Name: Supa K / Katalyst a.k.a. Ashley Anderson
Current Release: Quakers, Ashley Anderson's group with Portishead's Geoff Barrow and engineer Stuart Matthews has just released two new studio albums: "Supa K: Heavy Tremors" and "II - The Next Wave". Both are available from Stones Throw.
Recommendations: Album KMD - Black Bastards (under rated classic); Documentary - Memories of Paul C McKasty (influential figure not known by many)
If you enjoyed this interview with Supa K / Katalyst, check out his facebook page for current updates and more music.
When did you start writing/producing music? What or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started making beats and messing with samples around 1995. Just with a mate and his keyboard sampler. Things just followed from there. Finally saving up and buying my own sampler around 96. I put out my 1st full length release in 1998.
I was influenced by many styles and sounds but Hip Hop is what captured my imagination and lead to me making music. I could list many influences but to just name a few, Public Enemy and DJ Premier were two big early inspirations.
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 an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I guess we are all drawn to what we enjoy. So you are going to listen to artists that inspire you. That you resonate with. And in some way shape or form that will influence what comes after. If your a music maker then it will influence your creation to some extent. Im never really looking to copy or emulate anyone, but I have artists whose output I enjoy, so Im sure they have influenced me, as artists before them influenced them.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed from there to, for example, recent releases like Heavy Tremors and II - The Next Wave?
In the beginning, it's the beginning, so your learning your craft. Now it's a different process where a lot of things come naturally. You evolve, your ear evolves. Your tastes evolve. And your music evolves. I think that's the key really: to just keep learning and evolving.
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?
My 1st studio was in the lounge room of my shared house. It was an Akai S3000 and Cubase on an Atari. Both state of the art at the time. Computers we only used for midi at that point in music making. As computer became faster they eventually started to replace tape machines, and then samplers. So the computer made its way into my setup. Computer are used a lot more in modern music production than when I started making beats
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?
You use technology to make things happen with ease. Things like computers and samplers have made recoding at home accessible. No longer do you need big tape machines to multi track recording. But without good ideas the technology does very little for us in that sense. You use it in the way that facilitates a flow in your creative process. Everyone is different in that sense and will have a slightly different flow.
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?
Tools are there to help expression really. You get the palate of tools you need and like and use them to express yourself really. Hopefully technology is your friend and helps you create.
I try not to get bogged down in functions and programs I don’t need to make what I'm hearing. I do use the computer to arrange and compose but also use samplers and drum machines depending on what Im trying to create.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach in general and, more specifically, with projects like Quakers?
We collaborate in a number of ways. All being beat makers and producers in our own right we present each other with beats and if everyone is into the vibe, it's short listed for the album.
There is input at various stages of ideas but essentially that's our process in this international collab. Then it's a similar process with the MCs. If they are local I’ll get them in to record, if they are touring Australia I’ll get them in to record, or if they're overseas they can record wherever that have access to and send the files back.
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?
I usually start with a coffee to be honest. Check my emails etc especially around release time so I can still catch the US and UK. I don’t really have weekends especially. Every day is just another day.
I enjoy work cause I enjoy creating. I also enjoy restoring old furniture and old junk for use around my home. I get a lot of satisfaction out of making something last - cause things aren’t made like that today and it's sad.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of Heavy Tremors and II - The Next Wave, please? Where did the ideas come from and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
The process is long but also very organic. We make beats we all think are dope, find MCs we think are dope and if there interested we send them beats they think are dope and they get down with us.
For Heavy Tremors I just thought it would be nice to do it as an instrumental album. It was a lot of fun putting it all together and having the visuals being made for it around the same time I was putting the album together. Most of the beats had been made by this time and I was really just deciding what to put on and how to make it all work together.
From your perspective, what is the magic of a great beat and what separates a great from a mediocre one?
It's that thing, that magic that you can’t always put your finger on. But you know when you hear it. The important thing is to be able to tell the difference. Not necessarily being able to pinpoint why. Great beats are great for many different reasons.
When will you leave a beat to work its magic by itself (as on many of the pieces on Heavy Tremors) and when will you add vocals to it (as on The Next Wave)?
It's not always a clear cut line there. Sometimes things like Heavy Tremors inspire MCs to write beats to the instrumentals. It just sort of works out in a way. Some of the beats on Heavy Tremors were on the short list for The Next Wave but for whatever reasons they didn’t end up on there. A dope beat is a dope beat. When it comes together with a dope rap, the combination can make something even more powerful than the sum of the parts.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you?
When your energy is right. And sometimes that means just getting into the studio and starting something. I don’t think it is always about a bolt of inspiration. More an underlying drive to create and be the best you can be.
What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I think that's different for everyone to be honest. Stress is never a good creative headspace thats for sure. I like coffee and weed as supplements to my otherwise healthy diet for creativity. Also like to get outside and just tap back into nature a bit. I try and get active outside most days.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected?
It's just an extension of creating the music, playing it live in whatever context that may be. So in that sense it's the next step from creating it in the studio. Personally I prefer the creation side over the performance side.
What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally?
I think you are always becoming a better performer. So as long as that continues and you continue to grow then performance is expanding.
How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Again it depends on the context but with something like Quakers live, there would be an improvised element that might take to form of an MC freestyle where the DJ would also extend and manipulate the beats to fit in with what the MCs were doing.
Especially in hip hop, the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects is very tight. How do you work with sounds to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
I think that everyone is different and is trying to create their own thing. We are Quakers so we want our stuff to quake. So it depends on your aesthetic really. Not everyone is trying to make the same sounding hip hop. You choose the sounds that will work with your idea and your aesthetic really. Sometimes that's a process other times it falls into place easily.
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?
Music is a very emotional connection. Often music and vision are also a strong link to many experiences and emotions. So I'd have to say music and vision. Again they work together to create something greater than the sum of the parts. That's why we love film clips for example. Films wouldn’t be that great without music either.
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?
Art is a reflection of society and should tell the narrative of our times. That, however, usually isn’t the native being pushed by those in charge of it.