Producer Spotlight: Nathan Fake
Producer Spotlight: Nathan FakeJanuary 20, 2022
After releasing his fifth album, Blizzards, in 2020 — an LP that spawned a companion EP, a delayed live show, and now a Loopcloud DRUM pack — Nathan Fake would be forgiven for resting on his laurels. When we caught up with the electronica artist from Norfolk, UK over Zoom, however, it’s immediately obvious that he’s chosen to do nothing of the sort.
“I’m working on my sixth album at the moment. A few of the tracks are properly finished, and I’m just deciding which of the other songs I want to properly focus on and finish now. It’s been a couple of years since the last album – it came out at the start of the pandemic when I wasn’t touring. I started working on music straight away, and I’ve been putting it together since then.”
A sixth album would be yet another achievement in a music career that dates back to 2003, when Nathan released his first single, “Outhouse,” through James Holden’s then embryonic label Border Community. Multiple EPs and three albums followed on the label, all displaying Fake’s signature wistful and elegant club charm, before he established his own label, Cambria Instruments, in 2014. Since then, Nathan has toured extensively, remixed artists like Radiohead and Jon Hopkins and released two further albums. Blizzards is the most percussion-focused album in the musician’s catalogue, making it the perfect inspiration for a debut DRUM pack – Blizzard Drums.
Your new Loopcloud DRUM expansion is based on the beats you made for Blizzards. How did that process work?
When I started making the DRUM pack, the sounds of that album were still very fresh in my head. The tracks on the album have an electronic authority, but they’re also blended with organic sounds. So alongside drum machines there are field recordings and some rhythmic vocal things, like beatboxing. It was quite an immediate recall for me to pull up sounds from certain places; everything was ready to go in a sense, so I really wanted to make some kits from that for people other than myself to use.
I wouldn’t say the drums on Blizzards are a massive departure from the rest of my music, but it’s definitely a whole new set of sounds and a more beat-centric album than I’ve ever done before. Drums are a strong point in my music, and when I’m making a track I always start off with drums first. It’s funny, because I think a lot of people see my music as being mainly about melodies, but the first bit of kit I ever bought was a drum machine. Even if I have a melody in my head as a starting point I’ll always get the drums down first.
What kind of techniques do you use to process drums?
I rarely use any sort of drum VSTs or anything like that, I prefer to put each individual drum sound on a different track. I’ll use a drum group and then use subtle tape emulation to shave off the high end a bit. A lot of the time I’ll have the kick drum slightly off the beat, so that when I compress the hi-hats with the kick I get a nice attack before the kick. Sidechaining the hats with the kick is just something I’ve always done. I also use ring modulators on hi-hats to add modulation, because with WAV files you often get quite a static sample, as opposed to using an analogue drum machine where the sounds are synthesized and you get a certain flux that you don’t get with digital samples. I like when the drum elements are fluctuating a bit, so I’ll often turn the quantize function off and make microscopic edits to the positioning of the hits.
When you’re starting a new project how do you go about collecting sounds?
I’m always gathering sounds – it’s the way I work. I sample a lot of things and whenever I get new bits of gear I’ll make kits from it. That’s how I go about collecting and arranging my sounds. Throughout the year I’ll always have a bunch of new things on the go that I’ve acquired, and within those sounds I’ll have favourites. That’s what ended up making it onto Blizzard Drums.
I’ve made a lot of sounds over the years that have ended up being my go to drum sounds, which are mainly on my Roland SH-09. I managed to make a really good kick drum sound on that by fluke, and I use probably five or six hits of that – it’s the best kick sound I’ve got. I also use a lot of sounds from this Boss drum machine that I’ve had since I was a teenager, which is quite crap, but it’s good for things like hi-hats. I send all the sounds through different bits of gear to get them to where I want them. I like being able to use familiar sounds to get a sketch down for a track without having to think too much about the technical side of things.
