From left to right: Matt McMahon and Andrew Reid are The Clubhouse.
There is no TV in the Victorian-style mansion where Matt McMahon and Andrew Reid live. Having television as an entertaining distraction can be a nice addition to the household, but that just wouldn't make it the real rustic getaway we come to associate with clubhouses. Andrew and Matt dubbed their group's name after their Brooklyn outpost for creativity where they craft beats for rap new jacks like F Dot Stokes and Theophilus London. In their spare time, well, there's no days off from the studio, unless it's to mess with photography, and build paper mache models. Suite903 spoke with Matt and Andrew who recently landed the first single off of Theophilus London's next mixtape, I Want You. Turn off your TV, and get to know The Clubhouse.
INTERVIEW BY RICHARD "TREATS" DRYDEN
You made your first beat tape this year, what was the sound you were looking to create?
Andrew Reid: We were really trying to grasp the perfect balance between Matt and I and pull from a real '90s hip-hop crispness, if you well, and then pulling in some live instrumentation with live instruments. We've been practicing and toying around with that concept, that said...
Matt McMahon: One of the things was to really dive into each piece, like each little building block of the song, and make them familiar in that if they're nice sounds that catches your ear, but you don't exactly know what it is. So if it's a violin sample, and making it sound like something that maybe doesn't sound quite like a violin but has that same tone to it that it will catch your ear because you kind of know what it is.
Andrew: Mixing by frequency waves as opposed to mixing by instrument if that makes sense. Say for instance, if a violin is going to be in a set frequency range—and putting all the right frequency ranges together when we're mixing a track or sequencing out a track into a full song—making sure that all the low, mid, and high frequencies are all there.
Andrew: If you're thinking about how songs come together with each part—you're listening to the bass, you're listening to the keys played together, they're both representing their own frequency range. Like the violin is usually in the high frequency range, but maybe take it down low, see what it sounds like at a low frequency range just by manipulating sounds in a program or something like that.
Matt: We're really nerdy.
Haha. I've never really heard anyone explain it in that way. So it turns out that your "Purple Red" beat was chosen by Theophilus London for his new mixtape. Were you expecting that? Were you expecting him to pick that song?
Andrew: Honestly, no. Most of the Theophilus stuff we've been listening to has been a little more uptempo, or a little bit four on the floor.
What was that expression you used?
Matt: You know, danc-y, got that kick on every one. You know, one-two-three-four... You got that kick coming in everytime everybody's on the floor. (laughs) We actually sampled a whole bunch of stuff, like some of his influences and we tried to take some of the essences from that stuff and that was not one of the songs that we did that with. It was not a shock because we liked it, but a shock I guess because he liked it.
Andrew: But in retrospect I really like the way it came out. I think it's a really fresh feel. It felt real clean.
Matt: And Theophilus, it sounds like in the stuff that he's done, he's a boundary pusher. I feel like this song is a little bit more laid back, but the subject matter is not necessarily what you would find in a song that sounds like that. I think Jesse Boykins sounds great on it as well. When he comes in, it just sounds super clean and their voices sound really well together. They both do that really well. It was as if we made the track for that purpose. They came in and made it sound that way.
Andrew: I was listening to it today. I think it's only one long verse from Theophilus. I like that. There's a couple of tracks we've been producing that ended up in that way. It's just a glimpse of an emotion or a feeling, and it's a nice one.
Let's just wind back the clock to when you guys were in college together.
Matt: We actually went to a school for a year together. We met because we played football at DePauw.
Andrew: Which is crazy, and I ended up transfering at the end of that year. Later we met back up because Matt was dating my cousin Mary. We had no idea, so we got in touch with each other.
Matt: He's going back to campus to visit his cousin and it turns out it was the girl sitting next to me. She didn't know I knew Andrew.
Sounds like a weird six degrees of separation.
