Entry: Mervin's 15 Questions with Chris Joss! Thursday, April 13, 2006



Aria is pleased to welcome producer, remixer and multi-instrumentalist, Chris Joss!

 

I'd like to start with your background…

 

You are French-born, and have lived in both Paris and London.

 

1. What musical and/or cultural influences did you garner from your time in both?

 

As I did a lot of studio work in Paris – I learned a lot about recording technique – but it could have been in any other city. As I grew up in France, the influences I had to digest quickly were in London. Although the two cities are only 200 miles apart, the culture-shock was sudden and strong. I've always loved music – particularly  British pop and American music in general – but France is very conservative; there are laws here that force the media(s) to play 40% of music that is sung only  in French. I've always felt that French didn't work in emulating English-sung music – and that's what it does most of the time. When it doesn't, the lyrics dominate with music in a distant background. I wasn't very happy in France and left for that reason. London was very rough the first times — I went there with pictures of "The Avengers" and the swinging '60s,  but recession was at its peak. Dance music was happening – sampling, electronics, amazing parties. For the first time, I saw new styles of music emerging, rather than hearing them 2 or 3 years later. There was music everywhere; it's just part of their culture. So I played in bands on bass and guitar in pubs a lot, sound-engineered, produced other people while making tracks on my own – influenced by producers that – with time –  I've discovered were mostly sampling old stuff, whereas I thought they were playing everything – amazing bass lines and drums that were often coming from library music. So in a way, that perverted me as after that I started using samples too, although always playing my own stuff prominently. To finish, I'd say that France is to music what England is to food  – France has good music and England has good food, but it's just not that easy to find.

 

2. Who are your musical influences in general?

 

The first big influence was the Beatles – and they still are. Glam Rock was also a big motivation in my teens, as was '70's disco – and it often pops up in my arrangements. Stevie Wonder also – up to Songs In the Key Of Life – these were records my older brother bought. The Beatles "I Am the Walrus" and other post-'66 records certainly made me see record production as a total part of song-making – creating atmospheres unheard of before and as I didn't see a live band before my late teens, records were how music existed for me. I often favoured rhythmic tracks to melodies and with time that lead me to Funk – through Kid Creole first, as they toured France a lot – then Prince, to (eventually) James Brown and all the great musicians he played with or he influenced. Sly Stone also, of course.


After I started making "soundtrack" music in '95, I began digging in the genre which I only knew from movies or series, but without being interested by who was making it. I'm ashamed to say – I was a pure product of the French media and they give no room to instrumental composers. Lalo Schiffrin, circa '67 is my favorite; Quincy Jones – before he gave up on orchestral arrangements; John Barry with "The Persuaders" theme – the images and the music made only one for me. This theme is very sad and associated with the pictures of the 2 kids growing up to become millionaires; it carries a strong feeling of nostalgia and it has nothing to do with the spirit of the series strangely but it works. "The Avengers" theme with the pictures works everytime for me.

 

Here in the West – or Stateside – much of the musical press is woefully unschooled about the aesthetic and techniques of electronica-based musicians – they often (and unfairly) dismiss the music as an exclusively keyboard/synthesizer-driven medium. You are a living refutation of this, as you are a self-taught multi-instrumentalist.

 

3. How many instruments do you play?

 

Bass, guitar, drums, keyboards and some percussions. The only problem is that it multiplies practice time and time is my enemy. I take so much of it to finish tracks, as I want to have a fresh point-of-view on each instrument like they were played by different people. Then comes sound engineering, arranging, mastering and the artwork sometimes.

 

4. Do you play all of the instruments on your most recent album, You've Been Spiked?

 

Yes – no outside musician there, apart from the occasional mashed-up sample.

 

While we're on the subject – your first album was actually The Man with the Suitcase – a concept album in the style of a soundtrack to an imagined '60s television show.

 

5. What inspired you in the creation and recording of The Man with the Suitcase?

In '95, a friend got a tape of Lalo Schifrin's "Mission Impossible" and "Mannix". Movie samples and soundtrack atmospheres had already appeared on Ninja Tune, Mo'Wax – Portishead had awakened (again) the interest for Lalo Schifrin. It was music that had inspired me unconsciously in my youth. I still find these two albums have a fantastic vibe.

So I did that track after hearing the tape at his place. One of the sounds I used was called "Suitcase Rhodes" – multisamples of one of the Rhodes electric pianos, and as the track had that theme vibe, I found it funny to call it "The Man With the Suitcase" – a reference to many series and movies that started with "the man"; "The Man From Uncle", "...with a golden arm" etc. The problem is that I'd never heard of the existing series "Man in a Suitcase" which was never aired in France -- if it was I missed it. Needless to say, if I'd known I would have called it something else...

A few days later I went and borrowed the tape and did the second track "The Wait". Then I stopped and went back to making drum 'n' bass – my passion of the moment. A few months later I started doing a blaxploitation track – a genre I knew nothing about apart from hearing it in car chases, but I'd never even heard the name "blaxploitation" until I bought the compilation of the same name much later – I sent these 3 tracks around to labels with drum 'n' bass tracks – as I had no sense of commercial coherence – but no one answered me. In '98, I bought my first PC and gathered the tracks I'd made in the past 3 years that had movie samples or atmospheres in them and made the cover to look like an old record with a text pretending I was a famous composer from the '60s. I chose an imaginary series, as I'd been inspired by them and because imaginary movie soundtracks had already been made. In '98, I thought it was already too late to do that, but when you look now, so many people have done it that it has become a genre. I sent the album to many labels in London but no one wanted it. 

The Man with the Suitcase is an ingenious recording, as is its follow-up, Dr Rhythm – both are hard-to-find.

