Three years in the making: Hybrid Minds’ long-awaited second studio album Elements is finally upon us. And it’s every bit as beautiful as anticipated.
Yet another development in their whirlwind rise over the last five years, Elements takes off where Mountains breathlessly left us in 2013. Featuring the vocal elegance of Rocky Nti, Charlotte Haining, Tiffani Juno, Linguistics and long-time studio sparring partner Grimm, the 15-track odyssey follows a string of singles delivered since last summer on their own imprint Hybrid Music.
UKF caught up with Josh and Matt to find out how they are coping and to gauge more details about their album…
It’s just days before Elements drops. How are you guys feeling?
Matt: It’s pretty scary. It’s been in the making for nearly three years. We like it, but there’s not many who have heard it, so it’s all a bit tense at the minute. Everything we have put out so far has been well received, so we just hope the rest of it is.
You’ve been keeping a tight lid on things then?
Josh: Yeah I suppose so. There’s a few close friends who we send our material to for feedback, but apart from that we haven’t sent it to many people because we don’t feel like our market is DJs, it’s more a listening audience.
Matt: Also, there’s a lot of pressure trying to live up to the first album mentality that josh and I have had since the beginning of this one. We both said second albums are never as good, so we wanted to be just as happy, if not more so than we were with the last one.
Elements feels like it goes a lot deeper than your debut LP. There is an incredible amount of emotion.
Josh: That wasn’t necessarily our intention, but it’s something that happened over time through our production techniques. We stripped back intros and breakdowns, trying to work on the atmospheres in them. Allowing the musical elements to breathe really added to the emotion. Playing at the heartstrings and all…
Was there a particular story you were trying to thread throughout the album? It seems like the audience is being taken on a journey.
Josh: We didn’t set out to tell a particular story, but it ended up turning into one. It’s an album we wanted to bring everything together and make it something that you can listen to from start to finish rather than a compilation.
Matt: We literally spent months ordering the tracks, everyday going through variations of the track list just so it could be a start to finish experience. We took time creating intros and outros, making them blend into each track in order to create a flowing album.
With Touch being the first album glimpse you released last June and the title track, would you say it gave you a platform to shape the style of the LP?
Josh: Definitely, that was our first track with Tiffani. She brought something different as she was unlike any vocalist we’ve used before. We used her on more than one track in the album, so that definitely helped shape the style of it.
Matt: We were surprised by how well Touch went down. Afterwards we created a few tracks without vocals, but because of how well Tiffani was received, we gave her three more tracks. Everything she touches turns to gold.
Tiffani’s voice brings a unique soulful tone to your music!
Josh: Yeah she does something different. Quite often you send tracks to vocalists and you know what is going to come back, but she had a very different approach to how she wrote each track. At first I found it weird…but then I actually liked it a lot.
Matt: I’m particularly thinking of Listen. When she sent the track back to us she had completely transformed it. She twisted it into something else! It was meant to be a stripped back liquid tune but it ended up being a full-on vocal track…
Last time you spoke to UKF you mentioned how Touch was created organically with Tiffani and a guitar session with your friend Mike. Was this organic process a similar story for other tracks on the album?
Josh: Yeah totally. We’ve done maybe three tracks with Mike, and they’ve been similar things where we get the parts of the puzzle and start piecing them together to create something.
Matt: We have been trying to make more organic sounding tracks. It’s hard with neither of us being talented with physical musical instruments, but it helps us get a nice starting point. We want our music to sound less computerised.
Would you say that after releasing Mountains four years ago your writing style has considerably changed?
Matt: Definitely, we started off typical liquid by sampling pretty heavily. In fact, all our earlier tracks were pretty much bootlegs. We didn’t realise there was a fine line between sampling and stealing a track…but as time went on certain labels told us we couldn’t use samples, so that inspired us to start writing our own. Nowadays in our music there is not a lot sample-based, definitely not leads. We write everything ourselves now.
On the topic of samples, your new album contains various real life recorded samples. In Demons you sampled the London tube?
Josh: I’ve been bopping around with my Dictaphone getting funny looks off people. I thought it would help bring the album together. Having live recordings at the beginning of tracks makes them more relatable and real. In my head I was thinking of when you’re commuting to work with your headphones in and the sounds you would hear.
Matt: Josh loves his organic recordings. We’ve had all sorts in our tracks from radiators to Josh’s fence. I think we’re just suckers for natural sounds.
Josh: The sound of birds in the intro was recorded straight from the studio window. It’s fun to not stare at a computer screen sometimes, even if it does only involve standing up and opening a window…
One thing your music always demonstrates is beautiful yet powerful lyrics that stick in peoples’ minds. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve listened to Kismet. Have you always put vocals at the heart of your productions?
Josh: Yeah well we sort of have the melodies and we say to ourselves ‘a vocal would sound good on that, let’s get someone to sing a line.’ Then they send back a full vocal track and we are like ‘shit…we like it all.’ There are many tracks we wanted to have without full vocals, but the vocalists can’t help themselves.
Matt: At the beginning we were less vocal reliant, but over time we have had some catchy ones and you get into habits. We now struggle to hear a track and think of it without vocals. We do set out to make non-vocal material. At the moment we have one track in the making that we plan to have with a sparse vocal here and there, but guaranteed at the end it’s going to be a full vocal!
Talking of collaborations, there are many familiar faces featuring on the album.
Josh: It’s similar to the first album because we wanted it to be like a sequel. So compared to the first one we were like ‘this is missing a hip-hop track.’ Having that track in Mountains made it more diverse. So we made a track and were like ‘who should we get to be on it? I know…why not the person who did such a good job of it first time around?’ It was a no-brainer. Linguistics and Ad-Apt to an extent felt like we were doing the part two of the first tracks we did.
A sequel – that’s a nice way of thinking about a second album. You know what they say about sequels though…
Matt: Yeah just hopefully not like a Saw II, maybe more a Godfather Part II … I think we were always very aware of Mountains and we just wanted to get it better, but in a different way with new productions techniques.
You can tell on certain tracks that you’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with different drum formations, especially on Demons.
Matt: Oh yeah that was an insane drum pattern for us!
Josh: That was us getting carried away with edits and just having loads of fun chopping everything up. I’m glad you noticed it because it’s the sort of thing that can take two days and then nobody notices it. So you end up doing those intricate edits just for yourself. At least we now know that one person has spotted them, so thank you!
It shows how diverse your sound is becoming!
Josh: That’s the aim. Rather than just sticking a jump up track on there or something completely different, we kept the same instruments and a similar vibe, while switching it up with the drums and the tempos.
Matt: People will always turn their nose up at you for doing a different genre of music, but as long as you maintain your sound, it makes sense. An album is the perfect excuse to do what you want. We did make a house tune for the album, but it didn’t fit with the style.
What about Hybrid Music? I can imagine the creative freedom of running your own label has influenced your sound.
Josh: Well we have been lucky to have always to a degree had creative freedom, but it has been a lot of work. It gives us a kick up the arse to really be involved in what we’re doing and do everything passionately. You can’t just be making tunes in your bedroom once a month and leave it all for someone else to do. It has definitely been a good move for us!