As someone who reads this website more than I write for it, I’m going to assume that you, reader, are probably a bit like me, and find yourself being introduced to new artists and producers on what feels like a daily basis. More often than not it’s the same story – you hear a name and, depending on how highly you value the source that recommended them, you then seek out their Soundcloud or Bandcamp or website and then that’s it. You know their entire deal. You’ll talk about them with your mate over lunch to make the walk to Tesco or Waitrose or Pret or whatever less depressing and then they too know their entire deal and you’ve both more or less forgotten whoever it was by the next day. When everything is laid out there in front of you – every tune they’ve ever made available to stream, every drop and breakdown visible in the waveform before you’ve even listened to them, all their promo shots, gigs, thoughts, likes, bloggings, their bloody dinner – all that potential excitement that should be inherent in discovering a new musician is sapped away before it can even develop. The whole ‘discovery’ process is removed and you’re left feeling like this cool new producer is more like some old ‘friend’ from school, who turns out to be a bit of a prick, actually.
Obviously, there are exceptions. And in the age when quality filters are more crucial than ever, enigma and restraint among those making their initial movements towards releasing music has proven to be one of the most reliable. Clay Wilson, whose debut 12” EP has just been released through Brooklyn imprint Styles Upon Styles, was one of those few producers who kept his cards close to his chest, and in doing so kept my levels of intrigue high from day one. Introduced to me by the ever-stunning Archie Pelago trio (whose taste I value rather highly), Wilson had a refreshingly minimal web presence and a tendency to upload tracks to Soundcloud and swiftly delete them within a few hours. As such – and of course, due to the quality of the tunes – I associated his name with excitement and promise. He was one of those exceptions.
One of my favourite things about BASH002 is how Clay manages to translate that enigmatic vibe into his music. Hi-end elements take on a life of their own above the gloomy, throbbing bass pulses, gliding in and out of view like the most enveloping psychedelic techno records tend to do. It’s the sort of meticulous record that reveals more with each listen, but still feels chasmic in depth a month later. I liked it so much I didn’t hesitate to ask him for an interview and a mix in which, again, he seemed to offer just the right amount of insight. The right stones are left unturned.
Sonic Router: For those reading that don’t know you, please introduce yourself. Who are you and where are you from?
My name is Clay Wilson, I was born and raised in upstate New York and moved to New York City full time about 2 years ago after graduating college.
What was it that made you want to make music in the first place?
To be honest I’m not entirely sure what the first spark was really. I took a few piano lessons when I was young and then moved on to playing the drums, though I was never too serious about either of those instruments. Once I hit high school I was playing bass and just got really heavy into jazz.
What’s your current setup you use to produce your music?
I’m mostly just using the computer. The SUS release is all software, but I just got a Roland MC303 and have been using that a lot in more recent productions. I will also sample from vinyl sometimes if the mood strikes me.
Tell us a little about the EP you’ve made for Style Upon Styles’ Bangers & Ash series. How did it come about and what are the main ideas behind it?
I’ve been friends with the guys pretty much the whole time I’ve been in Brooklyn. They had pitched the idea of starting a label and putting out some of my tracks a few times and once I saw Tomlaan’s release coming to life it was pretty clear that they were doing things right. From there I just sent tracks back and forth with them until we had a tracklisting that we all agreed on.
I don’t think there are any real main ideas behind the music really. Generally I just make tracks and try to capture whatever atmosphere I’m feeling at that moment. The only one on this release that’s really grounded in a conceptual idea is ‘Pfizing’. I went to this wild party with a bunch of friends in an old pharmaceutical factory. The space was amazing, but the rooms were just these enormous concrete caverns that kind of warped the sound into this fucked up mess. My good friends Archie Pelago were playing upstairs, and then I caught Mike Servito (Ghostly, The Bunker) downstairs. When I got home I was still kind of out of my head and reeling from the vibe of that party, so I made a track that was reflective of that weird echoing concrete techno that I had been hearing all night. The original version was like 12 minutes long, but I did an edit of that which ended up being the final version you’ll hear on the record.
You guys hand painted all the sleeves for the records. How long did it take to do all the artwork for each sleeve?
It actually wasn’t too bad. We just got together with a few beers and got paint all over Cam’s living room. I think we had 2 sessions of maybe 4 hours a piece to do a little over 200 jackets.
Does living and working in New York have a notable affect your creative work? Is there anything about your local environment or peers that inspires or drives you to create?
