The Montreal-based Producer-DJ Sits down with WCBN’s Dexter Kaufmann to discuss the influences behind his latest album Creatures of the Late Afternoon, tour stories, and his collaborations with filmmaker Edgar Wright.
What was the creative process like for Creatures of the Late Afternoon? What do you want this record to represent in the broader context of your discography?
It is definitely a turntable record. First and foremost, I went in saying I wanted to see where I could take this scratching production style and see if I could push it into some other areas that I hadn’t tried before. It’s really a combination of everything that I’ve learned to date in the last few decades on tour and releasing records and scoring films and video games and stuff like that. I think I brought a bit of some of that concept, narrative, and sound design even and, yeah, songwriting and lyric writing and things like that and putting that all in the mix somehow.
You made the vinyl for your most recent album Creatures of the Late Afternoon into a board game, what inspired that idea?
I mean I’ve always had a lot of fun with packaging records. My first album has a comic book and my second album has a chess set. 12-Bit Blues had a little cardboard gramophone kit with a flexi disk that you could actually build and it worked. During the pandemic, I was playing a lot of games with my family, and I thought it would be fun to package the new album with a board game and use the characters from the Creatures of the Late Afternoon story. The game has character cards that you collect and try to assemble your own creature bands during the gameplay.
Your song When U Say Love is one of my favorites from the new album. The vocals resemble a Motown song which gives it that timeless feel. What inspired that record?
So I was helping my parents clean up their storage container, and we were going through the boxes and I found some suitcases that were just full of letters and reel-to-reel tapes. My mom and dad told me they were the letters that they wrote to each other when they were apart. They met right after my dad graduated high school and he emigrated to Canada to start a summer job and attend university. He was a student and didn’t have much money, and long-distance phone calls were expensive. So he wasn’t able to visit my mom, but they were very much in love at the time, and still are.
So for the next seven years, they just wrote letters to each other, two letters a week in both directions. They wouldn’t even wait for a response. He would record songs from the radio, from the Ronettes, Shangrilas, or whatever love song was popular on the radio at the time, and then send them on reel-to-reel tapes. Then he would transcribe the lyrics for my mom who would read along and sing along and that’s how she’d practice her English, through love songs. I thought that was such a sweet story that it inspired that track.
You’re currently based in Montreal, which is the home of a lot of legendary DJs, like A-Trak, along with Kaytranada. What do you think it is about the Montreal music scene that’s allowed so many musicians to succeed?
I think it’s partly the size of the city, it’s not too big, so it’s not this situation where there’s not enough places to play and people are hyper-competitive for venues. From an indie art perspective, at least for me, there was always a venue or platform or a room that would be willing to give you the space to try something new. If you wanted to start a night that only played, polka music or whatever, you can find a bar here who’d give you Wednesdays for three months and see how it goes. I think Montreal always had this kind of openness to like sort of try things.
You’ve toured with Bjork. Is she the same eccentric person off-stage that she is in interviews and in her music?
To the best of my knowledge, yes, that is completely her vibe. The one show that comes to mind was kind of a last-minute fill-in because the opener couldn’t do Toronto and apparently, the promoter had given her a copy of my book. I guess she liked it, and I got a call the night before, so I stayed up all night putting a set together, renting a van, and then driving five hours to Toronto. After the show, everybody was in this backstage tent area, and she was mainly hanging out with her Icelandic string section.
I was kind of just playing the wall because I was too shy, considering I was raised on her music even back from the Sugar Cubes, and then, Debut, Post, Homogenic, those records changed the way I saw music. I have a friend, Tanya Tagaq, who had toured with her and worked on the Medúlla album, and I asked her the same question you’re asking me. She’s said, “Whatever you do, just don’t, just don’t grovel or anything. She hates that, so just be yourself”.
So I walk up to her and I get close enough that it seems like I might be eavesdropping on their conversation. And then there’s this slow moment where she and whoever she’s talking to all slowly turn and look at me like “Who’s this guy?” She had all this crazy green eye makeup on, that went down her cheeks and up, so I couldn’t really even see where her eyes were.
They were just waiting for me to say something and all I could hear in my head was Tanya telling me not to grovel them. But then what came out was just the most amount of groveling. “Anyway, it’s just a big fan of the Sugar Cubes and it’s such an honor playing with you”.
And then Bjork’s like, “Oh, you’re Kid Koala. I’m sorry, I missed your set, I was doing my makeup.” *laughing* It was just classic timing, because I made the whole set for her, and she didn’t even hear it, but yeah she’s a cut-up, she’s super chill.
You’ve worked with Edgar Wright on multiple occasions: Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim, and Baby Driver. How did that collaboration come about, and why do you think you two work together so well?
So I think it was around 2003, and I had just released an album called Some of my Best Friends are DJs and I was out doing a show called Short Attention Span with P-Love and DJ Jester. Unbeknownst to me, Edgar Wright was watching our show in London, and we hit it off right away.
He asked me to do a remix for the end credits of Shawn of the Dead, and after that, he and I would catch up every now and then and we’d work on something together. I remember for Baby Driver, he said: “What I’m thinking is he’s a getaway car driver with interest in making music in a home studio type of context, but all of his equipment is broken or used, or stuff he finds at pawn shops or flea markets or in trunks of cars that he might get during his getaways or something. So the track needs to kind of feel like homemade pastiche, but also experimental”. And I’m like you’re just describing, without the car theft part, my whole studio experience. So I put the track [Is He Slow?] together for him and I’m ready for his notes, but he heard it once and thought it was perfect.
So Edgar told me, “Hey, we’re shooting in Atlanta and we’re doing Baby’s studio and I want you to teach Ansel Elgort how to use the machines you were using to make the track, but then also consult on how they should dress the set”. So I remember looking on eBay for some stuff that their prop master would just buy, and when they brought me to Atlanta, all the stuff was there. Then, it was time for me to teach Ansel how to do the scratching magnetic card bit.
I guess Ansel was doing some stunts out on another set and he was being held up there, but this whole team was in his home studio and was ready to shoot. So Edgar said, “Oh, okay, well, Ansel is late, so let’s just get Eric to do it”.
And I was like “What are you talking about? Ansel is like two feet taller than me, and we don’t have the same hands”. He just kept saying they would fix it in post.
Anyways, I’m there and I’m seated and I’m about to make my silver screen debut as a hand model, essentially. Right before he was about to yell action, Ansel Elgort showed up just in the nick of time. My hands were almost in the movie, but what you’re seeing is authentic Ansel tearing up on the card reader.
If there was an asteroid coming for Earth and you were given the aux cord, what would you want to be the last song humans hear?
There’s a live version of “What a Wonderful World”, where he’s talking about love, rising above war, hunger, and pollution. Then it goes into this kind of funky version of it. Everyone knows the other version with all the stuff but there’s this other live version that has a funky break under it, but it’s, it’s beautiful. I’d say we go out on that, go out on a high note, yeah.