Given how well received his music had become, most people would be surprised to know that, by 2010, Stott felt creatively adrift. He'd been drawing from the same palette for years, had grown tired of his sound, and wasn't sure where to go next. But what looked like a dead end turned out to be a hard left turn, one that would eventually lead Stott to a spectacular new era of his career. With a lot of persistence and good advice from his peers, he formed a sound that was slower, grittier, less clubby. He signaled this new phase in 2011 with two mini-albums, Pass Me By and We Stay Together, and forged further ahead in 2012 with Luxury Problems, his first record with lead vocals, courtesy of his childhood piano teacher, Alison Skidmore.
And yet, even following these bold strides, the real breakthrough came with last year's Faith In Strangers. Stylistically unhinged and recorded almost entirely with hardware (a first for Stott), it's a record he's described as sounding more truly like him than anything he'd released before. Tellingly, it resonated well beyond the techno echo chamber, earning accolades from NPR, Pitchfork and The New York Times. Not five years since he'd sat at his computer wondering if he was out of ideas, Stott had made something strikingly honest and original, establishing himself among that rare breed of artists with a sound that's truly their own. Chatting over Skype one afternoon last month, Stott walked me through his gradual metamorphosis.
How's life been since the album dropped?
Yeah, good. Last year and the year before were very busy for me, but since Faith In Strangers it's gained even more momentum, which is really satisfying and reassuring.
Are you still playing mostly nightclubs and techno parties?
Mostly, yeah, but because the style of music I've done over the past few years has changed, I've started doing more art spaces, galleries and museums and things like that. At first it was really challenging because you don't know what to do—you're used to playing absolutely tough tracks at three in the morning, and then your first gig in a museum is just like, "Awww shit, this ain't gonna go down well." But yeah, you adjust to it, it's good.
Is it nice to get past the club bubble?
Yeah, it's good. It was difficult and a little daunting at first, having never done it, but what isn't when you do it for the first time? But you learn to work out the rooms as well. I remember one show in Italy, there was like a five-second reverb that was playing in this sort of museum slash gallery, and there was one statue, that was, like, ridiculously expensive, they didn't tell me what it was worth. But the promoter said to me, "Yeah, we've told the audience not to dance because I don't want to put in the insurance claim for that statue." So we had a five second reverb, and this guy was stood next to the statue. The statue was a man on horseback, a sculpture, and the guy from the club's got hold of the guy's foot, and every time I dropped a bassline or a kick drum he's just like shaking his head because he can feel the statue's foot vibrating, and he's just like, "Less bass! Less bass! Less bass!" and I'm like, "Jesus Christ!" By the end of it there was no bass, and a five second reverb. It was the weirdest fucking gig I've ever played in my life.
How flexible is your live act? Can you adjust to the night and the venue?
Yeah, basically I have two live sets that run side by side. If I'm playing in a club, I have that one, but within that set there's different paths I can take to make the set as free as possible. But then I'll get maybe a seated venue or an art space, and within that set there's also loads of freedom.
Let's talk about Faith In Strangers. From an observer's perspective this seems like a landmark album, a big stride forward. Does it feel that way to you?
It was a big stride forward, but on a more personal level it was a big accomplishment for me, because that album was 90% hardware, which is something I've never ever done before. Even the bass—you can hear on some of the tracks I'm playing bass. I'd never picked up a bass in my life. But I knew that I wanted to use that sound, and made the most of it. So yeah, I pushed myself to do a lot of different things for this album, and I'm glad its been received the way it has, because a lot of time and effort have gone into it.
As you said, in the past few years you haven't really been making techno—you've been making this slower, moodier stuff. What caused that shift?
There was a time when I was writing tunes, all different styles, but everything sort of sounded the same, the same sound palette and everything. Back then I wouldn't sample anything, I just wouldn't do it, I would try and create the sound instead. It was my mate Shlom, who runs Modern Love, who said to me, "Just sample a few things, just mess around." And that was basically the start of it, that was, like, the beginning of Pass Me By, really. Since then I've just been taking loads of field recordings and sampling the odd thing. And things just seemed to fit at a slower tempo with what I was doing. So that's why everything slowed down and got murky and heavy. And now I'm sort of coming out of that style, obviously Faith In Strangers is the polar opposite of all that.
