The Angel aka 60 Channels
Known for remixing hip hop and electronic artists like The Pharcyde, Spearhead, Towa Tei and jazz players like Donald Byrd and Urban Knights, Los Angeles based producer The Angel recorded the 1998, 60 Channels album “Tuned In Turned On” to brand her new sound, a mix of electronic dub, drum and bass and live instrumentation. Her desire to explore other sonic textures outside of her urban downtempo roots fuelled this new direction. 60 Channels became the umbrella for an eclectic group of MCs and vocalists brought in to voice the songs Angel was creating. Angel toured extensively as a DJ throughout ’98/’99, often accompanied by members of the 60 Channels crew and sometimes by such varied guests as Divine Styler, Mystic and Jody Watley.
Though The Angel veered into film scoring, outside production and the culmination of her urban alternative release, “No Gravity,” as The Angel in 2001, the plan was always to follow up with further 60 Channels releases. In 2000, The Angel composed the film score for the provocative hit, “Boiler Room,” starring Giovanni Ribisi and Vin Diesel. Having produced songs for Mystic, The Angel was also instrumental in getting the Bay Area MC/songstress, her first record deal.
All the while, the return of 60 Channels was brewing as the direction and feel for a new album started to form. More of a concept album than any of her previous records, the March ’04 release, “Covert Movements,” was written and produced entirely by The Angel. “The whole time I was recording this album, I felt like I was surrounded by some impending chaos… it was out there in the ether, part of the unknown, but I could feel it. Travel became the central theme,” Angel relays, “the journey through life and what we deal with in terms of love, loss and death…the spiritual versus the chemical, tangible realm.” Choosing the messengers to help her illuminate these themes led Angel to work with guest vocalists, Angie Hart (Frente), Navigator (The Freestylers/Asian Dub Foundation), Karen Grant (Andrew Tosh/The Wailer’s Junior Marvin), DJ Collage (Meat Beat Manifesto), Rain Phoenix (papercranes) and Monday Michiru, blending harmonies over a mix of shadowy melodies, pulsing instrumentation and frantic beats.
60 Channels is the collective consciousness of a talented, multi-dimensional crew channeled through one artists’ coherent vision. It’s a frequency that bends from the abstract to the structured in the course of one song, and encompasses a myriad of beats, sounds, and transitions, all the while maintaining a truly organic feel.
JC: I’ve been intrigued by your music for at least a few years. I remember when you were on Delicious Vinyl.
Sixty Channels : Wow, that’s going back.
JC: And I have a lot of respect for what you’re doing, especially considering that you’re doing this independently.
SC: Right on, thank you
JC: It’s been a while for you since your last 60 Channels recording.
SC: Yes, it’s been about five years, but in between I put out an album as The Angel called “No Gravity”. And it was almost going back to my roots, almost back to the Delicious Vinyl sound in a way, where it was a lot more urban and a lot more down tempo and featuring vocalists like Mystic and Divine Styler, Tre Hardson from the Pharcyde: rappers who also rhyme and sing. So it was a different flavor. I’ve been kind of spreading myself a little bit thin, but trying to just keep up in all of the different areas that I’ve been working in over the years. So, that didn’t help me in terms of getting a second 60 Channels album done. And then, of course, getting snagged into the film world and doing film scoring, which I have no complaints about but it does take me away from making records.
JC: That’s probably got to be the biggest challenge since there’s so many things you can do.
SC: Oh, it is and I work in a really unusual way too because most people have a team. Often producers won’t do their own programming, or they’ll have engineers come in and whatever, but I work alone and it’s pretty masochistic really. I’ve got a really clear vision of what I want to do.
JC: Is that a control issue for you or is it because you just like to do everything?
