Little White Earbuds Interviews Todd Edwards

Rare is the artist who can credibly claim their music inspired a musical movement; and while New Jersey producer Todd Edwards might not suggest so himself, there are plenty of admirers who would jump at the chance do it for him. His effervescent brand of garage house is the result of a visionary’s ear for making disparate sample sources fit together to create dazzling new melodies — moving mosaics that have influenced producers well beyond the limits of underground dance music. His tracks for i! Records and Nervous and remixes for everyone from St. Germain to Kim English were like a lit match for the U.K. dance music scene’s fuse, setting off an explosion of sample heavy 2-step that’s still smoldering today. Feverish fans even dubbed him Todd “The God,” although as a devout Christian he would likely prefer the title “Man of God.” His faith has certainly colored and informed his music, often in the form of positive, sometimes even praise-styled lyrics. But what might seem like a risky move for music geared towards a largely secular community only further distinguishes Edwards as an artist who believes completely in the messages laced throughout his work and has the guts to be forthcoming about it. After a few years spent on the sidelines, Todd Edwards is back with a raft of new tunes, remixes, and finally a legitimate way to procure his hard to find back catalog. He was kind enough to talk with me via phone about his methods, his message, and the Almighty in his life.

Let’s start with the basics: how did you get into the dance music scene?

Todd Edwards: My friend Rich Criso, who went under a couple different names — Filthy Rich, Richard the Cris — he was into dance music at the time. We both started off in high school, he liked to DJ then. I was more into making cheesy pop stuff when I was younger (laughs) and I always wrote about situations, girlfriends and whatnot. By senior year he kinda turned me on to his record collection. He had a lot of Todd Terry — I really didn’t know who Todd Terry was until he played him for me. I had heard his stuff in the clubs but I’d never really followed dance music that much. I figured — I guess it was kind of a cliche thought process — but that dance music was easy to make and it seemed like a good place to start. And when you’re younger, the only thing you’re looking to do is, ‘Oh, I want to see my name on a record label.’ He let me borrow his record collection, and I sat there and converted a lot of his record collection onto cassette tape and just listened to dance music for two to three years straight — house music, house music, house music: Todd Terry, Roger S., Masters at Work, all the big names at the time that were NY-based, MK. I was going to college and I listened to it non-stop, just learned the beats, learned everything about it, and in the meantime I was starting to produce but I didn’t really establish a sound for the first couple years. So you figure from ’90 to ’92 was the starting time.

So was the first record you released at all close to the sound you would go on to develop?

Actually no, it was actually nothing like it. The first thing I ever did was a remix; it was this Italian singer named Marisha Jones and the track was called “Come to Me.” I did a Steve “Silk” Hurley-style remix because around ’91-92 that was big and I emulated it for that track. Very poppy, but it was very funny that I’m doing a remix and I’m a nobody. Usually when you do a remix people know who you are first. What happened at that point is, the other remixer that this guy I was working with wanted to get was James Bratton, who ran 111 East Records. He produced a track for Sybil, who did a remake called “Don’t Make Me Over.” It had the Soul II Soul-type beats to it — when Soul II Soul came out they took over with their drum patterning — and he took that idea and put it under the Sybil track and became known for that. James Bratton also had Kerri Chandler for a very small amount of time on his label. So I caught the tail end of 111 East Records, I basically went to that label because it seemed like there were possibilities there. I let him hear some of my earlier work even before the remix and he thought I had talent and wanted me to join their 111 East family, which I did.

I released a couple singles on there, The Todd Edwards Project “Jump” and “Part 2.” Nothing came of it; again, I was in the rough stages of developing a style. I did learn on the label. James Bratton had suggested to me, ‘Why don’t you try sampling drum sounds?’ because I was just using drum machines, like old Yamaha drum machines, synthetic drums. So I started sampling drum sounds, and it definitely improved the quality of the tracks (chuckles). I was this young 19 to 20-year-old just stumbling around, just feeling my way through it. Because I really couldn’t afford to have a lot of musical equipment, I had an Ensoniq EPS sampler, I had a Juno 106 for synth sounds and bass lines, and a Yamaha drum machine, but I didn’t have any keyboard equipment so I really had to start relying on what I had, which was the sampler. I started to do a lot of sampling, even on those first couple projects there were more samples than there was keyboard playing. The style started to develop in which — I don’t know if you know it or not, I’ve a said it before — I was really trying to emulate Masters at Work, MK. [The sampler] didn’t have a lot of sample memory; I literally had to sample records that were 33 RPM by speeding them up to 45 so I could save sampling time, which also gave to the raw sound of the tracks. And really the earlier samplers did not have — even if they were sampling at the normal rate they did not replicate it very well. I think it contributed to the raw sound I had at the time.

When you’re working on a track or remix, do you generally spend a lot of time pulling samples first or as you’re working on saying, ‘I need this, I need this’?

When I first started making music I would sample as I go to make tracks, and it was very time consuming. It would be about two to three weeks to do one track, it was a very slow process. As I started to make some money off it and bought more equipment and had better samplers and whatnot, I was able to start building libraries. I put a sample on each key, and it’s almost as if I’m working with sample banks; each bank has a minimum of 25 samples and I’ll sample up eight to twelve banks. It’s almost as if having all your instruments at your finger tips. The track will develop based on what I sampled. I kinda go through phases: I might be craving samples from orchestra-based soundtrack music, lately I’ve been sampling from kind of New Age-type stuff. It just adds to the textures of whatever I’m remixing at the time. I might sample random voices like chorus-based voices. I guess if you were to listen to the remixes in chronological order, and even tracks, you’d see the groups of tracks that have similar feels to them based on what I was sampling at the time.