Andrew: So after college, Matt and Mary went down to live in Nicaragua. And I moved to New York, and was teaching with Teach for America and running a studio out of East New York Brooklyn. I went on vacation over summer break, down to Nicaragua to visit Mary and Matt.
Matt: He and Nicole came down and kind of pitched Brooklyn to us, like, 'is this something we can really do?' Andrew and I stayed up super-late one night and he was telling me about the music he was working on, so then I started letting him listen to some of the stuff I was working on as well. And we were just really excited about each other's sound. We went back and forth. I remixed one of the songs he was working on at the time. Fast forward a year later, we were living together in Brooklyn.
Where was the middle ground you guys met at musically?
Andrew: Man when I was in college, I probably recorded 4 or 5 full length albums worth of music, but it was in different genres.
What were some of those genres?
Andrew: I was definitely into the indie rock scene; and coming out of the '90s as a kid as well, so there was an album that kind of sounded like indie rock, and then there was an electronica album, some acoustic-y, harmony bass stuff, and then when I hit New York, I started working on country-blues, like real old Bob Dylan, really just southern blues style stuff. It was right after I had written an album, Matt and I tried to make it sound like it was recorded by Alan Lomax and the field recordings of Alabama or something like that.
And the other side to that?
Matt: I listen to my parent's records, I listen to a lot of rap (mostly independent hip-hop, mainstream stuff), and what they listen to. It's like you've got Mos Def and Talib Kweli talking about Nina Simone, so of course that's where I went. I really liked the blues, and the stuff that Andrew was playing me. Being there were a lot of things we had in common, lots of soul music—Musiq Soulchild... (laughs) Andrew played guitar in church, so gospel, soul music was always part of everything that he's done. We connected over that stuff as well.
Outside of sampling, where else do your strengths lie?
Matt: (laughs) I beat boxed in a band when I was in college simply because they didn't have a drummer. So like beat construction; I would guess sequencing and arrangement are the two things outside of sampling, and outside of just loving music.
Andrew: We came in as a songwriting team, and I was coming from the instrument-based songwriting stance, and Matt was coming from a programming stance. So those two together fills in a lot of gaps. We've been able to fill in a lot of gaps between the two of us just in the kind of style, and the type of music that we're making right now, which worked out to be instrument based hip-hop with some crazy samples. So it's kind of pulling all the worlds of music that we listen to.
You both bring something unique to the table. Where do you see your production going?
Matt: As of late, we've been transitioning into a live show. We hooked up with some local jazz musicians, but really just kind of integrating as far as sample-based drum programming, instrumentation and making it become more of a live entity.
So you play with other band members outside of the group.
Andrew: Yeah we've been bringing in a drummer, and a saxophone player, and a trumpet player. Three guys from the city's jazz scene and they're really talented players. They really have creative input on what's going on more or less on each track.
Matt: There's live instrumentation on I would say 100% of the tracks that we've produced. Whether it's Andrew on the keys or on the bass or on the guitar, with the tambourine in the vocal booth, and clapping. There has to be some organic element or else it doesn't really feel right.
Andrew: Or vocals, we use vocals as an instrument for sure. On "Life of a Lover," I'm singing harmonies on there. Sometimes stuff comes out sounding like singing, but other times it comes out sounding completely different because we've gone in and messed with it, and put some effects on it.
Ah, Andrew you're the ghost feature!
Andrew: We do a lot of sampling of live instruments to make it sound like that 16-bit hip-hop feel. To make things sound sampled, we essentially sample ourselves.
What else are you working on?
Matt: F Dot Stokes. He's going as F Dot Stokes now. We're working on an EP with him, we're wrapped on the instrumentals for that, and he's recording the vocals as we speak, I think.
Andrew: That's kind of like our attempt at genre-bending, where we've had an opportunity to work directly with the MC. F Dot Stokes stayed at the Clubhouse for about a week, and we recorded vocals and wrote tracks together. I definitely think that project has a lot more of a Brooklyn indie-rock flare to it.
