Naibu: A Case Study
Naibu has just unleashed his second studio album, Case Study, and it’s simply sublime. A sonic journey through the eclectic producers mind, the album is a testament to how versatile his style really is. We caught up for a chat about the album and more. Let’s dive in…
Ez Robin, thanks for chatting with us! Where are you joining us from?
My pleasure, joining from the studio of course.
Take us through a typical day for Naibu…
Wake up, make tea, eat a kiwi and a banana, play piano for an hour or two, start work on the current project, eat something, then more work, which sometimes turns into just sitting on the sofa listening to something over and over trying to think about what to do next, while drinking more tea. Everyday’s incredibly similar but thankfully there’s always something different to do. In short I’m Bill Murray and it’s Groundhog Day.
Your new album, Case Study, has just dropped on Scientific Records. Huge congrats on yet another incredible body of work! How long did it take to piece together?
Thank you very much! I believe this one took almost 2 years to make, I think everything started with both the opening track “Astray” and the closing track “Straight (Into The Wall)”. I just kept building everything else in between, working on tracks on and off, adding to them little by little or getting rid of things, and finding the right energy to record live stuff. Making music has always been a laborious process for me, and even more so nowadays as I write, program, perform and record everything you hear. I’m a one-man band doubled as a sound engineer so things are tedious at times.
Well the hard work certainly pays off! This album is really moving. Was there a particular concept behind it?
I don’t think there’s so much of a concept behind this one, but more a desire to take 170bpm music somewhere it’s not been taken before and be surprising. One day I was reading about the Case Study Houses from the 50s, an experiment in home architecture. On a stylistic point of view I love the houses they designed but also love the idea of building something innovative with inexpensive means, trying to find new ways of achieving something that’s well established. I thought that would sum-up some of my intentions with this album as there was a strong intent to take a big leap into the unknown, trying to find a new voice, a new sound. You could say it’s an actual case study of where I can take my own music, what I can create with a limited amount of tools and what can or can’t be accepted by listeners. So the main drive behind it was to make an electronic album in the wide sense of the word, and make music that doesn’t have to work on a dancelfoor by default, it’s a drum & bass album in disguise. Drum & bass fans will probably crucify me for it but if it moves you then I’ve succeeded.
The track names suggest some hardship – Astray, Turn Me Down, Orphan, Straight (Into the Wall) – how do you come up with track names for each tune? Are they all based on what inspired the music? I know some artists have interesting ways of coming up with names for their tracks…
Yes most of the time you have to find the title after the track’s done. When you’re making music you tend to be in the moment, working on impulses, you know where you’re going but nothing really makes much sense. It’s after the fact that you start thinking about what a track is all about, and that’s usually when titles come to me. On some occasions some titles on the album were plain practical, like “Orphan”, being a track that sits a bit on its own in the album, acting as a transition, or “5 Pieces” which is just how many pieces of gear Makoto and I used to make that track. On the other hand if it’s a song rather than an instrumental the titles are usually there in the lyrics.
Regarding the sense of hardship, I think the things that come to you the easiest when you start writing songs are the things that bother you and that are somewhat easier to let go of, that was the case for me. Writing songs about happiness wouldn’t necessarily suit the music I make, the songs had to have a bit of a serious tone to them, although I must admit some of the tracks and titles on the album are pretty much tongue in cheek.
There is something heart-wrenching about the title track. What’s the story behind this tune?
Believe it or not, I think I wanted to make a modern version of “Friends” by Whodini at 170bpm. It’s a track I’m fascinated with, I just love this synth riff and that basseline. I always try and take things as far as I can imagine them going and somehow this one led me to a Debussy-esque piano breakdown and then I felt like writing a cello arrangement for it, which is probably what gives the tune its emotional weight. But being an instrumental track it really just is a carrier for your own (the listener) imagination and is purely instinctive.
How did the collab with Makoto come about? – You guys worked on this together in Japan, right?
I’ve known Makoto for a little bit now as I used to go to Japan fairly regularly, and was in Tokyo at the time working on music with another japanese producer named Ena. I think Makoto was a bit tired of the obscene Yakiniku (the japanese bbq) sessions we were indulging ourselves in and decided it was time for a change, so we ended up working on this track at his studio, using most of the keyboards he had there. It was a great two-day’s worth of work, and it felt like the music was writing itself. Makoto’s just great in the studio, it was a real honour working with him. Of course once finished we went back to the Yakiniku.
Key appears on the track ‘Clouds’ – you’ve worked with her before – how did that connection initially come about?
I met Maiko “Key” through Ena as she used to work with him on various things, she’s also a resident MC at Makoto’s Human Elements night in Tokyo. I think the first track we worked on together was “Convictions” which came out on Rubik Records a few years ago. She has this incredible warm voice and I always loved the exotic feel she brings to the music, when you listen to her you don’t quite know where she’s from and she always delivers beautiful performances. I even managed to get her to speak french on “Clouds” and it sounds magical. “Clouds” was one of the first songs I started for the album and I thought it would be perfect for Maiko very early on, it was also the track that took the longest to finish, it drove me mad.
You lend your vocals to a lot of the tracks on the album – Did you write the tracks with your voice in mind?
I started out writing the songs for other people but as I went on demo-ing them I realized they were pretty much tailored for myself, so I decided to try and go for it, trying to perform them the best I could. At that point the album took a turn and became really personal. As soon as you put that much of yourself in the music, you feel exposed, you’re naked and you can’t hide behind your machines. It was a daunting task and a “now or never” kind of moment, but it came in at a time when a lot of the music I listened to was raw, personal and fragile, so I embraced the idea and decided to try and incorporate that into a 170bpm electronic album. I tried to keep the performances as real as possible, I wanted them to sound honest. It’s an approach that will probably leave a few people puzzled but I believe some will appreciate it. In the words of Klute, no one’s listening anymore anyway, so I might as well.
