[INTERVIEW] PHEEK

[INTERVIEW] PHEEK

(photo: Mira Ba)

"Holding on to your knowledge because you think it’s going to pay off and people will come to you to pay you for getting it, you’re not participating in this endless wheel of knowledge that is being shared and actually coming back to you even more powerfully."
I’m proud to introduce this week’s guest, someone I’d heard many speak of in Montreal and Toronto with great respect, a producer’s producer and an overall amazing person. Pheek is head of Archipel, a Montreal-based label, a minimal techno (and beyond) producer, a teacher of mastering, mixing, production, post-production, and a live performance artist. Our in-depth talk over Skype was engaging, insightful and fascinating. We weave through his story, touching on his journey into production, experiences and lessons from influential people along the way, including Ricardo Villalobos and a concept that changed his approach to production forever. We talk about being yourself in music, success and what that means, community, contribution and finding your path.

 

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk!

What was your inspiration for getting into music in the first place? I was curious about your process and the journey of how you’ve gotten to where you are today. Were you always interested in music? 

Yeah, I’ve always been interested in making music, electronic music to be more precise. And I insist on that because I was enrolled in music classes when I was very young and I was bored to death because this was not what I was meant to be doing. I remember specifically telling my dad, no, I want to work with synthesizers and samplers and I want to do electronic music. He bought me a little organ, something that had some kind of automated salsa button and really cheesy cha-cha settings, like a Casio. And I was even more frustrated because I couldn’t work with it. We’re talking early 80s and at that time to get something was extremely expensive, it was multiple thousand dollars, and there was no way my dad was going to invest in that. But you know, I had a chance to touch music in the early 90’s with a friend who had a studio and started more seriously at the end of the 90s where I decided to create my PHEEK project and do music. The journey has been unfolding itself. Along with influential people that you meet along the journey. 

The synchronicities.. 

The synchronicities as well as, you know, we’re all the hero of our own journey. We can’t really reach destinations without key people that will give you information to get there. We’re set right now in this world where everything is at our fingertips to get any answers whatsoever on anything that we want. A lot of people have been complaining that Facebook is actually putting people apart, which I think is completely not true. I would say that it’s more the gigantic overload of information that probably pulls people apart because people tend less to ask questions and reach out to people, and refer instead to things they’ve been reading online. And so, connections between people become a little bit more difficult. In my case, I come from a psychology background, social service, social science and worked years in a hospital and worked in helping people, teaching kids theatre. I’ve always valued the importance of connecting with people. My inspiration for music really comes from people themselves. Each time I meet someone and talk it leaves a trace and then next time I work on music this seed that was planted will be watered and through music it gently grows into a new project. I think my music is fundamentally social. I really breed my music through social interaction and that’s fundamentally where I am right now.

(Pineland, a collaborative project by Pheek and Giash)

I love the emphasis on the hero’s journey needing those connections and synchronicities. Is there anybody that comes to mind that you feel has been influential in that way for you? 

I clearly remember one time I had a talk with someone in Holland after a set. This guy comes to me and we talk for, I’m not kidding, two hours. There was a lot of people that wanted to talk to me after my set but this guy was just grabbing all my attention, not because he was needy, but more because he was fascinating. At first, I was scared because he looked like a hooligan, but he was the most intellectual person I’ve ever met on tour, ever ever. We talked for two hours and it was amazing. This is why I really am opening doors to people when they want to talk to me. If I can say influential people, who comes to mind of course is Ricardo Villalobos. I’m actually writing a blog post about him. I feel fortunate in life that I came across his path, multiple times. We spent maybe two afternoons where we just talked and he definitely left one of the most permanent impressions on me, one that transcended from the personal aspect to the artistic aspect. His point of view was that music should be effortless. That is something that a lot of people have a problem hearing. His view was that when you play the drum, when you start practicing the drum - because he’s a drummer, that’s his first basis - you play the drum and it’s a bit all over the place and eventually you’ll find your own rhythm, you’ll find your own patterns. Eventually you find this natural groove the more you practice, the more you do it. What comes naturally is with no effort. You just do it because it feels good doing it. He was explaining to me that he never has made music where he was like, Oh god, what am I going to do? Why is this not working? No, he just does the track. He feels it, when it doesn’t work he stops, he does something else. I’ve always had that approach, and it literally completely changed the way I produced ever since we had that talk because I really saw music as something extremely playful and full of welcoming whatever was going to be presented to me. Whenever something feels difficult I can question, why is this difficult, what am I battling with? And sometimes it’s a personal thing, it’s not actually the song itself being problematic. The minute I distance myself from it, what appears to be a problem is not a problem, it’s actually an opportunity to maybe do something different with the song. Then, the effort is gone, it just becomes natural. 

