Since 1991, Paul T has been obsessed with electronic music and dance beats. He started out remixing music on radio when he was in the US. He started getting noticed when he produced two Dick Lee recordings, Singapop and Redo Renew, and then he formed Quadmix, with his brother, Paul G, and long-time collaborator Case. Quadmix wrote the title track for the Singapore film, Army Daze, and, in 1997, released their debut single, Trick Rider. Last month, he released his solo debut, Steppin' Out. Philip Cheah steps out with Paul T. Pictures by fFurious.

After the techno of Quadmix, it's quite a turnaround to hear you composing chillout music. What led to this?

I have always been looking at breaking new ground in the Singapore scene. I did that with Hip To The Hype in 1992 (R&B/rap/dance) and Quadmix in 1998 (Breakbeats) and it was a natural progression that I should be working on something that has not been heard on the local front. I've been absorbed by the jazz vibes for the past six years and had thoughts about a hybrid jazz album. For this debut solo album, I wanted it to reflect my real influences, about my kind of music. Basically I went for the groove and built jazz, funk, DJ elements and dance vibes into it. The album is not a completely chillout album. It builds up on you as you progress with the tracks.

What's the single and what's your favourite track?

It's Dusk. This was the track that got me started and kept me developing the other tracks on the album. It's got a dark jazzy vibe to it. It's simple, not too complicated but it's able to hold your attention. It stands out differently from the rest on the album. I also went to Australia to finish up the music video for it, a Guy-Ritchie kind of action flick.

There are 18 tracks on the album. it seems like you had a lot more tracks than you had space for?

You're right. My original tracklist had only 14 tracks but I've decided to include a couple more tracks — the thing is, the music just kept coming up as I went along. As a matter of fact, I've already started working on the follow-up album already.

You've made an effort to involve other local talent — Clinton Carnegie and DJ Wiz. Why and how do they stand out musically?

As I've been travelling quite a bit and work on this album took nine months to complete, I had little time to include more local talents. I originally wrote Moving On for a Sony Music artist but decided to use it for myself. I've always loved the jazz guitar sound and its smooth element. So when I was looking for a lead sound, naturally I went for the guitar element. Clinton Carnegie, in my opinion, has been a very underrated jazz musician in town. I've heard his debut album and have been in touch with him. He's a great guy and we recorded the track in one-and-a-half hours.

As for DJ Wiz, we go way back; undoubtedly the best turntablist in Singapore and one of the best in Asia. He was featured on a Quadmix award-winning track, MindTrip. Since then we've talked about collaborating. Including him was a last-minute decision. I didn't like the mix I did for Chocolat Delight and reprogrammed the whole track again. During the process of the programming, I felt it would be cool to include some scratch elements for the new version. So I made the breakdowns and called Wiz. We nailed it in half an hour. His scratch fill-in and solo gave the track a strong street vibe to it.

Tell us more about your new label deal with ToCo Records?

I was approached by a few labels when they heard a couple of my tracks. It was a tough decision but I finally made the choice based on my vibes about the people at ToCo. They were very passionate and sincere about my music. I finally decided on the label as I believe they can give me the attention I'm looking for, not for myself but for my music. My music was showcased in a world dance summit and the immediate response from the UK, France and Latin America was overwhelming. It was then that I felt that I should have a shot at this with a label that would be focused on my music and promote it passionately to the world.

How will Steppin' Out be released, only domestically or internationally as well?

The album was released in Singapore last month, the rest of the world will be early this year. The area that have been slated for release include Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. The initial reception to the album is very positive.

CHILLIN'
Vijay Singh poses Paul T a series of free-associative questions

 

My music represents…

My music represents my influences over the years since the day I started DJing to getting into production. It’s come full circle where I started with hip-hop, soul and R&B to today's influence of jazz and dance music. You might find it an eclectic one; a sound genesis coming from many directions but in every track you will find the influence of jazz or funk breeding around it. I do lots of mixing and blending of live and programmed sounds. A lot of work goes into the production.

