Oli Lewis gets full release on Grid Recordings

If there’s one thing we feel is essential here at Knowledge, it’s supporting new artists coming through. 23-year-old Cornwall resident Oli Lewis, first debuted with Grid on instalment eight of their excellent Head Nodders EP series back in April of this year with ‘Just You’. He returns now with a wicked six-track EP of his own entitled ‘Twist & Screw’. We touched base to see what this exciting young producer has to say.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’ve been up to during the pandemic?

I turned 23 at the start of this year and I’ve probably been properly producing D&B since I was about 18 maybe, or at least stopped just messing about and tried to put a bit of effort into it. My sense of chronology throughout the entire pandemic has definitely blurred into one long memory, but I’ve mostly spent the pandemic off work and grinding my way through mixdowns and making random ideas, as well as trying to finish off as much older stuff as I can, as well as watching my sleep pattern invert on itself and subsequently drinking too much coffee to balance that out!

Tell us a bit about some of your previous releases.

My first proper solo release was on Subdivision. Guzi runs that and does all the mastering for the label alongside his mastering service, and he’s always been very good with helping me wade through the rough abstract ideas I’ll initially send him before I try to refine them over a period of time. I’ve got another EP coming out on there later this year, which has a few deeper and darker tunes than this Grid EP. I’ve mostly been keeping my head down and trying to get my tunes sounding right to me before I do anything with them, but I think I’m over the first initial hump of that process and am slowly being able to get my stuff closer to how I want it. Hopefully, I should be a bit more timely with releases in future.

You’re returning to Grid for this six-track EP after featuring on their Head Nodders 8 LP. You must be stoked!

Yeah, I’ve always loved the sort of music that comes out on Grid, so it’s been a great opportunity for me to be able to release some music with them. Twisted Individual who runs the label has been a great help with refining the mixdowns and giving tips on how to get stuff to sit right. That has really helped me with finishing my tunes off. I’m very thankful for his help there, as well as releasing the EP.

Talk us through how you approach making music. Where do you find inspiration and what process do you use to build your ideas into a full-blown track?

I don’t usually go in with a fleshed-out idea in my head. I’m usually going on an abstract idea and mashing up random sounds I’ve made previously or resampling them and trying to get timbres I like. I usually just slowly build up things around a concept or just play with sounds I like until I catch a vibe. Then I start developing the sections and giving them some movement, like with extra percussion slowly coming in or bringing in some melodic/harmonic element. Usually, I try to replicate the intro sounds, or at least things that are in key with the intro or wherever I’ve already got something that functions as a melodic part or harmony within the tune already.

If I’ve done a 16 bar loop that’s very dense in terms of arrangement I’ll probably try to extend that over a few phrases so that I can get a slowly moving 64 bar part or something. Basically I just slowly build up layers and details, and if I can’t think of anything else I leave the project for a bit and do something new or wait until I have the energy to get back into the project and come at it with fresh ears and with fresh ideas.

I get a lot of inspiration from weird sounding things and things that just sound menacing. I was always into Ed Rush & Optical, Krust, Dom & Roland, Decoder, No-U-Turn, Trace and all that older stuff. I wasn’t around then so I don’t have that encyclopedic knowledge, but all that sort of stuff gives me major inspiration as well as eponymous sorts of things within D&B like Blade Runner and the Vangelis’ score for the film, old dirty funk and soul music, and weird field recordings/samples you hear when you watch films and TV. Anything like that usually helps me get into the right headspace to make a tune or give me an idea or some sort of sound to scour for.

The EP is quite varied. Tell us a bit about the tracks.

The collab with KL came about one night when we were just messing about online with screen share on a few of my stems and him showing me what FL studio could do to sounds. We found a bit of a weird sound when messing about with the bassline, then he added some drums and had a rough arrangement of what would be the tune. He sent the stems back and I added in some vocals, some more synth lines and arpeggios and finalised the arrangement and really just added a few details in, like weird FX sounds and all that jazz. The main bulk of the tune was the resampled bass KL put through his modular rig which made it come out with such a cool timbre.

