Name: Phillip Lauer
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current release: Lauer's new album Answers 2 Trouble is out now on Permanent Vacation.
Thor Heyerdahl: Kon – Tiki
Everybody knows about it but maybe not everybody has really read it … I read this with my 10 year old son.
The incredible story of Thor Heyerdahl and a couple of bored WW2 veterans riding a self built wooden float across the Pacific Ocean, describing the ways of a forgotten ancient civilisation and basically having unreal encounters with alien like creatures from the deepest sea ...
Thomas Bernhard: Holzfällen
This is also an intense ride … of an author ranting about or settling old scores with a clique of former companions upon the suicide of a mutual friend. Many clever people have written much smarter things about this book and its author than I ever could. I can say that this really got me. Also because of its dark, never-stopping, grouching language.
If this Lauer interview piqued your interest, visit this placeholder-homepage for a humorous look into his work and personality.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I guess my introduction to the whole complex of youth culture or however you may call it started when I turned into a skateboard kid in the summer of 1989.
A story often told by many ... Skate videos and the music in them were very important as well as the aspect of the whole operation being off the beaten track. There was no skateboard -club / training your mom could drive you to as with, for example, tennis ... it was just us and some hard to get information through magazines … finding spots ... getting to know likeminded people from other towns … skateshops ... figuring it all out by ourselves. Being cool kids (maybe too cool in hindsight). I think that same spirit led to starting bands a bit later …
A few years further on I found myself playing drums in an “80s emulating” HC punk band, touring and releasing 7”s … amateur power violence. Parallel to that I was into all other types of music like rap, jazz and house ... it was the heyday of music television too. Out of boredom I bought a cheap and very rudimentary music production software ...
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?
When I started producing I was very drawn to the likes of Moodymann and Theo Parish. Detroit house. It had this unpolished rawness that I could relate to … Dusty Cabinets was a favourite (still is). So I guess the first few years it was me finding my way through jazzy rhodes and percussion loops, basically covering this music. Daftpunk's Homework was another important influence.
Listening back to those first tracks, putting those borrowed aesthetics aside, I think it is already possible to recognise my “sound”. It was always there, just more in the background of those first productions. some people say I couldn’t keep it out of productions even if I tried to.
Going to the Robert Johnson club on a weekly basis, DJing at small parties, listening to a lot of music and producing whenever possible slowly shaped my preferences / taste /skills over the years. Starting out copying what inspires you most is the normal way. If that will turn you into a perfect emulator or will lead you to new grounds is the question (that might remain unanswered). I'm afraid this is something that cant be trained or strategically planned. I see myself somewhere in the middle of this process ...
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
There is a discrepancy between the way you hear your music and the way others do. Something like a personal music auto-complete program could be an explanation. Like an algorithm powered by fantasy and imagination that - in the best case- adds whatever is missing in a musical idea to make it sound good. (in ones own head only). It is the only explanation how I possibly could have finished some music I released in the past. Many years of observation, experience and collaborating with others got me a bit closer to knowing how ideas could be conceived by others. I believe that is the main challenge. There are smart people who understand it right from the beginning and there are others (like me) who have to take the long way of learning ...
On a technical level my way of making music is not very complex and it hasn’t evolved much in the last 10 years, the big changes on a sound level happened through acquiring better gear - like a proper mixing desk eg.
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?
It really depends on when you start to call a corner in your bedroom with a bunch of gear a studio. For me it has always been trial & error. I remember acquiring and selling lots of gear (cheap mostly – due to low civil service income).
When I bought a Mackie mixing desk - I think from the infamous C-rock - it transformed the process ... the principle of how I record music hasn't changed much anymore after that. It's a computer with cubase, a soundcard, a mixing desk, some synth / sound modules all triggered by midi ... outboard efx units came later. Always trying to keep it as simple as possible. I couldn’t do without my Matrix 1000, I guess ... deserted island luggage kind of a synth ...
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?
I’m not one to exploit all possibilities of technology, not even of the gear I have. As mentioned before, I try to keep the process simple and understandable for myself. Most of the times I finish a piece of music, I would bounce the stems and send them to my well trusted mixing engineer friend who puts it all together the way I want it to sound. That's why the whole technology around mixing and mastering doesn't really bother me at all. This also means that there isn’t much distraction from the actual process of recording music sound by sound.
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?