Are you still into grabbing field recordings? I heard you carry a Zoom recorder everywhere you go.
Yeah, I carry it every time I travel or go to a show. Because, for a start, you're on your own, there's no one you're being rude to by ignoring. So I just take it and have it by my side.
Gotten any good ones recently?
I got a really funny one in Paris. Just some guy busking on the underground with people talking over it, and then this automated female robot voice that comes over the Tannoy to tell you that you're at your next stop. So it's like, this guy's playing this accordion, and then with these vocoded female vocals in French over the top it's fucking wicked. I need to put that to some use.
I think it's interesting how some people have this special ear—they hear everyday things other people find normal or even annoying, but to them it has a musical quality. I remember Marcel Dettmann being blown away by the sound of a noisy radiator.
I remember an air conditioning unit in an airport, I think it was in Dublin. I was stood underneath, holding my Zoom as far to the ceiling as I could reach. A queue of people started to form at that gate, and you could see they were thinking, "This guy is fucking mental, what is he doing?" It's embarrassing, it's really embarrassing, but it's just like, "I'll definitely use this sound, it's really important." Then people start talking right next to you and you're just like, "Oh God, shut up, just give me two seconds." But yeah, the things you do.
Before you got started with the samples and field recordings, did you feel stuck with your sound?
Yes. When I say it sounded similar I don't mean in the tracks per se. But I'd sit at the computer, I'd open the program, and I'd just go to the same bank of sounds, and just change them and change them. It felt like I was doing things without thinking about it, which maybe in one sense is good, but in another sense is kind of boring. But yeah, I felt like I really wanted to push forward, and it was difficult to find the next thing to latch onto, until Shlom told me to try sampling, to record things with my phone, anything. And that opened a different world of sounds. There's grittiness in there, just from the shit quality of recordings you get from your phone. You can't recreate that.
Before that breakthrough, were you worried at all? That you were out of ideas, that you had writer's block.
Yeah, I was worried about that. Frustration was starting to set in, because you just wanna progress, and you feel like it's the right time, and you know, you're not gonna do it if you don't sit down and force yourself, it's not gonna happen on its own. So you're just forcing yourself and forcing yourself and just hitting loads of dead ends. But when you finally find the next thing, there's nothing better.
You're part of a pretty special family at Modern Love. How big of an impact do you think that's had on your music?
Massive. Basically, every track I write, Shlom and I sit down together and we go over it. I'll write something, and we'll sit and he's like, "Well, you know, you've kind of done that, that's like almost a different version of this track that's already been around. So…" It's really good because, I dunno, I don't think anyone's the best judge of their own music. You need that extra person.
Also, it's really rare that it happens now because we've all moved away, but Miles [Whittaker] and Shawn [Canty] from Demdike Stare, and Gaz, who is GH on the label, and Shlom who runs the label—it doesn't happen too often anymore, but we all get together in the office, and we'll all talk about tunes and play each other tunes, things we've been working on, and you get to hear what other people are doing. There's this competitiveness, but in the best possible way. Say Miles for example—Miles will talk about a certain track, it'll trigger something, and it sticks in your mind. You take that away with you, and then it just comes out—you turn everything on in the studio and it just comes out. So we all push each other without knowing.
How'd you first cross paths with all those guys?
I got introduced to Shlom through an old friend of mine. He'd told me to get some tracks together and hand them in, so I handed them in, and Shlom wanted to have a meeting and a sit down and chat about stuff. And I don't know how long it was, but I kept hearing about Miles for a long time. "Miles DJ'd here, Miles really likes this track that you did, Miles this, Miles that." I was like "Who the fuck is this guy?" I finally met him, and within about five minutes it felt like I'd known him for ages. It weren't long after that that he invited me up to his studio, which was like, an hour away from where I lived. I just used to go up after work, and that's where the Millie & Andrea thing started, just going up to the studio and messing around up there.
Did you grow up in Manchester?
Just outside, a small town outside called Oldham, which is spectacularly boring. But yeah, I've lived in south Manchester for the past five years now, so I can't really say I'm from Manchester but I know enough about it to get away with it.
I read somewhere that you said Faith In Strangers is more you than your other records. What did you mean by that?
