Mark de Clive-Lowe

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Greg Scarth talks to the LA-based musician and producer about the making of his Kickstarter-funded new album, CHURCH.

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For the last three years, Mark de Clive-Lowe has been hosting a series of live music events in LA and New York, which he describes as “equal parts jazz club, electronic remix experiment and dance party”. CHURCH, Mark’s recently released eleventh studio album, takes its name from the events and also draws heavily on the ethos and spirit of the nights.

The album was funded using a successful Kickstarter campaign, then recorded in a total of just three days in New York and LA. We spoke to Mark about the making of the album, martial arts, his thoughts on the 90s broken beat scene and why it took him a long time to find his feet as an artist.

 

Attack: I guess the Kickstarter project is a good place to start. You’re not the first person to do it but it’s still quite an unusual way to approach making an album. At what point did that idea first come up?

Mark de Clive-Lowe: I was working on an album for a label in the States. I demoed it and then I was waiting maybe a year and a half. The A&R was onside but various aspects of the corporate side of the company were holding it back, and I just got to a point where it was like, am I going to end up waiting another year or do I get on and make this record, you know?

“The Kickstarter was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was like running for president or something.”

Right.

So the demos were locked in with that label so I had to let all of those go and start all over again. I felt like a Kickstarter campaign was a chance to be super empowered and if there was a reality in social media then it was the right time to test the water and see if it was real.

How did you find the process? Did you get a good response to it on the whole, or was there any backlash?

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was like running for president or something. ‘Vote for me!’ I know a lot of my peers – especially people who’ve been around for a while – were definitely watching curiously to see what happened, but I really enjoyed it. It was a great chance to connect directly with the fan base, and what I did find was that it made me realise there are people who want me to make the music that I want to make. It wasn’t like the album had to be made for a certain label or a certain scene or a certain A&R guy – it was a real vote of confidence from people who like what I do, which is super encouraging for anyone, I think.

When you take back that control and run the Kickstarter project yourself you have to take on all the roles: A&R, the business plan… Did you have to think about things like the finances?

Yeah, absolutely. Everything had to be very planned out, but I’ve always had a hand in that in my career anyway – whether I’m working with management or agents I’m always very hands-on, so it’s not a foreign concept to me, but at the same time the ship had to be tight and everything had to be accounted for… Which is great, because it’s no different with creativity, where you put in rules or restrictions or constraints and that forces you to be more creative within those confines. I tend to do well in that kind of environment. Also, if it’s my own decision business-wise and something doesn’t work, I appreciate having that responsibility. I’ve had labels turn me down with really fool-proof strategy ideas just because they cost a little bit of money, so it’s nice to have the freedom to control that myself.

“you put in rules or restrictions or constraints and that forces you to be more creative within those confines.”

Did it become a bit sterile or soulless at any point? Like, you wanted a five-piece horn section but you knew you could only afford a three-piece?

When it came down the creative process of the recording itself I knew what I wanted. If I’d wanted a 60-piece orchestra it would have been in the plan from the beginning and I would have committed to making that money somehow, but I knew what I wanted to do so I made sure it all made sense.

I like the parallel you draw between the finances and the creative process. The fact that you have to put restrictions on things helps you decide from the word go exactly how the project’s going to proceed.

Oh man, totally. It’s like that with music technology. When you’re making music on Ableton or whatever and there’s a million options it’s like, where do you begin? I love the way that even if you pull out a four-track recorder you have to work within those confines and be creative.

But it sounds like this probably wasn’t a cheap album to make. We’re talking about lots of session musicians, recording in good studios…

Definitely. I’ve definitely developed that side of my craft as well. I can sit on my laptop and make a lot of music, but I really wanted to bring back the musician in me and bring the band back into the process. It was really important to record that properly. What you get back from investing in the studio time to use a nice Neumann on a nice SSL desk or whatever is a whole different sonic quality. That’s very underrated. For me it was great to be back in studios in LA and New York where everything was how it should be. The LA studio’s a 1980s API studio with a great engineer, and in New York it was a beautiful SSL desk and every mic I could have wanted. That makes a huge difference. When you treat sound with the same kind of respect as everything else, the creative process becomes easier.

