Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Exchanging e-mails with... Tor

At some point at the beginning of the year I came across Illinoize the Tor/Sufjan Stevens 'remix tape' and declared it, somewhat inelegantly, the front runner for album of the year. And at this point in the year, I still feel pretty strongly that it's the best album that I've heard this year.

Anyways, long story short (though the rest of this post will be quite long) I got in touch with the author of Illinoize, Tor, and he very graciously agreed to trade some e-mails with me on remixing, mashing-up, his experience backpacking in Australia, as well as offering his opinion on who would win a fight between the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Bill Cosby.

Check some mp3s (that Sufjan has now given him the right to use!) that will make you want to throw your hands in the air like you just don't care... or something....

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Tor. So, how does it feel having put out the Best Album of 2009? That's not much of a conversation starter, I realize, but if I haven't said so before (and I have) I think the album is absolutely outstanding. That said, as much as I really like the album it seems like a strange sort of concept at first - Sufjan Stevens and a pile of really great rap songs. How did you come up with the idea? And how long did it take you to figure out that it'd actually work? I guess I'm trying to figure out what the process was like from the inception of the idea to it becoming an actual album. I've got approximately a zillion other questions, but to make responding manageable I'll leave them for now. Hope the weather in Montreal(?) is a nicer than it was here in T.O. today... bah...

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Hey Rob

Wow I don't know how to answer that first one! I actually read your article about it back in March when it first came out and you made that claim, stoked you still think so! ha.

It is a bit of a strange concept though I suppose - most 'mash-ups' or remixes or whatevers are usually about having a hype track or taking something current or super popular and mixing it with something else either classic or super popular so people go 'holy shit! i know that, and I also know that! now they're together!' So I was a bit surprised that it has been so popular as a lot of Sufjan Stevens fans probably hadn't heard of, say, Grand Puba, and vice versa.

I'm also a bit of a fan of super chill music and I was trying to come up with a project I could do to get back into producing music as I hadn't really worked on much for a few years. I had chopped up Sufjan's 'Star of Wonder' when I had my studio set up briefly before heading off on a year long road trip and did a little 5 minute drum loop and bassline to it before I packed up. After I left it was just me and my girlfriend living in a van around Australia in the middle of the desert or on deserted beaches for like 10 months so I had plenty of time for it to simmer in my head. I had my ipod on the trip and went through all his albums and had a few ideas for tracks that might work for it, with 'Star of Wonder' and Aesop Rock being the first and most definite one. When I got back I set up my studio and was able to throw songs in there and chop them up and over the next 3 months I came up with 7 tracks I was digging and about 5 other half finished ones that sounded like ass. I wanted at least 10 all up but a buddy of mine convinced me to cut it down to EP length and I'm glad I did.

As for the weather, I'm actually in Vancouver right now, been here since June - but getting home finally in the next few weeks! I'm sure it will be colder...



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That really wasn't the process I was expecting, I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it probably didn't involve a trip around the world. So, when you're in the Australian desert how do you decide or even get an idea of what is going to work? Is it a feel thing or is it something to do with music/timing/time signature sort of thing (note: I am very, very, unfamiliar with technical music speak)?

I'm also kind of curious about the songs that didn't work. What songs did they involve and how did you come to the decision that they didn't work? Was it specific to a certain type of rapper? Are some easier to work with than others? I imagine that someone that does a lot of free association (is that what its called) like Lil' Wayne would be a tough guy to work with...

And yeah, it dipped below 0 in T.O. last night, so, I'd stay out in Vancouver if I were you...


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Hey Rob

Yea it's probably not your standard process is it? Something about being that isolated and having no obligations or distractions I guess gets the ideas flowing. To get an idea of what was going to work while I was out there I mostly had to go off Sufjan's stuff as I really had no idea what acapellas would be available - that's the thing there are only so many songs that have been released usually on vinyl singles with instrumental and acapella versions on them so it can be slim pickings at times.