Did you re-use samples very much?

I sometimes do, not a lot. A, I don’t enjoy doing it. B, It’s hard once you use a sample to have a fresh perspective on it. I’ll find myself maybe going back and using a sample, say, if I’m doing a track or remix and I’ve gone through all the banks and I’m still not finding the right sample, I might, instead of going back to the drawing board and sampling more, just go through old banks to see if I can find samples. Even though I have all these sample banks I haven’t used every single sample in those banks. Sometimes you might sample something that sounds good at the time but once you start trying to use it it never seems to fit. You never know — I might use it years down the line. It’s kind of funny because I reused a couple samples for a remix I did for Surkin’s “Next of Kin,” just a couple small samples I did for Roy Davis Jr., and some of the U.K. kids picked up on it, and I’m like, ‘How the heck?’ You’ve got to have a good ear, because if I thought it was passable, I wouldn’t want you to say, ‘Oh, he’s using the same things over and over,’ even though it’s OK to use piano a hundred times in a track. When you notice a sample it seems almost like you’re being lazy or something, and I don’t want that reputation.

How much do you alter the samples before using them? Besides, of course, paring them down for where you need them in the track.

The thing that I’ve found when altering samples is that usually it’s pitch adjustment. If something’s in the key of D or you need something in a D and it’s three notes down, you have to move it up. A lot of times what prevents me from using a sample is, once you start getting into six notes — the difference between where you start, say if it’s in C and you’re going up to a G or something — the sample becomes almost useless because either the pitch changes so much it becomes almost like a chipmunk-type thing or too slow and it just ruins the texture of the sample. You have to work within a range of moving it up and down. If the vocal’s singing something, I’m usually attracted to certain syllables, certain textures of voices. If it’s a sound it might just be a certain chord progression, it could be the way a few sounds are layered. Aside from cutting it down it’s where I might start the sample, if you want to make it choppy sounding or very abrupt, just like with synthesizers with attack and delay and stuff like that. If you want everything to sound abrupt you have to get it within the middle of the sample instead of the beginning of it.

Your tracks are notable for often forming different phrases with vocals that said something else. I was curious what about that practice intrigued you? I also feel there is a power in being able to reshape someone else’s vocals to say something new, and I was wondering if you got this sense too, that you could really control the message of a song by reshaping other people’s words?

Yeah, definitely. First, following MK and the way he used syllables and stuff, I was intrigued by that. Second of all, my faith always played an important part in my music, even from the beginning before I realized what I was trying to do, establishing what I felt convicted to do. As I started moving on, I started finding words I could use to put little messages, usually just positive messages about what God can do for you as far as giving you peace — a loving message for people. It was there and I tried not to make it too overt but it’s there if you want it. The power you mentioned comes into play when you can — it’s an artform because you can literally start messing around with actual letters, you can change words. You can add an “s” to something, you can, and it’s a bad example, but if you had the word “tar” (laughs) you can add an “s” sound and make it “star” or take off the “t” and add a “cuh” sound and it’s “car,” you know what I mean? You can really break it down. If you listen to The Ride Committee and the track “Accident” it had Roxy talking about a (laughs) “committing a murder” type of thing and making it look like an accident, so I just cut these words down and made it say, ‘You are accident.’ I figure this is how, if you wanted to manipulate what people say, the FBI would (laughs). I’m sure they mess with things in a greater extent than what I’m doing with a sampler, you know?

You talked a little bit about your faith a moment ago, and I was wondering if the religious messages are more for you, you’re doing it for yourself, or if you’re looking — not to proselytize necessarily, but to appeal to listeners? Whether you’re pushing out or pulling in, if that makes sense.

I think it’s a little bit of both. Let’s put it this way: The doing it for myself part isn’t direct, it’s indirect, because I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life and I’m just going to be totally, blatantly honest with you. I prayed a lot. I’m like, ‘Look, I need help, I need a purpose here on this planet.’ Because when you go through enough ups and downs it just gets to the point where you’re like, ‘OK, what am I doing here?’ It might sound ridiculous, but I’m sure every artist who over analyzes or their mind races 100 miles-per-hour deals with that philosophical question, ‘Why am I here? And there’s a lot of misery here, what am I supposed to be doing here?’ People go out and wreck themselves just to have every physical sensation, everything you can possibly do to fill yourself to find purpose, and I’m just like, ‘Enough. I need a purpose, gimme purpose.’ And that was even after I started doing the messages. I felt compelled to put these positive messages in, and I guess part of it was, I felt thankful because I was starting to develop. Even in the beginning little positive things happened, things that were always too coincidental to be coincidence to me. Even when I was doing the tracks for Nervous I did a track called “End This Hate,” which dealt with ending hatred. It didn’t say anything about God, but it still was a positive message.

