An album is always going to take on a different life once you set it free in the world. Many artists describe releasing an album as the point when it stops being yours and becomes the fans instead. In many ways the same can be said about US producer The Range‘s (aka James Hinton) Potential, released this year but instead of just the fans giving it new life, it’s the characters within it that are completing the story.
On the album, The Range sampled voices off YouTube. He dipped into cover artists, amateur grime MCs and anyone who he connected with, stitching them together to create an album that covers deeply personal topics of loss, pain and ambition. For Hinton, his online findings translated into real life as he had conversations with all the voices he sampled, finding a community that continues to come alive in Potential.
Next year, Australia will become part of that community that The Range is gathering online and solidifying in real life. He’ll be supporting British producer Tourist who will be playing a number of Laneway Festival sideshows in late January. Together, the pair will no doubt deliver emotionally-charged, spectacular sets, bringing to life to of the best albums of 2016.
Before he arrives in the country, we spoke to The Range about Potential and the amazing journey its had so far – from a record formulated from YouTube digs to physical masterpiece that has become a special part of many people’s lives.
You’re back in Brooklyn after a little while away. Where have you been?
Yeah. I’ve had a bit of a mad time. I was on tour with Phantogram in the States and that lasted for about a month and a half and then I was back in the States for a few days. Then I was fortunate enough to go to Nicaragua for a writing camp over the past few days. It was great. I was riding horses on the beach and stuff. It was unbelievable.
Amazing. Did any good stuff come out of it?
Yeah. There’s this artist called Moses Sumney and a band called Hundred Waters. It was a really nice opportunity to collaborate. My process is very singular. I don’t often work with people so it was kind of a fun experience. It was fruitful too, we made some really interesting stuff. It was cool.
Do you have to bring your walls down a little bit when you are going into a situation like that?
Yeah. For me, because I didn’t really come up in any scene. I was in a very, very small kind of town and it had a music scene but it wasn’t collaborative and it wasn’t at all to do with popular music. Everyone kind of stays to themselves. It’s still kind of how I prefer to work, for sure. You’re the person in control, you sit and you work, but I’m realising it’s very additive to work with people. Of course, you give something up but you can so much back in return in terms of how much you can get done and people bringing different things to the table. Maybe, it’s not something I’ll consider for The Range but it’s really, really interesting to switch into that world.
Has living in Brooklyn flared collaboration in terms of being around other musicians and being in a scene?
It’s fun. The parties you go out to here involve a lot of people that are in music and that’s going to be a totally different thing to if you go out in any other city. You’re often going to see music with other musicians so that’s a totally different mindset. It’s been kind of interesting. I’ve been thinking back and it’s been a pretty natural peeling away of many preconceptions I had. It’s absolutely to do with the location here.
Potential has been out for about eight months now. Do you go back and listen to it or do you just do that to prepare for the shows?
I do go back quite a bit, especially because things come up where I’m still talking about it fresh to people. It’s important to maintain a rolling familiarity. Even at the live shows, it’s fun to be present because so much of it now is memory for me. Like, how it felt when it come out but also making it. It’s interesting to remember that I’ve got this firm object. I imagine it’s how authors would feel if their book is out and you start to reconsider your own words for people that are coming to it for the first time. I’m very proud of it actually. It’s really feeling like a very cohesive thing that I’m quite proud of musically and conceptually.
When it comes to the live shows, it’s only natural to become bored with playing songs over and over again. Are you tweaking a few of them and changing up things?
Yeah, that’s also been a totally fun thing to realise. Especially on the tour with Phantogram because I had a lot of time in the bus to do edits and do tweaks and add loops of certain parts of songs. It was fun to keep it fresh and I also think it helps re-contextualise with the audience. I’ve made a version of this song called Falling Out Of Phase and it’s at a totally different tempo and there’s a club vibe. It’s fun to play with that extra dimension, especially because some people have spent a lot of time with the material.
One thing I love about the album is the way you use these personal thoughts but use unfamiliar voices to convey them. Were you worried that the feeling you wanted wouldn’t come across by using these other people?
Yeah through the process you’re pressing space bar and hearing things over and over again. But for me, I spent a lot of time going back to the videos and making sure they were people…mostly I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just the words, it was the actual people behind them that were cohesive and making sense. For me that was definitely something that I had to consider. It’s always been this idea though that if you’re making a record with multiple voice it’s hard to make it cohesive and that was very important to me. There’s an emotional resonance in all of the songs though and that hopefully ties it together. It was interesting to have that whole other dimension, taking a video piece and rectifying it as something that’s only audio.
Did you contact these people to let them know that they were in your songs? I can imagine it would be quite odd to be out in the world playing songs with voices you don’t necessarily know.
Yeah, it was important to me for every reason. I wanted to tackle this front on and make sure they were involved in the process as much as they wanted to be. And especially because as soon as you release your record your going to be living with it for some time so I knew it was important to ring them and let them know early on about what was happening. Both from a clearance perspective, for publishing, and also just to make sure…again, for even more information for me to know who they were so I could feel really good about working with this people, even though they weren’t active collaborators, I think it was important. They’re going to grow with the album.
Were there any interesting stories that you got out of speaking to them?
