Fred again... is part of a generation of British producers re-shaping the way music is made.
Lauded for his collaborative nous, the London based artist worked intimately with Headie One on last year's phenomenal 'EDNA' project, while his credits range from Stormy through to BTS.
New project 'Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020)' comes out under his own name, and it's an intriguing, at times revelatory, listen.
Constructed at sites around London, Fred again... recorded found sounds and utilised these in his electronic compositions, resulting in a unique portrait of the metropolis in flux.
Out now, it's the starting pistol on a slew of proposed artist projects, with Fred again... ready to share some of the multitude of ideas he's been working on over the past few years.
Currently, he's working on a full album with Brian Eno, relocating temporarily to Norfolk in the process so he can be closer to the lauded composer.
Taking time out to chat with Clash, we spoke to Fred again... about the shifting role of the producer, the importance of context when creating music, and why his greatest contribution to British culture might have been a simple iPhone video.
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Congratulations on the new project – how does it feel to put yourself out there as an artist in this way?
I’ve been making this kind of stuff for two years, so it doesn’t feel like that new a thing. For me, this is what I started doing… and then I paused for various reasons, working with other people. It feels like I’m going back to what I always did before, as opposed to the other way around.
You’ve worked with so many people, on some incredibly diverse stuff. Where does that breadth come from?
I feel like all of my friends, everyone I know, listens to millions of types of music. I don’t think the case - as it was once – of “oh this person’s a rock producer” that doesn’t need to exist any more. I find it more surprising when I met someone and they only do one type of music. I think it’s more just the natural state of affairs – everyone has access to everything. The idea of being into a genre is dated right now. I’m lucky to be working in an era when it’s natural to do all different kinds of music.
Headie One’s ‘EDNA’ dominated 2020 – undoubtedly one of the year’s best records. What is he like in the studio?
He’s beautiful. The reason why I work so much with Headie is that his whole spirit in the studio is effortless. Firstly, he’s kind. He’s effortlessly kind. He’s got a soft soul. And also just really open minded. Sometimes you work with artists who have a baggage of intentions and musical insecurities, and sometimes you work with people who are just super down to try stuff. They just throw paint at the wall, and if we enjoy it then it’s bound to be good. Headie doesn’t even talk about the process that much, but his whole spirit is effortless.
You collaborated with BTS, too. That must be a very different process?
Not in the same way, no. A song that I co-wrote last year got pitched to them. I haven’t met the boys, or anything!
Do you prefer being in the studio with people, working directly?
I think – luckily – if we look at all the best songs that have ever been made, then thank God there isn’t any common thread that runs through them. So no one can really come to any conclusive theories about how they’re made. I’m very open to different ways of creating songs, and art, and whatever. My favourite for my heart is to bond with a human in the room, but that being said I will write songs that get pitched out and that’s great too. Sometimes I’ve had songs that I’ve done like that that I love. It’s all kinds, really.
It feels like the role of the producer has changed in the past 18 months.
Yes, but maybe before that. I feel like the change happened 10 years ago, when people were buying GarageBand instead of guitars. For example, the fact that most up and coming singers now can make beats, that’s just so exciting. Instead of playing a few chords on the guitar these people can build some beats on Logic. It’s not so much the role, but the breadth of experience available to everyone has become so beautifully wide. It’s becoming much more of a melting pot of things, in a really exciting way.
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How have you personally responded to the pandemic? Some artists we speak to have thrived on the solitude, but others have been unable to move past it.
I’ve had a bit of both. On the whole, I’ve been really lucky in that I live with my flatmate, who also makes music. I can’t remember who said this, but isolation is one of the oldest allies of creativity, and I don’t think it’s been that different. I was overdue having some really dig-in time on my own. There’s been some trickiness, but largely it’s been nice to have some structured alone time.
The new project has deep roots, how does it feel to finally bring those factors together in one place?
I’m always most excited about the thing that I made that morning. So, for me, this is the thing that I absolutely loved, and felt enormously passionate when I was making it. But right now, I’m totally fixated on the record I’m making with Brian here. So it doesn’t feel like some finishing line moment. I plan on releasing a lot of music in the next few years, and these past two years have seen me honing a sound and an emotional purity that I really want to express. And now I really want to start trying to put as much out as I can.
Will this be solo artist led, or do you have collaborations in the can, too?
It’s more my own stuff. I’m going to be doing this for 10, 20 years… hopefully I’ll be doing it forever! That’s why I don’t feel that ‘finish line’ thing – it’s an honest pure project, but I know I can get better and better! And I know I’ll say that when I’m 60, but until then I’ll keep focussing on getting everything purer and purer.
Do you ever return to ideas?
Very rarely. By the time a song is out, I’m so in love with all the new things that have happened in between. Because sometimes it’ll take months, maybe years, for a tune to come out. By the time it’s out, I’m usually so in love with the new thing that the idea of looking back never really crosses my mind.
The new project is technically very streamlined – broadly, it’s one laptop in a flat close to Waterloo, isn’t it?