My job as a sound engineer allows me to…

My job as the engineer/producer/programmer/arranger allows me to craft my production to my own flavour and make sure I get it right the way I wanted it to. I don't live by the sound engineer's dos and don'ts. I basically do whatever it takes — whether it’s traditional or untraditional approaches — to get the sounds I want. My rhythm section on average takes up to 24 tracks as I layer different kick, snares and loops. I see production and engineering as input as well as sound design and creativity rolled into one. It ain't whatcha do, it’s the way you do it!

Over the past 10 years I have…

Over the past 10 years I have been working behind the scenes producing and remixing other projects. Basically I have been soaking in the vibes and the sounds that appeal to me. I learn when I work with different people, be they engineers, sessionists, artists, producers, etc. I guess it’s a neverending learning process and that's what helps make me better over the years.

If I were to make music in another way I would…

If I were to make music in another way it would probably not appeal to me ‘cos now I can be the drummer, bass player, keyboardist, engineer, producer, remixer… the rest is up to my imagination.

In Singapore electronic music is viewed as…

In Singapore electronic music is viewed as not real music by the traditional musicians. However it’s starting to change — thanks to the complete domination of MIDI in the ‘90s when live musicians and sessionists were almost completely being replaced in the studio by machines. Then in the late ‘90s the hybrid sounds of live sessionists and MIDI made a strong presence in music, till today. So the purists like jazz musicians are even starting to use MIDI themselves to help make their music more contemporary and hip.

The lack of technology…

The lack of technology would probably make electronic musicians and producers waste a lot of time dealing with equipment and gears leaving less time for creativity.

Technology is the answer…

Technology is the answer to making music with a new approach and exciting way.

Rhythm comes from…

Rhythm comes from within — you either got it or you don't.

Without rhythm…

Without rhythm music would be really boring and what would you play to? Rhythm is the intrinsic backbone of all music, be it eastern or western.

I would love to play live…

I would love to play live but it’s too far-fetched for me. I find it boring just tweaking knobs on stage. I'd probaly have to rely on my sessionists to make me look good up there. What I'd do is take a few of the tracks from my sampler and hard disk and mix them live. I'll probably process them live as well. I might not be able to replicate what I've done as the sessionists would probably play with a different vibe.

A good club…

A good club would evoke good vibes when you are there. Of course, good music that appeals to you would be a plus and beautiful people would be a bonus!

Last night…

Last night I was mixing down my new track called Eastern Sunrise for an Asian chillout album.

In the next five years, I…

In the next five years, I see myself venturing into more experimental sessions — be it with a hybrid of electronic music, sessionists plus vocal guests… — it’s got be be melodic, rhythmic and cutting edge

In the next five years, electronic music…

In the next five years, electronic music will be easier to make and with the internet more electronic musicians will get together (on the net) to collaborate, exchange sounds and we probably will discover some new stars from these new channels

In the next five years, Singaporean music…

In the next five years, Singaporean music will probably have a scene if Singaporeans are willing to accept that yes we do have some talent and yes we want to have some local heroes in the local music scene. Local music is fighting for acceptance in our critical society. The problem is you can't dictate a Singapore sound — my advise is don't bother, just concentrate on making good quality music not for local acceptance but for the world. The Chinese music scene is a great example. The songwriters, arrangers and singers are doing well creating a demand for them. Why? They are able to come up with quality work that can stand shoulder to shoulder with those in the Hongkong and Taiwan market. Local music must strive to meet that benchmark to break the prejudice that Singaporeans have against its music culture. We all should in our own respective ways try to make music of international standard.

I see the most hope in…

I see the most hope in electronic music as you don’t need a band — you can be the band. It can be DIY at a home studio that you set up and if the sounds are right you can't even tell if its local. You can quantify for that international sound if you do it right.

I would like to work with…

I would like to work with Monday Michiru, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and Chuck Loeb,

When I’m 50…

When I’m 50, I hope I'd still be producing hopefully good music for the soul.


Note:
The above interview was published in BigO #193 (January 2002).
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