James Hinton is The Range – Brooklyn based producer making waves with his pairing of heartfelt and lush instrumentals alongside vocal samples uncovered from the depths of Youtube. After the release of his debut album, Nonfiction, in October of 2013, the now 27-year-old was signed to Domino Records, where he’s been able to thrive and kick into the next level of his musical career. With particular emphasis on the stories of those he’s sampled from the depths of the internet, Hinton’s second record, Potential, is his exploration of these people, and a documentation of the last generation not to be born with access to the Internet. Moving across a variety of genres, tempos and emotions, Potential is, without a doubt, the record that will see Hinton become a household name among music lovers. On the eve of Potential’s release, we got the chance to sit down with the man behind The Range, and talk his creative process, the people who feature so heavily on his record, and working on a big name label.
James dude, how’s it going?
Jack, what’s up man, how are you doing?
I’m very well, what’re you doing today?
Me and my friends are headed to a show, it’s exciting times. The album comes out tomorrow it’s gonna be great.
Let’s get stuck right in, why the name Potential?
I think with Potential, I was trying to sort of like get at this idea, a bit of a duality. Obviously most people when they think about Youtube people, they’re basically trying to talk about this idea, of like, the Justin Bieber narrative basically where if you put yourself on Youtube, you’re attempting to be famous essentially. I was trying to inspect that with the name Potential basically. As well as I come from a Physics background so the idea of potential energy and that kind of thing has always been important. So I was trying to kind of insert both myself as well as that kind of narrative into the same title – so hopefully that comes across somewhat.
It definitely does – and what are you hoping your audience feels when they listen to your record?
I’m hoping that it does two things. I’d like it to be some sort of a theoretical statement about, as I was saying before, the idea of Youtube and the way people interact with that. I’m trying to kind of validate this idea that you don’t have to really be attempting to be famous but just to put yourself out there. Of course I also hope that it succeeds musically, where people sort of come to it from a place where they’re enjoying what I’ve done with the vocals, if that makes any sense? Because I think it’s a whole different kind of thing if people are to accept it musically.
You can take this either into a set of headphones or onto a dance floor, how do you expect your audiences to react to it when you play it live?
It was an open question before I had the chance to play some shows, but now I expect it to go just as well as I would for someone listening to it. It’s club friendly in a lot of ways. I don’t think I quite saw it that way at first, because I made it just by myself with my headphones, and I spent so much time in that time in that context, that I didn’t know what to expect. But I think songs like Florida and Five Four go really, really well, and I think the energy level is such that I now am happy to present it in the club, and then I hope that that rubs off on a lot of the other songs. Like Regular has some moments, you know when the bass drops that there’s something big there that I aim for each night. Sometimes it’s much more of a meditative thing, which is fine, it’s totally fine, but sometimes it does actually hit and it’s tactful, and I shoot for that every night. Same with a song like Retune or So, I don’t think there’s any songs which are necessarily album tracks, but they’re not up to radio ready songs, and so it’s an interesting thing. But I have just as much expectation of the club as I do with headphones, it’s important that they work together simultaneously.
You’ve said before that this is “a record of the last generation remembering going online for the first time” – how did you come to the decision that that’s what you wanted the album to be?
Well I think obviously I definitely would consider myself ‘of the age’ that is definitely part of the experience. I do distinctly remember it but I know that there are kids that I know that I play shows with and they’ve had the internet since they were born essentially. I think that the idea behind this was to showcase that and maybe put a stamp on that in time. I think that by going on Youtube like I also distinctly remember the time when Youtube was started and the first time that I went onto it essentially, and that that was sort of an interesting way to approach the record given that it is an internet record right? It’s like, now we all accept the internet as this like thing that just exists, but I think that there’s a set of people and a binary that people will not necessarily remember that this didn’t used to be the case, and I’m trying to make sure that people understand that as a fact with this record.
When did you first realise that you wanted to use other people’s voices on your work?
I think coming off of Nonfiction, I definitely have made records in the past where, as have many people where Youtube is now their sample library. Instead of going to the record shop they’ll go to Youtube, and I definitely used it in that capacity very straightforwardly. But with Nonfiction, there are songs like Jamie and Metal Swing that are kind of dealing with individuals for vocals that I don’t think I had kind of put two and two together – and then coming off and touring that as much as I did I just became really curious about that story. Like “who were these people that I was finding online?” It was becoming very clear to me that I wanted to inspect “how is this different from normal crate digging culture?” I think that it was an interesting point when it clicked in my head that that was what I wanted to talk about with this album.
