Simeon Jones and Nathanael Williams are a galactic-cruising duo obsessed with synths and tape machines. Following their 2017-released 2020 EP, their debut album on Rhythm Section goes deeper into the vortex of jazz, hip-hop and machine funk, underpinned with themes of space and afrofuturism. Take a tour of their studio below, alongside an interview picking apart its contents and their creative process.
Grey Doubt is out now on Rhythm Section – buy from Bandcamp
First off, what’s your musical education?
Simeon: I’ve got a BA in Music and an MA in ethnomusicology.
Nathanael: I’m pretty much a self taught producer and instrumentalist – except for a sociolinguistic MA (where he recorded and analysed a lot of conversations) a short course in Max MSP (which he doesn’t remember).
What was your first ever set-up, when you started making music?
Both of our first ever set up was a PC with FruityLoops 3. We both used to make Grime instrumentals and bring them to school for everyone to MC over at lunchtime. Simeon in London and Nathanael in Birmingham.
What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?
Simeon: I had pair of Numark TT200s, a mixer and a Seinnheiser mic. I remember feeling like the fucking man after buying Eskimo and Pulse X from Ozzy at Music Emporium on Peckham high street at like 15.
Nathaneal: my first piece of seriousness kit was a Dave Smith Tempest which he unfortunately had to sell to fuel his cocaine addiction.
Thanks for taking some photos around your studio. Could you give us a little walk through the main components?
Our setup has differed in the past from our live setup to recording setup. However as we obtain more kit we’ve been looking at ways to fully integrate our live and recording setup. Firstly, so we don’t have to do as much plugging and unplugging in different equipment and also so that we can have more fun with our music production by incorporating more live elements to the music. We have our fundamental components that we’ve used from the very start. These specific instruments have helped forge our sound: Korg Poly 61, Roland Juno 106Nord Electro 3Micro KorgMPC 1000Volca beatsElectro Harmonix 4500Live DrumsFender Jazz bassFender TelecasterBoss ME-50Lots of cheap Chinese guitar pedals
Where is it located and do you share with anyone else?
Our studio is situated just off of Noctis Labyrinthus, we’ve shared the space with some amazing musicians but it’s mainly just us.
What’s been your method for creating this studio? Has it been a gradual accumulation or a bulk purchase? Any key inspirations in pulling it together?
Most of the equipment we’ve both managed to accumulate along our journey has ended up in the studio. It’s like a hoarder’s den of bric-a-brac from broken tape machines and Fun Machines, to brand new Focal Monitors and MacBooks. We try and have fun with every piece of equipment we have so we are mindful of filling the studio up with too much equipment. For both of us it is important to have as much fun with what we use as possible.
Are you always seeking to experiment and develop your studio, by changing or adding equipment? If so, what warrants a change?
We recently added a Moog sub37 and MPC 1000 to our setup. These were necessary components for our live setup to allow us to explore the electronic elements of our sound in a live context, however they have also added to our recording setup. We usually buy new kit when its necessary to advance our sound.
You must have a most treasured bit of equipment. If you had to keep just one piece, what would it be?
In terms of treasured kit, it’s hard when thinking about what specific thing to save in a fire or flood. Hard drives and MacBooks would be the logical choice but at the same time the least romantic. All of our synths have a defect which makes them bespoke and unique, be it a filter issue or leaking battery acid. It’s fair to say everything we own is treasured equally. Having said that the Baldwin Fun Machine is a special little secret
Before you head to the studio, is there anything you do to prepare or get in the right headspace?
We have struck a balance between impulse and concept. Although concept is very important, ideas come to life from action and sometimes impulse informs concept. It is important for us both that our art does/says something and we use concepts to relay that.
Are you someone to labour over a track until every crease is ironed out, or do you prefer a raw, instinctive approach without dwelling too much on something?
Painstakingly labouring over a track really depends on the track. Some tracks call for being thoroughly produced. Whilst other tracks can be played in live first take with only a few tweaks in production and post-production. Saying that our album took a long time to finish and that was us mixing the fuck out of it. Music as we know it – the chords, harmonies, melodies and progressions – have all been recycled/regurgitated enough times to become stagnant. Real progression in music in 2020 is how you make a difference in sound digitally in production. This is where we find we spend most of our time, trying new things with our mix and soundscapes.
Where do you go or what do you do when you have writers block? Anything to reset the mental hardware?
There is no magical cure for writers block. Sometimes just carrying on with life and experiencing new things gives you new things to write about. It will come to you.
What inspires you outside the world of music?
Living is an inspiration for making music. Everyday is a lesson, providing some stimulus to keep you thinking.
Congrats on your debut album, just out on Rhythm Section. Could you pick a track and dissect its formation, in terms of the creative process and what you used.
Ghost in the Forest: We were going through some old projects at Simeon’s house and we found a chord progression that sounded aaaaight. So then we decided that it might sound good to play it arpeggiated on the guitar – Sim played. Then we added some synths and Nathanael put some off time drum machine, then filtered bass on it. Then we got Yussef to slap some drums on but we felt like it only needed it on the second half. Tom Driessler came in to play some double bass with Yussef but he ended up adding some weird noises by scratching the strings with loads of reverb on. Then Francesca (Lyves) heard it and added some vocals that we effected and pitched up an octave. We added more 106 synths and ended up keeping a bit as a secret reprise (if you listen past the silence) that Yussef and Driessler jammed out when he was actually playing his double bass as a double bass. Few more synths and fx and bounce time. That’s about it.
What else is on the horizon this year that’s getting you excited?
We’ve got so much new material to release and record so that’s really exciting for this year. Also being able to play out at some point in the future is also quite an exciting concept.
Grey Doubt is out now on Rhythm Section – buy from Bandcamp