Yeah, for sure. I’m constantly surrounded by people hustling for their music. The energy here is definitely one of my main inspirations. There’s a real work hard, play hard type of vibe to the city that I feel a pretty strong connection to. Just hearing the music my friends make, and then of course going out and hearing live music all the time keeps me inspired to write. The mechanical/industrial environment of Brooklyn is a factor too I’m sure, though I’ve always been attracted to dark weird sounds even before moving here.
How about working at Insound? That must have had a positive effect on your music consumption, right?
There’s a lot of time spent talking about and listening to new music with my co-workers for sure. It’s not really an electronic music focused business, but we do have a good flow of stuff I really like coming through.
I remember you sending me a bit of drone you worked on last year, which I thought was the biggest departure from your earlier demos and, out of those projects, the closest link to your debut physical release. Did those experiments feel a pivotal point in your progression as a producer at all?
Yeah. I make tons of ambient bits and drones just sitting around killing time whatever. They definitely inform the loop based nature of the techno stuff I’m working on now, mostly the attention to those small details that help to retain interest without any drastic big changes going on in the piece. I think that was around the time we saw Demdike Stare at Unsound New York last year, so yeah, that was the beginning of moving towards a more defined darker sound I guess.
In your EP I hear a lot of hypnotic Prologue-esque qualities, but in a more sinister context. Were they a big influence?
Well, I certainly enjoy a lot of Prologue releases but I would say that the basis of what you’re hearing is more likely my take on the sound of The Bunker’s back room. By extension that would include some Prologue artists of course, but that room and the many amazing nights there definitely cemented a specific brand of dark psychedelic techno into my musical vocabulary.
So how about your love for free jazz… Does that factor as a significant influence in your music work at all?
Absolutely. I try to be as improvisational as possible while writing. I try not to tweak and perfect things too much, as generally I find that going back for more kind of ruins the track’s original spirit. I’m very much into the “it is what it is” ethos of free jazz. I think the break from typical western tonal theory is also really influential. Not to say that I don’t use tonal ideas, but I’m not thinking “this is in the key of D minor” you know? It’s much more about just finding interesting sonic textures.
It’s hard to ignore the levels of intricacy that have gone into the bass programming on your EP – how did your relationship with low end change when you went from playing bass as an instrument to producing it on machines/laptop?
I still see the bass as providing the same function – reacting to the top lines with complementary support and staying out of the frequency range of the other instruments etc. When I’m playing bass I’m fitting myself into the ensemble, whereas when I’m writing in the computer, I’m usually building the “ensemble” around the kick and bass. So the function is the same but how the bass fits into the full picture is kind of inverted I guess.
Can you share any information on what else is coming up for you this year release/production wise?
There’s nothing official right now. I’ve been talking to a couple people about future projects though. I’m always writing so there will certainly be more sounds coming.
Would you be interested in doing any collaborative work again with Kroba (or Archie Pelago as a whole) or are you focusing exclusively on solo material for the time being?
Well, there’s a track called Nancy’s Library coming on Archie’s AP001 release that morphed out of a track Zach and I made, we just kept the drums from that tune and then they gave it the Archie treatment on top. That should be out sometime this spring. I’m sure there will be more experiments to come.
Tell us about the mix you have recorded for us…
It was recorded real late in the evening with my little home setup. Two turntables, a little beat up mixer, and some of the records I had been listening to a lot at that time. There’s lots of ambient/beatless pieces in there which is standard late night material for me. I did a more techno oriented mix as well so I had the representation of both sides of the EP, but in the end this one felt more personal.
And finally, as is tradition in these interviews, do you have any wise words you’d like to share with our readers?
Oh man. I don’t know shit, I’m not really in a position to be giving anybody advice. I suppose the most beneficial thing for myself was to keep my music under wraps until the right situation came along to provide a release where all parts of the process felt comfortable and true to the music.
DOWNLOAD: Clay Wilson – Sonic Router Mix #153
Eleh – Slow Fade For Hard Sync
Rene Hell – QI
Ricardo Donoso – Reflection & Rotation
Silent Servant – Process
J.D. Emmanuel – Focusing Within
Suum Cuique – Proton Aesthetic
Vatican Shadow – India Has Just Tested A Nuclear Device
Container – Dissolve
Leyland Kirby – ???
Bee Mask – Rain In Coffee
NHK’Koyxeи – 367
Clay’s BASH002 is out now via Styles Upon Styles.