Little White Earbuds Interviews Kyle Hall


Photo by Joshua Hanford

Save your free pass for another youngster: Kyle Hall gets by perfectly fine on his own merits. Having cultivated a mouthwatering discography and forthcoming release schedule while still barely legal, one might expect Hall to embrace the title of Detroit’s next great dance music producer. Yet while speaking with him in a recent phone interview, it seemed being released on FXHE, Moods & Grooves, Hyperdub, and Third Ear Recordings was small beer next to the scope of his ambitions. His enterprising nature is backed by vibrant creative energy that cannot be contained by genres or expectations, yielding a loose but carefully considered strain of organic dance music whose affecting quality knocks you back in your chair. It’s little wonder that he can imagine producing for pop music megastars in five year’s time. Boundlessly optimistic and precocious to boot, it was my pleasure to speak with Hall in advance of his Movement ’10 appearance about his passion for the visual arts, how he’s dealt with success, and the future as he sees it.

For past generations of producers it was difficult to gain acclaim while being stylistically multifaceted (like “Shake”), because no one knew how to market them. From your own personal experience as a multifarious musician, do you think it’s any easier these days for producers to gain acclaim while making diverse music?

Kyle Hall: Yeah, of course, I think it’s way easier now. I don’t really see an issue with doing different things. As long as it’s good stuff…

That’s true. Do you think that’s because there are fewer boundaries now; it just seems everything was so segregated in the past.

I guess so, I wasn’t back then. I just like making music, period; I don’t really tend to lean towards one thing more than another. Music is music.

I imagine most if not all of the music you have lined up for Warp, Planet E, Nonplus etc was all written in 2009. Have you had much chance to compose this year?

Oh yeah, plenty. I do it all the time — as soon as I’m home.

How is your stuff now different from the material for the forthcoming EPs?

I mean, it’s still me doing the same stuff. There might be a difference outwardly to other people. It’s different of course because I’m trying to improve what I do.

What were some things you wanted to improve that you’ve had the chance to work on?

Integration between hardware and software, things like that. Getting better gear, getting to be able to do things more easily more than anything. Learning about the transfer from digital audio to vinyl. Learning about that process is how you can optimize your sound — what works best for the format. More of the technical things, but some musical stuff, too. Picking up different progressions and different key signatures, doing stuff in different time signatures other than 4/4, doing things in 3/4, doing things in half tempos. Just exploring musically what I can do, but that’s just a natural thing.

When you say you’re working in different time signatures, does that mean you’re doing more stuff like your Hyperdub 12″?

Yeah yeah, I mean, that’s still kinda 4/4 — kinda. The drum patterns are in 4/4 time signature but the way the bass is, in “Kaychunk” for instance, that comes around on every third beat. I’m doing that kind of stuff too. I just did a remix for [Instra:mental]’s “Leave It All Behind” that’s… well it’s still got a 4/4 kick, but I’m doing things more broken up and experimenting with using less drums to get my point across.

You’ve had an incredible amount of success over the last year’s time and what I’ve heard of your release schedule suggests there’s much more to come. What do you do to keep yourself from getting too big of a head from all the accolades?

I just keep listening to stuff [chuckles] that I want to be as good as or better. Searching for more music for myself to consume, just to challenge myself to get better. That’s more or less how I try to keep myself grounded. It’s not hard to keep yourself grounded, but I guess this is just a way to keep things interesting for me so I can focus on making music. You try not to do the last thing you did. That’s hard to do some times, especially in a remix situation. A lot of times people hear the last remix you did and want you to do one kinda like it. [laughs] That’s why they liked it, that’s why they asked you to do the same thing. I try not to do that but keep people pleased to where they want to come along with me, and me trying to expand things.

What’s your song-writing methodology like?

Sometimes I start with a melody. Well, lately I’ve been starting with melodic things and then kind of working downwards to make everything gel together. It depends on what you want to be the main idea. Usually what I start with is what I intend to make the focal point of the track, but that’s not always true. Sometimes you end up finding something else you added that might have been supplementary originally but it ended up being the focal point of the track. I might start with the hi-hats just to get a rhythmic element going, and then I’ll find the right kick drum. It’s not so much a creative reasoning of me creating songs, it’s more so using sounds to come up with my songs — they just kind of come together themselves.