There’s other people I could name like Tim Hecker or Francois Lebaron from Montreal. Him and I spent countless hours talking about music. He has a very precise way of seeing it. Hearing him left a great impression on me, where I understood that personality in music is one of the most important things, and that I needed to be completely myself in what I do. That has been extremely valuable. 

That whole concept of being completely yourself… How do you approach that as a producer or playing live? 

I don’t know if you can become more yourself. I don’t think you are less or more, you’re just always yourself. Just in a different stage of your evolution as a person, as an artist. I think you become more transparent between what you present and what you do. It’s kind of a challenge to embrace that idea because as a musician, and this is where a lot of people get lost, you lose your goals. You start making music for certain reasons. Eventually, what will quickly catch up to you is the necessity to do a release and the necessity to do a second release, and to do an album and then to release on this label and that label, and to do vinyl and then a double-vinyl and then to tour and then to release on more and do a remix and.. I mean people start, just wanting to do some stuff, and quickly it becomes a crazy bucketlist of things based on the career of other people that they admire. But who are you in that? Is it really you to do all that? Do you need to do that? Can you come back to making sound and music that actually brings something enriching to your life? That for me is the main thing people do in music - they sort of lose themselves in trying to follow other people’s paths instead of making their own. 

I decided to offer free coaching as a way of giving people feedback on their tracks and to answer questions when they have technical questions, so far it’s been really awesome. I’ve had a lot of people that have registered, it’s fun for me and I think for them, but I get a lot of people that contact me not for the reason I thought they would contact me at first. I’d say that a lot of people get anxious and depressed because they’re not being themselves in music, but they don’t know that. The work that I do with them, I don’t want to get into therapy because it’s not therapy, but as a coach and as a person that just cares about other people in general, I’m just trying to bring them to realize that if they do music for themselves, that’s the only thing that will actually really matter at the end of the day, more than if they get 1000 listens on Soundcloud or if they get an answer from a label. 

It’s perhaps like a redefining of success as doing something that intrinsically feels good, doing it for yourself and that’s a success instead of 1000 likes on Soundcloud… 

Yeah, you know the Maslow pyramid? 

Yes, like self-actualization? 

Yeah and also the layers of different things you go through in your life - you need a foundation of physical needs to be met and so on? There’s two layers, some of the top ones, where you feel that you are part of a community and eventually feel that you are respected and acknowledged for what you do. I think it’s very human to have the need to feel that you are a part of something and that you feel that what you do is actually cool. Whatever means that people find when they go through their life, and at some point, you know, they work, they want to do something else, they want to do something different, they go to an event and they get inspired to do music and they start making music and the next thing they want is they want to be part of this. And they want their music to be acknowledged, but a lot of people think that if their music is acknowledged then they will be part of the community, instead of being part of the community to then get acknowledged. And the concept of success where your music is being reviewed by magazines and played by DJs that you love, which is the top of the pyramid because you’re kind of approved, will come if your community actually supports that. If you run for something without having the other base, you get completely lost. It’s sort of abstract, but for me success is how are you connected with your community. And it’s not about how many likes you have on Facebook or how many friends you have, but more, are your friends in love with your music? Are your friends coming to see you play when you play in your living room? To me, that says that it’s amazing. I lost a bunch of friends because I started making music. And a lot of DJs went through that. I redefined my circle of friends - eventually some people who discovered what I did wanted to become friends with me and I started connecting with other people that also make music. 

At the beginning, releasing was kind of in my bucket list, but I was way more excited to go spend an evening with someone who also has machines and makes music so that we could talk about our love for kicks and bass and maybe find a way to understand what side compression was at that time, you know? Or talk about this record that came out that blows our mind.

(photo: Mira Ba)

Love it. What do you feel has been the most rewarding aspect of being a teacher? 

There’s many things I’d say. What comes to mind right away is to see people lighten up in their face. And seeing the potential of the information that they just acquired and how it will be translated in their life and the joy it will bring them - to me that is the most exciting thing. Giving out information, secrets, tips, hacks and anything that I’ve learned through years to people, for many it’s a sacrilege or it’s not good because I’m kind of selling out, but my only thing that really matters to me is that there’s more great music out there. What’s beautiful is when a student comes to me with a song they made from the information I passed them and they actually inspire me back. 

