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Journey Into Sound: Paul White

When Paul White released his mesmerizing 2009 debut album “The Strange Dreams Of Paul White”, he instantly found himself in a position as an ambassador for UK hip-hop throughout the international community, with the release garnering fans from far and wide. He pricked the ears of the Stones Throw Records camp who invited him to add to their lustrous podcast series and even he had Blackberry poster-boy Diplo staking claim to being “his biggest fan”. This South London dweller is clearly a very talented individual with more themes and ideas present in his debut LP then some beat-smiths manage to devise throughout a whole career.

Clearly wearing his vast array of influences on his sleeve, his idiosyncratic approach to hip-hop pulls ideas from physchadellia, abstract jazz, eastern influence, rock and much, much more. Maybe it’s his day job as a libarary producer for the likes of BBC and Channel 4 that stimulated the comical sound bites and intricate slices of found sounds that typify a Paul White track.

Nowadays it’s all to easy to pin comparisons of predecessors to a younger generation of hip-hop producers, but Paul White is definitely doing his own thing.

After the recent release of his third album “Rapping With Paul White”, we decided to drag him away from a productive studio session and down onto Southbank where we talked over his love of skateboard videos, the spontaneity in his production habits and the importance of keeping the tradition alive within music production.

So, Paul, just wanted to take it from the top really, your first memories of music how you intially got involved and all that sort of thing?
Well music was always around the house, typical story you know, both my parents were really into music with lots of Bob Marley, Bobby Womack, Weather Report, Curtis Mayfield, so it was broad from the start. Also Fairport Convention, jazz, folk, soul, and I guess it was just always there really. First off I started playing keyboards and guitar and singing a bit, [laughs] I tried to do that – the whole song writing thing, which was dope you know. It was really nice to compose on the piano and stuff. Then at the end of secondary school I did work experience at this place called Community Music. I suddenly saw samplers and synths for the first time…

You had your first taste of the technology…
Yeah of course, I knew from then that was what I wanted, I went from there and started studying music at A-level and that was it man.

So you got into hip-hop and all types of music really through old skate videos. I’ve always found it interesting that many people I have met have been heavily influenced by the music on those 90’s-00’s skate vids, how big an influence were they on you?
Absolutely massive, I was a massive skateboarder for years, I mean doing this interview here in Southbank, this place was like my second home for years man.

So you were looking at all the 411 videos, Sorry, Toy Machine…
Yeah man, all that stuff, although Toy Machine was mainly rock and crazy metal. But 411, anyone who knows those like yourself knows those videos had everything on there. It was great; it introduced me to loads of stuff. Now I’ll listen back to those videos and be like “aaaah” that was Santana or that was a Stevie Wonder you know, it was dope!

Paul White – ‘Trust ft. Guilty Simpson’

How did you got involved with One-Handed and hook up with Alex Chase?
It’s one of those lovely stories man, I was lucky. Someone who worked with me at this Community Music College was friends with Alex, I’d always gone on about Stones Throw stuff and eventually my friend from work bumped into Alex on the street and told him about me, it was great I got hooked-up and I sent him some music, ever since them I have been sending him stuff, like every month I’ll send him a CD and that built up, suddenly got to the point where it felt right to put out a record.

Your output so far has been been pretty prolific, do you consider yourself to be a spontaneous producer or a ‘mood’ producer if you will?
Completely man yeah, very spontaneous, nothings really thought out, I haven’t got any set way I go about things. I just go in there [the studio] and how I feel comes out. I do stuff quick I don’t redo stuff, I do it in the moment and rarely go back to it, you know, leave it raw.

Touching on the new album “Rapping with Paul White”, it’s half instrumental half vocal, what I personally found with the record was that despite the guest MCs on the album being very different in style and location the album retains a real sense of collectiveness, was this something you were conscious of?
I guess so, I mean the people we picked, partly helped by Alex [Chase] and Egan [Stones Throw Records label manager] and HouseShoes and Guilty [Simpson], I have to thank them all, the way they helped me to hook up with these people, I feel honoured to work with them. I wanted to completely let them do their thing, I never dictate what anyone does and it all seemed to come together real nice. I just try and put my journey in there, something a bit a tripped-out and hook it all together, it was a good challenge a lot different than just doing instrumentals.

