Name: Chris Liebing
Occupation: Producer, DJ, label founder at CLR
Recent release: Chris Liebing's Another Day LP, co-produced by Ralf Hildenbeutel, mastered by Stefan Betke, and featuring contributions by Polly Scattergood, Tom Adams, Maria Uzor and more, is out now via Mute.
[Read our Stefan Betke interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Chris Liebing and would like to find out more about his work as a producer and DJ, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud and twitter.
For a selection of artists who have also published on CLR or Mute check out the following:
[Read our Umek interview]
[Read our Moby interview]
[Read our Yann Tiersen interview]
[Read our Barry Adamson interview]
[Read our Richie Hawtin/Plastikman interview]
[Read our Cabaret Voltaire interview]
[Read our Daniel Avery interview]
[Read our Alexander Hacke of Einstürzende Neubauten interview]
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
It can come from any source. It comes from absolutely nowhere and, at the same time, from everywhere. I guess you just have to be open and in the moment when it hits you.
Usually, I get good ideas when I deejay. When I mix some stuff together, and it sounds great, I sometimes take a picture of my recorder so I can go back to that spot and hope to remember what I tried to achieve and heard at that very moment. Or sometimes I turn on some machines here in my studio, let them roll and see what happens.
But if nothing works, I go outside. I realised that nature is an incredible source of inspiration and inner peace for me. I live in the mountains now, and to be inspired, I need a particular state of inner peace. I can find it here, out in nature, and it helps my creativity to flow more easily. For troubled minds, sometimes those are exactly the moments when they are creative - when the inner peace is simply there. Once they get out of this creative process, the troubles return to the mind.
I guess that's why some artists are very troubled people in a certain way.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I would say that it's about 5 % planning and 95 % chance. In my own experience, I would say that I should never hold on too strong to a certain idea or something I want to achieve because sometimes the flow wants to take you in another direction. I have learned that I follow that and listen to those little hints the universe is giving me while sitting there.
Maybe I accidentally hit a key on the keyboard, I used the wrong plugin, or I plugged in the wrong cable from the wrong machine, and something comes out that gives me a spark or a new direction. I've learned to follow those little hints, as I firmly believe there is no coincidence.
Anything that happens has a reason to it. If you hit the wrong key on a keyboard, it's mostly because you placed the keyboard in such a weird spot that it just stands in your way, and you hit it. If this leads to a great sound or a good idea, that's sometimes all it takes.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
I try to approach every creative act in terms of making music in a new and fresh way.
I do need to be ready somehow. There needs to be a hot tea, a kettle next to me, the light needs to be right, and I have to be done with the mundane tasks that you kind of have to do during the day. This gives me the peace I need for what I am trying to do in the studio, but then I let chaos take over.
I believe that a vision is good because you need some sort of idea and need to know where you want to head, but as previously stated, it is good to divert, let the flow take over and see what happens. And yes, sometimes I do some research. I listen to old tracks; I get some vinyl out and listen to them or maybe sample a loop here and there. That can give me a direction, but I don't really plan that. It's mainly whatever comes to mind in the moment.
Or in some other moment, something had already come to mind and I had quickly recorded an idea on my phone, did a screenshot or something like that. And if I remember that, I might go back to this screenshot, picture or recording, use it as a starting point and see where it takes me.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I think I already answered this in the previous question but yes, the ambience in the room where I am sitting to make music needs to be comfortable and nice.
For example, the chair needs to be comfortable. A good chair you can sit on for hours and hours is pretty important. The light needs to be nice. I am very peculiar with my lighting. I can't have it too bright, I want to have some colours, but not too many. I like it not too dark and not too bright, just in order to feel 'well'. I love to drink tea, so there is always some tea around. Sometimes I light a candle with some scent, that's true.
Before I start, I usually go for a walk or a bike ride, which is great exercise here in the mountains. This kind of exercise and action really takes my mind off things so that I have a clear mind when I get back to my chair and don't feel heavy and bloated when I sit down to start working on music.
I believe that everything is somehow connected, your body, your mind, and if there is an order and balance in everything, you can let the creative process flow much nicer and easier.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I try to always start in different ways. In my early days of producing, I used to start with a kick drum – every single track started with a kick drum . I'm not saying that this is a bad thing, sometimes I still do this, but you might end up having a kick drum loop running for an hour, trying to add some basslines.
I usually approach making music a little bit like cooking. You start with the foundation, which is the kick, the bass, the lower frequency sounds, and then you add all the spices and some main synth sounds. But that main ingredient, which carries the track, that main synth sound, often needs to be the first thing I approach.
The groove is usually more or less easy for me to do as soon as I have some sound going, so nowadays, I usually start with a central idea, just like with cooking. You have this idea that you want to cook pasta, you have the pasta, and you know what kind of sauce you want to do, but the rest comes on the fly.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Once I feel that I am getting into the zone, I usually get totally lost in time and space. Sometimes I work on little things, and I catch myself getting into stuff that is way too detailed, which really makes no sense, so I try to focus and put the main things together to get a rough idea.
Typically versions one, two, three, four and five sound absolutely bad. I do hear the idea behind it, but I have learned never to play those versions to anyone, because no one else can hear what I can hear in them. At this point the task for me is to sculpt what I hear in my head into what comes from my computer and out of the speakers. Then it goes step by step, and it develops and develops.
Sometimes it's a quick process, because things just fall into place and other times, it takes a little longer. That's the beauty of music, it's never the same process, and it's never predictable.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
Oh, there is definitely a sense of following things where they lead.
I have that a lot when I am deejaying. I have an idea of what I want to play and where I want to take it, but the best moments are those, during a set or also sitting in my studio, when something else takes over, and you are just an enabler. You are just moving your hands to somehow do whatever flows through you. It is already kind of there, it just needs to be manifested and it takes certain people with particular talents to create it.
I think the art is already there, not yet manifested, but there are people with certain talents and skills, who can actually manifest what is coming through them. I think we are just enablers; the less we interfere with this process, the more honest and true the results will be.
Especially with music, one thing builds on top of the other. You come up with a melody – I have that a lot when I work with Ralf Hildenbeutel in his studio in Frankfurt, as he is such a fantastic musician – he plays it, and we both look at each other and know what we have to add afterwards. What layer, sound, groove, loop or whatever is needed to finish the track. It just takes you there.
With music it's a beautiful process as it takes you effortlessly to the next thing it needs - if you let that happen.