As far as doing it for me, I feel I have a gift, and I think any Christian who has a love for God, you’re trying to glorify God with that gift. So you do feel good when you have that connection. I’m not trying to put myself on any type of pedestal — in other words, the focus isn’t supposed to be on me with the messages. I’ve gotten a lot out of my relationship with God. A lot of people have a negative viewpoint on God, a lot of people have forced it down their throat and have negative feelings about that. I have had really good experiences and I’m trying to share that and say, ‘Hey, God did this for me and he can do it for you,’ because who am I that he would do anything more for me than he would do for you? I would say it’s more of an outward thing and the only inward thing is just having that connection to God in there. I do feel something when I’m making something, when I do put a message in, when I am doing it right, there’s something powerful that goes on — I’m moved by it. Not to sound cheesy or anything, I don’t know how it comes off when you’re not in my shoes, but I can get choked up, I can get this overwhelming sensation. It’s very powerful because it’s almost like the focus is not on me, it’s on something greater than me. It’s just when you hit it, it’s supposed to happen. That’s the best I can explain it.

What has been the reaction from your peers and fans to some of your more overtly religious tracks?

I haven’t really sought out what people say about it. As far as the fan base, from the genuine fans, I’m usually met positively about it. I’m genuine about it, I’m not trying to pose as some Christian artist. I’m respected within a secular market. There was this episode of “The Simpsons” where Bart Simpson was talking to his father and says, ‘Come on, Dad, you know all the best rock groups are associated with Satan.’ (laughs) It was funny, but I think in my life I’ve felt God was boring and was always related to, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that,’ and that’s boring. It was never associated with a positive thing, it would always deprive you from joy, and it’s not the case. So I felt even more convicted, when I really did develop some success, to say, ‘This is where that ability came from, this isn’t something I was able to do on my own — I didn’t make me.’ My parents had me but they didn’t make me, they didn’t say we’re going to give him this ability or whatever. I feel something inside, I know it’s coming from a positive place.

I’m into God and I want people to know God isn’t this boring person, there’s a beautiful thing coming out of this. Some people have mentioned, ‘Do you think your success has been encumbered by the fact you’ve been overtly Godly-based?’ And if that’s the case, I don’t care. I’d rather do what I feel convicted to do and have less success but reach the audience or hit the marks I’m supposed to be hitting than to have success and just have it be a more self-absorbed type of thing. I think the best thing is to have a balance between being able to earn a living and to do what you love to do and feel good inside about it. I currently am doing that now.

Along the same lines, being both an outspoken Christian artist and an underground dance music producer seems like a recipe for staying off the radar. Have you ever felt pressure to temper your instincts, your feelings, for the circumstances or audiences you were playing to?

Right now one of the tracks that’s getting buzz but has not yet been released, I did a track for my gig when I went to England last year, it’s called “No Place Like London” and it’s getting a lot of hype all over the place. I honestly did the track in a day or two, no overt messages about God at all, I was just doing it to say thanks to the English people who’ve always been so open-armed with having me over — it was just an appreciative track. My strategy or the way I feel about it is this: I have multiple sides. I don’t sit there and say every track has to be about God or overtly have a message. The music itself, even without words, will speak God. If you hear beauty in something it doesn’t have to be that way all the time. I’m the last person who’s going to be legalistic about it.

There’s a lot of hurting people, including myself. It’s almost as if I’m saying, ‘Here, you have a headache. I took this and it really helped. It might help you, it might not.’ I haven’t had thousands of fans write me back but I have had a couple who said, ‘I found God through listening to this and it’s really helped me, thank you.’ I don’t care about the credit, but if I’m pointing someone in a positive direction that’s good. The one thing I can say, though, is I think a lot of people who make Christian music, the message is the focus and the music comes secondary and I don’t believe in that. If that’s how it’s coming off, that wouldn’t be something I’d want to happen. The music has got to speak God before the words speak God. If the music doesn’t shine then the message isn’t going to shine. The message can only shine if you say, ‘This track is phat,’ and then you hear a message about it and go, ‘Wow.’ The only thing I wouldn’t do is just change to make more money. I think projects will come up where it’s not about a godly message or even a remix or something. There are a lot of tracks with messages that aren’t the most positive things but A. we’re earning a living, B. this is the reality, this is the world, this is what you have to do. I’m not here to sell out, I’m not here to be legalistic about it either. I’m trying to make good music, trying to make something positive and earn a living trying to do it.

When you’re working on a remix do you ever feel hesitant to put more God-oriented messages into them? I ask because, even knowing you, some people might not expect that sort of thing in their track.

My process of even remixing has changed over the years with that. When I was in my 20’s I went through a lot of ups and downs, and I had some pretty miraculous things happen to me that made me pretty outspoken musically about it. And honestly, I think every Christian goes through this period of just, you want to shout stuff from the mountaintops. Once you get past that initial rush you kinda calm down (chuckles). I’ve even read about it, that’s how I know it’s not just me. People go through this cycle and then you mature.

Even with what I’ve been doing lately I’ve done a couple of remixes where I’ve done a vocal dub and I haven’t put any godly messages in it. And I pray about things when I’m working on them and I felt, A. I have nothing to prove, everyone knows who I am and what I believe in, B. unless I feel a conviction to do it, unless something’s moving in my heart that says ‘You should do this’ or it’s so obvious to do it, I won’t do it. It’s almost like you go through phases. I did what I did in the 90’s and the early aughts, now if I hear a track and some words in the vocals spawn something that make me say, ‘Oh, I hear a message I want to portray,’ I wouldn’t be afraid to do it because I was afraid of what they would think. You’re doing a vocal mix, you’re doing a dub, it’s not very often you’re contracted just for a remix; so anything extra they’re either going to put it out or not put it out, that’s their decision.

