Unveiling a musical genius in ‘Vanilla’


Have you ever put on a record and convinced yourself that what you’re listening to may be the eighth wonder of the world?

Perhaps, I am alone in that regard.

But the music of Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and others have such an effect on me. These artists, all with the ability to consistently create sonically transformative sounds, make life worth living.

And so it is my great privilege that I introduce Vanilla, a music producer who has managed to construct a sound — maybe even a genre — of his own after only 4 years of work.

In six albums, Vanilla has solidified himself as a wholly unique artist with an impressive knowledge and understanding of all forms of music. Informed by everyone from J. Dilla to Miles Davis to Radiohead, Vanilla’s own work is a harmonious blend of hip hop, acid jazz, electronic samplings, disco, funk and soul.

To help get a sense of what you’re in store for, we’ve inserted some of Vanilla’s strongest tracks throughout the interview, courtesy of Bandcamp. You can play these songs while reading the following discussion. We hope you enjoy.

Sam: Listening to the music you produce I can’t seem to place it into any specific category. What would you define your music as?

Vanilla: In a broad sense it’s primarily hip hop — I usually describe it to people as something along the lines of ‘soul-sampling and electronic instrumentals’ but I guess it’s pretty hard to sum it up nicely.

What or who compelled you to start making music?

I’m not really sure if there was one specific thing that set me off into music-making — I think in my teens when I started to learn instruments and also got into buying CDs I must have put two and two together and realized that I could be part of my own music collection which is probably what compelled me to start writing my own tracks.

I think I wanted to write rock concept albums originally but I guess that all went out the window when I discovered hip hop and realized it was a lot quicker and more satisfying to make.

Have you ever considered attempting to make this a profession, or are you content with keeping it as a hobby?

For now it works as a hobby, as I like the balance between going to work and doing this in my spare time. It enables me to do something unrelated during the day, and come back with a fresh perspective when I get back to making music.

I think if music were to be a profession for me it would be more down the composing route — I’d love to get my music onto film in some way, and I’ve lately been creating a lot of completely original, sample-free stuff that I would feel more comfortable with using in a professional capacity.

So hopefully I’ll be able to make it happen one day.

Pending the response to the above question, would you (or have you) worked in making beats with another artist?

I have a friend who produces under the name of ‘Bagul’ who I have collaborated with several times before. I think we’ve taught each other a lot about producing and music in general — we have been planning a collaborative album for quite a while now, and hopefully we’ll be able to get it out later in the year.

I certainly wouldn’t rule out working with other artists but right now I’ve got a few too many projects of my own to finish before I can really think about that.

What’s your approach when you’re beginning to create a new album? Do you have some sort of epiphany and then create the magic, or are you more methodical?

I have several albums I’m simultaneously working on at the moment, all of which cover different ground, future funk, jazzier stuff, original compositions, etc.; these are all sounds that I enjoy producing, and I always want to aim big with this stuff which is why I do lengthy albums and not just individual tracks or EPs.

So I would say I’m quite methodical in that way, although I need the impulse to want to explore a particular sound in the first place. I would say the epiphany comes in realizing that that particular sound is worth making an album’s worth of material for. The overall feel of the album comes together once all the key tracks are in place.

A good deal of your music integrates older, jazzy/R&B records. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve heard any contemporary beats mixed into your songs. Which begs the question, what (if any) modern artists do you listen to?

I’m afraid to say I’ve developed quite a bad habit of not listening to that much new music lately. I used to have my finger really on the pulse of the latest artists and releases across the whole spectrum but as I’ve been putting more time into producing I’ve unfortunately spent less time exploring other music.

But there’s a lot of current artists I’m enjoying; right now it’s Todd Terje’s ‘It’s Album Time’ and ‘Rivers of The Red Planet’ by Max Graef. Both of these albums explore so many different styles and genres and the best part is they both do it so seamlessly.

Who would you call your chief musical influences?

For hip hop and sampling it has to be J Dilla, Madlib and Onra. All three have been hugely influential in my approach to beatmaking, particularly building an album out of thematically consistent samples.

Listening to your tracks, all seamlessly constructed and put together, I often wonder: where on Earth do you find some of this music to mix? Is there some secret archive of ingenious records that we’re missing?

In all honesty I get it all from a variety of sources and often spend hours doing so. The Internet is a fantastic resource for finding any music with sites like YouTube and music blogs setting the groundwork for virtual crate digging.

My dad’s record collection is also a pretty handy source for a lot of the stuff I’ve ended up sampling. It’s all about knowing what you want from a sample and if a track doesn’t have whatever you’re after you need to keep looking until you find it!

Before we wrap up, who are your favorite musical artists? This can be a laundry list of people or just a select few. Feel free to rattle off albums and song titles too.

I’ll start with my favorite album. This may change over time but for quite a while now it has been ‘Where You Go I Go Too’ by Lindstrøm.

From a musical and production point of view the album is pretty much flawless in my opinion — it has been constructed as a seamless sonic journey which explores so many incredible ideas and influences and I just can’t think of any other musical work that has been executed that well.

As far as favorite artists go, I think the big three for me are probably J Dilla, Radiohead and Tom Waits. They’re all obviously completely different but what I love about all three of them is that they’ve all put out constantly great music over a long time and are always evolving over each album which is what keeps me coming back for more.

You can find and download all of Vanilla’s music for free at his Bandcamp. Stay tuned, as he’ll be dropping a new album within the year.

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