Hudson Mohawke Talks "Maximalism" and Sonic Textures Ahead of His NYC Show Tonight

by Sandra Song
(photo by Lauren Gesswein)

Hudson Mohawke arrives 20 minutes late to our interview, a bottle of orange Fanta tucked under an arm, clear-rimmed glasses slightly askance and one very tired look spread across his face. Though who could blame him. 

The professional pseudonym of 29-year-old Glaswegian producer Ross Birchard, he's in for a long day of rehearsals ahead of a string of shows he's playing in support of his highly-anticipated sophomore album Lantern, out June 16 via Warp. After all, it's been six long years since his debut -- though the Kanye collaborator, TNGHT member and dancing cop soundtracker has obviously kept very busy with various side projects and sonic experimentations. Long overdue, we caught up with HudMo ahead of his show tonight at NYC's Irving Plaza to chit-chat about his foray into softer sounds, his history of scratch DJing and just a few of his silken-voiced collaborators. 


A lot of people describe your sound as "overwhelming?" What are your thoughts on that? Was that something you tried to stay away from or embrace on Lantern

That came from my days in turntablism and scratch DJing and stuff like that, where it is very much about being as over-the-top and overwhelming as possible. So I think as far as putting this record together it was much more about being an exercise in restraint. The first record was like 10,000 fucking sounds everywhere, whereas with the new record I've really tried to refine the sound and strip back the elements that are not completely necessary or adding anything to the actual song. That are just kind of there to fill up the space, which is what I was previously really, really into. My new approach is taking something that has a lot of elements and stripping it back to its purest form. 

In the initial press release you said something about wanting to make this album a "classic" -- something that didn't adhere to any specific genre. 

It was really more about making something I was really happy with. And even though it's taken quite a few years, the skills and new approach to putting together an album I've learned over that period has really informed what I've currently put together. 

Yesterday Pitchfork published an article about "maximalism" in electronic music, and how it's bred by the limitless information and possibilities of the internet. You're mentioned as the beginning a member of said maximalist movement. Would you agree with that?

I haven't read the article, so I don't know what is says, but it isn't something that I have an issue with. I think that when the term was first being bandied about a couple of years ago, it had very negative connotations and a lot of people were just like, "This is stupid, frivolous and whatever." But I feel like now -- even as far as my first record, which came out six years ago -- probably more people talk about that record now then they did when it came out in the first place [laughs]. But I really didn't like the term "wonky."

Oh really? You didn't dig the whole wobbly, wet-sounding "wonky/purple" thing?

People were trying to relate it to ketamine and stuff like that...and it has nothing to do with ketamine. But some journalist decided that it was like "ketamine music." No, but as far as the maximalist thing, I don't have problem with it. 

This album initially feels like it's exploring softer territories and textures -- like, the collaborators you brought in all have this sort of silky-smooth thing going on. Can you talk a little bit more about that? 

Yeah, as far as the collaborations -- I guess I'll just run through them one by one -- Irfane basically did a bunch of stuff with Ed Banger [Records] and Breakbot in Paris, and I had heard a couple of his songs...and he has this incredible, kind of weird, silky, '70s voice, and I don't hear that many vocalists around like that. It's almost like crooning, but not in a cheesy sense, and I really liked that sort of vocal tone. As far as Ruckazoid, he's a person I knew from the turntable scene because he was like a champion turntablist. He's a funny character because he's wildly better than the majority of people who are known within that kind of circle, but he just keeps his head down and does his own shit. He had also done vocals for someone from the Ed Banger guys and he was someone who I had no idea could sing. I thought he was just a turntablist guy...I didn't really knows he was making music -- singing -- and so it wasn't until we actually were in touch that I realized that he was doing all this other shit as well. And then there's Antony [Hegarty], who is someone I wanted to work with for forever, and it just so happened that around the time when we got in touch he wanted to start a new project with some more electronic styles of production, as opposed to his more kind of piano-based production that people are used to hearing. So I wanted to experiment, as far as trying to make something that wasn't just Antony singing over a beat. I wanted to try and make a proper song structure and he wanted to experiment with more electronic production, so it actually came together very nicely.

Tracks like "Kettles" and "System" have a very orchestral feel and you've got soul samples on songs like "Ryderz," all of which is different from your previous work, which was defined by a very synthesized, artificial sound. Tell me more about the samples you used.

Some of it is live-recorded, some of it is samples, but it's something that I wanted to challenge myself with. I could easily make a record of hip-hop bangers, but I wanted to do something that satisfied my creative edge, as well as make a load of bangers, as it were [laughs]. That's the other reason why we put "Chimes" out first. Obviously I wanted this song to come out, but I don't necessarily feel that it was for the full length album, so we put it out as a single beforehand...but yeah that is something I am exploring. 

Are you classically trained? 

No, no, no...just fucking around [laughs].

Lantern comes out 6/16 on Warp Records.

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