TEN QUESTIONS WITH: ELIOT LIPP
Born in Tacoma, Washington, instrumental hip-hop producer Eliot Lipp turned heads when his self-titled debut was issued by Scott Herren (Prefuse 73, Savath & Savalas) on his Eastern Developments imprint in late 2004. While Lipp's soulful tracks sound just as fresh on two just-released Hefty EPs, Rap Tight and Immediate Action 010, he's poised to attract considerably more attention with Tacoma Mockingbird, an exuberant collection of thoroughly dope cuts constructed almost entirely from beats and synths (specifically, the Korg MS-20 and Sequential Circuits gear). The one-time Chicago and now Los Angeles resident spoke with textura in anticipation of the album's late January release.
1. You grew up in Tacoma, Washington and departed for San Francisco the moment you turned 18, eventually ending up in Chicago for three years. What prompted the move away from Chicago, and why LA as opposed to a place like New York ? Was it because (as press notes indicate) your work wasn't getting enough recognition and being taken seriously enough in Chicago? With Chicago's scene so fertile, it seems like it would be an ideal spot to establish oneself and get music widely heard.
Like Chicago, LA was on a long list of places I wanted to live in. I wouldn't say I wasn't getting enough recognition or being taken seriously in Chicago but I knew there was more opportunity for me in LA. People have a strong work ethic in the Midwest; it was cool to vibe off that but I really wanted to come back to California and quit my day job.
2. Immediate Action #10 seems to draw more upon jazz samples and sounds more acoustic compared to the 'electro' sound of Tacoma Mockingbird. Were the EP tracks produced at the same time or did they originate from different sessions and were they produced at a different locale?
The songs on Immediate Action #10 were the last songs I made before I left Chicago. I was living with three other musicians so I had a lot of gear to mess with and a lot of records to listen to; I think the neighborhood I was in helped shape the sound of those songs as well. We were way up north in an Arab/Mexican part of Albany Park where there was nothing going on. My roommate and I would go to this bar on the corner that you'd have to get buzzed into and all these old dudes would just sit and stare at us. It would be so cold sometimes that all you could do was stay in and work on beats.
3. How did the first album get into Scott Herren's hands? Also, in light of the press note “Eliot Lipp is considered a protégé of infamous producer Prefuse 73,” is Tacoma Mockingbird's comparatively different path from the Prefuse style a deliberate attempt to separate yourself from Herren and others?
I sent the album to the Eastern Developments address in Atlanta and when Prefuse rolled thru town on tour he picked up some demos and started listening to them in the van. When he heard mine he flipped out and called me up and told me he wanted to put it out. It definitely helped me when Scott put me on because everyone in music is so scared to take risks on a new jack that no one's heard of.
People have said I sound like Prefuse but I don't really hear it. I stole a couple of tricks from him but I balance that by equally biting Morgan Geist, Ant Banks, DJ Design, DJ Quik, and hundreds of other producers that came before me. This album was definitely an attempt to be more personal and more exclusive to my own feelings and environment.
4. It's been said that the debut album was created in a 'tiny apartment in Chicago' using modest gear. Is the production setup you're currently using in LA different from before?
Me, Subtitle, and Leo 123 keep a growing pile of drum machines, records, samplers, and analog synths in a shithole up in Hollywood. There's always someone there working on something.
5. Tacoma Mockingbird clearly differentiates itself from others in the instrumental hip-hop field by limiting its instrumentation almost wholly to beats and synths. What inspired the move to limit the instrumentation in this manner, and how deliberate was the album's broad stylistic range (electro, soul, Latin, disco, funk, and hip-hop emerge throughout)? The album also distances itself from others by excluding voice samples and MCs, despite song titles which suggest otherwise (“Rhyme War,” “Spit Rap”) and the presence of voice samples on Immediate Action #10. What prompted the decision to keep the album wholly instrumental?
I wanted the songs to be more mine and limited myself to synths and breaks strictly to bring out the creativity in the composition. I listen to all of those styles but, when I make music, I don't try to keep near any certain tempo or rhythm and I'm not concerned with what genre it will sound like when it's done.
I don't really like it when I'm listening to an instrumental album and then one track with vocals pops up. I'm working on two different projects with MCs but those will be more like Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth or Eric B. & Rakim where you have one producer and one rapper.
6. While it's a definitely fresh, twenty-first century update of a classic electro sound, there's also a strong ‘70s flavour to the material. Are you drawn in particular to that earlier era?
I love the sound of a lot of music from the ‘70s. I really like the awkwardness of an ARP synth or a Moog just stuck into a typical jazz setup, when you've got piano, drums, bass, and maybe some horns just grooving around and then some giant sci-fi synth comes blaring in straight from outer space (Billy Paul, Donald Byrd, Chick Corea, George Duke, Lonnie Liston Smith, etc.). It's really dated but it's one of the more interesting periods in music for the synthesizer. I also love the ‘80s' synth styles (like FM synths) and I love all the drum machines they used then (Human League, Prince, John Rocca is the shit!!, Depeche Mode, etc.). I think I'm into enough different styles that it keeps me from sounding like one of those back-in-the-day purists who don't understand modern music.
7. Part of what makes the album sound so great is its vitality and live feel. Can you elaborate on your process a bit? And where did the breaks specifically come from, or would you rather not be too specific?
I probably shouldn't get into where the breaks specifically come from but they are pretty recognizable if you listen to the record. To get the live feel I recorded all the synth parts live (except for the bass line on the second half of “Rap Tight”).
8. One of the things I love most about Tacoma Mockingbird is the attention to detail and the pure 'sound' of the album—the layers of synths that accumulate in “Glasspipe” and how the snare changes from one song to the next. How, for example, did you generate that lovely 'whiplash' snare in “Tic Tac”?
For “Tic Tac,” I slowed down the break and added reverb to every second clap. I'm picky about drum sounds. I always want them to hit hard but I try not to overuse any of them either. My favorite snare on the album is near the end of the song “Times Four.” It's an I-F snare. Have you heard “Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass”? I-F has the dopest snares in all of electro music. I found out where he (Ferenc E. van der Sluijs) got that one and I took it from the same place.
9. You alluded before to your “day job.” Is music the sole focus now? What's happening at present—are you in a bit of limbo while you're waiting for the album's release, or are you touring, playing clubs, producing, working on new material, etc.?
I've had a bunch of stupid day jobs but for now I'm able to make music for a living and I love it. I'm touring a lot and working on new material with MCs Jasia 10 from Tacoma WA and Vyle from Chicago. I'm also doing lots of remixes with the producer Leo 123 under the name Dark Party. We've done remixes for Labwaste, Machine Drum, Slicker, and we have a remix on STS9's Artifact: Perspectives CD. I'm trying to tour and play a lot of shows as well. I'm touring the west coast with rapper Subtitle in January and I'll also be at SXSW and WMC.
10. Many electronic genres end up exhausting themselves when so many climb aboard (e.g., IDM, clicks'n'cuts). Do you foresee the same thing happening to instrumental hip-hop as more and more practitioners release work or does the genre have the potential to avoid the same fate?
I think there are dope producers in just about every genre. Even a good song that's done in a played-out style is still a good song. There's always a hot new sound that a bunch of fools will jump on and manage to get a CD out, and then a few years later we all look back and are like “Damn, 90% of that was dog shit!” But the artists that everyone originally ripped off still sound tight.