Some of videos you’ve sampled have got a crazy small amount of views, what was your process of finding stuff you wanted to use?
Haha, it was definitely interesting. I think I did the math on it and it was over probably 200 hours of just watching them – of course I have a set of search terms that are secret that I use to help generate it. Then of course I do a bit of filtering – like I didn’t want anything that was HD quality, as much as possible I wanted things that were like native 240p resolution and nothing above, but that said there’s still a lot of images you just kind of have to sift through. Of course I was starting at page 10, page 15, and then anything that was over something like 3000 or 4000 or 5000 views I just wouldn’t really look at, but there’s still a lot. I mean there’s a huge amount of stuff uploaded to Youtube all the time so there’s a lot of going through and finding it.
I can imagine. You move through a number of different genres on this record, from dancehall to grime with a bit of footwork thrown in for good measure. What was the process of pairing these samples with your own production? Did you start with a sample and then add to it or vice versa?
That’s a good question – I think some songs like 1804 as the dancehall example was an interesting one where I definitely found that Youtube video beforehand, and then that kind of influenced the song. But then there’s other songs where I think, Regular being a great example, that was straight up and down a grime vocal sample but I think I’m trying to contextualise it in a different way. Where by putting it at a much lower BPM and having a lot more sparse production around it, I’m trying to cue people’s brains with it being a grime sample, but obviously not making a grime track out of it. And Five Four I think was a similar thing where it’s at a much higher tempo and uses pianos and stuff but it’s definitely a grime vocal. So I think it’s a bit of both. Around half the tunes for the record were started with me finding the Youtubes first, and then the other half were me having the instrumental and then finding the Youtube to pair. But a lot of it was genre related. Both trying and trying to confirm the genre that the original Youtube was in, but also sometimes trying to remove a lot of instrumental parts of the genre but keep the vocal part of it if that makes any sense.
You’ve said that Youtube allowed you access to “all these collaborators in cities [you] had never even visited”, what’s it been like meeting and working closely with all the people you’ve sampled?
It’s been pretty amazing, I think I contacted [them] pretty long into the process, like I had all the songs done, or close to done, about as close as I could’ve hoped before I contacted them. I think I probably watched or at least listened to their voices hundreds of times while I was making the songs, and so you kind of get the sense that you know who these people are, but then it’s interesting to meet them and they’re just as amazing, if not more amazing than I thought they were. Along the way I’ve met through the documentary Damian who’s on 1804 who is from Jamaica, and he’s this incredible bastion of trying despite all odds to do music. I mean he’s a correctional officer and somehow still has a really positive view on life and is excited about music and has been really excited about this whole process. It’s been pretty amazing. I have to admit I’m a little awestruck when I finally meet these people. I’m a fan of their work, and I think they’re incredible musicians, and the fact that they’re excited about the project and interested to boot is amazing.
How do you think your use of all these people’s voices on the album will affect their lives and their careers as musicians?
Well I’m hoping positively. I mean there are certainly people as I said before, [like] Damian who’s on Five Four – they want to do music, and I hope that this can be a platform and a positive thing. But I also think that there are people on the record, there’s a woman named Jordan who’s on Falling Out Of Phase, and I don’t think she really wants to do music anymore. I think that’s just as valid of a decision, and I hope that that can maybe be like a coffee table conversation, or if she ever does want to take up music again, that this can be affirming for her that this has happened. I think that’s an interesting part. As I said before, not everyone does want to do music full time, a lot of people have other interests and they just happen to be really sick musicians on the side. I’m hopeful that it can be a positive affect for them all around – both for people that want to do music and for people that want to go on with their lives but still have Youtube as a part of their lives.
Would you think sampling something from the depths of Soundcloud to be different to sampling from Youtube? Why?
