INTERVIEW

Callum Wright makes “club music that works in headphones”. It can be addictive.

Photography by Gabriel Green

Photography by Gabriel Green

CALLUM WRIGHT MAKES “CLUB MUSIC THAT WORKS IN HEADPHONES”. IT CAN BE ADDICTIVE

It’s no secret that the digital age changed everything in music, from undermining major labels’ stranglehold to, in some cases, damaging artists’ own livelihood. The advent of file sharing, P2P networks and the rabid feasting of the blogosphere has created a beast no one really knows how to harness for whatever intent. But while it’s given us autonomy in terms of music consumption, it’s also cranked up the hype machine to levels few aspiring artists can truly fathom. As audiences furiously demand instant gratification from the outset, it’s increasingly feeling like the serpent eating its own tail, and for those who do emerge unscathed from the maelstrom of expectation, what next?

For Callum Wright (or D/R/U/G/S) it’s been about accepting and adapting since the end of last year, when he began surfing a long wave of expectancy both here and across the pond.

“As soon as you put something on the net now, you’re an established artist in a sense,” he says. “You’re expected to be fully formed and people take that as who you are, so anything you put on Myspace or whatever, it takes you by surprise, but you have to be ready for it.

“The obsession with new stuff is pretty unhealthy, but it’s just the way it is. I’m surprised at everything that’s happened since day one to be honest. It’s always outpaced itself. I got my first gig offer before I’d had two songs written so everything’s been one step ahead of where I am. I think it’s beneficial in a way because you have to react to it and it forces you to improve.”

Having played in punk bands previously, Callum’s departure to the more spectral, layered side of electronic music seems, on the face of it, like a drastic one. He’s long been a fan of club and hip-hop though, and he says that his output as D/R/U/G/S isn’t as premeditated as it appears to be.

“I know everyone says it but it’s all been so organic. I just put the tracks out there and there was no idea behind what I was doing. I was making music for me. I’ve been in other bands and done other stuff but this project was just me making stuff I wanted to listen to. I think that’s what people hear and it is a genuine thing because I was always a big club fan and grew up around that, but I only heard music that really resonated with me about a year ago. It’s not attached to any sort of sound, it just came from the idea that I could make this kind of music.

“The way it’s evolved has been so ramshackle and very natural, you know? The way I perform is the only way I could do it. I put it together so backward and the way I use my equipment is so wrong, it’s not how it’s meant to be used. I use Roland SP404s and they’re not supposed to be used as an instrument. I just took what I had and used it to make as good a sound as possible. I try not to use computer programs as much as possible and you’ll hear a lot of live piano and live guitars.”

Dedicated to crafting a sound that conveys warmth and character – much like his own personality – Callum’s insistence on being a ‘dance musician’ that deviates from laptop reliance is refreshing. He finds some contentment in retaining a sense of human error in his work, consciously moving away from a systematic dependence. It’s also an intent that fiercely extends into his live shows with the focus on performing instead of just attempting to recreate.

“Technology nowadays is incredible. It’s like having an orchestra at your fingertips. I’ve got my songs broken down into the smallest parts and, live, I rearrange it all and put it back together in a sense. The way I do it live, it keeps it interesting for me more than anything. I’ve done maybe 20-25 shows, which isn’t that many, but I try and do something different every set. I might slip in a vocal sample or something new, but it keeps it fresh and hopefully makes each show a bit more special in that sense. I don’t want it to be regurgitation and just knocking them out.

“The human error of it all is what I want to keep and that’s why I don’t use a laptop. I want it to be a performance and be actively involved in the music because you can never recreate the moment of when you write a song and it’s not what you should be trying to do.”

Like many young producers, Callum is driven and hungry, and keen to make the most of the opportunities coming his way. And like any self-respecting artist, he’s quick to acknowledge the faults and tribulations of his progression, as he is excited about the potential of developing his sound.

“When you’re making the music, it’s such a struggle with yourself. It’s definitely a product of isolation but all I can speak about is the way I make music. It can never be as good as I want it to be and it’s not a band, it’s not a democratic process, I don’t collaborate with anyone, I can’t take it to someone else and get their opinion on it.

“I try not to have too many preconceived ideas of what I’m going to do; I just let it form itself. I’ve always strived to make club music that works in headphones. I could easily just knock out an album of club bangers and turn the bass right up but that doesn’t interest me at all. That’s totally got its own place and some tracks will cross that line and they will delve more into a club sound or go the other way as more of a listening experience, but I like to try and keep that balance.”

It’s an outlook that again feels reflective of Callum himself. Animated and forthright, he isn’t afraid to make a point, but neither does he shirk the prospect of delving deeper into his thoughts.

What is abundantly apparent is that he is fully prepared to turn any constructive criticism on himself.

“I’m never satisfied with my stuff,” he exhales, “the hardest thing for me to do is to let go of a track. I tend not to give the tracks names until they’re totally finished because when you give a track a name it becomes like a kid and you get attached to it and you have to use it. It’s really hard to admit to yourself a track’s not good enough.

“I think every artist has that struggle or at least every artist doing it for the right reasons. I see it as art, and that doesn’t get said enough. It’s artistic expression that comes from a place that means something to you and you’re putting yourself out there so it should be a struggle.

“My dream was to play a festival, have a single and get played on the radio. If I could have achieved those three things, I could have died happy and all those things are happening in the next few months so I feel kind of lost now!” he laughs.

“I’m really not keen on looking ahead too much. This is it! I’m playing some amazing shows, I’m putting records out that people seem to like. It’s such a privilege and I honestly think that that doesn’t get said enough either.”

By Reef Younis

Originally published in issue 27 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. April 2011

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