Cody Currie lets us into his Jazz Dungeon studio and tells us how Berlin life has shaped his career for the better
24-year-old Cody Currie is making a big impact on the house music scene with a dual career as both producer and DJ. Cody gives us an insight into his processes, and why he’s moved away from sampling…
Cody Currie. (Image: Conor McDonnell)
Cody Currie’s nuanced concoctions of jazz keys, disco licks and heavy-hitting drums has cemented his place in the house music scene, with a distinctive sound that oozes maturity. The Berlin-based 24-year-old has been experimenting with samples for most of his career but has recently dived head-first into live instrumentation within his productions.
After recently teaming up with Grammy-nominated jazz pianist Joel Holmes to produce New Chapter, we took the opportunity to discuss his process, favourite synths and how ping pong is helping him keep on the straight and narrow.
MusicTech: What spurred your recent move from London to Berlin?
Cody Currie: London is my hometown, but I felt like a change of pace and environment would be good for me. Berlin has quite a high quality of life, which means that I can live as an artist if I’m working hard enough on my music. Plus, there’s a growing jazz scene here and everyone is keen to collaborate. There’s so many world-class musicians here that haven’t released any material but love playing in Berlin’s jazz clubs.
I wasn’t really part of a scene in London; I didn’t really have people around me making music that was similar. My home is Leytonstone, but it’s quite far out when you think of where Rhythm Section and other similar groups are making an impact. I did work with Joe Corti, who was Fulham based, but since moving out here I’ve managed to really get into collaboration.
So how did you and Joel Holmes end up working together?
One of the guys that lives with him knew my music and messaged me on Facebook, and invited me to go over and hang in the studio. They didn’t really work with that much gear, mostly on samplers and in the box. Then I came in and bought some stuff, but we’ve been working more with live performances than samplers at the moment. Joel is like, the best pianist I’ve ever seen, though. He’s done stuff with Carl Craig and a lot of other cool people. It’s like a lesson for me every time we work together, which is great. He’s one of those guys that is a world-class musician with nothing out on record – I guess that’s where I come in.
Your music output tends to be quite frequent as well.
Well, I’ve not released an EP on my own this year, but I’ve been working on a lot of remixes, I enjoy that quite a lot. If someone gives me a melody or an idea I can work with it pretty easily. They might tell me they’d like a club banger, or something more harmony based and it’s fun for me to work on. But I’ve got an album coming out on Razor-N-Tape, and the EP with Joel, New Chapter was on Toy Tonics.
Speaking of remixes, I first heard you when you remixed Devil’s Shoestring by MF DOOM. Did hip hop have an effect on your productions?
Yeah, I got really into sampling a few years ago, and dived into MF DOOM and Dilla and all those kind of guys. I loved the jazzy-ness of the beats, but after a while I kind of wanted to play the tracks myself. Instead of just sampling I thought to myself “wait, I can learn the chords to this and rework it in my own tracks”. Before that I was making Joy Orbison, Burial inspired music, sort of future garage.
Are you using hardware samplers?
Yeah, I have two MPC 1000s here, which are great to layer up drum sounds. It gives a bit of character, although I’ve been using Waves Kramer Tape plug-in for warm tones, which is nice too. I’ve actually just started using Ableton Live to get ideas down. I’ve been using Logic for a while so it’s easy for me to mix in there, but Ableton is completely different, it has a more songwriting approach. It almost feels like you’re jamming with your own band.
I’ll usually create a loop, maybe 16 bars or so of interesting material and then move it over to Logic to arrange it. I feel like I can get a better mix out of it there, the tools are more familiar to me.
Sounds of the 70s
One of my favourite tunes of yours is Oderberger, it’s got a lot of detail and interesting microsampling. It also sounds like a combination of your sampling and live performance approaches.
Exactly. I usually sample a jazzy chord, or guitar lick I like and put that into a loop, and start playing my own chords around that. For me the sample becomes a motif, rather than using the loop as the basis for the whole song. But I’m really attracted to the sounds of the 70s, it sounds warm and organic and I try to incorporate that into my own productions. As I don’t have the mics and the recording gear that they had back then, sampling feels like a nice way to bring that feeling and texture into my work.
What have you learned whilst incorporating live instruments alongside programmed music?
Working with real instruments and audio has helped my musicianship a lot, I’d recommend it to anyone. You can’t physically go in and edit the MIDI notes, because there aren’t any, so it forces you to get better at playing. If you can’t get the notes right, you have to go back and play the section again. It took some time at first, but my music felt a lot more solid because I’m not playing chords and editing them after. I had to think about the chord progressions and work them out, making sure they’re perfect in their place in the track. I played guitar when I was younger and did a little bit of singing and piano, but it’s really the last couple of years when I’ve been improving.
