Friday, June 26th, 2009 | Sounds
Chicago based Stephen Hitchell dons many guises, producing as Soultek, Phase90 and Variant, as well as collaborating with Rod Modell as echospace and cv313. Hitchell (along with Modell) also runs the echospace [detroit] label, which earlier this year released his first solo album ‘The Seduction Of Silence’ under the Intrusion moniker. In this interview, Stephen tells us about the finer details of running a label, as well as what’s coming up for him and echospace [detroit].
Q: In the past couple of years, yourself and Rod Modell have been responsible for a huge amount of productions and remixes as well as starting and running the echospace [detroit] label. How clear a vision did you guys have for the label and how far in advanced did you have to plan for the hectic release schedule?
A: Rod and I never set out to do specific releases or stick to a schedule, last year there were only 2 releases on echospace which isn’t nearly as prolific as 2007. Actually, most people would be surprised to know most of the material such as “Vantage Isle”, “Dimensional Space”, “Subtraktive”, Intrusion “Reflection” & “Spatial Dimension” were all recordings which were done ages ago, some were recorded in the mid to later 90’s. In most cases I would re-master or remix the source material recorded. The remix material of Model 500 and Claude VonStroke were both done a few months prior to the releases coming out, but most of the other releases were recorded many years prior. The material released on fortune8 was also recorded years earlier from 1994-1998, I did re-work them to give the releases a more modern edge and they were kind of rough around the edges but with so many un-released songs it made sense to get them out rather than let them sit on hard disk recorders or tapes for another 10 years.
Q: Nearly all of the echospace releases have been limited edition color vinyl. How difficult is it as a label to find the balance between keeping the doors open and appeasing your need to release a well produced, beautifully packaged piece of vinyl? Do you find that the limited quantity does more for raising the profile of the label?
A: Most of the releases have been limited but this isn’t really out of personal preference only what the market will allow. Color vinyl is very expensive to manufacture, almost double the price of standard black vinyl, so you can’t take to much risk in limiting to 300 copies, but enough to not over saturate and still keep it manageable to package them all by hand. It takes a ton of work taking records out of paper sleeves, centering the artwork in each plastic sleeve and sealing them, more time than most would imagine. The Vantage Isle triple pack and Model 500 double pack took me nearly 6 weeks of packaging time with each project, centering, stickering, labeling, etc. I do all of these things by hand, I think its important to have a connection with each and every record, knowing I packaged each one and made sure each one looked perfect is very important to me. I design all the artwork myself and Rod contributes his expertise with photography, he went to art school for photography and does some exceptional work in that regard.
Q: You released Model 500 ‘Starlight’ remixes last year. Aside from 3 of the remixes, yourself and/or Rod provided all of the others. Was there anyone that you would have liked to have got on-board with the project? Are there any plans to remix other classic Detroit material?
A: Sure, I would have loved to have other artist involved with remixes but I was already so far over budget with it I couldn’t afford to make that a reality. In regard to re-working more Detroit classics sure, I would love to see that happen but there are no plans as of now.
Q: I understand there’s an ambient album being released on echospace can you tell us a little more about this project. What else do you have coming up on the label?
A: I recently signed an ambient album from San Francisco based producer Brock Van Wey, he primarily records as bvdub on labels like Styrax, Quietus, Southern Outpost and Meanwhile. I told Brock I wanted him to send a demo but only when he had something very personal to say and something different from his work on other labels. I wanted this to be a shining example of who he was as an artist and it’s a departure from most of his other work, which is partially why I loved it so much. It is quite hard to sign an artist which sounds too much like you do, I really want the most unique and genuine things people have to say. Outside of Brock’s album I also licensed a live recording of cv313 to a distributor in Japan, most likely it will not see much coverage outside of there though. I am also releasing the debut cv313 studio album on echospace later this year, which will feature studio versions of the tracks on the live CD, so those who feel like they missed out will still be able to hear those songs in their final stage rather than live versions. I have another project called, “variant” which focuses on deep drifting soundscapes, acoustic guitar, field recordings and ventures further into ambient productions, I have a CD coming out in the future and a few other things not yet determined.
Q: The Coldest Season was released through Manchester label Modern Love - how did that relationship come about and what was the reasoning in releasing through them rather than your own label? Are there any plans on working with Modern Love’s Andy Stott & Claro Intelecto?
A: The relationship with Modern Love developed when I was working at a record distributor, I met him through the business side of things. When I told him about the project with Rod he really wanted to hear it and was always a big supporter of the sound. When we finished the album, we sent him the full mastered versions of “The Coldest Season”, he was so in love with it, when he asked to sign it Rod and I were quite happy and went with it. They have been a wonderful label to work with, Modern Love and all the artists associated to it, Mark, Miles, Gaz & Andy are all great producers and very down to earth people, it is a tight little family there and we’re happy to be a part of that. As for working with Mark, Andy or any other artist on the label, sure we would, it hasn’t come up yet but I am sure if that were an option we would do it. We’ve played with most of the artists on the label in Europe and Japan and it’s been a real pleasure getting to know those guys on a personal level. We also are in the final stages of recording the next echospace album for Modern Love now which hopefully will see a full scale release in the fall.
Q: The depth of The Coldest Season really takes hold of the listener and the name perfectly encapsulates the mood of album. Were you guys locked up in the dead of the Midwest winter? How long did it take to produce - I read that you used up to 7000ft of tape per track?
