Name: David Hanke aka Lehto, Mankoora, Dem Juju Poets & Renegads Of Jazz

Nationality: German

Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current Release: The new Renegades Of Jazz album Sonic Verve is out via Bathurst

If you enjoyed this interview with David Hanke, visit the official Renegades of Jazz homepage for more information. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.

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?

Inspiration can come from anywhere, a situation, a conversation, something I see on the street, a single music sample or music from other artists I listen to. For example, my Turion album (out early November) has several sources of inspiration.

The initial idea to make an album like this was sparked when I listened to Leon Vynehall‘s Nothing Is Still album.

That album was released in summer 2018, but at that time I was not able to make music as I was in the process of moving house. Once settled in the new home the first music I made was for the Turion album in November 2018. As soon as I had the first drafts done and it had a vague direction, I started to think it sounded a bit like underwater music. Something like the soundtrack to Ottfried Preussler's children's book, 'The Little Water Sprite', which I loved in my childhood. The underwater world and submerged forests he described in the book always fascinated me.

So with that in mind, I continued from that point and started reading stuff online about botanic and underwater life in lakes and from this I came up with some good song names for the album.

Later in 2019 Amon Tobin's Fear In A Handful Of Dust album was released and I was again impressed by that album and the mood it creates.

That album also inspired the music I produced for the Turion album, especially when I noticed that it didn‘t need any drums. Something which I had not planned from the beginning. But all of the songs worked great without any drums and after I'd done a few drumless tracks I decided to keep it that way for the whole album.

So I would say, for me, inspiration can really come frome anywhere and in this case a book from my childhood set the course for an album I would create decades later.

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?

It's funny because often when I plan to make a specific song it will go totally wrong and the result will end up in the bin.

And sometimes when I simply start playing around with a sample I’ve found and think 'well let's see where this leads' and have no plan, the best song emerges and suddenly you are really excited and your brain has more ideas per minute than you and your equiptment can keep up with. You forget to eat and cancel everything for the rest of the day or evening and you're just so excited to see how the song will develop. All the while you are working you already know this one will be really good and you are for like six, eight or even ten hours in the "zone". Those situations are the best ones.

Sure at some point I know how the song will sound at the end and there are also songs where I know how they will sound before they are finished because I want to have them based on a sample or an idea that I had before I started, but those unplanned songs are the fun ones, the exciting ones, because they just happen.

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'?

No nothing at all, a fresh coffee and let's get it on. I'm a pragmatist. This quote by Rick Rubin is on point

"Do what you can with what you have. Nothing more is needed and there are no excuses."

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?

No, there are no rituals. When I’m in the mood for making music or I have an idea I will start something, but it can be at any time of the day or night in any situation.

I like and prefer making music deep in the night. Making music by night has a more meditative character, especially when it comes to downtempo or ambient music and cinematic music like The Motion Orchestra.

What makes lyrics good in your opinion?

I think if they are honest and written smart then they are good. I have never written lyrics myself. I tried it but was never satisfied with them.

I have been lucky to work with several amazing vocalists who write, in my opinion, very good lyrics. Elodie Rama for example. She's an amazing artist and writes very good lyrics. Also Jepka, who is featured on my new Lehto album, is someone who's lyrics I absolutey adore.

Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?

If it’s going well it's possible to get into a flow state. But it‘s also possible that nothing good will come out of the initial idea. Then it makes sense to stop after a short time. If it’s going well and you can realize all the ideas you have and you enter that flow state it's possible to have a new song after one session of like six or eight hours.

The good songs are usually finished quickly because eveything goes well, while I find the tracks that take ages usually end up being not so good. If it‘s working out well I usually don't stop and work as long as I can keep my eyes open. Such a song can be finished after two or three days with additional time for the details.

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 I absolutely love when the original idea turns into something completely different. That's something I really like, just letting it go and seeing where it takes you.

The result can sometimes be way better than what you originally had in mind.

Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?

Yes that absolutely happens and it happens quite often. It depends what track it is and if I'm okay with changing direction. Sometimes you try something new but discard it after testing because you come to the result that the earlier way works better. I ask myself, “what does this song want to be?“ or “what will help to improve the song?“ and sometimes you decide what you just tried is not really good for the song.

I think every producer would agree that the best twists on a song journey are results of mistakes. Small or big, something you intended to do but went wrong, maybe something ended up in the wrong place where you didn't want to have it initially. But then you listen to it and think okay, that's somehow better than what I had originally planned with it and you keep it.

There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?

Tunnel vision. Yes, as I earlier said, being in the "zone" or "flow state". Mostly I produce deep at night. Music like the songs I produced for the Turion album is highly meditative if you are alone with the music. Even if you just cut stems into little pieces for a long time it can be meditative.

I love producing at night because you have no distractions, no phone, no mails, no messages at all, not even light or street noise, just sitting in the darkness ... in front of your glowing screen ... mixing little bits and bytes ... bending frequencies that, mixed together, can result in an enjoyable song if you do it right. Just you and the music.

Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?

I think this is something important, to know when to end and finish a piece. I have often met producers who were very talented and promising, but stuck in the loop because they always found things they wanted to change and they never released their debut album because of that. I find that tragic.

I usually tend to find an end too early. If I manage to work out all of the ideas I had, I listen to it, make some notes for what I should maybe change and then I don‘t listen to the song again for about two or three weeks and after that time I listen to it with fresh ears and I check it again.

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?

Yes it absolutely makes sense to stop listening to your latest work for a week or two and then revisit it with fresh ears. If you are working for days on a track you lose an objective view on it. It's possible you think this is going be your best song ever and then you listen to it again a week later and think,“oh, no this is not really as good as I thought it was.“

But it's also possible the other way round. Tracks you thought were not that good turn out to be the opposite after listening again and you think "oh, that's not as bad as I thought it was in the first place."

So in general, getting some distance from your new song is always good. And sure even for details and mixing aspects it makes sense to check it again after some time away from it.

What's your take on the role and importance of mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?

Mixing I do myself, mastering is always done by someone else.

In most cases I don't like it if the mastering person does too much. Mostly I want to keep the pre-master sound also on the mastering, so I'm always happy if the person who masters my tracks doesn't try to stamp their own sound vision on it.

Usually I'm fine if it's only compressed and a few little things are done.

After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?

No, I don't know this feeling. Usually I have several albums at the same time in the making. And in most cases, from finishing an album or single it takes a good amount of time until it gets released, from six months to a year (I once waited 18 months until the release was finally out).

So after a release I always have something else I’m working on and there's always something to do.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

Well a cup of coffee is a cup of coffee and a piece of music is a piece of music, right? One you drink for the moment and then it's gone. The other you can keep for a lifetime. So the answer is yes.

I mean if you look back 10, 20 or even 30 years (sorry young folks), you surely remember music of a certain time in your life. Music you discovered when you left school, music you listened to when studying or travelling backpack across Europe. So my personal experience is most segments of a life have a soundtrack you connect memories to and years later you remember these times. Or old memories emerge when you listen again to an album you did not listen to for about 20 years.

I don’t think a cup of coffee can have the same effect, no matter how good it is.