Vignettes: A Conversation with Mike Slott & Teebs

3rd Sept 2021

A conversation recorded between three old friends. Mike Slott is one of our founding members - a thoughtful musician who continues to redefine the form. Teebs is Brainfeeders resident visual artist with a string of beautiful albums spanning jazz, hip hop and ambient music. He has recently spent time exploring the NFT space. Laurent Fintoni just released his first book, Bedroom Beats and B-Sides. as well as launching his new podcast A Beat Happening alongside Kutmah. 

Laurent: How did you meet?

Teebs: It was 10 years ago maybe?

Mike Slott: I think it's more because I was still visiting New York at the time, which means it was before 2008. Which means it could have been 13 years ago. But I remember pretty clearly actually cause we met in a bagel shop on the Upper East Side, right?

Teebs: Very important spot ! 

Mike Slott: Yeah, very important spot. It was a bagel shop on East, like, 89th or something like that. And you were with Andrew, who used to do a podcast called Vibes and Stuff, who I think we all connected with, he was playing all the music from MySpace. What do you remember about that?

Teebs: I came out there because my mom used to do conference meetings for Kaiser Permanente (Health Care Company) at the time. So they’d have these big meetings once a year and I was like, “I want to go.” I was really into skating at the time so I thought I could skate around Manhattan for a while. But this music stuff was happening and Andrew was like, “Let’s link up!” I was freaking out because I didn't know you were in New York so I was just like, “Wait what? Mike's here? This is crazy.” I was trying to actually meet these people from MySpace. So it was really, really cool we chose a bagel shop to make it happen.

Mike Slott: I remember it was lashing rain as well. I think it was miserable outside. Were you doing music with, was it a guy or the group was called Jackhigh?

Teebs: It was a guy called Jackhigh, I still haven’t seen his face to this day.

So you were doing the Jackhigh thing by then already?  

Teebs: Yeah that was MySpace like, you know, just really random connection. I'm not sure how that works out, but that's one of the projects I started around that time.

I always thought it was later than that, I guess because the official releases were later.

Teebs: And it's funny like we've been through, you know, even issues with money and labels, issues with all kinds of stuff and I still don't know what he looks like, you know, it's crazy.

So you both met on MySpace first?

Mike Slott: Yeah, I guess it must have been right?

Teebs: Yeah, I probably reached out. I was definitely a fan around earlier days so I probably hit you up at that time saying, “Look at my beats!” [laughs]

Mike Slott: There was so much music flying around then it was incredible. It's funny actually even coming across stuff from then, like when Ras G passed away someone showed me a note that I’d written. I'd sent him Heralds of Change records from when I was working in All City and I'd obviously written this note to him or whatever, completely forgot about it, but he had it posted it up in Poo-Bah Records and someone sent it to me. A lot of little bits and pieces from the time that are cool.  So you just came out for a kind of vacation at that point and then back out to LA. What were you working on at the time?

Teebs: Jackhigh and not even a whole lot. I didn't have at that time any direction musically. If it was before I went to the Red Bull Music Academy then no, not really much. But if it was after, I think I was spending time just trying to make music to play at Low End, check it out there, and then just kind of rinse and repeat that. It was really fun at the time. I wasn't really thinking about anything until maybe 2009.

Were you doing visual art by then as well?

Teebs: Yeah, even before that, just really bad art shows but having a good time at it. I worked at a little store so we just always tried to think of things to do. My own crew, DJs, we were just trying to think of things to do in this more Inland Empire area so we're just using art kind of as a catalyst to showcase DJ stuff or you know just kind of make events and stuff like that. So I was painting for a while and then the music started going on. Met this guy.

Did you meet when LuckyMe came through Low End in 2008?

Teebs: Maybe we talked a little bit. Was that when Rustie came too?

Mike Slott: Yeah, that was like the first time we kind of went on tour - to Montreal, NYC, LA and San Francisco. The whole thing.

Teebs: Those guys seem so rowdy. How were you back then?

