[INTERVIEW] THE HEAVYTRACKERZ
The HeavyTrackerz musical journey to this point has been a strenuous but worthwhile endeavour that has lead to acclaim from peers and critics alike.
From claiming recognition after being partly responsible for the success of Meridian Dan’s ‘German Whip’ in addition to Stormzy’s ‘Not That Deep’, the producers have been determined to become versatile artists in their own right, with remixes of artists like Iggy Azalea and Izzy Bizu also part of their collection.
Tucked away comfortably at Relentless No. 5 in West London, we sat down to talk with the production pairing – comprised of Tee and Tank – on the verge of releasing their debut album Odyssey: A Musical Journey, celebrating its launch with an event that featured performances from artists who also appear on the record, including Lethal B, Big Narstie, Footsie & Double S among others.
You’re about to release your debut album Odyssey: A Musical Journey; what should listeners expect?
Tee: I think the main thing is diversity musically. Obviously, we’re not artists, we’re music producers, [so] what people would expect is a bunch of hits, but I don’t think they’ll expect the story that goes along with the record. I think that will probably be a nice surprise because one of the criticisms, I guess in the urban scene, is that people just put tracks together and call it an album. They can treat [Odyssey: A Musical Journey] as an album and look at it as an album.
What would you say some of the differences are when producing for other people, compared to producing your own album?
Tee: Sometimes the subject matter that they suggest is just… crap. We don’t like it. Obviously, I’m not gonna name names, but sometimes the tune comes back and we’re like, [kisses his teeth and drops his head]. One thing we’ve tried to do that we use as our formula is that the hook is the most important part of the song – to us, anyway. Sometimes it’s hard to convey that idea to other people, so, when it’s our own album, it becomes a little easier. We produce, but, sometimes we vocal some of the stuff, we write our own stuff, so we’re a lot more vocal. When it’s [another artist’s tune], you have an input – especially if it’s done in your studio – you have an input on how it goes, but sometimes people say “send me beats” and we can’t control what they’re doing over there.
I imagine you much prefer it being a collaboration rather than you send an artist a beat and then you just hear the final product?
Tank: Yeah, ideally. I’d say we’re very hands on when it comes to that side. If [an artist] comes and says they want a tune, I think it’s ideal to just come in and basically start from scratch, rather than us sending dozens of tunes.
Tee: We stopped [sending beats through email]. We were doing it before, but because we always had a vision of how we wanted it to be and how we wanted to work, like Tank said to you, growing up on Timbaland – no one is asking for emails from Timbaland, so let’s get in studio, let’s order some food, buss jokes, let’s make a tune that MistaJam’s gonna be banging out every day. That’s the aim, and anything beyond that – oh well, I guess that’s your loss because you didn’t wanna do it. But we’ve definitely knuckled down on sending people beats.
Do you feel like you get to a certain level when just sending beats via email isn’t doing yourselves justice?
Tee: It wasn’t doing us justice from before. Like I said, I think it’s just your mind state. We never looked at ourselves as just producers, from the beginning, we’ve always wanted to be hands on. So the idea of making a beat and emailing it to people – even before we made ‘German Whip’ – was already a no-no for us, so it’s not anything new, but it’s new to the scene that we’re in because they always find it weird.
From listening to the album, it seems like you’ve attempted to incorporate all of your musical influences on there. Who are your most notable musical influences and how were you exposed to them?
Tank: There’s a vast variety, but mainly Timbaland, Daft Punk, Scott Storch a little bit. Ideally producer/DJs, say, for example, Calvin Harris – he’s actually doing great as a producer/artist. So, yeah, a variety of producer/DJs.
Tee: Pretty much those people that transitioned from just being behind the boards to artists in their own right. But yeah, the usual – Timbaland, The Neptunes, like [Tank] said, Daft Punk. While doing this album we looked at Rudimental, we looked at Disclosure and we looked at Major Lazer, mainly. Some of the hype tunes that are on the album, with less lyrics – there’s a few of those that don’t have massive verses, but we just wanted to let the beat play, kind of thing – those are definitely Major Lazer influenced.
Considering your influences, were you conscious of trying not to sound like them when creating your own music?
Tank: I think it’s like a pick ’n’ mix. If you’re listening to other people and being influenced by them, then making your own, that’s basically what it is. It wasn’t us thinking we’ve gotta make it sound exactly like them.
