You might know Swindle for his contributions to the UK grime canon, but the producer's latest project, No More Normal, is an expansive snapshot of the country's fertile hip-hop, soul and jazz scenes that calls on an ensemble cast of musicians and vocalists.
Following the album’s release, we spoke to Swindle about studying up on Miles Davis, collaborating with Nubya Garcia, and the difference between beat makers and producers.
When you started writing No More Normal, did you always have the idea of working with so many musicians and vocalists?
The idea definitely developed as I was going along, but the first idea was, sonically, what if we just didn’t hold back on anything and made this music with a kind of by-any-means-necessary attitude? The second idea was based around collaboration. So it was quite early but it definitely developed as I went along.
As a producer, how much direction do you give to the musicians?
All the direction I can. When I’m in the studio with people, I want us all to be contributing what we all know best. I can direct a musician up to the point of actually playing. Working with musicians, the process takes a lot more time and takes a lot more resources, but it catapults you to a different quality of sound. A MIDI bass line will never be able to compare to someone that’s been playing bass guitar for 15 years, in my opinion.
What are you like when you’re in the studio?
Ha ha, I don’t know, I hope I’m open, honest and encouraging. I tell people there’s no rules and nothing is a waste of time in the studio. I always let an artist go where they want to go — my role is to just frame the artist the best way I can. My direction is always around trying to get the best out of the song and then really I just produce around that.
Nubya Garcia features on “Run Up,” a track with Kiko Bun, Knucks and Eva Lazarus. How did you come to collaborate with her?
I met Nubya as a saxophone player. She played for me on my early shows in 2014 for the Long Live The Jazz album. I’ve been lucky enough to see her just go off like a firework or something! That’s been a really satisfying journey to see, even from afar.
On the song “Get Paid,” you reference Miles Davis. Has he been an influence on your music?
Yeah, definitely, I mean, I’m just into looking at the traditions of music and production. I look back over everything and listen to a lot of music. Miles Davis is just a whole chapter of that. If you really want to know about modern music, you have to listen to Miles Davis, just like you do Jimi Hendrix, all of the greats, Michael Jackson, Mozart.
Which producer has had the most influence on your sound?
Quincy Jones. His sound is just fresh. I always felt like Quincy gets the best out of every artist and chooses great players. It’s just satisfying in so many different ways. I really think Quincy Jones is maybe the last of the great producers of the last three generations. I’m interested in that same role — as a producer, not a beat maker.
How much of that producer’s role is about man management with musicians?
On paper, a lot of it; but in practice, if you’re working with the right people, none of it because everyone has that common goal of making music. If you pick the right people, everyone is playing music and doing something they like. I work with a lot of people and we have massive sessions, but I never find it that difficult rounding up the troops because it feels like an organic thing we’re all trying to do.
The Riot Jazz Brass Band play on the track “Coming Home.” How did that come about?
I saw them years ago in Manchester when I was playing in a club there and they were playing downstairs and I’d met MC Chunky [from the group] before. This was maybe 2012 and I just thought it was sick — I’d never seen, like, a New Orleans set up in a club in Manchester before, and they were called Riot Jazz so I was just totally with it.
There also seems to be a strong funk influence across No More Normal.
Yeah! I love funk music, P-funk, G-funk. The three greats for me are Quincy, Dr. Dre and George Clinton. They’re the biggest influences on this record in terms of production, so that stays with me. Ever since I heard [Dr. Dre’s] “Keep Their Heads Ringin’,” that really got me into west coast hip-hop and [Dre] was one of those anchor moments where the sonics he was producing sounded so fresh and changed the sound of his generation.
Swindle, No More Normal (Brownswood Recordings)