LWE Podcast 94: Fudge Fingas

Gavin Sutherland’s alter-ego, Fudge Fingas may only clock in at sixth on his list of how he is known by those closest to him (coming in after Dad and hubby among other titles), but for the hungry consumers of boogie-soaked house music it is the name that defines him. Starting out with a little heeded garage house 12″ as Charizmatix with Gareth Sommerville in 1998, he played keyboards for the likes of Craig Smith of 6th Borough Project and the Plastic Avengers before releasing his own productions with greater frequency around 2002. His early appearances on Firecracker Recordings found the producer working with sample-based, slow moving house tracks. Releasing almost exclusively on the Manchester-based imprint, Prime Numbers, since 2008, Sutherland has honed his sound further, dropping the samples in favor of his own voice, culminating in his finest release to date, his debut long player Now About How, which dropped in April this year. LWE caught up with Sutherland to find out more about the making of the album, the evolution of the Fudge Fingas sound and why he won’t be using his other moniker Vin Landers any time soon. He also plied us with our 94th exclusive podcast, a timeless collection of treasures both old and new.

LWE Podcast 94: Fudge Fingas (78:32)

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Tracklist:

01. Lord of the Isles, “Tell Your Soul” [Little Strong Recordings]
02. Fake Left, “Raw” [iS Records*]
03. Rick Wilhite, “Good Kiss” [Sound Signature]
04. Vakula, “Deaf World” (Dub) [Shevchenko]
05. Laraaji, “The Dance #2” [Editions EG]
06. Juju & Jordash, “Chelm Is Burning” [Golf Channel Recordings]
07. Morphosis, “Androids Among Us” [Morphine / Delsin]
08. Larry Heard, “Children At Play” [MCA Records]
09. Unknown, “Untitled” [white*]
10. Fudge Fingas, “Oh What’s This? It’s Something Else” [white*]
11. Aquarian Venom, “Sang Freud Plumb” [white*]
12. Linkwood, “Untitled” [white*]
13. The Other People Place, “It’s Your Love” [Warp Records]
14. Audiocad, “Snap To Sea” [Between Us]
15. Lil’ Louis, “Jazzmen” [Mathematics Recordings]
16. Legowelt, “Sark Island Acid” [L.I.E.S.]
17. Ron Trent, “Untitled” [Prescription]
18. Kem, “Without You” (Kenny Dixon Jr. Remix) [Private Collection]
19. Model 500, “I Wanna Be There” [R&S Records]
* denotes tracks which, as of the time of publishing, are unreleased

The first thing I notice about your discography to date is that you’ve had relatively few of your own releases, turning up instead on a number of the Prime Numbers and Firecracker samplers. What was the decision behind releasing tracks like this rather than focusing more on releasing your own EPs?

Gavin Sutherland: It was never a conscious decision to not release more records, time just sort of flew by while I got on with work, family, and life in general. Part of it was those labels wanting to put records out that way, and part of it was down to me not putting myself out there for whatever reason. The things is, I’ve always made music but it’s rarely been with a view to getting it heard or making money from it. Paradoxically, I’ve been involved with selling other people’s music for a living for years — more than I care to think about — which might be a contributing factor to my slow release rate. Because frankly, I see so much great music getting released and ignored, while so much guff sells bucket loads. That can be quite off putting. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to ignore all that and just get the music out there from now on. My timing’s a bit off I suppose, now that we’re at a point where sales are probably at their lowest ever and there’s less and less money to be made off it. Maybe that’s why I find it easier now — the pressure’s off, in a way. Also I’m getting on a bit so I’d best get my finger out eh?

Traditionally, in terms of electronic music, Glasgow has definitely been the go-to city in Scotland. Tell us about how you developed your love of music and what unique qualities Edinburgh has when it comes to electronic music.

I try not to think about the geography too much. I’m inspired by music from all over the globe. That said, it’s not like I don’t have opinions on the old east coast / west coast chestnut, but I’m reluctant to get into that too much. I can only speak of my own experiences in the city I grew up in. For what it’s worth though, here’s an analogy I came up with on the way back from a night out in Glasgow a few years ago: If Scotland is a house and all its cities and towns the rooms within it, then Glasgow is the kitchen — the place where things are cooked up, where people socialize and heat and noise are generated — while Edinburgh is like the bedroom, a private place where folks go to sleep, dream, or just get up to naughty business. People in either city may well disagree with me on that one though.

