Despite producing for two decades, Nebraska remains fairly enigmatic, making very few public appearances and sporadically releasing tracks, sometimes years apart. Rather than fading away however, Nebraska’s musical career is looking stronger than ever. His mystery has worked in his favour and by focussing on quality rather than quantity in both his productions and appearances, he has cemented himself as a firm favourite of NYC-based party-throwers Mister Saturday Night.
We managed to track down the elusive producer and uncover a little more about his production technique, taste and his disappearances. Accompanying the words is a mix, kindly put together, of old tracks which have served as inspiration for Nebraska’s own work. Tracklist included below.
Hey Ali, thanks for joining us. How’s your 2015 going?
Thanks for having me. 2015… from a music perspective, I’ve rarely had a better year. The EP on Delusions of Grandeur got a great reception, the response to the 12” on Mister Saturday Night really took me by surprise and Rush Hour reissued something from 5 years ago. All good, all good.
What is it about the American heartland that made you want to adopt the name Nebraska for your musical persona?
I know nothing about Nebraska the place, I’ve never heard the Springsteen album of the same name and I’ve yet to see the film starring Bruce Dern. It was a purely intuitive decision based on the sound of the word. It was for a one-off project (so I thought) on a friend’s side-project label. I’d made a last batch of tracks before I sold all my gear and moved home. I thought it was a last hurrah for my music hobby, and I’d no idea I’d still be discussing it 15 years later… probably would’ve thought a bit harder about it if I’d known.
From the euphoric ‘Emotional Rescue‘ to the more down-tempo workout of ‘The Stoop’, your new EP for Mister Saturday Night is a varied one. Can you talk us through how it came together and what you wanted the listener to get out of it?
Truth is, I love making tunes and there’s a few people I trust to help me make the edit on what goes out. In that respect, the Mister Saturday Night boys were instrumental in choosing those tracks and sequencing them. A little bit of objectivity is helpful sometimes.
How did you first meet Eamon and Justin from Mister Saturday Night, and how are they to work with?
Justin very kindly contacted me to say that he’d been playing some of my tracks at their parties; we met up in London and had a chat, swapped some vinyl. Coincidentally, we worked out that I’d been to one of their Brooklyn-based outdoor parties in 2009 before they called it ‘Mister Sunday’ – the very trip that inspired A Weekend On My Own on Rush Hour. Small world.
They have referred to some of your tracks as ‘anthems’ at their parties. Do you always have the dance-floor in mind when making music?
Pretty much, yeah, but maybe not always exactly the same dance floor every time. Maybe it’s a one-light basement like Plastic People was; sometimes perhaps an outdoor space. Never a big super-club with lasers, though!
Is there a track (or tracks) that you’d consider your ‘anthem(s)’?
Tracks by others? I could go on forever – ‘Myrtle Avenue‘ by Floating Points is amazing. ‘Black Mahogany’ by Moodymann. ‘Mango Walk’ by Rhythm & Sound. ‘Dream Gerrard’ by Traffic. The Theo Parrish edit of ‘Little Sunflower’ by Freddie Hubbard.
Tracks that I’ve made? I can only go by what others tell me – if you believe YouTube, seems like ‘This Is The Way’ is the most popular thing I’ve done so far.
With the dance floor in mind, in your 20 years of making music you’ve only played out three times [once for Boiler Room and twice with Session Victim]. What’s your thinking behind keeping a low live profile?
A mate and I also nearly played live in Bergen, Norway around ‘98, but we cancelled due to last minute equipment failure. It was a relief not to do it to be honest – I don’t think it would’ve been a huge success. I’ve no secret desire to headline Glastonbury or have U2 as my support act. A mixture of reluctance, technical ignorance and cowardice has inadvertently become something resembling a mysterious public relations strategy, and as such it’s served me well.
What, in your eyes, makes an ideal show and one you’d like to play?
Rather than a show, I’d prefer to think about a party – it implies more that the crowd is as much a part of it as the guy doing the music… To that end, it’s about the right people, the right room, the right sound system. Set up by friends, people you trust.
Your two EPs this year follow your 2011 LP ‘Displacement‘. Was the gap between releases deliberate, or have you just been putting out music as and when the creative juices are flowing?
It’s to do with who’s interested in what you’re making at any given time. There was also a little hiatus in there around 2012 due to some serious ill-health. All better now!
Does your creative process differ when working on an LP to an EP?
Maybe not, but I’m not sure I’d make another LP. There’s something about that longer format that, in respect of my own work, I’m less in love with right now. I may even go shorter and knock out a few 7”s.
What’s on your stereo at the moment?
So much – Saturday mornings are often about playing vinyl LPs that I haven’t dug out for years. Lots of jazz, dub, soul, 80s electro. All sorts. ‘Forest Flower’ by Charles Lloyd sounded great the other day. Been listening to that since I was a kid, my uncle bought it back from a trip to California in the 60s.
Are there any up-and-coming producers and DJs we should be paying closer attention to?
‘Up and coming’ is probably not the way to describe him but if you’re talking about someone perhaps less often heard, Cottam is a great DJ. His productions are always amazing, but as a DJ the guy has skill, taste and is committed to his craft.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve kindly put together for us? [the idea behind it, where/how you recorded it and whether there are any standouts]
I wanted to do something other than another perfectly beat-matched, tempo-locked DJ mix – there’s a million people who can do that better than me. I’m largely playing the type of old tunes that inspire my own work, but the format is inspired by the type of sound-system tapes I loved as a kid. Here’s a link to one of my favourites (no idea who the selector was) I got via my older brother, probably around 1984/85.
Finally, what’s in store for the rest of 2015? Are there any more releases in the works and will we be able to catch you live at all?
There might be some more stuff coming out, but nothing’s finalised yet. Might be a one-off party in Hamburg or Berlin with my good friends Session Victim, but that’s about it. But, hey, who knows…
Billy Paul – East (Dub Adjustment)
DJ Nature – Sexual Tension Scene 2
Love Unlimited Orchestra – Strange Games and Funky Things
Donald Byrd – Close Your Eyes And Look Within
Steve Miller Band – Macho City
Marvin Gaye – A Funky Space Reincarnation
Roy Ayers – The Memory
Mystic Moods – Cosmic Sea
Fatback Band – Keep On Steppin’
Theo Parrish – Dirt Rhodes
Cottam – 002 A
Hi-Tension – Girl I Betcha
Rasa – When Will The Day Come
Azymuth – Manha
Earth Wind & Fire – Power
Players Association – Ride The Groove
Futura 2000 – The Adventures of Futura 2000 (Dub)
The Clash – The Magnificent Dance
Cultural Vibe – Ma Foom Bey
Linkwood – Secret Value/Between Me And You
Quincy Jones – Mellow Madness