2014 has seen Wilson release his second LP with Melbourne vocalist Oscar Key Sung on Dopeness Galore, a solo EP, Vibrate On Silent, for Mexican Summer and a 7-inch collaboration with Inkswel and New Jersey disco/boogie veteran Gary Davis. This year has also marked the premiere of his latest project, A.R.T. Wilson, a foray into new age music in the form of a cassette-released soundtrack to a contemporary dance work. As this standout year nears its end, I chatted with Wilson about what's been done and what's to come.
So you're about to head off to Europe for the second time this year. How was the last trip?
Great. It was my first experience touring, you know, in as far as playing most nights and travelling and not sleeping and playing the monkey, I guess.
Were you mostly playing live or DJing as well?
Just DJing. The European tour last time was DJing and this time it will be as well. I'll do a live thing at some point, but I guess I want to have the live show in a better place and not be doing it alone because it's pretty dull carrying gear around when you just wanna travel. I mean, I don't see it as a cop out, I've been DJing way longer than I've been playing live for, it's kind of what I was always doing.
How long have you been collecting records?
I've been buying records since I was like 13 or 14, starting at Sanity in Westfield Southland when they used to have like a trance and hard house record shop. I don't really know if I was "collecting" records then, but yeah, I've always had a pretty strong interest in records. There was a phase of buying trance and hard house and absolute rubbish, then there was a phase of buying stuff for sampling when I was trying to be some kind of hip-hop producer or J Dilla or whatever. Since then it's kinda been trying to be some kind of nerdy superior record collector type, buying rare Australian things and spending money on Discogs.
That Daydreaming release that you put out early on, I saw that you'd called that "a love letter to the MPC." Were you really big into that scene around that time?
Yeah, it was a formative period, like that would have been just after I got back from the Red Bull Music Academy, and I was really enjoying that workflow, and I was enjoying sampling effectively what were quite shit records. But it just started to feel less and less like me. Sonically I don't hate the record, but it started to feel weird sampling from a culture that I wasn't a part of, and something that other people could do conceivably way better than me. I guess I was being drawn more and more towards the band scene and the dance music scene rather than the Dilla thing. It was just a really boring part of the musical world for me to be in at the time.
It seems like there are two distinct periods in your discography: there's the sample-based stuff, then it seems like around 2012 it became all original production, and it appeared to have been a really swift transition. What happened there?
It was just the same thing. The problem with the sample-based music scene at the time was—and the disco edits thing as well—that whole culture of looping stuff and borrowing music was I felt like all the people around me, myself included, were borrowing from cultures that we didn't know anything about. Every week someone would be sampling some other Curtis Mayfield record and making some loop out of it, taking it to clubs and making young Australian people dance to it, and it started to feel kind of insincere, it wasn't a culture I knew enough about and I didn't feel comfortable borrowing from it any more. There was such a rich musical history in Australia as well that people weren't really taking part in or contributing to, so I guess I wanted to provide raw material for other people and feel a bit proud of what I was making.
You're obviously really into the private press, low-budget, DIY sort of scene. Is that something you felt you identified with more and that's what led you to the music you're making now?
Yeah, the idea of private issues is really fascinating. I think it just generates really nice results that are weird and personal and, for me, that's what I really love about music. The spark of all the private issue stuff in the '70s around California or whatever else, however you wanna frame that little sub-history, it's really similar to the way that people make music these days. You had guys wanting to be Prince or Michael Jackson, but they couldn't afford a big studio so they just built these little home studios and used little four-track recorders and eight-track records and early drum machines and stuff, and it was a practical way for them to self-record stuff and self-release it, do their own artwork, do their own mastering, and try and sell it themselves, which is kind of what everyone does these days really. So I think that's the closest similarity—looking back at the '70s and '80s—that I see with a lot of contemporary electronic stuff in some weird way.
It seems like the relationship you have with your hardware is really key to your sound.
It's funny when people have the whole analogue/digital fetish, because I don't have a particular want for analogue stuff, it's just I like hardware. I like a physical box that you can play with because they structure the way you end up making music. It's a physical manifestation of what I do, like it structures the way it sounds and it also keeps me interested in wanting to be in the studio, because it gives me little challenges and mental ways of forming my ideas. I really like going to the studio in the morning and turning on the Space Echo and cleaning it for five minutes before I use it. If I used a plugin I would just turn it on and it would work perfectly from the get go, but sometimes it's nice to have little rituals and processes around what you do, it stops you going crazy.
The other nice thing about hardware is that if you want to collect machines, you also have to collect the crazy old men that know how to fix them. So you end up going for drives to the outer suburbs to meet some guy who's got the part that you need for whatever else, or some guy working in his garage who's fixing stuff. I think all those things are funny and are really nice ways to not feel like you're a crazy person huddled in the studio every day huddled over the computer, you know?
The whole idea of keeping things simple really shines through in your music. I feel like Erskine Falls was a defining record for that Andras Fox sound, do you agree?
Yeah, I mean I thought that was my first record as far as what I would do as a solo producer goes. I put out [the Embassy Café LP] with Oscar [Key Sung] as well around the same time, which was mostly my productions as well, which is like the other side of it. It was nice that people supported that one; I wasn't sure how it would go down.
How did you and Oscar hook up?
