Little White Earbuds Interviews MyMy

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Three cool cats: (L-R) Lee Jones, Carsten Klemann and Nick Höppner. Photo by Katja Jaruge

My My approach house and techno with artisians’ flair, crafting aural mosaics from hundreds of little sounds glued atop engaging melodies. You can listen closely and admire all the details slipped into every crevice or step back into the crowd to enjoy their work from the dance floor. The duo of Lee Jones and Nick Höppner (and sometimes Carsten Klemann) brings together a wealth of experience shaping dancers’ experiences (Höppner and Klemann) and years of studio skills (Jones, the driving force behind the downtempo project Hefner), and the results have landed their well rated records on vaunted labels such as Playhouse, Ostgut Ton and Cocoon, as well as Circus Company and Aus Music. And now they’re ready to shift their sound in new, more floor-oriented directions. Jones and Nick Höppner took time out to talk with LWE about this new direction, who does what, and the ups and downs of touring. (interview by Steve Mizek)
How did My My first come together?

Lee Jones: We all met in Berlin through mutual friends and partying and the clubs we were involved in. We were just friends who went out a lot together.

Nick Höppner: Actually, it was Carsten Klemann who brought us altogether; I knew him before I met Lee. And Lee fell in love with Carsten’s best friend and flatmate at the time. She was actually the reason why Lee moved to Berlin in the first place.

A story of love, that’s cute. Where did the name My My come from?

Nick: That’s another really good friend of ours, Cornelius Tittel who was kind of part of the original set up came up with. He’s working full time as a journalist now and he was always very creative with names. He also came up with the name Wahoo, the kind of pop project Dixon is running, it was his idea as well. He was into words that doubled up as a band or project name, like Liquid Liquid or The The.

Lee, what led you to switch styles from what you were making with Hefner to what you’re making solo and with My My?

Lee: I was just really into everything I heard when I moved to Berlin — I was really blown away at first. I’d never been into dance music, really, in England. I didn’t like the whole culture and the music. It just sounded different here and settings, the clubs and the venues here were so cool. And I just got stuck with the other music. I was trying to make this album and I got– I just wanted to do something I could do myself or with friends at home and not have to think about recording studios and working with singers and songwriting and to just make really simple, pure, electronic instrumental music.

Was it difficult to make the change? Was it easy to switch over?

Lee: I think it’s taken quite a while to really learn the production skills and what works in the club. That’s taken a lot of time. I feel like we really only cracked it in the last year or so that we started making records that sounded right, as far as we were concerned. It’s such a different medium — it’s all about sound and not so much about the music itself, the song or whatever. It’s 50/50, much more about production.

Nick, what was your musical experience before My My?

Nick: Before My My I was a DJ already. I dabbled with solo stuff as well, but I only got going when the My My thing got started. I had one solo track out on liebe*detail, the second one. When I was still a teenager I was in a punk rock band trying to sing. You couldn’t really call it singing but I had the mic in my hand.

Tell me a little bit about how My My songs come together. The liner notes of your releases show that Lee does some and Nick does some, but I was curious how that worked exactly.

Nick: For the time being we have made the conscious decision of trying to work on music together as much as possible. Because before My My could be anything; it could be a track I did, something Lee did, something we did together, but mostly it was Lee’s solo production. If you take everything into consideration, Lee really takes the biggest part in it. But after the album came out Lee and me were constantly touring and playing live together and we thought, if we continue with My My everything that’s stamped My My needs to have a proper share of both of us. We’re in the middle of finding out what we want to do and how we work best together. Because the project came into being without us having thought about it at all, it was on autopilot and we just embraced the situation and did whatever we could with it.

When would you say started to compose together exclusively — which track?

Nick: The only original My My tracks from last year which ended up on the Cocoon [G compilation] and the Playhouse compilations [Famous When Dead V] were basically Lee’s productions. But except for the Motorcitysoul remix [“Kazan (Exit Cube)”], we worked on every remix together which came out last year. And I think you kind of notice that already. And the latest Ostgut Ton one [“Southbound”] was an effort we did together.

Lee: You finished it.

Nick: We started it together and I finished the A side while Lee was on holiday in England.

Lee: Or rewrote it, rather *laughs* for the better.

How long does it take you guys to build your tracks? Do you rattle them out quickly or do you take a lot of time to sit with your tunes?

Nick: I tend to sit with it for a long time but this doesn’t necessarily mean I’m doing a lot of stuff to it. I’m rather contemplating it, and that’s how “Southbound” came together. I wanted it to sound like that and I was happy with this very simple arrangement from the beginning. I was working on the sound, doing little bits and pieces. But the B side, then again, was put together quite quickly. On the album, the opening track came together in one night as well. We’ve worked on remixes for three weeks or longer.