Mike Slott: [laughs] I think in the years after it reached like new levels of rowdiness. So you know that was kind of more at the beginning when it was just gearing up I think in terms of rowdiness. It was like, you know, late nights and after parties and stuff like that. I remember in Montreal, some story about Russell on a roof doing something crazy at like four in the morning. And, you know, I wasn't there so I can't say but I think I’d gone to bed at that stage. But yeah the lads know how to have a good time I think. You’ve been on a few tours like that I’d say?

Teebs: Yeah, I’ve seen some crazy stuff. I was always a little more mellow than some of my tour mates.

Mike, how did Montreal and LA compare to Glasgow at the time? 

Mike Slott: I remember LA feeling like a kind of more magnified version of it, because there were more people doing what we were doing. And it was a few years later when I went out there, I guess there was the 2008 tour but Teebs actually brought me out in 2011? At the Hyperion Tavern. That was great. It's just a small little spot but everybody came out. You know, everybody that you'd be in touch with online or who had come to the tour or you'd met, or you know, crossed paths with. Yeah, that was like a really good feeling. That Hyperion gig reminded me of Glasgow, just like small venues, everybody kind of knowing what's going on and kind of excited. Montreal. Yes, similar thing. You know, I was in Glasgow at a certain point. And then Montreal a few years later, LA is a few years later, so it's kind of a little difficult to say how similar they were, but there were definitely similarities.

What about you Teebs, did you play in Montreal?

Teebs: Yeah, 2011 maybe? The energy was a lot different. I think MyManHenri was still doing a lot of parties between there and Toronto. It was crazy around that time, because LA was very honed in, a couple places really wanted to hear it and it was more just like a relaxed kind of, you know, we're just here to listen and examine what you're doing. But Montreal was a little more like, if it feels good, if it knocks then we're gonna freak out and dance and wile out. I always figured if places are dancing to my music then you’re really on a different level of energy.

Mike Slott: Montreal's always good.

Talking of dancing, I was thinking that you’ve been taking an approach to music that isn’t necessarily beat-heavy in the sort of obvious sense. Melodies, this idea of ambience seems to me to be a little bit more prominent in your work. Where do you think that comes from?

Mike Slott: That's something I've always been interested in, as equal as making beats and drums and like enjoying that and enjoying the bass factor. But yeah, sometimes just like a practical case of sitting down and just not wanting to work on drum stuff and wanting to hear the kind of atmospheric stuff. That's what resonates with you. And just like the progression of going from like the kind of beat heavy stuff but also having that kind of ethereal kind of thing going on that I enjoy. Just over time, going to the studio or in your room on your laptop you eventually get to a place where you're refining, refining, refining, or you're not in the mood for what you were doing five years ago, you've moved on, it's still the same sound but just another kind of facet of it I guess. But that doesn't mean that won't change again. At times I quite like just highlighting that bit. So I guess that's what the latest record was, Vignettes was trying to not think too much about what I've done before or not think too much about the process and just go for it and see what comes out. And with that group of tracks it was not really any drums in there.

Teebs: Yeah the record’s dope. I've been actually wondering, any kind of references or inspirational things that hit you when you were asked to do this towards a film? What were the first thoughts?

Mike Slott: There was a festival called Unheard Film in Amsterdam, and you could pick a film. I guess I'd seen The Return, this Russian film, fairly recently and it was just in my head. I knew there was like a nice soundtrack to it already, I’d enjoyed it. I just thought, yeah, I'm just gonna follow that.  I didn't really have any ideas as far as music because I hadn't put music to picture before for the most part. So it was a whole new experience of letting the visuals kind of guide the sound a little bit. I was listening to stuff like Mark Isham who had done soundtrack stuff, but also made like early new age-y stuff, I guess. Mahavishnu, that kind of stuff-  Andreas Vollenweider. Just random colorful, vibrant synth-y instrumental music. As opposed to like, kind of contemporary stuff. So I think that informs a little bit the colors of the music.

