Your first release this year comes under the Amber moniker which you used for the Jake & Amber single ‘This Is Mine’ on Minus a couple of years ago. ‘This Is Mine’ was quite a departure from the typical Minus sound and the new EP follows in similar sonic territory. Does the Amber project represent a major stylistic shift for you? Are you taking this as the opportunity to do something quite different musically?
It’s hard to pin it as a major stylistic shift, because I know some of the music I’ve made in the past, which never saw a public release. And since it is very much in the direction of where Jake & Amber went, it doesn’t feel like a departure to me. The Amber material really contains a lot of the DNA of my other music, and I’d always wanted to use Amber as an alias to express a groovier, smoother sound. The fact that Jake & Amber came out was a total fluke for Minus. But this new stuff is definitely a new addition to what I’ve shared with listeners, and it felt like a significant enough step to warrant resurrecting that alias. I’m hoping that encourages people to hear the music through a different prism than my other material. I felt that releasing this as Ambivalent would make people think I’d completely changed course, which I haven’t. I’m just adding some branches that had been trying to grow for a while. Ambivalent will continue, and so will Amber, as well as other projects in the works.
Tell us more about the EP. When were the tracks made? Have you been exploring different approaches to production for a while?
The tracks were written over the summer and fall when I was feeling particularly free and optimistic. My music has been getting a bit warmer over the last few years, and this came in a moment when I was stretching out, and enjoying the freedom to create, without any specific label or audience in mind.
The production is very analogue and heavily based on live takes with the gear, and then editing those down to the arrangements. I’ve also gotten a lot of results from analogue summing, which I think helps give the tracks a bit more vibrancy. Musically the Amber stuff is a bit more liberal with chords and melody than a lot of my more minimal tracks. There’s a techy element, but I think it’s offset by the tempo and the grooves. I don’t think the stuff is so different that someone who knows my music wouldn’t recognise it – that’s why I’m comfortable with being really open about the connection between Amber and Ambivalent.
The Amber material really contains a lot of the DNA of my other music.
So you’re not retiring the Ambivalent name completely?
Absolutely not. The same week as the debut Amber EP is released, I’ll have an Ambivalent & Alexi Delano collaboration out on H-Productions, and there are plenty of new Ambivalent tracks in the pipeline for this year. Launching Amber as a new production and DJing effort is simply a matter of putting a specific bracket around something that was already part of my sets and productions before. This is just a way to focus it and put it in front of people a bit differently. I think the ability to maintain multiple aliases is one of the best aspects of electronic music, and the artists I admire most have done it well. At some point, when people have made up their mind about you, it’s good to throw them a curveball.
The new EP comes out on Mobilee. Is that a one-off deal for the EP or have you signed to the label long-term?
There’s a second Amber EP coming on Mobilee in the spring, and I really like the idea of doing as much as I can with them. It’s a great group of people, and a label with a lot of class and values. That’s why I think they have so much respect and history. It’s a very new relationship for me, and one I can see going quite well for a while.
At some point, when people have made up their mind about you, it's good to throw them a curveball.
Why did you choose to work with them?
Anja Schneider had been very supportive of the record I made with Michael Penman for Ovum this summer. When I heard she was playing those tracks, I had just recently finished the Amber stuff, and so I thought it’d be worth sending her these tracks. A few days later I heard ‘Waves Of Grain’ on her radio show and I thought, OK, maybe that was a good choice. We talked about it and I felt I could see Mobilee as a great place for the project. It doesn’t have so many boundaries or prescribed ideas, they just focus on music they like.
You’ve also left the Clonk booking agency, right?
Yes, ultimately I felt if I was working outside of the Minus camp, it was the right thing to continue in that direction and have a different agency for my DJ sets. Paul Wells’ agency Elite had been quite supportive of some sets they’d seen me play, and Josh Wink is on their roster, and has been a great friend to me as well. The guys at Elite were very supportive of the new Ambivalent material, the Amber project and the other things I showed them, so we hopped on it together.
What kind of different opportunities are you hoping that’ll lead to? The chance to play at completely different nights on completely different line-ups?
I guess rather than thinking about it in such specific terms, I’m just anxious to be seen as an individual. When I was starting out, it felt great to be in a secure place within a group, but now I feel much better being able to work with a handful of other labels and jump around a bit more. I absolutely love the guys I was on Minus with, and I feel a kinship with them artistically and personally. It’s hard to think that I won’t be playing with them as much, but that’s ultimately up to other people, not me. I had to just pursue my own path.
At BPM this year I played on an Ovum 20 line-up with both Josh Wink and Anja Schneider, and it just felt really good hanging with them and their colleagues. I hope I get more chances to do that with them. If my identity as an artist can sustain working with a number of labels, I’ll feel good about where I’m going.
I'm just anxious to be seen as an individual.
So, finally: new year, new name, new label – what’s exciting you most about what lies ahead?
It’s an exciting time for me, with lots of new projects opening up and new relationships between my music and other groups. I very much believe that the best music I’ve made is still ahead of me, and that I’m taking these chances in order to share a more honest connection with my music. But I think the thing I’m looking forward to most this year is the chance to marry my girlfriend, who has been the bedrock underneath me nearly since I began. That to me is, in many ways, the most important step I’m taking, and makes the rest look like small details.