Name: Hue and Cry
Members: Patrick and Gregory Kane
Occupation: Producers, Songwriters
Current Release: Pocketful of Stones on Blairhill Records
GREG: Have a look at the architecture of Zaha Hadid and the design of Giogetto Giugiaro.
PAT: You should listen to Rain Dogs by Tom Waits about once a month. And the book that will change you life is called Infinite and Finite Games, by James Carse.
Website / Contact: If this 15 Questions interview makes you want to find out more about Hue and Cry, visit their facebook profile or personal website to find out more and order releases directly from them. Hue And Cry will also tour the UK this November.
What was your first recording-related job - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
GREG: In 1984, at the age of 17 years , I started working at a recording studio in Glasgow called Berkeley Street Studios. I learned how to engineer in an analogue studio based around a 1inch, 16 track machine through a trident desk. I loved the process involved in multitrack recording, but what I realised very early on was that the success of a recording was more about the arrangement of the music and instruments than how good your microphones and preamps were. That realisation has served me well over the last 30+ years of music making.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as a producer and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
GREG: I started piano lessons at the age of 9, so by the time I arrived at secondary school aged 13 I had a solid grasp of musical theory and performance. The school recognised this and asked me if i wanted to learn to play any other instruments. I decided on the saxophone. I had a great sax teacher at the school, who had me playing with his big band on Saturday afternoons by the time I was 16. My favourite pianist was and still is Oscar Peterson and I used to enjoy transcribing parts of his solos so I could learn to play them on sax. It took a while though :) … This is still something I like to do but find myself more playing keyboard parts on guitar (or vice versa) … using horns to play string arrangements etc … It’s the finessing of parts to make them work on other instruments that usually steers me in interesting directions when I arrange or produce. I’d learn from other people's arrangements but adapt them for my needs.
What were some of your main challenges and ambitions in terms of your approach to production when starting out – and how have they changed over time?
GREG: Main challenges were always the musicians for me. It’s not all about getting the best players you can, but getting the right blend of players for the record or project you’re working on. That’s so important. As producer you have to become a good judge of character as fast as you can, but that only comes with experience, so early production projects were quite frustrating for me. I usually had an end goal in my head, but lacked the skills to achieve it … I got close sometimes though. But now with new technologies in production you can get much further down the line before you have to start reaching out to other collaborators to get involved. This helps so much with realising your ambitions for a record.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
GREG: My first studio in 1985, was based around a TEAC 4 track recorder with an Atari computer running Cubase. I made some great stuff with that setup. I moved away from Cubase VST and onto a Logic/Mac system in the late 90’s … Although I’d used samplers (Akai S900) since the late ’80’s, the ability to record audio into the computer was such a game changer for everyone and for me Logic did it better than most other DAW’s. I still had to learn Pro Tools though to get the engineering/mixing gigs, but I always preferred Logic. And then when Apple acquired Emagic in 2002, Logic would now be optimised for the Mac platform. Since then Logic has gone on from strength to strength and in its present iteration provides the perfect tool for my production duties. I was also an early adopter of the UAD-1, Softube and iZotope plugins and these are now invaluable to me. I was also one of the fools that invested in SSL’s Duende FW Hardware solution a while back. It sounded great but was so unreliable. To their credit though SSL released a native version of Duende a couple of years back (free to us Hardware owners) and it’s really now my go-to virtual channel strip. Brilliant EQ and compression.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
GREG: Music technology has been and always will be just a set of tools a music maker has at their disposal. You decide what ones you want or do not want to use. It really is the best time to be making music right now … you can really do whatever the hell you want, the only thing holding you back is your imagination. Good times.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
GREG: As far as composition is concerned, I use very little technology. A guitar or a keyboard and a Dictaphone app on my phone, that’s really all you need to compose a song.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives and the artists you're recording?
