Producer Spotlight: Brame & Hamo
Producer Spotlight: Brame & HamoApril 14, 2021
We catch up with Irish duo Brame & Hamo, whose new Loopmasters sample pack is out now, about production techniques, gear, and much more.
Brame & Hamo have been side by side ever since they first met and started making music together, but on this rare occasion they’re not, as Tiarnan (Brame) informs me that Conor (Hamo) is running a bit late for our interview. In the meantime we chat about upcoming lockdowns in Berlin — where the two Sligo natives are currently residing — botched vaccine rollouts, and restriction road maps. It’s all very 2021, until Conor’s arrival shakes us out of our pensive pleasantries.
With the duo reunited and order restored in the universe, our conversation turns towards more solid ground — Rave, House & Techno, Brame & Hamo’s debut sample pack with Loopmasters. Out now, we find out more about what went into putting the high-octane collection together.
This is the first ever sample pack that you’ve done. How did you find the process?
T: It started with us trying to write a cool melody, or something catchy, which is what we usually do, but then we started thinking about what it is that we actually like about sample packs ourselves. I want textures and the kind of stuff that I can layer, rather than just lifting a melody, putting it straight into your track and going from there. I think it was challenging initially because usually when you’re writing a melody or creating a sound you’re really trying to make a finished product, but with this you’re making textural things that people can use on top of their sounds.
Conor: Yeah, as musicians both of us make a lot of stuff and then just sort of discard it, so just initially doing the one melody, and being able to really focus on that one thing and develop it was really nice.
So you weren’t feeling the pressure, wondering where each new project was going to go?
T: Yeah, exactly. The best part of making music is the first hour or two of making a tune because you’re just having fun and using your creative side, rather than wondering “how am I going to stretch this out to eight minutes?” This involved the creative end of the process which is the best, there’s no pressure to make anything into a longer song. It’s just like, done, on to the next thing. You don’t have to have fucking anxiety about it for a month.
C: The idea of a final product is daunting, to properly finish something is probably the hardest part of making music.
Despite not having to finish tracks, was the process pretty much the same as when you start writing normally, or did you approach it differently?
C: It was sort of different, because we knew we had to do bass sounds, music loops and drums. I generally start a track with a melody, whereas Tiarnan tends to start with drums. But starting off with some pads, or just trying to make a hat sound good straight away was different, we never really do that.
T: Yeah with drums, rather than creating a catchy rhythm, it was definitely more about honing in on each drum sound. So if I was doing a drum loop on the MPC, I would spend some time first processing all of the hits through outboard gear — which I’d never normally do, we normally do that after something’s finished — then creating the loops, so you get a more affected or textural sound.
Speaking of gear, what kind of stuff have you got, and what do you like to use?
T: We have a Korg MS-20, an MFB Tanzbar 2 which is really cool, an Electribe, an old Yamaha FM synth called an AN200 — it’s like a DX7 — and we’ve also got a Yamaha CS1X, an old kind of trancey synth.
One of the coolest pieces we have is a Binson Echorec. It’s a magnetic disc echo, which was the precursor to the Roland Space Echo, so it came out in the ‘50s. They were quite popular in Ireland with show bands, so we got one from my mum’s cousin who had it in his shed, and that’s been quite a big part of our process as well. It isn’t something that we jump to straight away, but putting stuff through the Binson just gives it a whole other texture. There was one track we wrote a while ago and it was such a simple melody, but we put it through the Binson and it just sounded entirely different, it’s amazing. It’s not like we’re gearheads though, half the time we’re writing stuff with VSTs as well. Stuff like Diva, the soft synth, has been a huge change to our productions.
Does it vary whether you get jamming on hardware, or whether you start writing on software?
T: Yeah it’s track to track, we don’t really have a process. I think something that’s not necessarily taught to producers is that the gear doesn’t really matter. It benefited us because it’s fun to use with two people, but it costs a lot of money and isn’t necessary at all. I used to romanticise producers with amazing studios, but you don’t need good gear to make a good tune.
C: I remember someone saying to me that if you compare the 1980s with now, you have like a hundred thousand dollar studio in your laptop. That’s the equivalence, and you can see that with some of the power of the software, there’s so much amazing stuff out there now. So we see both sides of it, you kind of shoot yourself in the foot if you’re just sticking with one or the other (hardware or software). But I suppose it’s whatever workflow is best for you.
Sitting at a computer is not necessarily an easy way to collaborate, so what is the workflow that you found between you that works well?
