A Conversation with Woebot

June 19, 2010 at 9:00 am 3 comments

Woebot - Moanad

Woebot - Moanad

The mighty Woebot has a new CD out. It’s called Moanad and it’s his most accomplished and satisfying set of sample collages yet – providing nourishing, bite-sized morsels of re-imagined rock history.

The appeal of Moanad is that it’s almost entirely based on samples of other people’s music but the samples seem to have been picked for their aesthetic qualities, rather than to make a “subversive” point about copyright law.

You should totally buy a copy!

Last month, a representative of this here blog was lucky enough to spend a little time at Woebot’s East London home studio, where the great man was very forthcoming about his musical methods and intentions. Below is a selection of what he had to say:

On the Recording Process
“The first thing I started finding out when I started sampling was that – people wouldn’t really think about it necessarily, if they didn’t know about recording music – but the recording process itself is really, really crucial when you’re sampling stuff. I started out with a little MOTU sound card, which was supposedly very good – it’s drivers were very solid and everything – but what I found very quickly was that… the analogue conversion in the thing was really shitty. So, a lot of the really early stuff I did ­­– nobody would probably know or care but to me – I think that the recording of the sounds was not good, so I spent a lot of time researching analogue-to-digital conversion and I ended up with [an Apogee sound card], which I use with the [Akai] MPC [sampler] in a very particular way. The MPC’s converters were actually better than those in the MOTU, so the stuff that I’d sampled directly into the MPC sounded better. But now what I do is sample via the new sound card and bring it into the MPC as a digital signal – I don’t touch the MPC’s converters. So, the whole recording process is really detailed. And once I finish a track, I’ll try six or seven different ways of recording it to the computer. Sometimes it’ll sound better coming out of the MPC, sometimes I’ll multi-track it from the MPC… So recording becomes a big issue with sampling, I find.”

On Using Lots of Samples
“What I tend to do is, I will probably build up about four pages of MPC sound-banks, so I’ll have sometimes 200 things in there. And then I’ll sometimes use half of that, a third of that or less in the finished track. But I’ll have a lot of stuff in there. For instance, on the new one, there’s a track called ‘Overdrive’ that’s only 40 seconds long…  I pulled apart [name of classic rock chestnut deleted] – just the drum part – and I think I used about probably 50 samples out of it. So, for about 40 seconds, that was about 50 samples, all from the same place.”

On Integrity & Identity
“I don’t know if I could properly articulate why it is that I do sample but I think it’s probably… a bit more to do with a degree of not being conscious and a bit more to do with it being a practice that’s there…  I’ve grown up as a record collector and somehow it seems like the first reflex is just to regurgitate what one’s been exposed too. So, maybe it’s less philosophically motivated, except that what I have tried to do, certainly with this record, is to unapologetically burrow through to who I am…. One of the things I’m big on is integrity and people having integrity and being who they are. I mean, I’m a middle class/upper-middle class, white indie geek. I’ve gone through the whole electronic music thing but that is who I am. I’m not, y’know, a Rastafarian, although I love that – I love those people and the music they make… I’m not German… Y’know, I have a lot of respect for those people, as I would hope they would have for me but I can’t pretend to be something that I’m not. So certainly, with this record, the sounds that I’ve used, the samples that I’ve used, have all been about personal identity. And obviously that could be construed as being totally selfish, apart from the fact that there are other people out there like me.

On Composition Versus Repetition
“One of the pieces of feedback I got on the second record – and it’s something I really took to heart – it came from John Leidecker, the Wobbly guy. He played some of the tracks to Blevin and Kevin of Blectum from Blechdom because I had a track named in honour of them. And they really liked that, which was really nice. But one of the things John said was that he liked the tracks where I kept the bars much shorter. And in fact, there were four tracks on the album I built for playing out live so, obviously, I had to actually make the bars a bit longer because I couldn’t realistically trigger two-bar loops in a live setting and I had to stretch it out to eight bars. Whereas, with this record, I kept everything down to one bar or two bars at most and – as a result – it moves much quicker. Generally, it’s much more brevity and that goes hand-in-hand with there being much more composition, thinking, putting things together more artfully and seeing how things go. You can’t just run something for four bars, do A-B-A-B and then you’re out. You have to use more samples, stitch things together and compose more. If you just did A-B-A-B on two bars, you’d be done in no time… I do like lots of house and techno and things like Actress and Oneohtrix Point Never but I listen to it now and I think: ‘there’s a lot of redundancy there, that’s a lot of repetition. That track could be out of there in like 30 seconds’. Do you know what I mean? So, when I’ve got to two minutes on my new thing, it goes this way and that and I’m trying to keep a thematic thing going. I don’t want people to lose interest. Obviously, the thing about repetition is that it’s a nice thing to listen too sometimes but I’ve kind of gone the other way… If you’re like me and you [rely] on the quality of the samples [you use], then you’re forced into a position whereby you have to keep things moving – otherwise you’re just like [sings repetitive riff]. And I think I would have been much more tolerant of that in the past.”