Do you bounce ideas off people as you go or do you usually have full tracks before getting feedback?

Yeah, I do share stuff with friends. Sometimes I’ll send stuff to DJs who I think might appreciate it. Usually that’s about it, but it’s not like I’m looking for some kind of confirmation to make my track feel like it’s credible or good enough. Usually it’s done when I let someone hear it, or that’s how I want it to be and it just needs some minor adjustments. Sometimes you might hear things later because your ears get tired and you don’t exactly know how things sound anymore after you’ve been working on it. Some little pointers from people help, too.

Is there anyone unexpected who you use as a sounding board? I imagine people might think, ‘Oh, I bet he’s showing tracks to Omar-S.’

He’s probably the person I don’t ever let hear my music! [laughs] Not for any particular reason, it’s just… it’s not easy to just send him an email, so it’s not often I let him hear stuff. Actually, Dennis Ferrer, I let him hear my stuff. He’s a cool dude and he knows a lot about the technical stuff, so every now and then I send him some stuff and ask him what he thinks, as far as mix-wise. Sometimes he’ll give me cool tips I can use because he’s super technical when it comes to studio stuff — it’s good. Carl Craig, too, I let him hear some things. And then people who don’t really do music either. That’s probably the majority of people I let hear it. People who I look to just to get an honest opinion. People who don’t already have much of an idea about it because they’ll give you the most honest opinion. They won’t be analyzing it as much [laughs] about how you did something and just hear it. It’s good or bad, that’s about it. Sometimes I don’t let anyone hear it and just put it out.

As someone who is as much a DJ as producer, how important is it for your tracks to work on the dance floor?

Now it’s more important as I’m playing out more and traveling because I want to play my own stuff. Before, I guess about a year ago, I didn’t really care as much — I was just making music. I’d play it I guess. [laughs] It’s important to a certain degree to make a lot of stuff work that other people might not be able to make work. As long as I can play it, I’m kinda happy. I’ll have one I’ll play for sure and there’s usually another track I’ll make and think, ‘Yeah, that’s for everyone else to play.’ This is for the less complex DJs, less technical DJs. As long as I can play it I’m cool, that’s what I make music for.

What music industry advice have you received that’s resonated the most and from whom?

There’s a lot of stuff! I guess one is, be in control of where you music goes and how it’s presented to people. That’s where running my own label comes into play, and licensing things — don’t give stuff away.

Who taught you about that?

My music production teacher in school, he taught me about that. Carl Craig, my agent, Alex [Omar-S].

I do know that you have taken that advice. I remember last year after Movement ’09 I sent you an email about doing a podcast for LWE. And you said something like, ‘Sure, as long as you pay me the same amount as 10 mix CDs.’ I have to admit, at first I was a bit taken aback…

[Bursts out in laughter] Ahh, sorry.

It’s fine, because the more I thought about it the more it made sense. So many people are willing to give away their DJ mixes or whatever else and you’re looking to make money on what you’re spending time on.

Yeah, yeah. At that point in time I was really trying to get things together and have a focal point on what I was doing, and I definitely think that had to do with my answer. I don’t know, the whole mix thing online, I didn’t quite get it. When I was selling mix CDs I was like, ‘Why would I give one away for free [laughs] so people can go listen to that and not buy my mix CD?’ [laughs]

Has that changed at all?

Yeah, the mix CD thing is not as important. It is in a way, it’s more a grassroots thing because I hand make those mix CDs and I put care into them, so when I do the mix CDs it’s a little piece of art that I do. Some online mixes are cool for promotion. When I did the FACT mix, that kind of helped me a lot. I didn’t know; I just did it because some people told me it was pretty cool and they had some other people’s mixes that I kinda liked, so I just went ahead and did it. Why not, get some promotion.

Your interest in the visual arts is apparent in your records: the center labels of your records, “I <3 Dr. Girlfriend” as a track title. How do the visual arts influence the way you perceive music and its creation?

Yeah, at the end of the process when the music is made… anything that people visually see, it’s something that can attack their senses actually influences what they think of the music — the connotations of the music itself. So I try to imprint how I feel about the music visually and title-wise so it influences what people think or people see where I’m coming from and relate to what went on. In the case of the second release on my label [Perfekt Sin] I had all the band members illustrated on the label in a cartoon kinda thing. I wanted people to see, we all did this track together — this was live. The other ones where I used the cassette tape, I wanted to illustrate, ‘Yes, I used cassette tapes.’ [laughs] It’s not just on there to look cool, that’s part of the process of me making this — how the sound is processed — and I wanted people to get a feeling for that.

