Collaboration is often touted by musicians and producers as a key to inspiration and creativity. But how exactly does that work when you’re primarily using a computer? Do you sit around a computer and fight over the mouse? I thought it best to ask someone who appears to have their shit together. Ed David is one half of SHOUSE, a Melbourne electronic duo doing great things at the moment.
How do SHOUSE approach songwriting? Do you each fill certain roles in the ‘band’ or are you both hands-on in all areas of your sound?
It can be a real headache setting up your production rig for jams and there are so many ways to do it but it's so worth it. Once you've got it set up it is both incredibly fun and such a quick, responsive way to make music.
We have a bunch of midi controllers, hardware synths, drum machines, mixers, external effects etc, all synced to Ableton Live clock that can make jamming a lot more collaborative and fun. The first time we ever jammed, I set up a beat on Ableton, we picked Jack (the other half of SHOUSE) a weird flute VST synth and I played live bass on a Korg MS20 synth. Jack had an idea for a vocal hook so popped into the booth and smashed it out. Within a few hours we had the start of a strange but wonderful song that became our upcoming single ‘Love Tonight’ - I think you can feel the joy and exploration of our first jam in that tune.
In terms of roles, basically I focus on the beats, timbre, effects, production, etc. and Jack focuses on chord progressions, melody and words, however we change and swap from time to time. When producing and mixing I have the 'steering wheel' so to speak but being good mates we have a good way of communicating that I often know what Jack’s going to ask for before he asks and we can make collaborative decisions about transitions, sounds timbre, tone, etc. using the bizarre language of music production.
Often Jack will send me incredibly rough scratchy iPhone voice memo's of him singing on the Casio keyboard at home and we'll get in the studio and translate that into a banger, do the chords through the JU06 synth, the bass through the MS20 and the beats on the MFB Tanzbar drum machine and turn it into a proper SHOUSE tune.
On the other hand, sometimes I’ll send Jack nice sounding, chugging but somewhat directionless house tracks I’ve made on my own and he'll whack some lyrics, melody and a bit narrative onto them, turning them into fully fledged songs.
Other times we make songs fully together, 'jam mode' in the studio, just plugging away at synths, beats and effects until we stumble upon something nice and go from there. Having a big mixer and lots of synced synths and machines with mikes ready to go is great for that.
Do SHOUSE have a studio space that permanently houses all your equipment and projects? If so, do you feel that’s essential to your process? Why?
Yep, we have a fairly big studio in Collingwood that we rent. A key for us is having the mikes and synths always set up so we can bang out an idea really quickly. If Jack has a vocal idea he can pop in the vocal booth and we can have pretty decent quality harmonies looping within seconds. If we want to try bass lines or leads through the MS20 we just patch it through and if we want a little space echo we do the same.
It’s also absolutely critical for us especially when considering getting guests in, it's important to have a nice, purpose designed space where it really feels like you're working, getting something done. Inviting vocalists to come and do takes in your bedroom somehow isn't as professional, especially when you're living with your girlfriend.
It's also really nice for me to separate up parts of you life, when you're in there, you know you're making tunes and for us that definitely helps with productivity and drive.
Being a more dancefloor/club music orientated act, how do you prepare a live-set? What equipment and software do you use?
We try and keep it as open and fun as possible, so we can take jams where we and/or the crowd want them to go, while keeping it structured enough so if a guest vocalist is about, they know where the song’s going. We essentially have a more jammy house set we play when we have no guests where we can do live remixes of our songs and play jams out, and a more linear set where we play songs 'as they go' so our guests know where to sing. It's a constantly evolving set up, which is kind of nice. That being said like any good house set, we never stop between songs, and have the drum machine chugging the whole way through. We use the Ableton Live clip view controlled with a Push controller.
All of our songs are broken up into their separate stems for live remixing/reimagining. The MFB Tanzbar drum machine holds the whole set together and is always fun to jam on. It is kept in absolute perfect sync with the recently acquired Sync Gen Pro, which makes an almost imperceptible but incredibly significant change to the tightness of it all.
I have had nightmares trying to sync over USB, Firewire and Ethernet MIDI over the years and the Sync Gen just makes it all work, and is also great for syncing two laptops when one needs. The MFB is augmented with external delay and reverb effects. Sometimes for our more clubby/jammy gigs we'll bust out the MS20m too and sequence basslines live. Jack plays a JU06 synth (Roland Juno replica) through a keyboard midi controller or his DSI Mopho synth on top of it all.
SHOUSE has also collaborated with vocalists, can you tell us a bit about how that process works? Do you approach them with a finished song and ideas for vocals or do you give them more creative control?
We love collaborating and we love working with vocalists. Usually when we invite them in the song will be in a half finished production state but - generally - a mostly finished 'written' state. We usually write all the words and melody and the singers come in and smash it out quickly and easily - an unusual process for Melbourne, more of an LA type thing but most of the singers we work with seem to love it. It takes some onus off them on the creative side and just allows their vocals to fly like a real pop star.
Often our guests have heaps of great ideas, that we work into the song too and we're always open to ideas and changes. We just get them in, buy a bunch of beers and get them into the vocal booth in the studio. We work very quickly, absolutely love first takes and can usually we can get a song done in a few hours. Then when the guests leave Jack and I settle in and mix it, and often the songs can look completely different when they come out the other end but still maintain the same feel and narrative.
You have a long history of collaborating with other musicians in your musical career, what do you think appeals to you about collaborating? Personally I always feel super awkward about showing other people something I’m working on, is that something you’ve ever struggled with?
Yep. I totally find it awkward showing people something I’m working on but have been learning to get over it and be less precious with my music. Our first single ‘Support Structure’ was a song/chord progression I wrote years ago. It would have died on my hard drive had I not sent it to Jack, who absolutely loved it and wrote words and melody for it, and got Mohini in to sing on it, so it's really beautiful when people get around your music and give it new life. Collaborating has taught me so much about making music, mostly not to be precious with my tracks, be ready to kill your darlings. Be ready to change them completely and not to get bizarrely attached to a sample or bassline or whatever.
It's so easy to get attached to ideas, songs, little bits that you did for no good reason except you did them which I feel can severely slow down and even fully incapacitate producers.
Working in this project especially I’ve learned to not be too precious, not to over produce and get lost in the small things and to just finish stuff and move on ‘cos there's always more, generally better songs to be made, and the first thought is often the best thought. Perfectionism can be a killer in this game and I’ve seen people work on songs for years only to never put them out or when they do the vibe's been completely produced out of them. I know the feeling, and if it wasn't for collaborating I’d be just sitting in the studio tweaking reverb pre-delays or filter envelopes until the cows come home. It's so good for me to have someone say 'stop'.
Any further advice for producers trying to figure out how to collaborate?
Jack just asked totally out of the blue after meeting at a club night if I’d like to make music, I was flattered and the rest is history. Since then I’ve been amazed by all the incredible musicians willing to work with us. My advice would be just ask your musical crushes, just get in there and do it.
It can take ages to figure out the annoying parts of setting up your rig for collaborating but once you're there it's pretty amazing. I'd say try not to be precious about your music, be willing to take some fresh ideas and criticism on board or it'll never work. Most of all make sure you're working with someone you like as a person. Usually I find when that's the case, with patience, the musical stuff works itself out.
SHOUSE'S latest single 'Without You feat. Rachel' is out now.