CHOICE interview: Aim

This month, CHOICE CUTS has secured an interview with one of its favourite artists - Andy Turner, aka Aim… even though, as he explains, he’s ready to put that particular moniker to bed. I remember listening to his first album, 1999’s Cold Water Music, a couple of years after its release and being completely mesmerised by it. It was as if everything I dug about music had been compiled and compressed into 12 tracks, an album tailored exclusively to my taste. It fit like a glove, and I was hooked…

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Aim feat. QNC - The Force

Aim - A Tree, a Rock and a Cloud

It ain’t the same unless you’re playing for the cup, what the…? Aim’s sophomore effort, Hinterland, had a delicacy to it that grew as he matured as a beatsmith: the standout joint on that album had to be Good Disease, a track that is featured in this post and this mix. Between his 2nd and 3rd records came a compilation of unreleased beats, Means of Production, and two classic mixtapes, Stars on 33 and FabricLive.17. Now head of ATIC Records, Tupac lover (yes!), and committed family man, Aim was gracious enough to answer a few questions. Check below.

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CC - You are rumoured to have started off your career as a musician using some very basic equipment. Can you go into some specifics, and how has your production technique and equipment evolved over the years?

Aim - I started out making beats around ‘94 / ‘95. I was using a Commodore Amiga with a cheap Turbo Sound sampling interface stuck in the back, and MED, a vertical scrolling 4-track sequencer. Not the slickest set-up but I didn’t know any different at the time and I wrote my first few records on that gear. When I hooked up with Grand Central I re-built my Amiga tracks sample for sample and beat for beat in a proper studio before releasing them. Around this time I retired the Amiga and bought my first drum machines, an Akai MPC60 and an Emu SP1200. Now I’m using a mixed bag set-up of Logic with UAD plugins, old synths, drum machines and samplers, analogue compressors and EQ’s.

Your third, and so far latest, album, 2006’s Flight 602, did not feature a single rapper. In fact, it seemed as though the album was exploring a different path, free from overbearing hip hop influence. Why was that? And have you waved goodbye to hip hop forever?

It was a conscious decision not to feature any rappers on Flight 602. I wanted the music to speak for itself and I didn’t want to follow the exact same formula as my first two albums. At the same time though, I wouldn’t call the hip-hop influence on any of my albums overbearing, even the first two only had 3 or 4 hip-hop tracks. Other than the fact that they use samples and were made on old drum machines, tracks like Cold Water Music, Downstate, Journey To The End Of The Night and Vipco have nothing to do with hip-hop, they were more influenced by underground US house and early 90’s breakbeat hardcore which is what I was DJ’ing out for years before I got into hip-hop. At the same time there are tracks on Flight 602 which could have had MC’s on them so I think musically, the album isn’t that far removed from what I’d done before. My next one will be though. And I haven’t waved goodbye to hip-hop, I’m actually working on two hip-hop albums right now with different MC’s, the first of which, a collaboration with QNC should be out next year. QNC also feature on the The Daddy Remix, the first single from ATIC’s next album release, Hate & Love by Niko. We shot a video for the single in NYC this summer and it should be out early next year.

Notwithstanding, you have collaborated with some great artists. What was working with Diamond D like? And who would you say have been your biggest influences and favourite artists since you started collecting wax?

Diamond D is a hero of mine, he’s made a lot of my all time favourite recordings and as far as making beats he’s certainly one of my biggest influences but this collaboration really didn’t turn out as good as I’d hoped. I don’t think the beat I sent him really suited his style and it was done from afar without ever meeting or talking to him so even though I really like the track, and he has some great lines in there, looking back I see it as a bit of a missed opportunity. I’d say my most successful collaborations so far have been True To Hip-Hop with AG, From Here To Fame with Y.Z. and Beforeā€¦ with QNC. As far as influences and favourite artists go, the main ones over the years have been D.I.T.C, Pete Rock, Pal Joey, Patrick Adams, Shades Of Rhythm, Al Tariq, Hard 2 Obtain, Anton Newcombe, The Beach Boys and Nirvana.

