Archie Fairhurst, aka Romare has been one of Ninja Tune’s most exciting offerings in recent years. After studying American Studies at university, he became fascinated with the American artist Romare Bearden, drawn to the way he “cut ‘n’ pasted” various magazines and newspapers in his work. It’s this concept that sits at the core of Archie’s music, utilising samples from a whole range of genres and eras to create his distinctive, vibrant style of electronic music that sounds just as great at home as it does in the clubs.
His debut LP, ‘Projections’, saw him pay homage to Bearden as well as to African/American culture as a whole, with tracks such as ‘Work Song’ being a tribute to the classic American and namesake work song.
Now ahead of his follow up LP, ‘Love Songs: Part Two’, Clash caught up with Archie to discuss the new record, touring and the importance of balance in music.
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Thanks for your time. What have you been up to over the past few weeks in the run up to your album release?
I’ve been working on a new live set. Since I finished everything to do with the new record I’ve been putting most of my time into developing a new live show using only vocal samples as pre-recorded material. The rest will be done with live instruments consisting of one synth, two keyboards, a drum machine, a mixing desk and a bunch of effects pedals.
Will there be any other musicians as part of your live set up? I know you play a lot of instruments in your music, so was interested to see how you’d get around this.
It’ll be me and a percussionist; his job is to replace the drum samples I use in my music. He’s playing congas, bongos, chimes, shakers and also a sample pad which is interesting as he’s bringing some digital sounds into the mix too, which I am then taking into my mixing desk and effecting. It’s quite improvised and I want to keep it like that, we’ve had two rehearsals and each time we’ve played a song it’s been different sonically. I’d like to bring guitar and bass into it but at the moment it’s a little bit too much!
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I’ve been working on a new live set...
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Often the spontaneity of a live performance can lead to some of the most exciting moments.
I agree and that’s why I don’t want to over-rehearse. I like to keep things quite in the air as there’s a natural excitement you get as a performer when you pursue an unexplored territory. My groundings are going to be the vocal samples from the album and my previous work, those are all lined up in my computer and will be my compass, and from that compass I’ll choose north/south/east/west.
You’ve got some DJ sets coming up, too. What aspects of this do you enjoy?
DJing is fun because you’re playing other people’s fully completed music, someone’s passion on a record. I’ve been djing for about 4 years now so not too long, and I love the endless learning experience I am having with it. It’s also a great way to discover new artists, fuse old and new music and blend different cultures.
Let’s talk about your new album, ‘Love Songs: Part Two’. I know this is follow up to the ‘Love Songs: Part One’ EP, why are you going back to this now?
I like all my music to have a theme, and this one is obviously about love. With this being such a broad theme, I called [the first EP] ‘Part 1’ because I thought I’m probably going to come back to it at some point, there’s so much material out there, so many interesting lyrics and sounds and emotions to play with when you’re looking at love songs. The reason I didn’t go with it for ‘Projections’ was because it was my first album and I wanted it to be a homage to the process that Romare Bearden used that I wanted to use as well in my music making. Since that’s done I can come back to the love theme and do a bit more on that. It also means I can come back and do another album / EP for ‘Part 3’.
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I like all my music to have a theme, and this one is obviously about love...
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The new album definitely has a varied sound to ‘Projections’. What were your aims going into this?
I like pursuing different genres from my other releases because it’s nice to mix it up, it’s appealing to me to explore new sounds. The last album was very Jazz and Blues orientated samples because it was homage to American music. This one’s more European in its influence; there’s a bit of Irish Folk in songs such as ‘Je T'aime’, there’s Italo Disco, American Disco as well.
Do you think you touring as a DJ has influenced you as well?
Yes I do, the songs being longer in length is one example of this. I found when I played out my 'Projections' stuff there wasn’t enough to play around with when you’re DJing. ‘Who Loves You’ is definitely an example of this, you can start mixing that one in like a minute before, it has a real slow, chuggy build. You have to be patient to get to it; the patience comes from being in a club rather than being at home.
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You touched upon Romare Bearden briefly earlier, who else influences your music?
The people I consider are the people I’m sampling I guess. It’s almost like I’m working with the people in the samples. Because of technology I can have this fantasy band where I’ve got Oscar Peterson playing piano, Jimi Hendrix playing the guitar and then there’s me on bass.
That’s why the area of sampling is so interesting because so many different people can inspire you. I call myself Romare because the process is what holds it all together. The subject matter will be different, I might be sampling Japanese music and then Mongolian stuff the next day, but the process under the name Romare holds it together.
Sampling is definitely at the core of Romare, what do you look for when digging for samples?
I don’t have any pre-mediated thoughts other than selecting a theme. So with that as a starting point I go into a record shop and just go through a few things that will have some relevance to the theme and that’s very easy with a topic like love songs! I like to go for cheap records, the inexpensive, possibly cheesy looking ones.
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I like records that have a memory to them.
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I like records that have a memory to them. In Paris I bought a record with a vocal sample that I used for ‘Down The Line’ and I remember being €10 which was very expensive for me to buy a record at the time because I didn’t have much money. I debated for about 15 minutes ‘oh do I buy this or not’. But this one looked great; there was something about it that made me think they’d be something special.
A lot of the samples on the new album are from disco records that I got from a friend who lives in Amsterdam who’s a big disco collector. I went through those and they made up quite a few of the samples in this album.
Tell us about your experience with instruments, apparently even your father’s mandolin features on the new album?
I played drums and guitar in bands before I got into producing my own stuff and that background stays with my music. I used my dad’s mandolin on the new album as we used to play in an Irish band together when I was at school. Irish music is so beautiful in terms of its melodies. I think that really sunk in with me and I think I overlooked it as an influence when I first started putting music out, I didn’t really think that it was a big influence for me until recently and I think it’s coming out in ‘Love Songs: Part Two’ in the way I play the synths and things.
There’s just something special about playing instruments in the flesh, it’s nice for the audience or the listener to know that’s played by you and not software for example. There’s expression in instruments which I love. I think there’s a risk of that disappearing due to the sheer power of technology. You can use drum samples, software instruments and plugins so it’s very easy to compose without having any experience with an instrument. I want to keep spirit alive in the album. I also played my grandmother’s recorder in the song ‘Honey’.
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I like balance in my music...
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I like balance, that’s why I use a lot of black and white imagery in a lot of my artwork. I like balance in my music, and that of course comes in all different forms but one of them is the balance between acoustic and electronic. There’s more boundary pushing to be done when you’ve got acoustic as well as digital. Sometimes my music is labelled electronic but it’s not actually electronic, it’s electronic and acoustic as well. Other balances are like having slow songs and fast songs, having happy and sad, harder or softer.
It’s quite intentional you have this contrast of sounds then?
Yeah! I try to keep things like tempo, intensity and the emotional side balanced. I think the magic of music for me is when you have happy and sad balanced out well, when it’s in the middle, the sweet spot of music making. I try and attain that. I think ‘Honey’ is an example of where I do it quite well, there’s a tension between the two emotions.
One final question – how come you haven’t done any official remixes in years? I can’t believe you haven’t had countless offers with such a unique sound.
I have had offers, I’ve turned them down because I want to keep my inventions much to my own work. I feel like if I do more remixes I am losing out on certain chords or progressions for my own music, because it will already be out there in the world. I’ve never had my own stuff remixed too.
Because I want to keep my process to myself. It’s a bit like giving someone your secret recipe; maybe that’s a bit selfish I guess!
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‘Love Songs: Part Two’ is out via Ninja Tune on November 11th.
Words: Nathan Diamond