Published Jun 01, 2005Technology can make everything easier, sure, but not every aspiring composer can or even wants to take advantage of it. Whether it's due to strain on his brain or merely his pocketbook, Matthew Adam Hart, aka the Russian Futurists, prefers the dusty corners of a pawnshop to the gleaming chrome of shiny and new. He's created three delightful albums of electronically-fused symphonic pop bliss all on the Upper Class label, including the latest, Our Thickness and all were made on a reasonable budget. "I don't know if it's the money or if it's just no desire, because I make do with whatever I have around me," Hart says. "I'm never thinking, Oh, I have to get this to make a song.' It's more like, Fuck it, I don't have it so I'll have to make do with
something I do have.' I'd love for someone to come in and buy me a huge set-up with ProTools and a big computer and a studio, but that's not going to happen."
Known primarily as a lo-fi, beat-heavy synth pop composer, Hart confesses that he isn't properly trained on the instrument he's known for. "I did take piano lessons until I was 11 or 12. Oddly, the guy who taught me piano was the touring keyboardist for the Violent Femmes, which I didn't know. He was really cool and he would let me bring in songs that I liked and then he would teach me how to play them. He went away on tour and was replaced by a nun. That was the end of my piano lessons!"
The nun forced Hart into a completely different direction one that would lay the framework for his later work. "A friend and I were the only kids in our town that were into hip-hop and we were trying to make drum loops on two tape recorders for a pause mix, where we played the drum loop and recorded it, paused it and then rewound it. We were trying to make three-minute loops like that and it was impossible. We saved up enough money and bought a really cheap Gemini sampler, which was just a little eight-second sampler, and we were ecstatic. We didn't leave his house for months. That's how we got into making music; we kind of went crazy with it."
Hart adopted the sampler as his signature tool, one he still works with today. "I can't play drums and I think a kit is such a bulky thing," he says. "Usually I'll find a drum sample and cut it into kick, snare and hi-hat and lay that out. I take them mostly from records I don't really know where else to find them. Some people go onto the internet and grab every hip-hop drum loop and just use those, but that's not fun for me."
Lo-fi hip-hop dominated his muse throughout his teenage years, until he discovered his dad's record collection and began conceiving of other sounds he could produce on the same gear. "That is what all of this stuff comes out of, when I was fooling around with the only way I knew how to make music through using samples, drum beats and then these shitty keyboards. I didn't really have anything else when I was that young."
Shitty keyboards not only gave Hart a sound, but a hobby hunting down even shittier gear. "I used to [scrounge] a lot when I was recording on eight-track and analogue reel-to-reel, but the only thing I search around for now is keyboards. I like these little Casios because it's a kid's keyboard and they give you a sampler. Of course, when kids get it they only make a fart noise, but they have a line input so you can take a Walkman or a turntable and sample off it. Those I was a little obsessed with collecting for a while; the SK series, they're called."
Resell outlets like Cash Converters remain the destination of choice ("sometimes they have no idea what the piece of gear is"), but he gets a hand from family as well. "My dad combs garage sales, and he always gets me tons of these little keyboards. Those are the ones I find the coolest sounds in. When you get a nice, good keyboard you can model sounds exactly how you want, but [garage sale] ones are just a fluke. You see something called Dog Pianist,' which is a real sound, and you'll be like, What the fuck is a dog pianist?' and it's this crazy sound. Some of them sound really cool when you put some effects on them."
Instead of updating his inferior gear, Hart's mastered the art of turning crap to gold. "I'm pretty much using the same gear [as the first record]. If I wanted to make it sound better I could buy better gear, but I'm just getting my head around how to make this stuff work and sound a little better. It's limiting but I think I'm doing better working within those limits."