Multi-instrumentalist and composer Will ‘Quantic’ Holland stopped by The Chapel in San Francisco last week, showing off chops that made him known throughout the States, Europe, and South America. His style’s pretty accessible, considering he incorporates different genres into his work over a 9 album course starting in 2001. We spoke a while back, touching on his upbringing, the groundswell of support he’s received, and his work with a personal favorite of mine, Alice Russell. Below is a quick Q&A. – DM
**Here’s a ‘Best Of Quantic’ mix from a few years back by none other than J-Rocc of the Beat Junkies.
Talk a bit about your musical background and history a bit. What instruments do you play? What was the first instrument you picked up? Which would you say is your main one?
My Mum and Dad were into alot of music before I was born, my father played Guitar on Welsh Television regurarly in his teens and my mother played fiddle and sang, they were quite a musical couple interested in Folk music in general, Bluegrass, English Folk, Irish. By the time I was born, my father had taken up banjo and both him and my mother had a house full of instruments, dulcimers, ukeleles, a piano and various british made banjos. My sisters had a ukeleles each and I was taught to play guitar by my dad as well as reluctantly taking piano lessons with my mothers friend. It turned out I was pretty hopeless at it all and rarely enjoyed singing in the family car like my twin sisters did.
Your father was pretty influential then.
Yeah, he was a lecturer and part time computer programmer, so as the 80s progressed, our music room was gradually filled with computer equipment, first a BBC Micro and then various Archimedes machines. My father showed me how to program bits of code and eventually, once computers progressed, how to sample and record. He also bought me a cheap electric guitar once I had gotten into my Iron Maiden ‘Powerslave’ period and out the other side into Nirvana. At 16 my mother leant me money to buy a simpe yamaha sampler and that got me interested in looping, especially using the onboard mic to loop up piano chords and use instruments from the house. Around that time I had inherited a Uher portable reel to reel tape recorder from an uncle on my mothers side who had a sound recording business and I had an uncle on my fathers side who was a DJ and record producer. I remember him bringing us a 45 to house, one each for me and my sisters, he was into managing pop groups and seemed a world away from my household’s folky outlook. But gradually the idea of producing records and stylizing sound in a recorded fashion dawned on me.
Which albums have most profoundly affected you?
There are a few landmark records for me, when I first heard Sly Stone’s ‘If You Want Me to Stay’ that blew me away, so did Carla Bley’s ‘Escalater Over the Hill’. I also remember loving Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath at a young age, their Drums and Guitars seemed so powerful and expressive. As I got further into music and it became more accessible with the internet, I discovered more by Moondog, Richie Ray, Fela Kuti, Arthur Verocai. More recently, hearing ‘Krishnanda’ by Pedro Santos from Brasil changed my ears forever. From getting into 45s at a young age, I had the luck of coming across some really good Northern Soul and Jazz. I managed to pick records cheap like Pearly Queen’s ‘Quit Jivin’ and Russell Gorden’s ‘Double Booty Bump’ and started playing at house partys with my friend Russ Porter. I was lucky, because the Midlands and Northern England has a strong appreciation of American Black Soul, Ballads and Dance music. I was growing up in a period where I could find Chicago and Miami 45s in my local store for cheap but also there was good Dum and Bass being produced, great and exciting UK urban music being made, it was a good time. The Midlands is not the most picturesque of places, but it had alot of Soul.
When you write a composition, do you purposely try to incorporate different stylistic elements or does it occur naturally as it’s being written?
Its something that comes out. As a musician, you enjoy learning different songs and styles, so once you play them for a bit, they just become another string to your bow. From a producer pespective, I think its about avoiding a record that is non-monosyllabic. You want to make something three dimensional and away from a 2d approach. I think alot of my early records, especially the sample based ones were quite like this, partly due to the technique of looping, its a collage like approach. I try to approach recording live music with a collage approach too, but often it requires alot of editing and arranging at the mix stage. In some ways, working with computers has made us lazy and I feel a great appreciation for the productions of yester year, where only 8 or 16 tracks were possible. I’ve started to work alot more on tape again, to try and frame the workflow and restrict me somewhat, sometimes digital can seem so infinite, but you rarely need all of that creative space.
The bulk of the album with Alive Russell was recorded in Cali, Brazil. How was having Alice there?
It was very positive and a pleasure to have her visit me. I had developed a sound with the Combo Barbaro, a studio band I’d put together since moving there, based around Alfredito Linares on Piano and Freddy Colorado on Congas. The two had been playing togther for a while and Alfreo, long in the tooth by this time was a great help in introducing me to knew musicians and suggesting me brass players. In having Alice in Cali, I was able to concentrate more on the rhythm section, I’d started working with Timbalero Wilson Viveros, so it was a natural choice to invite him along on drums and also Larry Joseph who I’d seen play in various Jazz Trios around Cali. Its important to note that Cali has a particlular old guard of musicians who experienced the salsa boom of the 70s and 80s, danced the boogaloo when Richi Ray came to Cali with Bobby Cruz, played with Fruko y sus Tesos and in Wilson’s case, spent quite a long time on Colombian Television as part of Jimmy Salcedo’s ‘Rechochan Boys’. What makes this people crucial to a recording like this is their experience in playing not only Salsa, but Jazz, Soul and Rock too.
I’d worked with Alice alot and we’d spent many years touring with the Quantic Soul Orchestra and in a DJ / Vocal format when I lived in Brighton. She was relentlessy talented and devoted to furthering her style, shes one of the most passionate and driven singers I know. So when the idea of her visiting came up, we both made sure to make enough time for it, as the little bits of time we’d previously devoted to making music had been very fruitful. In Cali, we wrote songs together, Alice came with Ideas and I had prepared various guitar and rhythm parts. Each day of the recording, Alice was present and we’d arrange the song with the band, going over and over it until we got a take we liked.
What are some of your favorite record labels that have bled into your own music?
I love the Corona label out of California, such a sound, incredibly recorded, so clear and dynamic. I’m a big fan of the Chess Studios, again a very unique approach and trademark reverb on their drums. In Latin America, Fuentes would be an obvious choice in Colombia as well as what Curro Fuentes was doing with Philips Colombia at the time. Then there’s Jamaica, and no one can compete with what Studio One was getting! I also really love all the stuff on
When was the first time you heard Alice Russell? What about her struck you?
I first heard alice through label Tru Thoughts, they put me in touch with her via telephone at first. I was living with my mother in Worcestershire and started sending her track ideas by post. What first struck me about Alice was her versatility and range, she was never and has never fussed about the key of a song, she is truly incredible in that way. I think the first song we worked on was ‘Sweet Calling’ for the Apricot Morning album.
Touch on the other musicians you’re involved with and how they’ve added to your work.
The main protaginist on the record are Alfredito Linares, Michael Simmonds and Freddy Colorado. Alfredito is a tireless heavyweight at the keyboard, he really has a very unique ‘Tumbao’ and continues to be extremely progressive and experimental. Mike Simmonds was our Violinist on the record and extremely talented at mult-layering Violin and Viola, making it seem like an entire string section playing at the moment. Freddy has been my go to Percussionist for the last 5 years, he is as solid as a rock and we travelled for several years now performing and furthering the sound together.
What songs on the collar with Alice are you most proud of?
I’m probably most content with ‘Look Around the Corner’ and ‘Similau’.
What’s the songwriting process like between you and Alice?
Its a fun process, alice has a very big imagination, sometimes too big! And trying to animate all the ideas we put together is often a challenge. Alice is a great Cello player too and knows her melody and harmony, shes a lot of fun to work with!