This year French artist Gary Gritness (the alias of Slikk Tim) released a new ep titled The Sugar Cane Chronicles Vol. 2, one year after the first volume. We had an interesting talk with the Paris-based producer. The interview is curated by Gabriele Senatore.
Let’s start with a little biographic intro. Who is Gary Gritness? Tell me who are you as artist and who are you as person. The Gary artist and the normal guy Gary are the same person?
When I released my first records on Clone, someone there dubbed me the ‘Cyberfunk Assassin’, and I thought that was pretty ill. Gary Gritness is a persona I created because as the ‘person’ you are talking about, Slikk Tim, the session musician, at one point in my life I just was constantly working for others. I had a 2 month break once, and I decided to escape in an inner world full of electro-funk and all-out keyboards. In hindsight, it ended up being one of the truest expressions of myself. I just let that particular side of my soul come off naturally.
That’s why I absolutely don’t do no difference between “normal guy Tim” and Gary because I guess was born with many personalities and the older I get, the more I enjoy switching from one to the other to the fullest. If I was fake with it, people could call it a mile away, and I wouldn’t see no point, it would be like corporate work !
Your last work consist in two Eps titled “The Sugar Cane Chronicles Vol. 1 & 2”. I enjoyed them very much, mostly the funky influences in the roots of every track (“Working Girls” is my favourite). Would you like to tell me where did you find the inspiration for Sugar Cane Chronicles? Do you consider these Eps as a little concept album?
Thank you so much ! Yes indeed, I love doing conceptual stuff, like little vignettes. I always do little scenarios like movie sequences for each track in my head, and that gives me the title and the general development of the composition. That being said, I never try to force it down people’s throat, like, I appreciate you get the idea of a concept, but to some other people it might just go over their head completely and that’s just as fine. But for those who pay attention, it’s in there somewhere. It’s up to them to make up their own little movie if they wish to with the elements I display here and there.
I actually separate the Gary G records in two lanes, there’s the Adventures lane, and the Sugar Cane lane. Basically the Adventures is the film-noir, cyberpunk crime tip, and Sugar Cane is the sexual, dancing and romancing tip. The Adventures is more aggressive and directly technologic, the Sugar Cane stuff is straight up funk and fusion in a club format. I use the same synth setup to blur the lines and force myself to be creative, cause it’s still just sides of Gary G in the end. I remember playing the Adventures set and getting the crowd real wired and tripped-out in outer space, but when I play the Sugar Cane stuff I want to convey sexuality and low-down groove. I remember playing with Daniel Wang at a Mona party in a small club in Paris, and it was such a sweaty vibe, some people ended up making up on the floor, it was ace. That’s what the Sugar Cane thing is all about.
Hearing the pads and basses of your songs, I can feel an eighties touch: “Fly Shit” remember me something by Kraftwerk (the ones of Computer Love period), “Stayin’ Strong Hand” has a claphands just like some old techno tracks. Which are your most relevant influences?
First off, I wanna stress the ‘eighties touch’ you are talking about is not about being ‘retro’ or anything. If that sound was 5 years old or 50 years old I would love it just the same and do my contemporary vision of it, I’m not trying to do a “back in the day” throwback thing at all.
Sometimes, the minute you play jazz chords on a polyphonic synthetizer, people go “Ooh ! 80’s!”. But to me it would be like playing a major chord on a grand piano and having folks say “Ooh ! 1800’s !” Now that’s said, on Sugar Cane, you are right, there is indeed early 80’s funk in there. On “Working Girls”, the bassline is pretty much a fusionized ripoff of Hubert Eaves III’s bassline style (he produced D-Train.) I rip off cats like him or Larry Dunn a lot. On “Countin’ Up With Starr” the bassline is a Rick James feel, for example. I could go on and on. The trick is, I always twist the harmonies to be tense and somewhat dark, and for that you would have to search towards latterperiod Miles Davis or Japanese video game composers like Manabu Namiki. I steal so many chords from their stuff all the time.
