Leo Abrahams on chance-based writing and successful collaborations

Leo Abrahams at his desk at Coronet Road Studios ready for a day of work. All this lay hidden under a nondescript piano retailer in Hoxton

From a young age, Leo Abrahams has lived and breathed the joy of music-making. He has channelled this passion right into a prolific yet unpredictable profession and has labored as a producer, collaborator, composer and solo artist in his personal right. His behind-the-desk work has seen him sculpt data alongside the likes of Regina Spektor, Editors, David Holmes, Frightened Rabbit and David Byrne as well as the legendary Brian Eno, who – as Leo reveals in our conversation – first encountered Abrahams in a fittingly random approach.

Leo’s own compositions, collected across nine solo albums, are layered and textured behemoths of sound, together with his distinctively emotive guitar enjoying typically to the fore. Leo is completely satisfied to traverse quite a lot of studios depending on the needs of a specific artist, but tends to work from each his residence studio and Coronet Road Studios in Hoxton, situated (virtually secretly) beneath a piano retailer. Which is where we meet Leo…

So how did your curiosity in music-making first start?

I obtained obsessive about the document player once I was three. I used to put the identical data on over and over again, which should have pushed my mother and father mad. I feel that’s once they realised I had a bit of a thing for music. After that, once I was round six or seven, I might sit on the sting of the carpet and fake to play the perimeter of the carpet as if it have been a piano. Just making an attempt to offer them a hint that perhaps they should buy me one!

I studied for a yr on the Royal Academy of Music in the hopes of turning into a classical composer, however I quickly turned disillusioned with that course and took up a task as touring guitarist in Imogen Heap’s band. That was for her first album, in the early days of her profession, so we’d end up enjoying in pubs to tiny crowds, or typically no individuals in any respect. However it was enough to make me realise that that was in all probability the best way I needed to go.

So at what level did you diverge into the manufacturing world?

There’s totally different strands to it. I went to high school with Jon Hopkins and he and I have been in Imogen’s band collectively, and then we began working for numerous songwriters and producers simply as session guys.

Leo Abrahams

Imogen took me one night time to a membership referred to as The Kashmir Klub, there was a type of open-mic night time there. A lot of people who went on to be fairly huge began on the market. Ed Harcourt was enjoying that evening and at that time, he was unsigned. I actually liked what I heard from Ed, so I simply went up to him and stated: “Do you need a guitar player?”. He invited me to satisfy him the subsequent day for an interview. We met on Kensington High Road and his first and only query was: “Do you like Marc Ribot?”, to which I answered: “Yes!”. And then he just stated: “Okay, first rehearsal is tomorrow.”

So once I started working with Ed, I started doing string arranging for both him and other individuals on his label. I did some string arranging for Starsailor. I feel because I’d been to music school, individuals just believed that it will be alright for me to take on that job.

In my early 20s, I caught the very end of the period where document labels would invest and help bands financially; I used to be really lucky to see that. So regardless that I wasn’t a producer at that stage, if it hadn’t been for the retainer that I was on with Ed Harcourt for three years I may need needed to get one other job. However fortunately, that saw me by means of. Once that period had passed, I had sufficient contacts and work lined up that I might make enough to get by.

Depart it as much as probability

So meeting (and working with) Brian Eno should have been quite an astonishing experience, how did you initially contact this legendary figure?

Nicely, It was an outrageous stroke of luck. I used to be in a Notting Hill guitar store – testing the intonation of a guitar I was occupied with. I wasn’t enjoying anything flash at all. Brian was in the identical store and heard what I used to be enjoying. He just came to visit and informed me that he thought what I was enjoying was “tasteful” and invited me to his studio to work on his album Drawn From Life.

Brian ended up influencing my career quite a bit, as did David Holmes (with whom Leo labored on the report The Holy Footage) they are both extremely trustworthy and beneficiant individuals. Wanting back there was no purpose for them to be as beneficiant to me as they have been. I assume the business commonplace was to pay their assistants a small day price but when I’d composed something with Brian or David, then that they had no hesitation in giving me a writing credit score. They have been simply very, very type and it actually modified my life. It wasn’t like I might retire or one thing, however it made life rather a lot easier and enabled me to focus on music. It additionally allowed me to be more discerning (or you possibly can say, spoilt) in that I by no means took any work that I didn’t need to do musically.

What evokes you once you compose and is there a typical start line in your process?