Yeah. At first I was fascinated by people’s individual stories. When you talk to anyone that you don’t know you’re amazed by their live story. As you can see in the documentary, I was really wowed by Damian and wowed by Kai. Now, I’m interested in how it’s taking a life of its own. It was an interesting moment for me when Damian, who is on the very last song of the album, wanted to put out a lyric video to his own version of the song that was originally sampled. He’s using the album as a promotional tool which is awesome. I love that idea and let’s see what happens and let’s see how does that song go out and live. It’s been really cool. The circle is beginning to feel like it’s being closed with a lot of these people where it’s not one-sided, it’s very two-sided.
Kai, the singer who is on Florida, she’s in a choir group and she’s been fortunate enough to play with Chance The Rapper and play with Alessia Cara. She’s a backing singer and to be in that whole kind of world…she originally had sampled Ariana Grande who is very much in that pop world so for her to go on and be apart of those things is kind of the point for me, particularly for Florida. That’s where I’m interested to see things go. I know their stories now but how is the fact that they’re on this album going to reflect on them in a year or two years.
Would you ever considering pulling any of them into the studio?
Yeah, Kai in particular, I kept thinking Florida I’m very, very proud of the way that came together. I was wondering if I brought Kai in to actually do a full recording of that as well as some verses. We’ve been working on that and trying to see if you really aim Florida at radio, that’s something that I find interesting. I’ve been working with Off-Key who is on Five Four and Skeptical. When I was in London we met up and started working on some stuff. It’s also an interesting process for me because in some ways it’s prohibitive because we don’t live in the same city. Part of Potential is a lot of people don’t have the time or the ability to work on that and I think sometimes whether it’s best to cocoon that and present this as a totally different thing. I would love to work with them but part of it is the validation of the fact that people can work on music in their own time and then it gets put onto YouTube and then it gets repurposed and takes on a whole other life.
Right now, I’m very pleased with Potential so part of me doesn’t want to go in and try to have another ride on the carousel if I’m feeling so good about how good things are feeling with the record.
It must be cool for you to watch this record continue to take on a new life as these characters become more prominent for you? You started making the record in solitary and now you have this Potential family around you.
It’s really cool. I’m still blown away, it feels really cohesive and everyone is really happy. Everytime I’ve called anyone that I’ve sampled, they’re really happy with how the album has been going. They’re positive people and it’s cool to know that this is going to feel this way for a long time. This is going to feel like a very special moment for me. I love when you go back and you watch documentaries of people, it kind of is this special moment where you have a complete picture of who someone was at a certain point in their life. Despite what happens in the future, for good or for bad, you feel this sense of togetherness of unity. I just feel really happy to have worked with these people. You know how the internet is. To have nine people that are flung far away from each other but all feel good together and are great people, that’s rare. I’m really pleased with the result.
One of the things I spoke to Tourist about, who you’re touring in Australia with, was making an album with minimal words but conveying maximum emotion. He’s done a similar thing to you in the way that he’s just used a few words in songs. Do you have to really mull over the samples that you’re using to make sure that it is doing what you want it to do?
I became pretty obsessed with this idea because, Tourist and I are friends and we talked about this idea that if you’re only going to sample limited vocals, you almost have to deal with the fact that there’s going to be duality or multiple meanings. Wherever somebody is coming from, like his song To Have You Back, that has so many different meanings. In the context of his mind, it’s very lonely but I’ve seen it live and people are very jubilant. Different phrases can have so many different meanings so it’s kind of important that you maintain that. At the end of the day, the process was, you find these phrases and for whatever reason they become magical to you. For the most part I wasn’t really second guessing it, I was just trying to go with that feeling when you have the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. When you feel special about something you want to keep that going. It’s a totally different way of writing because people are so used to the verse-chorus structure where you have very specific things to chew on. For Tourist and myself, it’s the very opposite of it. It’s about repetition and meanings that change over time, instead of spelling things out to get a more pointed point across.
That interesting to hear because I’ve had a number of conversation connecting your two records in someway. With your song Copper Wire some people find it euphoric but others find it very sad. Is that interesting for you to watch the different emotions that people feel when they listen to that song, even though you had one emotion in mind?
That song is the most personal thing. It’s very clearly to me about my Mum passing away and it’s a very, very sad and emotional thing. Even for me, that song does take on this euphoria, especially live. Even for myself, I get very emotional because it reminds me of that when I’m playing it, but every once in a while your brain lets you go and it’s a euphoric thing. It’s really interesting for me to witness how people come to it and it’s really like a Rorschach test where someone is coming from dictates how they’re going to respond to something. It’s cool.
Do you spend much time when you’re playing studying the audience?
Yeah. It’s a funny skill. People always talk about this idea of reading the room. I came up DJing a lot of house parties where that was your main job. I feel like I’m in an interesting position where half my job is to present the work in the studio as I intended, despite not being very considerate of where people are coming from. I’m meant to produce this very specific read on my work but then you can’t help but feel so good when the room is going off. I’ve been trying to study and think about it in terms of a chess move where two or three moves ahead you’re trying to set up a moment by taking people left or right of their expectations.
The Range is supporting Tourist at headline shows in Sydney and Melbourne next year presented by the interns and BBE. Check out the details here.