T: Well it started off like that because we didn’t have any gear, it was just us sitting at a laptop. A lot of it was a process of elimination, where you’re going through samples and auditioning sounds. It was a completely different workflow back then, but once we got gear it changed. You can configure the studio to be able to have one person focusing on one sound, and the other is somewhere else in the studio working on drums. It’s more like a collage — you’re collecting different bits from each other and then putting them together.
C: There’s a lot of fine tuning that goes into it, which both of us can do at the same time. I think when making music with gear there’s a lot of focus on the aesthetic and the sound of it, whereas for me anyway the melody writing is outside the studio — it takes me a while to write nice melodies. If we’re both focusing on a certain sound, the studio gear helps us to develop it together.
Do you often go into the studio with stuff that you’ve already been working on separately?
T: Yeah almost always. It’s rare that we go in with nothing, most of the time I’d say we come in with something that we can then put out to the gear. Often we’d write a melody at home and then bring it in and run it through some of the synths, which is handy because if you’re trying to work out something and there’s someone standing beside you, it’s not the best environment!
Do you have any advice for musicians and producers wanting to collaborate? Was there some learning that you two had to do together in terms of refining your workflow, or did it just happen naturally?
T: I think that treating it like a band would be a good way to do it. You could split your time and one person could focus on, say, technical aspects like people did back in the ‘90s and 2000s where it was more a lot more collaborative. There were designated roles. For example, you had Sasha in the studio, but Charlie May was doing all the technical stuff; it was someone else’s ideas executed by a producer. I’m not talking about that exact type of relationship, but you could decide from the start that one person would focus on mixdowns and fine tuning the sound design, and the other person would focus on the more creative side, maybe melody or something. That’s a dream scenario of course, pairing two people with skills on either side.
C: I agree. I suppose that’s how it works with every sort of collaboration in business or whatever, it’s all delegated. You can do so much on the laptop now that it’s unavoidable that you’ll end up working on a lot of different stuff, or it might not be beneficial for you to focus on one thing by yourself. If there’s a duo, or a trio though, and people can focus on different things, I think that’s probably a good idea.
I read in a previous interview that you’ve got more experimental music sitting on a hard drive somewhere, that you’re saving for the day when you release an album. What kind of influences and experimentation are there on those tracks?
T: When you get gear it turns experimental straight away, because you’re just trying to figure out how the machines work. So it’s when you start putting stuff through lots of FX chains and not really knowing what’s going to happen that it gets experimental. Experimental just kind of means you don’t know what you’re doing! We’ve got lots of material there, but I think it has to be fashioned into something a little bit more listenable before we put it on an album.
C: I suppose in our eyes it’s experimental, but maybe it’s just not 4/4 you know! But yeah, obviously, I think once you vary in tempo, it’s always going to be different.
T: Especially when you’re so stuck between certain tempos that you usually release.
Do you feel pressure to put out music that sounds like stuff you’ve put out in the past, especially now you’re more well-known?
T: Our back catalogue is pretty messy in terms of genres, but over time we’ve tried to refine it down a little bit to more of the aesthetic and the music that we play.
When we first started putting out records we weren’t DJing or playing gigs, it was always just us listening at home. As we started playing gigs, the sound changed because we realised the tracks we were making weren’t dancefloor friendly at all. We’ve always made different genres of music, but when you DJ every weekend you want to make stuff that you play. So now, since we haven’t DJ’d in over a year, the tracks have definitely changed. I suppose it’s your environment that’s influencing you all the time.
C: Yeah, I don’t think we’ll come out of nowhere with some disco tracks or jungle, not for Brame & Hamo anyway. Maybe with an album you can try something completely new, but with EPs we’re definitely sticking to a certain style aesthetic that’s still club orientated.
How has time away from dancefloor environments and festivals etc changed the music you’re listening to, and the music you’re making — has it made it less dancefloor oriented?
T: I think it went both ways. Initially everyone was quite down and not coping, so I think a lot of people reached for nostalgia and listened to a lot of music at home. Then as time went on and everyone started getting a little bit more comfortable with lockdown and doing streams, then it kind of returned to normal and you saw dancefloor records being put out and still being appreciated. People that like dancefloor music aren’t just gonna change overnight and listen to jazz.
Obviously it’s a bit difficult to predict right now, but are there other types of projects that you’d love to take on in the future, that aren’t necessarily exactly what you’re doing right now?
T: I don’t know what’s going to happen. We could produce music for other people or try to produce music for film, but it’s too uncertain at the minute. We’re starting a new record label called No Strangers, and we’re going to put out the first release this year. Aside from that we’re going to keep making tunes and doing our radio show, and whenever the gigs come back, we’re looking forward to that.