Some of us are still listening 🙂 Do you see singing as another creative outlet or is it simply easier to realise the vision you have for the track yourself?
I see it as both actually, singing opens up an infinite range of possibilities, suddenly you’re not only dealing with sounds but with words too. It’s also changed my approach to music production, I’ve become a lot more “song conscious” and I tend to separate the songwriting from the actual making of a track, musical ideas seem to come a lot more naturally as well. I like to play around with the classic structure of songs, and tighten up my verse / chorus game, finding the words that sound best is challenging too. It’s something I really never paid attention to before and now I almost find the lyrics to be more important than the actual music, if music doesn’t have anything to say I find it less attractive. After a while you also come to realize that the way you perform a song has a lot more impact on the music than any engineering will ever have, and that applies to playing instruments too.
What I love about your production is that it’s unpredictable and often seems spontaneous with so many different elements to it, blending to form a truly impressive groove. Was there anything in particular that inspired this album?
Sonically speaking I tried to leave the technical aspect aside and really concentrate on the feel of the songs and the performances, it’s very easy to lose perspective when you spend too much time obsessing over a kick drum sound for example. I was going for a sound similar to “Talkie Walkie” by Air which is an album produced by Radiohead’s Nigel Godrich. Even if there’s a couple of songs on it I’m not too fond of, the recordings, the experiments, the mixing, the mastering, it’s pure eargasm, each sound has its place and is just gorgeous. It was my main sonic reference and a great source of inspiration.
There’s also a lot more playing than actual programming on “Case Study”, that’s certainly where most of the spontaneity lies and I tried to leave things as raw as possible, let their true beauty shine. I didn’t want the album to sound too polished, I wanted it to be rich in all its imperfections, full of surprises and colourful just like a 70s japanese exploitation film poster.
Do you experiment with other genres as well?
I actually do all sorts yes, but I’ve pretty much stopped making music with a specific genre in mind, except when it comes to D&B. It’s a genre I still love making and playing out so I still make DJ oriented d&b tunes but with everything else I make, I love to forget about genres and just let the songs dictate what they should sound like.
I also like to pick a tempo as a starting point, rather than a genre. These days I make library music on the side as well and that’s an area where you have to make all sorts of music and do it by the numbers, which is in total contrast with my personal output but is a good way to learn new things.
It seems you’ve been quite busy on the production-front recently – you’ve also just released Straight Lines / Replaced on Paradox. It must have been somewhat surreal releasing on a label like Paradox?
Yes indeed, it’s unreal. Paradox Music is in my top 5 d&b labels of all time, and I feel incredibly lucky to be part of it. Dev Paradox is one of the pickiest persons I know in d&b, he just knows what he wants. It was quite an adventure coming up with the right music for this 12″ and I’ve learned a lot while making it. It’s like I’ve passed my d&b exams and I’ve graduated.
Do you write a lot when you’re on the road?
Not at all, I can’t write anything while on the road, unless I’m staying at another musician’s place and we take that opportunity to work on something. Basically I need to be home, alone, surrounded by instruments and wearing my favourite pajamas to be in the right state of mind, to be inspired and create.
Your production style is very eclectic, what are you listening to in your free time these days?
I listen to all kinds and I just tend to pick a record at random to listen to it. It could be Talking Heads or Japan, Rhye or Connan Mockasin, Kanye West or Daft Punk, Radiohead or Air. I also like to go back to my classics once in a while, The Beatles, David Bowie, Serge Gainsbourg etc. I listen to a fair bit of classical music from time to time, french composers especially: Satie, Debussy, Ravel, Saint-Saens, but not too much or I start to feel like I should give up making music.
I don’t listen to too many things at once, especially when working on an album, but I’ll listen to the same record on repeat a lot and get some inspiration from it. I also try to let things come my way by accident, like when you’re in a record shop and the staff puts on a record that blows you away, out of nowhere. I don’t get grabbed by music I find on the internet as much as I do in real life, that’s also part of the reason why it’s essential for me to release music on vinyl, because of that experience.
Makes for a more authentic experience for sure! You’re based in Paris, right? Do you get a chance to get out much and experience some events yourself, or are you mainly focused on your own music?
I’m just outside Paris, in the suburbs and I actually rarely go out to events, even more so when I’m working on an album, I tend to hide under a rock.
Any French artists making waves that we may not have heard about yet?
You probably have heard of them already but the names that come to mind within the d&b circles (I’ll probably forget someone) are Gerwin, Nulpar, War / Mateba, Gunston and Moresounds.
What’s coming up next for you? A much-needed rest after completing the album or does the writing never stop?
More and more music. I’ve got a next album in mind, which again will probably be a bit experimental and personal, but fear not as I’m also working on a lot of new 170bpm club music at the moment which I’m actually pretty excited to test out soon.
Can’t wait to hear it! Final shout outs?
I’ll just give a shout out to Mav at Scientific Records for believing in the album and taking the financial risk to put it out on vinyl (those full print cardboard sleeves cost a fortune 😀 ). I also have to thank all my collaborators on this project: Makoto, Key, Ena, Benjamin Le Jean at Gaijin Studio, Florent Chevallier for the cello performances, Bob Macc at Subvert Mastering for the slick job, Sig Vicious for putting the artwork together, Paradox for the Paradox Music opportunity and Ulrich Schnauss for the beautiful remix he did of “Just Like You” that just came out on Horizons Music. I’m also sending a lot of love out to the ones who’ve supported my music so far, to those who’ll support the album, to the friends who took the time to give me their feedback, and to Drum&BassArena for the interest and interview.