I moved into a warehouse in the industrial part of Melbourne, in West Melbourne. I guess this was maybe 2011, 2012? He moved in a couple of months after me, and I didn't think we'd get along at first, but we hit it off really well and we both quickly realised that we'd both rather spend Saturday nights at home playing table tennis and wearing dressing gowns and making music than being out at parties. So every weekend we'd both put our best outfit on and go try and socialise, and three or four hours later we'd both be back at the house playing table tennis and messing about in the studio which we were sharing.
We were staying in this huge space with only four people living there, so we just started making tracks together, and we made tapes and tapes of four-track recordings. And then Wouter, who runs Dopeness Galore, offered to put them out and it kind of happened that easily. Most of them we don't even have stems for, and all the tracks were mono, or maybe stereo, recordings of a 40-minute jam that we'd cut back into a track.
Collaborating seems like something you're doing a bit more of. How do you enjoy that process?
I'm not great at collaborating with heaps of people, but if I find someone that I click with it's really nice. I think collaborating with someone for the first time is kind of like sleeping with them. If there's good chemistry then it works really well, and if it doesn't then it's like one of the most torturous few hours of your life, and you feel really sheepish for a while afterwards. And I've had my fair share of both experiences. But with Oscar it's always been pretty effortless.
So the methods for the next album haven't really changed then?
Yeah the methods, I can't really see much changing. I did learn something really amazing about music recently that I've started putting into practice for the Vibrate On Silent release and Café Romantica. It's this thing called stereo. And, apparently, it's hypothetical, but if you pan things you get this, like, rich stereo field and it's like instead of plugging a single line into a keyboard that has chorus effects, you do two. And yeah, so I've discovered that recently, which is a breakthrough.
The Overworld soundtrack—that was a bit of a tangent from what you've done with Andras Fox. Is new age music something that you listen to a lot?
Heaps. I guess it was just the record collecting thing as well. There were some nerdy reissues of ambient and new age stuff and it just became a really interesting genre to look for because it's kinda daggy, like it's not a cool krautrock kind of scene where people will happily spend hundreds of dollars on records. The new age things feel really personal, and the ways that they were produced make them seem like the most private of all private issue records. Like they're so personal and low-budget and nobody really gives a shit about them, so it's kind of the final frontier of record collecting, I guess.
I've heard you say before something along the lines of you like "music for living in"—music that doesn't really demand a listener's undivided attention. Is that a philosophy you bring into all of your music?
Yeah for sure. It's probably to do with the way that I listen to music. I don't normally sit there with headphones alone, listening to a track and fully giving my attention to absorbing it. I love having stuff on in the background when I'm cooking or if I've got friends over or if I'm driving out into the country or kind of environments where other stuff's happening. I don't like recording in silent rooms, I like having the window open and there might be some birds in the background or something. I think that's the way music happens and exists in spaces, and if the rest of your life is interesting then you don't really need a lot from music.
Where do you see yourself fitting in with the Melbourne scene? More on the dance side or more in the band scene?
I think things are quite accepting right now in Melbourne—there's a lot of crossover between worlds, and a lot of people are playing with each other that might make you think, "That's a bit of a weird combination." I'm really happy with how that's worked out because five or six years ago I'd get booked for hip-hop gigs and play house records and everyone would hate me, or I'd play hip-hop records at house gigs and everyone would hate me, so there was more of a divide between those two worlds. Whereas the fact that you've got all these live bands playing alongside electronic duos and solo acts and DJs is pretty healthy right now. Hopefully this sits somewhere in between, like Café Romantica, when it comes out is on Dopeness Galore, distributed through Rush Hour, so a very traditional dance music kind of world, but it's being locally released by Chapter Music, which puts out all the incredible Melbourne slacker rock kinda bands like The Twerps. There's a nice affinity between those worlds right now.
And is music all you're doing these days?
It is. And I feel really good about that until someone asks me if that's all I do, and then I start to feel really self-conscious and uncomfortable about it. This is how it's turned out in the past couple of years, but I wouldn't have really intended for that to be the case. And I'm not opposed to other work. I like to keep quite busy and I don't work in the studio seven days a week, so generally the battle is just between the creative output versus your guilt and how indulgent you're feeling. I'm pretty physically guided. I like mechanical stuff, and I miss that when I'm just in the studio or doing admin or doing shows, so I think in a few years time I'd like to be working a few days a week as a mechanic or something really non-creative, and then doing music for the rest of the time.
What else is in the future?
Well the Overworld record and the Mexican Summer one came out just recently, and I've been working on finishing everything up for Café Romantica. We shot a couple of film clips for that in the recent months, and we'll be touring that when I come back from Europe. I get back at the start of November, just in time for the for Melbourne Music Week, and me and Oscar are doing a big show as part of the big Cut Copy Presents Oceans Apart compilation thing with No Zu and some other really good bands, and I think me and Oscar will do an Australian tour with Café Romantica. And then hopefully by the time that January rolls around I can just leave Melbourne for a while and have a bit of a summer holiday.
Anywhere in particular?
I'm aesthetically fascinated by Perth currently, which is really strange. I think because I've been making what you could loosely call g-funk inspired stuff lately, it feels really natural to want to make stuff in Perth 'cause it's like the West Coast of Australia. Get it? They've got that West Coast sound.