In the Studio: Teebs
Without question, Teebs (a.k.a. Mtendere Mandowa) is still a young guy, but in the context of LA's constantly renewing beat scene, the Brainfeeder affiliate is practically a grizzled veteran. Over the past few years, he's quietly assembled an impressive discography, one that frequently pairs lush melodies with shambling drum patterns to glorious effect. That said, 2012 was a relatively quiet year for Teebs, as he only offered up the Cecilia Tapes Collection, a compilation of unmastered raw cuts, loops, and sketches. Curious about the progress of his new music and armed with a series of questions about his gear set-up and production methods, we recently made the trek to Teebs' home studio, situated in Los Angeles' Eagle Rock neighborhood. As we snapped photos of his workspace, Teebs not only shed some light on a potential new solo album and his collaborative Sons of the Morning project with Prefuse 73, but he also told us about everything from his early days as a producer to his ongoing search for crappy toy keyboards.
XLR8R: When did you first start producing music?
What kind of set-up were you using?
Almost the same set-up that I'm using now. With me, the basics are an SP-404 and Fruity Loops. That's the core, and I just interchange instruments constantly. I borrow like crazy, and that's why there's nothing in here—I had to give stuff back. Guitars and synthesizers and all that stuff, it comes in and then it leaves.
Are you formally trained in music?
No, not at all.
Then what prompted the initial compulsion to start making music?
My brother had Fruity Loops. He messed around, and I think I had a younger-brother complex, like, "Oh, I want to mess with that."
You produce everything on Fruity Loops. How many of your sounds are synthetic as opposed to things you're recording off an instrument?
A third? For most of my stuff, I record noises and dump it into [Fruity Loops] to sequence. But yeah, I use Fruity Loops sounds a little bit, some random hats or something.
What kinds of sounds are you recording? Are they field recordings, or recordings of actual instruments and synths?
Both, but mainly field-style recordings. The SP-404 has a really shitty mic on it, but it's kind of fun, so everything goes through there. I just walk around, tap shit, and do weird stuff in the house. Mainly [the recording] is all in the house. Then I'll take it into Fruity Loops.
How does your songwriting process go?
It's always a little different, but my usual go-to is a melody. I always find it easier to make melodies. I'll pull from samples, or [recordings of] people playing, and try to make a melody. Whatever that groove is, I'll try to fit drums to it.
How much are you effecting your recorded sounds once they're in the box?
Oh man, there's so much effecting! I break things down, maybe too much sometimes, but I really like to layer a lot. Let's say some guy has a guitar and he's playing a song in a certain chord progression. I record that, dump it into my sampler, chop out the cool parts, and put it into Fruity Loops. Then, I like to layer different keys of the same chord progression, just so it gets all funky. Then you can do all kinds of weird shit. It's easy, but it's really nice.
When you're doing this sort of composition, how do you know when a song is done?
You don't know. It's just a feeling. You'll think something is amazing, and tomorrow, it's like, "This is the worst thing ever. This is not done. Why did I say it was done? Why did I turn it in?" It's always just a feeling.
Even though you've been using the same set-up for the past six-plus years, do you feel like your production techniques have evolved?
I think for the first three years, [my technique] was probably the same. I was using a lot of weird Fruity Loops editing tools, and I was really based in that. The last three years, it's been more analog, [taking] the organic side of the material and focusing on how to use that. And moving into... I mean I've messed with other programs in the last few years, like Reason and stuff, but...
You always come back to Fruity Loops.
Yeah, it's too good. I feel like it can just understand what I'm trying to say.
What's your favorite piece of gear?
My sampler. The SP-404.
Do you use that to play live as well? Is having a tactile experience important when you're performing?
Yeah. That's the live kit. I think it's important to have some kind of [actual] feeling when you're doing something out in front of people. So I love that there are buttons on this machine.
Is there any gear that you'd like to acquire?
To be honest, right now it's just really old-school, Casio-type keyboards and very old, crappy little keyboards that were made 20, 30 years ago. I want the old, crappy kids toys. Those things have crazy sounds, and you can circumvent them. It's just mental. They're very unique.
Are you working on a new record?
Yeah, one should be out this year. I've been working on tunes for a bit, and I'm trying to just figure out how I want to [release it]. I have music, but I don't know if I should put an album out. I'm just messing with it.
Stylistically, is the new stuff similar to what you've done in the past?
It depends on what happens in the next three months. It's in the middle. Again, I'm using a lot of the same gear, but I know that I'm going to be working with more people and experiencing more raw instruments with my own hands. I'll see what the hell that does. It's different, but it depends on what makes the cut for the record.
And whatever you put out will be on Brainfeeder?
Yup. Brainfeeder and My Hollow Drum are the only two labels where I'm releasing my own stuff. But then, the music with Prefuse 73—we're trying to put out a record this year also—we don't know where that's going.
When you're producing with Prefuse 73 for the Sons of the Morning project, what's the set-up?
We've been working separately. He's an MPC guy, and I've never been an MPC guy. But he was like, "I have seven," so he gave me one. It's really hard when people use different gear, especially computer stuff. [Different programs] just don't like to talk to each other. I'll send him a raw WAV of my Fruity Loops output file, and he's like, "This is kind of hard for me to chop." So, I've been using an MPC more. I'm figuring it out. [Sometimes], it's just him fucking with my files. That's been our process. We haven't made too much music [when we were physically] together.
Have you only played the one Boiler Room show together live?
We had a couple shows, but that was the only one people saw, because we have no idea what we're doing. [Laughs] Portishead has a festival in Spain—we played that and it was really nuts. But we've only played two or three shows together, and they've all been weird, on-the-DL, "we out here" kinds of things.
When you two do play live together, what's the live set-up?
I'm still on the SP-404, but I take a lot of his samples in and loop them out. At the same time, I'm still playing a lot of my own songs. We kind of just do it back and forth, and then, every once in awhile, we collage sounds. It's weird.
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