With years spent behind the scenes, Jack Chown is ready to emerge in his own right with his brand new kiskadee project. The London-based producer and composer has decided on that as his moniker, with his new EP Believe In Love ready to drop tomorrow. Mixing electronic beats and engrossing soundscapes, these songs are very personal to Chown, and also offer a preview of what you may expect from the more club-focused electronica he plans to issue later this year.
For years, Chown worked as a collaborator and producer for artists such as Benjamin Francis Leftwitch and Tycho Jones. He also engineered albums for Jessie Ware, M.I.A., and HAELOS. He is beginning to find his footing with kiskadee, with his music previously featured on BBC Introducing and some of his tracks finding their way into ad campaigns for brands such as Levis, Sony, Nike, and Vogue. He also recently acted as a composer for the HBO/Vice documentary titled Bad Goods.
Joining us for our latest Geared Up, we spoke with Chown about his instrument of choice, his Dave Smith Sequential Prophet-6 Synthesizer, how he first got it, and of course, his best gear gone wrong story.
What one piece of gear do you use to obtain your signature sound?
kiskadee: “A Dave Smith Prophet-6, love it. It’s all over my new EP (Believe In Love)! Just so adaptable, great bass, pad and arp/lead sounds. It’s just got a great warmth to it and doesn’t sound too perfect compared to some plug-ins and digital synths. The ‘slop’ knob is a hidden gem too!
“I’ve also recently been getting into the Slate + Ash instruments too, some amazing atmospheric sounds in there, really great stuff and some sequences I’d never be able to think of or programme without it. Their new instrument, choreographs, you can also detune each note of the scale, which is cool. I think that kind of thing adds such an interesting human element.”
How did you come to possess the Prophet-6? Vintage shop, regular shop, borrowed money, gifted? Give us the details.
“I actually bought it with my first proper paycheque I made from being a composer, for an advert I’d written music for, for Asahi. I’d been around various synths from the prophet line in the studios I worked in during my early 20s so it was a real ‘made it’ moment when I could finally afford my own…”
Do you have a special way that you recreate your album tones in a live setting, or is it more just plug-and-play?
“I’ve tried to have the best of both worlds in a live setting, it’s obviously a bit tricky to play everything as a one-man band, so Ableton does some heavy lifting, but I’ve arranged the session so there are various loops/scenes that I can play and improvise with to make each performance slightly different. I’ve got some drum pads and an MPC to trigger various samples, so there’s a performance aspect there, and also a midi keyboard which I’ve got hooked up to a few virtual instruments. There’s this one lead sound which I use in a lot of my tracks which comes from Alex Epton’s collaboration with Spitfire Audio, I’ve tried to recreate it on the Prophet, but there’s something about how the reverb slightly modulates which I can’t get right…
“I also have a monologue and Strymon delay pedal, which I use live, and I think’s really important for it sounding ‘real’ rather than just a track. All of this is feeding into an old Pioneer DJM-600, which I picked up on Gumtree for 100 pounds. I think I was taken in by the gold paint (laughs). It’s got some decent presence and is built like a tank, but I’ve been eying up the PlayDifferently Model 1s, which look pretty tasty.”
What was your first-ever instrument?
“I actually started on the drums, so it was on a little percussion plus set, although I did fail at the violin before that, can’t remember what the model was!”
What’s your dream instrument?
“I used to share a studio with another producer who owned a Moog One. It is an absolute beast, so deep. So yeah, would love one of those! It’s also got a great ‘stranger things’ preset, which is always a fun way to start the day.”
What’s the most you’ve ever paid for gear?
“Probably the Prophet or my speakers (Dynaudio LYD-48s), which were both a couple of grand. I’ve just got into eurorack though, which is quickly adding up…
“To be honest, though, I really love getting imperfect, and ‘cheap’ sounds into my music. I’ve got this slightly broken Roland JX3P that I picked up for 100 pounds a few years ago and never got fixed. It actually used to be one of Athlete’s touring keyboard back in the day.
“Anyway, one of the oscillators is slightly detuned/intermittent, and you can just get some really natural synth sounds out of it. The pulsing pad on my first-ever release, _DOWN, is from that synth. The midi also doesn’t really work on it, so I have to play everything in with one hand while adjusting the filters etc., with the other, which only adds to the imperfections.”
Is your jam set up the same as your road setup? Any notable differences (other than output, obviously)?
“Weirdly, I think my road setup is actually easier to improvise on; with everything flowing into the mixer. I work pretty quickly in the studio, but try to get to the arrangement side of things down as soon as possible, so I don’t really get to loop/jam much.
“Instead, I’ve got all the synths running into a Canford source selector and then layer them up one at a time, so it’s not very often that I’m playing multiple parts that haven’t already been recorded into Ableton. Whereas live, it’s obviously the total opposite!”
What setup did you spend the most time idolizing as a kid growing up?
“Keith Moon’s drum kit, two kicks and 13 toms!”
Time for some fun. Give us your best “gear goes wrong” story.
“I was playing a festival back in my hometown, Jersey, last summer on the BBC Introducing stage, which was fun. However, in the set before mine, the power generator kept turning off. I think there were some stage lights that kept tripping it as they’d gone a bit to town on the lighting! Anyway, my soundcheck was delayed 10 or 20 minutes as it just kept tripping, and I played the whole set thinking it might be my last song before lights went out. Actually, I did a really good set because of it; nothing like a bit of tension to get the juices flowing!
“Oh, and I DJed at End of the Road Festival last summer. I finished around 11 pm, and the DJ after me was being a bit tricky (‘don’t you know who I am’ kind of thing) in the changeover. As soon as I stopped playing, the heavens opened, the crowd left, and there was a massive power cut. Clearly wasn’t my summer for power cuts…”
What piece of gear gave the longest service? Are you still using it?
“My first synth I learned on was a Novation Bass Station II which has been gathering dust in the studio. I’ve just got back from a week at a studio in Reykjavik working on an album, and there was a Bass Station waiting there for me which made me slightly nostalgic. I’d forgotten the joys of preset 14 = massive sine bass. It’s got some great arp sounds on it too!”
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