Published Dec 05, 2013Noah Pred was born in Northern California before his parents transplanted the family to Vancouver. Moving to Montreal, then to Toronto, to pursue a career in music (and start his own label, Thoughtless), Noah has recently found himself among the dozens of musical expats who have relocated to Berlin. Luckily for Pred, it's this dichotic combination of restlessness and commitment that makes his sophomore full-length such an engrossing experience.
Absorbing his new surroundings while finding inspiration with his label's roster, Third Culture is a rare electronic album that strives to look inward. As Pred became more immersed with Berlin's electric club scene, Third Culture remains an emotional and tempered piece of art; a heavy-hearted wallflower situated within the world's coolest party. Talking from his flat in Berlin, Noah Pred talks to Exclaim! about his new life, the importance of being confident and the meaning behind the title of his latest album.
I know you've moved around quite a bit in your life, so did you find the move to Berlin easier for this reason or did you still experience a bit of culture shock?
It's funny, that experience of having moved around a lot earlier in my life was definitely helpful, it wasn't my first experience moving somewhere new and I thought I would have experienced more culture shock than I did. It's the furthest I have moved away from home and there's a new language here, but to the contrary, there were so many people already living here; friends I've made from Canada and the U.S. through living in the same cities before or from meeting them on tour or from working together on music projects and being on the same label, it really was quite an easy adjustment.
In fact, as soon as I moved here there was already a bigger social network community waiting for me than I've probably ever experienced in any other city so it was not quite the experience you would assume it would be.
Do you ever feel like surrounding yourself with North Americans is, in some way, holding you back from experiencing the true culture of Berlin?
Yeah, it's my first opportunity to relate to that immigrant stereotype of people keeping to their own and I definitely hang out with the other Canadians here, but I straddle a few communities in this town. I have a few Australian friends and American and British friends and some great German friends as well.
There are people that hang out in specific groups but it's not totally insular, everyone seems to be interconnected on some level and I just find that everyone is quite busy, so even people that I really love, I might not see for a year, then we run into each other somewhere and it's as no time has passed and it's a good time to catch up, but it's not an avoidance or not wanting to see each other.
So I think a lot of the social groups here in Berlin are based on proximity, the people in Friedrichshain hang out with the other Friedrichshain people and the Neukölln people hang out with the other Neukölln people more than Canadian hanging out with each other, or Americans, or whatever.
Have you landed a DJ residency?
No, there's some possibilities cropping up, but I've been trying to hang back and picking my spots. If you play too often here, it can be a bit of a trap with the bigger clubs not being interested anymore. So I've been selective, maybe to a fault, but my focus for the next year is going to be to get some more label parties going here.
On your new album, can you point out one or two things that artistically represents the last two years living in Berlin?
Moving to Berlin, one of the cool things that happened to me was being in the proximity of [music software company] Ableton; the company is based here and they make the software that I use. I was able to test their new software version and their new hardware before it came to market and a lot of that was quite instrumental in the production of the album. That applies to the entire album, really.
And "Ghostbusser" has some field recording from here in Berlin that are pretty subtle but [they are] taken from the traffic on the street that that track title is sort of a joke about. I didn't want to make the stereotypical "Berlin" album that's all dub techno, Berghain warehouse techno or whatever. I had my own thing to tell and moving around a lot over the years helps to go against the grain of the popular styles. I didn't consciously set out to make it "not a Berlin album" but I definitely wasn't trying to.
I really did take that from the album, the fact that it strives to sound more timeless.
Wow, that's the biggest compliment someone can gear towards music, that someone can make something timeless. I'm glad, but maybe the jury's still out, I'll check back in a year and you can tell me if it still sounds timeless.
It takes a certain amount of confidence to move to a new country and a certain amount to teach an evolving software. Do you feel that your sound comes from a place of confidence?
Teaching Ableton sort of happened by accident for me but I'm certainly happy about it. It's my life, and the move happened out of necessity so I don't know if those things came out of confidence. And the record I put out on my own label [Thoughtless Music] was just about having to do things my way and not having to answer to anyone about how the music's presented.
I suppose it does take a certain amount of confidence to put yourself out there, to sort of bare your soul or whatever cliché we can use. But you also open yourself up to a world of criticism.
Was there a level of frustration that came from making and releasing albums in Canada that ultimately led you to move to Berlin?