I would never alter a vocal mix to put a message that wasn’t initially in that song, I try to respect the artist’s vision. Even the way I did remixes in my 20’s, I almost put the vocal secondary and did what I wanted to do first and fit the vocals around the music. I think as I matured I tried to be more respectful of the artist and keep the vocals as close to the original as possible and make the music around the vocals, which can be more difficult at times. If it was my song, I’d want them to make the vocals shine, not just take over the remix. It’s very hard. Each remix brings up a different vibe to it.

Although garage and your music certainly had their own audience in the U.S., it seems it was embraced much more enthusiastically in the U.K.. I’m curious how you found out about your U.K. fan base, and what you felt when you realized your music was having such an impact, not just with dancers but with producers who went on to make their own garage music?

I think it was surreal. It was complicated for me because I had a lot of stuff I was dealing with when I first started, and I was dealing with — I’m 36 now — and at the time I was an insecure 20something kinda kid, literally a kid more than a man. Even with success there were insecurities and stuff. This sound caught on, and when I first started to hear about it I was dealing with i! Records, and I was letting the guy who owned i! Records manage me and work would come in. There was this whole thing that blew up based on my sound and a few others like Armand Van Helden and Tuff Jam. DJ Camacho, who DJed in New York at the time, was telling me he’d go out to Italy and England and that they loved it. Once you started getting major label attention you know you’ve arrived at something; however, I didn’t really DJ at the time, so even with remixes coming in and stuff, it still was surreal. I have to be honest; people would say, ‘We love you, da da da,’ but it wasn’t until 2003 when I went out to DJ for one of DJ EZ’s “4x4s” [gigs], and the reaction and response I got — I finally connected on a visual level with the audience instead of just through blogs or forums, or the fact that I was getting work. You need to have a connection with people one-on-one or with groups to really feel it, and it was an amazing, amazing experience. I think a lot of people who do DJ probably get that early on, but for me it was kind of late, to be honest, past the time when ever garage was as big as it was, you know what I mean?

Why do you think the U..K ended up being so much more receptive to your style than the bulk of the U.S.?

That’s a good question, I really don’t know. I think it was the way I was marketed; I didn’t DJ, so if you’re not making your way around, you’re not really promoting yourself, and who knows? Maybe it’s just the way it was meant to be. It’s kind of funny, because even just seeing Internet movement and stuff, with things like Myspace (which is kind of like a been-there-done-that thing), checking out the audience base of who’s checking out my site, it’s like I have a smaller U.S. base but more U.S. people have been checking it out, more and more. So I look at it as still room for growth. People might know [my music] very well, but there’s a lot of people who don’t know the music. What you gotta realize too is that a lot of the work I was doing, as far as remixes are concerned, were coming from major label divisions in the U.K. instead of the U.S. Second, the label that I was on, i! Records, didn’t have massive distribution, and when they did the distribution was gearing my records towards the U.K. If you’re not promoting it and putting it in people’s faces, how long does it take for something to catch on? I didn’t set out to have the impact that I did, I just wanted to be recognized when you put on my record. There’s no perfect formula for success when it comes to it, you just gotta have faith and do what you feel in your heart, and if it works it works. How many people have made great music but never became successful at all?

Along those lines, garage and specifically the cut-up style of your vocals and your segmentation of music, is making a comeback in the UK, and it seems like this has had a lot more people re-examining your music, especially within the last year or two. I was curious what it felt like to have people looking back on your music as sort of the cornerstone to a sound? To know how much influence you’re having, not just when garage was at it’s peak but now in its new resurgent, mutant garage sort of sound?

For two years I was a little bit on hiatus. I left i! Records, and with the change and the shift in the industry, there were a lot of labels that fell off, distributors that fell off, record stores that fell off — a lot of things went down, and it was time to move on. And I needed to regroup. So I only did a few projects here and there, got my income from other sources as well, and I just needed time. And then in two years, I did a few projects. From those few projects I landed doing stuff for Scion, which was amazing. A lot of these little things were just way too coincidental to be coincidence. It got to the point where I’m like, ‘Okay, you’ve got money,’ it was almost like investing in a small business. You have your capital, you’re getting work, but you need to be able to make the time to venture out and really go full force again. And I prayed a lot about it, and it took two years to get to the point where I was at, it was like a spiritual growth period. When you hit those turbulent times, you’re either gonna grow from the experience or you’re gonna get bitter by the experience, and me, it helped discipline me and like, grow me up — it was almost like boot camp. I needed to grow up in a lot of ways, and I needed to be able to handle my music business better, I needed to like handle my personal business better, it was just a lot of inner spiritual growth.