SC: It’s a mixture of things. On the one hand I have my own set-up and I know my way around. And I don’t really have a lot of patience to kind of bring somebody else in and teach them things. Explaining the idea means I could have just done it already. And maybe I got into this way of working because I never had budgets to play with. You know, it was always a struggle, so in a way I had to learn how to do it all. And then I just go into the habit of doing it. So, at this point I’m just comfortable working this way. I have worked, you know, in outside studios where I’ve worked with other engineers. But for the programming that’s something I doubt I will ever delegate, mainly because I think the flavor of what I do comes from the way that I program. So, if I did delegate that job it just wouldn’t sound like me anymore and that’s the thing I get the biggest kick out of is organizing the sound of something or orchestrating that sound, more so than singing or performing or doing all of the other stuff.
JC: So, would that mean that your creative is heavily influenced by the technical side?
SC: It’s just that I have a great affinity for embracing the tools and the tools have gotten over the years just more sophisticated and better and faster. And I’m just not afraid of it. And they just facilitate my ability to do the things I really want to do. So, it’s just a necessary part of the set-up.
JC: In terms of your music and also your use of technolgy, you’ve been ahead of the curve. And I’m just curious if you have ever seen things catching up to you.
SC: Oh, definitely. I can remember having conversations with the owner of Delicious Vinyl, almost ten years ago. And he was saying, ‘you know, you’re just a head of the game. Your sound is progressive and I know the audience, I know the markets going to catch up with you. But, I don’t think it’s there yet.’ And, of course, that’s a really frustrating thing to hear because it doesn’t help to be ahead of the curve. In a lot of respects you’re better of just following it but I don’t really follow anything. You know, even though there are certain musical genres I am much more taken with than others I don’t fit neatly into any of them because I don’t really want to. I’m just kind of in my own space with the sound I create. And I don’t sit around and think about how I can achieve that; that’s just what happens naturally. It can be a real double-edged sword to be ahead of whatever sound or the next thing. It definitely can work against you at times. But things have definitely caught up, and I think the fact that music making tools have become so accessible and so inexpensive now that pretty much anyone can make music. I mean, no anyone can make music you would want to listen to but it’s just become so much easier to do it and and so much more affordable. So, years ago when I was struggling to get stuff done on my own and borrowing equipment. It was just really tough, to get the budget to get into a studio.
JC: Now you just need a desktop computer and some plug-ins.
SC: Yep, and away you go.
JC: Of course, that goes back to the whole principle, which is ‘if anybody can do it, it’s ultimately the idea that matters.’
SC: Yes, it’s the carpenter not the tools.
JC: I’m sure you’ve heard that already.
SC: Yeah, but it’s true. I mean, you can give the same set-up to 10 different people and you may only get something really worthwhile out of 1 of them. But everyone will do something different, even with the same set of samples to work with, the same sounds to work with. But, not all of it is going to do anything for you.
JC: You have had a lot of people that you’ve collaborated with, so obviously that’s very important to what you are doing. In particular you have worked with Mystic and on this recording a diverse range of people. How do they come into your “world”?
SC: Well, it’s an interesting story with Mystic because even back in the Delicious Vinyl days there was a college radio DJ called Rhyme Scheme from the Bay area who introduced me to her and her music. He kept saying ‘man, this girl’s dope, you’ve got to check her out, she’s incredible. She battles with every body up here and she really holds her own’. So, it just took a while and eventually I did meet her and she gave me a cassette of a couple of things that she recorded and one of them was a spoken word piece. And I was really taken with her writing, I thought ‘wow, she is quite a lyricist’. And, then I got the opportunity to do something for Bluenote records. This is going back to ‘95 or so, I was remixing a Donald Byrd track for a compilation called “The New Groove”. And they said, ‘look you can do anything you want with the track.’ And I said ‘I’d really like to put a vocalist on it’. I thought about it, the piece was really beautiful and I thought this would be a good chance for me to work with her, find out how far I can go with her, give her a shot at something and see what can be done. So, they said ‘look, whatever you want to do. You want to put a vocalist on it, cool, do what you like.’ So, I brought her in to write lyrics and perform them over this remix and it was really well done and I got her singing on it, and that was pretty much the first time she sang. And, of course, now it’s a whole different ballgame. She was kind of like, ‘oh, I like singing. This is kind of cool.’ So, it was one of those interesting situations. I will file information away in my brain, I probably knew about her for a couple of years before I had the opportunity to do something specific with her. And, of course, since then I recorded many tracks with her. I actually shopped her deal, got her the deal with Good Vibes, helped her get up and rocking on her own basically.