It’s funny you mention Kraftwerk because I never really got into them for some reason. I listened to their most important records a couple times for culture’s sake, but when it comes to german European 70’s synth stuff I’m much more of a Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream cat. ‘Fly Shit’ was actually inspired by Latin-Jazz piano playing agaisnt a 2000’s Larry Heard vibe, as for ‘Stayin’ Strong Hand’, the starting point was this Dopplereffekt EP from ‘95.
Do you prefer working in analogic or mostly of your works are
realized with digital mastering?
I’ve done session work in many studios with tons analog gear over the years, so I’m very familiar with “the real thing”. I used to think, “One day, I’ll have a big studio with all that gear so I can finally make great sounding music” ! The computer versions of synths and outboard gear sounded like jokes back then.
Then a few years ago, something shifted. I started working with older producers that had sold most of their prized vintage gear and worked everything ‘In The Box’. And it sounded as amazing as ever. They told me digital technology was on point by now. I tried it on my own again and I realized they were indeed right. So with Gary Gritness, I basically recreate the same chains I would do with analog gear: A Juno 60, a 606, guitar pedals, an analog 16 track console, etc. But the trick is, I use digitized versions of that, this way I don’t have to patch stuff up and I can work on any given project as long as I’m inspired, press a button and work on another and all the settings and arrangement are there. I don’t have to take pictures of dozen of knobs and reset everything manually. I don’t have to redo a whole take if I just want to adjust the filter. Using actual hardware would be a complete pain in the ass for my sound, not to mention midi drifting and whatnot. The funny thing is, there is a whole branch of electronic music that’s completely “computer sounding” and I don’t have that culture at all. The whole glitching, Ableton loops triggered with christmastree looking pads or that MAXmsp stuff, I can’t do music like this. I just don’t hear it in my head !
The way I do music as Gary Gritness is super traditional, I visualise chord charts, melodies, beats I would play on a drumset, etc. The machines are just here for the sound and the limitations they offer, but they don’t really “inspire” me in writing music. I’ll hear a bassline in my head with a specific sound, then tweak the synth to get the sound I heard, and that’s it. I just need keys to play on and a big fat red “record” button to press on, other than that I’m all set!
Your music is appreciated both as domestic listening and live, but which one do you prefer? Are you an artist who love stayin’ on the stage with the crowd dancing, or do you prefer the studio life surrounded by mixers and synths?
Thanks for your nice words again. I maybe misled, but although I can see what you mean, I think it’s very symptomatic of DJ Culture, this whole dichotomy of “for the stage” or “for home listening.”I say: “Horseshit !” My favorite stuff I can dance my ass off to while still having my mind and soul nourrished by amazing musical ideas. And it don’t mean it has to be Carl Craig or an intricate Underground Resistance joint, but to me, “Work That MF” by Steve Pointdexter is as funky as anything by James Brown, and I can enjoy both things in the middle of the night or sitting at home bobbing my head with my morning coffee. On the same token, who says slow, meditative or complex music has to be confined to your home ? Some Ravel played by an orchestra, a wailing slow blues, or an intimate jazz ballad, it’s something amazing to witness live, it’s always on another level. There’s human vibrations going from the performers to the listeners and you can never duplicate that. Even if a DJ is going to play ambiant, you can feel his vibe thru the way he’s going to chain tracks set the filters, it’s going to be bigger than the sum of it’s parts because he speaks from his soul, in this moment, in front of an audience.
As for me, the whole reason I do music is to perform live. It’s where it’s at. I grew up playing jazz, classical, doing rap shows, hardcore punk… And of course going to shows and concerts. I still do and still have a complete blast ! If I don’t get my fix of live music I start getting real morose and that ain’t good. I’m not really a “club life” person per se, as what’s around the music, let’s call it “night life” is not my speed. But I’m a dancer. If I go to the club I dance my ass off until I’m exhausted. I want and need the same energy when I’m performing. I lay it down on the line, ‘cause that’s the only way I know. That doesn’t mean I can turn into absolute studio rat mode though. I’m a person of extremes. When it’s time to do studio work, I work like a motherfucker: I lock myself out until it’s done, turn every means off communications off until it’s done and give it all until it’s just right. You have to reach the point where you know your production is killing regardless of what anybody might say. But I could never picture myself doing “mental” music surrounded by machines at home all my life. It would bore the shit out of me. As Funkadelic would say: “Let’s take it to the stage !!”
