LWE Interviews Thomas Melchior

Ease is in. At every turn there’s a new opportunity to make work easier, more convenient, more portable, more inviting, whether through gadgets, software, formats or attitudes. In that regard, Thomas Melchior, a seasoned craftsman of electronic music, has always swam upstream. Diving deeper and more intimately involved with his music over the course of a 20+ year career, Melchior has embraced the challenges of and time required to create something memorable and worthwhile. His music as Ohm helped spark the fusion of trip-hop; as Yoni and Vulva, together with Tim Hutton, he helped contour IDM-period electronica; and realizing the incredible restraint in making a house track, he and Baby Ford reduced house music to its thinnest yet deepest elements as Soul Capsule. Over the last decade Melchior’s hard work yielded a handful of singles and two stunning albums — The Meaning and No Disco Future for Playhouse and Perlon, respectively — wherein he’s proven how dedication to one’s craft can pay off: tunes so well defined and sensuous they glide effortlessly from speakers. I had the chance to go deep with one of minimal electronic music’s true masters, discussing multi-cultural living, the musical course he’s charted and the quandary of simplicity. (interview by Steve Mizek)

What about electronic music drew you away from jazz/funk?

Thomas Melchior: Well I was always interested in electronic music since day one. I thought that electronic music was done with a sequencer, so that interested me — the sequencing, the tightness, the hypnotic tightness, you know?

What did you play in the group?

I played the keyboards, I played a lot of things, singing, just the whole thing, a lot of work.

What about trackier techno/house drew you away from electronica stuff like Yoni and Vulva?

The disco aspect of it didn’t really interest me that much in the beginning, it was more of the experimental side of it [which did]. With time you get more into the dancing kind of thing, you specifically realize that you have to get really into it to do it. You can’t do a house track just like that.

When did the dance side of things click for you? When did you realize it was more interesting for you than the experimental stuff?

After a while, you know. I suppose hanging out with Peter [Adshead], Baby Ford, he was always more into that, so when I started hanging out with him more I saw the beauty of it more and got more into it.

A couple of No Disco Future tracks were written with your Yoni/Vulva partner, Tim Hutton. What was it like working with him again?

Well those tracks were actually old tracks, so we weren’t actually even sitting in the same studio. It was just taking parts of it it and taking it further.

How old do you mean? 1990’s old or more recent than that?

Older, like 2000 or something like that.

Were many of the compositions on No Disco Future done in that style where you were taking bits and pieces from older recordings?

Well, not really really. When you do tracks you always recycle and… it’s kind of the way you do the tracks anyway. You have some bass already, you take it from there and see what comes of it and then morph it until it becomes something else. A lot of tracks work like that. It’s the nature of hypnotic kinds of music, it’s always– there’s so many possibilities, it’s endless.

When you do collaborate with Tim, what does he bring to the sessions that might otherwise not be there?

He’s quite good at melodies. He’s more of a musician in the more traditional sense. Thinking of a good part, you know.

The album was also edited by Zip, and I was curious what that meant for No Disco Future.

Just some tracks were too long and he cut them down and, pretty much that. It’s more cutting down the length of tracks.

Do you tend to let your tracks go longer?

Well, I usually have long takes or many different versions of it and I can’t choose. It could be a track that has one version that’s good, but is too long or something like that, just pick between the versions and do an edit. Quite standard procedure. Definitely did help in sense of making it a whole thing.

Did someone do the same thing for The Meaning?

No, that’s un-edited. It was sort of quick… you can leave it unedited as well. If you edit tracks you can make it more… poppy or whatever. It’s tighter, the whole album length, not too long. It’s just thinking it out basically.

It’s funny you should say that it made it poppier because I personally find No Disco Future to be a darker album. Do you find that to be the case?

It depends where you at as well, psychologically. If comes to you in a time when you’re feeling more like that…. I think The Meaning was a happily hopeful album. Whereas No Disco Future definitely has a… I don’t know. Sometimes it’s more interesting to explore the dark side life, than to just do happy sort of things. And it depends mostly really on the psychology.