JC: So, that’s another role you enjoy.
SC: Oh, I totally dig that. I’m really into helping people around me and anything I can do because I work in such a non-mainstream area that I’m not in a position to “take them and propel them to the heights”. But I can at least try to hook the right people up like-minded other people in the industry. And for Mystic she was way too smart and way too driven as an artist and not as someone who was looking for fame and money. She was looking to really be an artist and that’s why I was really happy to hook her up with Good Vibe because I knew that they would respect her and they would let her do something artistically satisfying. So, that was one of those great moments where it worked. But, I like finding new talent, I like taking people for instance like Karen Grant on this new album. She’s a very seasoned vocalist, she’s toured with many different reggae bands, she’s never really been out front and she’s got some voice. But she’s never been given the opportunity to be the lead vocalist. So, when I was looking for someone and I got a good recommendation from another friend, I didn’t realize that she had never really been a lead vocalist at that point. But it didn’t matter to me because I could hear it in her. So, that kind of gives me a kick too, I love being able to do that. And she’s brilliant, she’s a great performer and a great vocalist.
There’s more, and I’m very happy to talk about the people that I’ve brung in, because they all deserve to be spoken about, they all deserve to shine. Navigator, I’ve worked with many times over the years. And he’s another interesting one because he’s known for all of those ragga vocals that he’s done for many different drum & bass DJs. He’s been out there touring constantly over the years. And he’s also known for the ragga vocals he did for the Freestylers and for Asian Dub Foundation. But he has quite an interesting vocal range that not many people have tapped into. Which is why on this album I really wanted him to sing in a different style. And luckily he’s really open-minded, so I wrote ‘Beyond the Chemical Domain’ for him, because he’s half-Jamaican, so he’s got both things and he grew up in England but he has very strong Jamaican ties. So, he can be completely credible in both areas. And I said, ‘well, look, would you be up for doing a kind of straight-up English, very evocative vocal’. And he said ‘yeah, I’ll give it a shot’. And it worked, and everyone liked the flavor of what he did on “Covert Movements”, which is very different from what he has done with me before and most other people.
JC: You know, a lot of your music has a certain “atmosphere” to it, an ambiance. Is that the number one priority when you are creating your music?
SC: I think it is. I’ve always wanted to do something that is evocative and if somebody doesn’t feel something from it, then in a way that’s more of a failure than anything else. If someone should go ‘oh, that’s nice’ it’s so nothing-y. And it makes you feel like, ‘it didn’t do anything’. It is a very subjective arena, so you could love a song and it could be the song you dance around the house to and sing along with. And I could listen to it and go ‘yeah, I know it’s cool but it’s just not for me’. And that’s fair enough but I feel that for my own personal taste I like my stuff to have flavor and to have some kind of an evocative angle. So atmosphere is really important for me. I something I consciously infuse.
JC: That probably plays into what you’re doing with soundtracks and in the sense, that atmosphere is very imporant.
SC: Absolutely. You know in the film industry they call it “sound design” and there really are people who do just sound design for films. It’s not really part of the musical realm but it’s still applied to the music too. And sometimes they’ll add sound effects as part of the sound designing for a film, over the music to give it an extra kind of edge. It’s really important to develop, and what I usually do is develop a library for each project of sounds that relate just to that. It gives the film a certain vibe.
JC: I know you’ve done a couple film soundtracks and then songs for “Six Feet Under”. What are you up to right now with that?