Does Edinburgh have any unique qualities with regards to electronic music? I don’t know about that. There have certainly always been a great many people here quietly making their own noise, generally away from the sort of pressures or associated with other urban areas. The pace of life is notoriously closer to village than city for many here. And as small as it is for a city, it’s always been diverse. Maybe that’s the quality it has. As far as my developing a love for music goes, I don’t think I ever had a choice in the matter. It was always there, with my family, in the houses I grew up in, the places I frequented, between me and the friends I made through the years. I’m just fortunate to have had the opportunity to pursue what some might call a glorified hobby but which, for me, is a compulsion.

And tell us about the Firecracker crew and how you guys all work together/inspire each other.

We’ve known one another for years. We’re good friends, probably like brothers really (of course, Nick and Tim Moore are, in fact, biologically so) in that we’re as quick to bicker as blood relatives might be, yet there’s an understanding that we all have each other’s backs. It’s not for me to say how I inspire them, if indeed I actually do (awww), but certainly Nick (Linkwood) continually comes out with music that simultaneously makes me want to give up, but which then galvanises me to try harder. A few important things I’ve learned in recent years, in terms of production, have come mostly from him. Lindsay (House of Traps) has always been a real music connoisseur who has put me onto some great music over the years, and has always been brutally honest about what, if any, of my music is working for him in his capacity as the label head honcho. Design-wise he’s on fire right now, doing some exquisite work in his screen printing studio for all sorts of folks. And Tim (Discreet Unit) also has an incredible talent and energy for both the artistic and musical side of things.I’ve had some great late night sound and vision sessions with him which always leave me very much wired, inspired and fired up.

Latterly we’ve had the very talented Vakula and Bakey Ustl join the fray, and while both those guys are also making music which makes me feel vastly inferior, we’re separated by many miles and I’ve yet to properly meet either of them. I do hope to someday, though. Anyway, those are the core fellows who have been involved with the label over the years, but there are many other players who helped us along the way with the music and art, who I could be here all day giving praise to. Someday I’ll do that, not today though, sorry.

Where does the name Fudge Fingas come from?

It was intended as a tribute to my childhood cat, Fudge, and Larry Heard, aka Mr. Fingers. The incorrect spelling is supposed to contain a coded reference to my real name. It’s all a bit painful, really. You could read more into it if you like; indeed, many others have. I for one wish I’d plumped for a different moniker all those years ago but for now, I guess I’m stuck with it.

And is it likely your alter ego Vin Landers will make another appearance?

I did consider it, around about the time the hundredth person scoffed at the name Fudge Fingas. Then, to my horror, I realized that there’s a nasty white power website based in the U.S. which uses the name vinlanders. I guess their reasoning (if it could be said they have any) is that there’s a legend about Vikings landing on the American continent before the Spaniards (though still millennia after many others before them, of course) who called their new home Vinland — literally “wine land” — a legend, nay myth, which I guess appeals to some small minded descendants of Europeans over there who know nothing of history in the broader sense. Personally, I just chose that name as a derivation of my own first and second name, and because I wanted an alter ego for my less electronic music. Guess it’s too tainted now. I don’t seem to have much luck in coming up with snappy alter egos. I’m currently trying to think up a super cool pseudonym that captures the zeitgeist, in which no one will see double entendres or suspect links to neo-Nazis. Something like a postcode or a word without vowels. Any suggestions are most welcome, though please do try to keep it clean, people.

Where there any records or events in particular that made you want to start producing?

This is a fairly straightforward answer. So, records: all of them. Events: being born. Though, OK, to expand a little: I suppose growing up in an age where technology allowed artists to do it all themselves inspired me to get into production, as opposed to simply being a decent instrumentalist or part of a band. I struggled with the discipline required to get really good at one instrument, and as a kid was often too grumpy or dictatorial in a group setting; therefore holing up alone in my bedroom with just a 4-track and some cheap synths, samplers, drum machines and guitars was quite appealing to the spotty teenage version of me (who, perhaps tragically, was little different to the current podgy, balding, fast approaching middle age version of me). I’ve noticed this one man band approach is all too common now, which I think indicates a step further towards a future where everybody simply makes music for themselves, instead of — or, well, hopefully in tandem with — listening to other people’s. That may sound bleak, but actually I think it could take us closer to utopia. I’m a hippy at heart, really.

When you first started out producing did you have a clear idea of what sort of sound you wanted to make?

