In this rare interview with The Mole we sat down for a chat about his early beginnings and why he started a life in the music industry, a discussion of his production methods and what life is like for him in Berlin these days. He plays live in Room Two for the One Records showcase on the 12th March.
Hi Colin, how are you?
I’m really well thanks. I’m currently in Paris.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Vancouver. I was just back there actually.
Do you still live there now?
No I live in Berlin now. I kinda wish I was back on the West Coast though. It’s super nice out there.
There do seem to be a lot of musicians from there actually…
For sure! Bryan Adams, Michael Bublé… both West Coast.
Did your parents listen to music at home?
Not so much really. My mother gave me a Beatles tape that I can remember. Somebody gave me a Leonard Cohen tape, with a comedy album on the other side. I grew up in the same neighbourhood as Chong (legendary guitarist). He’s also from Vancouver.
How did you get into music in the first place?
When I hit puberty I saw how music was a hit with girls and it just seemed cool - like skateboarding or other things. I listened to the radio a lot, and in Canada that meant listening to a lot of classic rock. I remember listening to AM 600, they had the siren from Led Zeppelin to wake you up at 7am and then there was a different Zeppelin tune every day. The Rolling Stones at 5pm to drive you home. It was all pretty advanced.
And when did you first become aware of electronic music?
Oddly at a club named Berlin in Victoria. I had just talked to the Wizard of X, who DJed there, with John The Baptist and he told me they named it after a Scorsese movie. It’s about a guy who gets lost in New York. Either he doesn’t get into a bar, or he ends up… well there’s a gay bar at some point. Maybe it’s called Berlin, or it’s a punk bar. I don’t remember, but I know that I have to watch it again. Weird, right! I think even before that, there was a British girl at my school and a Dutch guy and he brought records and she brought tapes. It was like James Brown Is Dead & The Prodigy.
"It seemed like a good idea to put out a record, I bought so many, so it made sense to make one!"
Who was really big when you started going out?
I dunno. Well John The Baptist was big, and The Wizard of X. Everyone went and listened to Brent Carmichael, but we didn’t like all the music. There were just a lot of Vancouver DJs, but they are probably only names that would ring a bell for people on the coast.
What was the first setup you used when you started producing?
I bought an AKAI S900 and an Atari 1040ST because it had the MIDI in it and someone told me it was good. I had a really crummy synth – it was a digital synth. The salesman was a really good keyboard player and I thought that if I bought the synth, perhaps I could play just like him. It wasn’t true of course.
How has your setup evolved as you’ve started producing more and more?
I really just got more stuff, but nowadays I really think it doesn’t matter what I have, as long as it’s me. I’ve gotten really lucky to be able to play around with really nice equipment, stuff that’s way out of my price bracket. I don’t know it’s funny, I feel it’s more me changing than anything else.
Do you feel you have changed considerably?
Well I was just back home and it struck me just how far away from there I am nowadays. Hanging with my people was great.
What made you move to Berlin in the first place?
Well I went to Montreal for a couple of years and then a bunch of friends moved to Berlin and they told me it would be alright and that I could make a living. I felt like I was going on an oil rig to work for a short time. I’m still there though, but I guess people get stuck at sea.
What’s your process when you’re starting work on a new track? Do you ever go into it knowing you’re writing towards an EP or do you just jam with your equipment?
Mostly I just get on the equipment and then sift through the stuff I make. I have a pretty high noise to signal ratio. I make a lot of stuff and then I hack through it or just forget about it. I kind of give myself all sorts of different tasks to keep interested, like one day I’ll try and write as many songs as possible and the next I’ll just try and copy E2-E4 or something. Nothing ever sounds the same, so it’s okay – I’m not very good at copying. There’s also an element of hearing one thing at night when you’re producing and then waking up with different ears and the tracks can be either much better or much worse than you originally thought. There’s that famous quote supposedly from Earnest Hemingway: ‘write drunk, edit sober’.
How does your production style, or the way you approach things differ when you’re working with others?
It’s a timely question because I’m working with someone here now. It really depends on who’s driving. In this day and age, there’s always a computer and you can only really have one set of hands on the computer, so there’s one engineer or driver really. If it’s not me, then I tend to sit back and find my role and listen and figure out what’s needed, doing my best to do it justice. There are occasions where you realise that you’re not supposed to do anything and you can kind of feel that.
You’ve worked with some really prolific producers in the sense that they’ve got their own kind of defined sound in some cases. Specifically Mathew Jonson really can be said to have his own sound. Working with him, who’s in the driving seat?
The nice thing about working with Mat is that there’s so much gear in the studio and so little post-editing, that you can really fool around and shift roles. We’re definitely in his studio then and it’s always insane. There’s so much good stuff to work with. He lives in Berlin too. He’s got such a strong identity which always comes through in the music, it’s great!
Do you DJ nowadays at all, or are you just playing live?
