Little White Earbuds Interviews Osborne

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We talked to Todd Osborn until he was blue in the face.

Artistic curiosity is a volatile force which can lead to stunning new sounds or, more often, regrettable messes. But to get to the former, artists need the courage to endure the inevitable latter and soldier on. Todd Osborn is fully equipped with both, both in his personal life as a veritable Mr. Fixit and under the musical aliases Osborne, Soundmurderer, Superstructure and TNT (with Tadd Mullinix). So when he’s not busy pulling apart an airplane engine or editing his music software, Osborn dives into writing whatever kind of electronic music fits his fancy. His self-titled debut album as Osborne gathers a mix deep house, electro, techno and electronica tunes while maintaining an unlikely coherence that assures listeners that his curiosity is a well needing to be tapped. Todd was kind enough to be interviewed twice to discuss retro instincts, the interaction between his musical personalities and his well documented inquisitiveness. (interview by Steve Mizek)

Did you listen to electronic music before you started producing it?

Oh yeah, of course. I’ve been buying all sorts of records since I was in pre-school. Actually my dad’s copy of “The Plastic Cow Goes Mooooooog…” was probably the first music I heard that I thought was entirely electronic. I remember thinking, “This is really awful… and really interesting,” haha.

Tell me a little bit about a few electronic records you loved which convinced you to try it for yourself and why those records specifically.

The first Run DMC LP made me buy my first drum machine, a Dr. Rhythm DR-something. I had seen lot of other groups with electronic gear that looked amazing but it seemed too out of reach to have any of that. Even a sampler was way out of my league, but hearing tracks like “Top Billin'” and “PSK” convinced me I had to at least have a drum machine and a turntable.

How has your growing up in Michigan impacted your sound at all?

The radio here was an enormous influence on most people my age that make music. Hearing the Electrifyin’ Mojo and the Wizard every night on the radio opened me up to all sorts of electronic music I night not have heard and being near great free-form radio like WCBN exposed me to jazz, punk and weird psychedelic music I couldn’t have heard elsewhere while in elementary school.

I understand you built the software you used to record the Osborne album. Tell me how it’s different and why you chose to that instead of using Ableton or Logic or something else along those lines.

Well I didn’t build it as such, I just modified it slightly. There are various new EQ and filter settings and “hyper” offsets for samples. Oddly enough I hardly ever end up using any of these mods, haha. I like this software only because I know it so well. It doesn’t matter what program you use, if you know it really well you can very likely get it pretty near to however you want it to sound. I’d like to use some other programs but I just haven’t had the time to re-learn a million keyboard shortcuts. If someone was just starting out and wanting to try using a tracker then I would suggest Renoise instead of piecing together a system like mine.

Do you think the democratization of producing through Ableton is a positive or negative thing?

Definitely positive. If someone has as idea they want to get out and Ableton (or any other program) helps them express that then more power to them.

The press sheet that came with your album really played up all the new stuff you’ve learned to build and do. Why do you find yourself so drawn to building and learning about new things?

I get easily bored with everything, whether it’s making music in different styles — I don’t want to make the same 4×4 song over and over. If you’re into mechanical stuff… I don’t know, it doesn’t apply to everyone, but if you’re into motorcycles and dirt bikes with two stroke engines you can apply that to airplanes and their engines. Being a mechanic, you’re interest in how things work and you become interested in how a variety of things work. I’ve had good opportunities and friends that are into… I have a friend who’s a commercial airline pilot, so I’ve had a chance to be around those engines. I have friends that are bigger electronic music stars than me, and I help them with their gear that I would otherwise never have a chance to touch.

Before hearing your album I sort of presumed it was going to be more deep house-oriented, based on the singles I’d heard previously. Instead it’s stylistically all over the place. Tell me about how you arrived at such a diverse sounding album.

I have no idea, haha. It’s more of a compilation to my ears. Sam Valenti gets the credit for picking the songs and putting them in some sort of sensible order. None of the tracks were made with an idea of relating to other tracks on the album, plus they span like 4 or 5 years. I had planned on making the LP much more diverse but after hearing the album in the order it is in it makes sense in a way that I couldn’t have done if left to my own devices.

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With an album that diverse I was curious, who are some of your musical heroes?

I don’t think I can answer this. I’ve been sitting here trying to think of anyway to answer this without making a never ending list of names but I just can’t do it. Maybe “heroes” is just too vague of a word in my mind. I will just say the first name that popped into my head while reading that question: The Beatles.

Do your Soundmurderer instincts impact your Osborne sound?

Yeah a lot, I think… and not usually in a good way if you’re the listener. Because I’m used to cutting up drum breaks pretty intricately and when it comes to doing something like a house track I start making the melodies intricate and dense and more often than not it’s just way too much and doesn’t work well for the tracks. Just like painting, there needs to be some negative space there.

I really liked your collaboration with Ed DMX. Have you known him for a while? Tell me about your relationship with him.

I’ve known Ed for maybe 5 years or so but we only recently made a few tracks and they were just for fun. I never thought that track would end up on the LP. I thought it might to be too goofy but I’m glad Sam dug it as well. We made that track a few hours before we went to some rave in Hackney a couple years ago. Ed is someone (like most everyone on Rephlex) that I would be friends with even if there wasn’t the music connection. Great sense of humor and interesting guy.

It seems techno/house producers are feeling rather introspective lately, revisiting past themes and offering their own take. You do a bit of that yourself on the album. Why do you think that’s where we’re at right now? What do you think it would take to move things forward?

Well, I can only speak for myself. Some of my music may sound “retro” because of the influence of liking a lot of older records. If I was making jazz I’m sure a lot of it would have hints of a 50’s hard-bop style to it because that’s one form of jazz I’ve always loved. So the same is true with house, techno, etc. Of course it would be nice to reinvent a genre but that’s just not me. Whenever I get to a certain point while making a track things seem like they should follow a certain progression, this is probably just me subconsciously ripping-off some older styles I like that inevitably influences my production decisions, haha.

What can we expect from you over the next year’s time?

There lots of other music coming out in all sorts of styles. I think my music is slowly getting better and better. Hopefully you’ll be hearing tracks from me that have a lot more confidence behind them and progressively better.

tom/pipecock  on June 19, 2008 at 9:52 PM

its good to see this guy getting some love, for my money the best producer on Ghostly/Spectral. he just makes good tunes, that is all that matters!

theskypatrol  on June 20, 2008 at 10:07 AM

That’s the first tnt interview I think I’ve seen. Thanks, it’s a good one. Special artist, special label.

Twelve Hundred  on June 26, 2008 at 8:02 PM

He really has a way with gear…

I like the sound card he made…

Trackbacks

Onda Sonora Subspace :: Osborne :: June :: 2008  on June 25, 2008 at 2:34 AM

[…] ever interesting Little White Earbuds blog did an interview with the man. Good reading. Check it out. And check the man’s […]

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