There can be no doubt at all that Southampton-based producer is at the forefront of a revolution in electronic music. Having had releases on labels from Inspected & Mad Decent right through to his own, home-grown imprintFent Plates, this young guy is riding high just now, and with multiple releases forthcoming this year, it doesn’t look like this growth is going to stop any time soon. I caught up with him for a fairly in-depth interview – check that out below, and take a listen to some of my favourite tunes of his scattered throughout the interview.
Hello Asa! Why don’t you introduce who you are and what you do…?
My name is Asa, pronounced like ‘Acer’ the laptop company or whatever. I’ve grown up in Southampton and started out by making these weird little tunes on an old computer, which grew into something much bigger than I thought it would and has now somehow turned into a profession of sorts. In a bit of a transition at the moment as I am moving to Bristol soon. but yeah, that’s a brief summary I guess!
What kind of stuff did you start off making? Was it similar to the stuff you make just now?
Erm I guess so, when I first went near the idea of sequencing it was very much copy and paste hip hop, as is this the case with so many producers I suppose. but about 5 years ago I got into dubstep and that’s kinda where I laid down my roots, that was the community I came from anyway. I guess there was always an obvious effort to make music with some sort of emotional content, which sounds way more pretentious than it is haha
Yeah, sounds like a pretty natural progression, we’ve all gotta start somewhere! You described your past music as dubstep… is that still the case? Or do you like to refer your newer stuff as something different?
I have nothing against this question but it is simply the hardest to answer, and I think that is the same for all musicians/artists. Ultimately when you start out in one of these communities or dare I say it, ‘scenes’, everything is simply defined by its tempo. then little sub genre’s and tag’s appear when producers approach a tempo with a certain style which ultimately is all very silly, it serves a purpose but it doesn’t help anyone in the long run. I guess in the past 2 or 3 years things have really started to blur at the edges and everything has and still is cross pollinating in terms of EDM. I certainly don’t feel tied to any community as a whole anymore, it’s more of a case of who you surround yourself with. my community consists of my friends, who just so happen to very talented producers and musicians. Half of my stuff sounds like folk music to me, I don’t know…. as you can tell by my elongated answer that hasn’t gotten anywhere, it really is the toughest question to answer.
Fascinating – I’ve only ever heard answers to that by listeners as opposed to the artists themselves, so it’s really interesting to have a new insight into it. I’m listening to your stuff right now, and the folk influence definitely shines through. But, do you think that, if the opportunity came along, you’d start producing a lot of the sort of so-called ‘popular dubstep’…? Or do you feel like you’re comfortable producing what you are just now?
I could start writing really rigid half-time tunes at 140 if I wanted to, but that is not something that has ever appealed to me. there is a lot of shit dubstep now, it’s so funny seeing the term ‘brostep’ being used in a serious context now. I remember that was just a thread on dubstepforum that got out of hand.. the power of the internet i guess! the bulk of my friends are some of the most talented dubstep producers around, I really know nothing about the genre now but I know what my friends do is great. I’m comfortable with what I am doing, I’ve got big plans. I’ve managed to retain my own sound which is what matters to me, I started an alias recently with my friend ‘Kursa’. We are going by the name ‘Vexisle’ and it’s for all of the weird, techy stuff… Everything under my name is still about telling stories and having these really prominent emotional themes throughout the tunes.
Now setting up home with a Label like Inspected might surprise some people, but I’m really happy with my situation and yeah… I know what I want to do, it will take a lot of work but it’s exciting!
Yeah, I’ve got mad respect for you keeping to your own style and not changing to try to fit in. And was also meaning to talk to you about this ‘Vexisle’ thing – what can we expect from you guys? Are you guys gonna be releasing records, or is it more of an artistic outlet?
