12 August 2014

The Black Key interview (2014)

One of the most beautiful things about bands is that their music represents a culmination of ideas from a set of independently talented individuals. When a band like the electro-pop/new-wave Ladytron bursts onto the scene, you know each and every character has something to say, and that the message is pretty damn impressive.

Reuben Wu's message is clear: blending inspirations from all media can never go wrong. Not only is he one of the band's keyboardists, songwriters and producers, but he uses his various other talents as foundations for potentially awe-inspiring, sensory experiences. In anticipation of his upcoming DJ set at the Death's Door Part at The Garret, we discussed his numerous passions, lessons learned, and even his first cruise trip...

Will this be your first time in Miami?

No, I've been there probably tens of times, I'm sure. I can't remember how many time [laughs] but we've always had great gigs and great shows over there. Last time I was there was in March and I was DJ-ing on a cruise ship. It was one of those festival ships.

Was that for WMC?

It was Paramore and the cruise ship was called like the "PARAHOY!" cruise which was fun because I hadn't ever been on a cruise before and we went to the Bahamas and I had a room with a balcony and stuff and, yeah, it was nice.

You guys have been around for quite a while, over a decade actually, how have you observed the industry changing since you first starting up over in England?

Well, we started out just as the internet was being used and I remember when we first were talking to labels and stuff and we were talking about using Friendster and Myspace as social media and, you know, "we should put the band onto Friendster and Myspace, it would be great" and people were saying: "oh, isn't that a bit silly?" [laughs] and: "that's a bit weird, isn't that just for dating?" and so we did that in the end, but there was this kind of resistance from these labels which were being quite closed minded and obviously didn't see what was going to happen.

So, it was kind of strange to see how everything has kind of gone completely in that direction and the way the internet affects... when we first started releasing records, we didn't have like huge major label deals so it was really difficult for our records to be bought or listened to in countries like Mexico and Colombia and Russia and so people started finding us on the internet and just downloading stuff for free. And that's how we started building up this fanbase so when we eventually were able to do it, we were able to actually fly to those places and do a show to a really huge crowd for the first time ever and that was all down to having music which was downloadable so that's a great positive point coming from that kind of thing.

Obviously it was the very early days but, you know, we were definitely on that cusp of the way things started to get marketed on the internet and I think from bands which appeared later on didn't benefit so much from that because by that time, the industry had already changed and there was already a full saturation point of music on the internet.

Does social media and platforms like Soundcloud help or deter you getting your DJ tracks out in any way?

Personally I don't use Soundcloud that much, I don't use it as a place to put music, I use it as a place to announce... so it's just a place for me to put things. So I would generally use other methods to do that. I think, also in the same ways as Facebook, we haven't really released that much stuff recently so I haven't really been thinking about best places to release stuff.

Yeah, it's been a while, Gravity the Seducer came out in 2011. Is there anything we can expect coming up?

Um, we're still having a break. But we're thinking of doing a new album hopefully at the end of this year and to have something ready for next year.

Awesome! How's the recording or creative process with you guys? Is there a specific format you follow when creating new music?

Yeah, we tend to work independently at first and we will just write our own songs and make our own productions and we do that until we're satisfied and then that's the point where we'll get into a room together or we start sending each other tracks and working on each others' music. Once that is done, we start getting into the studio and actually working together in the real world [laughs].

Is there ever a time where there's a track that has a little more Reuben or Daniel than others?

Yes. Always. All the tracks have ownership. But, once they're worked on, you know, we've all kind of put work into all of them. So, by the time they're actually finished and in the album they're kind of... we all have a joint-ownership.

Looking back, what would say was the key to your guys' success?

Um, we were touring a lot, I suppose. That really really helps, going out and playing shows, meeting people, and also making sure that we play places that aren't always on the beaten track. For instance, when we played the U.S., we also played the smaller towns as well.

So you like to cover as much as you can, basically.

