Outside of MoMA PS1 in Queens, leaves have begun to decorate the sidewalks lining the Long Island City neighborhood. Following his laptop-helmed exhibition in the geodesic Performance Dome, Manchester producer Andy Stott, 32, holds back while patrons file out of the museum's entrance onto Jackson Ave. undoubtably en route to their next CMJ-affiliated destination. He’s got a few minutes before a van whisks him off to his next gig at Williamsburg’s 285 Kent. Just enough time to tell writer Adrien Colle and me that the basis for his latest LP, Luxury Problems, is an inquiry into making something “wrong”.
Since 2005, Stott has become a major player in the short history of stark U.K. electro label Modern Love having released all of his works to date on the print. Over the last ten years the label has brandished a number of artists merging the lines between house, techno, drone, garage, dub, and ambient such as Miles Whittaker (of Demdike Stare and Pendle Coven). While Stott’s early works tinkered with minimalism, house, dubstep, and trite whips of techno zaps, his contributions from the past two years have shown an evolution and popularity unmatched by his peers at Modern Love. The releases of the EPs Pass Me By and We Stay Together in 2011 broadened his listenership from the headphones and turntables of Residential Advisor heads to the variegated taste pool represented by the more sweeping and eclectic-minded music hubs across the web. With Luxury Problems, Stott continues his progression in growing coruscating tones out of a gritty bedding of static mesh, sleek percussion, and heavy bass. Only, the distinguishing characteristic of his latest is not of a digital quality, but of a human: The voice of Alison Skidmore.
Getting two birds stoned at once, Colle and I double up on Stott’s time going back and forth with questions about the influence, development, production, and performance of Luxury Problems now out on Modern Love.
Considering your background, your past works. What are the major differences in composition with Luxury Problems?
Someone suggested to me: Why don’t you work with a vocalist? At first I sort of thought it was too difficult. It’ll be a mess. I won’t do a good job. Whatever. But then I thought, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s have a go.’ And then there was only one person that sprung to mind, which was Alison [Skidmore] — my old piano teacher. Last time I saw her was ‘95, ‘96 — I would’ve been about 16. She used to be in a band when she was younger. She wasn’t so difficult to track down because she was a family friend. So I just sent her an email and said, ‘Do you wanna make something wrong?’ And she emailed me back and said, ‘I’m in.’ So, she began recording a cappellas. I said there’s no rules, there’s no limits. Just do what you want. She emailed me back: What style do want it in? What language? I thought, ‘Oh my God.’
So, she sent a bunch of stuff over, which I chopped down and layered and messed around with. When I got the vocals sounding as lush as I’d like, I started building tracks around those edits. She’s on five of the eight tracks, so the album was a radically different approach for me, which kept it interesting.
Not only did she teach piano, but she’s an opera singer. Just with her doing that and being in a band when she was younger, I knew that she could be quite versatile. So, on some of the tracks it is very opera-sounding, and then on other tracks it’s quite poppy a vocal. But, she can shift her voice. There was no one else, like I said. And that’s the end result.
Why did you work with vocals? Is it some sort of trend?
Someone suggested it to me. And said, ‘I think your stuff would be nice with vocals. Why don’t you try it?’ I sort of shrugged it off and thought, ‘Nah, nah.’ It stuck in the back of me mind, and I suggested it at [Modern Love] and they said, ‘Well, do you know anyone?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah. If I can get [Alison] to do it.’ It was just merely a suggestion, and I acted on it. When I started getting these vocals from her, and started using them it was like, ‘Fuck…’ It’s actually really really nice — the possibilities. So that’s why.
Do you feel like you’re bridging any gaps with house, dub, and ambient stylings on Luxury Problems ?
If it does that, it’s completely unintentional. I don’t have goals in mind when I sit down writing. I just do what I feel. Whether it does that, I have no idea.
Do you feel like your latest works have connections with composers like Gavin Bryars?
This might seem really ignorant, but I should know more about labels and artists — and things like that. And people do ask me a lot: Do you now this, do you know that? And I seriously don’t.
