Interview by Louis Rastelli
From Vol. 3 No. 1, 2004
Sixtoo is a prolific recording artist/ producer/ rapper/ DJ/ visual artist and Halifax native who’s been living in Montreal for a few years now. We spoke about sample-based music, recording, record collecting and the record industry in June 2004, shortly before the Montreal launch of his first album on the Ninja Tune label, Chewing on glass and other miracle cures. He also appears on a new CD compilation of 45s released by Montreal’s Bully label, Lunch Money Singles.
FP: Your new album comes off as having a certain sound, a signature production, all the way through, which seems different from all the individual side projects you’ve done.
Sixtoo: The past few things have shied away a bit from what I started doing, which was rap. Now, I feel like producing records is more interesting than pursuing a career in rap. I think hip-hop music has been watered down and saturated and sort of lost its way– sort of like punk and jazz, which is unfortunate. Maybe it’s just in a transitional phase –when I got into hip-hop it was really about the politics of the music, and from a punk rock kid’s perspective, that was interesting and challenging and sort of against the system. Now, all that’s sort of stripped away, and you might get glimpses of it in someone like Outkast, but again, they are preoccupied with selling records, so some of the politics get watered down or lost. I heard the new Dead Prez record and it was actually very good, still very politically motivated and interesting.
FP: It sounds like you use real instruments on the new record.
Sixtoo: I wanted to make it feel like it was a live band, and program it so it feels live. It’s a mix of live playing and sample-based stuff. I recorded it in my house, with the exception of some drum tracks. I recorded Eric Craven [Hanged Up] and Matthew Woodley [Plants & Animals] playing drums at Hotel 2 Tango, as well as Charles Austin, who recorded drums for one song in Halifax. The drum tracks were recorded 2-track to tape, after which I put them in the sampler. I spliced them up into individual drum hits, and used a combination of programmed playing and live playing as the bed tracks for a lot of the material. It’s essentially a live-sample-based record, where the sampler is the final instrument and construction tool.
Generally I’ve been into older music lately, and with this record I was trying to make music that sounds like the records that I love. The whole process was one of exploring the producers’ angle of those kinds of records with this instrument [the sampler].
The days of DIY production are shrinking, which is kind of backwards, because you’d think with computers as a recording device & all that, it wouldn’t be the case, but it’s creating a bigger gap, because if you want to create records that sound a certain way, this [points to computer] is not the way to do it. You know? It is about using an analog studio.
There’s a lot of things with digital recording that I’m at odds with. You can’t even explain what the difference is, exactly, but it’s there. Mixing on a screen is not like having your hands on a mixing board, or winding a tape reel and calibrating a machine. Records that are, what’s a good example, like that whole Chicago rock movement: if you can’t afford to go to a studio like Soma or Electrical Audio or those sorts of places, then you can’t do that sound. You’re not going to be able to do that with a shitty ProTools rack in your house, you just can’t.
FP: Did you record to tape with this album?
Sixtoo: I recorded everything initially to tape, put it through the computer for editing, put it in the sampler for composition, and then mixed back to tape.
FP: I guess that’s a way to get around the limitations of CD mixing, for sound–
Sixtoo: Yeah. There’s a lot you can do with mastering [on computer], it’s still not like the real thing, but holy shit, to master a record in a good mastering studio is a lot of money. Which is why I’ve started doing project mastering for friends, my friends just can’t afford to go into those kinds of studios. Also, I like to learn about these kinds of things.
FP: Do you know about Super Audio?
Sixtoo: I’ve looked into it, and it seems interesting, the bandwidth is certainly a lot bigger than regular CDs.
FP: I guess it would still be impossible for it to replace the warmth and effects you get from pushing the limits of analogue, having things happen just naturally, a compressed sound or slight distortion…
Sixtoo: This is the thing. Maybe it’s different for kids that are growing up listening to music now without that, but people over 25 or 30 grew up listening to analogue mediums and are attached to them. That’s certainly the case for me, that’s why I still buy records, and why if I listen to something out of the house, it’s usually a cassette.
FP: Has Ninja asked you to tour for the new record?
Sixtoo: I’m sure they might need me to do some dates that are important for promotion purposes, but you know, I could do whatever I need to do. As somebody who’s been an independent rapper for 10 years, I’ve always spent the summer in the van, because that’s what you need to do to sell records to live, and I’m not trying to work a day job.
FP: Do you find that MP3s can help when you go on tour?
Sixtoo: I think they’re much more beneficial than people would have you believe. I’ve given away a lot of my music over the years. Even now, I set up a player that streams my whole record for no charge.
FP: Does the label have any issues with that?
Sixtoo: No. Well, I can present my music anyway I want, as long as it’s not “Download my whole record for free!,” you know. And I think, even if I wanted to do that, maybe they’d be at odds with it, but you know, people still want a tangible product, and if you make a beautiful record with nice artwork and packaging, and tour and go out and do a show and give 110%, kids will want to buy your record. That’s what people need to get through their heads– the people who are losing money are the people who are making disposable music that isn’t art and isn’t culture, it’s like an exploitive thing.
FP: Well, it seems like there are some kinds of music, like some of the punk or ska or really young-listener-oriented music that isn’t big budget or mainstream that is getting hit hard from downloading. Maybe it’s because it’s more of a smash-and-grab type of crowd or something that is into that stuff, they all burn each other CDs. One band was saying that on tours at the merch table there would be a lineup and kids would just be writing down song titles off the CDs for sale, so they could go download the songs later.
Sixtoo: No way! Oh my god. Wow, that’s crazy man, if that happens, then people must not respect you very much as an artist.
FP: Maybe there’s a generational thing, like at a certain age the kids believe there’s a moral problem with paying for music, that it’s wrong or capitalist or something. Although they did at least pay for the show and maybe a T-Shirt or something.
Sixtoo: Well, I think it gets back to being multifaceted, like for me, I also do art, I’ll sell prints and silkscreen posters at shows, even canvasses sometimes.
FP: It sounds hard to live off just record sales anyway, whether you’re on a major or a small label. Sometimes the records can be a form of promotion for the tours, if nothing else.
Sixtoo: Well if you’re a musician, full-time, you’d better be prepared to be out there, you know, one third of the year.