TEEBS: MAKE WHAT YOU THINK IS MISSING
Teebs’ Ardour, out now on Brainfeeder, might be the most beautiful and delicate album released all last year. The tracks replace hard notions of narrative, chorus or verse with soundscapes wherein tones and sounds bloom and fade, smoothly transitioning from one part to the next. He speaks now about anime, time and motion. This interview by Kristina Benson.
Your record got some really amazing reviews. Pitchfork, for example, said that ‘It’s the equivalent of watching biological life expand in sped-up time lapse.’
I thought it was a cool reference. I never took it that far in my own mind, but I like the idea of achieving a kind of organic state with my sound. So I guess they kind of hit the nail on the head with that one.
Was that something you were going for deliberately? Reaching an organic sound through technological means?
Yes. I like the idea of approaching work like that in general I guess. The format of my music isn’t very structured, and that might be part of it, or an outcome to why it sounds like that. I found the sound, and I work with it and I let it go. There’s this guy Chessa—he’s a piano player—and he’ll open up a grand piano and throw a bunch of stuff on the strings. A pearl necklace, a toothbrush, a bunch of things, and you can hear all this crazy percussion. I’ve never seen him do it live or anything, but he’d just play and put toys on it. It’s truly interesting.
Strangeloop says he tries to reach the divine through technology. Do you try to do that?
I’m definitely trying to reach something. Reach a freedom through technology—a freedom to create stuff. I like the idea of people just kind of slowing down with it. I just imagine myself closing my eyes. Not necessarily a full-on journey from the song itself, but from the repetitiveness of it people could just lose track of time—take time with it. I like that idea. Or use it as background music. Whatever works. But I really like the idea that people can just really… I don’t know. Go easy with it.
You said in our first interview that you start with the melody. But I went back and listened, and it seems like the songs don’t really have a melody and narrative in a traditional sense.
Yeah, it’s more loose. Is that what you’re saying? That there’s not a real narrative? I’m not trying to tell stories, just emotions that come across. There’s no narrative that people should be trying to catch. When I create, it’s hard to say if I’m going for anything specific. It’s like, ‘I’m feeling a certain way and I have this sound and let’s see how I can make it into a loop and how far it can go.’ Cuz a lot of loops I pull, I just kind of break down a small amount of material as far as I can and leave it like that.
How do you know when they’re finished?
It’s just a feeling. Most of the time it just feels done. I like to hit one emotion and pull out of it. When it’s done, it’s done. You never know though, I guess—if you give me more time I could just keep toying with it. When it feels about done, you can tell. That’s how I look at it.
Is it the same with your paintings?
There’s so many layers in your work—I imagine it’d be tempting to go on and on and never stop.
It is tempting. When I’m painting walls—that’s pretty tempting—I want to keep going until it’s destroyed, but usually with music I like to find—I dunno. It’s like if you’re fast-forwarding through a tape, not at high speed but at medium speed, and you just hit a point. ‘That looks great there—stop! Let it go.’ And then it’s done. But you can keep working it to death, or leave it at that one age and leave it be in history.
What are you trying to capture?
Nothing in particular. Just an instant—it’s hard to describe. I was watching a video called Art22. They were putting some older artists into categories. They said one guy was a ‘power artist’ and this other was more conceptual. And the power artists were more for instant—like instant gratification. Instant, in-your-face kind of artwork. And I like that idea, having stuff that’s very—you absorb a lot instantly and then you can gradually go with it. So no particular emotions, but definitely the idea of an instant kind of thing, if that makes sense?
Are you going to try to score a movie?
Down the line, when I start producing some more and getting more ideas out, I’d love to give it a shot. I would probably score—there’s this anime, I can’t remember the Japanese title. But in English it’s called The Black and White Twins. It’s about these two kids that jam around and they’re like orphans. And one’s really crazy and one’s peaceful. It’s a great film. I used to live in Monterey Park, I think it was maybe a year or so, and I really got into anime films at that point. I think I was the only black kid on the block. There were a lot of Asian families and we just went to gaming places and all this random stuff.
If there was a movie that could be made to fit Ardour, what would it be about?
It would probably be about following kids around. Like about little kids—maybe the age of the kids in The Sandlot. That little kid age and that kind of attitude, but not a movie like that at all. Just that age—before, they’re kind of boring. But this age, they can jam around and not seem like assholes.
The painting on the cover for Ardour—where did it come from?
It’s just a feeling. I call them floaters—they look like floating masses. I like the way they make people feel. Or make me feel.
Are you working on another art project or record?
Two weeks ago, if you would have asked me that I would have told you that I just bought an Xbox and I’ve been vegging out. I’m stuck on Call of Duty. And Lego Star Wars, Lego Batman and Lego Indiana Jones. But now—I’m trying to finish an EP for sometime later next year. That’s in the works. And some art shows, I think I’m doing something in Canada and a bigger thing in Denver. So I’m pretty excited, working on more pieces, developing my style more.
Is it possible for you to simultaneously work on a record and an art show?
I usually work on both. When I’m working—my daily work—I go back and forth all day. It’s like you’re working on music, working on music, and then it’s like, ‘OK, I’m done. Wherever I’m at, I gotta put this down.’ And it’s easy for me to go to the art, and everything I’ve been working on looks fresh, and I have a new eye for it. Then I work on art until I’m over it or until the paint needs to dry, and then I go back to the music. I usually work most of the day, throughout the week. I’m just kind of a hermit.
You told XLR8R that a lot of people were trying to emulate FlyLo when his record came out, and as much as you love his stuff, you said it was still important to do something new. What were you reacting to?
I think I was already getting heavy into my sound before heavy biting was going on. I know when bass music got really popular and dubstep kind of spilled over into the States, it was something I was definitely trying not to do. It’s been done so many times by so many kids.
Do you feel like you’re confined by the fact that so many things have not only been done, but done really really well?
No, I don’t feel confined at all. It’s just kind of like, if you hear too much of one thing, you don’t want to continue the same thing. You want to kind of push. The whole idea is to push boundaries and try to do something different; it’s never a confinement. Just not trying to do what’s already been heavily done. For me, the best way to start is to get to know yourself a little bit better? Create your own look on life and build that sound through the creation you made, something like that. As long as you get an idea of a character you like, and use this character—what would he like? You can use this whole character you made up for yourself.
Which is Ardour—something you would like or something your made-up character would like?
I think it’s a nice blend of both. I try to make—well, it’s a stupid line. But someone, when I was a kid, said ‘you have to be the hero that you want to see’ or some stupid crap like that. It’s kind of true, you know—you make what you think is missing. I thought that this would be cool, if someone was doing something like this. So I tried to do that, since I can’t be exactly what I am in my head, whatever comes out is it. It’s rare that what I have in my head gets laid out exactly how it is. I’ll just try these ideas that I think are incredible and when I actually get an opportunity to try it, it sounds like complete crap. And I just make that crap work into something I’d actually like. Never right off the bat is it like, ‘I have these great ideas!’ and boom, it’s there. I know people who can do that! Music is just not so easy for me, I guess. I don’t think it’s limitations, I think it’s just me. I just think for some reason I can’t make what’s in my head and that’s part of it.
When I first started using the computer to make music, I’d get frustrated and be all, ‘This sounds like utter shit and it is supposed to sound awesome. Is there a Be Awesome function? Where is the Make This Sound Awesome Button?’
I’ve been looking for that button too.
TEEBS’ ARDOUR IS OUT NOW ON BRAINFEEDER. VISIT TEEBS AT MTENDERE.TUMBLR.COM.