- First for a girl, second for a girl, third for me.
Most mixtapes are made to woo those that are the focus of our infatuation, be it mild or muggy. Infatuation may be a little strong, but when piecing together a mixtape there’s an urge to make something considered and thoughtful and this doesn’t come from a place of the unbothered.
Making a ‘tape’ is a safe way to say I like you without having to say I like you and them saying I don’t like you, what were you thinking?
- I’m not sure.
If you’re lucky, if all the cogs fit into place it can start a conversation, one with a romantic lilt, acting rather like Cyrano de Bergerac, articulating with poetry what you can not.
This is how the Sounds of the Canyon series started, as an act of mild infatuation. I made a mixtape for a girl that I liked. She liked me too. She also liked my sister. My first encounter with millennial fluidity. She lived in New York, which posed a more geographic challenge.
It was a selection of songs that soundtracked my life then; other infatuations like Cat Power, Jolie Holland and Klang (whose lead singer gave me a private rendition with a scratchy old guitar and a pound coin. In hindsight, I see it was a sawtooth ballad to the unrequited love she was about to serve up). The mixtape was titled Werewolf, not because Cupid’s boss-eyed aim would get me howling at the moon but because it was the name of a Cat Power song included in the mix. Just that.
I made another mix ‘King of the Rodeo’, it was good but I rushed it. Throwing it together in iTunes, levels all over the place. It was clunky in that respect but I wanted to capitalise on the momentum I had made with girl one. She replied positively and asked if I’d meet her at the airport as she passed through on her way to Cape Town.
I headed to the airport. Since seeing her last I had grown a moustache in one of those misguided attempts to find one’s identity through the cultivation of facial hair. The moustache was a shock to her and I feel like she couldn’t see beyond it. Sitting there in Starbucks, I too couldn’t see beyond it and I think we both felt like it had grown to garden-hedge proportions, the two of us slowly disappearing behind it. We parted ways.
So the mix turned out to be better than the relationship, which stuttered and skipped and didn’t really ever get to the last track so to speak. It was at this point that I thought it might be fun to spend a little more time on them, and stop making them for girls and make them for me. So, I made a mix called All is Well. It wasn’t, but it felt good to say it, as if saying it might turn the tide or help with the poker face. I took a picture of my favourite shoes and put them on the cover. I was single and felt very close to them.
There is a song by the badman bassist Miroslav Vitous called Infinite Search,a beautiful, charged, veering piece of music that takes left and right turns in mid air, forever ‘questing’ as Q-Tip would say. With the benefit of hindsight I could say that it was indicative of my own search at the time, for an end to something and a beginning of something else. The song lent its name to the next collection of songs, a serene set, taking it in turns to ‘journey’ us, the listener through the drifts of time and tone.
By this time I had met Claudia, my wife to be (a couple of mixtapes later). We had been making an annual pilgrimage to the Greenman festival at the foot of the black mountains in Wales, navigating an ever wet microclimate, listening to cranky, dark and dainty folk music with our friends and the local sheep, in sometimes, relentless horizontal rain. These mystical smoke filled times spawned a tape with my good friend, Graham Erickson. We twisted together a collection of winter burners for the cold months and named it, for no particular reason after the actress, Ali MacGraw.
J Dilla’s Donuts was the soundtrack to mine and Claudia’s early years together. Unfortunately for this Universe Dilla passed away in early 2006. Myself and my brother-in-arms Chris Williams (AKA Quills) weaved together a tribute to him, as he had been a metronome to our friendship for as long as it had existed. We were attempting to frame Dilla in the context of those that had inspired him and who he had inspired - a constellation of luculent stars that he was at the centre of - a blazing Sun, giving light and warmth, ‘the best to ever do it’.
Finally I embarked on Homemade, wanting to make a mix that slowed things down. I hoped it might act as a means to certify my inauguration into the Slow Life Movement, a global fellowship that existed only in my head (seems I was wrong!), an attitudinal sea-change that feels more apt now than then. I cut it back from 150 or so songs but then sat on it, felt unsure, maybe it was too slow? At this point I had other priorities, those forced upon me by the ‘fast life’. So it got shelved until recently when Graham (Ali MacGraw) mentioned he had been playing it non stop on holiday. So I looked for it, played it and things slowed down.
“I don’t trust silence” - Marlon James on BBC Desert Island Discs.
I can not remember a single day in the last 30 or so years that I have not felt hungry to hear something and thus felt the need to sate that hunger. I have spent many days and nights in the company of others, listening to music, moving to music, making music, talking shit about music, dancing in a field to music and of course, compiling the stuff. All of this tied together through the notes and melodies that soundtrack our lives in bedrooms, living rooms, basements and warehouses - sharing, experiencing and absorbing sound organised by humans for humans (and sometimes sheep).
This series allowed me to cast some of it in stone.