Would you say you were in a darker psychological place than when you were making the first album?

Yes… I would say yes. When you do something, the longer you do it… I don’t know, I call it deeper — darker.

Why did you name your album No Disco Future?

Well, I think you can really trip on that name. I think that’s the best thing for everyone to do. I think it’s a provocative statement and it means a lot of things, you know? People used to say there was no future in disco back in the 70’s. And people always say that about electronic music, no future. There’s always that kind of thing from people who do what they call real music.

Are you pessimistic or optimistic about the future of dance music?

No, I wouldn’t say… Sometime it’s just a question of people putting out to much stuff. And it’s about about the mp3 thing as well, which is killing the music.

Would you mind telling me a bit more why you think mp3s are doing that?

There’s something about the sound and that whole way of getting music. It becomes too easy, it becomes a sort of consumer product. Very fast, you can download tracks, bang bang bang, you don’t have to pay much. But for a vinyl record, you have to pay 10 pounds or euros.

Isn’t that a good thing, though? Wouldn’t it be good to get music at a more affordable rate? Just to play devil’s advocate here.

I personally don’t think so. On one hand I’ve got nothing against bootlegging and piracy, I’m not against it. It’s kind of cool, you know, fuck off, anarchy and all that. On the other hand, if you were interested in good music you had to look for it. It’s the journey as well. It’s good to have to hunt after stuff, it creates the excitement and the vibe. People get excited when they find a good track. But if you can just find it, bang bang bang, it takes something out of it, you know? But it’s kind of an old school thing, I always used to collect records. And some records you had to really wait to find and then when you found it you had to pay a lot of money and then you treasure it. It makes things too easy, it just takes the fun out of it a bit.

I understand that No Disco Future was sequenced on a computer, a first for you.

Yeah, on a Mac. Obviously it’s different than if you have an Atari or a G5.

What prompted the switch?

Basically I refused to do it, I didn’t even have [a computer]. I’m kind of old school, and I thought all I needed was a sequencer. Have you used a program like Logic?

Yeah, I’ve seen it.

There’s everything in there, like reverbs and effects and so many things in there. You can do it all on a screen. Whereas before it was more it was more with outboard gear. And it was a quality thing as well. If you do it on Logic you create more of a homogeneous feel, more artificial or something. That all disturbed me in the beginning about it; it’s not something you’re used to, the sound. And then another sound comes along, a digital sound, and it didn’t seem quite as good, or as fat. But after a while you get used to it and you think you might as well try it. Obviously the technology has become a lot better since it started.

Was it something you enjoyed doing and will be doing again?

Yes, and now I love it. (laughs) It’s very addictive. You can do so many things.

The last producer I interviewed was Tobias Freund, and he said he would never touch computers because he thought it was too easy. Earlier in this conversation we talked about things being too easy. Do you think it’s worth forgoing the original feeling of sequencers for the simplicity of Logic or its equivalents?

Yeah, it’s true, it is too easy and that’s not good. But it doesn’t have to be bad, you know? It’s how you use it. If you have an idea it’s alright, but if you don’t have so much of an idea [you should use] the kind of analog. You get to work on the sound, and work more on a really basic level, which is hard — you really have to work on it. 10, 20 years ago it was really hard to do this. You had to have the right gear, the right drum machine to have the right kick, like a 909 or 808. If you didn’t have that, then how would you get your kick. And the kick would be too hard or be too soft. And now it’s very easy to get all the right kicks or hi-hats and bass sound. I think that’s good, really. The old school way is good as well, but…

It made for a very good album. I thought that No Disco Future was on par or better than The Meaning as far as sound quality and sequencing. I did feel it was a bit more rounded, whereas The Meaning was a bit spikier, especially the hi-hats and drums. Was that because of Logic or did you opt for different sounds?

