Monday, May 30, 2011

Black Seeds : V2.0

Originally published in NZ Musician magazine, 2001.

Wellington band The Black Seeds launched themselves onto the unsuspecting public last year with the release of their acclaimed debut album 'Keep On Pushing'.

Mixing up reggae and ska, these skanking folk set off round the country to play live, cashing in on their reputation as Wellington's ultimate good time party band. Having spent most of this summer playing at festivals around NZ, including The Gathering and the Raglan Reggae Sunsplash, the Seeds are now resting up.

Their latest release due out February (as yet untitled "but we'll decide on the name soon" say the band) is a remix collection of tracks from their debut album, sliced and diced by the likes of 50Hz, Jet Jaguar, Son Sine, DJ Mu, Ebb, House of Shem and more. I meet up with Barnaby Weir (guitar, vocals) and Shannon Williams (bass) from the band for a chat.

The Black Seeds' line-up usually runs to seven members with Bret McKenzie on keys, Daniel Weetman on percussion, Rich Christie on drums, Toby Laing on trumpet and Mike Fabulous on guitar and percussion. Soundman Lee Prebble is counted as their eighth member. The Black Seeds started out in 1998, growing from a three piece, to a four piece, then a five piece "... and now we're a family pack!" exclaims Barnaby.

The lads see the remix album as a logical extension of Keep On Pushing, which was released in June last year by Loop Recordings Aotearoa, with distribution through Border Music.

"Our biggest success came with a remix," observes Shannon. "We weren't that happy with the original version of Keep on Pushing, and our soundman Lee remixed it, and it sounded so much better. The remixes for the new album we've heard so far have been awesome."

"The thing is people that aren't into the rawness of our live show or the sound of the CD, might be into a 50Hz or a Jet Jaguar take on it, you know? There's plenty of people round Wellington who are keen (to remix a track), so its like, sweet, let's put them out as a remix album," says Barnaby.

Both Shannon and Barnaby work at Radio Active, where a lot of local musicians pass through, making it easy to hunt out potential remixers. "It was mainly either friends or contacts through people we know," says Barnaby.

Remix participants got to choose their own songs from the album. Barnaby says they were quite lucky, as nobody chose the same song. "We didn't have any double ups." The remixers were given the music in the format of their choice, mostly as an unmixed Pro Tools session with all the music, or a few bars of various instruments on DAT tape. Most of the remixers used Pro Tools or some form of PC-based software for the remix.

Shannon sees the aim of the remixes is "... about getting different people into it, like some people who might be put off by the reggae thing. Cafes like this one (gesturing to our surroundings) have greatly helped that sort of music. As much as I like Kruder and Dorfmeister, that stuff is all nicely played and produced, but it gets a bit like musical wallpaper after a while. Hopefully our remixes aren't going to be like that!"

"I don't think they will," reassures Barnaby. "It's also good for radio play as well. Programme directors that might not be into the sound on our first release might be much more into that other electronic sound. Remixing is an art form in itself, its about taking things one step further, like with dub music or versions, keep taking it as far as you can."

"Plus, from a really basic point of view, it's great to hear what other people can do with the songs," adds Shannon.
They hint that their next album, which they will begin recording later this year, will showcase more diverse styles from the first, adding in some funk and latino influences into their reggae-fied mashup. They also intend to work in some more raw, live moments into the recording. "Lately we've been having a fair few of those 'magic moments' while playing live, rather than in the rehearsal room," says Barnaby. "It'd be great to bring in some of that on the next record."

What's in a remix then?

The art of the remix originated in Jamaica, when reggae producers such as King Tubby and Lee Scratch Perry started reworking their recordings for the B side of a single (known as a Version). Reworking the A side in strange and new ways, dropping out the vocal and adding effects and dubbing them out, hence the label 'dub'. Remixes developed further in the disco scene in New York in the '70s, and led on to some lame 'dub' remixes in the '80s from the likes of Human League and Flock of Seagulls.

Remixes have developed into a major marketing tool for the music industry, lending songs a previously unheard-of credibility from the purchase price of a big-name remixer and their 'sound'. Take the example of U2 and their oh-so-ironic 'Zooropa' phase, with their achingly hip remixes from the likes of Paul Oakenfold and David Morales, giving the band nightclub cred where previously the only time you heard U2 in a club was on Retro night.

But beyond the dollar signs are the creative possibilities offered by a remix. Opening up your song to reinterpretation by another musician can push your own music in new and unusual directions. It requires a fair degree of trust that your music will be treated sympathetically. Wanna get remixing?

Paddy Free
plays keyboards in renowned electronica dub-freak duo Pitch Black. He is also a dab hand in the studio, having produced numerous remixes for a variety of local acts including Stellar*, Supergroove and Salmonella Dub. He also held down the producer's seat on the latter outfit's highly acclaimed album 'Inside the Dub Plates'. He has done three or four remixes with Pitch Black musical partner Mike Hodgson. Paddy says how he starts work on a remix depends on a few key elements.

"Sometimes it's a remix with a target like radio play, and sometimes I'm given free rein, or it's simply for a different mix on a B side. If they're after radio play, I like to think of myself as like a tour guide, going along highlighting the main features. It's short attention span theatre, you just keep putting new things in front of the listener to hold their attention. But if it's an open brief, I'll approach it more from a sonic point of view."

The gear needed to do a remix is much easier to work with these days than when Paddy started out down the studio path. He recalls one of the first remixes he ever did, for Supergroove. "I had a sampler that only had eight meg of memory, and the vocals took up 30 meg, so I had to keep loading them up, then dumping them to tape, so I didn't hear the remix til I'd finished it!"

"Nowadays that's all much easier. As far as gear to do a remix, you can do it all inside a reasonably well set up audio computer with Pro Tools, Logic Audio or Cubase. Remixes are really suited to that desktop audio production setup." He notes that there's often a different head space when doing a remix for friends as opposed to a straight out commissioned work. "With your mates, you've seen them live, and so on. With Salmonella Dub, I've done about half a dozen radio edits and remixes for them, which is because I've got that poppy mindset that they need for that."1

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