Right. This is gonna take a while. Basically, the way I started making tunes is, a lot of my friends used to steal cassettes from their older brothers. They'd run down to the house and pass me this tape and be like, "Tape this tonight, and give it me back, tonight, or else I'm gonna get leathered!" 'Cause you know, it's your mate's older brother, and you've nicked his tape. So anyway, you get this cassette, you tape it, and it was all like, the old sort of '90-'91 jungle sorta hardcore thing. Not when it was stupid fast, when it was the good stuff, when it was breaky and slow. And since I was a kid, I just used to learn the melodies, however simple or complicated they were, I'd just try and do it. I never had the sounds, but I could play all the melodies back. And then all of a sudden, I bought a computer off a mate, and all these sounds were in this computer software. And I was like, "Oh my God, I can't believe finally I've got all these sounds that I've wanted!" So I think for a long time it was getting that out of my system—listening to Detroit and Chicago records and then just emulating that style, but hopefully with my personality coming across on it as well.
Eventually I got to that point where it was just the same bank of sounds, and I'd just change it slightly. But when I got started with the field recordings and the slower stuff, it seemed more organic, and that's what I meant when I said it started to sound more like me. I feel like I've got all those sounds from my early teens out of my system, I've stopped emulating things I'm listening to. And now I'm finding my own sounds, making my own sounds. It feels more personal than trying to copy a hardcore track from 1991.
I was looking at the reviews you've gotten over the years, and going pretty far back people have always loved these dubby techno records you were making—Merciless and things like that. But when you hit this new phase, there was a different kind of appreciation—you're getting noticed by The New York Times, NPR, Pitchfork. Basically, exactly at the point where you say you were no longer imitating other records, you got a much bigger reaction.
Yeah, it's so strange, and that's exactly the point as well. I mean, after Pass Me By and We Stay Together, I was able to leave my day job and concentrate 100% on music.
Well, I had to make a decision. I was taking holidays from work to play shows at weekends. It got to the point where I had no holidays left, but I had shows that I needed to go and play. I was working at a garage, and my manager knew that I used to go away at weekends. It was an ongoing joke, actually—he'd be like, "Where've you been this weekend?" And I'd be like, "Japan." And he'd be laughing his arse off, like, "You went to Japan on Friday, and you're back and in work on Monday?!" I'd be like, "Exactly." So I explained to him, I said, "Look, I need to make a decision, I'm getting more gigs than I'm allowed days off." And he said, "Do it, just go and do it." So that was the decision, and so far it's been the right one.
You were working at an auto shop?
Yeah, I was a paint sprayer for Mercedes Benz. That was quite funny, like, recording a track that's half finished and taking it into the garage and playing it on some really, really fucking expensive car stereo systems, and letting the older guys in the repair shop hear it. They'd say, "This is what you do?" And I'm like, "Yeah, this is something I'm working on," and they're like, "Right, you're gonna be working here forever!" Funny.
What was it like switching to music full-time?
It was weird at first, 'cause it just felt like I was off work, and I was gonna go back at any time—like a really long holiday. And I've never had to have the discipline to make myself go into the studio at a certain time of day and work, so that took a while to adjust to. But yeah, just having the time to sit with one piece of equipment and absolutely learn it inside out, as opposed to coming home from work and being like, "Aw I'll mess around with this for two hours, and that'll do." You know, you can concentrate, you can give everything your attention all day. It's amazing. It's really important.
Miles from Demdike Stare, he knows a lot about a lot when it comes to equipment, and there was a time where I'd just be calling him up, and he'd answer the phone, it got to the point where he was answering the phone by saying, "What's it not doing?"
How has your friendship with Miles affected what you do?
Well, how can I say it… Nothing phases him, basically. I'm sat at this desk and I'm trying to set it up and everything, it's getting complicated, complicated, complicated. And whatever it is I'm trying to do, he's done it I don't know how many times. And you just ring him up and within a sentence it's fixed.
It's not just him, though. Luckily everyone at the label—Shlom and Sean and Gav and Miles—we're all honest. Brutally, brutally honest. And that's what you need.
Is that ever hard? Does it ever put a strain on your relationships?
No, no, no. I wasn't used to it at first, but no one means anything negatively when they're saying things about music, it's just a criticism, a constructive criticism, and it's down to however you want to take it. But I remember the first time, it was a bit brutal: "Nah, that's not right." And I'd never heard that—I was just like, "What? What?" But, you know, if it weren't for that attitude then I think I would just honestly be going round in circles, just making the same records.