At the end of two years, I was ready to say, ‘OK, it’s time to jump back into making music full force as hard as I can go.’ Just hearing the words out of your mouth that there’s been a resurgence, it’s not like I’m sitting here following — I don’t have the time — it’s just either that you’re making music or you’re doing whatever you can do to get through and paying the bills. I’m getting emails from from DJ’s saying, can you make the time to do this, and I’m not even promoting myself — these are things that are happening. I didn’t do anything different than I’d been doing (laughs), aside from taking on a few projects here and there, so you tell me: When you ask what does it make me feel to be the cornerstone of it, I’m thinking, ‘God’s telling me it’s time to get back out there, and to go full force.’ A resurgence to me, that’s pretty damn coincidental, ’cause I didn’t decide to do this two years ago, I’m deciding to do it now at this time of resurgence, and I’m putting myself out there tremendously. I’ve got a download site I’m trying to put up to sell and to give away music, new management, a revamp of everything, and putting myself out there to DJ as much as possible as well. I just can’t feel better about it, just hearing those words out of your mouth about the resurgence, I just feel very blessed and excited, and inspired.

I know you were saying you don’t have a lot of time to keep up with what people think of you or what’s going on in U.K. dance music, but I heard you’re playing at Fabric as part of a UK dance night more than a house/techno thing. Do you have any expectations for what it’s going to be like knowing that you’re in the mix again?

When I go out and spin, I usually spin what I do, my own material, and it all depends on what they’re going out there for. I’m more curious as to the response when I DJ in the U.S. than the U.K. When I’m in the U.K, I don’t come out that often, it’s not like I’m doing a residency there, so usually the response is good, they expect to hear what I do. I don’t go in with any set expectations, I go in to play the best I can and to connect with the audience, see what they’re vibing off of — what any DJ would do. The other thing is, it’s a way to keep showcasing new music. I would really prefer — the more I DJ the more I so much want to start doing more of a live show, performing. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, it’s just a matter of integrating it into playing out. I’ve done it once before, but I would really like to take time and develop that more.

Some people could say, ‘The cutup style, that’s his thing, it’s been done already.’ I didn’t set out to say ‘I’m going to do U.K. garage,’ I just do what I do; and I’m not abandoning sampling, my sound has changed based on things I experiment with. But I don’t like the concept of chasing after other sounds, I prefer to fit into what’s going on. A lot of people go under pseudonyms, different styles, to make more money off it. People want music for free these days, so to start a different style or to jump into something else just doesn’t seem lucrative or logical at this point. If I’m going to experiment, I’d rather experiment under the Todd Edwards name and take a shot with it. But I’m still sampling and people still want to hear the samples, and if it comes to the point where they don’t want that anymore, that’s when I’ll have to make that decision to go off in a different direction.

When I hear you talk about this now I think about a YouTube video from 2004 where you’re speaking in a U.K. record shop [Todd: Yeah, City Sounds, I remember that], but you’re speaking very thoughtfully about the business side of the music industry and I was wondering if that was just a consequence of having to watch out for yourself, or if you’ve always approached music with business savvy?

I don’t think I have too much business savvy (laughs), I appreciate you even alluding to that. My ex-manager was business savvy, he ran i! Records, so I might have picked up things here and there. I do have a degree in marketing, so I guess I have some vague business knowledge. I think the struggle as an artist is that, the true artist just wants to make music and have a connection with an audience, the perfect mix of doing something exactly the way you wanna do it and have the audience love it for exactly the way you wanna do it. Unfortunately that’s not the way audiences work, and it’s hard to always pinpoint the way audiences work. If you follow pop music you see, they just force it down your throat until you accept it. I know that people follow trends and that people start to move; just like with food, tastes change, but there are people at the helm putting stuff out there, pushing and marketing it to get you to like it, so I would assume it’s gotta really not hit the audience at all for it to be passed over. As an artist, you do just wanna focus on the craft, but I also don’t wanna be naive or ignorant to the fact that tastes do change and that people do want to hear new things. So I’m trying to be realistic about it, that’s all.

You were talking about your hiatus period and your split with i! Records, and I was just wondering, I found your music a little difficult to get my hands on. I know I can find some of it on Beatport and a couple other digital outlets, but otherwise it’s been somewhat inaccessible; and you were talking about how you had a lot more distribution in the U.K. I was just curious why it’s been so difficult to get my hands on, for example, your Odyssey album which goes for $45 on Amazon?

The only thing I could say about why it’s so hard to get your hands on Odyssey, and believe me you’re not the first, that would have to do with i! Records. i! Records really is my ex-manager’s label and he really was in control of that end and the decisions he made reflect where he’s at on the business end and what he wants to do. I haven’t really been in contact with i! Records, but the goal is to get that out there. The bottom line is, the music is very important, I’d rather almost give it away than to – I would rather have people to have it in their possession for free rather than to have them not be able to get their hands on it. Hopefully over this year we’ll get that squared away, but I don’t really have any control over the actual distribution of the work. But you can quote me on saying I will, with all my power, to the best of my ability, get the material that’s been in the past out to the audience. If not free, at a reasonable price. (laughs)

I was going to ask if there were officially plans to collect some of your music in a way that wasn’t shady. I remember in that interview I mentioned you were talking about how Nervous Records collected a bunch of your tracks without even really asking. So is there an official, fully-sanctioned way in which we were gonna be able to get our hands on some Todd Edwards hotness?