On Keeping It Rock’n’Roll
“I think that, to temper that, I feel negatively that it’s kind of an old thing to be less patient with repetition because I do like a lot of repetitive music… It feels very proggy in a way, to be against repetition… I like the visceral thing about repetition. There’s the physical dimension of music, certainly when it’s played really loud, that kind of messes with that whole thing. My big thing this year has been rock’n’roll – as in really 1956 stuff – and that whole visceral dimension of music. What I personally feel I need to be careful of is keeping that backbeat, that pulse behind it… John Leidecker says his friends say his music isn’t repetitive enough. So, I think it’s a knife-edge but it’s certainly something that one has to be aware of… It’s almost just having that energy, that kind of vicious energy that’s almost threatening… Not necessarily that threatening but maybe destabilising. That’s why I shy from the prog thing a bit because I think that people who come to making music from a critical background, what they tend to make is not visceral… It can be tepid and it can be mousey.”

On the Legal Aspects of Sampling
“I had a real meltdown because I used a [name of extremely famous pop/soul star deleted] sample on the last record and I thought: ‘I’m going to be in such trouble for this’. I had to play some stuff live on the radio and I thought: ‘I’ve got to get it out of there’, so I just pulled the track apart and the whole thing just did not work without it. So, I just used it. I thought: ‘fuck it!’ I’m a limited company. I set it up because I was anxious. And I went to see a music lawyer. I researched it a lot and found that people like Madlib never bothered with it, although I think he subsequently came reasonably unstuck. He got into trouble. But the limit is something like 20 or 30,000 copies and below that, it’s not worth being prosecuted.”

On Sampling Obscure Artists
“One of the charms of using things that are very obscure [is that] you don’t know what it is, it’s just beautiful… I think it’s interesting because things that are not obscure, immediately the emotions that people get from them are much more trammelled.”

On Being an Obscure Artist
“One of my big things at the moment is accepting that what I’m doing has a limited appeal and not giving a shit about it but also having the integrity to not bother people about my music. This time around, there’s a load of people who I’ve elected to just not involve in the promotional process because I don’t want the stress of bothering them – people I respect – for their opinions. So, I’ve kind of gone off the radar even more. But, y’know, that’s just it. I’d like it to have its own momentum. It’s early days for this record and I’ve got a couple of pieces of good press. But I feel that I’ve got to be really hard on myself. Looking at my record collection, that’s right beside us, there are records here that mean just huge amounts to me and they can’t have sold very much. It’s just like being part of that edifice is enough. That’s what I’d like to think. I think that’s the way it is.”

Entry filed under: electronica, hauntology. Tags: , .

Music for Lunch Breaks Simple Time-Stretching Instrument for Max/MSP

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Neville Thumbcatch  |  June 25, 2010 at 2:10 am

    I have just returned from dancing like a loon to Plastikman at the Sonar in Barca. I wore my Woebot t-shirt with pride as I threw myself around down the front. A wide eyed italian with jaws clenched tapped me on the shoulder and laughed with glee as he pointed at the T. “I luv the new lp” he exclaimed and grabbing his girl said “look see other people do like this Woebot!”.
    I think Woebot has a right to go off the radar. And i agree that people who you respect would sometimes maybe not give a true and honest opinion of your material. His material is getting stronger and more odd without being to arty. Soon, very soon the world will catch up with Woebot and we can all say told you so!

  • 2. Biggie Samuels  |  June 25, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    It’s been really inspiring seeing Woebot make the move from music critic to musician. A very brave move really and the CDs he’s put out have shown a real musical progression and a genuinely unique vision. I only wish he would be a bit pushier about using his status as a legendary blogger to get more attention for his own music. I can understand why he doesn’t want to, though.

  • […] in particular, it’s easy to hear Matt working through some of the concerns he expressed when this here blog talked with him last June – the need to keep things visceral, the trade off between structure and […]


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