Hudson Mohawke is biting his tongue. Not literally, although it’d be difficult to tell via the phone through which he’s speaking as he runs errands in London, the place he’s called home since 2011.
But the Scottish DJ/producer is being cautious with his words today, particularly the names of peers and potential collaborators. “I was getting shit for saying too much in interviews,” says the 29-year-old music wiz. “I have to be really careful speaking on major-label stuff. Everything is very hush-hush.”
It’s an understandable stance in a world post-'Beyoncé', in which a surprise LP from Mother Teresa herself could descend upon the internet at any given moment. But censorship isn’t Mohawke’s M.O.
This is the same man who once tweeted that Jay Z “is not quite ready” for his progressive instrumentals after being snubbed in favour of beats by old reliables like Timbaland and Pharrell on Hova’s 2013 album ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’.
HudMo’s sound has a panache to match his usual vocal freeness, hopping from eerie intergalactic psychedelia to mellow R&B melodies to the type of soulful hip-hop on which Just Blaze built his legend.
His cuisine of rich, varied musical influences began back in Glasgow, where his older cousins gave a nine-year-old Hudson—born Ross Brichard—mixtapes jumping with the jungle, rave and hardcore music that was blowing up in Scotland.
“I instantly fell in love,” he recalls, citing DJ Slipmatt’s ‘Breaking Free’ as a seminal track. Dad was a funk and soul DJ for local radio station Clyde 1, which helped open his ears to R&B and hip-hop. Every day Hudson would walk to the Oxfam charity shop two blocks from his home, scoop up five vinyls and bring them home to chop and crank out five beats, imitating producer gods like DJ Premier and Pete Rock.
By 15, he became the youngest finalist in the annual DMC DJ competition under the moniker DJ Itchy. After releasing a series of EPs, HudMo—who lifted his new stage name from an engraving on a statue in his hometown—signed with IDM giant Warp Records in ’09, dropping his debut album ‘Butter’ the same year.
He joined forces with Montréal music man Lunice in 2012 to form TNGHT, a trap rap production duo that became a staple at music festivals and yielded a self-titled EP. Mohawke landed on Kanye West’s radar around the same time; after contributing to G.O.O.D. Music’s ‘Cruel Summer’ compilation LP, he became an in-house producer for the imprint.
Overwhelmed with requests, HudMo pressed pause on racking up production credits — he’s already got songs with Pusha T, Azealia Banks, Kanye and Drake under his belt — to concentrate on his solo output. From that focus emerges his sophomore solo LP ‘Lantern’, which swerves away from hip-hop and instead showcases vibe-out instrumentals and emotional-yet-peppy vocal tracks.
“Sounds that would typically be in a techno song might end up in a song of mine that sounds more like R&B,” says Mohawke, who recruited Jhené Aiko, Antony and Miguel for his latest project. “I try not to think about it.” With ‘Lantern’ set for a June drop, Hudson talks reneging on Rihanna, what he’s learned from Kanye and how he serves up beats with bite...
It’s been six years since your debut album, ‘Butter’. Your status has risen much since 2009, does it feel any different approaching your sophomore solo album?
“Not really. People are more aware of me now. People that became aware of me through TNGHT probably don’t know I have a solo record or that I don’t just make that kind of TNGHT music. I want to introduce people to my wider taste and re-introduce older fans.”
You’ve had to turn down quite a few offers to collaborate with other artists to get ‘Lantern’ done...
“Yeah, I was still doing TNGHT stuff, tons of festivals, my own shows and working on two or three other people’s records. That’s why this record took so long. It took me a long time to focus on my own record. If I keep saying yes to every offer, I’m never gonna make an album again. I've been saying no a lot.”
Was there anyone who four years ago you might’ve never thought you’d turn down because you’re too busy?
“Yes, but I probably shouldn’t say [who]. That’s happened a lot in the last year. On the first record, 'Fuse' was earmarked to be a Rihanna song. Last minute I said no, and it ended up being the biggest song from that record, so it worked out. Sometimes you have to think about what's best for your career.”
Let’s talk about your new album, ‘Lantern’. How did you cut down and settle on a cohesive 14-song tracklist?
“I had the ones I really liked, then got some opinions I really respect — Mark Ronson, Zane Lowe — to get fresh ears on the project. We sat and discussed what tracks we unanimously thought were stronger ones.
I was keen to keep the number of tracks quite low. I didn’t want a 22-track album. There’s probably another whole record worth of stuff [that got cut]. The songs on the record all fit together, all have a similar aesthetic.”
