As The Hours Strange have been working with Leitvox (Christian Cooley) on their new EP due early 2019 [hear an excerpt of one of the tracks on the video teaser above], we couldn’t help but wonder about his own beginnings and poke – once more – at the perennial ‘power struggle’ between the artists and their producers.Here’s an excerpt of the most interesting bits of the conversation with Christian:
Charlie: As kids, most of us dream with playing guitar, drums, sing or what have you… How was it that you decided to go for the mixing consoles and production work?
Christian: Well, I started there too – I was a guitar player first. However, and notwithstanding my love of music, I think I decided to go into production because of my other love – that of computers. So I was interested from early on in sound design. And I just happened to finish high school right at a time when electronic music was exploding in Mexico – with international DJ acts like Sasha, Paul Van Dyke, Digweed, visiting weekly. Mexico had become a center of dance music. So there you have it: right out of school, you combine all of this that is happening, my love of computers, and that’s how I decided to study production. I was fortunate to be able to study in the US. I still play guitar, of course – which I’ve been playing since forever – buy my specialization was in sound design.
Charlie: So guitar came before computers…
Christian: Guitar came first. However, it was when I started playing with sound design that everything became more serious.
Charlie: Leaving aside your commercial work with advertising, film and the like – which artist was the most enjoyable for you to work with, or that you feel that your work came out the greatest?
Christian: That’s so hard… Look, I love to collaborate. Because you learn from everyone – and hopefully I’ve been able to instill some wisdom here and there too. But let me answer in a slightly different way: the artist from which I was most hesitant about my expectations to work together and something wonderful came out of it, was Nortec Collective. I was having conversations with Roberto Mendoza and I really didn’t know whether it was going to work, because they have a style that is very unique, very personal, very regional Mexican. And I am a little darker, a little more depressive if you allow me the term, and without a sound that is particularly Mexican. So I didn’t know what was going to come out of that mix – but it turned out to be something very interesting and I really enjoyed the process.
Because electronic music, if you think about it, was something pretty experimental, something that moved in the underground. Yes, you can argue that the 80s were using a lot of electronic instruments and sampling, but that was nothing like what we now know as electronic music.
Charlie: And what about artists that you would like to experiment with their current sound?
Christian: Well, I think that it’s the role of the producer in general – not just with this or that artist, but with any act that comes your way. I listen to a track and I can’t help but to imagine how I would work it. For instance, I’m working with this band from Mexico now that – in and of themselves – have a sound that we can say it’s rather obvious; however, they are impressive musicians and their compositions are amazing – so since I’ve heard them I’ve imagined how to replace some sounds, work with the vocals, adjust some parts, and now the final work it’s bigger than the sum of the parts. But that’s the work of the producer, right? I sometimes hear someone on the radio and I can realize there’s a great voice, a good melody, but an overall result that is quite predictable and I ponder how I would’ve taken it on a different direction. Then again, probably my version wouldn’t have sold nearly as much!
Charlie: Well, ain’t that the conundrum… Now let me take you away from your role as a producer. How do you write for your own project? Is it from a sound, a melody, a drum pattern, a mood?
Christian: Each song has its own way of growing. Most of the time for me it starts with a guitar part. Sometimes I start with a rhythm, but in my experience, those tracks tend to not work that well. It’s rare, but it has also happened that I have a vocal melody – and I start dressing around it. I don’t have a formula – but I would say that 60% of the time I start with a guitar.
Charlie: Going back to the producer; which albums can you recall that have changed the standard of sound for a genre or an era?
Christian: One of the albums that have affected me the most has to be ‘Nevermind’ from Nirvana. Although it was rock – or ‘grunge’ – it still pretty much put the final lid on the 80s. Also ‘Violator’ from Depeche Mode, I think that album took electronic music mainstream. Because electronic music, if you think about it, was something pretty experimental, something that moved in the underground. Yes, you can argue that the 80s were using a lot of electronic instruments and sampling, but that was nothing like what we know as electronic music. As far as other albums, ‘Ambient Sounds’ by Apex Twins – whom I follow very closely – was very influential to me.
Charlie: Last one – how much would you say is the influence of the producer on the final product?
Christian: I think it depends on the genre. There are some genres – take Jazz, for instance – that don’t need a whole lot of tweaking. But in the ‘commercial’ world, I would say that production is very important. Not long ago I was listening to some demo tapes from Amy Winehouse, just her voice with a guitar that sounded awful. You can hear that it’s all there – the power, the charisma, the voice – but once those songs were properly produced, they become what the world came to love.