On the eve of his new EP’s release, Steven Borth II, the man behind the hazy CHLLNGR curtain, talks Datter, dub, and daddyhood. A full stream of Datter is available at the bottom of this post.
Your 2011 debut, HAVEN, was pretty successful. Why did you decide to release a four-song EP instead of another full length?
Steven Borth II: My plan is to release my second album in the summer of 2012, but in the meantime I wanted to release two EPs during the winter to keep everything flowing for me. With HAVEN, it took me quite of bit of time to finish it, so I wanted to make sure there was sufficient time for me to complete my second album but still be able to release something in the meantime. I also want to put out stuff that is current for me so I am not just thinking one release per year. I think this first EP is still along the same lines as my first album with the exception of me doing more vocals on it. To answer the question, I wanted to do an EP because I want to be really prolific this year and I think it is a good start…now I just have to follow through.
You're a new dad, right? Congratulations!
Thanks so much, yeah I love my daughter… she is amazing.
It seems like every time a famous actor goes from bachelor to baby daddy, he makes something G-rated just so the kids can watch. Do you play your music for your baby? Or do you plan to “Pirates of the Carribean” it up for your little one?
No, I don't think I am gonna “Pirates of the Carribean” it up for her, at least not for now, haha. I want her to be able to experience music for herself and also I want to share my favorite stuff with her. I really don't want her to feel forced to listen to the music that I like and then resent me later in life, but she definitely likes certain music already at 6 months. I have played her some weird experimental music, but I can tell that she can already relate more to early Stevie Wonder.
Has having a kid inspired any changes in new material?
I haven't really noticed any differences except for I have used a few baby toys as percussion on some tunes. Don’t tell anyone.
Do you plan to use the sound of your baby girl crying in any recordings? A-la Jay-Z?
Hmm, I think if anything I will wait until she can talk or tell me if she wants to be on a recording. We will see though.
I hear you recently worked with South African artist Spoek Mathambo on his Put Some Red On It EP. How did you two meet?
I met Nthato online a few years back and we started to share musical ideas with each other. We finally met in person in NYC in 2010 and realized we had a lot of mutual friends there and had a great time. He lives part-time in Malmo so when we got back we started to hang out a bit more and then he invited me to do a Brazil and US tour with me backing him up. The first show we played was in Recifé, Brazil in front of 15,000 people. We had only had a few hours to rehearse so we just went for it! It turned out to be really great.
You produced his EP, but has Nthato affected your music as well?
I think when we collaborate on something we are both pretty open-minded so you can hear bits of both of us in anything we work on together. I think there has been a bit of influence too…we will see with my next release.
What's a show with the two of you like?
When we play live so far we have had just the two of us but more recently a drummer friend called Gunnar came along and that went really well. As far as gear, I generally use a similar set up as I do for CHLLNGR, but with his set I definitely play more tenor sax.
Does working with African/Jamaican music ever seem like working with a foreign language, or does the music transcend cultural or racial identity?
In general I see music as music. That is what is so intense about it, you can make a connection with someone from any part of the world, any age, and if you both have a passion for music there can be something to collaborate on or enjoy if you are open to it.
Do you make your music alone? Where do you record? Are we talking living room compositions or professional studio material or a combination of the two?
For Datter, I recorded most of it alone but I am open to work on collaborations with people. I almost always utilize a friend called Doctor Echo to do my final mix though. He lives San Diego so we usually just have a few Skype meetings to get ideas across but in general I give him creative freedom since I trust his ears so much. I record most of my stuff here in our apartment in Copenhagen. Right now my studio is our daughter’s future room, so I am gonna have to figure out another situation in the near future. With Spoek we have rented out a really nice studio in Malmo, but in general I work on most of my stuff at home.
How does that work when you collaborate with someone? For example, how did you and Cherry B work on Datter track “Desire”? And who is Cherry B?
With the track with Cherry B, that is actually a vocal from another tune we worked on that never got released. That vocal was recorded in London in 2009 and I really wanted to use it for a while, so I just decided to build a new track around it. Cherry B is from a group called De Tropix, they are really great friends of mine and they are going to release a new EP soon too. Cherry is also the backup singer and one of the dancers with M.I.A. She has been working with her from the start.
Do you base your work off an idea, an emotion, a riff that sticks, or some other starting point? Is there any one emotion or idea linked to your project as a whole or to this EP specifically?