Tee: I would say the other people that we copied were ourselves. There’s a track called ‘Control’ on the album and some of the instruments on ‘Control’ are the same instruments in ‘Not That Deep’. So, technically, we ended up copying ourselves and that’s just the first half of ‘Control’. The second half of ‘Control’ where there’s a guitar background and choir, those are influenced by our upbringing – mum and dad or church. It’s not necessarily like Timbaland’s got a crazy 808 – we need that. We get the influences from our background, where we’re from as well.
I suppose the title of the album is a hint in itself, but how important do you think it was to show your versatility throughout the album? Do you think you were at risk of being pigeon-holed?
Tank: That was the main thing that we wanted the album to actually show. We can expand, we can experiment, we can do other things as well. That wasn’t something we thought of out of the blue, it was always something we wanted to do.
Tee: Most of the album is premeditated, to be honest. Obviously, there are elements of Grime in there, but there are other elements from anything around 140bpm. Most of [the songs on the album] are actually 140bpm, but even some of the tunes that are 140bpm don’t sound like Grime. They’re definitely not, they’re definitely more pop-ier tunes, and there’s definitely totally different vibes. There’s the whole Jamaican influence on some of the tracks, then there’s orchestral influence, strings and then you’ve got the garage stuff, but they’re songs that we wanted to do. For example, the garage track – we grew up on that – so why not? It’s not that we’re being pigeon-holed, but it is what it is. You guys only know us because of ‘German Whip’, that’s how it started off, so we can’t blame you for that. There are remixes we’ve done for Iggy Azalea, ‘White Tiger’ for Izzy Bizu, and if you don’t know it that’s not our fault, we’re trying to do other stuff.
Considering the tracks that you’ve produced that were most popular, did you feel under any pressure to make the album full of what you knew that people already liked?
Tee: I would say only on one song and that was the last song, and that was ‘Rude Boy Flex’. I was saying to Tank, “We need to give 1Xtra something“. The album is ours, first of all, before it’s yours it’s our album, but we need to come to a compromise. We’re gonna give you your festival tune, but after that, we’re gonna play you ‘Control’, which is calmer, then after ‘Control’ we might play you something more trappy and you have no choice but to accept it because we’ve given you what you wanted now it’s our turn to play what we like. If it was up to us we would have played ‘Control’ from the beginning. That’s a tip for up and coming producers – to be able to satisfy other people. You’ve got to come to a compromise. So, ‘Rude Boy Flex’ – last tune on the album but first tune as a single. So, there you go, that pretty much sums it up.
There is a story that is told through skits throughout the album; what message were you trying to portray to the listener with those skits and why did you feel it was important to include?
Tank: I think it was important, especially for producers and whoever is following a music career because that’s a hurdle you have to jump. You’re gonna meet managers, you’re gonna go to meetings, you’re gonna see the limelight… basically, you’re gonna go on a journey to get there. On the album, we tried to explain that and educate people and show them that it’s not just all rosy, there are ups and downs.
Tee: I think it’s based on things that we’ve been through as well, in terms of the managers, the label, learning what publishing is, learning what PRS is, this and that. I remember one of the first things we were told was “you need to learn how to DJ”. It’s real like that. That was 2014, right from the jump – you need to learn how to DJ. Then before you know it we’re finding ourselves in front of a crowd of 14,000 people, then next week, we’re in front of a crowd of no one but the janitor. It’s true! We did that in Sheffield – we played to two girls and the janitor.
You DJ as well; how important do you feel it is to also further your reputation that that field?
Tank: Ideally, we want to get into the live side of things. Obviously DJing is the start, but eventually, we want to have someone playing the drums, someone playing the guitar, [a] choir or whatever. We can explore more.
Tee: That’s the next stage. We did that in parts on this album. We met up with a choir, or the brass people on ‘Black Widow’ – that’s cool, you kind of want to put the computer down and go on stage and have your choir, have your guitar guy, your drummer – that’s the next thing.
Looking beyond the release of this album, what are some of your future plans?
Tank: Just touring, just get out there, really. Mainly, for me, just get out there because we’ve spent too many hours in the studio, so we just wanna explore.
Tee: We just wanna play it to people, but not [people] who know us. It’s the people who are walking past looking at the posters – that’s the people you want. The guys who know it, it’s cool, but yeah, I’d probably say the same thing, just go out there and play it to other people, especially people from different places.
Odyssey: A Musical Journey is out now.