Greg Scarth talks to the LA-based musician and producer about the making of his Kickstarter-funded new album, CHURCH.
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?
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.
The Kickstarter was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was like running for president or something.
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.
you put in rules or restrictions or constraints and that forces you to be more creative within those confines.
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.