In Conversation: Tee Mango & Amp Fiddler

UK producer, and the man behind cult clothing brand Millionhands, Tee Mango returns this summer with his latest long-player,  ’50 Songs’. This album is perhaps his most personal to date, seeing him delve deep into soulful territory, helped along in no small way by the contributions of Detroit’s Amp Fiddler. Amp Fiddler has a discography that takes in work with Prince, George Clinton, Moodymann and many more besides and makes his mark here on lead single ‘Feels Like Whatever’. Tee and Amp took time out to get ‘In Conversation’ for us and shed a little light on their working process and their thoughts on music.

Tee:
When we worked together, you sang, played keys & guitar, which instrument did you start with & how did you learn to play?

Amp:
I started with the piano. I’m like. 17 when I started playing the piano. And my mom was always bugging me about playing and. I was always trying to avoid it. No. I ended up taking a piano lesson at this music store downtown and that was it.

My brother played Bass and we played together all the time once I started playing keyboards. Of course, I did spend hours practicing by myself. Yeah. Trying to figure this shit out. But I was like right at the end of high school you know. My buddy and I used to go to the music store downtown to steal guitar pedals because he was a guitar player so we’d steal pedals that he’d go home and make some psychedelic crazy sounds. We just sit and listen to that craziness, with his pedals he’d got.

I kind of got tired of that. And I just happened to go in the back of that store, and I met this old lady named Ms. Whitman. Ms. Whitman must’ve been about eighty-two years old. But she was really good. She taught me everything you know. Just got me right into the books and taught me the real fundamentals, you know, the building blocks!

Tee:
So Amp… You’ve collaborated with some amazing talents (Parliament Funkadelic, Moodymann, Prince, Seal) who’s been the most interesting, challenging, exciting?

Amp:
I mean it was cool to work all those people and each one was it’s own experience especially like with Prince, I did the session with George Clinton in the studio and we didn’t go to Paisley Park, but we jammed with him in Paris. So it’s not like I didn’t play with him, but it wasn’t a recording session, so the dynamic was different you know. So it was never a challenge with Prince, but with George Clinton, it was always a challenge from day one.

So from day one the 1st session, on ‘Do fries go with that shake’ he said, you need to come up with some keyboard parts for this song. Just get to it, you know.

Then it was, “Do you want to go to Europe with the band?” as a keyboardist. Take this cassette. Learn the show. When is the rehearsal? There is no rehearsal so we rehearse when we get to Germany. And just on and on. You know we go to California together. He said we are there to work with producers and programmers. Each new experience is challenging. You know we did a session with Ladysmith Black Mambasa. It was just so different from what I was used to. It was just a constant learning process.

Tee:
How old were you when you started playing with those guys?

Amp:
I must’ve been in my late 20s mid-20s maybe. Yeah man, it was a lot of fun!

Tee:
Do you get much time to listen to music, and if so, what are you finding yourself listening to (new or old, doesn’t matter)?

Amp:
A lot of times in the car I’m listening to FM radio in the car, you know there’s a good selection of stuff on there man, Jazz, reggae; there’s hip hop there’s electronica dance and there’s a little funk on there.

Normally when I’m home I don’t have time to really sit and listen that much, because I’m in the studio working like you are right?

And you know there’s always music that’s unfinished that you need to go touch (laughs).

And then when I’m here, I’ll be sitting relaxing trying to watch a movie or practicing… or spending my time trying to learn new equipment. (laughs) There’s always a learning curve with some new equipment you know. Yeah. And I’ve got always got new synthesizers so I’ll go learn how they function.

Tee:
…that sounds like a nice thing. I mean, it sounds like you’re almost showing off?

Amp:
(laughs)a lot of tutorials man!

Amp:
OK, I got a couple questions for you Tee… So my question to you is how is this new record compare or how was different to your past records?

Tee:
So, the last album (Imperfections Vol#1) was a lot more instrumental. I worked with 2 vocalists on that album but apart from those two songs the rest of the album was predominantly instrumental.

This album(50 songs) is like eleven songs! So you know, the focus is the vocal as opposed to a synth part or a or a sample or something.

Amp:
it’s a whole different approach that way is a different approach

Tee:
It is a whole different approach absolutely. But like you said earlier, we’re continually learning you know.