Teebs: I really enjoyed that fact about it. Was there a reason why you chose synth sounds that are obviously more digital-sounding?

Mike Slott: I just used what I had. I actually did all of it in the box. So there's no real analog gear. I mean, it would have been cool to make that record with analog gear, I think…

Teebs: No, no, no. I like the choices.

Mike Slott: I just used what I had and what I enjoyed and just messed around with effects and automating. Quite a lot of it actually I just freestyled: sit down, put on the visuals, and go without thinking too much. I did a certain amount of it for the film and after that was done, I kind of went back to it and refined it a bit or whatever. I guess there is a kind of a fine line when it's like purely electronic stuff, it can certainly go one way and I did want to keep that kind of like warmth, as much as you can, and not be thinking too much about synthesizers you know, but it's still meant to be, you know, electronic music.

Teebs: One of my highlights off the top was the sound of the gear you used and what you decided to do with it. A more minimal approach compared to other records you put out.

Mike Slott: Thank you. That's very nice to hear. Yeah, it's funny, I made one of the tracks in Dublin actually. I was just literally sitting down with the laptop and headphones and just being aware of surroundings and playing some chords and stuff. And that was just like, “Yeah, that's it, that's that track.”

Teebs: What time of year was it when you finished the record?

Mike Slott: Maybe Autumn.

Teebs: You know, those are like the key decisions. “Alright, I'm gonna cut this out.” Stuff like that, it says a lot on the record. And you were in New York when you finished it?

Mike Slott: Yeah, I was actually, I was still in New York when I finished it. In that little room that you've been in.

Teebs: That’s a nice room.

Mike Slott: Yeah it was nice. That's what I think of when I think of that record. Quite often I was sitting working in that room and the sun coming in and working with visuals, which was so different for me. That's the other thing, you've worked with visuals T, you learn to leave more space, I think. And I think that's something that in previous records I was more kitchen sink, everything was in there. So with this stuff, it's a bit more…it was the process of learning ‘oh that's fine just like that’.

Teebs: Yeah, it was more reserved and more space I think for a listener to not get stolen by the music but be carried somewhere. I was gonna say, compared to where you live in LA now studio wise, do you think it would be a similar process? Going through it?

Mike Slott: I think it would be quite different now because there's more space. I have more gear, I have more sort of outboard stuff. I've gotten more into like recording live stuff, making kits and making sounds. So yeah, I definitely think it would be quite different.

Teebs: Having space definitely changes the process.

Mike Slott: Yeah, I've noticed that just having that space in the studio, just even for recording, walking around, wondering about mic placement, it’s less sitting and more action. I was listening back to your last record, it’s so beautiful and lovely. There’s quite a few vocal tracks on there. Is that something you were going for?

Teebs: Yeah there’s like nine vocalists or something, quite a lot. It definitely crept up. I never thought about the idea of working with people until recently. I think it's just been a change of why I've been making music. And, you know, as you go through records, or just (the passage of) time, your reasons to do something kind of change. I now want to experience getting out of the same process. And I figured a really hard and kind of quick way to do that would be to work with somebody, and then kind of butt heads a little bit. And try to expand around their soundscape that they're bringing to the table and be able to reach different angles and stuff like that. Yeah, so it was good. It was really healthy for me. But now it's like part of how my brain works. I instantly start thinking of other people and I want to tailor sounds to them.

Mike Slott: Do you enjoy that process of collaboration? In my own experience, it forces you to have to be quite honest and like, you know, share your thoughts in a way that you want to be gentle but also get your point across. It’s like consulting with one another. And once you put something out there, it's not necessarily your idea anymore. It's just, there it is. Did it come naturally or did you have to develop it?

Teebs: It was a lot of work. And I feel like some of the artists I got to work with were really open just by being there, helping me learn on the job in a sense, how to deal with them and how to be polite and vice versa. How to take complaints and compliments, yeah it’s really been a lot of learning which is the healthy part. I’ve enjoyed it all.

Mike Slott: Were you recording at your place or over the internet?