Do the vocals have any relation to Julianna Barwick? Because it almost sounds like your remixing her voice at times.
Don’t know who that is.
…Her pieces are essentially her own vocal layerings, looped.
Well, I did some layering, but Alison did her own as well. So she’d record stuff underneath — different semi-tones and things like that. When I got something back from her I already had a chord structure. I already had a key, and working within those limits was really nice.
Do you have a time of day that you prefer to work?
When the past three albums — or EPs [Pass Me By, We Stay Together, and Luxury Problems] — were being written, I was working. I was painting cars for a living. So, I had to force time. That is irrelevant. I had to write when I got the opportunity. So that was the case.
Do you feel that painting cars has had an influence on your work?
I think breathing in a lot of isocyanate during the day might have. [laughs] …I don’t know. I don’t think the job influenced the music in any way.
What about the samples? It sounds mechanical.
There are some recordings from work on the album. I be working away… [a truck honks] …Jesus. I remember we got a bit of a kit at work that spins around all day. And it got a little bit dry and started squealing. I thought, ‘I need it.’ I’ve done bits of field recording at work, and things like that. So, you're right, there is some mechanical stuff in there.
Does your music still have the the same power when performing it live as it did when you first developed it?
It does because you’re doing it in a different way. The tracks are engineered slightly different for live. The set is sort of built with avenues in case of pitfalls. If you stuck on one track and no one’s into it, you need to get out. It’s setup in a way where I can still recreate it live, and it’ll be new to me. So I’ll do drops that I haven’t done before. It gets you going the same way as when you first do it for the release.
How do you feel about the difference between home listening and club listening?
The key thing was that’s the way the vocals got delivered, so I had to work like that. And that’s what’s so good about it. The fact that I can play a couple of tracks that Alison did in venues like [the geodesic Performance Dome], in sort of a clubby kind of environment. I wasn’t sat down thinking, ‘Let’s make it home listening.’ It’s just what felt correct for me.
What are you preferences in playing live?
It depends on where you’ve been the night before, and what you’ve been doing… Nah. I’ve been doing it for awhile: Looking ahead at where I’m playing, who I’m on with, and, especially, what time.
I remember playing Panorama Bar [part of the Berghain complex in Berlin]. Oh my God. And I didn’t do me research. They put me on at like four in the morning, and I was playing pretty deep. And this one girl was screaming at me. Screaming. ‘Why are you playing so deep!?’ And I thought, ‘She’s got a point. Why am I playing so deep at this time?’
So, if you can find out prior, it does affect the way you engineer the set because you’ve still got to do your own material and do your own thing. You’re getting asked to play for what you do, but, at the same time, it’s got-a fit.
Do you care about the sound system on which you play your live sets?
I’ve got soundsystems that are memorable. There was a place awhile ago. I played in Brooklyn at place called Studio B. It was a huge space. The way the system filled the room was unbelievable. It was the first time that I had to tape everything down. You drop a bass line and everything starts moving. Berghain, obviously. And Panorama Bar. Amazing. There’s a place in Oslo called the Villa . It’s a super-low ceiling. They have a pretty much full function one in there. Even when you went to the bathroom, you just could not get away from it. It was just loud all the time.
But I’ve got no preference with turning up at a show and they’ve got what they’ve got, you know? You can’t pull your face because you’re out and you’re playing and people are turning up. It always helps. It’s always nice to have everything separately — through the range. But, I’ve done similar sets on systems that were a bit more rounded. The sound was not as open and it still translated really well.
So, do you go back to painting cars when you return to Manchester?
I quit me job. Three weeks ago. So straight back into the studio and looking after me little boy. I quit the job thinking, ‘I have all this time.’ And your time just gets taken with tons of other stuff. But, I have got a lot more freedom now — creatively — which is genius.
Last one: Why is this an LP as opposed to EPs like you’ve released in the past?
I can’t say. An LP is something else. It’s more of a collection somehow…