The music industry is a fickle and volatile environment. What has been the secret to your success?

By a lot of yardsticks I wouldn’t say I’ve been that successful. Artistically, maybe. Financially though, I did ok with my first couple of albums but I’ve been living off their dwindling royalties ever since. Similarly, we love everything we’ve released on ATIC but every album other than Flight 602 and my Aim re-issues have lost money. On The other hand, the fact that we do everything ourselves now (write, record, produce, mix and release) means we don’t have the overheads of other labels so we can get by on a bare minimum while we work on new material, which is sounding really good so we’ll be ok. Personally, I measure success by whether or not the label still exists and whether or not I’ve had to get a nine to five. That’s my greatest fear and my main motivation when it comes to trying to make a business out of making music.

How do you see your record label moving forward in today’s digital atmosphere?

ATIC wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for our digital sales. We’re a small label dealing with relatively small numbers and as such the cost of manufacturing and storing physical product often ends up being more than we might ever make from a release. With downloads you don’t have any of those overheads so from a business point of view digital has been very important to us. We left our old distributor a couple of years a go and signed up with IRIS Distribution in San Francisco who now look after all of our digital releases. IRIS brought a fresh energy and an optimism to the label which it needed going forward, things feel good and positive at the moment. Having said all that, I still only play records when I DJ and although I’ve grown to appreciate the digital side of things I still love vinyl and we’ll still put out most of our stuff on limited edition wax.

You were born in Barrow-in-Furness and still throw parties and work there. Your second album, Hinterland, was inspired by the landscapes and outpost-like feel of the place. Whilst a lot of musicians feel they need to move to the big cities, you have resisted the temptation. What is your relationship with your hometown and why is it such a strong one?

I have a love / hate relationship with Barrow. On the one hand it’s a dump and nothing happens here. On the other hand my family is here and the surrounding beaches and countryside are stunning and a genuine source of inspiration. I don’t bother putting on club nights here anymore ‘cause it’s like pulling teeth trying to get people enthused about real underground music round here, but I do do free, open air park parties throughout the summer with a some good friends. Another reason I’m still here is that to me, everywhere in this country feels pretty much the same when you scratch the surface so I’ve never seen the point in moving. I’m sure we will up-sticks at some point but wherever we end up would have to be sunny and by the coast. California will do. As for cities, it’s not that I’m anti-social exactly but the usual draws of city life don’t do anything for me, I like to work in my studio and hang out with my kids and I just don’t feel the need for the hustle and bustle. In fact it would really piss me off. Also, the nature of my work and the fact that I do everything myself means I don’t need to network or be around other people in my field to get on.

I have caught your live band a few times over the years and I still remember a memorable performance at the Zodiac in Oxford. Are you going to be touring again any time soon, and, most importantly, are you working on any new projects?

The ten piece Aim Live band finished in 2007. I only started it to promote my first album but it took on a life of it’s own. I put everything into it and it and it got to the point where we were firing, really tight and heavy but the truth is I never enjoyed it. I’m not a performer, I’m a producer, and the band became such a full time thing it was stopping me making music and I couldn’t wait to sack it. I will do live shows in the future but I’m not sure what form they’ll take yet. As for new projects, I just finished mixing the Niko album which has taken us the best part of four years to get it right so it’s a massive weight off to know it’s in the bag. It’s easily the biggest and best record I’ve been involved with, and with the wind behind it it could really take off. Now I’m working on the hip-hop albums I mentioned earlier and also my next solo record. Which won’t be an Aim record controversially. I’m done with that name pretty much, I’ll use it for the production credits on these next few albums and then retire it gracefully.

And last, but definitely not least, Tupac or Biggie?

Tupac. More interesting as an artist to me and Keep Ya Head Up is one of my favourite records. He was cool in Juice too.