A: Funny comment about the tape, yeah, maybe even more than that! The album was completely recorded in the winter months in Chicago and Detroit, so yes, winter was definitely the setting for most of the recordings. The final track “Empyrean” was added later in the process just as spring had kicked in which comes across quite well in the album, it’s the break from winter into summer. Theme and environment played a huge role in recording the album, it was also done at a time I had just found out I was going to be a father which was a huge part of the inspiration behind it. I couldn’t tell you how many feet of tape was used in the process of recording it, but I can say I have 5 boxes filled with reels, out-takes and 20 different versions of the same song. The hardest task was going through everything trying to find the best of what was there and what worked in unison with the other songs. In terms of time invested into the album, that is a tough one, I would say 2 - 3 years on and off, it wasn’t something we were focusing on all the time, it all came together very slowly. After we had the whole album completed, I later asked Rod to include the closing song “Empyrean” which was something I did years ago when I was working a lot in a dub / reggae band. It didn’t quite fit what was there and in retrospect maybe it wasn’t the right choice but I still love hearing it.
A: Rod and I make it work by making good use out of the post office. We mail a lot back and forth and we do see each other quite often on tours over the past few years. Working with Rod hasn’t really changed much of what I was doing years prior but he has certainly helped me understand the beauty of restraint. Many of my old productions were very full, lots of melody, constant change and now things are a bit more reserved and almost in slow motion which has a lot to do with Rod’s influence.
Q: What’s your take on recent evolutions in the dub-tech sounds? Are you into artists/labels like Martyn, 2562, Appleblim, Skull Disco?
A: I like the artists you mentioned a lot and have bought most of their catalog, I really love the Hyperdub label and Burial a great deal. I will be honest here and say its quite hard to hear the words dub-tech put together though, I never viewed this sound as more than deep hypnotic listening music.
Q: What new artists/labels are exciting you right now and are there any from Chicago/Detroit that people should be looking out for?
A: As far as in Detroit, I think Patrice Scott has been doing wonderful releases on Sistrum, Mike Huckaby has some proper house cuts getting revived, Omar S is doing some good things with FXHE, Sean Deason has been coming back proper with his Matrix imprint, Brian and Luke of Berretta Music are also doing some great things, Terrence Dixon, Reggie Dokes, Delano Smith, Carl Craig, Rick Wade and Scott Grooves have had some excellent material flourish this past year and Ghostly & Spectral are always up to something. Of course the obvious legends like Jeff Mills, Mike Banks, Juan Atkins, Rob Hood who’s back in the studio, Theo and Kenny Dixon and of course Dan Bell who is still mesmerizing audiences with his classic tracks.
In Chicago Jamal Moss has had his hands in some of the raw-est cuts to come out of the city in many years. Steve Tang, Daryl Cura, Traxx and Josh Werner, who was one of the people directly responsible for putting techno in the record bags of DJ’s all over this city, selling vinyl for almost 20 years at Chicago’s most important record shop, Gramaphone. We are actually releasing some new kinda futuristic warehouse cuts here soon, there are a ton of people doing things right now. Ron Trent, Peven Everett, Larry Heard, Glenn Underground, Sean Smith, Chez Damier, and countless other guys coming out to release some great work.
Q: Some of the best dub records are very stripped in sound - drum, bass and effects - how important is this production aesthetic in your own works? Which dub artists have influenced you the most?
A: I don’t think anything is important in my productions and don’t ever think about what it is or is not, I am the exact opposite, I don’t think at all. If you think about what your doing then it changes your feeling, your vibration, I start to play and let my heart do the rest. I love so many dub & reggae artists it would be hard to narrow down names of all those who have influenced me in some way, I guess I would say everyone. Time period of music certainly plays a factor with me, older 60’s / 70’s era records I am really into and when the digi dub sound started to hit in the 80’s (Firehouse era) there was so much coming out it was hard to keep up with everyone. I would have to say the recording and mixing techniques of Lee Perry, King Tubby, Derrick Harriott, Keith Hudson are extremely influential to me. Dub to me is an art form in itself, its very concept may have been to add an additional mix to a B side (version) but more so, it gave the mixing engineer in the studio a chance to put his heart and voice into other people’s music. I think “Dub” as a musical genre applies to a lot of music outside of its Jamaican roots, it grew popular with artist like The Clash, The Police and even rock bands like Soundgarden released dubs of their music, purely instrumental with tweaked out sound effects. It made a huge impact in popular music and still today in r & b you hear guest appearances from Jimmy Cliff and Stephen Marley, it influenced a lot of genres. It always had its influence in electronic music and always will, the very concept is to alter and effect sound electronically which is essentially what this music is all about.
Q: Any thoughts about going to Jamaica for a while and seeing how that will affect your productions?
A: Been there and it certainly has…
A: I am not doing any tours on the intrusion material, I actually only play as a group (the band mentality never left me I suppose), so expect some more tours as echospace with Rod Modell. I am quite happy people like the new album, it warms my heart knowing people felt the music, hopefully I can do another intrusion album in a few years. For now I’ve dedicated most of my time to finishing up the next echospace album with Rod and a few new remixes, some more solo work under different guises. One thing is for sure, I’ll never stop making music, I haven’t for 20 years now and doubt I ever will, it is what I love to do.
Buy echospace [detroit] releases at Beatport