Name: Oliver Patrice Weder
Current Release: OPW on SA Recordings
Recommendations: The album Talking Timbuktu by Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder
Website/contact: Visit Oliver’s website at www.oliverpatriceweder.com
When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
When I was around 12 I started creating my own pieces on piano, simple melodies and chord progressions, mostly in a classical style - I had a Hungarian teacher and was studying compositions by Bela Bartok amongst others. But my earliest passion I can remember was the band ‘The Doors’ and their keys player Ray Manzarek. I immediately fell in love with them and learned all their tracks. I think to this day you can hear Ray’s influence in my playing. I started discovering other bands such as CCR, Led Zeppelin, CSNY, The Beatles or The Stones and went on to dig deeper into the roots of modern music - blues and jazz. So, I love Muddy Waters, Little Richard or Miles Davis. And then I also developed a big interest in West African and different kinds of Latin music - Fela Kuti, Ali Farka Toure, Buena Vista Social Club or Jorge Ben Jor and Joao Gilberto.
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 relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I love Pablo Picasso’s answer to a question like this: ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal’. It’s key for artistic development to stop trying to be original, this just narrows your mind and output, I’ve only come to learn this recently, as I used to try to be different and original. Having learned this really has freed up the flow for creation. I like taking inspiration from multiple sources, learn as much as I can and stay open minded to any kind of art and music, through that I believe my output becomes truly unique and ‘me’. By absorbing and studying as much music as possible, I develop as an artist and can progress, I can freely steal several elements from many different sources in order to create my own voice and interpretation of art. I started by playing classical piano, so that’s interpreting someone else’s music, same with The Doors, I’ve learned all their music and Ray’s playing, and it had a great deal of influence on me. But throughout the years I have learned, practiced and played other music and I have also started doing my own creations, so bit by bit I have found my own voice. Important also, I can evolve and develop my own voice, so it never really sounds the same - that’s the magic of having your own voice; not sounding like a copy of yourself or someone else’s music, yet still having a recognisable style.
What were some of the most important creative challenges when starting out as a composer and how have they changed over time?
Dealing with self-criticism. So often, I stand in my own way, by judging or not believing in myself. Creativity really suffers from that, because it doesn’t allow art to flow. I don’t think much has changed, I might have learned how to deal with it better and not letting myself down instantly. I also believe that self-criticism and a degree of self-doubt are the driving force of creating new things and wanting them to be as good as possible. If anything, this challenge has become much bigger through social media - art is being consumed and judged instantly, sometimes I feel it’s not about the actual art anymore, it is about how it is presented and promoted. But in a certain way, this is part of the game.
Tell us about your studio/work space, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
For me, my workspace is everything that surrounds me. I have changed this several times throughout the last few years and exactly that has inspired my art and debut album OPW. My ideal work space is the forest and mountains where I grew up, it’s just so peaceful and inspiring. Of course, I have a studio where I carry out the technical work and yes, all the things in your question are very relevant to me. I believe it is important to have everything constantly set up and ready to go. I want to sit down and start creating and carrying out my ideas. This is actually part of the reason why I chose the path of the producer and composer, rather than touring musician, because I love arriving to a set up where it allows me to create instantly. I’d describe my set up as ‘organic’, I have an old wooden table, a Moroccan carpet and some vintage instruments, I like that vibe. Like most studios, I have one of those Edison light bulbs that give low light, I find that inspiring. That and sometimes the smell of burnt sage. My dream however, is to have a studio in the countryside, where I can have windows and a lot of light coming in throughout the day - I love the sun! Ergonomics and health is hugely important, so I have a good chair and try to work in a good posture. Technology of course is important as well, I like when everything works well and I keep informed about new things in the industry - however, I don’t have to have all the new and trendy toys or most prestigious instruments, creating music with limited resources makes me more innovative.