Well I started out only DJing. I thought that it was cool to be honest. Then it became a nice place to be at parties. You don’t have to be so social, but you can still make eyes at all the girls.
What made you want to start producing?
Honestly, everyone who was coming to play in Vancouver was famous as a producer and it was getting towards the end of the era of people just being famous for DJing – although of course there are still some now – so then I thought I’d make some music myself. It seemed like a good idea to put out a record, I bought so many, so it made sense to make one!
"I played live at fabric a couple of years back, that’s a classic special occasion, it feels great up there on that stage in Room One."
Now do you mainly play live or DJ?
Mostly DJing really, I save live shows for special occasions. I played live at fabric a couple of years back, that’s a classic special occasion, it feels great up there on that stage in Room One, it sounds so good and the team there are amazing. I even loved the mirror balls on the sides of the room, made for such a cool light show. I wanted to hide in the crowd and enjoy it that way. It was just so nice.
When it’s in full force in that room it really can be incredible.
I wanted to touch on what the scene is like now in terms of electronic music in Canada?
It’s quite popular, whatever 'popular' means. It’s vibrant and there are loads of great producers and DJs. There are festivals and there’s even some equipment manufacturers – people making synthesisers and stuff. People still like to dance, but you have to be aware that it’s still got the archaic liquor laws. There are still dancing laws in some places, which is insane!
So far removed from where we are in Europe.
Yeah for sure. But there are some very enthusiastic, very educated people. It’s not just the old timers either.
When did you move to Berlin and how did your viewpoint change in terms of your musical consumption – did you start going out more perhaps?
I guess it was about 8 years ago now. There’s just way more going out to be had here, or at least it’s in a different way. In Montreal for instance, going out would have meant seeing more bands than DJs perhaps, at that time when I left anyway. I’m not sure I went out more, I was just sort of blown away by the whole European culture of music. People grew up with Sven Väth’s pop band or other things like that. The background is completely different to mine – not for everybody obviously, but some. I’m still amazed by that.
Which of your producer friends from Canada moved over at the same time?
Well a whole bunch really like Konrad Black, Mike Shannon, Deadbeat and Mathew Jonson plus more. It really was a ton of people, it was crazy. Berlin is really fluid like that. It’s a great place to go and lose a couple of years.
"I’m not really in charge of promotion though, I’m not allowed to do it, because I don’t do it. I just make the music and buy the records, and to be honest I’m happy with that."
Or 8 in your case!
Ha, yeah. Exactly!
So what are you working on at the moment?
An EP with a local Parisian producer. And then we are doing a show of it. Right now we’re practising the show. Paris is really awesome these days. I’m here more and more it seems these days. It’s happening. The parties are really good here.
What else is on the horizon for you?
Actually I just bought a reverb that I’m really looking forward to using. I’ve also got the studio to myself for a couple of weeks, so I’m looking forward to that too. I’ve really got to figure that out actually, as I just got off vacation for a month, so I haven’t really thought about it for a while. In that whole month, all I did musically was play drums once with a friend and jam on a keyboard with another friend in Edmonton. Basically I’m gonna have to check what’s in the future. I know there’s lots going on, or I hope at least! Obviously I’m coming to play at fabric, so I’m gonna get really ready for that.
How many times have you played for us now?
I think about once or sometimes twice a year for the past six or so years. It’s great there! I went there before playing a couple of times. I went to the 10th birthday. I think I was wearing a sombrero for about a day. It was super fun, I was really blown away – it was a huge weekend. I really love stopping by.
How do your experiences of going out inform the way you perform a DJ set? Do you just play what you might want to hear as a clubber at that moment, or is it something else?
Well I pack my records in my bag, so I only really have those to work with. I spend a good time at home going through my records and making sure I fill the bag with whatever I think is cool. Once it gets going, the bag does the work for me – it’s all about the packing, I like to make sure I’ve got the stuff in there I like. I usually go and wander around some shops too. I packed just one bag for my whole time in Canada just now - I was there for a month – and I didn’t know what kind of situations I was gonna get into. I was playing with some heavy disco dudes all the way to the freaks on the other end of the spectrum. So I had to make sure I could be versatile in some way.
I guess you have to pack enough of one thing to make sure you can play along one vibe though?
Well in Canada, it’s horrible actually, the sets are all super short, two hours is shocking for them, it’s those liquor laws again. One of my buddies played an hour long set in Calgary and he only brought two records, so he just played four songs for an hour.
Can we expect another album at some point soon?
Yeah I think so. I’ve got a lot of music at the moment at home. I just have to figure out how to deliver it in a nice way. But yeah I think so, it’s probably a good idea. I don’t think I’ll make too much of a fuss about it if possible. I’m not really in charge of promotion though, I’m not allowed to do it, because I don’t do it. I just make the music and buy the records, and to be honest I’m happy with that.
Photo: Lisa Gobmeier