Without going into any detail about it — let’s just say I’ve talked to the right people to put things in the works to do that, and I will do everything in my power to get that out there. I have a lot of plans for 2010 and that’s on the top of the list and it’s high on the lists of people I’m talking to as well. I don’t take my fans for granted, and if I have to go into my personal collection to get it for them, I’ll will do just that. I’m going to make my presence very well known in 2010 via DJing. I don’t want there to be any question again, or to hear anyone say, ‘I didn’t know he was still making music’ — that’s unacceptable. Even if it’s not true, if the perception is there? It’s not like that in the U.K. but there’s room for improvement in it in the U.S., and that just goes to show there’s not enough getting out there in the U.S. In the U.K. I think they’ve covered a lot of the right people promoting it out there.

You’re extensively sampled your own voice, and the voices of countless other people, but on Odyssey, at least based on the credits, I see that you settled on a smaller handful of vocalists. I was wondering if you were developing towards focusing on the work of a couple people as opposed to grabbing at samples to put together the sound that you’re looking for.

Well first off, part of having a good team around you is seeking out vocalists for you. I didn’t have a lot of access to that when I made Odyssey, and to be honest with you? (laughs) All those names are fake names. That whole album was sung by me. The whole album.

You’re kidding me!

Nope.

That’s incredible. Did you have to spend a lot of time just processing your vocals to get them to sound that way?

Well first of all, I’m good at doing impersonations, so that helps. There’s a track “Through the Pain” where I always did a Michael McDonald from the Doobie Brothers impersonation. The second track, “Next To You,” was written for Bjork’s vocals so I did a Bjork impression, but because my vocals couldn’t go high enough I literally bought a helium tank and some balloons and sat in my vocal booth and kinda sucked helium and sang it as well as I could — plus Auto-Tune and couple of plug-ins that didn’t hurt to have around. I have a pretty good falsetto, so with “Like A Fire” and stuff, I was able to sing that. There’s another track called “The Journey,” which I basically tried to sing almost in a soulful way — try to envision the big black woman in the vocal booth — by altering my voice. Between that, Auto-tune, and doing a billion takes, cutting up each take to make it perfect, or at least as perfect as I could. Thus came Odyssey, and I’d say it’s probably the most personal work I’ve ever done.

Bearing that in mind, it throws off the question I was gonna ask but I’m still curious: Are you going to or have any desire to start collaborating with vocalists on future tunes?

You have no idea. Singing all that on Odyssey — I guess I have a vision of what I want something to sound like, and it’s easier to do the voice if I can do it. But I don’t like editing my own voice, no one likes hearing their own voice no matter how much you alter it, so it’s extremely difficult to work that. I would love to work with as many vocalists as I can. I don’t mind singing, but I prefer to work with other vocalists. I have a new management team, hopefully different collaborations will spawn from that. It’s a matter of getting in the studio. A lot of things are going on right now, so I’m not able to tackle every single thing I want to tackle, but I do have a couple of people who I know that I like their voices, but I welcome any collaboration. Obviously I love to do female vocals, I would love to do a remix for Bjork, Imogen Heap; I just love a good vocal texture. Unique vocal textures make for great sampling, and I vibe off uniqueness like that. You have a lot of different R&B singers, and I have a lot of respect for them, but when you have a really unique sounding voice that can be manipulated and cut up, it’s a lot of fun.

When I was preparing for this interview I was just listening to track after track of yours — and I want to make this quite clear, I wouldn’t want to say this wrong the wrong way — I felt at some points I could get a sense of what you were going to do next, there was going to be certain clusters of sounds, in certain sort of places within the track structure. And it wasn’t necessarily formulaic, but it was the idea that I had an idea of where you were going to go, especially with remixes. I was wondering have you found it difficult to avoid becoming formulaic when you have such a signature sound?

Absolutely. I’ll be the first to say it, absolutely. It’s very difficult. First of all, music can be somewhat formulaic, obviously. You know one of my influences is Enya, and she has a formula for her music and people keep buying millions of copies, so it’s a good thing on that level when you’re only putting out an album once every two years. When you’re making dance music music and putting out hundreds upon hundreds of releases, forget about even the formula. See, this is the thing: making a cut-up track, at least the way I’ve been doing it, is different than working on a regular track ’cause you’re not just layering layers of piano. I’m actually working from left to right — you’re filling gaps, it’s like you’re putting together puzzle pieces. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of room for experimentation, but experimentation takes time, and when there’s deadlines you can only do so much experimentation. Say if I got a remix in where they said, ‘Knock yourself out, take as long as you want,’ it’d be great to sit there and take months to come up with new innovative ideas that could work or not work. But when they want it in a couple of weeks or a month or whatever the case may be and you have to DJ and work on other things as well, at times you don’t have the time to sit there and create a masterpiece. You are doing the best you can to make great music, and if it comes to sound like, ‘Oh it reminds me of this one,’ you can’t really do anything about it, it’s part of the business.