Yes! It’s made on my laptop all around London, really. I mean, before London I would generally write in museums, tubes, and places like that. Big places where you can see humans, and feel the humanity of it. The main hallway at the V&A or tubes, the places where people get on and off. Those places still work, even in lockdown. Take the Southbank – it’s this conveyor belt of people. I feel so blessed that I can make music on the Southbank without a tape machine, 20 pedals, and synths… I can just sit there, and feel the human energy, and let that inform the music. I’ll always do it that way.
Does London always inform your music, then? Is creativity internal, or is it a conversation with your surroundings?
I think you’re always reacting to situations and landscapes. I felt that yesterday, working on the record I’m making right now. I’m cycling to Brian’s, going through these fields, to his shed where we’re making these very peaceful, tranquil pieces, and then cycling home. The whole flow is all part of one feeling.
It all sounds a world away from, say, making bangers with Stormzy.
I think the main thing about working with Stormzy is that I feel grateful and truly, truly fortunate to have had those achievements together, and it informs this feeling of excitement about doing more. It’s like: fuck! We’re in this position to make a record, and people will watch the ‘Shut Up’ video 200 million times. To be involved in that in any way at all inspires so much more creativity. I do think about that.
Generally, 99% of the time, it becomes sitting in a room with a human, who is your friend, and you’re writing a song.
I remember being at Glastonbury, though… my favourite thing that I’ve ever done in music was hitting record on my phone for that video with him and Jay-Z. That was by far my favourite contribution to music that I’ve made. I mean that. I was stood there in South Africa at the time, and I had sent that video to Stormzy, and I was like: dude, listen to this guy! And I never heard back, because Stormzy is sometimes hit or miss with his phone – you’ll go weeks without a reply, then he’ll be texting you all day. I was like: oh, they’re missing a real trick here!
I was at Glastonbury with my friends, the lights went black, and then my face appeared on the screen! I thought they’d crop me out, and then I’m there with this video. It was literally one of the most ‘FUCK!’ feeling I’ve ever had. It was just such a moment: culturally, it was Jay-Z passing the baton to Stormzy. It captured the whole thing. So my favourite thing that I have ever done was hitting record on my phone in Johannesburg on a Tuesday afternoon.
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And this new record is different again. Not in London, for one!
Not at all. I’m in a very secluded gaff down a country lane in Norfolk.
How is that different to working in London? Has that shift in atmosphere informed your music?
Totally. Right now, it’s really, obviously informing it. The music that me and Brian (Eno) are doing is a version of the music I’ve made with found samples, but in a very slow, peaceful way, slowly finding a way to shine a light on them. There’s been a few samples that I’ve taken to Brian over the past few years, and we’ve been working on them… often I’ll take little things and turn them into whole songs, but sometimes the sample doesn’t want that. It won’t become a whole, fully formed song. And a few of these that we’ve worked on over the past two, three years, we’ve ended up with something that is a lot more stationary. It will amount to one line. It’s definitely informed the work, this space.
Space is key isn’t it? So many of your collaborations are built for a club space, and this will resonate in a very different environment. Is that an exciting challenge for you?
I think enormously about the context in which the music is listened to. For me, it’s as important as the notes you choose, the clarity of how it will be listened to. But that’s been the case since way back in the day – since Wagner custom-built his own performance hall so he could gain the right reverb tail. He was choosing a reverb plug-in, he just did it manually through building a hall! But for me, it can range from a midnight drive in your car to a completely different context. It’s super important. Even if you build for one thing, and it becomes another, the intention really matters.
Production is such a vast, involved realm. Looking back, was there a key moment where it opened up to you, and became a skill you felt you could access and master?
I played the piano, and I started writing songs when I was 10. Then I had this two-track thing, where I would record the piano and my voice. Then when I was a teenager I got a laptop and I just carried on. For me, it felt like I was doing the same thing. It never felt like I was changing one thing for another… it was very gradual.
Do you still have people you look up to as a producer?
Enormously. I mean, Brian for one – I feel super lucky to have him as a mentor. I’m very obsessed with Kanye. I can’t imagine a more important cultural and musical figure for this generation than Kanye. For me, even if you only count his own productions for other people – not even his own work – then he’s a genius. So, tonnes of people. Totally.
More and more UK producers are coming through and raising the bar. If you had to give someone advice who is coming up, what would it be?
My advice would be the craft of it. I played a lot of classical music when I was younger, and that’s all wrapped up in the craft of your skillset. Obviously, you need to hone other aspects, too, but the best way to get the purity of the feeling on the page or in the song is to do the 10,000 hours of your production or songwriting, because that’s the craft.
What do you have coming up for the rest of the year?
I’m going to do a whole bunch more. I’ve got this album, then I’m going to do more collabs, more music. I’m now in a three year phase of releasing music, in my head. Because I make a lot of music. It’s about the contexts in which these different things come out and breathe. So yeah… a lot!
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'Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020)' is out now.
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