We try to cover everything rather than just doing hotspots. And that goes for all over the world as well and I think people appreciate that. I also think that we've had time to grow into our own shoes. A lot of time in this day and age, a lot of the bands are sort of forced to grow as soon as they have a single out and they have a new album and it can be very disruptive for a new band, for the media to hype them up and to not give them the chance to breathe and not be in that limelight.

It took us about three albums to properly grow into something that we felt confident with. You know, the first album was really just a collection of songs and it was very very DIY and the second one was kind of our first real album because the songs were written in the same amount of time and the third album was the most collaborative of all of them. And I think it's still one of the best albums that we've done.

Knowing what you know now, after all the things you've learned and been through, is there anything that you would do differently? Or any advice you'd give the younger versions of yourselves?

Um, I probably would've told myself to not just work on music and to do other things. Because, before I was in music I was doing design and I was doing a lot of drawing and it kind of bled into the band quite a bit in terms of artwork and design and packaging and stuff. But, I then started dabbling in photography which was kind of just a hobby but I think I would've liked to get into it a bit more a lot earlier on. Just to kind of keep the balance between music and something else up rather than just do music.

I was actually going to ask about your design background because I know that when you guys first started you were actually still studying design and how it can be seen as an influence in your work but I guess you kind of answered that one.


How is your photography going? It seems like you have more time to delve into it now.

Yeah, I do now. Since we've been taking a bit of a break, I've been able to think about doing my own stuff. And not just photography, I've started making my own films and that's kind of gone around full circle where I've started needing music for my own films so, it's starting to become this self-contained, independent thing... which is quite nice, actually.

What kind of musical scores are you into, is this more of a score thing or just compiling a soundtrack?

Um, I'm generally making music first and then tracking visuals too. I think a lot of people do it the other way around but I feel like the music is so important that a lot of visuals just seem like a compromise, the visuals are just there to accompany them. But they have exactly the same energy and should echo off each other. So yeah, I've just been experimenting. And I've started doing music videos and stuff like that so it's kind of a new journey for me.

So, actually, where are you now?

I'm in Chicago!

Well, now that you're coming to Miami for a DJ set, I know you like to work primarily with CDs when you play, is there any particular reason for that?

Um, the reason is because I haven't started using a USB [laughs]. After vinyl I started using CDs and I haven't moved on since then and, yeah, that's just the way I play. I play my music like as if they were vinyl. So I go from deck to deck and I just like the way that is. I don't like the idea of turning up and the USB sticks don't work or just losing your USB sticks. I'd rather lose all of my CDs and then burn a brand new set with my computer.

When you're creating your sets, do you prepare something in advance? Or do you like to feel the crowd and the venue out?

Yeah, I play out how I feel. I always feed off the audience, so I don't really like to plan what I'm going to be playing but I have a list of stuff that I really enjoy playing.

Like what in particular?

Ummmmm... hmmm... I quite like Daniel Avery. His stuff is amazing. And I like the fact that his energy is so high and yet really minimal as well. I like Moullinex, I love his remixes. What else? Um, Front de Cadeaux who are a French producers. Sorry, I don't really like listing people I like playing...

You don't have to! [Laughs] I meant, what sounds or genres do you like working off of?

Ohh, okay, alright [laughs]. Nu-disco, deep house, it's all electronic. It's all upbeat. I generally don't play any EDM or anything like that. No dubstep [laughs].

Well, that's my jam so I'm excited to hear you play!

Yeah! I'm excited too. It's always nice to play to a Miami crowd.

Now, this can go for both Ladytron and your solo DJ work, but you guys have quite a few remixes of your tracks and I know as a DJ you work on remixing other people's tracks as well. Are there any artists out there you'd like to collaborate with? Either with Ladytron or just yourself?

I'm not sure. Um, I think I'd like to collaborate with someone not in music and maybe collaborate with someone from the film industry or something like that. Or collaborate with someone that just makes art. You know, rather than two musicians collaborating with each other, I'd rather go out of the whole genre itself and see what happens with someone completely out of that.

That would definitely become a sensory experience, you should come back for Art Basel and host a show.

Yeah, I'd love to!