In Canada, it's a much smaller population. So, running a label, I felt a responsibility to the artists. That said, every move I've made from one place to another have been due to a very fixed set of circumstances and that was definitely the case coming here to Berlin. A few opportunities came up and all the signs were pointing to coming here, and that's what I did, but it wasn't a repudiation of the Canadian scene, it's just a natural step for me.
I know your label has really taken off since your relocation.
Yeah, we've definitely gained the attention of a number of Europeans, including artists we have lined up for the coming year. We have a lot more European mixers on the label since I moved here and a lot of that is from meeting people in Berlin, so a lot of that comes up organically. A lot of it is about representing new artists and continuing to representing Canadian artists going forward, that's always going to be part of the label. But most of the new names on the label fall into the "mixer" category, because the emphasis remains on Canadian talent.
Can you talk about your new album? What's the difference between this album and the last one?
The last album was a very different process. I was like, "I have a label, and I'm going to make an album." This time around, some people were really encouraging me to make an album but I wasn't convinced it was time. I've gone through some really intense stuff in the year prior to that and I was working on music a lot and I was really thankful to have my music as an outlet to process all of the stuff I was going through; with the move here and with losing my father, which was really sudden and unexpected, it happens to everyone but it was still a bit of a shock. So I was working on arguably more intense and emotionally resonant material.
The idea for the album came out of this collection of tracks at that time, mostly last year but also going this past winter. I continued working on them but I also had a few trusted people, friends here in Berlin, that I was able to bounce the tracks off of and get their opinion on things... and some other friends back in Toronto and Australia were also part of that process as well.
When you run a label, it's very easy to put out your own music and it could be total garbage and nobody would tell you not to, I didn't want that to happen and I had some trusted people to give me some feedback so the album started to take shape, I started to identify the tracks that were strongest and also fit together and tell a story. Once I saw how they might fit together — adapting them and editing them a little further — in the context of trying to put them together a little further into a coherent album, it definitely ended up as a much more involved process this time around.
Can you talk about the significance of the title of the new album, Third Culture? It's based on a book by John Brockman, correct?
Yeah, there were a bunch of authors who contributed to that book. It's a collection of essays and articles. The album came together, musically, before I found a title for it. It wasn't like I had this title as a driving concept. The title came after but it applied to a number of things. The John Brockman reference — that book is sort of about the future of human culture based on a synthesis of science and art, and I find it really interesting that electronic music is an art form that couldn't exist without science. As raw as people try to make it, as far away as they try to get away from technique, it's fundamentally technological, so right there you have this meeting with science and art. And as an Ableton teacher, I have a strong technical background which I try to use as an advantage.
On the other reference from that title; the sociological term, it recently refers to children whose families have moved to a new culture when they were younger and have this difficulty explaining their sense of identity in simple terms. It's always like, "Well, I was from here and then I moved there."
My parents moved to [Vancouver], Canada [from the California Bay area] when I was 11, and although it wasn't a huge move, I definitely experienced that sort of transition in my life and have continued to since then and even here in Berlin.
For other people like me, who have moved around a lot, there's a distinctive feeling of being slightly from the outside mainstream culture here and that sense of not quite belonging was expressed throughout the album in many ways.
This dichotomy between your role as a label boss and your life as a transplanted citizen seems to come across on how you work with your guest vocalists.
It was pretty collaborative in all the cases where I had rough versions of the tracks, which I submitted to them, half with lyrics and half without, and all of the recordings were done remotely in the vocalists' studio. They would send the tracks back and I would choose what was best for me from what they submitted and then figure out how to integrate that into the song as a whole and then once they sent their parts. Maybe there was a lot of back and forth in some cases but y goal was to integrate the vocals in such a way that they did feel cohesive.
This album sounds a lot more pop-orientated, in the classic sense of pop. Do you find it harder to write something that's melodic than to write something that's textural? Pop music seems like it can be more calculated.
I think that if you craft it and you calculate it, it will come across and it won't really have the same impact. For me, all of the melodies are really intuitive; I try not to force things. I felt like there were some things that I wanted to convey in the music to as many people as I could but I didn't set out to make it more commercial. When you have a meaning you want to communicate, which I often do — even with my instrumental music — it's so abstract, so it's difficult to get that meaning across. But with the vocal components, it's still open to interpretation.
But I love music and that's the problem with a lot of dance music, there's no music there. Not that everything has to be over-the-top melodic, but what I look for in electronic music is colour and interesting ideas and music, if that makes sense.