Name: Sebastian Reynolds
Nationality: British

Occupation: Composer, producer

Current Release: Athletics EP by Sebastian Reynolds is available now via Faith & Industry.

If you enjoyed this interview with Sebastian Reynolds and would like to keep up to date with his work, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.

If you want to keep reading, we recommend our previous Sebastian Reynolds interview. For an interview with one of his collaborators, check out our Anne Müller interview.

Sebastian-Reynolds · Start Line

Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?

I think for me the impulse to create is very deep. I have always had a tremendously active imagination from when I was a small child and have always had vivid dreams. So the creating part of my brain has been open to stimulus from all kinds of things, other artforms, life experiences etc etc.

For my new EP, Athletics, I’ve explored my love for competitive running and athletics and for other records I’ve drawn from all sorts of different experiences, the passing of my mother, the pandemic etc etc.

I think as creatives we’re like sponges. We can’t help but absorb what we’re exposed to.

For you to get started, does there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?

Sometimes I do have a clearer vision for a track. But more often I have a very simple starting point, a piano part or a sample of some kind and the piece will just evolve very naturally as I add other parts etc.

When I'm working as a composer for Neon Dance, Adrienne, the director, might have a clearer vision for a scene which I need to work towards. It's interesting to be pushed to work in a way that isn't my most natural way of working.

Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?

Depends what I'm doing. Sometimes I get an idea that involves setting up some of my keyboards etc so I'll need to wait until I have time to do that. If I'm just editing in the laptop I'll just do it when the mood takes me if I have the luxury of time.

Often I work best in hotels, airports, on trains or wherever. I think that it's the really wonderful thing about how powerful laptops are now: the fact that one can work when and wherever inspiration hits.

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?

Yeah all of those things. I've been following the neuroscientist Andrew Huberman and his work on optimising the body and mind for any particular desired state is really interesting. I'd encourage people to check out his YouTube channel!

Often if I've recorded some parts for a track that need editing or comping I'll sit in front of the TV with my laptop. I like to be as relaxed as possible. I approach it for the most part as fun playtime, rather than thinking I'm going to sit and create a masterpiece or whatever.

Also, in terms of Athletics EP, my running training and competing has been a major part of my life for ages so it was only a matter of time before there was a more literal expression of these experiences in my music making.

I really enjoy cold water, whether it's showers or baths or sea swimming and that has also had a big impact on my creativity. Whether it's cold water exposure, doing long fasts or super intense exercise sessions, the altered states of consciousness that arise from these things are very inspiring, and developing mental and physical resillience helps with making difficult decisions when it comes to music making, planning releases etc, and to help to deal with the inevitable emotional rollercoaster of releasing ones art.

That kind of quasi-stoic fortitude gives a certain level of detachment and grit when it comes to dealing with rejection, set backs etc. A track from Athletics EP, "Hammering", explores the power and importance of hard work, celebrating the grind!

What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?

I often start from a very small little fragment of an idea. I have a fairly large archive of audio, sounds, sketches and fragments. I often just start playing around with a few sounds, then ideas will form and the piece will gradually develop. Sometimes a theme or concept for the track will be there at the start, or sometimes it comes later.

Like with the Athletics EP lead single “Cheptegei”, I'd already come up with some musical sounds and ideas between my own sounds and some bits from my collaborator Greig, and then having seen Cheptegei's world record run I came up with the idea to add in some commentary samples from the race and to develop the track into the piece that it is now.

The musical ideas, though very rough, seemed to connect with something about Chepetegei and his incredible run.

Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?

With every track it's slightly different, and with some very different, hard to speak in general terms!

For Athletics EP I made “Cheptegei” over the course of about 2 years, whereas the rest of the tracks were put together quite quickly. So I had to get things turned around fairly quickly. Fortunately my collaborators were able to pitch in and help me with feedback and thoughts. I hate having to commit to final mixes without having had the luxury of time to leave things for a while and come back to them with fresh ears.

Another track from Athletics EP, “Dominance Hierarchy,” was made very quickly and finished as I was sending the tunes off for mastering.

Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?

Yeah sometimes it does feel like the work is coming through me, like I just have to channel something.

Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?

It's so hard to speak in general terms, because every track is slightly different, there are patterns that reoccur.

With the Athletics EP I did have some clear inspirations as starting points which also gave pointers towards possible end points.

There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?

Spirituality in the sense of wanting to communicate emotions and feelings that can't be expressed in any other way.

If I could fully communicate verbally what I want to say with my music why would I bother making it?

Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?

When is a painting finished? David Lynch said some really interesting things about this, about following a kind of deep intuition or instinct.

I have people around me that I trust for honest feedback, so if I'm unsure I'll play them what I'm working on and see what they say, through that process I've gotten more sensitive to my bad habits and weaknesses in terms of music making, so I'm (hopefully!) getting better at making a well-rounded work. I definitely feel like a process has completed when something feels finished, tho very hard to pin down in words!!

Also, with some of my tracks, such as “Holy Island”, I've already released 2 versions, and I have a 3rd version in the works, and I've also sometimes revisted and completely reworked old tunes. Maybe a painting is never really finished!

This was the first version of “Holy Island”:

And this the second:

I'll be sharing version 3 at some point, watch this space!

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?

It's tough because sometimes you can have the luxury of time, finish something off then come back to it months or years later and re-evaluate your choices, but sometimes you'll be trying to finish something off to send to mastering and to meet a release schedule which is way more stressful.

I have a great deal of empathy with people who never finish anything. The burden of commitment is real!

What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?

For my music the production and mixing is integral.

I work closely with engineer and producer Mike Bannard at Safehouse Studios in Oxford. Sometimes Mike does my mixes for me, and sometimes he'll just offer feedback and I can make any tweaks. For mastering I work with Lupo in Berlin, his work is immaculate and I feel very fortunate to have such a great team around me.

My biggest weakness is my lack of technical knowledge so having Mike and Lupo and others around me is essential.

After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?

For me I have so much unreleased material in the works that I feel more relieved and excited when something that's sat on my hard drive for months or years is finally being heard by people out there in the world.

Maybe in a few years time if I run out of tunes I'll have more of a sense of having run dry. But for now the reservoir is still overflowing!

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

I find doing daily chores a really great companion to creativity, both in terms of taking you out of your head and giving yourself regular breaks which gives space for reflection on what you're working on, but also to keep you down to earth. I think if you keep your living space clean and tidy and keep your mind and body well you'll work far better, and your life will be so much more pleasant.

From time to time you have pinch points when you have to work work work, but generally it's important to keep the day to day running of one's life in check.