Photo by: Tim Saccenti
Do you do most of your sequencing and compositional stuff in software as opposed to hardware?
The sequencing is all done on software, yeah. I record myself jamming on drum machines quite a lot, and I’ll then use that on the computer, but mostly I’ll have the sampled drum sounds stored as individual files on my computer, which I’ll use in Cubase or Ableton. Obviously Ableton has dominated the market for years now, but when I first started out, Cubase was the one! It’s not as popular as it used to be, but I still use it all the time to come up with ideas because it’s what I’m comfortable with. I know a few people that also still use older software and hardware that they’ve always used to get ideas down, so it’s definitely a common way of working. Once it gets to a certain stage you can just render it out and finish off the full idea somewhere else.
When it comes to processing, do you do most of that in the box or do you use any gear?
I pretty much use all software compressors, and I don’t really use many effects. I’ll just use some reverb here and there, and tape delay. I record everything through my little mixing desk and PreSonus preamp, and I generally run things a bit hot through those. Most of the time I’ll record onto cassette as well — it’s just something I’ve always done. That won’t usually be the final version; I’ll do a lot of post edits and mastering on the tape recording because it can be quite unpredictable, especially the tape machine I have. It’s different every time you record something, so I normally have to do it a couple of times.
Do you experiment with new hardware and software a lot?
Yeah, totally. I haven’t bought a nice synth for ages, but the last thing I got was a Yamaha Reface DX and CS. They’re like toy keyboards almost, but they’re really good. I’ve got a Korg Monologue too, which is really nice. I actually sold a couple of things last year because I was worrying about the pandemic; I used to have a Roland Jupiter-6 that was used on Blizzards a lot, which was sad to say goodbye to. I haven’t used any new plugins in ages, but I really want to try out some of the Arturia stuff, like their Jupiter-8 and Yamaha CS-80 clones.
How do you find the process of transferring your composition and production ideas to a live hardware setup?
My live set is mostly done on software in Ableton. I’ve got a couple of hardware synths that I use, like the Arturia MicroBrute and the Yamaha Reface CS, and I have used drum machines like the Roland TR-08 as well. In general, the live set is very improvised, with mostly individual drum tracks like kicks, snares and hi-hats. There’ll also be MIDI clips in Ableton for some VSTs and live stuff that I have going through a Boss effects pedal. A lot of the time I’ll recreate parts from album tracks, rewriting them on a different synth or something like that. So it’s quite a basic setup, but the musical element of it is very live. I get a four-bar loop going and then jam over that, playing around with the synths and the effects for like ten minutes!
Would you describe yourself as more of a performer or a songwriter?
The live thing is a massive part of what I do, so I feel like that’s where I’m more at home nowadays. Early on, I had limited experience with gigs, so I was probably more of a producer then. Playing live has also influenced the way I record music in the studio, in that I often record a live jam because it helps me to come up with better arrangement ideas than if I was just sitting down staring at a screen. When I’m playing live I often do impulsive things, like jamming out a nice drop or breakdown that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Most of the tracks on Blizzards were recorded as live jams, and then I heavily edited the recordings afterward.
Are there any other things you do in the studio that help you with inspiration?
One thing that is always helpful is to go for a walk! It makes me pull myself away from whatever it is that I’m working on, and I find that my brain relaxes and then ideas come through. So many times when I’m walking a solution for something or an idea for a track will just pop into my head. If you’re stressed about something you’re working on, just go for a half hour walk – it helps so much! When I listen to new music I get inspired as well, or old stuff that I haven’t heard for a while. At the moment I’m listening to early ‘90s electronic music, like Orbital, and hearing everything they’re doing in the tracks makes me excited to try similar things. Certain types of music can really inspire you and spark off ideas in your head, even if it’s something totally random.
Witness celebrated producer and electronic auteur Nathan Fake conjure a rhythmic storm using Loopcloud DRUM and his recently released pack, Blizzard Drums.