Twist and Screw was a bit different from the initial idea I sent over. The mix wasn’t quite right to me so I just had a bash at moving stuff about and adding new drums and resampling sounds to go over it. Eventually, after a late-night session, I ended up with the final arrangement. It ended up quite a weird tune, to be honest, but I love making really odd stuff even if the majority never sees the light of day. Some of it is way too out there to finish!

Paper Tiger was one I started late at night when I couldn’t listen to the tune properly. It ended up quite distorted and not very clean. As I finished the mix I slowly got the things where they should have been. I put in the vocal to just add a bit of relief to the really OTT bassline, added some 16th note shuffling hats later on to just move it along and then I refined the arrangement a bit.

Bells and Whistles started off as a tune where I ransacked my media folder for random sounds like the weird background sounds. It was either a very simple bass I made then resampled, or a few I nicked from other tunes of mine and morphed into something new. As soon as I added the weird arpeggio and some thicker drums it came together and I’m quite happy with how it sounds.

Leave it There was originally a bit less sub-heavy and had an annoying tendency to collapse in mono into a weak bass, so it took quite a bit of tweaking and getting that mono chunk back into the bass mid. There was quite a low sub-note so it really did take quite a bit of time to get it where it should have been. I added in that Super Sharp Shooter-esque resonant synth line which I made a while ago and finally had somewhere to put it, and got the tune to roll along, then did some variations on the bassline on the second drop and finished it off.

Tory Boy was quite an old one. I think Taxman and Krust both played an earlier version before, but it was mostly the same besides being a bit grimier. The vocal sample I just found really funny to be perfectly honest and thought it’d be quite funny to name the tune Tory Boy. After coming across the project folder again I gave it a bit of a tweak and tried to get it sounding a bit more glued together and ultimately ended up with the final tune!

As a young producer coming through you obviously have one ear to the ground at all times. What’s your take on the way the music is developing right now?

I think it’s gonna be quite an interesting future for drum and bass. I think a lot of the older stuff people are taking more interest in, or at least people my age who weren’t there really. Like the retro-jungle sort of sound, footworky stuff, Virus Recordings, No U Turn, all the old V recordings and Metalheadz classics. Hopefully, that leads to a bit of a symbiosis between the older stuff and the newer and then from there something completely different. I suppose like any genre there are always new niches being found and very different takes on the music by everyone, which I think is a great thing. I’m definitely still trying to find my sound and make something I feel is truly unique. There’s just such a large spectrum of music to listen to within the genre, without even looking at stuff that’s outside of the genre. The lockdown must have caused a surplus of new tunes, so hopefully, we’re looking at a big burst of new music and sounds.

What kind of technology are you using to make music? Talk us through your equipment list.

I’m not very good at using soft synths to make my sounds. I  prefer being able to record my sounds in with a physical synth. It’s probably just some of my own bias. I suppose you make choices because of the synth and its limitations. I just find it a lot more fun and interesting to make things with. I’ve got a Moog Grandmother, a Moog Sub Phatty and a  Dreadbox Erebus V3 that I mostly use to make my sounds. I’ll hopefully pick up a decent poly synth soon. I’ve had the Minimoog but it’s not really something I’m into and I’d prefer to have more than 4 voices to be able to do weird chord extensions and larger voicings of chords. I also use two Akai Samplers, an s2000 and an s3000xl, but purely for running stuff through to record back into the DAW to edit or using it as an insert to put sounds into to then just jam out on a midi keyboard. I try to use that in the same way I’d build up a song with a synthesizer. I just love wasting all my money on shiny equipment really!

Finally, what do you have coming up over the next few months?

I should have a tune coming out on the next Sofa King Sick compilation, and the next EP with Subdivision should be out in a few months from now. I’m working on another EP for Grid and I have a few other things on the go that aren’t close to release yet. I’ve got a few collabs on the go that I’m waiting for a date on but I’m very excited about them. Mostly I am trying to pick the cream of the crop of the stuff I’ve done over lockdown and get them refined and then go from there.