Mura Masa interview: Why it’s okay to stay in your bedroom
April 29th 2016
I think a lot of people get confused and think that bigger is better, more high fidelity is more impressive, or if you have the best microphone in the world then you’re going to be the best singer in the world – but I think the opposite is true to be honest.
Mura Masa has made a name for himself as one of the UK’s most promising young electronic producers. Just over a year since he dropped his first mixtape on Soundcloud, his name can already be found on some of the world’s biggest festival lineups – including Bestival, Reading, Pukkelpop and Melt!
Sandro Dallarmi caught up with the young producer about what it’s like to work your way up as an electronic producer in 2016.
Sandro: I wanted to start out talking about your relationship with Bonzai, because she seems to be involved in almost every aspect of what you do – the label, the live shows and collaborating on your own music. I’m interested to know how that relationship started?
Mura Masa: We met through a mutual friend and I think we just have similar attitudes. We get on really, really well personally, so it’s quite a natural relationship. I met her in London actually.
That’s lucky – it seems to be like you came up through Soundcloud and that whole scene – I can imagine you would’ve met quite a few people through it?
Yeah, but she’s definitely my closest collaborator, we had actually done music before we’d even met each other. My management found her singing somewhere and sent me some acapellas and I ended up using them on my mix tape [laughs].
Let’s talk about your music. It’s obviously come a long way since you started and sounds a lot more polished now – what’s changed?
I think I’m just a better producer, I suppose! I’m listening to different kinds of music, I’ve dropped out of university since then so I’ve sort of been thrust into adult life, just general progression really. I’m not intentionally changing the way I do things, it’s just kind of naturally evolving.
Sure, I mean it’s taken you places as well. You’re not sitting in at uni, you’re going out and travelling the world now. How’s the touring been?
Touring’s been really tough. I’m actually quite a stay-at-home-in-my-bed type of guy, so touring is a difficult one. But it’s fun once you get going, just getting to hang out with the people you work with, seeing all the different cities and saying hey to people from all over the world. So yeah, it’s really cool, but tiring!
It’s funny when you talk to electronic producers about touring – when they’re DJing, it can be lonely, but you’re with a band right?
Not a band, it’s me and – funnily enough – Bonzai again. She sings with me and I play a few different bits, and then I’ve got a lighting guy, a front-of-house guy, my manager comes whenever he can. It’s quite a tight-knit little touring group.
How did this live show come together, where did it all come from?
Basically we booked my first show that I ever played in Brighton – last January – and we booked it the day before I’d done any preparation so that it would kind of force me to prepare. So I sat in my bedroom the week before, and worked it all out. It’s evolved a lot since then – I need to outsource it because I’m still the one who has to sit and think about it all. Most people hire someone else.
Yeah, that’s tough!
I like it that way; I kind of have control that way. But as the operation expands I think it’d be nice to expand the live show as well.
You said you’re the sit-in-your-bedroom kinda guy, and you make very personal music so I guess it makes sense. To keep in control would be nice!
I think historically, before any of this kicked off, I’ve always been in charge of the aesthetics and running the social pages like Twitter and Facebook. It’s always kind of been me in the centre of it, and I like how that hasn’t really changed.
Speaking of the aesthetic, I read that you didn’t want to start making the album without knowing what the album art was going to look like. I find that pretty interesting.
Yeah, that’s something that I always do. I always sort out the artwork before I start working on the music. And actually funnily enough, the artwork that I chose for the album – I’ve since kind of changed it, and all the music has changed with it [laughs].
So what changed about it? And why did it change?
Without wanting to give too much away, I think the change came because I’d just been stagnating on the album ideas for a while. I mean, it’s been over a year now since the Someday Somewhere EP. So I’d been sitting on a lot of those ideas and I couldn’t figure out what to do to make it fresh. And one day we just came up with this image and I wanted it for the album art so I changed everything.
It’s interesting you say that – some bands will take five years to make an album, but you’re saying “it’s been one year, it’s been way too long”. What makes you feel that way?
I think it’s because up until now I’ve been more of an internet-based artist, and it’s a very fast-flowing stream of music. So sometimes it’s easy for someone like me to feel like I’m lagging behind if I’m not releasing stuff – but I’m sure the gaps will get longer, as I mature [laughs].
That’s funny, because I talk to a lot of artists down here who have that same problem because they’re so deeply entrenched in all this electronic music, so they don’t listen to anything just so they can actually create something. Have you found yourself trying to tap out of finding music?
Yeah. Basically I’ve sorted of stopped listening to everything. Or at least, if I am going to listen to music it’ll be really really old. We were listening to a lot of Iggy Pop yesterday, me and Bonzai, and of course we’ve been listening to a lot of Prince recently… It’s good to tap out of the modern scene and try and get rid of all contemporary influence.
Well limitation is supposed to be what drives creativity, right? Do you feel that way?
For sure, I mean a lot of my sound comes from not being able to afford real instruments, and just having to synthesise everything and sample and just make do. I think that’s really true in my case. And it’s interesting… because now that I’ve got a bit more of a platform and a bit more of a budget, I’ve still elected not to buy a big studio, I just sit at home and work on my laptop – which I think is really important.
I have heard more real instruments being used in the songs though, are you still just getting those samples and doing it yourself?
Well we recorded some live strings, there is expansion in that way, but only where I feel it’ll add to the sound rather than changing it. I think a lot of people get confused and think that bigger is better, more high fidelity is more impressive, or if you have the best microphone in the world then you’re going to be the best singer in the world – but I think the opposite is true to be honest.
Like Bon Iver, he recorded that first album in his dad’s hunting shack in the mountains. It’s beautiful. And you couldn’t do that if you tried.
I think the line is where you stop thinking about what is available to you in terms of equipment and ability, and you just start doing it and making do with whatever you’ve got.
Do you have trouble with the whole “technical vs creative” side? I feel like that’s another barrier producers these days encounter, is that something you’ve come up against?
To be honest, not really. Because I never really thought of myself as that kind of producer, striving for sound synthesis or technicality. I was just always trying to sound interesting, and treat production like an instrument.
What do you mean by that?
Well if you’re playing guitar and you’re shredding up and down, it’s not necessarily better or more technical than being able to play a really simple riff perfectly. So I think I always approached it that way – I’m a guitarist and a bassist foremost. I didn’t start with producing.
Last question, I have to ask – Australian tour! Are you going to come down here soon? Anything you can talk about?
I am, we haven’t confirmed the dates but I think it might be end of this year, start of next year. But I’m definitely coming down, I can’t wait!
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