GREG: I really enjoy collaborative composing. I mostly write songs with my brother but I still do it with other people on occasion. Most people don’t really understand how and when the songwriting process is happening. This problem is usually flagged up when it comes to registering song writing credits. It can be frustrating. A very prominent songwriting friend of mine has told me of the setup of the “writing rooms” in Nashville. When they first started writing there they were put in the 80/20 split room. That means that no matter how much of the song you write, because you’re the newbie you only get 20% of the writing credits! … At least you know before you start, but still a little unfair me thinks. You’ll be glad to know that they've now graduated to the 40/60 (in their favour) split room … took’em 10 years to get there though. I have no preferred way of writing with other people, everyone in the room contribute to the process so. It's always different for me.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
GREG: We have our own studio which is part of a creative hub building in the North of Glasgow. During the album making process I like to do 10am till 5pm sessions. It's really important to maintain a work/life balance. The studio is very open plan and inviting, it encourages lots of "sit down and discuss” opportunities which is really important to us. There are multiple performance spaces at the studio too which allows for the all-important impromptu moments of creativity and, if you need it, private spaces to zero in on an idea on your own. We’ve really got a great place to work in and to be honest every day is different, so I don’t really have a set daily schedule I can describe. All aspects of my life feed into my creativity and I’ve always been interested in design, so I’ve naturally fallen into a lot of video pre and post production work as computers have become more powerful (the computer I’m writing this on is actually rendering a video animation I’m finishing off) … Since I’ve started doing video more and more I find myself visualising music a lot more now. It's good.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a production that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
GREG: I think your own creative process is very personal to you. How I react to a lyric, an image, an idea, a groove is down to me and how I’m feeling at the time I’m exposed to it, so it’s very difficult to explain what happens. The person I am dictates how I react to creative stimulation … it will be different for anybody else. That’s a difficult question to answer.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
PAT: If I'm writing with Greg, I write best when we're both in a good mood! Humour and curiosity are both really important. We often spend up to an hour just shooting the breeze about the world - politics, tech, family, friends, some urgent or ridiculous news headline. Then we often chase off after a musical or cultural reference one of us has mentioned - YouTube and Spotify make this really easy, and you often find yourself glorying in something brilliant or moving or inspiring. Then Greg says, "Shall we?" And we wander into the studio to sit down at the chair and piano. And something begins.
How is playing the music live, recording it in the studio and editing/mastering it afterwards connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
GREG: Playing live is really not connected to editing, recording and mastering audio. All 4 require 4 completely different mindsets.
And yes, being able to compartmentalise is invaluable when you’re working in the creative industries … I’m nearly good at it now!
But personally, playing live has become on my own take on therapy. I spend a lot of time in solitude in a studio environment so it’s always healthy to get out amongst folk. I spend a lot of time problem solving too and playing live is no different, but it’s usually me that’s causing the problems which has its own set of hurdles to overcome. This is getting a bit deep now.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
GREG: Again that’s a tough one. I've written some of my best stuff on shittiest of keyboards and some of my not so finest on the most beautiful of grand pianos. So for me, the quality of the “sound” does not always equate to the quality of composition. These questions read like an exam paper … I’m not helping with your course work am I?
I will concede though, that a beautifully created drum loop can inspire you to create like no other thing and drum loops are all about the sound.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
PAT: As before, we often use social media and the web to give ourselves a mood or a sensibility before we sit down to write. The soundscape of Pocketful of Stones comes a lot from listening to film scores, or finding the clips they accompany - Gravity, There Will Be Blood, and American Beauty were two very big influences. Really, with all these resources, it's a golden age for creativity.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
PAT: We once wrote an album called "Open Soul" - and that's kind of how we think the artist relates to society and politics. You really should be an open soul for all aspects of experience - not just the romantic or emotional or psychological aspects, but civic and political, technological and cultural. And also the places where they become the same thing - the power of advertising to shape your mind, or the way that the words that sometimes express our most intimate thoughts are borrowed, shop-worn. It means having an endless curiosity about humans - their collective ambitions, as well as their private dramas - and it's what keeps me writing songs and lyrics. My dear brother is a great and sympathetic partner in this mission.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
PAT: I do journalistic and research work about future trends sometimes - and there is definitely a fusion between human and machine that's coming closer and closer. Experiences will be fed directly and neurologically into our brains, and they will make us feel immersed in an entirely different world. But I feel that music will have its place in this coming technium - it's always hit the most elemental parts of the human condition, and it gives us such a deep pleasure that it won't be given up easily. Will virtual reality make you dance, cry, make out, rebel? Music can still do that.