You mentioned earlier that you grew up with synths, is that right?
Well, when I say synths, I had two. I had a really crap, crap keyboard when I was about nine. I just messed around on it. Again, trying to play things back that my dad would play in the house. I decided to take music at school. So I got a synth, I bought a synth second-hand off a friend, which I've still got, which is under the bed actually covered in crap. But yeah, I got an old Roland D10, which for me at that age was amazing. My school tutor persuaded me to get piano lessons outside of school, and that's how I met Alison [Skidmore], who does all my vocals.
Anyway, I bought one more synth, so I had two. And then that's when I started trying to rip off all those hardcore tapes.
When Alison was your teacher, did her influence extend beyond piano lessons?
It didn't feel like I was with a music teacher when I was with Alison. It felt really open and really easy to talk to her about anything, or if I was struggling with anything I knew I could ask her about it. She used to do one thing that I thought was pretty cool, especially at that age—I was about 14, 15 years old. She'd say, "Right, each week, take me a piece of music that you've been listening to, and we'll dissect it, we'll pull it to pieces. I'll show you the chords, I'll show you how the changes work, etc." And it got to a point where I was taking in tracks like, fucking, Aphex Twin classics, things that she couldn't really pull apart. And she eventually said, "You don't need to study music, you need to study sounds."
Did you end up studying sound?
No, I didn't do anything like that. Basically Alison's like, "Go and study sounds," I'm like, "OK, I'll go and do nothing." I mean, I left school and, like a lot of my friends, I really just wanted money in my pocket so I went straight to work. I did apply for a course, I can't remember if it was engineering, I don't even know, it was just a music course at college. I went for the interview and they had loads of racks and samplers and all sorts when I went in the room, I thought, "This is fucking pretty cool." But I didn't take it 'cause I'd got a job in retail, which was gonna put money in my pocket, I could go out and do whatever I wanted to do. So I chose that. But I taught myself, basically, in my spare time. And meeting people like Claro Intelecto, Mark Stewart, he's like an old friend of mine. And through my teens he taught me a lot as well.
Was there ever a point where you began taking the idea of being an artist more seriously? Did you ever think, "I could do this full-time"?
Oh no, no, no, I was just making music in my spare time because I wanted to, I never thought, "Yeah I could make a good living out of this, I could do alright," never, not once. And just the way things have escalated, you stop and think about it now and then, and you're just like, "Jesus! It's happening, it's really happening!" It's mental. But, yeah, I weren't cocky enough then to think that. I think I'm pretty sensible when comes to big ideas.
So it wasn't until you ran out of vacation days that you actually considered quitting your day job.
Exactly, that was it. And that was both one of the most stressful and most pleasurable problems I ever faced: do I keep my job, or do I go on and follow this career? A luxury problem, basically. It wasn't a hard decision to be honest, it was just the thought, you know, working all your life, to leave that and go and do something that you do because you wanna do it. It was hard to let that sink in.
Is that actually where the title Luxury Problems comes from?
No, no. After I named the album that, a lot of things happened where that title fit. The story behind that title was, I was chatting to a visual artist in Paris, we were both stood next to each other, Clark was playing and we were waiting to pack up. We were chatting about stuff, and I said, "Are you busy? Are you doing anything interesting?" And he was really busy, doing one important project for a big artist, another important project for another big artist, deadlines are really tight and everything. He said, "It's great, it's stressful… It's a problem, but it's a luxury problem." Straight away I said to him, "I'm gonna use that," and he said, "Go ahead, use it." He actually emailed me when that record came out, "I can't believe you actually did that."
You said earlier that you had to be careful not to make "Luxury Problems Two." Where do you go after Faith In Strangers? Do you have ideas brewing for the next record?
I'm writing, I'm writing. It's taking a while to get back into it because the record came out, I think—was it two days after or two days before? Anyway, I got married two days before the record came out. And then I went on a honeymoon and came back and it was like, bang Christmas. And then, like, Christmas out the way, then started doing shows again, so I'm just getting back into writing and finding my feet. I'm just finding something new, I'm exploring at the moment.
Andy Stott is playing our annual event in Barcelona, which takes place at El Monasterio on Thursday, June 18th.