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  • Date: 4th July 2014
  • Frank Wrote:

    @MdCL

    Honestly….will you be stuck forever in that Broken-Beat-Jazz-Chords-With-Rhodes-Soul thing ? Like, really ? I mean i really appreciated your music in like the 90s or whenever that was again when BB had its moment and that was cool but what about the fact it’s 2014 ? What about broadening your horizons ? Are you fooling yourself into thinking you ARE in fact developing as an artist ? Sorry, but just listening to these 2 minutes of the “now or Never” trailer makes me feel uncomfortable because it sounds like as if neo soul and jazz house were still the shit.You know, like pretending nothing new has happend in the music world in the last decade.Someone got to let you know that the Rhodes retro cult is long gone.Please.Listen to some new music.

  • David Wrote:

    @Frank wtf are you on about…. I like his music right now in 2014. As a matter of fact Frank name some new music that is so much better. Im pretty sure your gonna get some backlash as soon as you point us at what ever music its is that you feel is so much more 2014. …… and if you say dubstep Im going to rofl.

  • Matt Jones Wrote:

    come on Frank, your trolling bro

  • Frank Wrote:

    - Jesse Boykins III
    - Toro y moi
    - Blood Orange
    - The Internet
    - Soulection (basically thier whole roster)
    - Junge (the band, not the genre)
    - Dam Funk (70s-ish but in a modern way)
    - Freddie Joachim
    - Esta
    - IAMNOBODI
    - Machinedrum
    - JMSN
    - Phazz
    - Jai Paul
    - Sango
    - Roughsoul

    Just from the top of my head.Of course you might not like all or any of them, but it’s just to show you can be soul/funk/r&b influenced and still have a unique sound that doesn’t sound dated or or like stuck a decade ago.

    It’s all good though, to each their own.I was just disappointed MdCL doesn’t seem to be interest to develop his sound any further.Was even at his last concert in Hamburg (Mojo Club) but that was the first time it hit me because i couldn’t believe he was doing the same thing he did 10 years ago.

  • Frank Wrote:

    That’s “Jungle” of course, not “Junge”.

  • JK Wrote:

    @Frank – interesting ideas and def a little OTT. funny tho, almost every one of those artists you list considers MdCL to be a creative leader. he’s also doing a lot of different things – from soulful house to acoustic live band stuff and plenty more. just found this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yup5KpnOPk – who else does full live production on the fly ?? improvised soundtrack sickness

  • Frank Wrote:

    @JK

    In all honesty i compiled that list not only to backup my claims (sort of) but also to provide some inspiration to MdCL should he ever come across this post (who knows).

    My point:

    I do acknowledge and respect his skills as a piano player as well as his undeniable abilities as a live performer especially with his unique way of building up a whole track live with the MPC, Maschine and whatnot.I always thought that was unique and i don’t deny that.

    BUT:

    The problem lies exactly herein, the focus on the performance / production aspect.What i mean by that is that sure it’s interesting to see how things are built up, no matter the MPC or the acoustic live band way.But that’s still just the box or the way you got there, but not the CONTENT.

    The content is the MUSIC itself.You can’t substitute content with form.In other words, the music should come first, be the main focus and how you got there (through intersting things like live looping or a band or wahtever) should be a secondary matter.

    Of what use is skilled jugglery with technical equipment (or piano ivories for that matter) if the music itself is just mediocre ? In the end, if the music isn’t that great, all jugglery doesn’t count.

    Same problem i see with Jeremy Ellis: His NI Maschine product demos are nice flashings of his skills as a finger drummer but they tell you zilch about the actual product and his own music really is just average.Sure, you can respect him for his finger drumming, but nice technical skills doesn’t automatically equal to great music.It’s just ONE way (of many other potential ways) to get there but makes no sense if the end result (the music) doesn’t live up to your technical skills.

    Uhm,,,rant over.

    :)

  • JK Wrote:

    @Frank – that’s more of a reasonable reply than your first post – now we’re getting into conversation. i see what you’re getting at but i disagree that he uses the form to substitute the content. checking out the new album and i’m just not hearing your criticism – http://www.okayplayer.com/news/mark-de-clive-lowe-church-lp-stream.html

    - on Sketch for Miguel i hear a composer’s crafting. on Distractions i hear so much content AND form. loving that :) oh yeah, and on Hollow i hear that rhodes you have such a problem with. but man, is it so beautiful and perfect in that context.

    btw, going back to your artist list – dam funk and MdCL have collaborated – on DF’s stone’s throw album. and as for DF, he’s strictly 80s, not 70s as you noted.

    personally, i’d recommend checking out MdCL with his live band :) i can’t speak for the gig you said you saw but i know what i’ve seen and there’s so much music and content going on it’s mind bending