Even with the Hyperdub one, I had my friend do the illustration for it, and I’m like, ‘This is where I’m at now,’ the whole KMFH thing. I want people to see, this is how this music is supposed to feel to you, it’s supposed to feel like a beautiful girl right next to you. So that’s why I put that there, because that’s what this music is about. The title, “You Know What I Feel,” this girl knows what I feel and that’s why she’s so close. I mean, some of the titles are kind of goofy too, but I come up with those with a certain feeling I have and a word comes to mind. It might even be not a real word, it just sounds phonetically what I’m feeling. If I could make up a word for that feeling or the sound of that song, that’s what it would be.

I have to say, I really loved the word bubble, “You’re about to see this 38th chamber,” that really cracked me up.

[Laughs] Yeah, yeah. That’s a Wu-Tang Clan reference that this girl, Blue Raspberry, who is part of Wu-Tang Clan. One day — and it’s a whole crazy story — I dropped her off at her house and she told us about the “38th chamber.” And we’re like, ‘What the– There’s a 38th? That doesn’t make any sense! I don’t even understand!’ We just thought it was hilarious. After that we just talked about it, me and my friend Cleveland — Mr. Thrasher — who did the artwork, we talk about that all the time. [laughs] It was just so relevant, it just worked! [laughs]

One producer I know you enjoy, Sam Shepherd, has done some gigs with a live band as Floating Points Ensemble. I was curious if you aspired to do something like that with a group like Bsmnt City Anymle Kontrol.

Bsmnt City Anymle Kontrol, that’s over, that’s done. My friend Dorian passed–

Rest in peace.

Yeah, so that’s where that is. [laughs] I’m not really aspiring to do anything with a live band, I just thought it would be something neat to do in the basement. [laughs] My friend Gary, he came all the way from Ohio and two of my friends from middle school I’ve known for a really long time came by to do some stuff. After we finished it, Dorian was over here to play the drums. After we finished it I was like, ‘I like this, I’m gonna put this out’ They were like, ‘You serious?’ I was like, ‘Yep!’ and I put it out. That was that. But that’s the end of Bsmnt City Anymle Kontrol, that’s the last there will ever be of that. It ain’t no more of that. I don’t think I’m trying to do nothing live like playing keyboard in a band or nothing, that’s not what I do. I mean, maybe one day, I can’t say anything for sure; but at this point in time I’m not thinking about doing a soul band or anything. But that is sweet, I like that. I like seeing [Shepherd] do it, that’s just not what I do.

I was surprised to see Jay-Z, Deadmau5, Soulja Boy and Tiesto next to Carl Craig in a list of the artists you said you wanted to remix and Lady Gaga and Pharrell as artists you’d like to collaborate with.

Oh yeah, definitely.

Do you aspire to produce tracks for the pop sphere at some point?

Yeah, definitely! This music’s gotta get out here! This has to. I mean, it doesn’t have to, but I want it to. I want to be doing stuff for them, plus they’re looking for new blood, different stuff than what’s going on. They need that next song! I want to be that. [laughs] Tiesto, he probably out there thinking, ‘How can I take it to the next level.’ You never know, he might see that and be like, ‘Kyle Hall, he’s gotta remix this track.’ And I’m down, put my own spin on it.

A lot of underground dance music producers aren’t very interested in going above ground, why are you?

That’s ridiculous. Why would anybody not want to go above ground? Would anybody not want to make more money? Why would anybody not want more people to be into what they do? That’s dumb; who would think like that? No one, no one thinks like that!

[Laughs] I believe that everybody wants that sort of exposure and the money that goes along with it, but I know a lot of people are scared off by what the music industry is at that stage of the game when you get to the level of those big artists, it’s a lot more cut-throat and about cutting deals. So are you looking forward to seeing your name next to Beyonce’s on a record?

No, no, it’s about actually creating the music for Beyonce.

Right, right.

