Music is all about shade and contrast, about bringing together different elements.
Perhaps that's what makes Machinedrum and Rosie Lowe such a potent partnership.
Matching a future-minded producer with a future-minded alt-pop act, the two have combined on numerous tracks, expanding the possibilities inherent in both artists' work.
Machinedrum's new single 'What Is This' is out now on Ninja Tune, and it features a lush, soulful vocal from Rosie Lowe.
Clash got the pair chatting...
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Travis: Hey Rosie! It’s been over two years since we first met in London. What do you remember about that day?
Rosie: Can’t believe that was over two years ago… time flies. I remember it well; we met in Mute Records studio, we drank some coffee, we chatted music and we started playing on some synths and the music started coming quickly. I remember feeling that great feeling when collaboration feels good and easy and unforced…
Travis: Yeah we didn’t have any issues getting in a vibe at all. I remember really liking the fact that you were so open, you even let me help out with lyrics and top line melody which I love to do but don’t often get the chance.
Rosie: Yeah it’s funny how role’s are sometimes so clearly defined in a studio setting in terms of a producer doing production/singer doing lyrics and melodies and that can work great but I’m always wanting to collaborate on both production and lyrics/melody wherever possible as it changes the approach and opens up the music. The studio is our sandpit!
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I remember really liking the fact that you were so open...
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What do you remember about how our song ‘What Is This’ came about?
Travis: So from what I remember, before we even played a note or started writing anything, we were chatting for a while and getting to know each other. We were getting on a friend level before diving in on writing something together. We had a very easy time talking to each other, it wasn’t awkward. To me, it felt like we had already known each other before meeting that day. I think that is what lead to us working together so well.
When we started writing the track it was like we had just continued our conversation but in song form. I think we would even take micro-breaks from working on it to start gabbing about this or that, or laugh about something. It was fun.
Rosie: Yeah totally… always how the best songs come around. Hanging out and getting to know each other is more important than anything.
It’s funny because I had been in a session with Jamie Lidell a few months earlier and he kept on saying how well he thought we would get on and that he thought we’d make some musical magic together and then Dean from Ninja texted me asking me if he could link us up whilst you were in town… at that point I knew it was gonna be cool because it came through great people with great taste.
Travis: Yeah that’s right! Jamie is the best, it meant a lot to me that he and Dean were giving me such high praise to you. So the original version of 'What Is This' ended up being a slow jam in a unconventional three bar type of pattern. It was so different from the current version! I think it was a rainy day which may have influenced our mood.
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Travis: Do you remember if we wrote the verse or the hook first? What were you thinking when you first started writing the lyrics?
Rosie: I remember having a pad of paper and noting stuff down as we were talking about unrequited love and jealous relationships and how love can be an addiction so the idea definitely came from that conversation but we definitely started with the verse… I remember playing with computer keyboard connotations ‘I’ve done my everything to erase you, so many nights I’ve spent pressing undo, I’m thinking bout you….’ We wrote ‘What Is This’ on that first afternoon and ‘Worry Bout Us’ on the second day.
I never thought about it until now but they’re both about being in unbalanced/ jealous relationships but each song is from opposite perspectives. I don’t think we did that consciously?
Travis: Yeah I’m not sure where that came from really, I remember we were both gushing about our lovers at the time! I guess uncertainty can still come even if you feel infatuated with someone. Maybe that’s where it stemmed from. Both of our relationships seemed so solid that subconsciously we were trying to unpack that. We kinda put 'What Is This' on the back burner after we started writing 'Worry Bout Us'.
How did you react when you heard my new version of 'What Is This' when I sent it to you last year?
Rosie: I loved it! I always adored the track and hoped that one day it would see the light of day but as with a lot of music, they just sit in a folder of WAVs forever. When you sent the track through it was such a pleasant surprise - I played it out my speakers LOUD and danced around my flat with it on repeat for the next half hour. You gave the track a new lease of life, it bangs so good. The release is part of your ‘Human Energy’ campaign.
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I guess uncertainty can still come even if you feel infatuated with someone...
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Rosie: You’re such a prolific writer, how do you decide what does and doesn’t make the cut for an album/campaign? Do you play stuff out live and guage the response from your audiences or is it something you know straight away when writing a track?