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 travel a lot and move around, so no day is like any other, but let me describe a typical day when am at home in the studio. At the moment I live in Madrid, we’re just passing through here, so my studio is in a small bedroom within a flat and since I’ve also just become a father, I have to make all aspects of my life blend seamlessly and a more or less fixed schedule helps a lot. So, first thing in the morning, I get woken up by our daughter at around 7, I change her diapers and bring her back to her mother for food. Sometimes I hang out with her for an hour if she doesn’t fall back asleep. But I usually head straight into the studio to do some admin work. Then I go swimming for about an hour (I do this every other day if possible) and when I come back I do my meetings with the Spitfire team in London. From around 11am-2pm I try to do a big chunk of work, whether it is composing music, preparing a video shoot or practicing the piano. From 2pm-3pm I have lunch and spend a little bit of time with the family. From 3pm until around 8.30pm or sometimes 9pm that’s when the creative juices are flowing and I dive deep into my work, mostly writing music with the light dimmed, sage burnt and sometimes a candle lit. I love those hours of the day and I feel inspired. After that we cook dinner, listen to music or watch some films. On a normal day I head to bed at around 23.00, I like my 7-8hours of sleep if possible, that’s when I work and feel best about myself.
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?
I love your questions, very deep and inspiring. I am yet to discover the perfect and ideal state of mind for myself, or maybe I should say, I have to keep practicing and focussing to reach an ideal state of mind. For me, an ideal state of mind is being able to focus 100% on any kind of activity, whether it’s writing music, practicing the piano, swimming, being with the family etc, and with a world that goes around in lightning speed, this sometimes seems to be tricky.
But to work on an ideal state of mind, I believe a healthy balance of several life aspects is important, to me this is: a healthy and happy relationship, spending time with the family, having friends you care for, sleep well and enough, doing sports several hours a week, eating good and healthy food, spending as much time possible in nature, work hard but not too hard, create things and contribute to a community, be cultured and informed (as in, go to concerts, the cinema, reading books, travelling and learning about other cultures) and trying to be relaxed about things. I am yet to find out the perfect strategy, but I believe with the above combination I can get close to the desired state of mind.
Could you take me through the process of composing on the basis of one of your pieces 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 like ‘A Night In Santa Teresa’, it’s the closest to a love song on my debut album. I got inspired while travelling through Brazil with the love of my life. Santa Teresa is a former favela region in Rio de Janeiro, we stayed a few days in this eclectic neighbourhood. The mix between beauty, palpable danger and love created a very intense feeling of being alive. One night we walked around to discover some place and there was this cultural centre where they have an old piano outside in the garden, so I just sat on the piano and started playing this simple melody. I think it was pretty much the first piece on the album and I instantly felt this was honest and real, when I came back home the whole track just flew and made sense. I arranged the strings in a romantic way on top of a piano draft, but the instrumentation for the lead melody was uncertain, until I actually recorded the strings, where I thought of a trumpet or some other ‘smoky’ instrument - my engineer Harry Wilson suggested a flugelhorn. So, the melody ended up being a mix between solo cello, flugelhorn and piano. Now the track covered the romantic side, but I wanted to capture the dangerous undercurrent of my experience (you have to understand, one morning we asked our hostel host what the fireworks last night were, as she replied, ‘no, no fireworks, there was a raid in the neighbouring area with a lot of gunshots and policemen killed’.
We’ve also experienced that certain taxi drivers didn’t want to bring us back to our area after nightfall). So, I tried to bring in a dark samba rhythm played by surdos (typically used in Brazilian music) - at one point I even looked at the rhythm arrangement in Michael Jackson’s ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ featuring the drum group ‘Olodum’ from Salvador.But something didn’t really work out well with that idea, I couldn’t get it to fit and came to a stage where I neglected the song for a while. Weeks later, I picked it up again and instead of forcing a samba rhythm onto the track, I decided to try and make the song fit in with the rest of the album and its sound palette; I’ve loaded up some drum machine samples and started playing around. I’ve had this high, delayed conga hit that I loved and it fit perfectly into the middle bit. So, I’ve started programming the kick drum and a snare until I arrived at a rhythm I was happy with.
In the end, I love when the rhythm comes in half way through the middle bit and lifts up the song, while also making it fit with the rest of the tracks, one of my favourite moments of the whole album.
This is a perfect example of creating, you have an idea and inspiration, but musically it fits much better going down a different route. I’d love for the track to have a dark undercurrent created by a rhythm section, but instead it is a very romantic crossover ballad between modern jazz and classical, still capturing the experience I had when I was there.