SC: Just to backtrack into that question, for “Six Feet Under” we licensed to them. And we’ve done that with “Twenty-Four” and “Street Time” and tons of other shows. But that’s where they’ve come to us and said ‘hey, we like this song and can we use it and can we make a deal for it to put in our show’. That’s totally cool, but it’s completely different from when I’m hired as a composer for something like “Boiler Room”, where I have to create all of the original music for the film. And believe me, it seems kind of obvious but it’s a subtle thing to most people. I recently worked on a couple of projects, one was for a PBS short film, and that I really loved doing because it took me completely away from anything that was beat driven, groove driven, electronic. In fact, it was none of those things, it was just really tasteful, it needed proper underscore, it needed to be very evocative because it had a supernatural edge to it but it was organically shot. It was like a latino Twilight Zone, in a way, but it wasn’t cheesy. It was very beautifully done and it had an interesting twist. So, it needed to have a little bit of an edge in the atmosphere. It just had a completely different feel as far as what I do. I was just really happy to work on that because it showed another whole area of what I could do.
JC: That’s probably the best thing about being creative, is opening up these new doors.
SC: Yes, definitely. It makes a big difference and that’s why I like working in both areas because, you know, when I’m making records I can pretty much do whatever I want. Because we do it independently and I don’t have to answer to someone else. Then I can do my thing, but with film it’s such a different ballgame. You are so part of the team and you really have to spend the time getting inside the director’s head and trying to help them see their vision come to fruition somehow. So, it’s a whole different discipline but I like it. It helps me, it helps me to not burn out on anything as well.
JC: Let’s talk about “Covert Movements”. Obviously I could read into the title, in the sense that there’s a lot of very shadowy things going on these days in the world.
SC: It definitely felt like that. It’s funny, the title of this came up when I needed a title for the song. And, at first I was going to call the album “Beyond the Chemical Domain” but it’s so wordy and in the end I’m really glad that I didn’t, for lots of reasons. But, it seemed to sum up not only what was going on globally, but also what I felt was going on around me personally when I was making the record. It just felt like there was all of this “stuff” going on, not all of it particularly positive. And I just really had to kind of protect myself from a lot of just weird stuff that was going on and effecting family and friends and all kinds of strange things. And it’s funny, because when I came up with the title it wasn’t that I was thinking constantly about that stuff. And that’s often how it works for me, even when I’m writing lyrics I’ll write stuff and then later I will be able to understand why or what is the deeper meaning behind it. Because it generally has some kind of commentary on my life, or something that’s obviously important but I may not know exactly what that connection is until I’ve gotten away from it a little bit.
JC: Just a subconscious thing coming out.
SC: It kind of comes along that stream-of-consciousness way that I work anyway.
JC: And you don’t have any problems with the technology, letting yourself just flow into being that way.
SC: No, not at all. I just follow whatever vibe is going on at the time. Even though it’s very heady, the way I put things together at some point I have to organize it into something that makes sense but writing it, both lyrically and musically just kind of flows. I let one thing lead me to the next thing and let it be really organic.
JC: One thing about your tracks in “Covert Movements” is they do have pretty strong melodies and hooks in there. A lot of times with dub or with ragga it sounds great but it doesn’t really sink in. Your music is something that will latch on to your brain. For example, I keep hearing ‘Riddim Superstar’ in my head.
SC: I think the reason why is because I employ the dub ethics but I am not making dub music. And dub is really all about stripping things down and using lots of delays and just making something more sparse and vibey. And it’s not so much about melodies and lyrics. In fact, it’s usually taking something that was once a whole piece and stripping it down. So, I like to use some of those effects and employ that ethic to what I do but I wouldn’t consider myself a dub artist in any way. In the same way I wouldn’t consider myself a drum & bass artist. Those influences are there, definitely, but at the base of it I guess is the fact that I know how to write a song. It’s funny because I didn’t come to this album thinking ‘whoa, I’m going to write a bunch of really strong songs’ I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Again, I just followed my nose and ‘Superstar’ was one of those where I had Navigator’s hook in it, and it was essentially an instrumental. And, I liked the vibe of it so much and I thought ‘this would be crazy if we just leave it so wide open. I just think there’s so much potential for this to be a really strong vocal track’. And I started singing out some ideas and I knew that I did not want to be the vocalist on the track. As much as I loved the track, it’s not for that reason, I just felt that there was a better, more credible vocalist to be had for that song. So, when I found Karen and we tried it out, it just worked. She could feel it and take it to another whole dimension.
