Mark de Clive Lowe
Mark de Clive-Lowe Interview
By J.C. Tripp
Half Japanese half New Zealander musician/producer Mark de Clive-Lowe has been on the music journey since starting piano when he was four. Classical piano lessons, jazz for playing pleasure and hip hop and soul on the stereo gave Mark the diverse foundation that his eclectic style has developed from.
For over the past ten years, MdCL’s musical journeying has taken him to the US, UK, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Cuba. Performing and recording in different settings collaborating with DJ/producers, turntablists, acoustic jazz artists, Japanese Kagura, and the world of latin rhythms, Mark has become a major figure in the nu-jazz movement, blending jazz, ethnic music and urban grooves into a fresh 21st Century flavour.
West London based from 1998-2008, MdCL is a key collaborator, artist and producer in the scene spear-headed by Bugz in the Attic, 4Hero, Restless Soul and IG Culture [NSM]. His debut LP Six Degrees [Universal Jazz/emarcy] was released worldwide in 2000 – signatured with an amalgamation of jazz sensibilities and urban influences, the album found a niche with DJs, critics and audiences worldwide:
‘Firmly at the front of the nu-skool jazz and beats movement’ – The Times [UK]
‘Call it nu-jazz, call it nu-house, call it future-jazz, in fact call it what you want, I’m sticking with the words awesome and genius’ – Wax Magazine [UK]
Two world tours later MdCL had taken the Six Degrees live show global including featured slots at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival – having been personally invited to perform by techno legend Carl Craig, Amsterdam Drum Rhythm Festival, London Jazz Festival and throughout Europe, Asia and Australasia. Live Events
2001 saw MdCL contributing a stand out remix production of Shirley Horn on the Verve//Remixed LP alongside tracks from MAW, Joe Clausell and Thievery Corporation and in 2002, his carnival soul-beats anthem ‘Relax…Unwind’ featuring Abdul Shyllon became one of the year’s underground hits worldwide for the likes of Gilles Peterson, Jazzy Jeff, MAW and Jazzanova. 2003/4 releases also include collaborations with Kenny Dope [Masters at Work], DJ Spinna [BBE/rapster], Rima [JCR], IG Culture, Bugz in the Attic and Restless Soul. Over the past 6 years, Mark has stamped his sound on over 150 releases collaborating with some of the most cutting edge producers and artists around the world – include tracks for soul legend Leon Ware, productions for Philadelphia’s Lady Alma and remixes for the likes of Jody Watley, Omar, Incognito and Brazilian superstar Ed Motta.
MdCL’s album TIDE’S ARISING was released worldwide March 22, 2005 on ABB Soul/Antipodean featuring a who’s who of guest artists including Bembé Segué, Abdul Shyllon, Pino Palladino [D’Angelo’s Soultronics/The Who], Capitol A [The Roots/Jazzanova] and more. Immediately a new millennium classic, Tide’s Arising was one of the standout albums of 2005 topping critics lists worldwide. Tide’s Arising Live shows have been performed in the UK, Europe, Japan, NZ, Australia and USA. 2007 saw MdCL release the Japan-only album JOURNEY 2 THE LIGHT also launching the Freedom School record label. Featuring Bembé Segué, Sammy Figueroa [Miles Davis], Jason Yarde [Jack DeJohnette] and Richard Spaven [Guru/Jose James] the album brought the 70s Black Jazz and Strata East sound into the 21st Century with MdCL’s most jazz-oriented album yet.
Projects currently on the go include MdCL’s Freesoul Sessions clubnite and releases – a fully improvised show with Mark constructing beats and full productions live on stage with a rotating cast of beat, soul and jazz musicians and vocalists and The Politik – a collaboration with Bembé Segué. He’s also produced the debut single for UK soul singer Rasiyah and the soundtracks for multi-media dance production Legends of the Underground .
MdCL performs all around the planet regularly, every time redefining audiences’ concept of club culture and electronics brought to the live stage.
