Interview: Fantastic Mr. Fox

November 03, 2010

Producer Fantastic Mr Fox, a Manchester-based recent university graduate and all around dude, returned home this month from a three week mega-tour of our beloved USA. As a DJ (with Ableton!), he opened for The xx and Warpaint and played a million after parties with Cooly G, Dusk & Blackdown. We went, it was good. His latest EP, Evelyn, comes out this week on Black Acre, the SoundCloud preview is covered three times over in comments. We got him on the horn to discuss to infiltration of Prefuse 73 in dubstep, Katy Perry and if he liked America.

Fantastic Mr Fox - Evelyn EP by Black Acre Records

The first Fantastic Mr Fox track a lot of people heard was your “Yukon” remix for Untold.
At that point I was still making hip-hop. I’d been into dubstep, but I didn’t really like the drum sounds. But I liked the energy of it. I got into people like Burial or Untold who were using drums I liked but making dance music. I never really thought I liked dance music apart from housier Four Tet or something, but I was hearing this and thought I’d just have a go at it.

Was that remix a similar sound to the hip-hop were producing?
The sound palette is the same. I kind of look to hip-hop for the sounds of like, high hats and snares and bass drums. I always try to get the sound like Prefuse 73 and Madlib, I look up to them a lot in terms of drum songs, then it’s transferring those noises to a different BPM. All of a sudden I realized it’s a lot more exciting and a lot more fun to produce at a tempo I wasn’t used to, but using sounds from the genre I was comfortable with. Before the whole dubstep thing blew up, I’d go to club nights and they never played anything I 100% liked, but now that depth and complexity of Prefuse 73 has been transferred to dance music everywhere. It’s a good time.

The drums are getting so intricate.
Your drums sounds have to be perfect for people to care what you’re making in hip-hop, but with dubstep and UK funky and stuff it doesn’t matter as much if your drums are good because the energy of the BPM and the bass makes it work anyway. Now people are combining all those elements and getting each area of it perfect, making this kind of hybrid dance music. There’s so many different things going on, the standards of production have really shot up over the last year or two. For me, I’ve never used the same bass drum in two songs. I always start with a beat and I always want to make it slightly different than anything I’ve ever done before. I’ll sit for days making a beat so if you play it without any elements on top you can listen to it and it sounds like a full song.

One of the songs on the Evelyn EP, “Fool Me,” I was listening to it over and over like, “I know this song!” Then it finally clicked: it’s the same chord progression as “Hot N Cold,” that Katy Perry song.
Really? That’s funny. Obviously I know who Katy Perry is but I’m kind of oblivious to that stuff. With this EP I was trying to making it catchy, especially with “Evelyn,” I was trying to make a pop song. The longer I make music it seems the hardest music to make is pop music, to make stuff that’s catchy and that people like. It’s a lot easier to put together some neutral sounding chords and create one kind of emotion from it than it is to make a catchy melody, I find that takes a lot longer to make.

There’s a progression with the vocal samples you’ve used too. Whole words are starting to come through.
I wanted vocals to be more prominent, I was trying to find acapellas with richness to them. From speaking to quite a lot of producers, there’s nothing more fun than pitch-shifting vocals and rearranging them and making them say new things. I used to never sample anything from past the ’60s, I was very hip-hop minded. Like “Plimsoul” I did on Hemlock has a vocal sample, but it’s from some ’60s prog rock. Recently I’ve become a lot more open to the idea. When I make my next single I’m thinking of working with singers. The problem is, I’d want them to sing a song ,then I’d mess around with it a lot and they’d need to not be too upset if I completely change what it sounds like.

Towards the end of “Sepia Song,” the beat starts to swing super-hard, it’s this totally dancey moment.
It’s weird, it doesn’t sound dancey to me but when I play it out it sounds quite different. I don’t know when I’m making songs because there are so many layers to it, so having it go four-four I don’t think of it as sounding “house.” I wanted the EP to sound like a mini-album, I was thinking of it as a whole, and I think that switch at the end really brought the EP to a close.

You don’t seem to make songs perfectly suited dancing but you DJ quite a lot.
I kind of make songs that are danceable enough to be played in clubs, but that’s about as far as it goes. When I play out I’ll play other people’s songs and mess with them a bit, like sometimes I’ll make chord patterns or cut up acapellas to loop on top. Generally the other people’s songs I play will be dancier than my songs to keep a momentum going so people can dance to it.

Do you like DJing?
I do enjoy it. I like doing mixes as well. I like the idea of making it sound like one piece of music. I always try to make sure everything I mix is in tune and that the sets builds from start to finish. I really like mixes like that where there’s loads of different songs but it feels like a new piece of music. It’s similar to when you make a song, finding little pieces that work.

How was your US tour?
I’ve been to America once before when I was a teenager, but this was the longest time I spent there. Obviously much bigger crowds than I’ve ever played to before. We played literally everywhere and I was playing like, three times a day. The most I’ve ever done before was once a week, so that was a bit of a change, but it was so much fun. New York, Atlanta and San Francisco were really good, they were really receptive to everything I was playing. But some places just did not understand. In LA someone came up to me like, “Do you have any Madonna?” Usually it’s bad if people ask me if I have drum and bass, but that’s so far the mark.

Interview: Fantastic Mr. Fox