It’s different gear. With The Meaning I was quite excited about the hi-hats, so I wanted to make them quite snappy. But then with time you go, ‘They’re very snappy,’ and you try a sparser approach.

Who or what are you thinking of when you make your tracks? Do you have certain people or setting in mind when you make a track?

It depends on the mood I’m in. I suppose I’m quite… emotional. So I like to be… sort of excited. But it’s not excited like a child… it could be deep or happy or sad. I like to be excited in my sadness as well. I always try to get a sense of something that touches me.

Do you produce more with the club, or the home stereo or the headphones in mind? It’s obviously club music, but it works well with all of those.

When I do the tracks, I monitor them quite low. I like to listen to them low in the mix. I never really crank it up that much. It’s got to get me on a quiet level as well. That’s maybe what it is. I want to listen to the tracks at home and listen to them there.

At the same time, the first time I really “got” No Disco Future was in the car with it pumped up really loud. It took being that loud to pick up all the stuff you were doing. Did you have that in mind?

Yeah, I like subtlety. I like when things are not in your face or too obvious, it disturbs. I like when it has depth in it, you have to look a little bit.

As your career has progressed — or at least in the music I’ve been able to get my hands on — I’ve noticed it’s become thinner and thinner, more condensed and precise. Was that just a gradual thing or was it conscious choice to go down that route?

Yeah. Obviously to bring things to… to make things as simple as possible. I find that really attractive. Also, I think it’s an age thing as well. You settled down a bit and you want to pin [the sound] down, make it more precise. After a while you just get used to it and it’s the way you do it. It’s every producer’s obsession… you know, you become obsessed. And I think obsession usually leads to preciseness.

Where do you look for your vocal samples?

Everywhere. I could be recording your voice right now. I could take it and cut it up, and in the whole conversation there might be one thing that’s remarkable.

Oh man, I would be so honored I would shit myself.

(laughs) Basically I always look for a certain quality, a certain voice that I think is really nice. Or words being read off, if it makes you trip a little bit or puts a sort of mood or vibe. I always look. People used look for a cappellas. It’s an old school sort of thing.

Who sings on “Water Soul”? The credits read M.J. Melchior, so I presume it’s someone you’re related to.

It’s my grandmother. (laughs) It’s was my daughter. She’s very good, she sings in a church choir and loves singing. She doesn’t really do it professionally, but she could I suppose.

Does she aspire to do it professionally?

She’s more of a writer. It’s difficult to make it as a musician.

Have you held other jobs while making music or has music been enough to sustain you?

Yeah, there were times when I… on and off, basically. It was kind of harder in the old days.

I’ve noticed that you’ve been playing live more recently. Have you always DJed and played live?

The DJing is the newer thing. I play live because people want it, I get more requests for that after the albums. I kind of enjoy both. I’ve always been buying records but I’ve never really played out, occasionally maybe.

Do you prefer one or the other?

I like both. The DJing can be more fun at times because you can be more versatile and get to play a bit longer. It depends, though. You get some shitty times as a DJ and you get shitty times playing live.

You’ve lived in the US, the UK, Spain and Germany, and I was curious how living in so many different environments impacted the way you approach music.

I think it keeps you open more, to absorb the culture of every country. There’s something in culture about the music that’s very particular, and if you absorb a lot of that I think it’s good. Because a lot of people have only one vision. In Germany, for example, it’s quite a white culture and in America it’s more of a black culture going on, so you can see there’s a funky attitude that’s different from a German attitude. So you can absorb the best sides of everything. Everyone should do it. (laughs)

Your music career spans a number of decades and a handful of genres. What’s changed most for you?

[inaudible] 20 years ago people wouldn’t think that [electronic music] had any kind of future, like the more minimal stuff, the more simply produced music. There used to be a certain style of music and you had to sound like that and nowadays you can have multiple variations in the structures. It’s more eclectic as well, so it’s broaden in a production sense.

Has how you feel about producing music changed?