It’s not just like, I can brag to people, ‘Kyle accolades because he did this on this project.’ I wouldn’t even like listing those things, ‘Kyle was involved on…’ No! I want people to hear that stuff and be like, ‘Dang, this dude has transcended to that next level type of stuff.’ Even if it’s just somebody else that gets out there. I think people are scared and they think you get taken advantage of at that point. No, not true anymore, because the major labels need you. Nowadays major labels won’t actually sign you unless you’re already selling 10,000 mixtapes on your own, on the Internet, through blogs and all that. But you don’t really need that! You can do that yourself!

I’m not talking about getting signed; I mean, yeah, Universal would be dope, something like that, or some affiliate like Deutsche Grammophon, that’s ridiculous. But in actuality, with the size of phone companies I’d rather get signed to AT&T or something, be the first artist on Sprint or Verizon. [laughs] They have constant revenue through people paying their phone bills every month, they have a global appeal because everyone needs cell phones. Everybody knows Verizon, everybody knows T-Mobile, everybody knows AT&T! It’s more so the outlet that those type of things provide to get your music out there to more people, and working with those artists would also appeal to another set of people who weren’t open to things like underground dance music. That’s what it comes back to: I don’t really care about genres, about being underground, the next great Detroit techno artist. That’s not really my interest. I’m more into making great music, just like any other great producer would want to be.

It’s probably difficult to see past your 21st birthday right now, but where would you like to see yourself in five and ten years from now?

So I guess like 23 and 28?

Yeah.

I hope to be like… I don’t know, man, that is pretty far ahead. [laughs] I should be pretty established, I guess? I should be OK. [laughs] I’m thinking that by the time I’m 20 I should be on some Lil’ Wayne, I should be doing something like that. I don’t know, that’s ridiculous. I might be president of the United States somehow, or his right hand man, I don’t know! [laughs] I might even be doing something more ridiculous than I’m doing now. Definitely something more ridiculous. I might be the guy on MTV, I don’t know. Who knows, who knows? That’s what I hope. I want to be running TV networks and crap like that. I hope to.

My last question came via a reader: What is your favorite possession?

Uhh… dang.

Say your dad’s place is on fire and you have to run downstairs and grab something…

[Laughs] That made me think, ‘What’s the most expensive thing?’ [laughs] Not my favorite. I mean, records, obviously not replaceable, you can’t insure them. Maybe records? I like my records a lot. Maybe my MacBook, I don’t know [laughs]. That’s a tough one, man. Because I feel like if I’ve got the tools necessary to rebuild, in the case I’m just thinking about what I can’t get back. I don’t know. That’s a cool question, but I don’t even know, man.

AYBEE  on May 12, 2010 at 7:26 PM

Rumble young man Rumble.

: )

Anton  on May 12, 2010 at 7:47 PM

Smashing interview! He has such incredible enthusiasm for his music and it really comes through in the piece.

I look forward to Kyle MF Hall’s music at 21 no matter what he decides to do.

Winkles  on May 13, 2010 at 2:54 AM

Great interview! Thanks for asking my question Steve :)

lerato  on May 14, 2010 at 12:16 AM

nice !!

shake shakir  on May 14, 2010 at 8:42 AM

great and inspirational. keep bringing the heat .

Aaron-Carl  on May 14, 2010 at 12:09 PM

Kyle MF’n HALL… AMEN! I love your philosophy — from one free spirit 2 another: See u in the atmosphere.. MUCH RESPECT!

fred dulson  on May 14, 2010 at 2:12 PM

kyle hall is a true star, he will go far

DeepRT  on May 19, 2010 at 10:08 AM

KYLE HALL will be the first guest for our new nite in GLASGOW called JELLY ROLL SOUL on 13th aug 10 @ LA CHEETAH (max,s) ..Deeep

Stephen Boyle  on May 22, 2010 at 3:54 PM

Kyle’s the real Detroit deal. Lots of love – see you at Movement next weekend.

bernardo  on May 25, 2010 at 7:58 PM

Great interview… I can see this kid pulling a Pharell / NERD type deal and breaking into the hip hop sphere with his beatwork… Would certainly be refreshing!

yes  on June 2, 2010 at 11:24 PM

This is a bright kid with down-to-Earth musicality. Cheers!

Point Blank  on July 21, 2010 at 9:46 AM

Total genius! Now can you please do a piece on Space Dimension Controller?

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