from other records. However by getting into all this obscure music through wanting to know the samples used in hip hop, it laid some strong musical foundations and influenced me to make records and record things myself live. At this point I was listening to so much stuff, from Funk 45′s, artists like David Axelrod, Serge Gainsbourg, Nino Nardini, Francois De Roubouix, Jean-Claude Vannier, Alain Gorraguer, White Noise, Silver Apples, Can, library records, soundtracks and many more.
Nick: What kind of music were you surrounded by at an earlier age and when you started making musical choices on your own, what did you tend to gravitate towards?
Mr. Chop: My earliest musical memories as a child were from mix tapes that a friend of my Dad’s used to make me. Beatles, Lennon, Pink Floyd & various 60′s psychedelic music, unknown to me at the time who these bands were, but I loved those tapes. My mum used to play David Bowie and Kate Bush and my Dad had a rather large varied record collection that he had been collecting since the 60′s, so music was the norm at home. I was exposed to the usual chart non-sense on tv shows like ‘Top of the Pops’, but I remember being drawn in by more alternative acts like The Art of Noise, Paul Hardcastle, Gary Numan and The Electro Streetsounds series made a big impression on me. In England we had all those crazy BBC Radiophonic Workshop interludes running on television (Doctor Who etc.) and lots of library music still doing the rounds. Dark themes in kids programmes seemed to be the norm, just check out some kid’s tv from the 80′s like PictureBox and Chocky in particular used to scare the living shit out of me! Must be that cold war, nuclear threat that was probably instilled in peoples psyches and bled into culture. When you look back the music that came about then, it is so creative and inspiring even to me now. As child of the 80′s I grew up in an old dilapidated seaside resort in the shadow of Liverpool, well past its glory days. The sounds from video games and these machines out of the local arcades I think had a subliminal effect on me, at this young age you absorb so much from your surroundings.
Nick: What are some of your favorite memories related to learning production and experimenting with analogue hardware?
Mr. Chop: I’m still learning new ways of production whenever I enter the studio. I like the happy accidents you don’t plan for and the unexpected results that become of this. It could be something as simple as learning how to make a tape loop then playing it on backwards by mistake and digging how it sounds, or just getting a great drum sound with one or two microphones. Discovering analogue and modular synthesisers for the first time was huge for me and running a sequencer thinking your Giorgio Moroder orTangerine Dream – ha! Recently I discovered an old 70′s computer that has this amazing speech synthesis chip inside, I actually tracked this thing down on eBay and spent time learning how to program it with Basic, I merged that with my own voice and the results are fascinating. I like the experimenting that most people don’t have the time for in studios anymore, to manipulate organic sounds with a musique concrete approach really does it for me. Running the studio commercially has helped me learn some good tricks from other producers as well, Ethan Johns showed me his Dad’s famous Glyn Johns three mic drum technique. He was responsible for recording the bulk of 60/70′s classic bands including The Beatles, Kinks, Stones…
Nick: Can you talk about some of the studio work that you did with MF Doom? How did you two get together?
Mr. Chop: DOOM heard my EP Lightworlds, a few various sample replays and beats I had made a while back via Egon at Now-Again. I was approached to work on a few joints which ended up becoming “CELLZ”, “SUPERVILLIANZ”, “SUPERVILLANZ INTRO” and “BUMPY’S MESSAGE”. I got a call which went along the lines of, “Chop, DOOM wants you to work with him on some tracks. Can you turn it around in three days?” ‘Hmm? What? Fuck. Hell yeah!’ I worked some of his ideas that were well-defined with strong direction already. Going into the analogue world of my nutty studio, I decided it best to replace with live instrumentation: guitar, bass, Mellotron, Moog, percussion, strings and brass were laid down. I got a string arranger in to help me with “CELLZ”. Then we added some Chop production elements and we nailed it over the 3 days. We never actually met in person, just worked it all out over a few emails.
Nick: Sounds From The Cave in 2008 was an amazing full length debut. What was an average day like for you while working on that record?
Mr. Chop: An average day could have been anything from recording drums, chopping up bits of weird electronica, messing around having some jam sessions, modular synths and sequencer freakouts etc. It was all done quite primitively off the cuff with no clicks tracks etc. Sounds From The Cavewas the result of good few months just being locked away in the studio having a ton of fun. I really enjoyed making that record, it was the first time I’d really put my mind to something and saw it through to the end. It all came off the back of a really busy time recording other peoples music, bands etc. I had lots of good people involved in making this record and it was the first time I’d worked with Malcolm Catto from The Heliocentrics. Chris (Dusty) from Jazz & Milk Records really let me do my thing and we got some great artwork from Dan Mcpharlin to complement the whacked out sounds that were created over these months.