Teebs: Kind of a mix. I was also using the Stones Throw studio, because a few of the artists are signed there. So using that helped.

Mike Slott: That’s a nice little spot there.

Teebs: Yeah, it's comfortable. And they got all the toys. Jake did a good job. Shout out Jake. Good guy.

He used to be a dublab intern. I don’t think you can speak of the LA alt, beat landscape without finding your way at dublab at some point.

Teebs: Yeah, you gotta either work there, do a live set, have a show.

I often think back to the 2008 Brainfeeder broadcast on dublab, which is where it all started for the label in a way. You were there, Alfred, Sam, G. It was eight hours or something like that.

Teebs: It was so hot that day in there. That was wild. That was ten years ago.

No, 13 years ago, 2008. The label is 2010 I think. Somebody can correct us on the internet. What are the rituals and habits that you have when it comes to creativity but also life in general?

Teebs: Actually Mike you have some good morning rituals now, let's go there. Let's go to the coffee.

Mike Slott: Oh yeah [laughs]. Yeah drinking too much coffee certainly but I've been roasting a bit of coffee lately, which I've really gotten into for some reason. I wouldn't necessarily call it my morning ritual but it's definitely…it kind of reminds me of you T just because I've seen you over the years when we’d meet up you’d be gigging but then also hustling with merch and making things. Art shows. There was a two-fold nature to your work which I always thought was super cool. So yeah lately I’ve gotten into roasting coffee and stuff. So it's definitely something I want to work on further as an aside to music and maybe put it out to friends and see who wants to try it out. It just reminds me of like, you can get so immersed in music, even for years on end, but I'm seeing the benefit of having an interest alongside that which you've had with your art for years. And quite often, I think, in our culture there’s an emphasis on pick one thing and that's what you got to do, and music was always just kinda what I did. But I know people, like Diane (Badíè), she's always had lots of interests and some people can just do that, they can do the one thing, the second thing, and the third thing.

Teebs: It’s definitely a risky game, after all the years I've been trying to run a couple things, rituals are so important for me to keep focused. You get rusty so fast, even just a couple weeks off you can lose training. So I always try to map things out, to know that I’m going to be doing a certain thing at a certain time, unless something pops up.

Mike Slott: You map it out?

Teebs: Yeah. I mean lately with the stay at home orders in Los Angeles it's kind of been more like, now that my daughter doesn't go to class anymore and so we're juggling parenting, I'll have like little blocks of time where it's like, you know, you just got to write something musically even if it's hella contrived and really lame. You’re just trying to make something. So for me the rituals is things like incense, I bought these years ago with Sam, just half of one, the whole thing is kinda nasty, that sets the vibe and the kid thinks it’s stinky so she doesn’t bother me as much. It works out. I try to do that in the morning as much as possible, and then switch over to painting because it’s hard for me to be loud here later in the day. Daughter is napping. Neighbors and stuff. So the painting comes after. And it just cycles over and over.

Do you paint and make music in the same space?

Teebs: Sometimes. It used to be real crazy in here. It gets hectic, you don’t want art stuff getting on your gear and then there’s also family members being like, “What’s wet?”

Have you ever had a separate space for visual arts?

Teebs: When I was in the IE, my mom’s garage. But I was really running game then.

Mike Slott: I remember that on MySpace.

Teebs: It was the best time ever. And then I moved to live in the valley with Steve and them, and the landlord appreciated art and he offered me to help his nephew or something with his school project in return for using the whole parking lot to paint and do what I wanted. Basically cheat for this kid? [laughs] So I had a space then, covered garage, car park, outdoor thing. And then lately it’s literally around my living room, dining room walls. I’m not really going crazy, splattering paint, it’s pretty mild. So yeah, no space any more.

Do you still do collages? Like those record sleeves. I always thought there was a nice analogy between it and sampling.