Travis: Every album is different, but with ‘Human Energy’ I was trying something new. Instead of just collecting everything I had written over a long period of time and deciding what would fit on an album nicely I wanted to try a new approach. I decided to take off around three months in early 2016 to start writing a new album from scratch. I ended up making the beat for 'What Is This' during that same time period. I felt it had a perfect amount of space already carved out for vocals.
Another thing I was doing when creating ‘Human Energy’ was using unused vocals from otherwise unreleased songs I had made with vocalists. I put together a folder of all the a capellas I could find from collaborations I had done in the past. I remember having a eureka moment when I came across the original 2015 session for 'What Is This'. The vocals fit so perfectly and helped elevate the track so much! I was so nervous about sending it to you as it was a totally different vibe. I’m glad it made you dance!
We also share a mutual friend and collaborator Paul Epworth. I think he’s brilliant. How do you like working with him? Do you find it’s much different than how we work?
Rosie: Ah, Eppers! What a ledge! I love working with Paul and feel really lucky to have him involved in my album(s). We work in quite a different way to how you and I did; we don’t tend to get in a studio together and write from scratch (as of yet) but he oversees a lot of my writing in a more exec producer role; and I’m using his ears lots on my next album.
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Rosie: I love how you use your Twitter and how transparent you are with your fans. I think that’s so important. I saw your tweet last week where you were talking about people asking you to return to your ‘old sound’? Is that something you’ve come up against lots? I find it so odd how there’s this expectation for artists to stay the same yet develop… make sure that the next album is different but not too different… surely the joys of being with an artist from the beginning is to watch how they grow and change as people and musicians. Nothing is static, especially music.
Travis: I definitely have an awkward relationship with social media hahaha! I guess we all do, it's something we are all learning how to navigate. It's hard to be honest sometimes on there because of fear that I might be wrong, misguided or that people will disagree on some level with what I think. This "I wish you would make more music like x" thing always comes up. I've always been chameleon-like in my musical evolution as I get bored doing the same style of anything for too long.
Some of my favourite musicians are also like this. It ends up being a much longer and more difficult journey when you go that route, but I at least know that I will never grow tired of trying new approaches when writing music. It's really easy for people to put you in a box when they are fans of your work. It can be jarring for fans when they build up too many expectations for my music, especially if they connected with a certain phase that I was going through with music.
I can understand where they are coming from but it still annoys me when my fans don't seem to understand that how they connect with my music is very specific to them.
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It ends up being a much longer and more difficult journey when you go that route...
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Rosie: Absolutely. My favourite musicians are ever-changing, growing, challenging themselves and trying new things. That’s what it’s all about. No part of me wants my second album to sound like my first… not because I’m not deeply proud of my first because I really am, but because I’m in a completely different place in my life to where I was then and music is a reflection of where we are at.
Travis: So speaking of evolution, what's next for you? Where do you see your sound going?
Rosie: I’m currently knee deep in WAV’s from writing Album #2… For my first album I was very sure from the beginning that I needed to write most of it on my own and it ended up being a very personal, introverted, vulnerable and quite serious album with lots of sonic space, with mostly electronic production.
That’s exactly what the first album needed to be for where I was at and I wouldn’t change it for the world. For this album I’m collaborating a lot more and tracking live instruments more. I want it to sound a lot more playful and for the production to sound bigger. I’ve grown a huge amount in the past few years and I can feel my music shifting… I’m excited by that. There will always be a thread from one body of work to the next and that thread is me.
Same question back to you Trav… what’s next?!
Travis: That sounds amazing, I'm really excited and curious to hear what you've been working on! I remember writing 'Worry Bout Us' on an upright piano with you at the studio. It feels nice to strip away fancy production tricks and just have the bare bones of a song still be strong, that's when you know you're doing something right!
Right now I've got a really big project I've been working on for years that I can finally share with everyone this year! I can't give away details right now but it's really exciting and I can't wait. Other than that I'd love to write more music with you in the future. I'd love to send you some guitar work for you to write to!
Rosie: That sounds too exciting and 1000 times yes! I’d love that. Besides, we’re overdue a lot of studio sushi!
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'What Is This' is out now.