Renowned for his jazzy and soulful approach to drum & bass, Rowpieces is about to release the Memorable Time EP on Fokuz and ahead of the German producer’s appearance at Shut That Sh*t Down: Deeper this Friday, we took the opportunity to have a few words.
My friend says that from listening to your music, he believes you must have grown up in a musical family, because your arrangements are so nice. Did he guess correctly?
That’s a huge compliment to someone who plays no single instrument and has never learned or studied music in the traditional way. Funnily I hear that question quite often, I have no clue about notes, keys or theory of harmony. Apart from my family history, which is not that nice it’s probably undeniable that they influence me at least musically, my parents and uncle were multi-intrumentalists with a deep understanding of music.
Anyway I don’t see my roots there too much though because I always refused the music my parents were into, my ears were heavily mistreated by loads of Bavarian folk music, kitchy and slushy songs and also classical music which I don’t like for any reason.
To the present I’m allergic to simple harmonies and shallow music haha. The rare moments of cool music in my childhood were when my dad played his few Jazz vinyls or himself on piano. I was stoked about that kind of music and always hassled him to play it.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
HIP HOP! A local radio station called Radio 2day, which mainly played Funk & Soul, introduced me into Hip Hop in a special late night show. Since then I was listening to Public Enemy and NWA at full volume from my Walkman on my way to school. My conservative parents were absolutely shocked not only by seeing all these posters with the black faces from the rappers sticking all over the walls in my room but also hearing that “evil and negative“ music out of my room! It was a time of revolution not only music-wise, and Hip Hop was part of it.
Were you into other kinds of dance music before drum & bass?
I was a bit bored from Hip Hop around 1995 and was searching for another kind of music as I wanted to make progress and widen my music taste. I discovered a lot of electronic music then at the same time and one of these was drum & bass. I also listened to techno, trip hop & house but the freakiest music became my favourite until today!
What was your first contact with drum & bass?
If I remember right I was buying a few EPs and albums on CD as I hadn‘t had any vinyl before (yes dumb head bought Hip Hop music on CD as I didn’t know any better!!) One day I was walking through my favourite music shop just for boredom and I entered the vinyl section at the end of that shop and in the corner of my eye I discovered something. I was like “huh, why is the Moving Shadow logo on a vinyl?“
I dug through and noticed that much more tunes came out on vinyl than on CD and it was a magic moment as I listened to the new music for the first time on that “old“ medium. I remembered I had an old turntable and brought it out from the basement.
From that day on I was like a vampire in bloodlust. I spent many hours a day listening to all these vinyl and buying as many as I could achieve. Haha oh my god, I will never forget that picture, me with that super modern music playing on a typical old school turntable. One of these first vinyls was from Moving Shadow, Creative Wax, Good Looking etc.
What made you decide to try and produce tracks?
I was always listening to music differently, with that “analysing tool“ in my head, I tried to figure out how they did music like Hip Hop, or that 80’s Funk and Soul that obviously wasn’t made in the old-fashioned way. I didn’t know anyone who had electronic music gear and it was a real mystery that I wanted to understand. I started my studies by making special edits from hip hop instrumentals to get a feeling for arrangements.
As I discovered that new music Drum & Bass I had a virus in my brain: “you definitely need to produce music like this!“ More and more I figured out how to produce it with Music Maker free version, which only supported 4 stereo tracks, and I frequently had to bounce them into one to get 3 more tracks what is quite hard if you want to change something from the first tracks. It’s almost impossible to compose music that way but I managed to make some simple tunes that way.
One day my vinyl dealer introduced me to a guy who worked at a music shop and was able to buy gear for very cheap prices. So we joined forced and began to make music in several filthy basements over the years. Our first productions can be heard on the albums “The 90’s Productions Vol. 1 & 2“ released on Soul Bros. Records.
You seem to have ‘found a groove’ in your last few releases… what has influenced the development of your unique style?
I guess it’s simply the practice as I’ve been able to make music very intensively in the last few years and of course I’ve been on it since the mid-nineties. Most of time when producing it’s like being in trance, many things happen automatically without thinking and I can focus on the creative part. In all fairness I have to say I’m currently able to use very professional gear as my flatmate and best friend had the chance to invest last year. I also crossed the greatly feared border of “I give up because I don’t have an idea or can’t see any progress for hours“.
I composed a lot of library music as a job for few years and I was forced to be creative even if I wasn’t in the mood. It sounds laughable but something in my head changed from that time and I’m grateful because when I want to make music or I have to finish something I can do it in 95% of cases. Another thing is that my bar is very very high and I’m just trying to make tunes as perfect as possible and only release them when I get a thrill myself from listening to it.
Sadly “the groove that I’ve found“ has a negative side as I often want to break out to create something very different but almost automatically it ends up to a typical Rowpieces tune. People love and expect that from me but sometimes I’m just bored by my own music, haha! My mate then says “you know the audience isn’t listening to your music as much as you do when you produce, keep on doing your style”.
Is there really a jazz ensemble playing in your studio, or how do you create that authentic sound?
Hahaha I wish it was. Guess that’s me. As I have heard this term “authentic sound“ several times I have started to realise I’m doing something right and that is exactly what I want to create – sophisticated music, not only looping a sample. I guess one trademark is my beats, I would NEVER use prepared beat loops from sample pack CDs, I always build mine from up to 8 or 10 different natural breakbeats except body drums to give them a bit of punch.
Probably that also creates that feel of “live” music. Anyway at the end I just love nice music, jazzy music full of soul and lush sounds. I’m heavily influenced by Soul, Funk and Jazz from the 70s and I always try to adapt that vibe into modern music because it’s vivid and timeless. To me it’s an endless source of creativity and finally it’s the roots of modern dance music that we have to respect.
You know, most producers are always searching for the sickest wobble bass or most evil sound to top the last productions. Since I am producing my aim is to make tunes as melodic as possible without losing the link to club music. It’s a big mission of mine bringing the real Soul back to dance music!
What are your favourite gadgets and plug-ins in your studio at the moment?
I’m working with Logic Pro X, which is the best DAW for me to work intuitively. I have the privilege to use the Native Instruments Komplete Ultimate pack with many awesome and natural sounds like electric bass, pianos, strings, old synth simulators etc. I recently bought a special Rhodes plug in called Neo Soul Keys because I’m super picky with Rhodes sounds and most of plug ins sound like shhhht.
I also use Symphonic Instruments from MOTU for the vibraphone for example. Beats-wise I’m collecting and sampling original breakbeats from vinyl, and re-create them with Stylus or other samplers. That’s it. I like being limited because I don’t want to use hundreds of plug ins and study to use them as I’m pretty lazy, I’m never searching through thousands of preset sounds, I’m taking that one that inspires me first.
You’re working on a new label exclusively for your own material… tell us more about that.
Hmm, that’s just rumours but I guess the cat is out of the bag. Yeah I’m just reorganising myself and focusing on a few things and one of these is launching a new label with only my music, I’m doing everything myself so I have full control about what and when things happen. Of course I will release on other labels that I’m in good contact with from time to time.