Name: Uwe Lehr
Occupation: Producer, drummer, DJ
Current release: High Grade & Georgie Wine on Poets Club Rec.
Recommendations: It's impossible to pick just two but I want to recommend two voices that touched my heart and senses. The Senegalese singer Baaba Maal and the late Pakistani Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
If you enjoyed this interview with Razoof, find out more about his work as well as current updates on his facebook account.
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 started playing drums when I was 16. I saved some money, bought myself a cheap drumkit and put it in the basement of my mother's house. I never liked teachers too much, so I learned everything by myself. Just put some vinyl of my favorite reggae records on the turntables and played along the songs. Soon, some friends came over with guitar, amps, microphones and we started the first sessions together. I grew up in an industrial inviroment, so there was not much to do. You had to find something to release your creativity and I loved groove and beats from early age.
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?
Everybody has his idols. For me, they were the reggae drummers of the 70s, like Sly Dunbar and Carly Barrett. Later, when I started DJing and producing, I started from scratch, somehow isolated from other influences. Without anybody showing me how to do it, I had to create my own way of doing it.
I always liked a variety of styles and different sounds, so I picked influences from reggae and house music and created my own style.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I started producing in 1993 when I bought my first sampler. At that time, we could only sample a few seconds. You had to be very creative to build your own music with samples not longer then a few seconds.
Nowadays the challenge in production is to filter the few things that you need out of the million offers without drowning in an ocean of sounds.
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?
In the 90s I had a very nice studio in Cologne with a great view over the river Rhine. Next door was the rehearsal room of Jaki Liebezeit, legendary drummer of the band Can. I don't remember the mixing desk we had but I brought my Akai Sampler 1100 and the Atari with the Notator Logic on it. Later I changed to my first Mac. I also played an Octapad electronic drumkit in combination with natural drums. Today I only travel with my Macbook and a little Midi keyboard.
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 always use the machines that are easiest to use. I am not so much a fan of vintage. I like to play electronic drums because they are easy to record and you have many different sounds available. Also I can travel with a full set in two cases and even go with it on a plane.
But at the end of the day, if these things are not available, I can also drum with some sticks on a piece of wood.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest it'self in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
Besides drums, I never learned a classical instrument and these tools help me to play keyboards and use sounds from different instruments. These tools are the key to expressing my creativity.
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?
In the beginning I spent hours and hours with my friends in rehearsal rooms just jamming and playing. Most of this music was never recorded. Throughout the last 20 years while traveling the world I met a lot of musicians on the way and file sharing gives me the opportunity to play with all of these people on my productions, even if they are not around.
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?
As I have my home in 3 different places my routine depends on where I am. There are some things I always try to keep as a routine. After getting up I do some exercise, yoga, breathing techniques, meditation and prayers. That is about 90-120 minutes. I eat two times a day around midday and early evening around 7. I also like to prepare my own vegetarian food.
I try to stick to these routine everyday, everywhere I go. When I am in Cologne I do mostly office work and see my family there. In Spain (Formentera) I live in a circus caravan at the beachside. I DJ every night and spend the afternoon swimming or playing drums. When I have free time I go to Uganda, were I live in a house in a small village called Nebbi close to the Congolese border. There, I have time to work on new music. For me there is no difference between work or free time. I don't think in these categories.
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 just recorded a new album called Kansanga. I was in a studio in Kampala, Uganda, when I remembered some drums I recorded 5 years back in my caravan in Formentera. Based on these grooves, I created the first simple keyboard sounds. These first samples were sent to my longtime friends in Cologne who played keyboards, guitar, bass and saxophone on top of it and sent it back to Kampala. I picked the pieces I needed and arranged the instrumentals. These instrumentals were sent to singers in different countries (Uganda, Kenia, Tanzania, Jamaica, Nigeria, Germany), were they recorded the vocals and sent it back to me. I arranged the vocals in the studio in Kampala and mixed the songs.
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?
My experiences has shown me that there is no way to force creativity. There were years were I didn’t create a single song. This year I created already more the 40. But I try to create an environment were I don’t need to think to much about other things. When I am in Uganda I just spend time with my family, take a walk in nature, cook and mostly in the evening I start with some production.
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?
These days I am more concentrated on the studio work and DJing (before Corona :-) It's difficult to bring everybody together and play a tour. But I am missing playing live.
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?
For me sound is very important as I like to keep the music as simple as possible and I like to keep some space between the notes. Especially effects like reverb and delay play a big role in my music.
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 it's outermost borders?
I see a big relationship between music and colours for example. I am deaf on my left ear from birth, so I never had the experience of hearing stereo. But I never felt I am missing something, as all senses are connected with each other. Combining music and physical exercise – be it running or yoga asanas - can also create a good connection between the senses.
Art can be a purpose in it's 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 always try to keep a positive vibe in my music and I am always discussing with the singers I work with, in which direction the lyrics could go. The whole thing has to be positive with a good and respectful vibe.
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 it's current form?
I think music from Africa and Asia will have a bigger influence on popular global music in the future. Also the classical pop instrumentation with bass, guitar, keys will more and more be replaced by open minded electronic sounds.