The Process: REPLETE on writing and producing electronic music.

Replete album cover art.

Last summer we mastered music by Peter Lawlor who goes by the artist name REPLETE. Although I’m probably predisposed to liking a good clap groove—who doesn’t, right?—as I worked through the mastering sessions I could tell the songs had something more than your average, standard-issue house. I couldn’t quite pin it down but it was probably because of this extra unknown quantity that I enjoyed working on the tracks.

Peter informed me that the songs weren’t signed for release, which surprised me. Although I had full confidence in the music I also know that shopping your demo around to labels can be very tough and competitive. So I wished him the best of luck and told him to stay in touch. A few months down the line I got an email from Peter saying the tracks had been picked up by Champion Sound Recordings. Good to hear some labels do have their ears open!

So now the EP entitled ‘Hold Me’ is out. A lot’s happened in the world of REPLETE. He’s appeared on RTE radio, BBC Radio 1, iD online magazine, countless blogs and played support to Daniel Avery. I figured it as good a time as any to catch up with Peter and talk about his music and how he creates it. Stream the EP and read on.

So Peter. How did you make the jump from listening to producing music?

I had been making music with other people for years. Playing in different bands, playing different types of music. I played in hardcore punk bands, instrumental bands and electro pop bands. It wasn’t until I started listening to electronic music pretty regularly that I got interested in the production side of things. Hearing James Blake’s first few releases really got me interested as it was all very new to me. His ‘Sparing the Horses’, ‘CMYK’ and ‘Klavierwerke’ EPs really blew me away when I first came across them as they didn’t sound like anything else I was listening to. I think I liked the idea of being able to do everything myself. That’s probably the main thing that attracted me to producing.

That’s interesting. I simultaneously can and can’t hear an early James Blake influence in your music. He definitely did bring a new approach with those EPs. They’re only a few years old though. Did you have some production skills from your live band days or did you go from scratch to release ready in that short time?

I pretty much had zero production skills from my live band days. We never recorded any of our music as a band. Each band had a main guy that was writing the tunes and the rest of us would just flesh out those tunes for live use. But music production was a completely new thing when I started recording my own music.

Production can be quite overwhelming when starting out. Opening a program like Logic or Ableton Live for the first time can be quite a daunting thing. Do you have any tips for anyone who wants to get into producing their own music?

The main tip I would have is to just pick a program that works for you. Even if it’s just an aesthetic thing from the start. If you like the look of Ableton as opposed to Logic give it a go and tip away for a bit every day. Ableton is very user friendly as it has a little box down in the corner that explains what everything does. I started out using Cubase and went onto Ableton and I haven’t really used anything else since, as I just want to know Ableton inside and out.

Tell us more about your studio setup. What kind of equipment do you have?

It’s a basic enough setup at the minute. I have a pair of KRK monitors, Akai MPD 32, Novation Launchpad and a Microkorg XL synth. I also have a Macbook Pro running Ableton Live 9 as well as an Edirol FA-66 interface. A lot of my productions are done ‘in the box’ as they say. I like to find a lot of different samples and customize them through editing in Ableton. I’ve been using the Simpler device a lot lately for making basslines. I’m investing in more hardware in the next month though. I’m looking to get the Dave Smith Mopho x4 polyphonic synth and the new Roland Aira TR-8. So it should be interesting to see how they affect both my workflow and sound.

Do you find that the programs/gear you use influence your decisions as you’re making tracks? Positively/negatively/bit of both?

I do have goto soft synths that I tend to use a lot. I probably rely on them a bit too much, so hopefully the hardware additions will give more variety to my sound. At the same time, limiting yourself can give interesting results. Overall I think the programs/gear can have equally positive and negative influences on the music.

You mentioned the Roland Aira TR-8...

...I must have been living under a rock, but I’m just seeing this now. It looks amazing. Long overdue really. Maybe Roland thought that people would eventually stop using 808 and 909 drum sounds. 30+ years later soundsystems keep getting better and so do those drum sounds! What are you looking forward to most about having the Aira and the Mopho?

I like the idea of not constantly looking at the computer screen and just having more tactile interaction with instruments. As I come from playing instruments it will be nice to have literally a more hands on approach. I think it might improve my workflow both time wise and quality wise. I like that I can just jam out a beat in a few minutes and then further edit that through hands on tuning etc. All of my drums so far have been programmed in a very ‘hip hop’ way. I would just take hits, edit them and line them up on the grid. So this will hopefully give the music a bit more groove.

Are there any disadvantages you foresee in incorporating the new gear?

I’m not sure. It could make me a bit more self indulgent in that I could just jam out tracks. Maybe the tracks could become more loop based or something. Which could be bad, or good. Should be interesting. I think the incorporation of the new gear will be quite positive though. I’ll try and edit myself if I go off on hour long jams.