As I started doing the first few tracks for the record, it just felt more natural to have more vocal tracks. At one point I was thinking I’d do mostly instrumentals with a couple of vocal tracks — it just kind of happened that way. Because I wrote everything, and that’s another big process. Sometimes I’ll shy away from having to write lyrics and vocals just because it’s a lot more work. I must have had something to say here because I would sit down to write lyrics and within 20 minutes it was written. And then I’d go back and go, ‘oh, wow. That’s what I was trying to say’. I trusted the process and everything just worked. Rather than stressing about it and trying to strategize, because I don’t approach making records the way a major label would where they torture their artists, like ‘oh no, you don’t have enough singles here, you don’t have enough radio tracks, go back in’. And it drives artists completely out of their mind doing that. But I just went with the flow and then I wound up with all of these songs and then I was concerned because I had 6 vocalists plus myself on there. But then when I started listening to them together it made sense and I stopped worrying about it. I didn’t want it to seem like a compilation, I wanted it to sound like an album that stuck together. It’s funny, even as different as we are somehow it works. Of course, I was very happily not going to be singing on this record.
JC: Are you uneasy about your vocals (laughter)?
SC: I can deal with it, I just know that my forté is production and putting it together, writing and doing the backroom stuff. I don’t think of myself as being a brilliant vocalist. I know I can sing, but I often get much more excited about other people’s vocals. I’m just very humble about my vocals and sometimes a bit shy.
JC: Well, I don’t know if you would take this as a criticism, but the vocals are often back in the mix on your music. I wonder if you brought the vocals more forward how it would sound.
SC: It depends, I just mix things so the vocal sounds like a part of the track, whether it’s mine of anybody elses. I’m not really into that kind of Whitney Houston thing of doing ballads or anthems. You know, where the vocal has to fit right on top of the song. The kind of music that I think everybody is making in the electronic genre, the voice, even in the most brilliant cases where someone has got an exceptional voice, it just works better when the vocal is part of the track and it’s not sitting on top of everything, dominating. That’s just my personal taste for mixing, I’m not trying to bury anything because if I don’t like I’ll just not put it in there at all. If I’m worried about something not sounding good enough I just won’t use it. But I like effecting vocals, making them into some other kind of instrument. It’s not my job to degrade what any vocalist is doing, but to just give it another edge so that it fits with the music.
JC: Does anyone ever say anything like ‘what are you doing to my voice?’
SC: No, it’s amazing. Everyone I worked with, from all of the vocalist to the musicians they’re usually just so excited about the context in which their performance winds up being. Especially the musicians, because I often do very odd ball things with some of their performances. We’ll record things in a particular way and I’ll say ‘look, I’ve got this melody in my head, can you do this? Let’s do that, let’s build up some harmonies’ Whether it be horns or bass or flutes or whatever it might be. And usually they’re like ‘oh, shit I remember doing that, wow! You did it in a completely different kind of way’. They get excited by it because it’s such a different way of working and I think for a lot of musicians, you know most are working on their own stuff all of the time. When they’re brought in to do session work it can be really stifling for them and most don’t get a chance to have fun, it’s playing by numbers after a while and it’s never like that when we work together. Either when they’re there or even later after I’ve messed around with their performances. It’s usually a fun thing, and the vocalists are usually just really excited about a context in which they are now heard. A lot of them come from different genres, like Angie Hart for instance who is best known for a much more rock-acoustic arena. I think for her it’s like ‘oh, wow, listen to that’. And she’s great, she’s really wonderful to work with and we’ve done a lot of work together over the years. I just saw her, she and Simon from Frente did an acoutic set for the first time in eight years. And I just watched her sing live, no effects no thing, and she sounded unbelievably brilliant. But it’s a completely different thing. It’s a nice contrast and I think that’s why she enjoys doing this. It’s another are to play and try things out.