Well I think the fundamental difference is that you see someone’s face. You’re instantaneously aware that it’s a person. You know Soundcloud is much further left than a proper record where you know, probably something like a hundred people have heard or seen it and everyone is okay with the idea of it going on a piece of vinyl, or digitally online under a name. Soundcloud is a little bit more impersonal where it could be a band, or it could be just a single person, but I think Youtube- the fact of the matter, is you know everything about what went into making that video. You know that it was a single person, sitting in a room, whether they’re young or old, they’re very vulnerable. I think it forces you to reconcile with that in a big way, versus something like Soundcloud. I think also culturally Soundcloud is much more open to collaboration and that was in the spirit, whereas Youtube has always been a place where you can self-publish, and no one is expected to do anything with that, so I think that’s the main difference to my ear.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Potential will bring a lot of attention from big name artists. Do you think you’ll ever sacrifice using unknown samples for big name features?
I think about it a lot. I love pop music. I think it’s an incredible artform when done well, but I also can’t help but feel that there’s something deeper for me to dig into with Youtube. So for now, don’t quote me in a year if I change my mind, but for now I’m enamoured with this idea of there being so much interesting, unique work going on on Youtube that it’s difficult to access in the studio. Even if I were to find people that are up and coming and bring them into the studio, I’m convinced that the act of putting it onto Youtube is a whole different thing. So because of that, for now I think I’m going to stick with it. I’m just excited about the possibilities. This record has totally opened my eyes to what can happen.
Since you released Nonfiction a little over two years ago you’ve signed to Domino – how has signing to a major label affected the production of your music?
I think probably in a lot of ways you wouldn’t suspect it’s a lot more pre-meditated. Nonfiction, I made just for myself, and for the Donky Pitch guys to listen to – we had no aspirations that it would be heard from a wider audience at all. Whereas with something like Domino, from day one you’re conscious that it’s going to be reaching many, many more people in a much wider range of contexts. So I think that can’t help but enter its way into the writing process. Also in a really positive way I love the idea that because it’s a democratic process with making the record with Youtube, that it’ll be a democratic listening process as well. I like the idea that there are no pretences and that anyone should be able to come to the record from any place in their lives. But also making the documentary, and being able to set enough time aside for myself to mix the record in the way that I wanted to and not feel any time pressure, that was a really positive side effect of Domino’s support and interest. I think it’s much better for it. I just recently for the first time showed the documentary that’s associated with the record first and then played a show right after, and that totally changes the whole context of the show. It’s really exciting. I think people understood where I was coming from a lot more with the music and without Domino it never would’ve happened at all. It’s very cool.
When did you realise that the documentary was something that you wanted to do?
I think relatively early on it was just a question of, as we were talking about before, just how best to go about approaching it with people. Probably somewhere in the fall of 2014, it was starting to become a thing that I was interested in because as I said, I was curious about these people and I just wanted to make sure that they were okay with being on a record first and then seeing if they’d be up for the documentary. So I think they started filming in August/September 2015, so it’s quite a bit of time thinking about it before we went for it.
Just going back to Domino quickly, have you learned any lessons from Dominos huge roster of artists that you’ve taken into your own work?
I think certainly Dev Hynes, I’m a big fan of his work and to see how he carries himself, in a way that is just regardless of anything. I think that confidence is something that’s inspiring. It’s so important to be conscious of the fact that you’re the only person that at the end of the day is going to stand up for your own work, and I think he does a great job of, if the work is not good, he needs to keep at it until it is good. That’s something that’s really impressive to me. There’s something that comes when you’ve been at it for as long as he has. Of course I’m sure that Arctic Monkeys have the same, I just haven’t had the chance to meet them, as well as Franz Ferdinand and all those guys. Just having been in the artist game for so long, I think that they come through with an interesting perspective that’s new to me but I’m appreciating.
Now that the album is almost out, what’s next for you?
Oh, I never stop writing. I think it’ll be important to keep my head to the ground and keep thinking. I think I might be onto something with the idea, as we were talking about before, of there’s just so much work on Youtube. What’s the next theoretical dent to this thing? I mean it took me a long time to come to that with Potential, and I’m conscious that it’s probably going to take just as much time to find the next turn of the screw, so I’m just excited to keep writing and keep thinking about this process. I think there’s something out there, there’s something interesting, it’ll just take a while to figure out what the next bit is.
We can’t wait to see what’s next dude – thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me.
No man I appreciate it so much, thanks so much and talk soon!