Teebs: It’s been a while but I really like that process. When that moment clicked in my head, “Holy shit! It’s the same thing!” I thought I was on some different page but it’s the exact same process, it’s just layering. You take a found item, chop it up, you know? You sprinkle on top, erase, folding, kneeding, literally the same. When it’s done it speaks so differently to people. I’ll have people come to a music show and be like, “I came cos I like your art, I don’t even fuck with your music.” That’s crazy to me. It speaks to people.

Mike Slott: Does the process feel the same?

Teebs: Yeah most of the time. I feel a lot more at ease with painting. With music it’s more stressful, steadily clicking. The moment when you’re recording is hella fun but after that it’s a whole bigger moment of just digging through sounds, understanding how sound works. I think with art it comes a little more natural, I guess it depends on the medium you use. It’s a little different, music seems harder. I guess my comments are more about my personal style of production, music making. It’s easier to go through the steps with the visual art than the music for me.

Mike you mentioned making Vignettes in the box, how was that then? Because I imagine there was a lot of clicking involved.

Mike Slott: It was just putting it in record and throwing stuff at the canvas, like T said. It wasn’t mega clicking. It just dawned on me when you said it there. Before and since that album I’ve made plenty of music that’s just clicking, endlessly, refining, chiseling, so I can relate to that bit. In some ways there’s that moment when you disappear and you’re in the work, inspired, and then you come back and it’s done and there’s the moment after where you’re still sculpting and that bit can be like work sometimes. There are different ways of making music and Vignettes was that for me, an attempt at not thinking too much and just painting, I guess.

Teebs: When are we getting Vignettes 2?

Mike Slott: I don’t know, I might have a folder in the computer with that name on it.

Teebs: Air drop it right now! One click away man.

Mike Slott: I really enjoy that process, I’ve grown to love it, sticking things in record. I’ve made a space in the studio with keyboard and launchpad and just away from the computer so I can control the computer on the launchpad and once you press record off you go, it’s running through certain outboard effects, but I’m not sequencing, just recording, over and over. That’s fun.

Teebs: That’s dope. I have a few friends who’ve been telling me about getting away from the computer and how freeing it’s been. I can see that being a huge change in production style as well.

Mike Slott: And sometimes you end up with the thing and that’s the track. And that can be pretty freeing, to just realize that this doesn’t need drums, it doesn’t need anything else, the arrangement is the emotion that you felt in it. I enjoy the other side of it, thinking about how to put it across, arranging with a purpose, writing songs in that sense. But also getting lost in the emotion of playing and that creates the arrangement, I love that just as much. Maybe even more.

Teebs: I do too. I often listen back to what I wrote and I end up deleting everything.

OK, I guess I didn’t get to tie back the rituals question to your time in LA. So Vignettes is out, you’re not in LA at the moment and we’re going through a lot of craziness so when you get home do you think you might change things around in your studio? What do you think? I know it’s hard to say.

Mike Slott: I’m pretty happy with the studio at the moment, how it’s setup. As far as routine and ritual I guess I go through different phases but I always try to get clear on the intention when making music. I guess what I mean is realizing that music is powerful and it can do a lot of things for people in the world, even if it’s three minutes or whatever. I always try to remind myself of that. And not get too wrapped up in what’s popular now, what’s so and so doing. I think that’s something I learnt with Vignettes. It was a motif for me, forgetting about the world, get immersed and forget about what’s going on. In the past I was prone to that distraction, so I think the best scenario is just sitting, maybe a little meditation to get myself in the right space, of putting the best effort into whatever it is that I’ll do. I never have much of an idea, I’ll say a little meditation, a little prayer, whatever, and then go. Just switch stuff on and follow wherever I go, use whatever feels right. I try not to have too much of a rigid way but I think the best way for me is to approach it with the right kind of spirit that I know makes me feel good and I can hopefully impart that into the music.

Teebs: Do you even spend time adding drums to some sounds and then pulling it all out? Or is it more purely piano writing, layers… Like maybe in Vignettes.

Mike Slott: It is a thing I do but with these tracks not so much. I don’t think there was ever drums. But certainly in the past, I’ve done it. You pull the drums out and it’s like, “Oh this is actually better.” Do you?

