Producer extraordinaire Labrinth barely needs introducing. The beat he made for our 100th issue cover star Tinie Tempah earlier this year on the number 1 track Pass Out has literally been all over everywhere this summer. Labrinth though is about to embark on a solo career, after recently signing to Syco. Liam Tootill has been down to his studio to talk about who he’s been working with of late and to find out how this artist goes about the creative process of writing music…
What sounds can we expect to hear on your debut album?
Definitely funk, you’ve gotta love the Parliament Funkadelic and Prince, I also wanted to explore sounds that I’m not really used. I mean, I love Daft Punk, but I’ve never really produced a song in that sort of vein. I just want to go on a journey and kind of almost learn things through sound, if you get what I mean. I wanna be like a photographer of music, going into so many different worlds and taking pictures on my own, from my perspective. Like with Pass Out, at the time, you can hear drum and bass was affecting me, reggae and dubstep, so it all dropped into one picture, to put it like that.
RWD have heard word on the grapevine that you’re going to be releasing music with Wiley and possibly JLS – is there truth in either of these rumours?
I worked with JLS not too long ago and I produced a song for them and they said they weren’t gonna use it for this album because it was quite wild and a bit out there. But I do think there will be some stuff with JLS. It’s just fun to work with a group that are not necessarily from the style that I do and almost trying to give them a ‘cooler’ element in the urban scene. That’s what I really set out to do. That’s my ambition with JLS. And then, with Wiley, we’ve known each other for ages and known about each other and obviously – he’s the Godfather of grime – so I definitely wanted to work with him, just for the experience really.
And we’ve seen some tweets that Yasmin has been knocking about the studio…
Yeah she has. It was weird, like, Yasmin was just DJing and some people that I spoke with were being cynical about her becoming an artist, but the truth is, her voice is amazing man. She’s been hiding this little talent she’s had, this little bit of gold she’s had in her pocket, and she’s brought it out on a style that I kinda created for her, which is this kinda Massive Attack vs The Fugees and some other styles she told me she likes and so I tried to throw them all together and make something that is unique to her really.
How do you go about making music for an artist that you don’t necessarily know that much about before you begin working with them?
I just try and find out as much about them as possible and then make a musical picture using all the things they love. So, with most artists I tell them to bring stuff with them to the studio, even if it’s not music, it could be a picture, it could be things that they’re into, we’ll go on the internet and like – while I’m talking to them I’m seeing them do certain things, and if they’re silly, or if they’re a very angry person then I can bring that onto a song, I kinda know how to express that because me being an artist myself I understand how to express those emotions. For example, with Pro Green, with Oh My God, what I saw in him was those cheeky lyrics and he’s this gritty guy from east London and I wanted to kind of express that and he’s also moving into sounds that he’s not really come from, like indie, dubstep, drum and bass – he’s moving into those sounds now as well, and I wanted to express that in Oh My God.
That’s very interesting. Another person we’ve heard you’ve been trying to work with is pop starlet Ellie Goulding, is that true?
Yeah, well a little while back Tinie came to the studio and was like, ‘Ellie’s feeling you man, she’s feeling what you’re doing’ and I was like, ‘I would love to work with her’ and then it was just circling through the industry. It seemed every meeting I would go to people told me Ellie was feeling me and I just was like, ‘I need to meet this girl’ and she ended up coming down and jumping on one of Tinie’s records we got, and definitely still looking to work with her again man. I want her on my album actually.
So is this the studio where Pass Out was produced?
Yeah man, this is the room. This is where the magic with Tinie happened. But you know Frisky was produced on my laptop at my manager’s house. I was staying there and late in the night I got this idea and it just kinda dropped out on my laptop.
When you created those beats had you spoken with Tinie first about the direction he was gonna go with in terms of the lyrics?
So you show him that and then he’s feeling it and thinks brilliant…
Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. Pass Out was already semi created when Tinie came. So, it was eight bars and then I showed it to him and he was like, I got an idea, and he just had like a chorus and threw it down on that eight bar. And then like I said earlier, when I get a vibe from someone I just start throwing down a whole beat, and it was no different with Tinie, I met him, felt his vibe, and just started putting his vibe on the song. With Frisky, again, same kinda thing, I started an idea, threw it to Tinie and he was just like, ‘I’m feeling this’ and just threw his energy on it.
If we just quickly have a look around the studio, I can see multiple synths, keyboards, you got your mixing desk there. What software do you use to create your tunes and talk me through a bit of your kit…
Ok, first and most important software that I use is actually my vocals [Labrinth goes in and makes some funky sounds with his voice to demonstrate before breaking out into a laugh]. Seriously though, that is the best instrument that you can have because it makes my beats for me. It’s like, I will put down a break beat, but only after I’ve beat-boxed that break beat first and then I’ll find a sound to go with what I wanna do, whether that be a chord or a melody, it usually comes from my voice first, and then I would probably go to my BFD drums – I love those BFD drums. I love a bit of
Vienna strings – actually the whole set – strings, piano, orchestral sounds, the whole little thing there. And all that’s on Logic Pro. It’s a bit of a dirty secret yeah, but I used a lot of Logic presets on Pass Out, and people would probably kill me for that but I kinda made them work man, you know what I mean. I love my bass and guitars. I love my telecaster so much, this one’s amazing man [pulls his telecaster off the wall] it’s quite beautiful, she’s kind of baby blue. I just love the sound. I’ve also got my JX-3P – it’s like an old eighties keyboard and it does me some beautiful justice when I wanna bring out those weird little eighties sounds. Vienna
What do all your different synths do?
Ok, if I’m looking for melodies and little over-tones I’m going for the microkorg or the JX-3P. For inside the computer I’d go for either the mini-moog – I love that – or, the PolySix. Nord Lead is perfect for that as well and for those gritty bass sounds I’d go for the Nord Lead too. But I wanna say it again, most of the time I really do just use my mouth for a lot of things, like, a lot. Like, some of my bass lines I have on tracks is me just making bassy sounds with my mouth and it works. My mouth is my biggest plug-in really. I keep forgetting what my mic is called, but it’s amazing, let me just put it like that, it was five grand. And now I’m going for the ten grand one. Thing is, in truth I’m about to upgrade a lot of my kit in this studio.
I’ve noticed over there you’ve got some Beats by Dre headphones…
I got myself some Dre Beats. I’m trying to sell them man, not sell them literally, I mean, I’m trying to promote them so I can get myself some free Dre Beats, because I wanna get sponsored. I want some Lab Beats. There’s this rumour going around, that this guy in Universal puts Dre Beats on every artist, so if you watch videos very closely from artists that come from Universal or Interscope they all have Dre Beats in their videos.
What was the last piece of music that you listened to?
You know what, I was listening to Kiss, the band, I was watching their documentaries, and that was funny. It’s a bit weird, because it’s not in any of my music.
Finally, being part of Syco, do you have Simon Cowell’s number in your phone?
No, he won’t give me his number, he thinks I’m gonna give it to my girlfriend. She really likes him.
He must have your number in his phone?
He probably doesn’t you know, I didn’t wanna give him my number. We keep it very exclusive. He’s still my uncle, but we keep it exclusive. If I get a number 1 then he’s probably gonna want my number.
(Written by Liam Tootill on 20 Aug 2010 for RWD Magazine)