Lee: Sometimes they come together really quickly and sometimes they take ages. Generally that’s not the best work. I think the best stuff is conceived very quickly and then takes a while to tighten up. I tend to work pretty fast and actually… I like to get it finished quickly because I get bored of it after a while and I can’t hear what I’m working on. I think the best way is to really nail a track in one session. Sometimes when we’re working efficiently we manage to do that.

Is there a specific construct in mind when you’re building My My tunes or can a Lee Jones or Nick Höppner track turn into a My My track?

Lee: Well not really; it never had any kind of rule to it. I did a lot more work because I was the only one who didn’t have any other job, so I was outputting more tracks. The first EP was mostly me, the second was Nick, the third was both of us — it’s just all over the place. Sometimes I’ve started a track and Nick’s finished it… I don’t think you’ve started a track that I’ve finished yet, but I’m sure we’ll do that at some point. It’s just totally random. There’s no real method to working or structure, it’s whatever works, whatever comes together.

Nick: If you talk about us individually then obviously there’s a big difference. Lee, I would say, is really conceptualizing in advance and with me, I’m always looking for a groove and a loop that works first and then trying to build a track out of it. Whereas Lee is building the track as he goes along.

Does Carsten stop by to offer his opinions? I know he’s more of the DJ arm of the group, but does he have much input into your output?

Nick: To be honest for the whole of 2007 he didn’t have any input. We didn’t see each other very often because he was away quite a lot as a DJ and we were away every weekend, so it was really hard to get together. Just recently we started to hang out more together. Lee and Carsten started a track together. I think he might become more important again. But for the last he wasn’t really.

Lee: He met with us and said he wanted to call it quits and leave and we were like, “Hmm, OK, you’re not really around anyway.” He’s still part of it, really; we still do these monthly parties at Watergate and it’s so great when it’s the three of us all there, and there’s a feeling we’re still a group of three, somehow. I hope he gets more involved in the future.

My My tracks often remind me of a collage of samples and synths and the like. I know you’re both influenced by hip-hop though A Tribe Called Quest, but I was curious how you came to start sampling in tracks?

Lee: Hip hop’s a big key, I guess.

Nick: Yeah. As far as that, Lee brought a massive sample library into it, and there’s so much great stuff to choose from. Generally speaking I’m really into juxtaposing organic, dirty sounding samples with clean digital sounds. I’ve always been a sucker for samples and I still like the concept of looping stuff. Not to make such a big effort to splice it up and revert it and whatever and just find something that works well stuck on top of a kick drum. *laughs*

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Under Watergate’s lights: Jones and Höppner strike a pose.

The “Southbound” single is a bit of a departure from both your Songs For the Gentle album and subsequent “Fast Freeze’ and “Southern Comfort” singles. Was there a reason the sound took a left turn this time?

Nick: That was a complete conscious decision. There isn’t a concept behind it at all. We just wanted to do a simple, warm, playable record with a great groove, and I think that’s what we did. There’s not much more to it.

How much are you willing to stretch the boundaries of what My My is sonically?

Nick: We want to keep it as open as possible. I think we’d rather produce something to the occasion. I think a My My record on Playhouse will sound different than one on Ostgut Ton, and the next album will probably have a strong focus on home-listening quality again. These are the categories we’re thinking in; but other than that, we want to be able to do simple, understated DJ records as well as something that’s off the hook.

Following that line of thinking: the environments in which people are listening to techno/house have increased in scope such that fans favor home listening almost as much as in clubs. I was wondering how much emphasis you put on dance floor utility as opposed to straight up musicality.

Nick: It’s become a lot more important over the last 18 months or so since we started touring. That’s definitely had a strong influence on the way we’re thinking about My My songs, because we’ve been getting bookings on the back of our album, which isn’t exactly peak time material. But anyway, we were always for the peak time in the middle of the night, very often as a headliner in smaller clubs, and it was really hard at the beginning to do a live show with the material we had, because it wasn’t functional enough in a way. As we went along we sped up the live set, reprogrammed stuff so we were able to cater for those kinds of situations. Lee has got into DJing a lot more than when we had started out. I think the DJ aspect has become a bit more important to us.

Lee: We want to play our own records a bit more and we found we weren’t really using our own stuff. The Ostgut Ton is one of the most DJ-friendly records we’ve ever done and we’re really enjoying being able to play it and hear it played by other people. It’s just been slagged off on Resident Advisor *laughs* for being too easy or too trendy and deep, but that’s what we wanted to do, really.

Who are some of your musical heroes?

Lee: There’s a lot of really contemporary producers and a lot of old from all over the place. I’m still really influenced by the great songwriters and soul and folk singers and songwriters, especially from the 70s. And all the music we grew up with in the 80s, especially when we were teenagers, is really important to us still. All the producers I discovered when I got into this music, still people like Villalobos and Luciano are very influential — loads of people.