Like most folks I suppose it starts with hearing something in your mind and wanting to make it flesh. It took me years to get to the point of being able to execute that. Obviously much of what you listen to forms the core of your influence, and so you begin trying to emulate your heroes to some extent, until, whether by accident or design, you find your own sound. Ever since I was a child I dreamed of machines that would record the music straight from the brain. I’m still convinced it’ll happen someday. I would like it to happen in my lifetime, but it all depends on whether this body I’m in at the minute holds out for long enough for me to see that, or if indeed this planet we all live on right now isn’t destroyed by madmen before we get there. I remain an optimist.

And since you began how would you say your sound has progressed or changed?

I would hope it has become a bit more listenable for other people, as far as the quality of sound goes anyway. In terms of musical and lyrical content, I don’t think it has changed much at all. I still go back to the same sounds, the same sort of chords and melodies, the same type of subjects. If there has been any progress or change I reckon it’s in the expansion of my vocabulary, both musical and lyrical. The need to progress and change as an artist seems, to me, necessary only for those who seek commercial success of some kind, or those who need to keep reinventing themselves to remain interesting. I’ve never been that interesting in the first place so I guess it doesn’t matter.

Wait though… no, I lie. I do go through phases musically; for instance I’ll spend a few years being more inclined towards either electronic sounds, or acoustic textures. I’ve often tried, like many, to reconcile the two, but having spent time in both worlds it seems that many listeners just want one thing or the other. I think that’s a shame as, to me, man and machine are all the same. Humans are not above nature, their inventions are not unnatural — they are all part of the same oneness.. maaan.

Is being Fudge Fingas a full time occupation for you or is it one of a series of masks you put on?

I’d say the latter. My time is given over to various seemingly disparate activities, so depending who you ask I’m either (in decreasing order of importance): Daddy / Hubby / Gav / Gavin / Mr. Sutherland / Fudge / Vin.

When you make music are you hitting the studio with ideas about how you want things to sound or are you playing around and jamming, seeing what you come up with?

A wee bit of both really. Often a melody or fully formed composition will emerge from the back of the brain to the front, and it’s a case of trying to get it out while it’s still rattling around in one’s cranium. Usually, during this process, the music will mutate as it makes contact with the real world. Then I’ll stir it around until it’s well cooked or, as often as not, overdone.

What gear do you use for producing?

Whatever is to hand — the cheaper and more compact the better. I have little money or space, and struggle to find time these days as that seems to be disappearing ever faster. I wish I could say I have a shed full of vintage synths and drum machines, but then, as fellow Edinburgher Stephen Brown said to me many years ago when I was a young and impressionable lad visiting a local studio: it’s not about the technology you have, rather the soul you put into it.

When you use vocals do you work these on top of instrumental tracks you’ve already made or do you make the track around a vocal hook or line?

Again, a bit of both. Some songs I’ve already written acoustically, so to speak, while some emerge from instrumental tracks that I felt needed the vocal content. I’ve written songs since the age of 3 or so, as you do when you’re young, but when I got into house and techno — well, actually, not long after my balls dropped — I stopped singing for a few years. Then around about 1998/99 I became conscious that there were so many producers making instrumental music who seemed indistinguishable from one another (though of course there are a great many people doing this who definitely have their own sound), that I wanted to put my own stamp on my music. The best way to do that, I feel, is with your own actual voice, whether it is technically great or not. Clearly mine is not, but I’d rather be true to myself than follow some supposed formula for what is “acceptable” in music.

Tell us about your album. Did you approach it with a clear sense of what you wanted to convey through it? How long did you take to make it?

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I definitely wanted to make an album, regardless — in fact, probably because of — the growing trend to move away from the format. I don’t like this culture of short attention spans and impatience that seems to have emerged recently. To me it reflects ultimately upon people’s relationships with their fellow human beings. If you’re not prepared to pay attention to music, art, cinema or literature for any significant length of time, how are you going to extend any patience towards to those around you? So, to be frank, fuck that way of thinking. I wanted to make something people would have to listen to from beginning to end, hopefully several times over, before it finally made sense to them. I wanted to tell a story — in this case, that of my own experiences and philosophies regarding our place as a race in this part of space.

Musically I wanted to try and get as many styles that have influenced me in there, without it sounding like that’s what I’d tried to do, yet sticking to the sort of stylistic remit the label gave me. If I’d made the album I truly wanted to there would’ve been a lot more acid folk numbers in there, I can tell you. I’d say I’m about 80% happy with how it turned out, which isn’t bad I suppose, but all my energies are being directed towards the sophomore effort now. I’m aiming for at least 85% satisfaction with that. In truth, from inception to completion it probably took about a year to make, but then if we take into account the fact that some of the songs started life long before (such as “The Tree,” written in 2003, which, hmm, ironically is about observing nature and adopting some of its unhurried pace), and the fact that mixing down, mastering and finishing the artwork probably added another year to the process, then I suppose it took 8 years, approximately. Hopefully the next one will take at least 50% less than that amount of time.

