Read about Macromantics in the special section, "Go Forward, Move Ahead: 32 Sure Things for 2007," in the January 2007 issue of Remix. Then check out the full Q&A below on MC Romy Hoffman and producer Buchman.
As a rapper, you have a very musical cadence. It's not surprising that you were a touring guitar player (for Noise Addict). What did your experience as a guitarist bring to your foray into hip-hop?
Romy Hoffman: It was more the actual experience of touring and playing shows, rather than actual guitar playing, which has benefited my career. I was 15 when I was fortunate enough to tour the U.S. and keep to a busy schedule of constant movement. I know from that experience what to expect when on the road.
In terms of guitar playing, keeping to a rhythm and hearing melodies in my head have overflowed into my MCing and benefited my music making. I like to make multilayered, dense guitar music, which I guess my raps pertain to as well—things that take multiple listens to fully grasp. It also kept me open-minded about music and fusing all sorts of music to make one new, unique sound.
Sometimes hip-hop albums sound really same-y when you listen all the way through. But your tracks are pretty diverse. How do you change your songwriting approach so you don't fall into the rut of writing the same song again and again?
RH: When I am given a beat, I study it, like an actor would a script. I listen to it over and over in all sorts of environments and spaces until I hear a voice and a gist that I want to get across. I am constantly moved and inspired by all sorts of wonderful ideas and concepts, art and chaos, so I simply collage and critique everything into one spiraling tumbleweed. Working with a good producer helps, too. Tony always gives me something fresh and interesting to work with. He, too, is constantly inspired by new sounds, so the possibilities of creation are endless.
Buchman (aka Tony Buchen): Listening to a lot of diverse music outside the studio helps me. I'll be listening to an old Hoagy Carmichael song with a whistling solo or a Lee "Scratch" Perry dub track or Common and get different bits of inspiration that I'll bring almost subconsciously into the studio. I also produce a lot of music that isn't, strictly speaking, hip-hop, so that helps stay fresh. Being a musician, I have so many avenues to getting a sound or a part down, so that's definitely a part of it, too. Basically, it comes down to waking up feeling inspired every day, keeping the creative fire alive. Most of the time I get this from working with amazing artists, and I've been blessed to work with people as talented as Romy. Hopefully the feeling is reciprocal....
Romy, how do you and Tony collaborate together? Do you go through beats together and launch right into recording, or do you sit down and work out concepts and themes before starting?
RH: It works both ways. Sometimes I will have a hook or a verse I have completed and want Tony to craft a sonic creation around. For the most part though, Tony will hand me beats he has made with me in mind. I will poke and nurture it until the right equation is solved, and then we will get into to recording mode. Whilst recording the basic skeleton, we both usually start to hear layers and stacks, new voices and sounds, and we'll start adding to the pancake. It is a collaborative process, which we both put our signature essence into until what is born is a combustion of wowness.
When I first heard the album, I couldn't help but think of the new UK female rappers, such as Lady Sov. But you seem to dig deeper lyrically, and you apparently discovered hip-hop when you came to the U.S. Who are your formative hip-hop influences?
RH: I am more interested and influenced by ideas and concepts—things, places, philosophies, films, etc., than I am by specific rappers. But rappers and groups who I think added spice and changed the game are: Nas, Wu-Tang-Clan, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, KRS-One, Freestyle Fellowship, Organized Konfusion, Big L, Biggie, Sage Francis....
Tony, it's often said that a big part of being a producer is being a therapist. How do you work with Romy to get the best takes from her?
Buchman (aka Tony Buchen): True, it's also a bit like pulling teeth: "Come this way.... Okay now, open wide and say, 'Ahhh.'" Most of the time, you're asking people you don't know so well to bear themselves completely while making sure they feel really good about themselves. Romy was an exception in many ways. She's on her own trip. I mean, I'm such a fan of her lyrical approach that I didn't make many vocal suggestions apart from maybe timing things differently or where to place a double track.
Do you have a favorite vocal chain you use for Romy's voice? What mic, compressor, preamp, etc.?
Buchman: I used a Neumann U87 with an Avalon Vt-737sp and a Distressor doing some subtle limiting. Since doing the record, I've acquired some other bits that I think will suit her more for the next record—old-school gear that will mellow out some of her harsher tones and sibilance—in particular, two 1975 Quad-Eight MM403 channels that [mixing engineer] Russ Elevado put me onto.
The tracks on the album are tight and never sound like canned samples. Do you work with a combination of sampling and live instruments?
Buchman: My background is as a live musician—bass being my main thing. Nearly all the bass on the record I played live on my 1965 Hofner Beatle Bass. It has a strange acoustic quality that gives huge subs while still sounding vintage and samplelike. I also play lots of vintage and new keys, and most of my kits are made from samples I have either recorded or appropriated from random places. I never use sample cds. I mean, what better way to sound unoriginal than to use someone else's sounds? The tracks usually start with a combination of tasty samples edited together, and I build the tracks from there.
What's your method of getting a mix to gel? How do you get everything, particularly vocals, to sit right in the mix? Is there a point at which a producer can get too crazy with compression, panning, EQ and effects? Is there a rule of thumb for when it's just too much?
It really depends. I mix nearly all of the tracks I produce, but many producers hand over mixing duties to someone else who's more technically minded. In doing this, you have to leave a little room by not over-compressing shit on the way in so the mix engineer can do his/her job properly. Because I mix my own stuff, I can really go for sounds straight up, as I know exactly how much headroom I need to leave for the mix. Sometimes I may totally squash a vocal part as an effect so I won't have to touch it in the mix. Basically, the mix must always augment the music, never diminish or complicate it. It's about not letting ego insert itself between the recording and the final mix. With vocals, it's different for every track, but in general, it's all about a good mic, a good preamp and good mic technique. Without these, it's a battle. In the mix, it's about sitting the vocal low enough so the beat sounds big but present enough so you can understand every lyric—after all, that's what its all about, the lyrics.