Beautiful. It’s that cycle of giving and receiving…

This is what it’s supposed to be about. Holding on to your knowledge because you think it’s going to pay off and people will come to you to pay you for getting it, you’re not participating in this endless wheel of knowledge that is being shared and actually coming back to you even more powerfully. Because it’s been ingested and infused in other people’s minds, and people blend that with their own inspiration, their own culture, their own love, their own passions - they spit it all back to you because you gave it to them at first, and then you absorb this kind of energy and that is just the most powerful gift that you can get. And it came because you gave it first, and now it comes back, you know? So that’s what teaching for me is, and the most rewarding thing. 

Amazing. So you do production and play live and teach, are those all just as rewarding in terms of your vision for what you want to create? 

I have the current teaching work that I’m doing, I’m also doing a lot of engineering. Mastering, mix down, production, post-production and I’m also a label manager, so I’m a man of many hats. It’s kind of crazy but (laughter) that’s kind of what my life is right now. Waking up in the morning is really exciting to me because I know my day is going to be awesome. I know that coming to the studio I’m going to meet my clients, I’m looking forward to see who’s going to be my first client of the day sending me questions or booking me or discussing a project with me. It’s just really really really exciting because, you know, being a label owner is great; you talk with artists and you find a project and you release it. But being an engineer and working tightly with labels, you’re sort of part of a very important role which is defining the personality of the label with the owner and the artists, and I love it. I could talk about it for hours (laughter). I just love doing that and how people are excited and proud to present their tracks. Sometimes people say I battled my track for hours and hours, and then then I received the master and it sounds exactly like what I was dreaming of, and now I’m so happy. This is the kind of stuff I want to hear, you know? This is the kind of thing I wake up in the morning for. 

Amazing. That’s awesome. Along those lines, I was interested in your creative process in that there’s both the technical preparation as well as mental preparation. Do you have any insights or advice for people about the mental side of preparing to do what you do, to be in the zone where you’re loving it and cool things are being created - do you have a certain mode of operating in terms of your mindset? 

Yeah, I think the key thing that helps me the most with mental preparation is to remind myself 24 hours in advance, and like every hour until I play, and before I play I tell myself, the live set will not go as I expect. Because it will never - there will be a problem there will be things that don’t work and for years I found a few tricks to get myself really in the zone, which is sort of a general psychology rule of life, which is to start with something you feel comfortable with and build trust with the people that are out there. You kind of need to present yourself in very simplistic terms so that people can understand what you’re doing. Since my music has a certain level of complexity, I can not start with what I’m going to present to them in an hour. After I start, things start to become complicated and weird, and this is the stuff I like to do, and I need to build trust to get there. But once you have trust, people will follow whatever you are doing, which is really great. I think in terms of preparation, I see the importance of visualizing what you are going to do. I had the chance of meeting one of the coaches of Cirque Du Soleil. They hire psychologists who work with the athletes and artists to make sure they can perform each night and be 100% and never make mistakes. These guys are really coached intensively. Before I toured, I had access to one of these coaches and I went to a couple of sessions to see how they do it and there’s a lot of visualization that is applied. It’s a little bit difficult to squeeze this information into this chat, but it sort of comes down to.. It’s funny, I just had this flashback to when Ricardo was talking about how he visualizes when he plays and I think it makes sense. For him, it’s about being with friends and he creates these sorts of like… in his mind he imagines, what is the perfect context? What is this context out there right now, and what is my perfect context? And how would I play if I were to play to my friends right now, in this context? So he invokes friends and family in his mind and plays for them, in a way. A lot of people when they work they have pictures of family members on their desk, and that is for a very specific reason. When you have people you love looking at you, you perform better. So, imagining a family member or friends, alive or dead, are there to support you, really brings the best out of you. 

Love that. So awesome. If you had to give yourself a piece of advice from today to back 10, 20 years ago, what would that be? 

Yeah, chill the fuck down (laughter). 

Yeah, right?! (laughter) That could be it. 

That was kind of a joke but of course in any joke there’s a part truth. It’s very difficult because I see myself in the past with the mistakes I’ve done, or so-called mistakes I’ve done, and problems, and it’s like, each period of your life you’ll be going through difficult moments and you’ll be at some point ten years later thinking, what can I have said to myself to make things better? But, if you really look at who you were back then, you could have said that piece of advice and I don’t think it would have changed anything because that’s who you were. The only thing you can have is some kind of compassion for that person that you were back then and say, well, you really tried your best, trying to deal with the stress that you were going through and the difficulties you were handling and you thought that by doing things in a specific way would actually make things better. I think if I could meet myself, and time travel and get back there, the only thing I would say is just, continue being open hearted and don’t fight the sensitivity and the fragility that you have as a person because if you repress that then you repress a good part of your creativity as well. I think those things are really fundamental to my development. And also, to focus on development all the time, and never stay still. Or if you stay still, be aware of it. Stillness is also a really powerful state of mind, if you know how to embrace it. 

