All great albums are collaborative in nature. Yet often it seems to me that in hip-hop, lost amongst all the brashness and focus on lyricism is the story of the production work, the creation of the music itself. Adit Gauchan is one-half of Sydney producer/MC team Horrorshow, who has spent a few years out of the spotlight working on some other important projects and putting together the new Horrorshow record. On ‘King Amongst Many’, Adit displays the kind of maturity, breadth and discipline few producers in this country have achieved. Early signs have been good; the album debuted at number two on the ARIA charts, a new high for their record label, Elefant Traks. Last week, Adit kindly took my questions about his contribution to the album’s creation.
JD: I was listening to ‘Inside Story’ last week and Solo said ‘Horrorshow, two double-o nine, one time for your mind…’ and I thought, wow, it really has been four years since this dropped. Where exactly has that time gone? Since you guys finished that record you’ve been on the road, plus you have put in a lot of work on the last two Spit Syndicate releases. What has it been like being Adit since ‘Inside Story’ came out? Have your studies had to go on to the back burner? Have you been putting ‘record producer’ on your tax returns over the last few years?
AG: Yeah, four years has definitely flown by. In that time we’ve done five national tours, one international tour, played countless festivals. I’ve produced two Spit Syndicate albums, King Amongst Many, an EP for up-and-coming artist Milan, and helped with production on Left. To say that my studies have been on the back burner is an understatement; they’ve well and truly been forgotten about. And yes, my tax returns have said ‘record producer’ for the last year, but I was milking student status as much as I could just before then, ha. So since 'Inside Story' came out, it’s been full steam ahead with music. I’ve been completely immersed in it and definitely have not looked back.
As good as the first two records were, I feel like you had your style really well defined by the front half of ‘Exile’. Anyone who has started doing something creative always has the influences that put them on the path to what they eventually become. What have you learnt along the way about finding your own voice? Is it just a matter of going through the process over and over until it happens or is it a search that never really ends?
I’ve always been in two minds about this. On one hand, there’s a lot to be said for doing something original and putting your own flavour on things. On the other, I don’t think much of it matters as long as you’re making great songs and great beats. But there’s also nothing that says you can’t do both.
What I’ve particularly found over the last year or two is that when I stop thinking about what kind of sound I’m trying to achieve and instead immerse myself in the music that I love while I chip away at my very own ideas in the studio, that music has a way of creeping into what I’m doing in a pretty effortless kind of way. What becomes more important than thinking about sounds, chords and melodies is feeling and mood, and tapping into that, both in other peoples music and in my own.
I think when you hone in on this the music you create can only take on a life of its own. All of your favourite music, your favourite raps, your favourite beats undoubtedly find their way into what you write, and that’s half of the fun because that’s how this entire thing started. It started because I was like, “damn, I wanna make some shit like that!” So when I listen to King Amongst Many, and listen closely I hear The Cool on there, I hear Let’s Get Free, I hear The Calling, I hear Sideline Story, I hear Midnight Marauders; there’s even some Drizzy in there, ha. I hear the way that’s collided with things that I’ve listened to that aren’t rap, like SBTRKT, Frank Ocean, and James Blake. But somehow we’ve ended up with King Amongst Many, and I think we’ve made it our own. Whether listeners or critics hear that or don’t at all, it’s not the point. It doesn’t matter because it’s also about the songs themselves. Are they dope? Are they not?
That somehow is tapping into the mood of those records and what those artists captured. That’s been the search. Whether the songs are dope or not, that’s what matters.
Urthboy said in a recent blog post about ‘King Amongst Many’ that you came to him originally and said that you were going to make a straight up hip-hop record but that once you started working on it things didn’t turn out that way. Can you fill that story in a little bit? When you work on a project like this, how much can you consciously map out and how much of the result is just what comes out once you sit down and start working on it?
When we came out of Inside Story we sat down and said to each other, ‘we’re going to make a record that channels boom bap. That channels 90s rap.’ Why?
A part of it may have been we wanted to prove to ourselves we could do it. A part of it was wanting to pay homage. Solo was like, “I wanna study Kool G Rap, I wanna go back to KRS”. Whatever it was, it didn’t really matter. The beats I was making were on a different wave. We spent 2011 (Inside Story had been out for 18 months, and we’d done 2 headline tours for it) really wrestling with this.
The songs weren’t coming out. The beats that connected with Solo were lacking; the feeling wasn’t there.
Really what it took was stepping back from whole thing and asking “ok, what am I creating? What am I liking? Is there a common thread?” I remember a conversation we had pretty distinctly where I asked him “What are you looking for? Why are you connecting with these beats and not these ones?” His answer had nothing to do with whether he could hear someone like Q-Tip rapping on this beat or not, y’know. He just said he connected with the beats that had a mood to them.
Now this sounds like something completely intangible, but it’s those intangible things that make good music so good. It became clear that we didn’t want to make a throwback album or some shit like that. We didn’t want to make a classic golden age record. We wanted to make a classic record for our time. And that has nothing to do with what kind of drums you’re using, whether you’re sampling or using live instrumentation. They’re just tools. It’s got everything to do with the mood you capture, whether that record is a snapshot in time.
There are heaps of other producers out there who have more technical ability than I do. That’s not my strength. I think my strength is in capturing moods, emotions, creating that perfect foundation for Solo to bare all. A classic record comes down to whether you can communicate a unified vision. Classic songs come down to whether you can communicate an emotion. Understanding this is what set us off musically. After this, songs came together. That didn’t mean Solo loved everything I came up with, but we were very much on the same page, we were working towards the same goal.