Well we are just finishing our first release, it’s a remix for my friends ‘Statix’ and their tune ‘Londinium’. It’s a strange 2-steppy granular mess, I don’t really know what else to say. the tunes we have written so far are all neurofunk and, for sake of argument, ‘neurohop’ ‘glitchop’ whatever you want to call it, it’s around 100bpm and it has the same production pallet that most neurofunk producers draw from. Everything put out under that name will be of a very high standard, I really enjoy making that sort of stuff aswell – it’s what most of my friends are known for, it’s what im surrounded by so I started to realise that the tunes under just my first name ‘Asa’ needed to be kept aside, not that I want to just stick to ‘one sound’ but i think both names serve different purposes, if that makes sense?
Statix are sick! Can’t wait to hear that. So, I’m assuming the production process is going to be very different to what it is now? Especially working collaboratively with someone on the tunes…. do you find that easy, or do you work better alone?
I work great with other people, normally it only works in person though. all the stuff with KOAN is always done in person, so is the Vexisle work, so were the tunes from the recent release which featured my friend ‘With Joyful Lips’. My first EP for Inspected was written with my friend ‘Stumbleine’ which was very a unique experience, we did it back and forth online and worked that way as i sequenced it all at my end. and it worked great, so every project is different.
In all honesty I’m looking forward to working by myself, I’ve started planning my next EP and I’ve demoed a few songs already, you just have to maintain a certain work ethic and persistence to get this stuff done. I do at least…
Oh yeah, completely slipped my mind how many collaborations you’ve done! By the way, a lot of people seem to be wondering (myself included) when the Inspected EP you did with Stumbleine will be out… Sounds like musical perfection to me…
Well Mr.Gemini has an EP out next week, then our EP is the release after that… So not too long! It’s all finished, artwork, masterings, the lot. it was an epic 6 month project really that we had to keep under wraps, I can’t wait for people to hear it and it was finished in January so you can imagine how much I’m itching to show people. But I’m really proud of it, I listen to it a lot even now which is saying a lot as I find it very hard to listen to a lot of my work haha
I, for one, can’t wait! To change the subject, we spoke earlier about you in your earlier days producing tracks on an old computer… but for all the other producers out there, what’s your set-up just now?
I don’t really talk about what software I use, out of choice mainly because there really is no 1 set thing anyone should use. So software aside, i run a new iMac and the monitors I use are Rokit KRK8 G2’s, people give them stick but it’s what me and my friends have always used, I trust my judgement of these monitors. I have a steadily growing amount of outboard gear, I have a dbx 160A, an old Alessis 3630 (the notorious ‘Daft Punk Compressor’ – it really is a useful bit of affordable equipment if you know what you’re doing, as old as it is) and I have an art TPS ii pre-amp which all run’s into This focusright DSP interface that deals with everything very well. I’ve invested in good microphones and a compact yet very strong set of outboard gear which is a crucial factor in how I write and record music.
A lot of cool kit there man! Something that’s always fascinated me about your productions is the percussion – there must be a hell of a lot of sampling and arranging involved – what kind of samples do you use?
well going back to the last answer, I record all my foley parts myself. anyone who know’s me know’s that I’ve always been big on sitting around with headphones on recording strange sounds, and that has really translated to the tunes. I done have these mic’s and outboard gear for nothing haha. loads of people ask about percussion, and i really think people over think it. it’s just my sound, it’s a signature trait of my production. i obviously don’t record my kick drums myself. but I’d say a good 90% of all my percussion now has been recorded by myself, you just build up your own libraries over time and refine your sound. if your going through sample packs your starting where everyone else started… if you start with a microphone and your imagination, your starting somewhere completely different and you will end up with a result that is original and most importantly, yours.
Yeah, I remember you saying on one of your tracks that you sampled cutlery and wine glasses for the percussion… that’s crazy, it’s so creative. Looking to the future with regard to sampling, you seem to be using a lot more live instrumentation in your tracks of late (e.g. violins)… is that something that you want to carry forward in future productions?
Well most of the violin work is down to my violinist, Alicia. We have a great working relationship, she is based out in the states so the logistics are a bit crazy but you will hear some more from her on the EP with Stumbleine and some other bits and bobs in the future for sure! Acoustic instruments in general are just becoming a more prominent feature in the writing process, i always used to sample things when I didn’t have the means to record them myself – but everything as of late has been written on acoustic instruments and then has been sequenced or whatever. So incorporating those kinds of instruments has always been something I did, the only difference now is that it’s all original parts which is obviously really satisfying. As I said, I’ve got big plans!