I suppose if the long jams can become tracks then the means are justified in the end. Okay, so. The ‘Hold Me’ EP. How quickly did you write and record it?

Well it was kind of disjointed. The last 2 tracks were recorded before the summer and the first two at the tail end of the summer. I probably spent a similar amount of time on each track before they were the finished products. I had about 15 tracks recorded between March and November 2013, and whittled it down to the 4 best.

So there are 11 finished tracks we haven’t heard? Do you have release plans for them or have you moved on to new tracks?

Im pretty much done with those tracks. Maybe one or two might come out, as they’re more noisy techno tracks that just didn’t suit the release. But, I’m on to new tunes for the more house orientated stuff so everything else is in the bin from those sessions and won’t be coming out.

It’s probably good to be a strong editor of your own work. The quality level stays high that way. Have you considered running a side project/alter-ego for the more noisy techno stuff?

I have thought of it and it does seem to be the done thing within electronic music. It’s just at the moment I’ve put so much work into the whole REPLETE thing up until now and its still my main focus. If I was to start an alter-ego it would have to become my main focus in a way as if I’m doing something I want to do it right. Maybe in the future.

What’s your usual process in turning an idea/inspiration into a finished track?

It changes from time to time. It depends on what type of track I’m looking to make. A lot of the time I’ll just sit down and play a chord progression to get things started. And then build everything on top of that. Other times I layer different sounds and samples on top of each other and edit them until they sound like they’re starting to get close to sounding good together. I try to just throw as much ideas down at the start and then edit the track for maybe a week or two. I like to give tracks a while before I say they’re finished. I leave them around for maybe a month, then I go back and see what still sounds good and start the arrangement and mixing process.

It’s wise that you have the discipline to leave the tracks sit for a bit and come back to them with fresh ears. Do you find it quite obvious then what to change and what to keep?

Yes. I just tend to see things a lot clearer after I leave the tracks. Your focus is renewed once you leave the track and things tend to stand out that otherwise would not have.

Do you then have a definitive and separated ‘mixing session’ or are you more of a ‘mix-as-you-write’ type, keeping things sounding roughly finished mix-wise from the start?

I mix a tiny bit as I go on but I try to have a set session before I send the track off for mastering. It’s a little bit like leaving the track for awhile before going back to it for adding or taking away content. Once the content and arrangement is decided on I might leave it for a week and go back to mix it.

Now that you mention it. There’s been very little back and forth of different versions when I’ve mastered your songs. You’ve never asked if you could make any last minute changes, tweak a kick drum or move the arrangement etc. It’s good that you let a song grow in stages: idea, jamming, wait... arrange the song structure, wait... then finally mix and finish. So, on average, how long would that whole period take?

I would say from initial idea to mixdown I try to give every tune I make between a month and a half to two months. Sometimes it works out a lot quicker. Like the last two tunes that I put together, which are up as bonus tracks for the EP, ‘Frequency Palenque’ and ‘Green Fields’, probably took a combined period of about a week. And ‘Frequency Palenque’ has probably received the best reaction of any of my tracks and it took the least amount of time. It’s a strange one as usually I would find that the longer I leave the track the better it will be in the end.

And roughly how many songs do you have on the go at any one time?

I’m always looking to have a constant turnover of tunes. Like when my 1st EP was released last year I had two tunes from this EP done already. Usually I would try to have maybe 3 or 4 tunes on the go and then just see what sticks and grabs my attention. I’m not very precious over my tunes if I have one tune 80% finished and I don’t feel like going back to it I won’t force myself to, as it’s obviously not that great a tune if I have to force myself to finish it. Sometimes you just have to get stuff out of your system and making a tune serves no other purpose than facilitating you to move on to the next tune that will actually see the light of day.

Have you gotten to play the EP material out much live?

Since they have been around for a while I’ve pretty much played the entire EP out live. Mostly at festivals during last summer and then a few odd gigs around Ireland the past few months. I played with Daniel Avery last month and threw in a few of them and they went down really well. I’m not too sure how I feel about doing ‘live’ sets of my music. I prefer doing DJ sets and maybe throwing in a track or two of my own.

Do you use your DJ sets to road test new ideas/tracks? See how the crowd reacts etc.? Or do you just play finished tracks?

Usually I just play finished tracks but every now and then I would throw in a tune I’m particularly curious about to see how it sounds on a system. It depends on the gig really. If I’m playing at peak time and everyone is going nuts I’m definitely less likely to throw in a new one of my own tracks.

Are you booked for any shows coming up that you’re looking forward to?

It’s looking like I’ll be playing a few festivals over the summer, so that will be great. I’m also playing in the Triskel building in Cork for ‘Record Store Day’ in April. It’s one of my favourite places in Ireland as it’s home to Plugd Records!

You can catch REPLETE playing on:
19th April @ Record Store Day, The Triskel

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