Flow with Stro on the Fat Beats Tour
27 February 2017 by Sancho Murphy
Interview by Bianca Annamie.
After watching his mesmerising feature on Mass Appeal’s Rhythm Roulette, it’s not hard to see why Stro Elliot is one of the most respected and revered hip-hop producers of today. Like Tall Black Guy, Stro was raised on a diet of Jazz and Funk/Soul, and started his multi-instrumental journey with a Yamaha keyboard. This eventually lead into studying drums, guitar and trumpet, finally combining his sound with the meticulous inclusion of Ableton Push 2 – a sound best described as “productions [that] mold the past and the present into futuristic soul splashed gems that turn heads whenever they are heard”.
He hits our shores with the debut of his self-titled album, the endeavours of working closely with the likes of The Roots, performing with the Wu-tang Clan, countless tours and smashing out Boiler Room sets all under his belt, and yet holds an unmistakeable air of humility that only adds to his magnetism. Our conversation may be brief, but it’s indisputable that Stro Elliot is best experienced in person.
Hey Stro! You’re about to kick off a two-week tour in Australia and NZ, but it’s not your first time here – What do you like most about Australia, and is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to seeing or doing?
It's been quite a while since the last time. Excited just to see the people. Soak in the scene I've admired from afar. It will be my first time in New Zealand, so that's exciting in a different way.
As a tour veteran, how do you prepare before each international trip?
I usually always make sure I've got enough music for every mood. Maybe some books or things to watch, though music is most important.
How old were you when you started making beats? How did you get there?
My first piece of equipment was a Yamaha keyboard with no sample capabilities. I got it when I was maybe 16. I learned a lot about music in general with that machine till I got an ASR-X many years later. It was then that I learned to play drums on pads, assuming that was how beats were made. Joke was on me, ha.
How do your tracks come together?
Many different ways. Though usually drums come into play pretty early. I'm inspired by the environment, maybe a sample, something I heard in a commercial. Comes from anywhere really.
You’ve just dropped your debut self-titled LP which is such a defining moment for an artist, how do you feel about it?
It's funny, since half of the material has been around for awhile, it feels a little different. Almost like a re-release. Still exciting to see the response for people who haven't heard it, and it's always a plus to see your music on vinyl. It's stimulating as well.
I'm excited about releasing another album hopefully sooner than later that takes a step up from this one.
The album has tracks that are near 10 years old, but how long has the LP been in the works and what pulled it all together?
DJ Houseshoes initiated the selection process. I sent him a zip folder full of music and he handpicked the final lineup himself. That was probably about a year ago.
The track names are pretty interesting (i.e. Drama 4 Kathy, Gohan Attack, Mistaken & Hurt) – can you give us the stories behind some of the track names?
Some of these are named the way I named them in the session. I have a hard time sometimes coming up with titles, so some titles are a reference to what samples are being used, or what was on TV behind me, or something I thought was fitting for whatever the vibe was while it was being created. 'Gohan Attack' is named after a scene from Dragonball Z. 'Drama 4 Kathy' is sampled from a song with the name Kathy in the title.
And the album art?
I believe the brotha Dert from Street Corner Music is responsible (forgive me if I'm wrong Shoes). Haha. Shoes sent it one night and I thought it was perfect. Simple Astro Van against an all black background. Easter Egg in the window reflection for the LA heads.
This release is under Street Corner Music – as a label, how are they to work with?
It's an ideal situation for this kind of project. Houseshoes just wants good music out there. So everything is secondary to that during and after the process. It's liberating. No real drama or BS that might come with how the music gets released. And Shoes does it pretty much himself which can be hard I think, so the fact he continues to do it at this level is admirable. I’m grateful for him involving me in his passion for music.
Your feature on Mass Appeal’s Rhythm Roulette was hypnotic to watch, and aside from the randomised selection of music, how does your creative process differ?
Thank you. That was a lot of fun. I’m a big fan of that series and I was honoured to be a part of it. That episode is probably the most accurate depiction of my process. I don't really blind fold myself to pick records, but everything else is pretty much the process. I have an idea, jam around that until it becomes something worth keeping.
You worked closely with the Roots on their upcoming album – what are some pro tips on producing collaboratively with a large group?
It's an honour first and foremost to collaborate with a group of that caliber. I found the best approach was to pretty much play my role. Whatever they were attracted to as a musician and a producer is what got me there, so I try to stay as close to that unless the situation calls for me to do otherwise. I spent a lot of time really just listening as well. Looking for opportunities to contribute in areas I felt I could be an asset.
In recent years you’ve provided scores for short films and animations – What led to that pursuit?
It wasn't as much a pursuit as it was a curiosity. Could I do it? I learned a lot. I pay a lot more attention to scores on commercials, movies, and TV in a way I didn't before. It's not easy. I still have a lot to learn. But would love to get another crack at it when I feel ready.
You use CDJs for Boiler Room and the Ableton Push 2 during Soulection, not to mention the range of instruments you are skilled in playing, so what can we expect on tour?
I feel that I'm expected to use Ableton Push 2 from the responses I get when I don't bring it. Haha. So definitely that. I probably keep it pretty simple. Push with maybe a Keyboard to stretch out a bit. Haven't really decided yet. Regardless I hope they enjoy the music.
And finally, who would you like to work with given the chance?
There's a line around the world to work with Anderson Paak of course. Big fan of artists like James Blake, Childish Gambino, Goldlink, to name a few.
STRO ELLIOT (US) & TALL BLACK GUY (US) w/ 26TH LETTER (SYD) & CUT LAB (CBR)
Friday 3rd March ~ 8PM
$15 (+bf) pre-sale / $25 on the door (limited capacity)
Facebook Event for more details.
Pre-sales available through Eventbrite.
LOBROW GALLERY & BAR
Upstairs, 181 City Walk,
Canberra, ACT, 2601