When you think about funk which artists come up from your mind? Are you tied with black not-electronic music like jazz and blues?
Funk = James Brown and that’s bottom line. That’s the Godfather. That’s my first thought, every time, there’s no way around it. Just put “I Got The Feelin’” on, I mean, that’s it right there. Then George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, of course. Now for the maybe less well known cats, all the acts from Ohio State are a gigantic influence on me. Lakeside, Dayton, Zapp, Dazz Band, the Ohio Players of course… That’s like church !
Another lesser known crew was the Jamaica Queens cats, Lenny White, Don Blackman, Tom Browne, Bernard Wright, all them dudes had sick records back then that was a superb blend of street funk and bebop, very ‘New York’. As I said, I’ve been playing jazz, R&B, rap, gospel and blues way before I released a techno record and I think I can’t resist those elements creepin’ in everywhere in what I do. If you listen to my basslines, melodies and solos, it’s all the blues. It really is. All blues based, all off a blues feeling. I gotta say one thing about the word “black music” though. There is definitely a severe white-washing going on in the music industry today, and to me the term “black music” is the perfect example of white guilt. White people think they’re “down” saying “Oh I love black music”, but it’s like, why bother talking about the actual artists and their work when you can just reduce it to the color of their skin, right ?
It gets so crazy that in Europe there’s white professors of musicology doing more and more ‘exhibits’ about what they perceive as Great Black Music, wich would implies white people are able to judge what is great ‘black’ music and what is not. It’s sickening. Personally, I never liked to use the word “black music” because it’s a given techno, house, jazz, R&B, rock’n’roll, all that stuff was invented and best performed by African-American people. It should go without saying ! But that don’t mean they’re all the same and sound all the same either ! I remember reading a Smokey Robinson biography and he said, “Back in the 60’s, as long as it was a black man playing, white men called it ‘Black Music’. Bo Didley playing guitar rock ? ‘Black Music’. Ornette Coleman playing avant-guarde jazz ? ‘Black music’. Nat King Cole singing Christmas Carols ? ‘Black music’. It was like we could do anything, it was all the same to them because they just cared about our skin. Then one day the Beatles started covering our Motown songs and all of a sudden, white men called it “Pop”. It was insulting.” Now, reading this I realized if you’d reverse what white journalists have been yapping about for decades, it would sound like this: “Oh yeah I love White music, I mean, Metallica, Frank Sinatra, Richie Hawtin, Bruce Springsteen, John Cage, White music is the best !” Now that would be pretty awkward, wouldn’t it ? And one last thing of importance to me, a pretty big part of Disco, Techno and House is actually Latin American. The claves, the percussions, the bass patterns… I played in salsa bands for years and afro-cuban music is some of the closest to my heart, and for some reason that part is always getting overlooked by Europeans, so I just wanted to put it out there for good measure.
What do you see for your future? Is a new Ep coming during the next year or a full Lp could be your next step?
Lemme wipe off my crystal ball and dust off the ouija board so I can tell you… OK, here goes: I see myself singing vocoder on a classic Marvin & Tammie song as part of an awesome all-star Roger Troutman Tribute LP for Neon Finger…I see a killer electro 12” where I did a remix for the brother Orlando Voorn…I see a white label, vinyl-only 12” comin’ out very soon with very reworked covers I play live and got asked “where can we buy those jams” at litteraly every show… Titled “Gary G”s Custom Shop pt.1…I see a proper electro concept album next year that will take you into an incredible cinematic ride…I see Sugar Cane struttin’ round some sleaze after that..And I before it all I see the huge honor of playing before Aux 88 in Unibeat in Napoli. That’s really so humbling for me to be able to step up on the same stage of artists I grew up listening and wouldn’t do what I do if it wasn’t for them. So all in all I guess the future for me is keepin’ it on the One