I must admit I was a little late to the table in discovering Redinho (real name Tom Calvert). Whilst I’d seen his name bandied around a fair bit, I just didn’t get around to actually listening to anything he had put out until the latter half of this year, and it was only after seeing Spencer (Numbers) championing him on Twitter that I actually took note and went in search of some of his music.
Calvert’s story is a familiar one and one that I can relate to. Growing up playing drums in bands before moving to a set of turntables and eventually Ableton, Tom fell in love with music as a whole, and drew his inspiration from all around him. This is something, which is undoubtedly evident on his debut self-titled album. Whether it’s the quantised mechanical drum fills, drawn from his background playing in metal bands, or his vibrant, multi-layered synthesizers, reminiscent of his love of g-funk and Zapp. Calvert’s influences stretch far and wide but the time he has spent holed up in his studio has seen him consolidate these influences into something that works perfectly as a whole.
Picked up by Glasgow’s finest, Numbers, for his first two EP’s, it has taken him the best part of three years to return with his debut album. During this time Numbers have continued to offer Calvert support allowing him to develop and grow, whilst also giving him the patience to put together a record that feels as equally great in its entirety as the sum of all its parts.
Calvert’s been hard at work for the past three years, refining his craft, and shaping what has turned out to be a superb record. It’s the kind of album you’d expect from an artist much later in their career, after they’d had chance to experiment and make a few mistakes. It has maturity and the time that’s been spent on it has really paid off, seeing Calvert really fine tune his sound from his – also excellent – first EP, Bare Blips.
The pivotal feature of the record is Calvert’s use of the talkbox, which he uses to manipulate his sound, and give his tracks new context. It is this use of the talkbox alongside his infectious basslines and fluorescent synths that make the Redinho debut undoubtedly catchy and full of colour. My only regret is that it wasn’t released earlier in the year because it would have been the perfect soundtrack to the summer.
That being said, as the nights draw in, it will certainly bring a bit of life to your morning commute. We caught up with Tom to chat about the writing process, those early influences and need to share your work with other people:
So how’s everything going?
Yeah good, I’m playing at Rustie’s album launch tonight, which I’m super excited about and I just had a moment where I was like ‘oh man, i’m a fan of that guy’ and I’ve got a track on his album and I’m playing at his album launch and I’ve got an album out on Monday. Wicked.
Have you had time to relax since the album was handed in?
Kind of, yeah I have. I went on holiday to Greece, which was wicked. Never been there before and since I got back it’s all been pretty hectic. There’s a lot of stuff going on, which is great so just trying to have little moments where you check in and go this is good. This is awesome. You know, not let it all go by without you realising.
Of course and I mean you’ve been working on the album for 3 years right?
Yeah, it may have even been longer you know. It’s been quite a long process but it’s been a wicked journey. I’ve learnt a lot about my craft but also about myself and like I said it’s important just to check in and see where you are, enjoy it.
And for a project with such a big timespan, was it hard to keep that focus? I listened to the album a few times this morning actually and one of the best things about it is it sounds like an album you know. It doesn’t just sound like a collection of tracks, it sounds like a full album. Was it hard to keep that whole idea together over that long period of time?
Yeah, well thank you man because I’ve often just wondered if it does sound like an album. When you’re so close to something it’s hard to see the big picture. I think it just honed in on things and ideas got distilled then over the years it felt like ok, this is what this is turning into. You get a bit more of an idea of what you’re actually trying to do because at the start when you’re faced with such a blank canvas and endless possibilities I think you just have to start doing things.
And gradually you can put things together and make sense of it.
So what was your process? Do you have a regular writing process?
Yeah, I do have some habits. I often just sit there at a keyboard a lot and fuck around with chords and sing, you know, quite traditional song writing. Then I’ll try and knock out a sort of demo, produce it in some way. Then it will go through loads of different versions and eventually I’ll play one of those versions out live. Playing live is a big part of the process. I’ll go out and play that live and just get a feel for the energy. Technical levels as well, is the bass feeling good, is all that feeling good. Just the general energy and atmosphere. Does it feel good? Then go back into the studio and repeat the whole process basically until you can’t take anymore and you just abandon it.
Are you classically trained then? Do you have much knowledge of music theory?
Not really no. I’m pretty much self taught actually. I’ve got two brothers who are musicians and their theory’s great, they understand all that shit. I don’t. I just learnt by kind of doing it, by listening to Stevie Wonder records and trying to figure out the chords. That’s how i’ve done it. I started out playing the drums so I understand rhythm very well and I have a sort of understanding of harmony just by listening to it but it would take me a couple of minutes to even tell you what the chords are called on my album. I can play them but I’d need a minute to know what they were called. i’m not classically trained.
Yeah, I think you notice what you said about having a good knowledge of rhythm. Not in a bad way but the album sounds quite mechanical and rhythmic in that sense. Not just the beats behind it but all the other parts as well.
