Scottish-born producer Ross Birchard, aka Hudson Mohawke, has successfully made the difficult leap from boy wonder to man of the music world. As the youngest ever finalist in the UK DMC DJ competition, his aggressive sampling pastiche impressed on 2009’s Butter and his most recent EP Satin Panthers (both Warp). In 2012, Mohawke signed to Kanye West’s GOOD Music exclusively for production duties, providing the likes of Kanye, Pusha T and Drake with muscle-bound psych-trap. Here, he discusses working with musical style icon, the man behind the man in the mirror, Quincy Jones.
I had the pleasure to work with Quincy Jones in his Los Angeles studio last year where he produced Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall. During the process he explained to me that he and Michael had created the studio to spec, and for me the most impressive thing were the speakers installed in the roof. The idea was that Michael and Quincy could lie on the floor and listen to the sound come at them from the ceiling. This is exactly what Quincy and I did as well: create, lie down, listen. The whole experience was extremely inspirational—I mean Michael is obviously The King of Pop, but also in the process of collaborating, I realized that some of my favorite productions of Quincy’s were his solo work, which for some people is more obscure. For example, I am a huge fan of funk stuff like The Dude, which more people should know because it did win a bunch of Grammys and even features legendary jazz harmonica player Toots Thielemans. Anyhow it’s from 1981 and has a kind of early rapping on it, which is funny and kind of ironic considering his strong opinions about hip-hop. I actually used samples from The Dude for the Pusha T record I helped produce last year.
Honestly, I can’t say I was nervous meeting Quincy for the first time. I approach artists and producers I work with, no matter how big they are, as people. It’s a person-to-person thing. It was the same when I worked with Rick Rubin: you just can’t get caught up with the back story or heritage of it all, otherwise it will get in the way of being creative. That is, despite being surrounded by barefoot guys drinking kale smoothies, which was the case when I worked together with Rubin in Bob Dylan’s old studio in Malibu, Shangri-La, which he now owns. That said, when I think back to Quincy’s studio, it was a bit challenging at times to not be impressed. He actually has Michael Jackson’s framed lyric sheets on the wall. That’s the first thing you see. I was like, “Fucking hell, I’m walking into history.” And then I remind myself not to get caught up in it.
We didn’t talk a lot about Michael Jackson as a person, though I have in the past with Kanye. With Quincy, Michael was always discussed in revered musical terms: nobody has anything but the utmost respect for Michael, and Quincy Jones is obviously a huge part of that. I suppose that speaks for itself. ~
Published July 01, 2014. Words by A.J. Samuels.