Respected spoken-word artist Ursula Rucker caught this Remix editor''s ear back when Rucker appeared on The Roots'' Things Fall Apart in 1999. To record her latest album, Ruckus Soundsysdom (Five Six Media), she worked with fellow Philly cohort King Britt and a handful of other producers to bring her potent words to life. Stretching out a bit as a singer and MC, Rucker''s poetry is more inextricably linked to song rather than simply lying on top of a bed of background music. Here, King Britt discusses the process of writing and recording the songs “I Am” and “Read Between the Lines.” Go to www.myspace.com/ursularucker
to hear "Read Between the Lines" and other tracks by Rucker.
How do you create music that doesn''t fall into the background but rather elevates Ursula''s message?
I''ve worked with Ursula a long time, and what we try to create is a visual documentary using sound—her voice and my soundscapes. Sometimes—most times—I create the soundtrack, keeping it minimal, so not to guide her thoughts too much. Then she writes and I react to what she is doing, so we build together. She has come so far with the way she delivers and her art of word use...a true artist…constantly evolving into this superstar.
Could you talk about the process of creating “I Am”?
With “I Am,” I did this song with legendary punk musician Chuck Treece. Five or six years ago, we were just jamming in the studio. I started with a 4-bar loop and programmed drums. I used Logic 6 at the
time, and the drum sounds were from [IK Multimedia] SampleTank. Initially, they were boring, so I had this plug-in that made the channel sound like an old record—gritty and distorted. Chuck was on guitar and I was on keys. We just started going reggae-ish, like old Studio One vibe. We did a cool 16-bar loop, and I forgot about it.
Later when I got new computer and Logic 7, I found it and put it in my development folder. When I started to sketch stuff for Urse, she heard this by accident and freaked. She said she had a piece for it. She wrote to it and we laid it down.
Then I started to arrange and sonically assassinate it before giving it to my engineer, Jeff Chestek. So instead of getting the bass part, I filtered the whole track with a sub bass plug-in and put that on its own track so I could go from a 78-record sound to full bass distorted thing. But the song was missing something—live drums. So I called Gary Dread, a Philly drummer who specializes in dub, to overlay drums. My boy Tom Spiker is really amazing at recording drums. I took the 2-track over
to his house, and an hour later, the track came to life.
Then Urse wanted her friend to come in and do a Patwa breakdown introducing the soundsystem, sirens and all. Now this shit is bananas! And the content of Ursula''s lyrics make for a heavy, heavy track.
Doing a dub now, like really dubbed out.
How about a play-by-play on the process of producing “Read Between the Lines”?
I did this song four years ago in hotel in L.A. I was creating grooves for a friend of mine, Zaiche, but I never used them. I created the whole track in Reason. I used the random function on the
matrix editor connected to a sampler. I found a nice groove and altered it. I had to find the right guitar sound. Once I did, I ran it through a guitar amp and had an instant sample. Then I created the drums around it and the bass line. Simple, to the point.
How do you hold the interest of the listener all the way through a track? When do you decide to throw in something unexpected, like some of the little subtle effects that come in and out on “Read Between the Lines”?
As a DJ, we are constantly tweaking. So I do all my effects live, initially, as if I''m DJing. Then when Jeff Chestek mixed it, he had some fun, too!