Yeah that’s a big thing for me. Somebody said to me the other day, ‘a lot of people like the fact you don’t use quantisation’ and I thought, ‘I obsessively do use quantisation’. I’m really OCD about that aspect but actually the way I write stuff is really rhythmic. I like to define the rhythm as part of the writing and arrangement.
Did you have an overarching idea of what you wanted this to sound like? Did you have an aim? I mean it doesn’t differ greatly from your earlier stuff but it’s certainly more defined, you’ve honed in your influences a little bit. Did you have a clear idea of how you wanted it to come out or where you were coming from?
Yeah again, that sort of developed as I went along. I mean now I can say it’s this amalgamation of Stevie Wonder, Zapp and Hud Mo but I mean it started really with me saying, ‘ok, how can I use the talkbox in a variety of ways’. So that was a big building block really. How can I use that, put it in some different context it’s not normally used in, and also write stuff that I can perform live in some way with the talkbox. So that was the starting point and then I ended up with this Stevie Wonder sort of thing. When you go back and sort of piece this thing together you realise where things have come from but at the time, in this case, I was just kind of feeling things out. I didn’t start with a defined concept.
So yeah, let’s just touch on that live aspect a second. What’s your setup for playing live? Do you do it on your own, is it an Ableton live set or whatever you use? Because we chatted to Redlight the other week about his live setup and he was talking about how he doesn’t like to do just do an Ableton live set, he likes to use instruments as well. What’s your process and how do you translate these songs into a live situation?
At the moment it’s an Ableton Live thing and you know the talkbox is the big feature. That’s the big live feature and I do some vocal stuff as well as a couple of other things. There’s a lot of other programming that goes on in the studio and that’s a big part of it. I introduce a new thing every now and then like a drum pad but that’s where it’s been at for a while. I would like to get a band together again. I used to do all that stuff and I miss being on stage playing with people. I think if I could find a way I’d like to do that you know, get back to doing that, but yeah at the moment it’s a solo thing, Ableton Live, which I’m evangelical about. I love that software. Yeah so that’s where it’s at, at the moment.
So I guess jumping back a little bit, but what I was saying about this process, and taking your time to get your album out. I feel like a lot of producers, because it’s so easy to get material out now, you seem to find that people want to get stuff up before they’ve really had a chance to shape things properly and really find where they sit musically. Do you feel like this is the case?
Yeah man definitely, I think that’s a human thing.
To want to share it with people?
Yeah man, that’s important and humans create some sort of recognition I think and if you’re making stuff you want to share it. If you don’t share it with anyone, is it real (laughs). I’ve spent years in the studio with a lot of this stuff and the only time I could share it with people was live so again going back to the importance of going out and performing live but if it’s just you then it’s just you who’s experiencing it. Is it actually real? It becomes real she you share it with people so I understand that man, I think it’s important, but then again I also understand having patience and there’s a fine line. You don’t want to fall into too much of a perfectionist trap as well and be like ‘oh, it’s not right yet, i’m not going to share it’. If you take that to its logical conclusion you’re never going to share it. You’re never going to move on so you’ve got to have a balance. You know what, Numbers have been great to help me in that I think. They gave me enough confidence to keep working at it and there’ll be a light at the end of the tunnel somewhere. It’s very important I think, and I’m very lucky to have some people in my corner who’ve supported me and given me a good kind of bedrock of encouragement and support to have some patience.
Cool. So, how did the Numbers thing come about?
Years ago I made some sketches basically, which was my first EP, Bare Blips, and I sent them to Spencer who’s one of the guys behind Numbers. So I knew Calum (Spencer) vaguely and at the time he had a label called Wireblock and I was a fan. I made some stuff that I thought he might like so I sent it to him and he liked it. So he said he wanted to put it out but under this new label he was starting called Numbers. So that’s really how it started, and in that time he’d seen some of the talkbox stuff I was messing with and that’s when him and some of the other guys thought ‘oh, there’s quite a lot that this guy could do’ and they were really into basically. That’s when they signed the album saying, ‘maybe do some more of that’, and that’s how it all started.
It’s amazing that they’ve given you this much time to really work on things and progress. It’s not something that I guess is as common for labels these days. Obviously Numbers is a bit of a different scenario, being a smaller label, and part of a close-knit scene but yeah I think it’s not an opportunity that many producers can afford.
Yeah, it goes back into that point you made, which is a good point that anybody can put something online. That’s why when you see somebody like Sophie come out with such a strong identity already. That’s an example of somebody who just came out with something so defined, immediately. He’s the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got someone who’s just rushing things out and putting things online, then you’ve got someone like him who’s coming out with such a strong identity. I mean take what you want from that.
Yeah, I mean his latest release is amazing. It’s one of the best tracks of the summer.
Yeah, unbelievable stuff.
So, you’ve already mentioned Stevie Wonder and people like that as some of your influences but where else do you draw your influences from?
