JP Hill

Fennec Interview

JP Hill
Fennec Interview

Fennec is a producer based out of Indiana, in the midwest U.S., who spent his early 20s going to house shows and listening to all of the music his bandwidth would allow. His self described sound, “wistful plunder house jams for the depressed”, is likely a jab at music journalists and fans alike, who would prefer to talk about the best descriptors to use to describe a song, rather than the emotional response they get from it. Production wise, the emotive element is at the forefront, on top of layers and layers of vocal samples, lush synth lines and hard hitting drum programming. Certainly no newcomer to putting out his own music, he recently had his first 12” released on Thirty Year Records. I was psyched to be able to exchange some words about his youngin’ days, DIY scenes, and why studio gear doesn’t matter.

To start off, I’d like to talk about your formative years for a second, have you always lived in Indiana?

Was born in New York, lived in St. Louis, lived in Pittsburgh, and now here for an eternity.

What kind of music did you grow up listening to?

My formative years were solidly in the early 2000’s garage rock revival/Brooklyn thing that happened. White Stripes, The Strokes, The Hives, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem, Devendra Banhart, Sufjan Stevens, Animal Collective. I was, and am, extremely pretentious.


How did you get into dance music specifically?

I didn’t get into dance music until like Aphex Twin’s SAW85-92 and Girl Talk’s Unstoppable, El Guincho’s Alegranza too. Like experimental dance-oriented music was my backdoor into House and Techno. Panda Bear too, but more his liner notes. I combed his thank-you list in Person Pitch and listened to all of those via this P2P program called Aries.


You’ve mentioned in the past that some of your early exposure to dance music came from Chicago radio stations like WBMX and WBBM, can you recall what made that kind of music stick out to you?

  An old ad for Chicago’s famous WBMX, still on the air today as 104.3 Jams.

An old ad for Chicago’s famous WBMX, still on the air today as 104.3 Jams.

I was really into loop-based music and repetition in the context of a band jamming out like krautrock. And then there came this kind of music that 1) was entirely based on arrangement of loops and 2) was coming from somewhere else. Like it was definitely not a band and I didn’t understand music production at the time so it was totally new and mysterious to me.

I first heard your music around the time you released your album, One Night Could Change Your Life, early in 2017, which you described as an ode to the house shows you went to and Chicago radio shows you listened to growing up in the midwest. Can you describe the electronic music scene where you’re from a little bit more for those who might not be as familiar with ‘DIY’ or small music communities?

So, out in the midwest there really isn’t a lot in terms of clubs or venues so it’s up to you to make your own fun. There isn’t so much an electronic music “scene” as there is a healthy cultivation of kids throwing parties in their basement. An actual dance party with genuine house/techno is rare, if existent at all. I was exposed to it most in a college town where everyone is still trying to figure themselves out and what they’re into so you get a lot of experimentation not only with music but formats too. You’d get a guy doing experimental noise with a pedalboard with a surf rock band and then it’d be headlined by a Captured Tracks slacker chorused-guitar type thing.

I like Noncompliant’s quote, “Find empty spaces, call a number on a sign, hear about someone’s dad’s friend’s bingo hall, find an empty office building, drag a soundsystem into a barn…” All of these things were, I think, what happens when you live in a place where nothing is established for you.

If you’re going out at night it’s either those spaces or a sports bar filled with college bros going all out to top 40 EDM, which isn’t a bad thing either. I remember being at such a bro bar while I was working on my first album and Benny Benassi’s Satisfaction was screaming loud with the music video playing and looking out at the people grinding to it like “Wow this is fantastic. For a moment right now these people are really living, even though it might not be the same definition of living as someone in a big city.” I think you can kind of hear that in the album. In that college town I’d play some Panorama Bar type tracks out if I was DJ’ing but even then you can only get so weird before you start disconnecting with that demographic. You can’t go full Berghain.

Moving on to production, I’m sure you saw Four Tet’s post, turned meme, showing off the gear he used to make his new album. I was wondering, how important is hardware to your process?

  Four Tet’s minimal studio setup

Four Tet’s minimal studio setup

Hardware isn’t that important to me because I’m more about making what I have on-hand work as opposed to hunting down some specialty or bespoke gear. What I use is not far off of Four Tet. With the material I’ve been doing lately I’ll use an electric guitar to add or reinforce parts and I’ve got thrift shop cassette deck that I’ll mix stuff down to and then export back into my laptop for effect. The hype over analog, hardware gear is the priming and placebo effects at work.
 

You have a very open ended philosophy when it comes to sampling, do you have a favorite method for digging?

  Stickers designed by Fennec

Stickers designed by Fennec

My preferred method for digging is to not specifically try to dig. The majority of the samples you hear are from whatever I happen to be watching or listening to at the time. In that way I like that each album kind of forms a diary. I still go to record stores for vinyl and my strategy there is based on “does this album art look cool, does this look available online, or Is there a dub remix?”

It’s rare to see full length albums from dance music producers these days, much less conceptual ones. What about the LP format is exciting to you?

They just seem more substantive and memorable to me than an EP. People always have a top 10 albums list, nobody has top 10 EPs. You have so much more room to explore every facet of a theme or mood. One of the catalysts for this whole project was being in a car accident and kind of realizing that death is unpredictable and, unless you truly make an effort, most people leave nothing behind. If you make something great and memorable then that’s going to stick with people and in a way, you never really can die.


While on the subject of longevity, how much thought goes into the visual aspect of what you do? Because to me, the stickers, album art, videos, etc. all go so well together, it just seems like you enjoy every aspect of putting a project together.

I do enjoy it and I’d say at least as much thought that goes into the music. That was one of the things I had in mind from the very beginning was that everything should be cohesive in aesthetic. I just think about what I would like to see, or what would stand out to me as a music listener/consumer. I’ve always had an interest in design and visual production so it’s a nice outlet.

Wrapping up here, you’ve got the EP on Thirty Years coming out soon, I see Lobster Theremin gave you that sleek follow, any plans you’re willing to share for forthcoming releases?

Right now the next release for me will probably be my next album. After making about 100 tracks I’ve settled on the final cut for the album. The EP with Thirty Year came about pretty much because the guy was like “I want to start a label and I like your music. Do you want to put some tracks out?” And I was just working on my next album, which sounds nothing like the EP, and I wanted to do something different to keep my mind fresh.  Having cut 90 some tracks for the album, the music’s there. If Jimmy at Lobster Theremin wants some tracks from me all he’s gotta do is ask ;)

Still working on the soundtrack to your friend’s short film?

Yes, and it’s so different. The vibe he requested was this like, Al Green meets LCD Soundsystem type thing and I was like “You’ve heard my music though right?” It’s a fun challenge though and it’s forcing me to get back to playing guitar and keyboard. I’m in the film too so that makes it super awkward to watch myself as I’m trying to figure out what kind of music should go where.

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Any upcoming gigs?

I play out maybe once every month or two. If you’re doing something interesting and unique then being in an unsaturated place like where I am makes it easy to find an open spot somewhere. I take gigs only when I feel like it since the production side is what gives me far more joy (and that’s really what it’s about).


We’d like to thank Fennec for his time, you can preview / purchase his music here, as well as follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Ben Alexander