Mundovibes was fortunate enough to interview Mark de Clive Lowe who graciously answered our questions at length:
Mundovibes: First of all congratulations on Tide’s Arising, a superb recording of future funk and soul. Let’s start by asking what you wanted to accomplish with this recording in terms of style, mood and direction. You have travelled quite a distance from “Six Degrees”, your previous
full-length. You seem to really be looking forward in this recording. How has your music evolved since “Six Degrees”?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: A lot has happened since making “Six Degrees” in early 1999. That album was the result of a whole lot of inspiration and experiences gained traveling around the world in 98 – my first times in Cuba, West London, San Fran and time spent in NYC, Tokyo and Europe. It was also the first time I’d messed around with an MPC so as a producer, that was a really sharp learning curve. Since then I’ve had the good fortune to work with a lot of great artists and producers – either as a session musician, writer, producer or remixer and all of those experiences have helped me grow both as an artist and producer. everyone approaches what they do differently – whether it’s kenny dope, ig culture or lemon d – everyone’s got a different flex going on. working with different people taught me a lot and also helped me to craft the direction i wanted to grow in. doing remixes like the shirley horn one for verve remixed was a great challenge – i knew that MAW, joe clausell and a few other heavy hitters were involved with the project already so i wanted to make sure i did my best. that kind of pressure can be a really positive catalyst when it comes to creativity. stylistically i’ve also returned to my roots a lot – my school years were all about hip hop and beat music, jazz was what i did as a ‘serious musician’, so now i feel comfortable in bringing it all together.
making tide’s, more than anything i wanted to make a soul record. my vision of a 21st century soul record. melding beat culture, the history and the future all in one. i’m confident as a producer to be able to make a track that mixes latin, breaks, jazz and soul all at the same time and knowing it’s going to work out fine and have my stamp on it at the end of the day, so it was really mostly about getting on with it and getting the album made. where six degrees was a definitive nu-jazz record – balancing between dancefloor and jazz, i wanted to bring in the funk, hip hop and soul elements that i love in so much music for the new record. working with the right vocalists was always going to be key and bembe segue in particular is someone who i collaborate really well with. state of the mental was the first track she came in to work on and everything just clicked so she ended up coming in on most of the album. abdul shyllon is one of the most unique male singers on the planet – no one sounds like him and no one can do what he does. i love that kind of uniqueness in people. afterall, we’re all different from each other, so there’s no sense in us all rocking the same beat or the same shoes or the same car!
MV: There is a very “psi-fi”, cosmic-urban vibe to “Tide’s Arising” with its
spacey keys and effects. How did this sound come about?
What inspired you to go in the direction you did on this record?
MdCL: Time and space – the place where the cosmic b-boy resides! i love making music that’s different and can transport someone to somewhere they’ve never been before or even imagined existed. i get bored listening to music, watching movies or checking out art that takes me to the same place as the last place which is not so different from the next place. Change. it’s all about change. change happens with or without us – no amount of systems structures, politicians or big corporations can change that. i think if you dig deep into Tide’s Arising you’ll hear the message.
MV: How place-centric or scene-scentric do you feel “Tide’s Arising” is?
MdCL: stylistically i think the way i made the album and the overall sound of it is heavily influenced by the years i’ve spent in west london and working so much with people like bugz in the attic, phil asher, ig culture, alex attias and others. to me there’s also a big amount of american influence in there- i love the dilla swing, the neptunes production style, the philly scene, so the influences are pretty global. i could have made the album anywhere on the planet, but wherever i would have made it, it would have sounded different than if i had made it some place else.
MV: How much of it is simply straight from you as opposed to where you are?
MdCL: it’s always a balance of both – the honest artist cannot filter out their surroundings when expressing their creativity, nor can they filter out their experiences and being.
MV: How “live” is “Tide’s Arising”?
MdCL: the whole way i like to make music is how i balance man and the machine – programmed beats and live performance. it’s all live, and it’s all programmed! if you check how i do the live show, i’ll program the MPC beats live on stage everytime, it’s always different, so once it’s programmed, it’s not live, but the process of programming it was live from start to finish.
MV: The only track that features your keyboard playing in a more “standard” jazz mode is ‘Pino + Mashi’. How do you feel about this type of playing compared to the more futuristic and cut-up style that is featured on the other tracks?
MdCL: it’s all music! i do feel less of a need now than before to showcase my skills as a keyboard player. i dig it with someone like Thelonious Monk – if you dont really check him too deep it might sound like he doesnt have great skills, but if you know what’s up then you know that he is in total command of the instrument. back in the jazz day it was all about “wow, i got ten fingers and this piano has 88 keys, let’s go!” but now i understand form and function better, and how space can be as deafening as a drum solo if it’s used effectively.
MV: You have developed a very complex musical vocabulary of your own. What experiences and influenes brought you to your own “sound”?
MdCL: afro cuban rhythms, 70s jazz fusion, native tongues hip hop, d’angelo and the soulquarians, j dilla, ahmad jamal, herbie hancock, miles, weather report, early jungle… lots of stuff!
MV: How do you go about constructing the beats for your music?
