King Britt: Full Q&A
In this week's edition of the print version of Miami New Times, I wrote about legendary DJ/musician/label impresario King Britt's gig this weekend at Shine. Because of pesky space limitations, I only got to use a few sentences from our near-half-hour conversation. So, for fans, I'm printing the whole transcript here, after the jump. To read the print piece, click here. -- Arielle Castillo
King Britt, Terry Hunter, and MuzikMan Edition perform Saturday, January 19, at Shine at the Shelborne, 1801 Collins Ave, Miami Beach. Doors open at 10 p.m., and tickets cost $15 in advance from www.wantickets.com. Those 21 and older are welcome with ID. Call 305-341-1455, or visit www.shinesouthbeach.com.
So what brings you down to Miami for this gig? Are you on a specific tour? You’ve got upcoming dates all over the place.
It’s always like that, I think it’s that the tour never stops. Usually it’s the weekend; I try to go away and do gigs only on the weekends and then through the week I’m in the studio. So my whole life is music, music, music. Part of these dates are gonna be in Europe; I go to Europe quite often, and so I have to stay there one or two weeks. It doesn’t make sense to go back and forth, which I did this summer, which became such a headache.
So it varies. Like this year I’m trying to cut down on traveling and really concentrate more on the label. I have that label FiveSix Media which I’m relaunching after two years. I want to really concentrate on the acts I just signed, and production. So what you’re seeing, up to [Winter Music] Conference, are going to be the only few dates until probably the end of the summer.
What made you want to start a label again?
The whole thing is, I launched FiveSix Recordings maybe four years ago. I had Jody Watley, a bunch of different 12-inches, just kind of like friends of mine where we’d collaborate. It wasn’t super-serious. It was fun, but the whole music industry changed over the past three years, four years. It’s metamorphosized into this kind of revolutionary movement again, which is good for us as independents. But at the time of the metamorphosis, I wanted to stop the label because we lost our distribution…. I wanted to observe and see what was going on in the industry instead of putting money into a label.
Now after this change, we have the opportunity to really have a voice as an independent label through Myspace, Youtube, all these amazing channels where we can reach the audience directly. So now’s the time to really get down.
FiveSix Media is, at the moment, an all-digital label. So we’ll only be online for downloads. But, when each act tours, we’ll make CDs specifically for the tour. So if you want to get a hard CD, you have to come to the show. We’ll do special packaging and that sort of thing in the future. It’s more economical for us, and more direct.
I saw that you’re working with Chuck Treece and Ursula Rucker. Who else have you signed?
So I signed Power Douglas as the first act on the label; they’re friends of mine for about 15 years. They’re based in Brooklyn. It’s like … Sonic Youth meets Public Enemy! Out the door mind-blowing, it will rock your ass.
Then Chuck Treece, we grew up together. He’s a skate legend as well as, of course, being one of the most important musicians in Philadelphia. And of course the queen, Ursula Rucker, just got released from K7, thank God, finally. So I just signed her right away for an album with an array of producers. That’ll be out in September. And I’m working on my new album which comes out in July.
So it’s kind of a friends and family thing.
Fortunately for me, my friends are fantastic musicians and produers. I’d rather do my best with these four acts…. There’s a company run by a friend of mine from New York, in Brooklyn, who has some interest in releasing some vinyl with Power Douglas, so I may do a deal with them, because I like vinyl. I still buy it.
You still buy vinyl?
I love vinyl. I buy it every week. But what I do is I burn it, and then I put in my archive. I have like 40,000 records. But I buy new stuff, especially techno stuff, and then I burn it and put it away.
So when you travel to play, are you using CDs, or Serato or something like that?
When I travel I use CDs only. At home, sometimes I’ll use Torq – Torq is an amazing program by M Audio. But I would never use a computer on the road! I’ll bring a computer -- like in the hotel, I have my catalog, and then if I need to burn a CD real quick, or I want some new music real quick….
But as a performer, as a DJ in the act of DJing, I would never use a computer, for the fear of the computer crashing. One example was WMC 2002, me and Josh Wink were at Crobar. It’s like 3000 people, he’s killing it, and -- computer freeze. There’s no way I’m gonna be in that situation. With CDs it’s pretty 99 percent. I’ve never had a problem with CDs, and if I do, there are so many ways to get out of it. Whereas with Serato or all these different programs you run the chance of anything, someone spilling a drink on it, everything crashing. I saw that two years ago on New Year’s Eve with a drunk girl asking for Madonna.
We talked first a little over a year ago when you were touring for The Nova Dream Sequence. You were using all those instruments live, even a Nintendo DS. Are you still experimenting with that, and if so what have you added or changed to the setup?
[Laughs] Oh yeah…. I mean I’m gonna be working on a new Nova album in the fall. I’m collecting these, like, toys and sounds. I just finished a kids’ album, actually, and I samples a lot of kid’s toys.
Really? What kind of kids’ album?