JC: It seems like a lot of the music you are grouped within comes from Europe. I know you lived in London, but what’s going on in Los Angeles that interests you?
SC: After ten years I’m still trying to find the scene here. It’s a very fragmented scene and to me Los Angeles is a following city, it’s not a leading city in terms of what’s coming out of this place. And I’m used to being at the forefront, not following. So, thank goodness my environment doesn’t seem to get in the way, but my sensibilities are much closer to an east coast and European vibe. And I tend to not isolate but I definitely am in my own kind of space, doing my own thing and I don’t really feed off anything that’s going on here. I’m not aware of anything that’s so cutting-edge and different. It’s not really enouraged in America, not just L.A. American are not enouraged to go that route, it’s all about being homogenous and formatting music and that comes from the top. That comes from the major record companies, they don’t know how to market something unless you look and sound like somebody else. And they have these broad marketing plans that they literally just cross you name off once they’ve done it and put the next person’s name on there. It’s pretty sad, but that’s why you get these genres that after a while you can’t even distinguish between the artists. It’s lame, it doesn’t inspire me at all. But everybody’s in it for a different reason and I understand the pressures that artists have on them when they sign big deals. They have to then play that game or they’ll get dropped and then they languish in obscurity. And doing it independently really isn’t for everybody. There’s huge prices to pay both ways. You just have to figure out what you want out of it, to figure out the best route to take.
JC: It seems you wanted to be independent from the get-go?
SC: As soon as I left Delicious Vinyl, and they were a good-sized indie, and they did some really cool things. But I learned a lot about how not to do things from them. It was really my introduction to how the independent label operates in America because I came to them from London. And I didn’t have much experience with the American record label system at that point. Once we went through the frustrating process of watching my label lose distribution several times from the time I signed to them to the time that we never got the album out. And I watched a lot of my label mates suffering right in the middle of their album campaign, like the Pharcyde. You know, right in the middle of their first album, Delicious changed distribution and it was a nightmare. That’s the greatest way to kill an album, you cannot change distributors in the middle of a campaign. I just kind of watched all of this stuff like ‘oh, my God. I can mess this up for myself, I don’t really need someone else to do this.’ By the end of my short stay with them I was just like ‘as tough as it’s going to be, I’d rather learn it, figure it out and either fail or succeed of my own efforts’. You know, whatever happens happens, and if it can’t be as big as I’d like, oh well, at least I will always know where we really stand. And that peace of mind counts for a lot.
JC: Especially now, with the way things are in the industry.
SC: Now it’s so amazing, because I was thinking this way eight to ten years ago when the industry was in a much better place and majors still ruled and artists still really wanted those deals. Now, everything I was doing back in ‘94 has become much more acceptable and understandable. But for a producer to be the artist was kind of unheard of, it was just something in the early ‘90s. People were starting to get that as a concept, but now it’s perfectly understandable and acceptable.
JC: It’s like the norm now, in a lot of cases.
SC: Definitely. Back in the early ‘90s nobody even knew what a producer did. It’s like ‘yeah, there’s a producer on that record but I don’t know what they do’. It was like a rock and roll thing and nobody understood it. Things have definitely changed and I think partially for the better. It’s certainly better for the artist, for the artist who truly wants to be creative, I think this is a much better place. But it’s a tough place to put out records because retailers are all suffering terribly and that trickles down and hurts everybody.
JC: I guess the music will live on but it’s tough.
SC: That’s the bottom line is that getting it out to people, really getting the exposure has always been the hardest part. But I think it’s twice as hard now as it’s ever been. So, I guess the idea is you keep doing what you do and keep your head down and try not to think about it too much. And try to be more creative. And keep your fingers crossed.