As for Sufjan's stuff i just went through songs that had the right tempo or timing (like a lot of his stuff can be in a swing beat or 3/4 time which is not going to work at all, ever, for hip hop... actually that's not true but it's rare) but a few of the remixes like 'Dumb I Sound' I sped up the song almost a full octave for it to fit in a hip hop tempo. Also, John Wayne Gacy Jr is played really really loosely so I had to chop the hell out of the sample to make it fit, which you can hear pretty clearly near the end of the song. For the most part though while I was out there I just had to go off vibe and vague ideas until I could get home and see what I could actually do with it.

When I was back and throwing acapellas at the beats I was working on, yea, there were a few rappers that just didn't work, for instance I really like Common and had a bunch of his stuff but he has this really relaxed way of rhyming (is that free association?) that I just couldn't get to sit right over the beats so I had to scrap him, and of course with other things you can have everything timed up and mixed perfectly but if the vibe doesn't work and the songs don't sound natural together there is just no way it was going on. So definitely some were easier to work with, both with sampling Sufjan and finding the right rappers. I actually had the idea to mix 'Chicago' with Commons 'Chi-City' but it was more of a novelty idea because in theory the brief attempt I made was ear-stabbingly bad.

And yes, I'd probably like to stay in Vancouver for the winter (it's where I'm from originally) but my music equipment is waiting back in MTL!



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I love the idea of "Chicago" w/ "Chi-city" as soon as you said that I had a vision (audio-vision) of Suf singing "I drove to Chicago" followed by Common chiming in with "and ya say Chi-City". I think he does do a lot of free association -- when he rhymes something, and connects it with something seemingly completely unrelated, I think -- which is what makes it difficult to mash-up b/c his rhyming isn't in some type of time signature... I could have just made that all up.

So, I'm curious how you got into this, beat making, mashing-up, etc? I figured that after a few emails I'd be able to tell if you were an "indie-rock" guy who happened to make beats, or vice-versa and I've gotta say I still have no idea. I'm curious, top-5 Desert Island albums. Have you done anything else aside from the Tor/Suf Stevens mash-up? Feel free to plug anything that you're doing, working on, or whatever.

Hope all is well....


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hoy Rob;

Maybe I'll give the Sufjan / Common thing a shot for Illinoize 2! Nah, there won't be an Illinoize 2 - I've got a good idea for my next project but I'm not saying anything yet until I have some more tracks finished, and when it's done I'm going to try some different types of promotional stuff (with Illinoize I basically released it and emailed a bunch of blogs until they started writing about it, and it just snowballed from there). For instance releasing a single and building some interest in the project before it's released and more traditional methods like that, mailing lists, using the twitters and facebooks better, as I really have / had no idea about promotional stuff so far and am just winging it - actually as a blogger who deals with this stuff every day maybe you have some tips for me?

As for my history, I started messing around with making music about 7 years ago while I was living in Australia and got the attention of some guys in the Oz music scene. I ended up doing a few remixes for some bands that got released nationally down there. At that point I shifted my focus to running a small recording studio instead of making my own tunes, and had a decent run recording local bands for awhile until I moved to Montreal. Illinoize was my project to get back into making my own stuff again, and the first thing I've really finished and released and it's a good feeling!

My top 5 desert island albums would probably be
1. The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Thank God For Mental Illness
2. Bonobo - Days To Come
3. Cunninlynguists - A Piece Of Strange
4. Rodriguez - After The Fact
5. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

I don't know if that gives you an idea if i'm an indie-loving beatmaker or a beat loving hipster maybe somewhere in between, it's played out to say but I like whatever is good music and I go through fazes of listening to super mellow acoustic stuff to hip hop to electronic stuff and whatevers going around. I'm trying to take my time with new albums now because with basically every piece of music ever available at your fingertips any time it is kind of overwhelming and it causes people not to really get to know anything and just flip through albums, feeling like if they spend too much time on it they're missing out on something else. Just got to slooww dowwwnn.

So yea if you have any tips for me on blogosphere promotion, current states of music, more questions about my stuff, an infamous lightning round or cut me loose, its up to you!



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Really sorry for taking so long -- it's not that I'm trying to string this out, I swear -- I've actually been sick for the last week or so (which would also explain the lack of blog posts), so, let's finish this off with a bang.