MdCL: the best way to understand that is to check a live gig – i’ll have a drum kit on the MPC, hit record and jam the beats. i dont really like to spend too much time building beats academically, i much prefer to do it organically and on the spot. there’s usually subtle tweaks and flips i’ll add later, but generally most of the vibe is captured from the original session programming the beat. all the beats on Tide’s Arising are loops – some are 2 bar loops, some are 4 or 8 bar, but generally they’re all pretty tight loops but i’ll go into them and flip up different parts here and there. for me, loops are about creating illusions. that’s some fun shit right there.
MV: You collborated with a number of people on “Tide’s Arising” including Tell us about some of the people you collaborted with on Tide’s Arising and the way songs came together with them.
MdCL: i’ve already talked about bembe and abdul shyllon. some of the instrumental collaborators though – pino palladino has got to be my favourite bass player on the planet. when i checked out d’angelo’s voodoo live tour, pino was incredible. he and ?uestlove holding down the rhythm section like nobody’s business. dope! i worked with pino for a couple of months in a band IG culture put together and that was a great experience – jamming every day with one of the illest bass players on the planet. when it came to doing the album tracks, pino laced a couple of tracks with his heavy sound and deep groove. at the end of the session, i pulled up a break i’d been messing round with that morning and we just jammed it out – that became ‘Pino + Mashi’. similarly, ‘masina’s world’ was from a 15 minute improvised jam that chris bailey and i had after we’d recorded chris’s drums parts for the album tracks. there was a rhodes in the studio so we just jammed it out on rhodes and drums and ‘masina’s world’ was right in the middle of all that. joel haines and miguel fuentes are a couple of other fantastic musicians. joel is sax player nathan haines’ brother and for my money, one of the best guitarists anywhere. it was great to get him involved on the album. miguel’s a don percussionist – he’s played with miles, george benson, patti labelle, lots of great artists, and we’ve collaborated in nz (where he lives now) over the years but never recorded together until the tide’s sessions./
MV: Tell us about the themes and concepts of the lyrics on “Tide’s Arising”
which are very space- and travel-oriented?
MdCL: i wanted to keep it pretty conceptual on the lyrics side – paint pictures that are universal but encourage you to think about a whole other place that isnt the city you live, the street you walk down or maybe even the planet we inhabit. i think things that get people thinking radically outside the box are really positive, especially in this day and age when so much our senses are bombarded with is designed to keep us operating, thinking and living within a defined structure and system.
MV: The chorus to ‘Traveling’ seems to be about mind travel with its chorus
‘travelling without moving’. What is this song about?
MdCL: the mind’s a powerful tool like that. as is the human spirit. there’s so far we can go, so much we can accomplish if we just put our minds and spirits to good use. captial A spells out the mission statement pretty clearly 🙂
MV: It’s amazing how keys and key sounds can set the mood in music. Is mood an important element to what you are doing?
MdCL: for anyone who’s making music, mood is everything!! i think where it’s kind of obvious how drums and vocals can set a mood, what really hits the human ear and emotions on a deeper and therefore more consequential level is the harmony of music and the harmonics of sound. so yeah, i love all that. using different sounds to hit different frequencies, using different harmonic shapes to paint different colours and stories.
MV: There is so much interaction between the “parts” of each song, where
elements interact. How did you go about constructing such complex songs?
MdCL: it’s how i hear it. i dont build it by theory or formula or intellectually, it’s just how i hear it all coming together. compared to playing with a sick jazz drummer or a heavy percussionist, the music isnt really that complex. if you compare it to say regular house music, yeah it’s more complex, but me for one, i’m tired of hearing the predictability and formula in most music. play me some different shit!
MV: Did you have to “break free” from your traditional schooling or did it just naturally flow into what you are doing now?
MdCL: i did conciously decide that i wanted to deconstruct my knowledge. i studied a lot of stuff growing up playing classical music and jazz, but beat culture really inspired me to deconstruct it. that’s what it’s all about really anyway – you learn everything and then in order to apply it without being stuck in it, you internalise it, you forget it all and then you can be free to express your creativity.
MV: How has living in West London affected your musical sensibilities?
MdCL: i’ve definitely gone back and dug through music i wasnt that familiar with before – some of the more obscure 70s stuff and early 80s music that are big influences for a lot of the crew in west london. growing up on jazz, i’d heard plenty of gene harris and ramsey lewis, but that was always playing swing. hearing them play funk on rhodes instead of straight ahead on piano, hearing the music of the mizell brothers, all that stuff freaked me out when i first heard it. everyone in west london is coming from a different background – IG with his roots and dub, phil asher with house, dego with drum’n’bass, kaidi with funk, we’re all coming from different places but find a liberating common ground with each other where we can break the walls down between the genres and just make music.