Everything. Starting out as a musician I wanted to learn how to play different styles of music. Started out playing sort of rock stuff and then tried to play some metal stuff but I wasn’t good enough and then got into jazz, funk, hip-hop. I started DJing doing loads of turntablism and then got into electronic stuff. I guess through electronic music I’ve been able to put together a lot of those influences but you know what everything really influences me now. Even going to a show where you may not like the music but just something, you’ll feel the crowds energy or you’ll see a performance and something about it will make you want to do something and make some music or do a live show. I can appreciate music as a whole.
Absolutely. It’s interesting, especially thinking about genres like metal because those influences come through. You know, the whole quantised, mechanical sound. It’s very reflective of that.
On a track like ‘Stinger’ there’s some drum fills that I definitely thought, ‘can I put these fills in? Yes I can, fuck it’. As a drummer, some of those fills feel a bit like comedy to me. They’re kind of fun to me and that’s where, to me, you can hear the influence.
Yeah I guess it’s the same with an album like Glass Swords. When that came out it almost sounded like an electronic version of a 70s prog rock band and there is that comedy value, well not comedy value, but humour to it.
Yeah and that tempo, the tempo of dubstep or trap or whatever, that’s head banging tempo. The feel of it, you see everyone doing that shit and that’s a lot of the energy in metal. So on the surface it doesn’t seem like there’s anything similar but there’s actually more in common than you think.
So there’s obviously a few guest contributors on the album. One of my favourites, is the Vanessa Haynes track. I think that’s been my standout track so far. How did that come about and in general how do you find working with vocalists? Is it something you’d like to do more of?
Yeah definitely like to do more. I mean I wrote all of that track, all the melody, all the lyrics, and it was pretty much as it is now. It was 90% done it just didn’t have her vocal on it. So I sent it to her and just got her in the studio. She is such an unbelievable singer, it’s ridiculous. Hearing her sing in the studio, it was just like, ‘my god, you are so good’. So you know with that one, I had that tune around for a while in some shape or form. The Numbers guys really liked it and I didn’t really like it so they pushed me actually towards the end of the process to pick it up again and actually getting Vanessa in was the thing it needed. It just became this really uplifting tune.
Yeah it’s interesting because I remember reading an interview with TNGHT and they were talking about how they didn’t just want to make beat music they wanted to make music that they could get vocalists on and certainly in the last couple of years it’s been a really interesting time, not just for UK producers, but producers everywhere where they’re starting to see their tracks get used for what are essentially pop songs. It’s a really interesting time.
Yeah I mean, I think when something has a vocal on it, it’s suddenly in this ball park of pop music.
But I totally agree with you and the Numbers guys would have to clarify this but I feel like with Numbers they put out a lot of stuff that is pop music that isn’t considered pop music because it’s got such strong hooks and that’s almost become a style of pop music in a way. Artists like Rustie, Hud Mo, they’ve made pop music but it’s not been considered pop music. I don’t know, those guys might slap me for saying that. I don’t know I may be completely wrong.
To me it’s great because you’re starting to see those ‘underground’ producers and those few people who start to infiltrate the mainstream a little bit. Then your casual listener might pick up on a track that’s maybe got Alunageorge and Rustie on the production but they get shown the entrance into that other world and they discover more. I think it’s great.
Yeah and I love pop music, I really love it. I grew up listening to Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and they’re still my favourite artists. I just love what they did around the 70s and 80s. That to me is still the most joyous music ever.
The other thing I really liked that you did was the 100s track you did at the start of February I think it was. How did that come about? Because G-Funk is another thing that shines through.
Definitely, he hit me up on twitter and this was way before the album was coming out and he’d somehow got hold of ‘Jacuzzi’, which is on my album, and he loved it. His DJ would play it out at their shows and so that was fucking cool. He’s from Berkley in California and I used to live out there so obviously there’s a G-Funk connection so we kind of had some things in common. He just wanted me to do some talkbox on his track so he sent that over and that was that. I love G-Funk though, I still snigger like a kid when I listen to Doggystyle. I love that album. I love Zapp. When I first heard Zapp records when I was a teenager I wasn’t into electronic music. It wasn’t in my consciousness and so hearing Zapp it was like, ‘how is that being done?’ So yeah talkbox always fascinated me ever since then. The Zapp stuff is a really defining sound of G-Funk so you know yeah, G-Funk is a love of mine and doing something with 100s was wicked.
So what’ve you got lined up next?
Yeah so going to Rustie’s album launch tonight and just getting loads of dates set up man. A couple of tours that aren’t quite confirmed yet. Got some shows coming in Europe, you know all that stuff so it’s looking good. Looking forward to getting out there and playing live.
Will that be DJ sets as well or just live shows?
At the moment it’s live stuff. Yeah I’d like to get back into DJing a bit. As I said used to do a lot of turntablism but it wouldn’t be like that (laughs). Yeah I like DJing and it’s a good way to test out some music as well. At the moment it’s just live stuff though.
‘Redinho’ is out now on Numbers. Buy it here.