That’s awesome. Is there any thing else you’d like to add about your perspective on music, why you’re making music? 

Well, there was a time where I really questioned why I was doing music and nowadays when I start asking why I’m doing music, I just know that I’m over-thinking. And I know that if I over-think I end up not doing anything and get a little depressed or, like it will go against my production. I don’t think, I act more, I try to just do it. The other day I spent twelve hours working on projects - it was really insane but what really impressed me was at the end of the day in the last few hours I was actually at my best, you know? And someone asked me, how do you do that? How can you make stuff and at the end of the day still be creative, still be on point, still understanding and not getting lost? I think it’s really about taking care of yourself as much as possible. If you’re in good health, if you’re feeling good about yourself, if you can just be in contact with how you feel, I think this is when the best part of your creativity and art will emerge. And then this is why we’re doing music - it’s mostly because there’s a lot of emotions inside and it’s difficult to keep that inside and to digest it and to live with it so one of the things that artists do is they get reactive with their emotion and they channel it through sound. The more production they get, the more intense or complex their music, sometimes the more emotional they are. It’s kind of their way of expressing or putting things together. And this is also why people that are really emotional get really attached to certain songs because it kind of represents something inside that they can’t really put their finger on, and they find an artist that can actually express it better than anything else. Music brings out the best in all of that. There’s certain songs I swear to god I work on, I do engineering on, and I have the impression that I’m digging in the soul of the artist and getting to know them personally.

Beautiful. You have a new EP coming out, and Mutek coming up - what’s next for you? 

For Mutek I have a workshop coming up on mixing. This year has been crazy. Since the beginning of the year, when I launched my services online, I think I’ve participated in over 100 projects (laughter). There’s releases on my label and people have asked me for remixes, EPs - so I have a bunch of EPs coming. At least four have been scheduled and are done, and an album. It’s kind of overwhelming. The more I’m doing the more it seems it’s working.

That’s awesome. Sounds like it’s just the beginning. 

Finally, I was interested in the community aspect… and also, in people loving what they do, really honestly digging it - like it doesn’t seem like you’re working. I think it’s amazing that you’ve created this thing where you’re excited to wake up everyday.

To me the artist and community aspect is I think a necessity for our society. If you look economically speaking, artistic movement brings people together. It makes people move from a long distance to get to another place, if we’re talking about sculpture or amazing paintings or architecture, people will travel the world to see beautiful things. When it comes to music, with global sharing, it sort of creates these little micro bubbles here and there, and eventually these get bigger and bigger, or they simply die and become something else, but when they grow the artists want to get closer to each other. We’ve seen people moving to Montreal just because of our artist community here, for Mutek the attendance is like 50% or more from outside Montreal so, creating community is sort of the only thing I can do to create a ripple in this huge world. We have no power over the major influences of the world, but we do have ripples we can send in this world through communities, through art, through music and I value and try to bring as much of who I am and the art communication I’m doing so that it reaches out to people that need it the most. It’s like when you buy organic food you are sending a message to the industry that you support that kind of stuff, and I think that as a community that when you’re with people and when you’re helping them out, you’re showing them that there is someone validating who they are. When you work with them and support who they are, you encourage them to grow as musicians, as people as well in taking care of themselves. You reinforce positive behaviours that they have, and that’s my work and contribution that I can give to this society. To support people to develop themselves, to become better people, to become artists that create rich content, personal content, something that they will also reach out through other sphere’s of people and thus the sound that we can create as a community, as people who work together, has a power that we’ll never have if we work alone or if we work to have business-oriented goal only. It’s a very different mind set. And so, when I come here [to the studio] working, I’m not here working for me alone, I feel that I’m working as part of a modus operandi that is bigger than even what I can really imagine. And I don’t really know the extent of what I’m doing, maybe I’ll get the harvest in a few years, but I know that what I do now, works and what validates my work is the fact that people are coming and coming, and people bring customers, and refer me to other people. So it seems that it’s settled into something that makes a difference. I am only fortunate to be a part of that. It seems like I found my path. 

I would say so! Thanks so much for taking the time here to talk. It’s been special and awesome and I could keep talking for days!

Thank you so much!

SaveSaveSaveSave

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published