MV: Apart from your own music you perform a lot in London and Japan with a host
of other musicians. Please tell us about these performances: who do you work with and how does it function? Is it improvisational?
MdCL: i did my 10th anniversary japan tour a couple of years ago, so i’ve been going there for a while now. i usually perform with the guys who are now part of Sleepwalker and DJs including Kyoto Jazz Massive, Mochizuki from Loop and Yukihiro Fukutomi. it’s the only place in the world i still ocassionally play acoustic jazz sets, but most of the gigs are club gigs. in the smaller clubs it’s usually Freesoul Sessions which is the full improvised set, bigger venues i’ll take the whole band over and do the Tide’s Arising Live show.
MV: How do you feel about the commercial side to what you are doing?
MdCL: it’s a constant struggle and challenge to balance art and creativity with commerce and product. necessity drives me to do certain things that i might not necessarily do if i didnt have to worry about necessity, but at the same time, i’ve developed a rep as a left field progressive artist and producer so people are coming to expect me to do something different from anyone else. i just did a remix for domu’s next single and as he already had a house mix on the 12 he wanted me to do something crazy – whatever i wanted. i ended up doing a 140 bpm breakbeat thing in 14/4, then the bridge keeps changing between 3/4 and 2/4 – to me it was like roy ayers meets george duke through a breakbeat cypher. that was fun. i dont think anyone’s going to come to me expecting me to produce them a sound-a-like pop song so for now, i’m just thankful that i can make a living from doing things the way i like to do them. compromise is never the way.
MV: There are so many tags put on music today with “broken beat” being one of the most common. What do you think of this name and is it really fitting to what you are doing?
MdCL: i dont know. before it was called broken beat, it was just music – music without definition but it all shared the same conceptual ethos. everyone in west london was making music at different tempos, in different styles, but there was a common thread through it all. i think it’s become more stylized since being tagged as ‘broken beat’ but i still look at it as a conceptual thing. i just finished a remix for jaguar wright and tempo wise it’s got more to do with drum’n’bass than anything, but if you listen to it, you wouldnt necessarily think it was drum’n’bass because it has my flavour left right and centre. space funk, future soul, nu jazz, broken beat – to me, it’s all hip hop. Not like 50, but like Hip Hop – a state of mind, a way of life and a creative concept.
MV: Please describe your live performance. Do you try to match the recording or do you let each show take its own direction?
MdCL: every show is completely different – the first thing the audience hears is the click on the MPC and i build the beats from scratch. it’s pretty much live remixing the tunes so nothing is ever the same. i save up the beats after every show, so i must have over 100 beats sitting on MPC disks that i’ve never loaded back up. that reminds me, i’ve gotta get back to them and start digging some out again. i have the MPC, rhodes, bass synth, keyboards and effects, so i’m really creating the bulk of the music myself. the other musicians (usually a guitarist and drummer) augment what i’m doing, but it’s definitely the MPC and synths leading the way. the singers work with me on top of that flipping the songs different ways. the Freesoul Sessions shows are really similar except that everything is improvised – right down to the songs. when i go and see a band and they’ve rehearsed their show up and sometimes their on stage jokes are even the same, that shit is lame. i want to experience an artist’s creativity at a show, see them put their balls on the line and take some risks. d’angelo and bembe segue’s live shows are two of the only gigs i’ve witnessed that at. what i like to do live, once people get their head around it, they’re always into it – they realise it’s fresh every time. no exceptions.
MV: What can we expect from Mark de Clive-Lowe in the future?
MdCL: i’ve been busy in studio doing remixes – domu, jaguar wright, lekkan babalola, phuturistix and a few more on the way; i’ve collaborated two joints on the new leon ware album and produced 5 tracks for lady alma’s debut album. bembe segue and i have kicked off a new project called The Politik. the first 12 ‘Money’ will be out on my label antipodean records soon and we’ve just written cherie mathieson’s debut album – she’s a great singer from NZ who featured on six degrees. there’s always lots going on – i like to keep busy and keep projects in motion. i’ve got a new 12″ coming out on funk of fury records out of sweden soon with remixes by recloose and drum’n’bass crew commix, the tide’s arising remixes 12″ out in summer on abb soul, and the next installment of melodius beats on antipodean records before the end of the year. touring wise, there’s lots going on as well – live shows and DJ dates in NZ, australia, china, uk, poland and a few different spots in the states including san jose jazz festival and montreux festival atlanta. i’ve only really scratched the surface for what’s coming up, so best thing is for people to keep an eye on the website – www.markdeclivelowe.net – in short, there’s a lot of music coming and a lot of touring coming.