The producer is one of the most crucial yet anonymous figures in all of music. Every now and again we aim to illuminate these under-heralded artists with Beat Construction. This week, we spoke to Hudson Mohawke, the blistering young producer/DJ who stormed festival sets as one half of TNGHT, was one of the heads on Kanye's Yeezus, and is gearing up to release his first solo album in five years. Catch him hosting the Boiler Room in LA this Friday at 9PST here.
I was lurking your Twitter a few hours ago. You were about to pee on someone’s face? Was that a threat or...What’s the deal? [Laughter] Some girl was threatening to leak the album, so I threatened to leak on her face.
You gotta protect your art, you know? It was a justified comeback [laughs]. This is for the full length, which is not for another few months. It’s finished, but I’m keeping it quite under wraps. Just focusing on this EP first.
It’s been a couple years since you had a full-length to your name. Yeah, I think 2009. I had another EP out in 2011, and then we did TNGHT stuff. Lunice and I always said from the very inception of the project that we never wanted it to become more known than our solo careers. Then we kept getting bigger and bigger festival offers and more major label people wanting to hear a full length album. We could’ve done that, but I think it would’ve been purely for short-term gain.
You come out of turntablism and deejaying. Now you can spend two years getting booked off of two records, if they get big. Does having TNGHT vs Hudson Mohawke on the artist slot make a difference? I think it does, because we were very conscious about not getting pigeonholed into one thing. I don’t know if you’ve heard my older material, but it’s quite different. We didn’t want people to all of a sudden be like, “What the fuck is this?” when we come out with our solo stuff. We wanted to graciously borrow from that world just for the time being. Then realign with our roots.
We spoke with Porter Robinson recently, and he talked about how, as a producer/DJ that plays every night, he has to reconcile making weird, free form music that isn’t booming party music, but getting a check to go play a very specific kind of show. Does that ever get challenging for you? Long before we ever did TNGHT, because I was coming from a DJ background, the type of stuff I was releasing wasn’t necessarily the type of stuff I was playing. I stuck to my guns on that. I’ve stuck to what I really enjoy playing, which is instrumental rap stuff, etc. I’ve always done that because, in terms of production, it doesn’t need to be the same as what you’re releasing on the label. A lot of my older stuff and some forthcoming new stuff, it’s not necessarily pop music. But if I’m booked for a DJ show, it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to go play some club music. You try to mix between the two.
As a DJ, you can test out records on a crowd and see what happens. TNGHT had been popping up in your set for a while. Totally. That was a weird situation as well. We did “Chimes” and then decided we would do an EP before the full length. I had this back catalog of music that I didn’t want on the new record, but I do want to release it. So I might as well put this out. And purely by chance, after the record was already being mastered and going into manufacture, Apple came along and decided that they wanted to use it for their campaign. It was weird because we hadn’t announced the record at all. No one had said anything about it.
The commercial is interesting too. It’s unexpected from Apple. A lot of it is quite obscure stuff. For a worldwide advertising campaign to have Kompakt stickers or a Fools Gold or Stones Throw stickers, to me that seemed like a really good look. Their advertising people come to shows and all that. There’s publishers sending around folders. They said they went through hundreds of songs and picked ours. I was like, “Really?!” That’s really bizarre. But I’m not going to complain.
Kanye West has been in Mexico working on the next record. Have you been out there? We’ve worked in a few places. I did a lot of work on it the first half of this year. Second half, not as much. Last year, I was doing Yeezus in LA, and then I was flying back to Europe over the weekend to do festivals, then back to LA on Monday. It really took a lot out of me. This time around, I needed to focus on my own record. I’m going to head back out once I make sure that I can keep my stuff a priority. I haven’t done an album campaign in five years, and I want to focus on that. The last time I spoke to Kanye a couple weeks ago, I still had a couple of tracks on it. But I’m trying not to take my eye off the ball in terms of my solo material.
You and Lunice teaming up was huge for you both. Is there anyone else you’d want to do a project with? There are a few, I’m producing a couple people’s records. Just diving in and out of various projects, but I’m still trying to keep my focus on my own stuff. It’s something I’ve learned from Rick Rubin, just watching him work. I’ve been whittling away at the stuff that I don’t necessarily need to have. There’s a finished record there, but it’s too long for what I want it to be really. So I’m sort of chipping away to get it refined. But there’s a bunch of vocalists, I think five or six.
It had to be crazy as a producer, especially with your style—metallic, booming drums—to sit next to Rick and see how he works. Yeah. I think... You become so accustomed to letting the screen tell you what’s going on when making electronic music, rather than your ears. Rick doesn’t touch any equipment or anything, he’s just in his ears. I think that’s key. Not being constrained by little blocks on a screen.
It’s almost impossible to imagine a producer in 2014 not looking at a screen. And it shouldn’t be. Exactly. I’m trying to do that more often. Once I get to a certain stage of something I’m working on, I’ll turn my screen off and just sit and listen. I won’t necessarily know what’s coming up next, and see if that works purely on a listening level. Nothing like “Alright, this needs to come here because it’s 16 bars after this.” That in itself is kind of crampy. Even subconsciously, without even realizing it, you can get stuck in that framework.