Nick: We’ve come across this question quite a few times and I really have trouble answering it. I have my all time heroes and they come from every kind of genre. I still think that Dinosaur Jr. is a brilliant indie rock band, but I wouldn’t say it has a direct impact on what I’m doing with My My. Then the obvious thing like A Tribe Called Quest that might have a more direct influence on what we’re doing. I like a lot of stuff along the lines with Lee. I’m into a lot of current producers as well, but this changes all the time.

Any rising stars who have impressed you recently?

Nick: I’m particularly into dOP at the moment, this trio from Paris. They’ve released on Circus Company, Milnor Modern, they have a new one on Orac. And I think they are very, very talented, and they’re kind of bringing the fusion of songwriting and being a band and dance floor oriented stuff to the next level. Also very nice is Dave Aju from San Francisco, he’s releasing on Circus Company as well. I think he’s a sample guy as well and the way he does it is really fresh, I think. I’m really enjoying all the new school Dutch techno at the moment, from a DJ perspective: people or projects like Polder, Anton Pieete, Bart Skils, you know the stuff coming out on Intacto and 100% Pure. Current favorites include the latest Johnny D on Oslo is a great record, Markus Fix is really good, I think. Stuff like that.

Lee: My mind is completely blank. I’m just sitting here trying to think of… I’m really into– although I’m bored of listening to minimal music in clubs, there’s a couple Berlin minimal labels like Supdub, H.O.S.H., what label is he on? [Diynamic Music -nb] They’re making really kind of minimal records but they’re very funky and cute and with nice melodies. I’m constantly blown away by the records… what was that guy?

Nick: Jens Zimmermann.

Lee: Yeah, they just sound incredible. I don’t know how he makes them sound like that.

Is there anyone either of you or together would like to collaborate with at some point?

Nick: Yeah. We’re thinking about working with vocals; and since I heard Dave Aju doing his spoken word thing and the guy from dOP singing his falsetto, I’d really like to work with those two guys. There’s another one we have in mind from Berlin, he’s actually a bouncer and not an artist. *laughter in the background* He’s got a nice voice and we might do something with him, at least that’s the plan. Other than that, Lee has done quite a lot of collaborations with people outside of My My with Daniel Drier and Will Saul.

Will there be any more of those, Lee?

Lee: Yeah, actually. It’s one of these things over the years, you say you’re going to get together with friends and make a track over and over again and never get around to doing it. I made a new year’s resolution to actually do those meetings and I got a couple of them done so far and yeah, I’d like to do more, it’s just different having different company. No offense, Nick.

With the huge amount of music coming out these days, what do you do to stay interesting to listeners and yourselves?

Nick: We’re still in the process of finding that out. One point, we thought we need to be in the middle of it as much as possible, meaning going out a lot, being on tour a lot, listening to the music a lot. And I think now we’re entering the phase where we think it’s better to stay away from it as much as possible. *laughs*

I suppose that must be hard if you’re DJing as much as you are. What do you do to block these outside forces from impacting you in the studio?

Nick: I think that’s nothing we particularly want to block out. I don’t have a problem with it slipping into our music, being an influence.

With how much music is coming out, though, I’m sure you’re looking to avoid direct comparisons to others’ music. For example, in the comments of RA’s “Southbound” review someone likened it to Martin Buttrich’s “Full Clip” (even though I disagree with that assessment)…

Nick: Let me put it another way: If someone compares this to “Full Clip” I’m down with it completely, because I think it’s a nice record. I love those kinds of sounds. You probably wouldn’t hear a trancey arpeggio used in progressive and really big rave trance music, I wouldn’t want to have that in our own tracks but I’m exposed to it anyway.

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Hangin’ out: Klemann, Höppner and Jones.

What’s coming up from My My over the next year? Is there another album coming out at some point?

Nick: Yeah. I don’t know if we’ll manage to release it this year; I guess we’re already running too late with it. We’ve got a lot of good finished tracks lying around, but they still don’t form the album. I think we need a few more attempts at really new stuff. We’re currently working on it, but it’s still in such an early stage.

What about from each of you as solo artists?

Nick: I’m working on a remix at the moment for liebe*detail for an Ed Davenport track. I’m constantly trying to do solo stuff but I don’t have any plans to release a record. There might be a solo one on Ostgut Ton in September or later this year. We’re currently producing an A side for a next Playhouse EP; we’ve got a nice B side but are still trying to come up with something new for the A side. This will take until summer, so I guess it’s too late for a pre-summer release now.

Lee, I’ve heard rumors that you’re going to be releasing a solo album. Any truth to that?

