In the two and a half months since releasing his sophomore album, Nonfiction, The Range (a.k.a. James Hinton) has seen no shortage of positive feedback, whether in glowing reviews from XLR8R and Pitchfork (who also gave the record a spot on its Top 50 Albums of 2013 list) to packed headlining sets in venues coast-to-coast. One of the most telling examples, though, may have been the cooing praise from nearly every cool chick who worked at Rough Trade -- the new Williamsburg outpost of London's legendary record store and label -- when I stopped by to find out if they carried the album. (For the record, they don't have it yet. You can buy it online instead.)
That the 25-year-old, Providence-based producer has found favor makes sense -- the songs on Nonfiction are artfully complex constructions heavy on breakbeats, plaintive piano chords, and distorted vocal samples mined from the outer reaches of YouTube. There's also a sense of precision to his tracks, reflective of Hinton's background studying physics, cosmology and math while a student at Brown University. After a recent show at Williamsburg's Glasslands Gallery, we caught up with Hinton to discuss the evolution of The Range, the benefits of making music in Providence and "Hold Tight" by Justin Bieber.
Tell me about the origins of The Range.
I played guitar and drums in college but one day my sophomore year I heard my friend, who was into electronic music, messing around with [DJ software] Traktor in his room and that's what first got me interested. I popped out and was like, "What are you doing?" From that point on, I got really interested in the idea of cutting up vocals. I grabbed an R&B/hip-hop acapella [vocal sample] pack that had Ashanti, Aaliyah, probably 5-6 Notorious B.I.G. samples, Puff Daddy's "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems" on there and I started playing with it. I started calling the project Stegosaurus and back then, I [was influenced] by what Justice were doing and Baltimore club music and Rye Rye and all that stuff that was happening on Mad Decent. Then I progressed and got more into a lot of jungle and footwork around 2010. Around that time, I opened for a Big Boi concert at Brown and that show was the first time when I thought of The Range project. Three months later, I put out my first track under that name in January of 2011.
What made you realize that The Range was going to be distinct from your previous work?
The tempo is a lot different in The Range stuff compared to Stegosaurus. But more than anything, what makes The Range different is the full commitment to sampling. There's a lineage between the two but it's hard to pin it down exactly.
What were you listening to or getting inspired by during the recording of Nonfiction?
I was really getting into grime like [British production group] Ruff Sqwad. There was also this one mixtape that this legendary drum 'n' bass guy, dBridge, did that I was listening to pretty much for the entire duration of recording. I would go back to that mix over and over again when I was traveling a lot in the car [to play shows] so it became a touchstone for me.
What have been some of the biggest benefits and challenges of being a producer in Providence, living and working outside of major music hubs like Brooklyn or L.A.?
I always view it as a positive. There's such a strong creative community in Providence and you can find something going on every night of the week. It's also only four hours from New York, which gives you the ability to get a sense of what's going on without being overwhelmed by the difficulty of living there.
You studied math and majored in physics at Brown. Does your background in science and math affect the way you compose music at all?
I want to answer "yes" and "no" because I do think the way I was trained in physics does have an impact on the way I approach music but when people think of music and math, they conjure up some John Nash-type dude scribbling notes and equations and that's definitely not the way I think of music. I don't map things out or use math equations for music...but I like precision and use problem-solving parts of my brain for things like harmony. When I've got a certain layout in a song and have a [sense] of what the finished song will sound like, I'll use certain voice leading rules, which are definitely mathematical in nature.
And, speaking of Brown, lately there seems to be a handful of young alums -- you, Darkside, and Wardell, to name a few -- coming up in the music scene right now. Do you think the community or environment at Brown contributed to this at all?
It's an interesting thing because when we were in school, you had all these Wesleyan bands like MGMT, Das Racist and Le1f coming up and I never considered that concept [in relation to Brown]. There was a rare combination at Brown of having a really strong electronic music program and also tons of house parties where people were down to let others play music. [Darkside's] Nico [Jaar] was playing a lot of parties. I got to play tons of my own music and, when I think back, to have been able to try out dance music in a really safe setting and not just have people request hip-hop all night is kind of nuts. People were really supportive. It seemed really natural at the time but then I realized that's not the case [everywhere]. It's pretty special that that kind of environment existed.
Looking back on 2013, what song are you most embarrassed to admit you loved?
The new Justin Bieber song "Hold Tight" is killer. To me, that song is so good, which is super embarrassing but I'm pretty obsessed with it.
Nonfiction is out now via Donky Pitch and you can catch The Range live in Brooklyn on February 8 at Baby's All Right. For a complete list of tour dates, go HERE.
Photo by Evan William Smith