Similarly to much of the output that comes from the Tru Thoughts camp (Hint and Maddslinky immediately spring to mind), Werkha’s music seems to be intentionally designed in equal parts for headphones and soundsystems, for the classically trained listener and the one that just wants to feel a vibe. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk, and one that has parallels to the old ‘live instrumentation vs laptop producer’ debate, but despite a lean discography Manchester-based Werkha seems to have mastered the art.
After first turning heads back in 2012 with his Cube & Puzzle EP, Werkha (aka Tom Leah) made Brighton-based label Tru Thoughts his permanent residence, releasing the Beacons EP last year with Gilles Peterson including ‘Sidesteppin’ on Brownswood Bubblers Ten. Last month saw the long awaited release of his debut album, Colours of a Red Brick Raft, binding together infectious elements of Afrobeat, jazz, funk, soul and house with constantly evolving production.
Ahead of his full live band performance next month at Oval Space for Gilles Peterson’s Global Rhythms day party, the 23-year-old producer took us through an in-depth track-by-track of his new LP, covering his inspiration, composition techniques and more. Listen to the album in full above and read Werkha’s corresponding analysis below.
Werkha’s Colours of a Red Brick Raft is available to buy now via Tru Thoughts. Werkha will perform at Oval Space on August 1st alongside Gilles Peterson, Romare, Channel One Sound, Auntie Flo and more a global rhythms day party. Tickets are still available via RA.
I wanted a snappy intro to the album, for it to take off immediately. As I progressed through the composition of it, I though it’d be interesting to explore a tempo change in there somewhere as well. For me, it results in quite an abrasive introduction before crashing out at the very end in such a way so as to leave the door open for the rest of the album.
Dusk (feat. Bryony Jarman-Pinto)
Possibly the biggest departure in style from any of my previous Werkha productions. ‘Dusk’ is a track that I had no intention of rushing. The string parts were initially written using samples of cello recordings I had from previous recordings on my laptop. Bryony and I took our time to think about an atmosphere for the track, and Shunya (Alan Keary) helped me further compose & re-arrange the strings for a final studio recording. Although it was debatably one of the more intense and time restrained studio sessions I’ve done, I will never forget the first time I heard that chilling string part come back at me through the monitors.
Falling Through The Wall
‘Falling Through The Wall’ had to have a bit of squelchy groove to it. The title references noisy music-making neighbours (low frequencies being the prime suspect in that game). I really enjoyed bringing together my instrumental recording approach to the album and my continued interest in sound system production with this one.
The Invincible (feat. Alex Rita)
Collaborating with Alex Rita was a bit of no-brainer. I heard her stuff – Okapii – on the internet and was immediately lured in by the sound of her voice. She has a very original tone. It was great to explore the more soulful end of the spectrum too. Working with Alex helped me to re-interpret and revitalise an earlier sketch I had pulled together, the instrumentation signifying where our musical minds met.
Dim The Light
Squelchy! However, the chord sequence I wrote on the keys was originally written as a response to one of my favourite producers, Dimlite (hence the track title). I always work through my ideas to reach the end result, and by the time I had explored further synthesis and arrangement, the track had taken on its new form. It’s great fun to play at gigs!
Sidesteppin’ (feat. Bryony Jarman-Pinto)
You’ve perhaps heard this before. This edit was a bid to tie it into the rest of the LP with a new mix and further instrumentation in the form of live kit. It was nice to include this on the album as I headed towards the latter stages of determining the track listing. This has been a big track for me, an important one in the development of my production style, a crucial one for Bryony and myself.
This was the first track of the album writing process where I thought about the performative aspect of the composition. I wanted something with pace and alternative instrumentation. Two basses and a hand clapping 145bpm were the answer. Possibly one of my most enjoyable recent writing experiences.
Fire By The Kul
‘Fire By The Kul’ was inspired by the combination of two similar experiences on opposite sides of the world; growing up in rural north England where we’d travel to the nearby lakes for freezing swims, and separately camping out next to Issy Kul in Kyrgyzstan on a holiday. On both occasions we had fires. Kul is Kyrgyz for lake. I wanted to paint a dramatic setting with the rhythm and the synthesis, and capture the natural beauty with the cello parts.
Houses Of Saffron
It only felt right to keep the album moving by wedging a shorter jam in amongst the other tracks on the album that I would consider as songs. It helped me knit different sonic aspects of the album together, exploring rhythmic traits from some of the other tracks (notably the second beat emphasis and time signature crossovers between 6/4 & 4/4).
City Shuffle (feat. Bryony Jarman-Pinto)
I still like writing in a more pop-orientated style (as loose an association as that might be). The spring in my step approach to writing is always fun, and it’s great to work with Bryony on something with bounce in it! This is an urban-specific production… picture yourself wandering through the city hustle-and-bustle to it.
The driving percussion was the foundation of this song… I started messing around with ideas on a train that was travelling from Germany to Poland last year, and the first thing I could hear around me was the rhythm of the railway track. It took me a while to nail the initial tracking of the bass guitar part in this song. I later got Shunya to play it. It’s always great to try and write beyond your ability!
A Revolution Blue
The composition of the piano part in this song was the very first idea for the album. It ended up being that I worked the rest of the album backwards from this point. I wanted to transport the listener from the end of my last release –Beacons EP – to this stylistically different tune over the course of the album. It took a back seat while I wrote the rest of the album, before I returned to it with greater confidence in my instrumental composition. I had GoGo Penguin band member and producer Joe Reiser help engineer the recordings of the harp, strings, kit and double bass (played by Nick Blacka, also of Gogo Penguin). The motive for the song was a blue graffiti image of Edward Snowden (painted by SLM – Sarah Lynn Mayhew) in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. It sparked the thought… wouldn’t a revolution of truth be something for our generation to strive for? To know the reality of our media-constructed current affairs? I’d be amazed if the song sparked such a thought in your head though.