By Vincent PollardIt was Pause, Kieran Hebden's second album as Four Tet, that first got him attention in the UK, but it was Rounds, released in 2003, that made the British producer famous internationally and cemented his reputation as both an electronic producer and songwriter to watch out for. A decade later, Domino are re-issuing the album to commemorate the occasion. We spoke to Hebden while he was on this side of the pond to revisit Rounds and to talk about the logistics of making sample-based music, working with jazz legend Steve Reid, how he was influenced by '90s hip-hop and why he's taking a break from remixes.
Looking back to a decade ago, when Rounds was first released, your style has changed quite a lot. It's less downtempo these days and more outright danceable. Yeah, for me it's always got to change. I think the stuff before Rounds was different and the stuff after it was different. I think as long as I'm putting out music, the music's gotta keep moving on. One of my personal rules is that there's no need to repeat myself. When I put out a record, I'm not trying to improve on the last one, I'm not working towards a perfect record. It's more a document of my musical interests and my musical journey in my own life. Because of that each one's got to move on and I've got to move on as well.
Your music in recent years doesn't come across as quite so heavily sample-based as something like Pause or Rounds. Is it still made in the same way? Yeah, it's pretty much made in the same sort of way. Rounds has got a very strong hip-hop aesthetic to it. It's definitely in debt to '90s hip-hop producers and their whole style of taking loops from records. The music I've been making these days doesn't really have that at the forefront as much as my music used to. But the general techniques I use are pretty much the same. I just make the music on the computer. I haven't moved into some big studio with loads of mics and synths and that type of stuff. Nothing like that's going on. The way I've got of working really suits me, it's quite simple and allows me to focus more on my ideas rather than being too technical. I'm not the sort of person that spends days plugging in wires and things to get a sound going. I want to get my sound going quite quickly in a more simple and direct way.
I saw you play live with Fridge a couple of times. I feel like you and Adem have gone in almost different directions since the Fridge days. Yeah, definitely. You're in a band with people and what makes it works is each member of the band is bringing a different ability or talent to the band and the combination of those things makes it good. For me it's not surprising at all that we make very different music now because we were all into quite different stuff. In Fridge, Adem was an amazing multi-instrumentalist. He plays a lot of instruments and I was always more into the production, finding interesting ways to make things sound good and record it. More interested in finding ways to capture it.
It seems like there are a ton of samples in Rounds but very few are identified. There's so much in there. I'm guessing it was turning into a Paul's Boutique kind of scenario with clearing samples? [Laughs] Yeah, none of them are cleared but there's probably like 200 samples on that album. At the beginning of it all we went to clear one of the samples — there was a Tori Amos sample that I wanted to use — and the whole thing fell apart dramatically. It became this very long drawn-out process and I had to re-record one of the bits of the track and made the whole thing a mega-problem. From that point on I said "Look I just wanna put the record out and see what happens with the sampling thing." It's a real minefield. You can end up getting into a situation where the music ends up not coming out because it's tied up in paperwork trying to get it all sorted. The bulk of the samples on there have been messed with and manipulated to a point where they're not that recognisable anyway. I think a lot of people hear it and don't even realise what bits are samples and how they've been used. There are some people who are really fascinated by the sampling side of it and wanna track things down and know the background to it and that's a side that interests me as well but it's different angles for different people. If you go onto whosampled.com when a Madvillain record comes out people are so clear about the way it's been made and they wanna track down all the tracks and that whole side is interesting to people I think. That was less of the point with Rounds. I was taking the sampling to much more extreme levels where the original stuff I was working with was becoming almost irrelevant. There was one loop on there where the person I sampled got in touch with me and we got it all worked it out.