That being said, the other element of being caught in a formula is thinking outside of the box. I think the more you do something, the more you get used to something, you literally have to go against the grain of what you’ve done. And sometimes it might even sound foreign. I’ve literally been able to make new ground by not saying, ‘Oh, I don’t like the sound of that,’ and just going with something I’m not 100% sure on and having the confidence to go forward in making the track, regardless. When you feel unsafe in something it’s when you’re breaking new ground, and it’s difficult sometimes to come out of your safe zone. But I’m aware of it, I don’t want to be just on repeat. Let’s just say we’re looking at the formula of sampling, but there are other things, which are chord progressions. Chord progressions in the sense that, if you hear a song on the radio and there’s a chord progression, I could be listening to that and say, ‘Well, this other band had a song with this same chord progression,’ maybe just in a different key, and that gets hard. The more music you do, the chances are you’re going to repeat yourself. I’ll be working on a track and do a chord progression and think, ‘I like the way that sounds but, something about it sounds similar, where have I heard that before?’ I might be almost done with the track and then all of a sudden it’ll be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I did that in this track, maybe ten years ago.’ And you’re playing the odds that if you can pick up in it even in a different key, hopefully someone else might not be so apt to be judgmental about it. The last thing I want to do is repeat myself — no artist just wants to be a mass producer.

Is it ever tempting to to just reach for a classic Todd Edwards sound?

That falls under the deadline thing, you can only do so much in a short period of time. This is where the business end comes into it, because if a label is putting out money for what you’re doing, they have a deadline, they’re not gonna wanna hear that you said, ‘This sounds too much like this.’ They just want you to put the material out, so you’re stuck doing that. Not everything’s gonna be a masterpiece. I had a mentor say, ‘Don’t focus on making great music, focus on making good music.’ That kinda takes the pressure off. (laughs) I think great music comes when you’re the most relaxed and you just hit the right element. I do not like sitting down and doing a remix and feeling just okay about it. I want everything I do to move me, and that’s not always the case. It becomes chaotic because there are plenty of things I’ve done I thought were just brilliant and get a very average response, and then there are other things I think are mediocre that get a tremendous response. There is no rhyme or reason to the way people look at things. At the risk of sounding extremely cliche, if your heart’s in the right place and you just keep trying to do the right thing, you can’t ask for much more from yourself, you have to keep trying to plug away and do it.

I don’t know if you checked it out, but I did a remix for Appalooza on Kitsune records called “The Day We Fell In Love.” Now if you listen to that and you listen to some of my other stuff, you’re gonna be like there’s elements of the cutup style here, but I went for a different approach and I thought they’re really either gonna love this stuff or they’re gonna hate it, because it’s much different from what I’ve done. But I caught a vibe, and I thought, ‘I’m just gonna go with it.’ That was an example of thinking outside the box, taking the chance. With more time to work now and to just push full forward, if I want to experiment a little and if things don’t go over as well, you can recover better. If you’re only doing a few projects a year and one or two of them doesn’t turn out too well, you’re gonna have more riding on that than if you’re putting stuff out every month and a couple things don’t go over that well.

I know you’ve shown interest in soundtracks and scores, and I was wondering if you had experimented with making music that falls outside of the dance continuum.

I have done one thing for my friend who as a hobby does Christian music, and I did a piece for his album — it’s not even for sale he just gives them out. I had done a synthetic orchestra piece using keyboard equipment. I haven’t done anything recently of an orchestral nature. I have to say, if you were financially well off, you could just sit around and do whatever the heck you want, you didn’t worry about the daily bills and everything else. I have ideas I would like to get to, but you have to put things in priority first and part of it is, you have a certain amount of success before you can go off and do whatever the heck you want. It’s not that I haven’t had success, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m just free to spend my days… I haven’t gotten my Grammy just yet. (laughing) It’s dance music.

Your ratio of remixes to original releases, I believe, skews heavily toward remixes, and I was curious how that ended up being the case and if that’s just something that’s appealed to you, or if it’s just the nature of the business?

It’s not complicated; I believe I could sum it up very easily. It could be partially the nature of the business, but I think what it comes down to is this: You’re getting remixes coming in, I don’t know how other people go about it, but especially early on around 2000, 2001, 2002, you get paid excessive amounts of money to do remixes because you’re giving them a lot of mixes. And I would literally do three to four individual style mixes for a remix. It’s not like you’re just taking the music from the vocal and doing a dub and doing multiple dubs off that. So if you get five remixes in a row and multiply that times four mixes, that’s more than an album’s worth of material right there. When I’m working on remixes I’m giving the same amount of time, high pay low pay, original material or not, I give 110% effort into it like it’s a work of art I’m trying to make. Now working on remix after remix after remix you get tapped out, and you do need to take a break. I never had a structure, I was very irresponsible with my time, very undisciplined with my time, and I never knew how to just take a break from things. After awhile it’s like wringing the last bit of water out of a sponge, your creative juices — you spill all your creative energy and you have to replenish that and do that properly, taking a vacation or exercise or something like that. I never did that properly. Just keep pushing and pushing and pushing. So after I got done with a slew of remixes and things slowed down, I didn’t wanna work. I did a lot of things but I also wasted a lot of time, and I have no one but myself to blame for that. I think if I had utilized my time properly, if I had known what I was doing in my twenties, I could have had a lot more vocal albums out, a lot more original material out. Some of us have success sort of thrown into ours laps to a certain extent, because although I work very hard — I guess it was almost the immature side of me, I wasn’t ready to deal with it in a business sense. And when you’re dealing with a lot of ups and downs, you’re not always looking at everything from the most logical standpoint. I guess it was a long way for a short answer? I’ve learned a lot through the whole process too. What I’ve learned from the past is, I still put 110% effort into my remixes; I might not do four mixes now, but original material is extremely important to me, so hopefully that is the focus. And God willing, time will allow me to do that. Remix work is always synonymous with quick pay, and you’re not gonna turn down money when people are throwing it at you. So hopefully DJing does the same thing but takes up less time and less creative energy, hopefully that will take over and I can focus more on making more original material.