It’s not like I’ve never written a song before or I’ve never been involved in writing songs before, but I guess it has never really been the focus of my solo work.

20 years I’ve been scribbling things down, in various different notebooks, keeping those words secret, never showing anyone so this is the first time, I’ve thought fuck it, you know, I should share this (laughs)

Amp:
Yeah man! Absolutely!

Do you find that you approach each song differently production-wise?

Tee:
Yeah, each song has started differently.

I’m always just kind of piecing together some elements.

Maybe it’s a little sample of something or maybe some chords or something and then kind of building up as opposed to starting with.

The same thing all the time.

Amp:
Yeah, I noticed that you do that, it’s different with each beat you played me.

Tee:
Well, kind of hoping it sounds like me but it doesn’t all sound the same.

Amp:
with that approach of you know starting from different points like one track. You might start with drums and the other might start with a bass line or keyboard. That is what makes it feel different most of the time, isn’t it?

Tee:
Exactly, you’re trying different perspectives to see if you can find that magical little something to bounce off arent you?

I heard someone much wiser than me say, “Creativity is a process of reduction”. You know when you start with all this stuff and then you find you’re trying to just take things away. Kind of like Jenga, you just keep removing bits and hope that the tower still stays standing!

Amp:
It’s a whole different sound and approach, where less is more, you know?

When you have more space and then everything breathes a little better and you could put things in place where they can’t talk to each other as opposed to everybody just talking in a room and nobody listening.

Tee:
Yeah, that sounds like a cocaine dinner party (laughs) no one wants that vibe.

Amp:
(laughs) yeah right, man!

My next question is…

how do you go about sampling? (with music and sounds).
What do you normally look for?

Tee:
I used to buy all those DJ Premier records, you know a lot of old hip hop stuff, and I was in awe all of those dudes and how you know how they found these fucking samples?

Amp:
Me too man, me too!

Tee:
And I love records, but I’m not like a proper nerd that knows everything about every year and detail of a record.

When I started out and I was listening to these Premier records, or ‘incredible breaks and beats’, I was always thinking… “where would these samples live?” like what kind of records, how do I find them?

And then I remember reading this DJ Premier interview and he just said something along the lines of like “I’m always looking for samples It never stops. You know I’m always listening”.  I was like “Fuck!” I could always be listening. So simple.

And now with the advent of shazam and youtube, I’m just always taking digital notes and tagging tracks that I compile into a big folder on my computer, that I can go back to later for some inspiration. It’s a way of listening if that makes sense?

To be fair, there’s also a cool little record shop near me that sells 2nd vinyl that I go to from time to time just to really dig in.

We’re so lucky, though you know, because those old school dudes, it was only records or tapes, they had no Discogs, youtube or shazam to hunt down these samples.


Amp:
What do you find to be your favorite sampling tool?

Tee:
I use Ableton. It’s the easiest tool I’ve found and the one I know best.

I might, pitch, stretch or chop the sample into bars, quarters or even eighth notes and play it back across the pads, in an MPC style, but generally, it’s Ableton for playing with samples. From time to time I’ll push stuff across to the MPC :)

Amp:
It’s been 3 years since the last LP, do you think much has changed production-wise since then, do you think Ableton is a part of that change?

Tee:
Yeah man, it was 2016… I think

Things are always changing, to state the obvious (laughs). I don’t think Ableton has been responsible per se for a change, but DAWs like Ableton and maybe fruity loops have made it much easier for people to make music. But I don’t think the tool predicates the sound.

I think certain tools are better suited to certain jobs obviously, but like it’s down to the individual using the tool to define how they want to use it, or more… what results they want to get, what sound they’re trying to create.

Amp:
What are you saying about these days in music?

Tee:
What’s exciting to me, obviously plugging the record here, (laughs) but it got the record out!

So it was really exciting getting that first EP (50 Songs EP#1) out and getting the genuinely lovely reactions from the folks who buy from me on Bandcamp.

I had 50 copies and I sold those out in a week, and that feels really good you know when people buy your art.

Amp:
Yeah man, that’s good. I’m pleased to be a part of that.

Tee:
Well thank you mate, I appreciate it.

Amp:
Can’t wait till we can do it again, so we can get back to that Thai restaurant!

Tee:
Yes mate! (laughs)

 

Listen to the ’50 Songs’ Album here