Are you also lending your own voice to the music, too?
Yeah, I always try to sing little bits in. I’m not really sure why. I guess, although I’m coming away from sampling, I wanted the sound of a 70s vocalist, so I sing my own section in and mix it to sound like it’s from that era. It’s a bit of my own character on the record. I also like keeping a Tascam in the room and record background noises whilst I’m chilling with friends or family. That sounds almost creepy, but they are usually aware I’m recording! It just brings more of that character and personality to the music. When friends listen to my music they recognise their voice and it makes the music much more personal.
What about synths? Do you have any bits of gear driving your sound right now?
I’ve got the Nord Electro 4D, which is really great. I’ve been using it for Rhodes and organic sounds, like strings and grand piano, it’s just got such a rich character. I’ve been looking for the perfect Rhodes emulation but as far as I can tell the Nord sounds the best, it sits so perfectly in the mix that you don’t need to add anything to it. I’ve also been using the Prophet Rev 4 – it’s great for leads, pads and weird noises. I haven’t spent too much time actually synthesising on it, but its presets are amazing and I’ve found it similar to the Nord – it has so much character and sits nicely in the mix.
Also I’ve got the MicroKORG for vocoder and lead sounds. It can sound a bit cheesy, but I picked it up for like £150 so it’s not bad. I’ve been using the Behringer Model D for bass sounds and some leads too, you have to tune it yourself but it’s an affordable option for Minimoog tones. The TAL Juno 106 is the only plug-in I have that’s based on analogue synths, and that doesn’t cost a lot either. Oh, except Phoscyon for acid basslines. We’ve actually been using a 70s Fender Precision bass which is really nice, though.
The perfect army
What’s your dream piece of gear?
It’s hard to narrow down to just one. For me, it would have to be a combination of the Rhodes MK1 Stage, Roland Juno 60 and a Minimoog. That is the perfect warm, 70s sounding army! If I was forced to pick just one at the moment, I’d go for the Juno 60.
Are you planning to take your tracks into a live setting?
Yeah, Joel and I have a live set coming up in November at a Toy Tonics party. We’re still figuring it all out, we will work with Ableton, although I haven’t used it for that long. As he can perform live so well I’m hoping it won’t be too much of a problem! We are also performing at Ableton’s Loop event in April. Live sets are where I want to be, the next progression is starting a band, getting a real bassist and real drums.
Do you have any production techniques you find yourself going back to every time?
For stereo imaging I always use the sample delay in Logic. It splits the signal by a millisecond to the left and right of the speaker, making the audio really wide, similar to chorus. I use it all the time on my Rhodes. I actually use the TAL Chorus plug-in on my bass, it has a really nice warpy sound to it.
I layer everything too, I always end up with over 100 tracks with a huge number of layers. All the intricacies seem to make the track – and even though I’m not so good at playing instruments, I can arrange elements together to create complexity.
Drums are a big part of my music, too. I’ll have five claps or so, but one clap will be panned left on the second beat, then on the third or fourth beat there will be a clap from a different drum break, and I might throw a chorus on that or something, just to keep it all interesting. It’s humanisation – even though it’s electronic music, you can create elements that make it sound live. The kick can be slightly off, the snare can be slightly off, or maybe there is a little fill in there somewhere. It’s what a lot of my favourite artists are doing, especially the Detroit guys.
Also, a tip that has stuck with me was from my teacher: always mix at a low volume and keep an ear out for anything that punches through the mix too much.
Ping pong therapy
How do you keep yourself happy and healthy whilst in the studio?
I think that’s actually why I make music so much, it keeps my brain occupied. Some people think it’s quite obsessive but if I’m not making music my brain says, “why aren’t you making music?”, it stops me overthinking things. I’ve also been playing a lot of ping pong at the moment.
What have you got planned for the future?
I’m finishing off the album at the moment, it’s taken about nine months but I’m not rushing it. I want to make sure that it’s compiled of all the favourite tracks I’ve made, I want to make sure the musicianship is good and that every bar in every track carries value. I don’t want it to be just the tracks I would make for an EP, these are more thought out. It’s about 90% done, there will be a couple of singles and it’s going to be on Razor-N-Tape, which is a really cool label and this will be the first album they’ve put out. Also, Joel Holmes and I have another EP coming out on Toy Tonics again, as a follow up to our previous EP.
I’ve had lots of collaborations this year which has been quite refreshing, and I want that to carry on. In Berlin, everyone that I’m around is always popping into the studio, which we’ve aptly called the Jazz Dungeon. It’s got quite a communal vibe, people can come by and if they want to pick up something and play they can do that anytime.
Lastly, I’m going to be doing some mixing and producing for people, so anyone who is interested can catch me at Codycurriework@gmail.com