It’s called Baby Loves Disco, part of a special series by Rope a Dope. They do these parties where young parents bring their kids, ages one through nine, at clubs all over. In New York they do it at Cielo, in Philly at Shampoo – the DJs play real dance music as well as children’s music. It’s amazing. Prince Paul was doing Baby Loves Hip-Hop, I did Baby Loves Disco…. It’s a proper album. You would bump it in your car. But it was a kid’s album, kids are singing as well as adults. If you can imagine Rug Rats meets Herbert….
We wrote songs specifically for kids. One song’s called “Freeze,” and it’s for the freeze dance. One track, I sampled the Mr. Softee theme, and I remixed Mr. Softee into a Daft Punk kind of track. It’s so much fun working with the kids, and the energy is great. But you could also play this in a club. And then Prince Paul, he’s working with Ladybug from Digable Planets and Chali 2na, and they’re the voices.
Besides that, what are you working on?
The proper King Britt album, on FiveSix Media, will be in July. And I’m working on that now. It’s called Angels Dig the Tao, and it’s an album that consists of all singers I met on Myspace. I have like 50 singers that are phenomenal that I met on Myspace -- except for one, Lisa Shaw, I already knew her. So I’m doing a whole series with them. They’re all phenomenal singers, like mind-blowing. It’s gonna be a beautiful album, like very in the vein of Massive Attack and This Mortal Coil, the Cocteau Twins.
Right. I just looked at your Myspace page and the influences you have listed currently are Factory Records, Joy Division, and This Mortal Coil. That’s awesome, pretty much my all-time favorites.
Yeah, back in high school, that was it! This Mortal Coil, I have the box set -- They were so far ahead of hteir time, as far as sonically, and that’s kind of where I want to go with this album. Sonically they were just mind-blowing.
I grew up with that stuff. Ever since high school I was into Factory stuff, Trevor Horn, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Grace Jones. That’s my history. But recently I saw Control and I saw 24 Hour Party People. I’ve been nostalgic lately, and it’s really gone into my music. I just remixed Kudu – they called me like, “Whoa, we didn’t expect this from you!” I’m trying to break out of “King Britt.” I love, love New Wave and I’m putting it in my context.
Which is what?
When I’m taking that kind of sound into my world, I give it an extra sensuality. It’s a little more soulful and slightly more danceable and a little less rocky, but you can still hear those influences.
So how much of this record do you have done?
I’m two songs in, completed, but 20 more song ideas. But then I have to break that down and fly everyone in.
Have you met all these singers in person?
I’ve met half of them. Like Rachel Claudio, from Paris, when I flew to Paris, we met. Clara Hill I knew from before…. Kelly Evans I met years ago in Montreal and then again Myspace. Sshe’s a painter, and I liked her paintings, but didn’t know she sang.
So you’re literally sitting there on Myspace searching for people to work with.
I’m always looking, but I’m not looking for dates. I’m looking for vocalists. I live on Myspace, I’m on there constantly looking for singers and musicians. Like Gina Ferrera, she actually lives in Philly, but I didn’t know her until Myspace. She plays percussion, so now she’s like, in our band in Philly; it’s great, man.
What do you search for?
I’ll start by going to acts like I like. Like D.F.A., she was in their top. You just go deeper and deeper and deeper, and look at people’s pages and start to experiment. My favorite band is Midnight Movies from L.A.; I found them from Myspace. Maybe you put in Joy Divison or key words, and then these different groups come up.
How do you have the time for that?
I make time. This is a new way of A&R. I’m in the street, in the trenches, in the clubs, so I meet a lot of people that way. But on a worldwide basis, if I’m looking for an African singer or something, I can kind of go online and research, Google, whatever, and get to that person real easy.
In light of all this different stuff, what have you been playing live lately?
Well, it depends on the project. This summer we did a lot of gigs with the Sister Gertrude Morgan Experience, for that kind of blues/psychedelic rock album. So we did Summerstage in New York, with guitar, me on turntables. Then in Europe we did a jazz festival in Istanbul, which was also guitar, electronics. So each project has its own kind of setup.
And then every Monday we do Silk City in Philly, which is where I started DJing back in ’88, ’89. The Silkland 30 Band plays there every week, sand we always have a crazy amount of guests. We had Jill Scott two months ago, Jaguar Wright, Alma…. Ursula Rucker played this past Monday.
But in Miami you’re pretty much just DJing.
Yeah. Except for when we do Art of Seduction [Britt’s yearly party at Winter Music Conference]. Like this past one we had Jody Watley, we had Clara Hill … we had Tracey K…. It was an amazing night of vocalists as well as DJs. But usually when I come to Miami I just DJ. But of course it’s a fun DJ set.
What kind of music are you going to play? Is it going to be mainly house?
I’m known for a lot of different things, I’m very eclectic in taste – I’m more known for house of course. Recently I’ve been trying to break out of that and play a little more across lthe board like I do in Philly or San Fran. Miami’s a little weird place, because a lot of times they expect just house. When I play next week, I’m trying to break out of that. You’ll hear house, hip-hop … you’ll probably hear everything! Especially since I’m playing with Terry Hunter, which is cool, because he’s pretty much strictly house, so it gives me a chance to spread out a little bit more.