Properly, I don’t actually think about myself a composer anymore. I did make a bunch of my very own solo data, however at a sure point, I assume I ended liking what I used to be naturally arising with. A number of years ago I made a report referred to as Daylight, which was based mostly on probability, and the elemental building blocks of the songs have been random. I don’t assume that’s a completely unusual strategy to work. I arrange techniques that I couldn’t actually management and then orchestrate them so I was using more of my ‘editing brain’ and enjoyable my ‘composer brain’.

I might orchestrate in fairly an in depth method these items of music that have been generated from probability. They ended up feeling like they’d been composed. I wouldn’t simply edit them together, but I’d build a lot on prime of these foundations that I’d ultimately typically take away the unique chance-built component from the combination.

Was that technique inspired by Eno?

A part of it was truly Frank Zappa, who I was really into as a child. He’d typically take some reside guitar solo that had been recorded at one concert and combine it with a rhythm part recording from another live performance. Then get an entire brass section to play the guitar solo and then take the guitar solo away. So that you have been left with this artefact that no-one would write from scratch. It was totally unique. I like the feeling of discipline and wildness at the similar time.

The other factor that influenced me quite a bit was the classical composer Morton Feldman. He was very concerned with repetition and imperfect symmetry. I took an interest on this concept of things that by no means repeat precisely the same. It’s more than simply placing an LFO on one thing to make it slightly totally different, what I imply is purposefully composing the thing with variations.

A special type of enjoyable

You’re a frequent collaborator and arranger – when working with other individuals on tasks, do you converse to the artist concerning the shape and structure of the tracks or do you propose preparations by yourself?

I feel my favorite facet of the job is that each band or artist needs something slightly totally different and so once we’re first assembly, I ask them why they’re not self-producing. There’s often a selected facet of the process which they need help with and I simply focus on attaining that. Typically individuals need me to play, typically they want me to arrange and typically they only need me to help them by way of the method in a supportive method.

Leo Abrahams

I feel no matter you do as a producer the top end result will come out with a sure ‘hallmark’ of yours. But I don’t have ‘a sound’ that I seek to filter the people who come and work with me via. I’d a lot fairly chase down their sound. I want the artist to do as a lot as attainable and for every report to be as distilled a manifestation of their character as it might probably be.

Is it a ‘sat side by side’ sort of collaboration that you simply choose?

Once more, it varies, but in monitoring there’s often lots of tidying up and technical stuff to do and most artists wish to have a little bit of a break, so I’ll often edit on my own. As soon as they arrive again they’ve received recent ears and they may help me in the event that they hear one thing that I haven’t observed. In my experience, lots of artists start out eager to attend each stage of the production course of, but in the long run they arrive to understand that stepping away may end up in a extra refined end end result.

You’ve finished quite a lot of assorted things in your career so far – what do you take pleasure in doing most of all, writing music, arranging, enjoying, soundtracking?

I really love producing, it’s all-consuming and very satisfying but I feel the more manufacturing I’ve carried out through the years, the more I realise that I truly actually take pleasure in simply enjoying guitar on periods for other individuals. It’s a bit much less existential for me – I can turn up at a session and deal with it as a job, however in a very critical approach. I additionally discover it really fun and really fascinating to step into different individuals’s worlds just for that small window of time. However when the session is over – it’s over! With production, it’s all-involving. That’s one purpose why I attempt to not take on too many tasks. There all the time appears to be time strain and there all the time seems to be the prospect to make one thing you’ve by no means made before hopefully. Somebody’s trusting you with their baby, actually.

I’ve worked on a good few soundtracks and the strain the blokes who’re main those tasks are underneath is immense, but my position is more as a session player for these. Working on an indie document can typically be fairly a solitary expertise. It’s a very vital duty that extends over an extended time period. With guitar, my duty is round three hours long. It’s a special type of enjoyable.

Constructing an enigma

You’ve labored with Spitfire Audio prior to now. How dId that come about and what was the process of building a pattern assortment like?

I got here on board very early for that. I do periods for Christian Henson (Spitfire co-founder); after one session he took me for a beer and advised me he was beginning a brand new company and asked whether or not I’d be inquisitive about doing a library of sounds. At that time, I was nearly to update my working system, which might imply I’d have to go away behind all these channel strips that I’d made for numerous reasons. I assumed this was in all probability a great way to say goodbye to them and move on. That’s what I did – that was Enigma. I recorded all of that at my home in my house studio. For the second one, we went to The Pool and I made all the sounds on the spot from scratch.

