Ash Walker Interview + Kennebec - Departure Remixed (EP Review)
Updated: Oct 11, 2020
Night Time Stories and College Music have collaborated in bringing together some of the finest producers to remix some of the Portland-based composer Kennebec's tracks from his last album, Departure, released back in February this year.
In keeping with Kennebec’s source material, this collection of remixes feels like an organic offshoot, spawned instead of made and in keeping with the feeling of nature. The first single from this remix EP arrived on 9 September from Alfa Mist, with 'Quest' becoming a lo-fi styled Dilla-beat with the acoustic guitar and strings sampled prominently before the trademark Alfa keys open up. Stan Forebee remixed the next single, 'Yesterday Tomorrow', that arrived two weeks ago. Similarly bridging the boundaries of jazz and hip-hop like Alfa Mist, the piano leads the melody that loops with the soft electronics.
Kalaido's remix of 'Abundance In The Reeds' retains the beautiful sax solo amongst a minimalist lo-fi backdrop, whilst Santpoort's 'Monsoon' is dreamy and allows the strings to flow out effortlessly. Downtempo composer Tristan De Liege puts his take on the wending ‘Kalahari’, dressing it in ethereal piano chords, chopped guitar lines and warm pads to create an incredible jazz-lo-fi relaxer.
Night Time Stories’ own Ash Walker steps up and remixes the album title track 'Departure', drawing out and re-emphasising the original’s bassline to a blissed out effect as it leads the track. The shuffling drums add to the wobble of the strings reverberating in the background as there is a gentle but definite momentum to the song that makes you feel like you're drifting along a river surrounded by serene natural surroundings.
Walker released his third album, Aquamarine, last year which draws on his wide variety of influences from jazz, soul, funk, electronics, dub and beats. His first two albums, Augmented 7th (2015) and Echo Chamber (2016) gained attention from the likes of BBC 6 Music DJs Gilles Peterson, Don Letts, Gideon Coe and Clash Magazine, XLR8R and MIMS. Ben managed to catch up with the busy producer recently, and despite being interrupted by Yazz Ahmed calling to discuss a track, the two chatted about collaborating, his approach to music during lockdown, live experiences and his evolving music style.
How did it come about you doing a remix for Kennebec?
I had heard Kennebec's music, and he messaged me quite a while before saying he was signing to the label, asking what my experience was here, and I was like "they're absolute g's, I love these guys, so do it!" We didn't speak much since, then it jogged my memory when that album came out and I forgot he makes really cool music! When the album came out, I was like "wow, man" as it's pretty deep listening. Instantly when I heard the album, it made me think of nature.
It's quite cinematic his music isn't it?
It's really well put together, and the choice of instruments he uses, the acoustic bass and things like that give it its own edge. So I was really gassed when Paul at the label said "would you want to do a remix of one of his tracks?" But then it was like, "what am I going to remix, and how am I going to try and make it sound different?" because it's already a really nice thing so it was a bit of a challenge to try and work out where to begin with remixing it. When you listen to it, you're like "wow!" and you don't want to do anything to it you just want to listen to it!
I saw the YouTube video explaining your approach to the song, you said you started off with the drum pad - is that a normal approach you use to start making a track?
It genuinely can be whatever is in my head that day. Those drums had a groove to them where I was like "this is gonna work" but they were completely different speeds! But you know when you put two things together, like when you got a cake, and the jam, and they just go together like that, and you're like "that just works" so I ran with it. It can start with anything when I approach a remix, it can start with drums or with an 808 on the sampler.
When you do different remixes, is there anything you like to retain in the song like the theme they try to convey or do you like to imprint your own style on it very much to represent what you feel about the song?
I really like to listen what's happening in it, and I try not to go in too heavy and tread carefully and when I get more comfortable with it I'm often like "yeh, I'm gonna throw those drums in it or throw this in there" because it does need my signature little bit to it. It's a slow process really, but some things come about quite quickly as when I'm really inspired I can do it quickly but then I need to sit on it over a few days and mull over what's been done and what needs to be refined, and where to take it. It's sort of a similar approach each time, tiptoeing into the water then getting more comfortable and dive in!
When you have your own song ideas, is it a quick process or do you take your time?
When it's my own time, I really don't take my time and I go all in. From the moment I start with it, I put in the stuff I like and I get really involved. Depending how I start on something, whether it's keys or bass or drums, within not long of getting one of them done I usually have to get something else down. I'm really a stickler for trying to get my ideas out before I forget them.
I've read before you did a lot of work as a studio engineer, do you think working with artists before in that way changed how you wanted to produce your own music?
