Interview: Burning House
Published on July 15th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Blackalicious producer Chief Xcel has teamed up with Hervé Salters (General Elektriks) for a new project they’re calling Burning House, so we fired him over some questions to find out a little more about it.
Having spoken to Gift of Gab last summer, Rocksucker is delighted to complete a Blackalicious double; incidental to the main thrust of the article this may be but, like the legendary Sacramento duo themselves, we’re not above a spot of showing off when the mood takes us.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, check out the pure liquid sunshine of Burning House’s new single “Turn Off the Robot” and join us in eagerly anticipating their forthcoming debut album, upon which the Chief himself elucidates for us just below…
Is there a full-length Burning House album in the offing? If so, what can you tell us about it at this stage?
Yes, definitely. It’s called Walking Into a Burning House. It’s basically an encapsulation of our creative chemistry.
The seeds were planted several years ago during various studio sessions in Berkeley. We would usually be working on other projects together and then come up with an idea that we liked.
We’d say, “This would be dope for our project,” and put it to the side. Pretty soon we had found ourselves with a small mountain of song ideas.
The ideas were expanded upon in Paris and Berlin, mixed in Oakland and then mastered in Paris.
Do you anticipate Burning House being a one-off thing or something that will continue?
It’s definitely more than a one-off. We’ve been working together for quite a while now. We’ll continue to explore and develop the sounds and concepts. It’s a constantly evolving process.
Who made the video for “Turn Off the Robot”?
The Video is basically the brainchild of Chris Mills. We saw some of his earlier work and thought he’d be perfect for “Turn Off the Robot”. We basically told him the basic thought behind the song concept and told him to run with it in the direction he saw and to run wild with it.
Is the name Burning House a reference to how well you two hit it off? (NB – not sure if “they got on like a house in fire” is as common a saying in the States as it is over here!)
That’s a dope idea! But no. It’s basically based off of a conversation we were having one day where Herve was telling me about a band that had asked him to sit in with them and play keys.
When he met the guys before the show they were basically at each others’ throats not getting along. I said, “Wow, it sounds kinda like you were walking into a burning house.”
We thought it be a great title for a song. It later developed into the band name.
How close to completion is the new Blackalicious album? What can you tell us about how it sounds?
We’ve recorded a lot of material so far and have really zeroed in on the direction. It’s progressing well. The sound right now is raw and aggressive but still soulful.
The last two Blackalicious albums Blazing Arrow and The Craft both sound like there’s a lot of live instrumentation in the production. Is this indeed the case, and if so a) where do you source the musicians from? and b) how do you go about working out all the parts?
I usually work with the same team of musicians I’ve worked with over the years. They really tend to understand how I think musically. So working with them is usually pretty effortless.
Similarly, what is the samples/instruments split like in Burning House?
It’s a balance. With some songs we may start with a melody that Herve comes up with. I’ll put drums to it and we just start building the songs.
Other times I may come up with a basic drum direction and Herve will start building song ideas on top of it. Or I may come up with a really rough sketch of an idea on the MPC or Maschine and then Herve will start adding another world of sonics to it.
That’s what’s great about our process: it’s a lot of back and forth. True collaboration.
What do you think of Gab’s solo records? How is his health, if you don’t mind us asking?
Gab is one of the most prolific people I’ve ever known. He’s literally always creating. By the time we finish one Blacka record he already has ideas for two or three new solo records he’s gonna do. Amazing.
Health-wise he’s been on a journey. He’s maintaining well and is in a great positive and creative space.
Can you see there ever being another Lateef & The Chief album?
Yeah, we’ve been talking about it.
What music from 2013 have you been enjoying and/or is there anything yet to come out that you’re particularly looking forward to?
I like Black Hippy and what they’re doing. Their crew has an intensity that I think is dope. I’m happy to see Jurassic 5 and Dilated Peoples working together again.
Finally, if you had to spend the rest of your life with the entire works of just five different musical artists, whose would you choose?
Tough one. Probably James Brown, Tim Maia, Fela Kuti, John Coltrane and David Axelrod.
Chief Xcel, thank you.
Burning House will play at London venue Cargo on October 15th.
You can follow Burning House on Facebook.