With time you get deeper into it. It’s lucky as well, to develop slowly over a long time. Really nothing has changed has changed I suppose, but I’m deeper into it.

Do you feel you still have a lot left to accomplish as a producer?

Well you always think you’re finished, and then you go on.

When do you feel was the most fertile time for techno/house since you’ve been around?

Mmm… 1992. There was a lot of good stuff at that time. The Detroit stuff, the UK scene, Underground Resistance, Prescription, it was the time when things started to minimalize a little bit. It was more possible to take down, chill it out. Of people also got harder at that time, but that stuff started to merge as well. And also all the electronica stuff, like Black Dog and Aphex Twin. That was the golden period. I think it’s still good. Now the last few years have been good as well, it’s good stuff.

Besides your new single coming out on Cadenza, what are you working on now?

I’m supposed to be doing some remixes, which I don’t like doing.

Why not?

I don’t like people telling me, ‘Get on!’ I like to feel really free. That’s why I never really put that many tracks out as well. I really need a long time to decide if that is actually OK or not. You could say, ‘Yeah, it’s great,’ but for me personally…. When you do a remix and you have a deadline, and it’s rushed.

How long does it take you to make a track on average?

Five days?

That’s not too bad.

If I wanted to do just… stuff, it would take me less, but I like to… I really need to get into the mood of the track to take it deeper and deeper and deeper until I find, ‘Yeah, that’s where I want to take it.’

Besides the remixes are you working on any new solo stuff?

Yeah. Anton Cadenza, one of the guys who runs it, he started a sub-label I think it’s called Motiv. So he’s hunting me for a release, so I’ve got one side finished and I’m working on the other now. And trying to avoid the remixes. (laughs)

Will it be another three years until we see another Melchior Productions LP?

Umm…

You should take your time, so no worries if it does. (laughs)

(laughs) Well I’m trying to plan this project of remixes, because I’ve never actually had a remix done of one of my tracks. There’s a lot of people who owe me a remix, so I was thinking of doing a project.

Who were you thinking of?

People who owe me. (laughs) People like Ricardo [Villalobos], Bruno Pronsato, Zip, Pole. Basically all the people I’ve done remixes for and we agreed to a swap, but it never really came to that point.

Is there anyone you’re planning to or would like to collaborate with?

I’d like to a track with Ricardo. We’ve been trying to do it for ages and he’s actually next door from me.

Does he ever sit in on your sessions or you on his?

Yeah, we do, listening sessions. But we haven’t actually done anything yet. But if he’s coming into the studio and you’re working on a track, you haven’t got the time. It’s got to be the right moment. It was a bit like that with Luciano. I think the record turned out well because it was a good moment in both our lives. Basically we were on the same wavelength, you know? Sometimes you have to reach that point where the two waves inter-cut.

littlewhiteearbuds  on August 28, 2008 at 6:54 PM

I’m glad RA’s interview with TM and mine touched on almost completely different subject matter and complement each other well.

Pierre-Nicolas  on August 29, 2008 at 2:36 AM

Very nice ! I’ve made an interview with him last december for a french magazine about No Disco Future. And he still has the same point of view about vinyls, mp3, technology… But he can be very mystic like his songs too ! Nice guy and amazing music. :-)

krul  on August 31, 2008 at 3:23 PM

“People who owe me. (laughs) People like Ricardo [Villalobos], Bruno Pronsato, Zip, Pole. Basically all the people I’ve done remixes for and we agreed to a swap, but it never really came to that point.”

oh please please please let it come to that point…

Elmo  on September 11, 2008 at 6:53 AM

Thanks for the read, enjoyed it :)

barbara  on July 11, 2009 at 10:04 AM

oh my tom melchior, days of portobellord,london and great parties what happened to fergus?

T-BASS ROBOT  on May 29, 2010 at 7:51 AM

… keep on… thank you so much for all the inspiration and support.

mexe, mexe a bunda!

t-bass robot

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