 

6. Are there any plans to reissue either album?

 

Some tracks use movie samples like vocal snippets, which are close to impossible to clear – it would be a dangerous move. I would love to re-work the tracks and replace the samples, but all the masters are lost on the first LP due to a harddrive explosion in the days before backing-up was financially accessible. Maybe Dr Rhythm, if I find the time, which is unlikely right now. The thing is – it took me 2 years to make this album, but when Italian label Irma released it, nobody liked it. In France, their distributor – yet a childhood friend of my publisher/co-producer – didn't want to sell it. I didn't get a single review in any magazine worldwide – that really depressed me as you can imagine. So, I thought I was going in the wrong direction and it took me some time to re-adjust, which is why 'Spiked is quite different. So working on it again is not very motivating, although people write me about Dr Rhythm more than my other releases.

 

Your music seems heavily inspired by blaxploitation-era soul and funk, as well as disco. Indeed, tracks like "Drink Me Hot", "Wrong Alley Street (Part 1)", and "Discotheque Dancing" – all from "You've Been Spiked" – convey this the most.

 

7. Do you have any favorite soundtracks from that era (Blaxploitation: circa late'60s - mid '70s) to speak of?

 

Curtis Mayfield's Superfly and Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man as entire albums are really good. But then there are lots of good tracks in many movies — Johnny Pate's "Shaft in Africa", Issac Hayes' "Truck Turner", Gene Page's "Blacula" and many others.

 

You possess the often elusive interpretive gift for soundtrack composition. Indeed, you contributed several outstanding tracks to the Inside Deep Throat – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack; "Love is Strange" – "Theme From Deep Throat" – "Open Mouth Surgery"...

 

8. Do you have anymore soundtrack projects in the works?

 

No, but I'd love to — it's not my decision. Relatives or friends who know nothing about the music business, regularly ask me: "Why don't you do movie soundtracks?"and I have to explain that this is a very closed circle — a lot of people want to get in, not many do. It's a bit like: "Why don't you make a number 1?" and they go "yeah, why don't you ?"

 

And speaking of the soundtrack for "Inside Deep Throat" – there is a beautiful trip hop track produced by you that is featured in the film, but not available on the commercial soundtrack called "More Tingles". [It's playing at the Peace Bisquit website.]

 

9. Will "More Tingles" remain exclusively promotional, or are there plans to include it as a bonus track or such on a future album?

 

As could confirm Bill Coleman – the music supervisor of the movie whom I'm grateful to have enabled me to work on it – clearance for the dialogues or samples or tracks kept changing from day-to-day for months. I only just saw it on DVD; curious as I am, the first thing I did was going straight to the end and was surprised to hear "More Tingles". I'd been told it couldn't be used for the DVD – only for the theatrical release. Another surprise came from the credits where I'm credited as a performer, not a writer. It's true I used samples from a track from "Deep Throat" but made another one from that. But after seeing the movie, which explains very well who the rights belong to, I understand totally why and wouldn't even dream of claiming anything. So, no it won't be released anywhere – not by me anyway.

 

Going back to the You've Been Spike album – the set includes a myriad of wonderful styles – the aforementioned blaxploitation era-inspired tracks -- as well as the more disco-oriented ones like "A Part in That Show" – are beautifully offset by downbeat numbers like "Riviera 69", and the sensual "Waves of Love".

 

10. Do you have any plans to do an exclusively trip hop and/or downbeat full-length recording?

 

No not really – I don't plan ahead, I just make tracks and ditch the ones I can't get to sound how I want or that I get bored with after working on them on and off for 2 years. If I can work on them 2 years after I started them, that means they should stand the test of time – for me anyway as I have a low boredom threshold.

 

You have some excellent remix work out there: "Sugar Daddy" by Yerba Buena — Jody Watley's "Looking for a New Love 05" — "Chick a boom" by Joe Bataan.

 

11. What forthcoming remixes should we be on the lookout for?

 

A Woody Herman & Tito Puente remix in a broken beat style for Sunswept Music. I've also been doing production work for Cazwell, which is not exactly remixing as I'm following guidelines but that's fun to make and I love the tracks.


12. What singer or musician would you like to work with in the future?

 

I don't have names in mind, but whoever can sing well, would like to work with me and don't mind not getting paid for her/his hard work. The same goes for horn and string players. I'm joking but there's some truth in here as my record sales aren't big. I'm creating a space on Myspace.com and will try to meet people through that.

 

13. Are there any planned collaborations with your Eighteenth Street Lounge [ESL] Music label-mates, Thievery Corporation in the works?

 

Not that I know. I know there's an "ESL remixed" project but I don't know who remixes who.  I've never met them yet. I'm waiting for the biometric passports to be able to fly to the U.S., as now it's impossible to go there — there's a 4-month wait to get a visa – even if you have good reasons to go.

 

14. What are you listening to these days?

 

I just got the new Ursula 1000, which is excellent; we have a lot of common influences. I only have little time to listen to music as I'm so busy doing some (music) and rest my ears when I'm not, but I listen to what I'm being sent from other artists, or when searching something on the net I always end up on a music site. I'm trying to follow what's happening but there's so much music these days.

 

I often go back to '60s' and '70s' music. I feel the freedom, or hope of freedom representative of these years can be heard in the music – a reflection of the surroundings.

 

And lastly…

 

15. Do you have a title for your forthcoming fourth album?

 

No not yet – that always comes last – just like the titles of the tracks – I keep the working titles until the very last minute. I sometimes use name generators – you create a database of words and the program assembles them randomly and I keep the ones I like – not many though; "Drink Me Hot" came like this.

You can visit Chris at his official site,  chrisjoss.free.fr. Also, check out Chris' page at the Eighteenth Street Lounge website, as well as Bill Coleman's PeaceBisquit.com.

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