Leo Abrahams, Spitfire Enigma

The third volume we’ve made, I created from scratch at the Spitfire studios. I didn’t have something pre-prepared. I’m actually completely happy that folks seem to be using them rather a lot, I’ve had some good comments about it. I feel it works because it’s in an ambiguous area – it doesn’t sound like keyboards and it doesn’t sound like guitars.

What’s crucial thing you’ve discovered within the studio?

I feel it’s the importance of with the ability to shift perspective quite a bit, and shortly. Going from actual detail to massive image – it sounds quite apparent, nevertheless it’s not that straightforward. One of the crucial essential things a producer can supply an artist is perspective and hopefully, expertise. Notably when you’re doing lots of programming or effective modifying, it’s really easy to lose perspective on the challenge as an entire.

Additionally, to feel that for those who’ve worked on something for 2 days that it is probably not quite proper. You only get one probability to do this stuff and so it’s actually necessary to be trustworthy with yourself and keep related to the artistic dialogue you had at the beginning of the process. That’s to not say which you can’t get diverted on the best way and have enjoyable and discover. However don’t lose sight of that first intuition to create. It’s in the artist – it’s a must to keep close to the artist and realise their imaginative and prescient.

How does the writing course of for certainly one of your personal data differ than working with another artist and do you’ve got a vision of the report earlier than you begin?

I don’t really need to make any extra solo data until they’re born out of improvisation. I favor to take issues which might be kind of full and ending them off. Quite often, individuals will are available and their tracks can be around 75 per cent finished and I actually take pleasure in helping them with the last 25 per cent. Once more, I feel it’s a perspective factor and additionally not being invested within the writing course of. You’re constructing what’s required of the track and you’ll be able to virtually write to fit that temporary.

A various ecology

Once you have been making your personal tracks, did you structure these artistic periods and did you impose limitations on yourself?

When making my own stuff, I might typically get a feeling of the essence of the factor that I needed to make and I might all the time attempt and keep close to that. Beyond that, I’d attempt and use any time that I wasn’t busy to do my own stuff. There all the time comes some extent when the top is in sight and you can start making to-do lists and stuff. However before that, I like it to be open.

Leo Abrahams

What does encourage me, although, is the fact that I actually like finishing things! I’m not an enormous one for letting issues go – I feel that’s a superb thing. What is sort of good is when bands get in contact with me eager to work with me they typically reference my data and not the things I produce for different individuals. That’s really rewarding, truly.

Is there any challenge particularly you’re pleased with?

There’s an album by David Holmes referred to as The Holy Footage which we worked on actually intently together. For me, that just encapsulates a time that I’m actually keen on. I’m additionally really pleased with the report I made with Regina Spektor, Keep in mind Us To Life, because once more, it was just a lovely time and she’s such a warm and shiny individual. I really really feel like that report captured a way of who she is. So in all probability these two.

I’m fairly arduous on myself concerning the work. I really don’t very often take heed to what I’ve achieved. If I do, then I’m more susceptible to listen to the faults in it. I worked with Frightened Rabbit (whose frontman Scott Hutchinson sadly handed away in 2018) and as a means of dealing with what occurred with Scott, I played the document we’d accomplished together, Pedestrian Verse, and I was quite moved by it, and truly didn’t hear something that I might have changed. I realised that it was a terrific report and I knew that he was proud of it. It’s finally more essential to me that the artist is proud of it, because I’m by no means going to be proud of it!

When an artist talks concerning the document in an interview and says they’re proud of the top outcome, then that basically means quite a bit to me. If you hear different individuals’s work there’s all the time such thriller about it and I feel it’s typically simpler to see magnificence and perfection in other individuals’s work.

What advice would you give to anybody trying to have a profession like yours?

Nicely, if it was specifically like mine – which is sort of all over, really – then it will be to not have too set concepts on precisely the place you need to find yourself. Just do the whole lot that comes your approach that feels right. And solely the issues that really feel proper. That’s it, actually. I don’t imply to sound disingenuous, however I’ve by no means truly tried to have a career. I’ve achieved loads of issues which may seem to some to be odd decisions or perhaps not very cool. However I needed to do them – I had my causes.

I’m really glad to be in this numerous ecology of musicians. In the future, I’m working with a really business singer and the day after, I’m working with an avant-garde performance-art cellist. That’s type of the rationale I obtained into music – to experience a variety of various issues.

There’s a lot luck concerned with making music. I all the time assume one of the best factor you possibly can hope for is to have a lucky break and then not balls it up! But it’s a must to be open enough to recognise these indicators once they come.

For more of Leo, take a look at his official web site right here.