An Interview with Jelle Kuipers

Jelle Kuipers is a Netherlands-based electronic musician and the first artist to grace the catalog of our new label, Temparc Music. Jelle and I recently had a chat about his thoughts on music production, the role animal sounds (specifically bird and frog sounds) play in his tracks, and his new EP Spangen which is due out February 22, 2016.

Phil: Hey Jelle, how are you?

Jelle: I'm great, a bit hungover but I'll manage.

Same. I went to a weird trap music show last night, it was odd. You've mentioned to me that you don't really listen to electronic music that much even though you make it. What do you listen to mostly?

I don't really go to shows or club nights, or at least not that often. I'm more into hanging in bars with friends. I'm not really sure how to best describe [the music I like], but it mostly has guitars in it. It's a wide range; Jimi Hendrix to Balthazar (a really great Belgian band). But I rarely listen to anything electronic, aside from checking what's on my Soundcloud feed.

Nice. Did you ever play in a band?

Yeah, I used to play drums in a band when I was in my teens and we did have some gigs actually. But at one time I just got more interested in electronic music and totally ditched everything that had to do with rock music, but then some years ago it switched again.

Yeah, I did the same thing actually. I got bored of rock but I haven't been able to get the same enjoyment out of it that I used to. What made you go back to rock?

It's not that it really went away, but especially after my first releases and "getting into the scene", it just slowly came back. I found that most electronic music I used to like was quite boring to listen to at home, as the main motivation is of course having it played on the dance floor.

Yeah. I mean, dance floor music can be very repetitive sometimes. I've always been into the more experimental side of electronic music, which you can listen to in any setting.

After hearing the same sounding things for years, it just became a bit boring. I really like to listen to electronic music in terms of production techniques. I'm more interested in how they made certain sounds I like rather than enjoying it as is.

How do you record usually? Are there particular tools and instruments you use?

I always start with a kick drum and I know what kind of sound I am looking for. Sometimes I look for the perfect kick drum for 20 minutes and if I can't find it I just go do something else. But if I find it, for me the bass drum determines what kind of track it will be. After that I'll add some ambience, mostly ambient sounds from vinyl, pitched down with reverb, and then I'll add the percussion. Then I either start with a pad synth, or start to fiddle around with sounds sampled from vinyl. While working on the beat the mixing has to be perfect, otherwise I can't continue. Well, perfect to me. The Spangen tracks all have that same approach.

When I have something I am happy with I start arranging and I'll add some effects and it's done. The arranging and adding effects part only takes about an hour most of the time. But if I don't finish a track within two days it's more than likely I'll never finish it at all.

Do you listen to your music on different speakers before wrapping it up, like in a car, on good monitors, crappy earbuds, etc.?

No, not really. I have these cheap Alesis speakers which I've had for years, so when I think it sounds alright I just go with it, but most of the time it does sound shit on other systems.

Spangen sounds pretty good on all the speakers in my house. When you hear music that's mixed badly does that stop you from enjoying it?

Well, it depends, for each track it's very different, I like different tracks for different reasons. For instance, if the track is catchy as hell but still sounding shit I don't care, it can even give it some extra value. And in the end tastes differ, so who am I to say.

If the track is catchy as hell but still sounding shit I don't care, it can even give it some extra value.

Why do you bother making music at all?

Haha, I don't know, I just want to make things. I have no inspirational or philosophical approach to making music, just to sit and do whatever I want to make. The only thing that is really holding me back is that the next track has to be more interesting in terms of production or melodies in comparison to the previous one. If it's not interesting to me when I'm working on a track I'll just quit.

Making music digitally just presents a lot of opportunities which I'd really like to explore, but most of the time the things I stick with are just the accidents. I think Bob Ross called those the "happy little accidents".

I want to make the easy things sound difficult and the difficult things sound easy.

Could you give me an example of what you mean?

Well, the "Lejeans" track for example, it's just some chopped up samples from a record I don't even know the name of with a pad behind it, but I really have no idea how it came together, all I know is I used quite a bit of effects.

Sounds or samples I use are rarely ever used without being totally messed up, I try to make new sounds from them.

Yeah, I think that track particularly has a pretty unique vibe to it. What I really like about Spangen is that none of the tracks on it feel like they are following a formula, but they all sound related.

Thank you. They were all made exactly the same way.

Just by chopping up samples from vinyl, laying them out, and adding some melodies behind them?

First the beat, then the pad, the main sounds/melodies either working with samples from vinyl or synths or both, then the bass line, arrangement and effects. And you could probably layer them all and they'd have the exact same arrangement.

Do you ever record your own voice or more organic instruments for your tracks?

Other than bass drums, I always use more organic or lively samples and loops, because then they don't have that generic feel you sometimes get when you program beats. For two remixes I did I used my electronic bass, but that's it.

I just can't work with a very clean track, other people are way better doing that, it has to be full of sounds and organic stuff and shit. I try to get a more acoustic sound instead of a generic electronic sound.

Do you do any field recording for the more ambient sounds?

I have these sampled vinyl tracks from some 1970s field recordings I got from my good friend Maarten Clarijs which I use a lot, and I have some CDs with bird recordings on my hard drive which I also use a lot. A lot, always. They have this nice vinyl sound and then I just pitch it way down and throw some reverb over it. It's the second thing I do, right after getting the kick drum right.

Do you think you'll start to use sounds of other animals? Maybe cows pitched down.

Yeah, we used some frog sounds pitched way down once. We liked the sound of it, but it was very recognizable, and I can imagine people would really hate it.

We used some frog sounds pitched way down once. We liked the sound of it, but it was very recognizable, and I can imagine people would really hate it.

Hear an excerpt of Jelle's experiments with frog sounds.

What animal do you think would sound the worst?

I have no idea, I always use birds.

I'd really like to make some more 4/4 dance floor music, but I always end up making this sad music. You probably can't hear it, but the Spangen tracks are made with a dance floor in mind, but I'm starting to doubt it's really working out.

Yeah I do the same thing. Why do you think that happens, are we sad people?

Haha no, au contraire, I really have to be in a good mood to start making music, so that can't be the case. And I'm definitely not trying to ‘make the most beautiful music ever'. It just happens, sadly enough.

Do you have a stance on music piracy at all? What you think the role of music is in the world when everything is free?

I really don't think about it. For me, of course I'd like to make a living by making music. But I know with my approach to the business side of it, it's not going to happen. Of course people download my music for free, I do come across links from websites where you can download it.

I'm just making music for myself and if anybody likes it, just download it. But for the label side of the matter, of course it's different.

Yeah it's such a grey area these days, because there's things like Spotify, which is basically the same thing as downloading music illegally, but everyone supports it because it's a business that makes money, even though the musicians get almost nothing from it.

For me personally I'm not busy with making money from my music, so I really don't think about those kinds of things. Making music doesn't feel like working. But if you'd like to have your music released, the label is doing all the work, so yeah, of course they should be rewarded in terms of revenue.