The sound feels very emotive, musically and lyrically. Was that the overall vibe you were going for?
“I didn’t want to make a record of party songs, particularly with regard to the vocal tracks. I wanted to make songs that hopefully won’t age — songs that I could still listen to in 10 years.”
Why didn’t you want to do party songs?
“If I’m going to make a club record, I’ll do an EP. Maybe it’s an old-fashioned view, but if I’m making an album you should be able to listen to that anywhere. Not that [‘Lantern’] doesn’t have club moments, but I don’t want to make a record of bangers from start to finish because that ages really quickly. That’s one reason we didn’t do a TNGHT album, because we’ll probably be bored of it within a year.”
How did Miguel’s guest appearance come about?
“We’ve been in touch with Miguel for years. I’d known him in the days of MySpace. We were always like, ‘We should do something’. That was before he blew up. I thought, 'He’s probably too big now to want to do some shit with me'. But he came to London and we did a couple of things.”
When you work on vocal tracks, do you give artists free reign to write and sing whatever they want, or do you have a conversation to come up with the subject matter? How much dialogue is there?
“Quite a lot. I’m not a vocal writer but I have input on content. I wouldn’t necessarily be writing notes but I might change a line or two.”
Fans of your recent work will probably be surprised that there are no rappers. Was Pusha T busy?
“No disrespect to any of the rap dudes, I don't feel like I particularly want to do a rap record. We did ‘Rap Monument’ last year with Hennessy — it was like 40 rappers on [one song], all produced by me. So I’m not keen to fill my whole entire album with rappers.”
Did you record any songs with rappers that didn’t make the final cut?
“I did, but they were in more of a singing capacity than actual rap verses. Again, I'm not mentioning any names.”
One singing rapper you’ve worked with is Drake. How did your ‘Nothing Was the Same’ collaboration ‘Connect’ [also with Noah “40” Shebib] materialise?
“One morning I had a DM from Drake like, ‘Do you want to do some music?’ I had no idea he was aware of me. It's kind of surreal, but it turned out pretty good. Me and 40 went back and forth. I guess we're going to be doing more stuff pretty soon.”
The internet truly bridges the divide between artists and producers, regardless of status or geographic location...
“There is no divide. You don’t have to go through dealing with managers and A&R, you can literally have one song out and your next song might be on a fucking Beyoncé record. It’s crazy how the landscape has totally changed.
You used to have to grind for years to even get the opportunity to be in the studio with that type of artist. Major label people are paying attention to what's going on in underground music.”
Getting back to hip-hop sounds, ‘Ryders’ sounds like something Dipset might freestyle to...
“I've always been a huge Just Blaze fan. He was just the master of finding the perfect sample, perfect drums, and it's such a simple combination but it works so well. ‘Ryders’ is a tribute to the sound of [Cam’ron’s ‘I Really Mean It’].”
Do you still dig in the crates?
“I hadn't for a long time. A lot of the places have already been ransacked. There are a couple of charity shops in Glasgow, where the digging culture doesn't really exist. I was in New York a couple of weeks ago and went record shopping. I went in London as well.
I bought a big pile of 50 or 60 records for sampling, haven't listened to any of it yet. But I can find [any] record on a blog somewhere. It sounds lazy, but it's easier to download and put it straight into Fruity Loops without having to rip it from vinyl.”
What’s your recording process like now? How do your beats go from idea to full song?
“I always have my phone on me. If I have a melody idea, I'll be humming something and do a voice memo, then load it up in the computer later. I try to start differently every time though. If you start the same process every time, you make the same shit over and over.”
Kanye West is known for his highly collaborative studio sessions. It’s basically communal creation. Has that process rubbed off on you in the recording of this album?
“I was keen to have people involved in the process, like Mark Ronson. Getting other ears made a difference, or involving extra musicians. A majority was done myself. I tried to be executive producer and musical director of the record, rather than the guy who makes instrumentals.
Before, I would just find a sample, whereas now I'm gonna call this guy up to play some keys or record this part. The first record was just me — vocal tracks were done by sending emails. With this record I made an effort to have people come to the studio. Otherwise you don’t get the input on content. I wasn’t [always] a good collaborator; it took me a while to get to that stage.”
When your career is over and you’re looking back on your accomplishments, is there anyone whose career you’d like yours to resemble?
“Quincy Jones. He's been able to make some of the biggest pop records of all time, but also made weird indulgent side projects and did film soundtracks. He's been never restricted to one thing.”