Between marathon sets and sessions, Joris Voorn is a rare breed — equally at home in the club and studio.
The esteemed Trouw, Amsterdam resident’s versatility is fully evident on his third full-length album Nobody Knows, released on Green earlier this week. Breaking free from the club’s four-to-the-floor confines through collaborative efforts with Matthew Dear, Kid A, and Voorn’s own father, the album is a sweeping, atmospheric odyssey that draws as much from indie music as it does from electronica.
Billboard caught up with Voorn for an in-depth discussion on his creative approach and workflow while recording the album.
How did you approach making this album?
The music on this album started in a completely different way than most of my recent work. At the end of 2008, I started working on some sketches with my newly bought guitar and bass guitar, going back to my indie music roots from when I was a teenager. I started recording chord structures and melodies that were very different than what you’d hear in most house and techno tracks — more song based, less repetitive and, in general, quite emotional. At some point I had a huge pile of these short sketches and loops, and felt like it started to sound like album material, but the step to really transform it into a coherent piece of work wasn’t as easy to take as I’d hoped. The sound was too different to my previous music, and it took a lot of mixing and experimenting to get it right.
What motivated you to record parts of the album live?
There were a lot of elements that were recorded live instead of created inside the computer. You’ll hear guitars, bass guitars, drums, shakers, keys and synths all played live and recorded through analog gear and sometimes tape machines. Some of these I recorded myself, but the amazing multi-instrumentalist and insanely good drummer Shawn Lee did the majority in his London studio.
After the recording process a lot of the recording material was treated heavily in my own studio inside the computer, which made some of the parts unrecognizable. But the fact that the source was recorded live significantly determined the sound of the tracks.
Talk about the difference between producing club tracks and recording a live album.
Making club tracks is a very different process than creating a full artist album that’s also musically challenging. Club tracks have a real function on the dancefloor and are usually made according to some rules, like where the break comes and how long it should be. With this album I tried to forget about any of these rules and just do what I felt was right for the musical experience, rather than what worked on the dancefloor. I also had difficulties making the somewhat danceable tracks fit in with the beatless tracks. Sometimes the contrast can just too be big, which ruins the overall vibe of an album.
What role did songwriting play in the sessions?
Quite a big role. I paid a lot more attention to musical changes within a track than I’d ever done before with my house and techno tracks. Almost every track is like a story in itself, with different parts coming in all the time. On the dancefloor, this might be too distracting, too many changes, but for the album I really enjoyed working this way.
What was working with Matthew Dear and Kid A like? How did those collabs come together?
I had heard Kid A’s music before and thought her voice was really amazing. She had worked with electronic artists before, so I thought she’d understand how to work with the music I had in mind for her. It turned out she was spot-on with every track she worked on, and inspired me to get my demos up to a whole new level and, in many cases, even completely transform them to match her beautiful vocals. She records her vocals by layering separate takes on top of each other and create harmonies that stand on their own very easily, but don’t dominate the underlying music. Her lyrics also matched the mood I was trying to work on with my music.
Matthew Dear is an artist I’ve been inspired by for more than 10 years. He’s incredibly versatile and showed different side of himself than most people know through his techno stuff. His vocals are almost Tom Waits-sounding, very melancholic and deep. He did all the vocal production himself, so I didn’t have to touch it at all. Just did some small edits here and there arrangement-wise.
What were the biggest challenges in making the album?
The biggest challenge was pushing my own musical boundaries, while still make it sound like myself. It’s always important to explore new ground, and it’s more inspiring than doing the same trick for every project. With this album, I felt I needed to go a different direction, less Detroit techno chord structures, and more in the direction of indie music. Working on this new direction posed the challenge of creating a diverse sound, but make all tracks fit together nicely.
Any interesting stories from the sessions?
Working with Shawn Lee in London was an experience. He has two small rooms stacked full of (bass) guitars, keyboards, synthesizers, percussion instruments, tape machines, effect units, mixers, drum kits, kids’ toy instruments and all kind of weirdness. I brought my tracks in separate parts, and when he was replying to something, he’d just pick whatever he thought would fit and lay down the parts together with his engineer in no time. His studio was like an instrument itself. He works very quickly and never touches a mixer or computer, all of that is done by his engineer. I learned a lot from that approach.
On “Momo,” I worked together with my dad, who’s a classical composer and works completely differently from me, but we managed to create something very special together. He wrote some string parts on top of a keyboard part that I’d written — it was violin, violoncello and cello but I couldn’t make them sound good in the computer with the sample libraries I had. I decided to use a Roland 101 synthesizer to play the parts, which gave the track a very different but beautiful sound. It showed me how well you can combine classical melodies with electronic music.
How do you plan to incorporate songs from the album into your performances?
The album is quite deep and not so easy to play in my DJ sets, however, “A House” has created some epic moments in the few times I’ve played it. For pieces like that to work, it’s a matter of it being the right time with the right people in the right place. I’m currently working on vinyl versions that will be much easier to play. They will be out in January. I’m still contemplating a live set for the album, but I’m not sure yet. I think it could work really well but needs some extra work. We’ll see.
Joris Voorn’s Nobody Knows is now available on iTunes here.