There’s a running comical theme in your music, is that to purely to entertain yourself, or…
Mainly for me yeah [laughs], I sit in the studio all the time and it can get a little boring so you got to entertain yourself man. It’s funny sometimes I can write stuff that’s very serious, but most of the time I think people take life to serious so I just try and have some fun and joke around and just show that it’s all about fun!

So to recap on your recent trip down to Maida Vale studios for the Mo’ Kolours session for the Gilles Peterson show, what was that experience like man?
Ahhh man!

Great to get inside there?
Yeah, as soon as you get in the cafeteria and you see all the photos of the people who have been down there you can’t help but think what the fuck are we doing here?

You took a pretty interesting set up with you from what I can gather? It was pretty unique for the engineers down there anyway…
That’s Joe man, Mo’ Kolours, he’s dope with that sort of thing, using percussion in really unique ways. When rehearsing we were just trying to use things in different ways…

So what sort of stuff did you have set up down there?
We had kickdrums that we were initially using normally and we were like let’s use in a different way. We stripped the drum kit completely apart and ended up thumping on different parts of the drum and just using lots of different percussion layered together, pretty minimal but it works well.

So is it a similar sort of thing for the Paul White live experience?
It’s pretty different to be fair, we both come from a similar place so there’s similarities but we are very different in what we do. My set up is a basically a drum-kit, drum machine and different synths but I’m currently looking at ways to experiment with the drums and do something a little different, maybe build our own weird custom kit or something. At the moment I’m just looking at growing and expanding the live show really.

In this post-Dilla, even post-Flying Lotus sort of period there have been an influx of young producers making some very interesting hip-hop. Some of them have strayed away from traditional hip-hop techniques with the introduction of new software and technologies. What’s your thoughts on these advancements and would you consider yourself a traditionalist in this department?
That’s a big topic man! I feel mixed really, technology is great, it helps – I use it. But, I also think technology can be bad it depends completely on the user, typical stories, but it can make people lazy. You can have presets and you’ve got days worth of loops and anyone can do it. I suppose if you wanted to do it in days gone by you would have to save up a few grand to get some kit, you did it then because you really love it, you had to save hard to get that stuff. Some kids pick it up now for a fad or just to be cool or something, but then that sounds harsh, it’s great that there are more people out there making music and that it’s possible now without having loads of money. But you still need to practice your trade, don’t rely on technology.

It’s finding that happy balance between the two really I suppose?
Yeah, it’s fine starting of with big technology but research the past, that’s massively important! People just come with technology and they just don’t have a clue, they haven’t seen a big mixing desk, they have never seen a patch bay or any outboard gear. Knowing all of these things helps, it all helps.

Paul White – ‘Rotten Apples ft. Tranqill (Remix)’

So one word of advice to young kids would be too go back to the roots of the music your producing?
Yeah, just look at it all, still use new technology but look at traditional techniques. You’ll be surprised how many amazing techniques are just organic and the effect you can get from that rather than synthetic.

Let’s touch on what else you’ve got lined up for the rest of the year?
Well off the back of the album I’ve just remixed the whole album, that’s just been finished. I’ve extended one of the tracks and got this guy Wayne who’s in United Vibrations – he’s a saxophonist and we’ve got him playing on the extended track, that’s been dope. Just done a remix for Jehst, a couple of mixes, one for Fader magazine in the states.

You’ve been working on the Danny Brown album right?
Yeah and that, also got a track on his new mixtape. I’ve also just done five new tracks with Homeboy Sandman so hopefully some of that will come out. I think that’s the main things at the moment. You lmow I’m wriying ,usic all the time, staying busy, trying to explore as much as possible…

So far you’ve delved into pyscadellic rock and all these crazy jazz influences and brought it back into hip-hop, are you just looking at exploring these other worlds of sound as you go along?
Yeah it feels like my mind is expanding more and more at the moment especially with playing live quite a lot at the moment that has been influencing me quite a lot. Now I’ve got a drum kit, a bass guitar and I’ve got all these keyboards I’m really trying to play. I just want to learn, like my new thing now is the language of music, it all connects as one thing. That’s what’s bad about genres you can feel a spirit or feeling in music all across different genres and I just want to expand try and go to as many places as I can, just try it all really. I’m not sure what the next big project will be, but I want to try and think of something brand new, totally different…

Photography: Will Biggs
Interview: Josh Thomas