Teebs: All the time. [laughs]

What is it about that process that works for you?

Teebs: Maybe it’s personal, because a lot of drums I have are so skittish, you know, very weird. I’ll write a chunk of the music, then the drums with it, and then layer the music a bunch and not really like what’s going on. And usually when I take the drums out or pitch them all the way up so they’re not really in the mix, it just helps me see what is really going on. I start thinking about what I want, trimming, at that point I usually start taking drums out and seeing what works. I like to delete a lot in my process.

As long as you’ve composed or written with the drums that energy can still be felt in the music. Kinda explains what you were saying earlier on about people dancing to your stuff. I feel like (Ras) G did that too, especially in some of his remixes, he was really out there with subtle rhythms, making stuff that was abstract but still banging. And I relate that feeling to a lot of your own music T.

Teebs: Yeah, like a mellow push. [laughs]

Mike Slott: I did a few shows at Dub War in NYC, and you know what it’s like T, you’re playing your music and you know it’s not club music but you’re in a club, it’s like “aargh…” It’s all really new at the time, the music’s new, it’s like, “OK.” That was the vibe the first time but the second time I played there, something just clicked and people got it. It was awesome. Such a good feeling, not club music in a club but it’s working.

Teebs: Yeah it feels amazing. I remember feeling that way at Low End Theory at first. It’s fun to interject this sensitive moment in between a Gaslamp set and a crazy DJ. I think Kev knew it too. He’d put me on at the right moment, a short amount of time, just hit them with something and I think that really helped, at least for me, round out the scene. I was loving that feeling.

Mike Slott: There’s a place for all of it, it’s just finding the right places. Where this whole beat scene thing has gone now it’s not like a big in your face look at this but if you look you can see the strains in popular music now I think. You can follow the trail I think, be it pop music, soundtracks, other worlds of music like house and techno.

Teebs: It’s completely bled into everything. If you think about the idea of the word dubstep and how far that’s been taken, what it is today, people like Flume, Disclosure, all these names that made this mainstream platform out of a lot of it. There are lots of artists who’ve made strong platforms for themselves using sensibilities coming from this world, scene, whatever you wanna call it. So many things have spawned out of it, it’s really interesting.

Mike Slott: Speaking of the past and what’s grown out of what, what do you see yourself in the future musically? What would you like to do? To make?

Teebs: It’s tricky. For the time being it’s kinda continuing with the process of working with others and understanding music in general, writing parts for others, learning how to write more, I’m really enjoying that side of the process. I wanna have more tools to do things properly. Just finish records. My kid is four so I feel like I got a window to still try and do as much as I can, learn, and maybe inspire her too. I wanna work on records like that, trying to do more stuff with film, television, that’s another aspect I want to lend myself to bigger pieces since I make such personal records most of the time. I think that might come out of this growth process. These are the journeys for the next few years I think. What about you?

Mike Slott: I would love to as well. I’m going to finish a record that I’ve been delaying, going back to, adding to. Something I personally need to put out. Looking forward to finishing it and that whole process. That’s what I’m excited about. There’s some vocal stuff. A nice mix of the different worlds I dip my toes into. Electronic, ambient, beat-related stuff, all tied together, do something that feels at least new to me or fresh to me
or something. That’s one project. I’d love to do more soundtrack work too, I enjoyed the taste of it with Vignettes but I feel like I could do something interesting, to do it for real.

Teebs: What I’ve learnt so far, what people have told me, especially working on games and things of that nature, it’s such a strange process, cos you’re now more of a piece for hire, and you’re dealing with more people who aren’t necessarily into music but it’s more about attaching music to this image in their head they care about. It’s quite interesting. And a lot of terminology, I’ve come across things, like they’ll talk about a particular sound they want in or taken out and using terms that I don’t know. So that’s an interesting process.  

by Laurent Fintoni

Vignettes is Mike Slott’s second release for LUCKYME®

Laurent Fintoni literally wrote the book on the beats

Check out Teebs latest work

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