Planning Commission

Slicker fuses contrasting sounds and production techniques.
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I was always interested in futuristic-sounding music,” says Chicago-based recording artist, producer, and label owner John Hughes III, who records under the moniker Slicker. His third release, We All Have a Plan (Hefty Records, 2004), offers clever, evocative, and often humorous electronica that incorporates organic elements of old-school funk, jazz, hip-hop, and soul. “I wanted to make a soulful electronic record,” Hughes says. “Electronic music has limitless possibilities.”

Hughes sketches song ideas on his Clavia Nord Modular Rack, Fender Rhodes, Moog Voyager, and customized Roland TB-303 with a Devil Fish modification. “I always start with the beat,” Hughes says. “Rhythm is the most important thing for me. I throw as many ideas into a song as I can and then pare it down and structure it. The early versions of these tracks are really dense. I start with this huge pile of sounds and elements, and then I pare it down, figuring out how all these things can work together.”

Hughes records with a Digidesign 888-24 I/O interface and a Mac G4 running Pro Tools 5. His signal chain includes a John Hardy M-1 mic preamp, two Avalon U5 DI preamps, two Neve 1066 EQ channels, and two Neve 2254 compressor/limiter channels. Hughes' outboard effects consist of an Echoplex tape delay, EMS Vocoder 2000, and Furman RV-1 spring reverb. “That's my crutch,” Hughes says of the RV-1. “It makes everything sound cool. I use it more as an effect than as a reverb. It sounds old and nasty.

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We All Have a Plan/Slicker

“I'm into the [sonic] contrast between super-clean and really nasty, that lo-fi and hi-fi dynamic,” Hughes explains. “Digital music [sounds] too clean now. I put it in a new realm. Almost everything goes through some sort of analog chain. But I couldn't work going to tape; I'm so spoiled by the way Pro Tools integrates everything.”

Hughes eschews MIDI and programs drum grooves in Pro Tools' Grid mode, drawing from his own acoustic-drum samples. “I usually layer my snares,” he says. “I'll layer a rim shot with a clap, a crash, or some kind of sound effect or field recording to give it an alien feeling. I created most of the kick drums using [Native Instruments] Reaktor or the Voyager. I also use [Cycling '74's] Pluggo. The Maestro PS-1A phase-shifter pedal sounds good on cymbals. You feed it a hot signal and [the pedal] compresses it a little bit.”

We All Have a Plan features 15 guest instrumentalists and vocalists with varied musical backgrounds. Hughes captured their dynamic performances and deftly wove them into his electronic framework. “They replayed some of what I'd written and they lent their own contributions,” he says. “I sampled everyone and cut it up or processed it. I didn't use any outside samples. That's when I really show my personality.

“I don't chop up vocals too much, though,” Hughes says. “I like to experiment more with miking vocals, like singing into a bucket, trying to get a more natural effect. I try to keep the voice pretty rough and raw and tastefully match it to whatever is going on in the track. It's weird to take a piece of soundproof paneling and wrap it around someone's head, but that's something that I'm into. I'll do what sounds good to my ear.”

Hughes aspires to produce more artists in the future. “I'm not afraid to sneak into doing mainstream work as long as I can maintain my sound,” Hughes says. “You have to show your personality in your recording. I think that's the most important thing.”

For more information, contact Hefty Records on the Web