Definitely yeh, I think it made me a lot more ruthless with myself whether to say I like something or not. I make lots of mistakes all the time, however working with lots of other people in the studio, when they do different styles or whatever - seeing the way lots of people operate has made me realise how I do and don't want to operate. It would show me both ways in which I wanted to get my stuff down. I see people get stuck for hours over one lyric or whatever, if I'm gonna get stuck on something I'll just start something else and come back to it so I don't feel negative about what I'm stuck on. It also built my patience up as after years of doing take after take, it just made me a more patient person in general.
Are you bothered about cleaning up the mistakes or leaving them if they sound good?
I'm a big fan of mistakes so I leave them! It's about the moment, the there and now - you can learn something a thousand times then when you record you play it wrong so I'm a stickler for the here and now and living in the moment. If it sounds good do it, if there's some mistakes in them it doesn't matter as some of the greatest tracks of all time have mistakes in them and mistakes are what make us human.
Is there any equipment you're particularly fond of that you feel a pull to reach out to use?
The Hammond organ always draws me back to it. It's in pretty much most of my songs, the sound and tonality of it and versatility of it appeals to me.
Does that contribute to your overall sound which is a little mysterious and spooky but chilled out?
I'm glad you see it that way as that is how I intend for it to be seen. We're all happy and jolly but there's always the air of melancholy and unknowing and I try and put that message across in my music.
How do you feel your music has changed album to album, has it developed how you thought it would or not?
It's developed as I hoped it would but not how I envisioned it would. I couldn't have seen it develop like this but it's developed exactly how I wanted it to in a mad way as it's been a steady progression. I remember when Bonobo was on Tru-Thoughts and his music was quite beatsy, and then he evolved and got better and better with his orchestrations and arrangements and mixes. I don't see myself on a similar trajectory, I see myself on a completely different one but the evolution of something you couldn't really foreseen is really empowering. So where it's going for me is really exciting but the music I'm doing is evolving and getting a little bit more intricate. If you go to my releases on Deep Heads compared to now, it's completely the same but different! It's finding different ways of doing what you like to do and pushing yourself into that challenge. It's exciting to hear the progression and like for my monthly show on Noods Radio, I play some of my old tracks and I'm like "wow, I forgot I made this!" and be pleasantly surprised I'm not too different from back then to now.
How do you approach your live music experience, as I've seen you've worked with curating an audiovisual set with smells and visuals before with Ezra Lloyd-Jackson - how important do you think it is to create this experience in music?
It's so important because there are ways to make things more interesting and more accessible for people who we don't necessarily think about because of their situation if they can't see, or hear, or walk and so it helps to broaden our horizons and start thinking about how to innovate and change the way we look at a regular band on stage. Flying Lotus is a mad influence for this with his big 3D show. The smell thing came in as Ezra works for a fragrance company so he played with different smells and we thought let's just bring it into the show as it really can help lift the mood. If you're in a room that smells nice you instantly feel better! When we get back touring, I'd like to choose specific venues to help us make the best possible show to incorporate these things. It's to inspire and make things a little more interesting.
Do you ever have those tracks where you wanna play them live more?
I'm very particular with what I play with the band. I really try and handpick them to be "what's the most appealing to them, what's the most fun to play, what's the most challenging one" but the last one I don't like when you have to change time signature! I like to give everyone in the band the space to explore and make it their own. It's all handpicked for a reason and the set hasn't changed much over the past few years, just slowly evolving.
You often collaborate with different artists like Laville and Yazz Ahmed - is that something you enjoy a lot getting to work with different musicians and learning from them?
I think so, I really take a lot in. I'm a sociable person and I'm out quite a lot so I try and put myself out there. You always learn something new from somebody, that's one of the most amazing things about music as you're constantly, forever learning about yourself as a player and about other people as players - how to play with them and how to play on your own. It really does help me network and collaborate with people because I think more minds are better than one. More minds on a musical project, I think generally the more amazing it can be. The collaborating experience is going to be amplified on my next album.
You mentioned earlier you been sent bits from other musicians during lockdown - is that continuing what you've done before or are you doing it more now because of lockdown?
I think because of lockdown one of the positives that have come out of the situation is that I've tried to use this time to reach out to people that I may not have reached out to before just because I felt that everyone was in a similar boat and felt more connected to people. It made me step out of my shell and I reached out to people I really admired.
From being in lockdown, is there anything you think you've learnt or reflected from in the time away from things?
Practice more!! Lockdown made me realise I wasn't as great at keyboard as I once was and made me realise I should practice a lot more every day!
Are you happy to release as normal or wait until lockdown starts to come to an end?
I'm happy to release as it is as I've got quite a few remixes that are due to come out soon. This fourth album is getting really to a point where I'm nearly there with it. I'm trying to get it done and then crack on with the next one!
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