Matt: It's just littered with a lot of things. The creative process behind that was we brought in a whole bunch of samples (not necessarily "samples") but like drum beats or one instrument that we really liked and we would play them for him, and we'd watch for reactions and see what he liked, see what we liked, and then he would record vocals and then we'd really dive into the track. The original idea which may have started as a sample or a drum beat may not even be in there. As soon as the collaboration started, we'd go into a whole new direction.
So when are you expecting to be done with that?
Matt: This week. We don't know when it'll come out. But it'll be done this week.
I read you're calling it, "Jo Jo Dancer."
Andrew: That was the first track that we gave to people. We're calling the project Sensational.
Matt: F Dot Stokes and The Clubhouse are Sensational.
What's the meaning behind the title?
Matt: For me it was a bunch of different things. Sensation, and sensational can mean so many different things. You look at something on the news that's sensational, in that yellow journalism way, in that it's kind of rabble-rousing, so there's a lot of different themes that's explored on it. But it's also sensational in the way that you think of like...
Andrew: Experiencing something with your senses, that organic definition of the words sense and sensational, I think we're really trying to grasp coming together, and just sort of having to reach upon all of our senses to get out a really honest collaboration between rap hip-hop, instrument, rock or singing, not necessarily R&B you know as often hip-hop and rap go together and R&B can fit in there. It's sort of different of a collaboration.
Matt: And then also, sensational can mean that shit is dope.
That's why we're having this conversation. Haha. Any other new artists you're working with?
Andrew: Man we worked on that new version of the Jade remix and we started trying to work on another Jade remix, but we haven't come up with anything just yet.
Matt: That "Thank You" track, it's been hard for us to wrap our head around, to be quite honest. But there's something else we've been working on with those jazz players that will feature more of Andrew singing and a lot of instrumental work.
Andrew: We have a lot of collaborations in the works right now. Actutally the beat off of that first beat tape, "Remember This" a track some other MC's from around the city, like Scene or PsO or formerly known as Picasso...
Matt: Yeah he's from the AOK collective and then Scene did an EP with Blu and his album A Day Late and a Dollar Short was pretty widely-acclaimed in the independent hip-hop circle, and a lot of that record was produced by Blu as well. Those are a couple of guys that are pretty firmed up as far as collaborations go. We're looking to do the hip-hop production team as far as that goes, like you'll see one track from Timbalad on ten different albums. We're trying to do that as well, as have our own material.
Take me through how you guys came up with the name, The Clubhouse.
Matt: Actually, we didn't have a name for a while, but we had a couple of people come through and kind of see what the operation was and one of the guys that actually came through, he was up here hanging out, and he was like, "yo this is like the clubhouse. This is spot that you come to to relax, to kind of be out of the way of everything. It's like it's own environment—it's a house outside of a house." So that's it.
Is that official?
Andrew: I guess so. We've embraced that name for sure. People call us The Clubhouse referencing the house as a whole, because we live in this big house altogether. We have a big, huge, paper mache tree installed in the studio space on the top floor.
Haha. Are you gonna put Christmas lights on it?
Andrew: We have some light bulbs hanging that my girl Nicole made, and my sister actually. They're like lightbulbs with origami inside of them. If you can imagine ship in a bottle style, we have like 30 of those hanging off of the tree. And we have origami style leaves around it, it's growing my friend. It's spring!
So the name comes from the house but do you look at it more as a house or do you look at it as the studio? I know you guys live there, some people live where they work, but then people like to separate things.
Matt: We hang out up here, but at the same time—I told somebody else this too, and it sounds silly when I say it—but I pack up my computer and all my stuff when we're done working. I take it downstairs. I walk up stairs with it as if I'm coming to the office. We work a full work day.
Andrew: Matt wakes up at 5 o'clock in the morning. But we are literally in the studio at 8 o'clock in the morning together, on schedule. That's the grind we set out for ourselves. We're gonna be up early, working late, and put everything we've got into it right now.