He’s been called a lot of things, and rightly so, because Bristol’s classically trained Phaeleh (pronounced ‘fella’) has been moving to the rhythm of his own beat for some time now.
Date published: 20th Feb 2013
Labeled dubtronica, IDM and atmospheric, the producer - né Matt Preston - has taken the slow path to success; choosing creative control over an instant success that burns out as soon as it ignites.
Since releasing the lauded ‘Fallen Light’, Phaeleh has learnt a lot of things – he’s wise to the music and just as wise to the industry, so it’s only natural that his 2013 follow-up has ears pricked with anticipation.
The self-effacing musician talks to Jasmine Phull about the ephemeral nature of dubstep in an honest account of his career thus far.
As a classically trained musician, what’s one thing that constantly influences your musical output?
Life is the constant influence for me. Whilst I can get ideas and small bursts of inspiration from listening to other work or being at concerts or gigs, I find the ups and downs of life to be the most consistent source of inspiration.
You’re currently working on your 2013 LP. Since releasing your debut some five years ago, what are three things you learnt along the way?
Well I think the best advice I got a few years ago was to sit on my tunes and not give them up to the first label that showed interest. A few months down the line other opportunities came along, which would have been far better, but unfortunately the tunes were already lined up elsewhere.
Always trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right, whether it's a gig, a collaboration, a remix or whatever, it normally will end up with some issues. You've had your instinct your whole life, so trust it more than any industry jokers who've appeared on the scene over night.
Don't believe the hype. Everyone is obsessed with getting support from certain DJs or exposure on certain blogs but most 'hype' doesn't actually translate into increased sales or revenue, so I maintain that grafting hard and doing your own thing will have more long term benefits than playing the hype game. Chances are you'll have a more loyal following than just getting interest from people waiting for the next big thing.
Do you think you’ve become more business minded having dealt with the music industry first-hand?
Absolutely. Whilst the creative side of my work will always be a very personal thing, you have to be able to realise that once those releases are ready for the world they become another product supporting your brand. I've seen a lot of younger producers sign away their rights and freedom for amounts of money which don't reflect their talent or potential, so I'm incredibly cynical about work offers or opportunities, despite what amount of cash people are waving in your direction. Whilst this may have slowed my progress in the short term, in the long term I stand by the majority of decisions I've made in music.
In terms of the track names, how much time do you devote to naming them? Is the track title an important element of the album?
I won't lie; I absolutely hate naming my tunes. It's the one part of the process I get no enjoyment from. I don't actually name any of my tracks until they're completely finished, as I don't want any associations with words or implied feelings from the title to interfere with the natural creative process. In terms of time, I think I could write a whole album in the time it takes me to name a tune. I have no set way of doing it, and normally will use a lyric from the song if possible, or else it's just a case of reading through endless books waiting for words or phrases to jump out at me.
Everyone has heard the debate about technology and its pros and cons. How has the progression of technology in dance music affected your output?
Well like everyone else it's made it a lot easier. If I listen back to stuff I made 15 years ago with a 4-track tape machine and a drum machine, it doesn't sound that professional. For me, I like that I can have endless sounds, synths and samplers without my computer breaking a sweat. I see this as a good thing. However as a downside, I think I'm from a generation who collected their own samples, stuck with certain synths and developed their own sound, whereas now, every kid who wants to be a producer can download a crack for Fruity Loops or Ableton, get a load of sample packs from the same site, and within an hour be making tunes that sound exactly the same as the next person who downloaded the same stuff. I think this side is quite negative as it means a lot of electronic music is over-saturated with people making very disposable music. I guess one plus side of this is that it does give people the opportunity to establish if they're good at it or not, and if it's worth persevering, without the need to spend a fortune on studio equipment.
Artists can easily list their idols from the past but can the present ever compete? Are their any producers who you think will put their stamp on the scene?
For me personally, I think it's near to impossible to find music now that would excite me as much as the first time I listened to old school Prodigy, drum and bass or Aphex Twin for the first time. It isn't to say that modern music sucks, just that as you're more and more exposed to something, the less exciting it's going to be. A relationship with music is the same as any other, those first few weeks/months are always going to seem like the most exciting time of your life, but a few years down the line a lot of the things which enticed you in the initially soon become a source of irritation. I'd find it quite hard picking out modern producers who will stand the test of time. The industry has completely changed, so it's hard to view modern musicians in the same way as people did with The Beatles or other massive bands; music just isn't accessed in the same way, and people can have playlists on their computer made of unsigned people off of Youtube or Soundcloud. That kind of direct access was impossible a few years ago, and has completely changed the way people perceive 'success'. If I’m honest, I doubt any 'dubstep' producers will be known in 25 years time.
One piece of advice you’d give to the ‘you first starting out’?
Take some time off every now and then. I've had one week off in the seven years I've been doing this, working 7-days-a-week. So let's just say I haven't aged quite as gracefully as my friends with normal jobs, which don't have the same elements of immense stress that comes with working in the music industry.
Did you study, and if so is it at all relevant to what you do today?
I studied music in a lot of different ways; the most important stuff I learnt was actually from my classical guitar teacher when I was around 11 or 12. I'd say some modal theory has been useful for writing but on the whole I'd suggest the most useful stuff I learnt was from my peers or just from discoveries I've made on my own. The best musicians I've ever known had no formal training, and the same applies to the best producers I've known.
Is there someone from your youth that had a big impact on your musical direction today?
As mentioned, the biggest influence for me was my classical guitar teacher, a man called Harry Drabble. The way he approached expression of music and the subtleties in performance stuck with me to this day, and I'd say the way I program sounds is still heavily influenced by those early discussions. My overall musical direction is actually just a result of the mishmash of styles I've listened to over the years.
The process of creating a song is obviously a very diligent and drawn-out one. How do you attempt to convey the emotion when recording?
Well I don't try to recreate something for the sake of it; to make an emotional song I need to be feeling quite depressed or down about something. Anything else just isn't real, and no matter how much you force it, it will always sound like you're just painting by numbers, rather than using a blank canvas to capture the way you're feeling. Obviously there are certain musical devices and techniques, which can help emphasise this, but I find that people won't connect to material that isn't genuinely from the heart, so if I’m not in the mood to make that kind of music I won't bother trying.
Do you ever do live sets on-stage?
I haven't done any live sets for about three or four years but am aiming on working on that side of things when I get some time. Unfortunately my album writing has been hit with an endless amount of technical and personal problems, so the time now which was put aside for working on a live show is still being eaten up by production and other things. I'm not entirely sure it will be happening this year after all.
Last song you listened to?
Scumerset by Aspects.
First album you bought?
I think the first album I bought was actually some awful chart oriented compilation tape. I do remember buying an East 17 and 2 Unlimited albums in primary school too, though the first two albums I genuinely got excited by were Rave '92 and Nevermind by Nirvana.
Interview: Jasmine Phull
Photo: Ben Cannon
Catch Phaeleh at Brotherhood Soundsystem's 1st birthday at Leeds Beaverworks on March 8th. Tickets are available below.
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