Nick: How did Pete Rock’s music have an effect on you and can you talk briefly about the record For Pete’s Sake?
Mr. Chop: The Pete Rock covers album was really hard to get sounding right. I was approached to do this record after we put out Lightworlds and did the tracks for DOOM, but I would never have conceived doing a record of hiphop covers like that myself. I was asked to through a contact at Now-Again and it seemed like a good thing to do after a bit of thought. In hindsight it was very hard to re-create another man’s work in fresh light, I think it turned out ok but if I’ m honest it’s not my best work.
Nick: The groove in “Building Blocks” is so unique. Can you talk a bit about that track and maybe break down the conceptual side for us?
Mr. Chop: Conceptually, “Building Blocks” grew out of a drumming, synth session with Malcolm Catto. He’d been at the studio for a week or so and we recorded quite a bit of music together. This track was originally just a pulse sequence from the VCS3 and Mal added some Kraut flavoured heavy drums. I wanted to create something mutated, abrasive and nihilistic so I spent many a month sculpting this beat and sequence into shape. I’d been listening to lots of post punk, new wave electronic bands while I was writing Illuminate and I basically wanted a strange mutation of those styles to kick off the album. Vocals came in the shape of my voice processed via a WW2 bomber plane’s microphone that a friend restored for me. We put it through various modulars, filters, synths, and processed it into this Mutant humanoid. It’s hardly traditional vocals but I think it does give the record a little more personality and removes these tracks from being just instrumentals. I knew that this should be the opening track on Illuminate so it made sense to do a space warp introduction for it too.
Mr. Chop – “Building Blocks” – Illuminate – Now-Again Records
Nick: Can you tell me about APE Recording Studios and maybe highlight some of the kit that is unique to that studio?
Mr. Chop: Ape Studios was setup as a double venture, one as an outlet for making all this crazy Chop music and the other as a means to basically survive and pay the rent. I produce things for other people and rent the studio out to bands, various producers/engineers and when any downtime comes along I self indulge myself and have some fun with friends and like-minded people. That’s pretty much always been the way I’ve run things to this day. Equipment wise, well, you can find lots of vintage drums, guitars, etc. We have more obscure modular synths, inc Moog, Putney EMS VCS3 used by Pink Floyd, Radiophonic Workshop, White Noise, and Oberheim mono-synths a-la Tangerine Dream are a recent addition. A Helios mixing desk that once belonged to The Who provides the backbone of the studio alongside a German Neumann board that is great for Krautrock. Studer tape machines that served their time at the BBC live here, vintage valve microphones too. Lots of gadgets for sound manipulation, test oscillators, valve 60′s plate reverbs, we also have an obscure Phillips valve delay machine that was used to correct delay times in halls and train stations that is pretty unique to the studio. I’m a freak, I could go on and on…
Nick: How did you connect with Now-Again Records and what has it been like to work with them?
Mr. Chop: I hooked up with Now-Again when they we’re affiliated with Stones Throw Records back in 2009. It was Adam Manella from MRR-ADM that introduced my music to Egon which in turn led to him getting in touch, asking what I was up to. I’d recently finished an Ep Sounds from the Cave for Jazz Milk Records and was already working on demo’s for the Lightworlds Ep which Egon liked and offered to release on his label, coincidentally these tracks ended up being my first release for Now Again. Working with them has been a pretty chilled relationship, Egon just lets me get on with it for the best part and when I have something ready I’ll just forward it to him and we discuss and take it from there. We keep in touch, bounce ideas and mixes back and forth and generally it’s that simple – as it should be!
Nick: Do you have any current projects that you are working on?
Mr. Chop: Recently I’ve just finished and released the new Chop album titled Illuminate for Now-Again Records. A remix for Kelpe’s new album has just been put out and I’ve been producing a solo record with Joe Fearon for The Zutons frontman Dave McCabe which should be ready for release in 2014. Aside from this I’m working on ideas for new Chop material with an album of alternative versions and remixes for Illuminate planned. There’s a bunch of really interesting Chop stuff that’s never seen the light of day so I’m thinking of putting this out on some special limited vinyl next year. Hopefully we might be doing some work with Electronic mastermind Dimlite, recently he’s just done a great remix for a track from Illuminate. Also Kenny Dope is putting something together with various selections from the Chop back catalogue, watch this space.
Nick: Thank you so much for taking some time to be with us today, we greatly appreciate it!
Mr. Chop: Thank you for taking the time to ask some well thought out questions.