I would say for every production it is different. I like to start with the drums and build off of that. That is the most fun part for me, playing with rhythm and seeing what I kind of poly-rhythms I can come up with using different sounds and melodies. I would say that most of the music that I make is pretty mellow and even when I try to veer away from that I come back to the same spot. At this point I don't know if I can help that. The reason I called the EP Datter is simply because I am slowly learning the Danish language and I just had a daughter…some of the lyrics on the EP definitely point to some of the feelings I have had in the first stage of fatherhood.
Speaking of mellow… I was surprised to hear that you used to be in a ska-punk band. Quite the musical shift. Does that experience feed into your current music at all?
I joined the band Link 80 when I was really young, it was my first opportunity to tour the world and I learned so much from those experiences!! I guess one of the things I took from that band was being able to appreciate the smallest things…we were definitely not spoiled on those tours but we were traveling the world! We generally slept on people’s floors, survived on $5 a day for food and toured 10 months out of the year. Good times!!!
What first drew you to dub and what keeps you coming back?
I honestly couldn't tell you what got me addicted to dub music. I can remember some of the first times I tried it using a tape machine though. An old friend had a reel-to-reel 8-track recorder and a few pieces of outboard gear and we had just recorded some music. He showed me how to do a few things to “dub” it out and I think from then on I was hooked!! I think what keeps me coming back is that the foundation of the music is making the most from the most stripped down aspects of a song. I plan on using this style for a long time.
You've got a really iconic look, and when I say that, I mean you've got a really awesome beard. Will you ever shave?
Honestly the first time that I ever tried to grow a beard was in 2002, I believe? I haven't shaved it since, and I don't plan on doing so. I think everyone around me would feel weird about it, including myself.
Speaking of looking iconic… How did it feel to see yourself as a cartoon in the “Change” video?
When I first saw that video I was SO stoked!! When I was a kid, I loved watching G.I Joe and Transformers and to see myself on the screen in a space scene was so cool!! I felt like I really accomplished something even though I had nothing to do with the animated side of the video. Props to Ryan Todd and Chad Turner though…they did some amazing work on that video.
You re-worked “Change” for your new EP. Why make the reprise? What brought you back to the song?
Well, the original tune was recorded back in 2007, 2008? and it never saw the light of day. The music video was done and I wanted to figure out a way to tie in the original tune but make another version in the style that I am working more in now. I basically wanted to make a connection with the two.
The new version of “Change” is incredibly slowed down. It went from a bop-a-long reggae feel to sort of… sad? And definitely slow. Why so sad, Steve?
I think the main reason why I slowed it down was because I wanted to change the pitch of my original voice on the recording. Where it is on the “reprise” is where I thought it sounded best and I based the tempo of the song on where I thought the vocal had the best timbre. I don't necessarily equate sadness with slowness, there are many things that I enjoy that go really slow…like making an album, releasing music, pretty much everything I do goes kinda slow except for the actual creations.
True. Plus, when I think of slow motion, I equate it with being able to see things we can't normally see, or more of a long look at small details.
I see what you are saying about the feeling of slow motion with the song too. I have definitely felt that when I listened back to it. You almost have to be patient for it to get to the next part. I equate slowness to being thorough although there are definitely times to be swift.
Do you hope that your music is passive – fades into the background and creates a subtle mood shift – or active, in which listeneters purposefully concentrate on each detail as it plays? Can active music inspire active listening or is it bound to merely pacify its listeners?
I know that if my music was played at a party or gathering for instance, it could be thrown in to the background, but then maybe it would create some sort of mood…hopefully a good one. I would definitely not hope for it to be passive though. I want people to be engaged by it to think about the details, or listen to the lyrics. That is what I do with the music that I really appreciate and all that I could hope for in a listener. If the music pacifies someone then I don’t think that is a bad thing either…what’s wrong with feeling mellow?
Are you cool with making music to get high to? Or do hippies piss you off?
People can do whatever they want to when listening to my music (laughs). The only people that irritate me are self-righteous people who claim to love everyone but don't know to even treat their mom with respect.
I'll hold back the yo-momma joke then! Final question: What does the future hold for CHLLNGR?
My goal is to play more festivals across Europe, collaborate with more artists, write more music and hopefully evolve in a positive way. Wait, now I sound like a hippy.