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An Interview With Kieran Hebden

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The alliance of a master jazz drummer, who commonly practices for 3 hours a day yet see`s little point in rehearsing new tunes, and a musician whose palette drips folk, soul, and jazz sampled textures seems unlikely, but if you haven't heard any fruit from these two musical minds growing together, you really haven`t begun to peel the skin, or smell the coffee. Yet.


Steve Reid and Kieran Hebden started working together in 2005. They released The Exchange Sessions Volume 1, and then Volume 2, in 2006; lengthy and exploratory jams and clashes of vibrant rhythm and sampled sounds, these releases were recorded live, with no overdubs. They were released by Domino Records, and, stand on their own as maps of uncharted musical dialogue and territory. Their originality hasn`t gone unnoticed; in the UK, The Observer Music Monthly commented; "And if there`s anyone there who honestly believes that there`s nothing new under the musical sun, this album might just blow your mind".

That journey continued with testing out their tunes to live audiences and they played "all kinds of mad different shows, from drum`n bass nights in Italy, to The Green Man festival in Brecon", describes Hebden, in their Domino records press release, "so the crowds have been really unprdictable. You get old jazz heads coming out to see Steve and dance kids too".

Steve Reid had popped his recording cherry by drumming on "Dancing In The Street" by Martha and The Vandellas in 1964, at the age of 19. The drum sticks have stayed in his hands ever since, picking up the rhythm for such icons as Miles Davis, Sun Ra, James Brown, Ornette Coleman and Fela Kuti. Hebden started Fridge with friends Adem Ilhan and Sam Jeffers and whilst playing with them, developed his own sampler-based resonances as Four Tet releasing the solo albums; Dialogue, Pause, Rounds and Everything Ecstatic, as well as being sought after for his remixing skills.

The twosome have been writing and recording more songs which were released by Domino on March 19th. You would be wrong to assume that this album follows their previous two. Tongues departs in a tangent that has more focus on shorter, distilled improvisation. Hebden set up a number of sample ideas that Reid had never heard before for the recording session, which took place in February this year, and they have captured, in the moment, the one take, musical responses.

They have toured Europe through March as well as playing some shows in the States. They also have a recording trip planned to Senegal for later on this year. Nigel Godrich`s online programme, From The Basement, has featured them live and they have several short video pieces available to get a taster of their formidable sound.

Wilst Tongues seeps, bleeps, and tinkles out of the speakers, tunes are beginning to appear with percussion that is humming, propelling and juddering a space craft through random course  changes. I got staccato pulses and pounding morse-code transmitters set to roam. A good time then to ask Kieran Hebden some questions about playing with Steve Reid, their new Domino album and their plans for the coming year.

Kieran, you and Steve got together a few years back, what are some of your favourite tracks he has done?

I find that I enjoy hearing Steve`s drumming on pretty much everything he plays on. Some key tracks that got me into his music are on the albums he released in the 70`s, tracks like "Kai", "Lions of Judah", and "New Life Trio`s Empty Streets".

Following your recent tour, what's it like playing with a drummer of Steve`s stature? What have you learned from him?

Steve is a true master of rhythm and dynamics and he has opened me up as a live musician by showing me that I could achieve a lot more with live electronics than I realized. It's incredible to play with someone who has such great feeling and timing. He always plays just the right beat for the moment. He has got me thinking about rhythm in ways that I didn't understand before. He is showing me what ingredients make music soulful and spiritual.

How long did Tongues take to record?

2 days recording and 2 days mixing.

Sheesh, quick then, I guess sometimes you can hit the groove and go. What's different about Tongues then, compared to your earlier releases ? Did you set out to consciously change the vibe or the style?

For Tongues the idea was to make much shorter tracks than we did on The Exchange Albums. We tried to only do pieces that were three to four minutes long, which is a less obvious thing to do with improvised music. The idea was to do something with a more focused energy that would grab you like a soul or punk album. The Exchange Sessions were more about long journeys into cosmic music.

Were there any particular influences that you felt shone through on Tongues?

John Coltrane, Morton Subotnick, Photek, Art Blakey, Derrick May, Curtis Mayfield, Kraftwerk, Elvin Jones, Jimi Hendrix, A Tribe Called Quest, Sun Ra, Pierre Henry Carl Craig and many many more.

Jesus, that's one hell of a mix – Have you ever considered using any vocalists?


Okay, no singing then! What was it like performing on the new Nigel Godrich curated Live From The Basement show?

It was good fun. A different experience for us, but really nice to be involved in something like that where you wouldn't normally expect to see improvised instrumental music.

Cool, so how did you and Steve meet?

I had the idea of an electronic and drums duo and was looking for a drummer to do this with. We were put in touch by a friend of mine, Antoine, in France.

That gig you played with Steve and his full Ensemble in London at The Koko in 05, I read somewhere that it was burning rubber of people's feet! What do you remember of it?

It was a beautiful moment in my experiences of music in London. To see such passionate and wild music being played at a peak time to a young audience that had probably never seen anything like this was really special. It was a unique experience for everyone there and a really important night I think.

Did it get put on tape?

It wasn't recorded unfortunately. It really felt like a special occasion at the time though.

Looks like 2007 will be a busy year for you; new album, with more dates to be added to the tour in Europe, more recording, are you planning any more gigs in America?

Yes, we are trying to sort some shows for the summer at the moment. I don't like to plan too much, but there will be more collaboration with Steve Reid for sure, and there is a new Fridge album out in June.

Do you have any particular way of keeping yourselves sane when touring?

We try and look after ourselves, make sure we have plenty of time to relax so we can be as fresh as possible for the shows. if we are playing music then we are usually feeling perfectly sane and happy.

So, spill the beans Kieran, what's on your rider?

Ideally, it would be the killer meatball sandwich they once gave us at a club we played in Greece!

Many thanks to Kieran Hebden and Fiona at Domino Recording Company


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About Paul Hawkins

  • Hey! My name is Shannon and I’m doing a project for school where we have to choose five careers and that we would like to do and get info on them by interviewing people who do these things and I was wondering if you would answer some questions? Please hurry! It’s due tommorrow!