RE: Illinoize 2 (Electric Bogaloo)! and promoting it... I don't envy you. One of my best friends, a guy who's going to be in my wedding party and actually a girl who's going to be my girl's bridesmaid, are both trying to make it as musicians. It's tough. There are so many musicians, blogs, mp3s, mp3 aggregator sites, etc. that the market is so fragmented I'm not sure how and who is making any money in music these days. As far as getting noticed goes, obviously it helps to have awesome music -- usually the cream does rise to the top -- but it's really like any other job: you've got to network, contact people, be nice, charming, personable, and then maybe things will work out...

If you're still there, let's try a lightning round... and I'll apologize in advance if these questions get a little ridiculous.

1. Favourite TV show (current).
2. Favourite Sports Franchise.
3. Least Favourite Sports Franchise.
4. Best movie of the decade.
5. Last album that you listened to and really loved.
6. Greatest rapper of all time.
7. Favourite book.
8. When you arrive at the pearly gates you would like God to say...
9. Who would win in a fight between Bill Cosby and the Fresh Prince?
10. If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who and why?

If you wanna plug anything, or let anyone know about anything that you've got going on please do.

Thanks again, and sorry about the delay with this last email... it's been fun.


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It's all good on the delay, I've been all over the place as well and am finally getting in a good email session.

Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! As for trying to get noticed it is true what you say, I only started getting into the music blog scene earlier this year and holy shit is it scary the amount of stuff coming out. Its like a constant flood of music that seems like most people consume digest excrete and move onto the next thing. But I've been building my networking skills this year with Illinoize so hopefully I've collected enough leads to hit them hard with the next thing!

Alright I'll give these questions a shot;

1. Favourite TV show (current). - South Park has been absolutely killing it for about the past 3 seasons. I love how they just do not give a shit and will destroy anyone that gets in their way. And the fact that they can make the entire show within a few days always means that it's super current and fully awesome.

2. Favourite Sports Franchise. - I am not that much of a sports guy but I'm a fairweather Canadiens fan. And it's a good excuse to go to the pub.

3. Least Favourite Sports Franchise. - All of the ones involved in the NBA, NFL or MLB

4. Best movie of the decade. - Children of Men. That movie blew my mind and every time I watch it I discover something new, or pick up on a new theme.

5. Last album that you listened to and really loved. - The xx's album has been my favourite recently. Their mix of deep bass, MPC beats, soft guitars and vocals is completely working for me. They've got a lot of hype, but I think it is entirely deserved.

6. Greatest rapper of all time. - That's gotta be a tie between Q-Tip and Andre 3000. Their deliveries are not at all similar but get me stoked every time. Listen to Andre 3000 on this to see what I mean --> http://hypem.com/#/track/741704/Fonzworth+Bentley+-+Everybody+feat+Kanye+West+Sa+Ra+Andre+3000+

7. Favourite book. - Not much of a reader probably because my attention span is too short, but when I read I seem to like dry British humour like Douglas Adams or Ben Elton.

8. When you arrive at the pearly gates you would like God to say... - I dont know... Welcome?

9. Who would win in a fight between Bill Cosby and the Fresh Prince? - I think Bill Cosby had a genuinely rougher childhood. Fresh Prince only played B ball outside of the school. And got his ass kicked and had to move to Bel Air. Tho they'd probably both try to make each other laugh rather than actually fighting.

10. If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who and why? - Probably a successful touring band like Radiohead to experience an audience going nuts right in front of you. It would be surreal. And some good perspective for a studio guy like me about getting out there.

As for other stuff I have some exciting news since I last emailed you. I was contacted by Sufjan's publishers and Asthmatic Kitty records and they have extended a license for me to use Sufjan's samples for my remixes, so it's all legitimate and endorsed by them! I think that is such a refreshing change to have the publishers get on board for something like this - usually it's the opposite that the lawyers are knocking on guys doors who do unauthorized remixes. I'm just super stoked by the whole situation.

And I'll be sure to let you know when my next mixtape is coming out, which isn't too far away...

Thanks for having me Rob, it's been good times.


If you made it through all that you deserve, and probably want, to know that the "Illinoize" remixtape is STILL(!) a free download at illinoize.biz.

[mp3] Tor/Sufjan Stevens - Night Zombies/Talkin' My Shit ft. Brother Ali
[mp3] Tor/Sufjan Stevens - The Tallest Man/I Like It ft. Grand Puba

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