What’s funny about this is that, the kind of chemistry we were looking for had always been there. This is basically what we’ve done as Horrorshow; it’s how we first connected on ‘The Grey Space’. Rediscovering that has been an interesting journey. I think it comes down to the fact that we’re still learning new things and growing as artists. While you’re growing it’s a hard task to say I’m going to do this and then execute that idea. If you’re still trying to grow and discover new ideas you don’t know where you’ll end up when you start creating. This record really came together when we let the songs evolve naturally. It was a bit further down the track that we were able to pick out the theme that seemed to be emerging. It was a head fuck at first, but man was it rewarding when the thread of the record really started to come together.
Those comments were interesting to me in that I think some hip-hop artists eventually get tired of the constraints that they feel the genre puts on them and try to move away from being labelled as such. ‘King Amongst Many’ sounds accessible to me but it also sounds like you didn’t set out to make a crossover record. In some ways you doubled down on tradition rather than left it behind: you’ve still got Jehst and Delta cuts tucked in there and in most cases the drums are still chopped breaks slamming away rather than booming 808s. This record will deservedly get a lot of attention from outside traditional hip-hop circles. How do you feel about being a hip-hop artist right now?
I feel great about it. Like I said those things are tools. Hip-hop is always evolving. The idea that there’s a traditional way to do hip-hop is dated. We recognise where it started, we recognise the techniques that were first used to it do it. But then you recognise how some techniques have changed along the way, how others have stayed the same. Hip-hop is still relevant today; as relevant as it was when it first started, if not more. It hasn’t stayed relevant by staying the same. There are no constraints of the genre; the only constraints a hip-hop artist faces are the ones they put on themselves.
You've never been shy about putting live instruments into your work, even going as far back as 'The Grey Space'. You've been doing parts of live sets with acoustic guitar for a while now and you took it further with the Basement and the Spiegeltent sets. Has the instrumentation become a more integral part of your production over the years? How many of these beats began as chopped or looped samples and how many start with you sitting with a piano or acoustic guitar? Does the fact that there are more sung hooks on this record come about as a result of more instrumentation, or is it the other way around?
On this album more so than the previous two the beats started out with some melody or chords that I composed. Samples often came later.
In ‘Listen Close’, I played out the chords on piano and synth, and then found the sample and chopped it up so it worked. ‘Make You Proud’ is another one where I came up with that guitar riff, and later when I was thinking about the hook found that trumpet sample that comes in and lifts the chorus. ‘Human Era’ was another one where the chords came first, and then I found that break in the first half that worked perfectly for the song. So this was kind of like working backwards for me. Coming up with chords and melodies and then finding samples where they were necessary. There are only really 2 or 3 songs on the album where the samples came first.
Working this way actually first happened because I got a bit lazy I think, which might sound odd. Basically I got tired of digging for samples. I don’t know what switched inside me; I had beats in my head but couldn’t find the samples for them. Composing from the get-go meant that I could control the mood of songs – what I found was that once that was set, it was really quite easy to pick out samples and manipulate them in ways that worked for the song. You’re not asking it to do all the work. As for sung hooks, I dunno, you probably need to ask Solo. But he’s always had that in him. Go back to ‘The Grey Space’ and there’s plenty of singing on that. And not just rap singing, but singing, like real singers do, ha. I like to think that this new album sounds different to our previous work, but in many ways it’s us just being honest with the kind of music we’ve always loved and created.
Speaking of the beginning of the process, at what point do you know what a beat will become? Do you straight away bang something out and think 'this is us' or 'this is for SS'? Does Nick get the first pick?
Ha, this can always be a bit tricky. When we’re working on our record, yes, Nick gets first pick, he’s pickier though too. Often with Double S, song concepts are there from the beginning. The beat for ‘Along The Way’ started with Jimmy and I vibing in the studio, he laid a verse down in that same session, so that became a Spit Syndicate song. The beat for 'Amazing' was made to fit Nick’s verse which had already been written. To be honest, there’s no real method to it. We all make music together, and we influence each other in different ways. I’d say if you listen to our albums you can pick out some similar traits across all our records, but they’re still really different records. They always have been. Nick, Jimmy, and Solo all have different styles, so there’s a different energy in the studio with each when we work on songs.
I suppose following on from that, so much of the power of the work is that the way both yourself and Nick gel together sonically and lyrically. 'The Grey Space' was generally a dark record with a few moments of optimism and hope, whereas 'Inside Story' felt a little bit more open, positive and searching in places. Do you have to keep an eye on where Nick is at mentally to know where to take the production? What exactly was it that you set out to achieve on this record sonically and emotionally?
This is what I was talking about before I suppose with how we might have gotten a bit lost in the early days of writing ‘King Amongst Many’. We weren’t in the same head space. We both wanted to write that classic record, but that meant different things to each of us. Ultimately I do think we’ve achieved what we set out to, even if this record is not completely what we would have imagined four years ago. That’s part of what’s so sweet about it too. It’s also what kind of excites me about the next record.
Finally, I want to ask about Left. Left is Sarah Corry, who is a staple of many of the albums that come out of the One Day family, and Jono Graham, who I heard recently on the Spit Syndicate live videos from Triple J. The Unearthed page refers to them as a duo but says you are teaming up with them. What does that entail? It sounds like something different for you. Do you want to explore other areas of production in the future?
Left is a kind of thing I haven’t done before. Jono and Sarah have essentially written all these songs and they’re looking to me to help finish them. What I’m doing is things like programming beats, taking elements out, adding new parts, synths, textures, and things like that. At the end of the day it really is Jono and Sarah’s vision; they are the ones in the driving seat, and I’m helping them reach that vision however I can. I suppose it’s what I understand the role of the more traditional producer to be. They’re sitting on some pretty amazing songs for their debut album so it’s been a cool experience so far and definitely something I want to keep doing in the future.
Thanks for your time and congratulations on a great record, Adit.
Thank you man!
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