Sounds awesome! You can definitely hear that sort of acoustic element coming through in the last Fent Plates release – really works. Also, another thing I’ve noticed is that you seem to remix quite a fair few tunes… but what do you look for in an original before you set to work on a remix? A strong melody, a good vocal…?
haha yeah I have remixed way more than people think aswell… so many tunes that have become huge by friends, i have remixed aswell. I’ve worked for a lot more high profile acts than people may think, me and Stumbleine even done work for Ed Sheeran last year. I done work for about 4 very well-known pop acts, took my money and made sure i was barely credited. not out of any disrespect, just that when your working on things like that its the original composer’s art, ya know? you’re just there to help with the production.
What it is more than anything is that I get asked to remix so many tunes that I absolutely love, only a small amount of these remix’s ever get released. some people may hear clips on my Soundcloud but they rarely go any further than a short 1 or 2 minute clip. I’ve started saying no to that kind of work a lot more recently. I do two types of remixes: I do remixes for the producers who I am friends with and whom I respect. & I do remix’s for interesting projects that I just so happen to get paid for aswell, I’ve turned down good money for a lot of things if it’s just stale, boring music. I have done a lot of remix’s, but I really do love everything I do – otherwise I wouldn’t do it 🙂
There are so many fucking things that never even come online that people would be so surprised by, but most of them your literally under contract to not talk about.
Okay, so moving on…. you said earlier that your name is pronounced like the computer company Acer… does this give you any sort of special technical ability with computers?
haha errrrm not really I’m afraid, my parents were the hippie types and I got an interesting name that I am very thankful for! bit annoying being confused with an Nigerian vocalist though…
So we established earlier that you enjoy working with other people on tunes… but if you could work with any musician, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
waaa so many names spring to mind, so I’ll just go with who I’ve wanted to work with recently…
Lisa Hannigan, definitely. There is Ben Howard aswell, I’ve been lucky enough to be in contact with him so we shall see if that turns into anything when he has some down time. But ultimately it’s gotta be Nizlopi, would give anything to work with those guys. Once again I’ve been in contact with JP the Double Bass player but since Nzlopi kinda stopped its looking more and more like it will never happen. In terms of other producers i always say how lucky i am to be surrounded by such a diverse bunch of RIDICULOUSLY talented people, so I tend to work with my favourite artists which might be hard to believe but it is so true. There is one guy though, Sorrow… I’m talking to him on Skype aswell right now, he has just moved into a new place and can’t really work on tunes so much but he is showing so much promise and we both kinda know that we will work really well together, so we will be starting something soon I’m sure.
Sorrow is incredible, I’m a massive fan of his… So – tell us one thing about Asa that most people don’t know….
That’ll do! Quick fire round time…
Tekken or Streetfighter?
Streetfighter, dun know.
Pizza or pasta?
Pizza (watch the diabetes, pasta full of bare carbs)
True true. Tea or coffee?
Tea. ginger and lemon all day, everyday.
Whuuut? Never had that before, sounds like it’s a Chinese delicacy. Sold out arena show with frat-boys, or back-room gig with about 50 Asa fanboys/fangirls?
Back room gig with 50 people, most definitely.
Strangely enough I’m still getting booked and all the same type of events as my friends, strong bro contingency at every show… I’ve only got two bookings this summer where I can play chilled stuff, one is in germany and one is at a didgeridoo festival. Crazy shit!
Ahh man, they’re only there to hear you play Levels or something… Digeridoo festival sounds weirdly awesome! Cats or dogs?
Dawgs dawg. And finally… Acer or Apple?
haha as much as I disagree with all the fucked up cobalt mining and such things apple are heavily involved in…. I stick with macintosh.
Here’s some free advertising space, plug what you want to…
People should check out the recent vinyl release on Fent Plates and look out for the Inspected EP with Stumbleine!
Thanks a lot for your time Asa!