Just to wrap up, give us sort of an overview of what 2010 is looking like?

Hopefully I’m gonna have a personal download site where I can give away some of my back catalog that people aren’t able to get their hands on. Even on my Facebook, I’ll ask what people are looking for. I have a couple of releases coming out on DJ EZ’s label. He’s on Kiss FM and he’s one of my biggest supporters in the U.K. I’m releasing an original track on Scion AV that’s due out in January with remixes by Feadz, MJ Cole, Joy Orbison, and also My Dear Disco. I would definitely check them out, I’ve developed a good relationship with them; I just stumbled across their work and they are just a great electronic band that sounds phenomenal live. I’m looking at probably doing some collaborations with them. I’m presently doing a remix for Capitol Records for a U.K. R&B singer VV Brown that should be out in January or February. The project I’m doing for Scion is a song I wrote and performed called “I Might Be…” that’s due out in January; they’re gonna work out some sort of tour to promote that. I’m at Fabric in January. There are some things that are not exactly in stone, but we’re discussing an Australian tour and more gigs hopefully within the upcoming months.

I’m excited to hear and see all of this in action, especially this download site. Are you partnering with someone else or something you took upon yourself?

This is an experiment. You’re dealing with different download sites, you can only know what they’re doing through business practices and honesty. I wanted to be able to monitor the downloads and see what people are willing to buy and what they want for free, just to have an online record label/store. Don’t get me wrong, I’m probably going to be putting stuff out on different download sites, but I wanted to cut out the middle man and see what I can do for myself and make it fun again. That’s something that kind of got lost in the shuffle is that music began to be very not fun, very business oriented. And with the change in the scene and piracy, you couldn’t makes as much money making music. There was a struggle, there was a lot of frustration and suffering and not boredom, but it took the enjoyment out of it. I’m loving making music again — and it should’ve way been this the whole time.

tom/pipecock  on January 29, 2010 at 4:50 PM

man, its so wild to hear people talking about DJ EZ and City Sounds and all that shit in 2010. it should be more like 2001! i got a card from City Sounds when my son was born, i was a very good mailorder customer of theirs at that time. regardless, i love seeing the 2-step/uk garage stuff finally being “cool” with music heads. lots of good stuff to mine in there….. big up todd edwards!

0HN0  on January 29, 2010 at 5:48 PM

i appreciate the effort, but i drifted off after the third answer…if i want to read a book, i go to a library…

HISSNLISSN  on January 30, 2010 at 2:11 AM

Sounds like someone needs an IPAD, 0HN0.

Very cool read. I’ve never been all that familiar with Todd Edwards but catching up on him now is pretty intense. I wonder has he ever released a dud?

Jason  on January 30, 2010 at 5:33 AM

Good, long interview.

Although I don’t doubt that Todd sincerity about putting “110%” into his work, the interview has a fair amount of polite tiptoeing around the fact that his ‘formula’ got really tired (and even lazy) at one point, which probably contributed to the hiatus that he mentions (although he spins it as being his choice).

Plus, his own vocals – however treated they are – are audibly weak compared to other vocal sample he uses. There was definitely a point where I – even as a big big fan – switched off in disappointment.

Having said that, being able to access some of his back catalogue again at last can only be a good thing. Many of the remixes of the time were on major labels, and those tracks are no longer available. There are also quite a few dubs that may never have seen release, or were only ever on promo (Ali, MJ Cole, Heist…). Good luck with getting that stuff on the legal download sites!

peter  on January 30, 2010 at 12:32 PM

Thanks, that was great, i’m glad it was a long interview, very insightful as always from Todd, hes the greatest.
My theory as to the reason Todds early tracks was loved in the UK was because for me it had similarities (especially when speeded up) with the 1991-93 Hardcore rave era in the UK which was also very sample heavy, had rough edged, lo-fi crunchy swingy beats, high energy, lots of chord changes, etc
Thats the one thing i miss about some of his newer tracks…not dirty enough! come on Todd get back on your EPS sampler.

Mike Fort  on February 4, 2010 at 10:33 PM

I loved reading this, read every word (Its late so I’m probably gonna be so tired tomorrow, but still)!
I look forward to new stuff this year, and I hope I can catch me some todd in the states!

mr shADOW  on February 9, 2010 at 2:01 PM

wHAT CAN I SAY THE MANS A LEGEND the one the only todd almighty !

Kim"Mz Trouble" Beacham  on August 24, 2010 at 6:11 PM

Very nice interview Todd.. Good to see your still doing the thang…. I Haven’t seen or heard from you in years… God Bless and much respect always, you know (no pun)”I’ll be there”.
Kim

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Misery, cut ups and a bumping garage beat – why Todd Edwards’ Odyssey is among the best albums of the last decade | musicismthought  on May 20, 2013 at 6:01 AM

[…] After All, had underperformed. There followed some fallow years for Todd “The God”, who took on other work outside of music before storming back in 2009, just as the tide was again turning in his […]

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