(Photo: Evan William Smith)
The Range is the latest project from production maestro James Hinton of Providence, Rhode Island. His debut album Nonfiction released earlier this year to critical acclaim, placing Hinton at the forefront of the experimental and IDM music landscape. He graduated from Brown University with a degree in Physics which intertwines with his unique sound. The album blends lush pianos, R&B and odd drum patterns while mixing samples from YouTube, sewn together fluidly, creating a sound that isn’t afraid to try new ideas in both the private listening experience and the live setting.
The Range is bringing his first full-fledged tour to The Chapel on December 21 and is shaping up to be a new type of experience. The Bay Bridged was given the opportunity to talk to Hinton on his story getting into music, what he’s trying to do differently in the ever-expanding genre and what his live show entails.
The Bay Bridged: You’ve been playing music for over 10 years and went to Brown University and got a Physics degree. What keeps pulling you back towards music?
The Range: I’ve always viewed it as being parallel. Basically since high school I’ve had a dual interest in music and physics so I’m not sure if it was a conscious decision to me. I’ve always done both and right now it seems like music is happening.
TBB: Do you feel like your education has had an influence on the music you make?
TR: I absolutely do. I remember back in school I studied a lot of cosmology and the awareness of being. I always think about math and music in terms of tools. It’s more like channeling the thought processes used to think about physics in music, but school inspired me to push myself more because in general I’m working in front of a static medium. I’m not doing any randomness or any aleatoric music. I’m trying to find this middle ground between the sciences and music and to not explicitly apply either one but sort of channel a medium ground. In music I think when people go and rest on that bedrock structure it doesn’t reflect the way the world really is around us, with that pop verse/chorus/verse thing, I think the world in general is a lot more organic and I try to let that process take place.
I really like the idea that people can dance to my music, but, like the other night, during the same song I’ll watch someone really dancing and then immediately stop and sort of be more reflective. (Laughs). Sometimes it’s not the best reaction when someone stops dancing but I sort of like the idea that they’re really interested in the elements, that it’s not just this mindless dancing exercise like a lot of DJ sets end up being. I’m happy to exist in that dual world.
TBB: How would you describe the live show that you’re doing right now and what do you think it’ll be in the future?
TR: For now it’s just me on stage on a Serato turntable. I think it’s both a practical and intentional decision to continue DJ-ing. I really like the idea that DJ-ing is this fixed media designed for people to listen. In the future I do think that there is a convincing way I can keep a lot of the mix elements from the studio. I work with a single artist for all the art related to the music, like the album cover, and we’re working on a visual set that will respond to whatever is happening, but I want to make sure it’s really good before I bring it out. I’ve worked hard to get this really sparse thing to work so I don’t want to abandon it too quickly. I just really want to evolve it slowly and take my time and be sure nothing gets out of sync with my overall message of what I’m trying to do live.
TBB: What is your message while you’re playing live?
TR: I’m trying to have people focus on that duality, like I want them to dance and have a good time but I think too many people are in one of the two boxes; either they go out and are really into dance music or there’s people that are really focused on music that spend time at house parties and shows where they’re just trying to see whatever the weirdest thing is and I think there is a middle ground that people don’t try to approach too much. I’m hoping I can bring about that middle ground and have people moving but also considering the music.
TBB: Have you discovered any difficulty or uniqueness in translating certain songs to the live setting?
TR: Yeah, I think where they often come out interestingly is in the blend moments, where certain elements will pop out more when juxtaposed against another track where you cut the high end and the low end of two different songs and the emphasis has totally shifted. Like last night there was a song from my first CD that I did with Donky Pitch that I haven’t played in a long time and I played it against some of the newer material from Nonfiction and it really changed the way I was thinking about the rhythm. You can use the other song to change how people view the song because they were just listening to it prior but then you can switch up the rhythm completely.
TBB: Are you playing new material on the road too?
TR: I’ve always worked pretty quickly so I have a lot of material, but obviously with touring it’s an interesting new setting. I don’t usually work on a laptop so it’s been interesting to have that restriction and I think that the music is definitely changing. It’s fun to be able to make music and play it instantly that night on a really good system and see what’s working or not, it’s much more iterative because instead of sitting on a song for a really long time I can just play it that night. I’m convinced it’ll be for the better in general, it’s a good way to be less precious about my material and get it out in the open more quickly. You’re not always gonna make perfect music, it’s not always gonna be 100%, and the more quickly you can reveal that in front of people the better. I love what the album has become but I get the sense that there is something much greater that I can push towards down the same line that I’m on, I feel like if I stay the course with this there’s something really good that I can achieve.
TBB: You do a lot of sampling from YouTube but obviously you’re creating a lot of drum beats on your computer too. Do you have a pattern or technique for song creation?
TR: It used to be starting with some sort of rhythm and then writing it as I went but now I’ve gotten to the point where there’s very little friction between anything I hear and getting it into a song. So when I’m on YouTube and I have an idea I can open a program, get it down and start going from there. More and more it’s been sort of a free-for-all, there’s almost no barrier to what I’ll use or not use, it’s just a question of whether I’m feeling it or not and then quickly getting to flesh out the idea as fast as I can and see where it goes. It’s generally pretty aesthetic. I have to hear something that I really enjoy whether that happens to be someone staring at a camera singing or them talking to their mom to pick up the hot sauce and then having some weird breathy moment, I’d be happy to use that.
TBB: Now that you’ve had the chance to play your music in a lot of different places is there some ideal listening experience that accompanies the album?
TR: Because I haven’t been out on the road too long most people’s reaction have been pretty singular and in solitude with their headphones. Obviously we make music that way, especially anyone that’s just a single person, they’re more or less on their computer with their headphones on, and I think a really good listening experience for them will be with headphones. But as I go on I can tell that people who have heard the record and that have seen me live they get a different vibe because the rhythms really do take hold live. I think that sometimes people focus on the melodies a lot when they have headphones on but the rhythm to me in a live setting speaks because you’ve got the subs and a lot of systems are tuned that way. For now I think it’s mostly with headphones but I’m hoping that will change a little.
To enter for a chance to win tickets to see The Range at The Chapel, email firstname.lastname@example.org with “The Range” in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the email. A winner will be selected at random and notified via email.
December 21, 2013
8pm, $12 (all ages)