Doug Wright is always on the move, he releases music as hed ardennes, runs the label and radio show Body Promise as well as finding time for a new collaborative project called Ten Brains. As a Liveschool trainer Doug brings a wealth of knowledge and taste from his multiple roles in the music industry.
We sat down for a Q&A to see what he’s been up to lately and get a few sneaky tips about collaboration, workflow and creativity.
Lets start with a track – and let’s focus on the drums. What’s something we should listen to the drums on, and why…
I’m really excited by the drums on stuff being put out by producers like Stenny, SP:MC, and some stuff on Ilian Tape and Dr Banana — this deeper/darker exploration of swung UKG rhythms. Tonally I feel like the weighty drum sounds and heavy saturation plays really nicely with the really rigid swing of the genre.
On this tune, Stress Test, there’s a few things that stand out to me:
- The huge kick, tight and very tonal snare are just great sounds, with perfectly dialled envelopes.
- Keeping the decays short on all the percussive elements really accentuates the swing and makes the whole groove feel really tight and jumpy.
- Plus there’s a bunch of really tidy reverb changes on the snare make it feel really dynamic, giving it a nod to dub production while staying subtle enough to not fight against the groove.
- The moments where the reverb decay leads into the next downbeat feels so precise and musical.
There’s such a great level of control here.
How are you using Ableton in the Studio?
Our studio is a pretty flexible hybrid setup and we do a bit of everything. We generally use Live as the main MIDI sequencer for external synths/drum machines, and we’re running an audio interface with a stack of inputs so we can record all our instruments at the same time, jam out on hardware and have the flexibility to edit each part separately later to whittle things down into songs. We do a lot of sample based stuff in the box though cos chopping and processing audio in Live is just so fast and flowy.
What’s the best music advice you’ve been given? Or what would you go back and tell yourself as a beginner?
I learn a lot from the people I work with, and I think my main takeaway from my frequent collaborators Russ and Al is that music should always be fun. If you’re having fun, the right energy will be in there. When I was starting out I was scared to show other people my music for a long time because I was too worried about people would think. I’d probably tell my young self not to take things so seriously.
hed ardennes is your latest musical project and its a lot heavier than your previous output as Fishing. Apart from being a solo project, how does the approach differ between these two projects?
It’s pretty different, Fishing (we’re now working under a new project btw called Ten Brains) is a collaborative project, and uses a combo of hardware and software production techniques. There’s lots of recording, overdubbing, and quite detailed editing in how we write. Often we’ll be thinking about how things are going to function as a song as well as on the dancefloor.
When I write hed ardennes stuff, it’s only hardware, always using the same two pieces of gear, and all the music is performed and recorded live. It’s my project to get away from the infinite possibilities of computer-based production. For better or for worse, each track is a specific moment captured in time, rather than something super nuanced and polished. I think I was inspired to try this out after seeing a video interview with Terekke a few years back where he ran through his studio setup and showed himself writing and bouncing down a track in one session.
I love the raw feeling this workflow creates in the music, and I feel like a lot of the memorable dance records I hear are ones that aren’t necessarily super balanced, or ones that have dynamic development that feels performed rather than tastefully drawn in with an automation curve. If you’re recording live, in the recorded take you might open up a filter cutoff too much, or some drum element might be far too loud in the mix because you were really vibing it at the time. If I’m working in the software world I feel like sometimes I have the tendency to pare back that kind of stuff so it’s nice to have a project going where it can be really flowy and vibe driven, and a bit more forgiving of those moments that could in many ways be considered mistakes.
What do you usually do when stuck on a track? Or how do you push through on a track that needs finishing?
Delete something. Often I think I get stuck at the point where I’ve put too much stuff into the track and the only way to advance it forward is to clear some space.
I get stuck a lot less than I used to now though, I think writing heaps and heaps of ideas when I write a track has helped. Like if I’ve got a cool drum loop going and I’m writing a melody, rather than just stressing about one melody I’ll make like 10 and pick the best one. I find that helps because you’re not super committed to one idea and can be more objective about picking the best option from a selection.
If I am in a pinch and lose objectivity on an idea, I won’t touch it or listen to it for a while so that I can come back to it with fresh ears. I find that really important too.
Also feeling OK with not finishing everything is good too. I’m comfortable scrapping ideas rather than pushing through, there’s no point beating your head against a wall when there’s plenty of new music waiting to be written. If I find myself struggling to finish something I often think that’s a sign that an idea that might not be that good anyway.
How much is music a solo pursuit for you and how does collaboration factor into your work? Or when and how do you turn to others for feedback or input?
Everything is collaboration for me. I find writing by or for myself too lonely, and like to make music with the intention of sharing it. Even when I’m doing my ‘solo project’ I really like to share tracks as soon as I’ve got a working demo of them to see which ones my housemates are into, and often those are the ones I finish off.
What do you have coming up release / tour / gig wise this year?
A few DJ sets with Body Promise, Daybreak Festival at the end of Feb in Melbourne looks like it’s going to be a good one. We’ve just put out an EP with Ten Brains and are touring off the back of that. I’ve got a hed ardennes record coming out in a month or two so I’ll be playing live around Oz for that. Aaaaand I’m playing keys/MPC in a new band Vlossom, touring schedule for that is looking pretty promising.