Lee: I think so, actually. I’ll probably do on on Aus, but that might not be until next year now. Cause there’s been a few singles and I’ve got a few other tracks I’ve put aside which Will [Saul] is into. I’ll do that and there’s a few more solo singles coming out, one on liebe*detail that I’ve just agreed to and, I forget what else. Oh, I’m working on my old thing [Hefner] again. I’ve been writing some material for the Hefner album which I still want to finish one of these days. Actually, later this year I might start working on that seriously.

Are there any more Just Recordings coming out?

Nick: No, we put that on ice, because we thought we could run the label on the side, but even selling below 1,000 copies makes a lot of work. WE’re already very busy trying to produce solo and with My My and I’ve got this day job. It’s just too much work. Although we haven’t given up completely, but we’d rather have someone do the dirty work and we do the A&R’ing *laughs*

The last thing I wanted to ask about was money. As a journalist, especially one so far from the action, it’s almost impossible to get a feeling for how artists are doing financially in the wake of decreased sales and mp3 sharing, how labels are paying, touring and stuff like that. Would you mind shedding some light on the subject?

Nick: First of all, we wouldn’t be able to support ourselves just by recording and selling records, that’s way too little to make a living. Secondly, we only started in late 2005 or early 2005, that was first My My single; and so I don’t know how it’s really been in the 90’s or even the early 2000s when it was still possible to support yourself as a studio producer only.

Lee: I survived for years just on remixes and record sales when I was working in London 10 years ago. That’s definitely changed. Playing live is our source of income, that’s how we survive now.

Nick: Yeah, definitely. If we didn’t play four times a month at least then we wouldn’t have enough money.

How does that impact you? Do you guys care that touring is how you make your money, not on your actual output?

Nick: It was a special situation for us, because for me it was the first time ever I had the opportunity to play around the world every weekend. This was very exciting and our tour took us to a lot of really great places and met so many good people. I guess we learned a lot about the industry or the nightlife industry. It was really interesting to see how this works around the world, how globalized it is, where the differences are. It was a really exciting year traveling, but at the same time it was bloody exhausting. Just right now it’s winding down because we haven’t had many releases releases, but it’s quite nice that way because we got a bit more time to think about music and actually record it. But… it’s a difficult thing, because if I think, ‘OK, for the time being we can afford our booking requests slowing down, but if this goes on for a year then we’ll run into financial problems, definitely.’ This is in a way affecting creative decisions and stuff like that.

Kind of a sidebar to that question: My friends and I have started up a night and we’ve been wondering what it costs to bring in decent sized acts. When you get a booking… you guys have made it to the States before, right? I know you had a NYC gig…

Nick: In San Francisco and New York, those were our only U.S. gigs. We played in San Francisco on a Wednesday night in a very small club, I don’t know what it’s called, Velvet Lounge or something, we practically played there for no money.

So how much money does it take to bring someone out after hotel and airfare accommodations?

Nick: It depends. If you try to get Ricardo Villalobos *laughs* you will have to spend a lot of money and probably a business class flight.

Lee: Private jet, probably. Doesn’t want to go through U.S. customs anymore.

Probably not, no.

Lee: ‘Cuz they interrogated him last time.

Nick: It really depends. We gladly did it for no money because it was such a good chance and we were in Montreal for the Mutek Festival anyway.

Would you guys be interested in coming back to the States sometime this year?

Nick: Actually, we might. The guys who booked us for this boat party will probably book us again and our agent is currently trying to put together some dates in the U.S. Because flying over there for one just one gig is ridiculous, we probably wouldn’t do that any more.

Well I hope you guys make it to Chicago if you do. We’d love the opportunity to see you.

Lee: I hope so, I’d love to see Chicago.

theskypatrol  on May 23, 2008 at 7:36 AM

Ace. Nice interview.

Joe H  on May 23, 2008 at 9:24 AM

Quality. Nice read.

chrisdisco  on May 28, 2008 at 8:14 PM

really quality interview. and good questions in regards to surviving as a dj/producer these days.

dOP  on June 13, 2008 at 8:36 AM

hoooo…MYMYmia !

Trackbacks

Little White Earbuds » LWE Podcast 03: Nick Höppner  on July 10, 2008 at 8:54 PM

[…] MyMy member and quality producer/DJ in his own right, Nick Höppner, kindly assembled this mix exclusively for LWE. […]

MY MY LIVE! | JUNE 28 | LAUNDRY BAR « Musicalmissionary  on July 11, 2008 at 1:04 PM

[…] live at Laundry Bar this Saturday night, June 28th. These guys are absolutely not to be missed! Little White Earbuds recently wrote about My My and said: “My My approach house and techno with artisians’ flair, […]

Little White Earbuds » My My, Everybody’s Talkin’ EP  on August 3, 2008 at 8:42 PM

[…] I interviewed My My’s Nick Höppner and Lee Jones a few months ago, they acknowledged the strain of music they […]

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