Your album and your music in general is definitely filled with a sense of history, from funk, to boogie to jazz etc. Do you mostly listen to older records for inspiration in these areas? Are there any newer producers that are inspiring you right now?

I try and listen to it all, whatever the year, with the same ears. But I do find I’m drawn to older music purely because the level of musicianship and recording techniques seemed so much better in those days. Mind you, what some youngsters are doing now with just a laptop — though quite the opposite of what I just described — can be equally as valid and exciting. If they’re being honest in what they make, and just, y’know, uhhh, feeling it — then that helps. For me, the best music has a timeless quality, by which I mean not just that it sounds good whether it’s the year 1920 or 2020 your listening to it, but in that your sense of time is removed temporarily. Time is, after all, simply a matter of perspective. Music is, in part, the art of playing with and warping time. As for producers who inspire me: everything is inspirational. The ones I love are an inspiration just as much as the ones I don’t. I find they all help point you in the direction you want to go.

What can you tell us about the mix you’ve done for us?

I could speak volumes on each track, but I’ll try and keep it concise as I have gone on a bit already. In brief, I put together a load of tracks I love which generally fall into the house/techno category, but which I might not get a chance to play out generally — either because of their rough nature or because they’re too out there for most dance-floors to appreciate. There’s new and unreleased stuff from myself and my friends, and old classics from some of my major inspirations from years gone by. That is about as concisely as I can describe it.

And what can we expect from you over the next year?

Well, I did a record for Firecracker Recordings called What Works which will finally see the light of day in July 2011 I think — so possibly now, depending when you’re reading this. There’s a nice remix from Vakula on it if that helps persuade you. Actually, he remixed another track of mine called “Mass X” which is supposed to come out this year. What else… well, I finally reciprocated and did a remix for Vakula, which I think is coming out on 3rd Strike. Not sure about that yet. There’s talk of collaborating with Linkwood, but we’ve been saying that for years and with us both being in the family way, it’s only and all a matter of time. I’ve also said to myself I’ll get my own label up and running this year. Oh look, we’re more than halfway through it already. Best get cracking then eh? If you’ve made it this far — thanks for listening! Peace and bless us, every one of us.

Sibonelo Zulu  on August 15, 2011 at 7:11 AM

I really liked reading this. And the “Now About How LP”, that’s a collector’s material, I like how the sound changes from one track to the next on that album.

Fraser B  on August 15, 2011 at 11:43 AM

not only a talented musician but a gentleman when selling records.

Pete Srdic  on August 17, 2011 at 7:46 PM

Really feeling this. Love it. Skimmed the interview and look forward to reading it in full. Sounds really informative & down to earth. Nice one LWE and GS !

todd  on August 19, 2011 at 11:57 AM

keyboard cat

naji  on August 24, 2011 at 3:25 PM

oooo smooth, yet mild, fresh but classic, mmmm hearty fudge

mrkaizen  on September 5, 2011 at 7:15 PM

fresh and very mature selection ! fantastic all the way through

Scott Oliver  on September 9, 2011 at 5:42 PM

Truly, a gentle soul.

I like the way the interview progresses from a tone of self-doubt and uncertainty at the start (trying to defend his low output) to one of assertiveness at the end (talking about the love and craft that went into his album). Also like this here journey: 3 or 4 mind-blowingly good tunes.

Anyhoo, without wishing to labour a piece of psychoanalysing conjecture that may be off beam – man, I dig the pride you take in your work an’ all, but seriously, you’ve got nowt to feel self-effacing or, y’know, fretful about: your work absolutely reeks of quality and soul. Keep it coming, at whetever pace suits.

Peace.

J.Knecht  on September 14, 2011 at 7:05 PM

Oh man, any mix that includes The Other People Place – It’s Your Love (a favorite of mine) will definitely be listened to soon. Thanks to LWE.

Trackbacks

LWE Podcast 94: Fudge Fingas is archived this week | Little White Earbuds  on July 29, 2012 at 10:02 PM

[…] of old and new tracks that will make you get your funk and dance on until the end. Be sure to add it to your collection before it’s archived this Friday, August 3rd. » Lauren Cox | July 29th, 2012 Tags: […]

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