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Letherette: Wolverhampton Duo Talk Innocent Pleasures

Letherette are a production duo based in Wolverhampton. Now signed to Ninja Tune after releasing two wildly popular EPs on Ho Tep, a sub-label of London-based Elgo Records, childhood friends Rich Roberts and Andy Harber have just put the finishing touches on their self-titled debut album, due for release next month. Although undeniably indebted to legendary hip hop producers like DJ Premier and J Dilla, there are also generous twists of house, disco, funk and soul in the Letherette sound, as well as a clear love of experimenting with new production techniques to create hybrid tracks that evade specific categorisation. I chatted to the pair about the origins of their collaboration, the upcoming album and innocent pleasures. When did you start making music together? Rich: We grew up together, so whatever we did we did together. So first of all we started playing football, and playing out on our bikes, but when we got to about 13 or 14 we got into music quite heavily. We both started learning the guitar. Straight away we used to teach each other what we'd learnt and jam together crudely. Andy: It kind of all changed when we met Steve Wilkinson (Bibio) and we started going to college. That's when we started buying synths and drum machines and samplers. Me and Rich would sit around in my bedroom for hours making massive pieces - ten minutes of self-indulgent synth. We used to circuit bend as well didn't we? Rich: Yeah we did all sorts of stuff. Straight away we got into avant-garde, noisy electro-acoustic music. But we started taking it more seriously after university. We used to make house tracks on really crude samplers, which to me still sound really charming. I'd like to release an album of all the stuff we used to do when we were 19-20. This sampler was just the most basic thing. You could get it from Argos. You'd find ways of getting extra sampling time and re-sampling things. Your new album is out in April. What was the process of creating it like? Andy: We always did house music as we were growing up, but I suppose we got really into sampling and hip hop, using MPCs and samplers. We came up with the mix we did for BTS Radio and the stuff we put on the EPs... that was a good year of just getting really into hip hop. Since then I suppose we've kind of taken it further and tried to combine all our techniques. This album isn't one-minute beat tracks. We've tried to make full 'songs' using that very Letherette sound we've got on the other EPs. Electronic music can be a bit serious at times. I get the feeling that, with your own productions and your track selection on mixes, that there isn't such a thing as a guilty pleasure for you. Rich: Exactly, yeah. I had that conversation coincidently with my girlfriend last night. She said to me, 'Is there someone you listen to who you won't tell anyone about?' And there isn't. Andy's the same, and I suppose that's why we get on so well. We just like shit that we like. If it's Phil Collins and we think it's amazing, we'll put it on a mix. We're just doing a mix now for Kiss FM. It starts off with a track - I won't tell you what it is - but I reckon people will think it's ridiculous, but we love it. Your first video for lead single 'D&T' came out last week. Were you involved in making it? Rich: Yeah, we pretty much did it 50-50 with Tom Scholefield (Konx-om-Pax). We'd seen his videos before and he sent us a treatment for this video, and he just seemed like he was on the same wavelength as us. It's been quite a long process, but he gave us an idea, spent a day filming lots of stuff and sent it back, and we sent him ideas with chopped up collage videos. Me and Andy spent weeks just taking videos from various sources, recording them off VHS and chopping them into pieces. Like you said before about us being fun and not putting up boundaries, I think the video shows that as well. We take it seriously but there's definitely a fun side to it. Serious about having fun. Rich: Yeah, it's true. Andy: If it wasn't fun we wouldn't do it. Rich: But there are also tracks on the album that are totally inward-looking headphone music. It's just about being taken somewhere in your head. I think 'In July Focus' was the first track I heard by you and it's probably still my favourite. It hits that sweet spot of using a sample but making something completely different out of it. Did something 'click' when you were making it? Rich: Cheers! To be honest it's been five years since we made that track... Andy: At the time we were making so many. I think that one stood out more than most, but there was such a lot of music in a similar vein being made that we probably didn't realise until it went on our first EP and got great feedback. Rich: Less so now, but three or four years ago we were just banging out hundreds and hundreds of beats. I can remember us doing it, because it used a particular sampling technique that we'd never used before. It's one of those things that if we tried to do the same technique again it would just sound like 'In July'. If you heard the original that it's sampled from, you'd know exactly what it is. I did actually track down the original earlier today. It's interesting, because there's so many little sections you've taken it's really different hearing the whole thing. Andy: Cheers man. Even on the new album we sample, but we've progressed to taking smaller samples and digging into them and filling them out. But where we are now has come from tracks like 'In July'. Which producers would you recommend to our readers at the moment? Rich: Lee Gamble is someone we've been listening to recently. We went to university with him. When we first met Lee it was evident that he was quite a clever, tasteful, very avant-garde composer. The stuff he did before with [multi-arts collective] Cyrk was much less accessible, for want of a better word. But his recent EP really hit the spot I think. The concept behind it [making techno and ambient tracks from the breakdowns of old jungle mixtapes] was really nice, and knowing Lee a bit it was really nice to hear him doing stuff like that. It really inspired both of us. Maybe on our next album you'll hear Lee Gamble influences! You're doing a set for the Boiler Room next week. Do you have any surprises up your sleeves for that? Rich: Yeah, we're just gonna play Phil Collins, Michael Bolton and Simply Red. I seriously think you should do an 'Innocent Pleasures' set. Rich: [laughs] Yeah man, I'm totally up for that. Andy: Luther Vandross! Rich: Luther Vandross, just chopped to pieces. But that's really where Letherette came from. Andy started the concept of it ten years ago, something like that. Originally it was taking really naff samples and making them really fresh. Like sampling [smooth jazz saxophonist] Kenny G - sampling the worst, most horrible, cheesy music but making it amazing. Photo by Stephen Wilkinson )

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