Published Feb 27, 2012Neatly tucked away in a small, nondescript Scarborough strip mall, Slakah the Beatchild (aka Byram Joseph) is busy making music that is anything but. "I'm a huge believer in making your creative space really connect with you. The vibe is really important to me," says the Juno award-winning producer and artist.
Originally a native of Sarnia, Ontario, Slakah has called this studio-slash-living quarters in the suburban district of Toronto home for the past five years. Set above the strip mall stores ― including a travel agent office and an East Indian tailor ― Slakah's cozy spot is a one-floor walk-up. Known for his hip-hop, soul (and more recently alt-rock) grooves, the location marks the spot of many of the Beatchild's musical missives. "I'm the only one on this floor so I can make music for as long and loud as I want," he says.
Inside, the studio décor shrieks old school '70s ― brown wood paneling, a worn-out brown couch and various vinyl LPs in wall frames. "It's not fancy at all. What I've noticed is that the studios with character are the ones that feel more free, where you are able to really relax and express yourself. That's the concept I have behind any creative space that I have."
Throw in classic gear like his two guitars, a tape machine, an analogue mixer ("I don't really use it anymore but it adds to the vibe") and prized keyboards like his Dave Smith Mopho, Korg MS2000, Fender Rhodes and a Pianet T, Slakah notes that his creative space is all about being uninhibited when making music. "I have six keyboards in total. I don't have a favourite because they all uniquely contribute to something," says Slakah, remarking that he's primarily a self-taught musician. When he wants to go "outside the box," he notes that he'll go to a more obscure keyboard like the vintage Casiotone 101 he recently picked up at a thrift shop. "Now it sounds horrible," Slakah says with a laugh as an audible fan starts up when he turns it on, "but it really forces you to use it in a different way."
An admitted "one-man shop," he tends to handle everything ― from beat making to mixing and mastering. He'll head on over to Phase One Studios (also in Scarborough) on occasion as well. As far as software, Slakah uses Logic Pro and Reason on his studio computer, a Mac G5. "I definitely prefer analog. But I came up in a digital world," he notes. That said, he adds that he prefers not to quantize his drums: "I like real human grooves." The production process, notes Slakah, depends on the type of music being made, whether it's a hip-hop/soul beat or a more rock groove-oriented sound like his recent Slakadeliqs' alt-rock project The Other Side of Tomorrow.
"When I'm in writing mode for Slakadeliqs for example, usually I lie in bed with an idea, grab my guitar, hum out the idea and then get to my [Mac] and record it into iMovie," he notes. From there, he'll mesh a raw concept ― guitars, synth, lead vocal ― using his four track. "I'll build everything around it ― programming or live drums, guitar, whatever ― and everything else will sort of fit into place," he says, adding that he'll sit on a finished instrumental before laying down the vocal melodies.
"With a hip-hop track, I can make a beat in about two or three hours and record a song in two or three days. With a Slakadeliqs track, I take a little longer because I focus more on the changes as it's not just a loop," he says. "I try to use my recording media as an instrument as it will give you a different sound. It's all based on the vibe I'm going for."
While the Toronto space is home for now, Slakah has his sights set on moving to the West coast, with eyes on developing a studio home in Los Angeles. Ultimately, any place that he makes music in, he says, has to convey a motivating vibe. "You have to put yourself in a place where you're inspired."
Read a full interview with Slakah the Beatchild here.