As mentioned before I’m a simpleton when it comes to the technical side of recording. To have a stable, clear and reliable system gives me peace of mind. Maybe I should take more risks in the future ... let's see.
At the same time synthesizers and drum computers mostly from the early digital days play a huge roll in my sound. In my opinion they all have their own character and I try to build on that. Carefuly editing presets rather than building sounds from scratch (which to me has more of a sports /science vibe to it rather than helping music to come together).
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 through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I’m a fan of working with other people in the studio. It feels like I only have to do half the thinking. On the downside: its also only half of the royalties :)
It usually means spending fun times with a friend, cooking food, hanging out. It is a welcome distraction from the lonely life of a music producer. From time to time collaborations happen online with file sharing back and forth - especially during these pandemic days. But I do prefer the actual meetings, as things get decided much faster. I recently read an article about creativity always being a collaborative effort, in terms of entering “the zone” together and letting ideas bounce back and forth ... demystifying the idea of the “lonely genius” … well ... in the end it's all tech house :)
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?
When thinking about it now, I don’t treat it like work. Many other things come first: family, household, homeschooling (during the pandemic), buying groceries, cooking food ... I only go to the studio when everything else is sorted. Pretty clear prioritisation.
It's probably 3-4 times in a week for a few hours in the afternoon. There is no fixed schedule and it mostly depends on whether I have deadlines to hold or some project to work on. I rarely sit in front of a “blank paper” trying to make something up. And I strongly believe I shouldn’t be in the studio unless I really want to be there. There is nothing there that can be forced to happen. That's only me, though. My technique of trying not to take things too seriously. I’m aware it works differently for other people.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album 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?
I had the plan to record a new album in 2020 for a while and I was already collecting bits and pieces for it since my last LP. But then the pandemic took over and instead of travelling on most weekends and being tired all the time I was at home 24 / 7 and had almost enough sleep everyday. I was basically able to really look into details and do like 5 or 6 demos of every track and listening to them a few thousand times before finishing, which was quite different from my normal routine. We'll find out if that was a good approach after the release I guess. It probably took away some spontaneity.
I’m a bit superstitious about “the creative process” as if it could be harmed by over analyzing it. It's ominous.
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?
Read above. I’m not a friend of strategical thinking in that field. It smells like treason. Especially in this all optimizing world. Music needs to stay off the grid, in my eyes. XLS files ruin everything anyways :)
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Well, I’m not a “real” musician in a virtuoso kind of way. And my live acts are basically live-dub-mixing sessions, I don’t play instruments in front of people. But on the other hand, the one instrument I play well is my studio and I don’t need to be a virtuous player because I can press the pause button in my DAW and change every bit until it sounds good to me.
There still is improvisation though as I do record long takes of some things and just use what's best. Also leaving in “mistakes” when it makes sense. Improv vs Composition is a bit black and white thinking. I operate in the mist in between, navigating with my ears.
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?
In the usually harmonically under-complex world of dance music - sound plays a big role, not only when it comes to aesthetics but also in a simple technical way. A recording needs to come through on a club system. The coolest track won’t work if it doesn’t have this quality. I’m not saying that everything needs to be pumping sterile tech house now, also lofi recordings can have that impact. Good mastering & mixing is essential. Most of my sounds come from slightly edited presets on old synthesizers and drum machines. My tracks probably wouldn’t really work otherwise.
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?
I haven’t really invested time exploring this metaphysical side of listening to music. I’ll probably look into it in a couple of years. So far my sense of hearing on its own has kept me busy enough :)
In a cold way of looking at it, it is all about projection. What people project into a certain artist / release ultimately determines how they receive it. The internal auto-complete / fantasy-addiction protocol feeds from that. I guess visuals are important as well as a certain aura of cool or legend. Bigger record labels recruit armies of promo and marketing people to manufacture or emphasize such characteristics for their artists.
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?
I’m still in the process of finding out if what I do is actually art or simple (also complicated) craftsmanship. I’m making a living from my ideas and I don’t have to compromise a lot. Which is a privileged situation and I’m thankful for that. It all fell into place as if it was meant to be. I’ve been working normal jobs before and it didn’t bother me at the time. So making a living as a recording artist was always a dream but never a goal.
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?
I don’t know. There have always only been 12 notes and that hasn’t kept people from coming up with new stuff. NFTs / blockchains will revolutionize the music business in the next years, regarding the way royalties will be handled.