From London to Glasgow via Havana, Brian D’Souza talks us through the making of his incredible new album, Theory Of Flo.
Auntie Flo – My Studio
The starting point for Theory Of Flo was a desire to move away from using a computer for production. I was spending too much time staring at a screen and my brain was frazzled. So I set up a very simple hardware setup in my flat that would allow me to jam out some sounds. This was – an MPC500, Roland TR-606, Roland 727, Korg Kaoss Pad and my beloved Casio SA-5 keyboard, which I use in most of my tracks.
After a few days just messing around, things came together and I started making some stuff I was really feeling. Over a weekend I jammed out one track after the next, recording them all in one take without really saving the sessions or anything. After two days, I had around ten tracks and the beginnings of Theory Of Flo. The album title actually derives from this initial period – I was in a state of ‘flow’ (a phrase coined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to desire being in the ‘zone’- losing conscious when performing to achieve a state of optimal experience) where one track followed the next followed the next without any thought or deliberation.
Esa’s G4 studio in Hackney Wick
Once I had ten tracks recorded I played them to Esa (Williams, Highlife co-resident and co-producer on the album). He has a much better equipped studio, so we started to work in more instruments such as a Roland Juno-60, SH-101, JX-3P, and some modular stuff and live percussion to create additional layers and flesh out the main themes.
Shingai, Brian and Rikki Stein at G4
We also started working with our two vocalists, Anbuley Kanbong and Shingai Shoniwa. Shingai’s management had approached me to do some production work with her so, as a starting point, I played her the rough album jams. She immediately came up with vocals for a couple so we spent a few days recording. Fela Kuti’s manager Rikki Stein even popped in for a listen and offered some great advice and inspirational stories.
Brian, Esa and Anbuley at G4
We had been in touch with Anbuley via the Wrong Island label and I had released a track called ‘Daabi’ with her the previous year on Autonomous Africa which had sold pretty well. The ‘Daabi’ vocal had actually been recorded for a completely different track – I’d never actually worked directly with her at that stage. So following the success of that record, we asked Anbuley to travel over from Vienna to stay for a weekend at G4 and record. Again, I sent her the ten live jams prior to her arrival so she had time to prepare and I thought she’d probably come up with lyrics for two or three songs. When she arrived she took us by surprise and said she’d put together vocals for all ten songs! So we got to work… and ended up with six tracks, all done in one weekend.
‘Laboritorio Nacional De Musica Electroacoustica’
During the Shingai session, we got an invite to play at the Havana World Music festival in Cuba. The sessions had been going well and we were getting on so we thought we’d ask her to join us to pay as part of the band on the trip. After some amazing gigs, we spent two days record at the legendary ‘Laboritorio Nacional De Musica Electroacoustica’ (LNME) studio in Havana, which was home to some of the earliest recordings of electroacoustic music produced by the pioneering Juan Blanco back in the 70s. We managed to get more vocals down from Shingai (although most were not used in the final album cut) and also a few percussion elements. This session also gave birth to the Highlife World Series Cuba release we put out earlier this year.
Green Door, Glasgow
Following all these recording sessions, we had a ton of material for the album and it took over a year and various iterations, revisions and reworkings to finalise the songs so that we were completely happy with it. At this stage the album really started to overwhelm me – I would take three months without listening to it at all then come back, rip it all apart and almost start again. I think I did that two or three times before being happy, the key challenge being keeping the essence of those original raw studio jams but incorporating some amazing recordings that we had done.
As we were getting closer to completion, we spent a couple of days in the Green Door studio in Glasgow working with Emily and Stu who mixed the first single, ‘Waiting for A (Woman)’, and ‘So In Love’. We loved the analogue sound they were able to get and I think they did a great job. We only kept ‘Waiting For A’, though, as we decided to rework ‘So In Love’.
The final stage in the process was working with mixing engineer Sam Jones, who had just relocated to the Secret Studio at the Laundry in London Fields. We spent a week with him mixing down the album and reworking a few songs (‘So In Love’ was the last to finish).
Auntie Flo plays alongside the likes of DJ Bone, Blawan and Shanti Celeste for the Freerotation x Gottwood x Field Maneuvers Refugee Fundraiser at the Bussey Building, London, this Saturday, the 14th of November. Tickets available here.
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