By Chris Moss (12 Bit Soul): www.12bitsoul.com
Kingsway Music Library has a long track record of providing some of the best sonic material in the sound design game. As its conceptualizer and founder, Frank Dukes has partnered with other like-minded producers and creators, carving out a niche for artists to create more colorful palettes based on Kingsway sound designing and musicianship. They remain forward thinking with a firm foundation in classic gear and analog sensibilities.
This latest release (Kingsway Collaborations – David Bendeth ft. CVRE & Brandon Leger) and pairing with producer and musician, David Bendeth, is a further continuation of their ethos. David cut his teeth as a Rock producer, musician, and songwriter in the 80s and 90s (the credits are lengthy), but his musicality is deeply rooted in Jazz and Soul music, respectively. This project is much more than 17 well-crafted tracks, it’s about the connection of recording music together and reimagining the possibilities of those recordings. Age and era are of little consequence when a shared bond is formed through that of similar interests and geography. For those out there who feel they’re from a bygone time and unable to adapt to a new era of computer-based production, David obliterates the image of a music industry curmudgeon unwilling to change and adapt, but willing to learn new techniques while simultaneously imparting his wisdom as well. This release with Kingsway and David illustrates that there’s both beauty and an abundance of creative output to be gleaned from simply picking up instruments and playing…together.
In this interview, I had the chance to sit down with Chris and Brandon from Kingsway to share their insight into working with David and this release’s special place in the Kingsway Music Library. David Bendeth provides plenty of insight and bring his years of experience to the table. Kingsway Collaborations deliver per usual, making this special in that a sound design team and a seasoned industry titan collaborated on an entirely new project for artists and producers to use for years to come.
For starters, please shed some light on the history of the Kingsway Music Library.
Chris: I feel like most of the Drum Broker’s audience is familiar with the Kingsway Music Library and the releases surrounding it. There’s a mysterious connection and weird timeline, though, that David, Brandon, and myself lie on, and we’re all from a similar area within Toronto. Brandon actually grew up listening to David’s productions. It’s all kind of a seemingly disparate mix that made sense in putting this project together. Me and David grew up in almost the exact same spot, just about a hundred years apart (laughs). It’s the crossover from the traditional form of production that David is closely associated with and the modern style of production that we’re linked to. The spirit of Kingsway is evident as we fused the analog hardware into a modern context using computers. The personal chemistry was excellent and really helped drive this release.
So, you guys have built a collection of releases that resemble library records, of sorts, in a more modern sound design approach. How does this release fit into that scheme?
Chris: That’s what this is: a natural extension of what we’ve been doing. We’ve brought on a lot more producers over the years and this is the first time that we’ve brought on someone as established as David and someone from outside of the Hip Hop realm.
David: I feel like I’ve gone down a rabbit hole with this thing. I have a bunch of records from the 80s that started to get sampled by some pretty big producers. I won’t name them, but they were not asking for licenses. I spent months dealing with lawyers chasing down sync licenses, master licenses, and writing licenses. So, I keep this up and my son said, “You’re nuts. Why don’t you just make them yourself? There’s a company up here called Kingsway, started by Frank Dukes.” I’d never heard of them before. So, I called Josh, the Managing Director of Kingsway, and sent him all the songs of mine that were sampled and he’s like, “Let’s do this!” I told him that I’m an old Jewish guy and I’m not gonna do this by myself. I know how to make music, but I don’t know how to make Hip Hop and loops. It took him about one second to say that you gotta work with Chris and Brandon. I knew instantly that these were people that I could relate to. I work artists their age every day, so the only thing that was gonna change was the music.
Discuss the beginning of the actual recording process.
David: So, I flew up there and walked into a room with a stand-up piano that looked like it had been left out on someone’s lawn for a year and a bunch of guitars and a bunch of microphones and a computer. I looked at Chris and said, “What are we gonna do?” He responded, “What do you mean? We’re gonna start playing.” I’ve been a songwriter for over 40 years and we just pumped out a bunch of music that we loved. We were working with no drums and it was a really organic process. From there, Brandon would start to manipulate what we were recording. However, we did realize that we needed a synthesizer, which we got.
Speaking of additional gear, what did you guys use?
David: We got our hands on an original Prophet 5. We had some limitations just using the piano, but we mic’d it a certain way so it sounded very Lo-Fi. Also, there were five guitars there and none of them had their strings changed in a year. Half of them were sounding like ass (laughs). But what we were working on didn’t need perfection or intonation. It was way more about creating something out of nothing. It was like being in the woods as opposed to staying in a four-star hotel. For example, we had an acoustic guitar with rusty strings, a Les Paul, an SG, like not even a real Gibson, and some Japanese guitar that sounded like it hadn’t been plugged in since 1965. We had an amplifier and I brought a midi controller and computer with me. Chris was playing the piano, Brandon and Chris were playing the Prophet, and I was playing my sounds through my computer and sampled some songs and sounds I brought. This went on for seven days with us playing 10 hours a day just playing and playing and playing, with Brandon taking a key role in the editing.
I went back to New Jersey and tried to edit and process the project, having learned from Chris and Brandon. I made a valiant effort to learn it and understand it more. However, it wasn’t the technical side that made this project special, it was the playing and the interacting with one another.
The tempos fall well within a Trap music mode. Was this something intentional?
Chris and Brandon: Not at all.
David: We were given instructions by Frank Dukes. It was very, very specific. “Whatever you do, take a lot of risks and don’t do anything that sounds like something else.” At which point, Chris mentioned that a lot of people ask for that, but few people actually end up picking those tracks. Once we started, we realized we were gonna do 20 ideas that didn’t sound like each other.
What was the overarching target audience for this release?
Brandon: I think it’s open to interpretation. We like hearing what we’ve made and others imagining it in a different context. There are Hip Hop songs on there, but there can be scoring possibilities, Indie Rock possibilities.
Where does this release fit into the Kingsway Music Library?
Chris: I think we were trying to set another anchor point from what was happening with Kingsway and Dukes branching out to younger producers that were not all that far from the current music environment. With this release, we can bridge our previous releases with this new one with David. And now people can see that you can do something totally different, but it can still translate to a mainstream product. Others are able to see that you can be experimental, but it totally works at the same time. Hopefully it inspires others and makes for a more interesting music industry overall as a result.
David: One thing is we were playing a lot of complicated chords and rhythms; we weren’t just messing around.
I enjoyed hearing those chords and rhythms throughout the project, especially the guitars. You guys seemed to expand on certain sonic tropes that you’re hearing in music now. Does that make sense?
David: It does! It’s funny: All that I’m hearing lately in Hip Hop and Trap is guitar!
As someone who’s had their catalog sampled over the years, why should someone look to this release as an alternative?
Brandon: I mean, I think there is something special using the Kingsway Music Library. We set out to incorporate a lot of textures that people aren’t used to using in a Hip Hop song, per se. So, I think using this pack is one way to achieve that sound versus picking up an older record. That’s not to say that’s bad because there’s really a context for both. We’ve gone out and pushed the envelope with this collection.
David: I’d liken it to something, and this is kind of a David Bendeth-ism. It’s like when I go to the grocery store and I checkout and I look at what I’ve bought. I think to myself, “I’m probably the only person in the world that’s bought that.” Like, I’ve got cherries, bacon, milk, orange juice, vanilla ice cream, and peas. How many people in the world have bought this mix of groceries? I really don’t know how this project is going to be received. But if you’re trying to make a Hip Hop record right now, this speaks to the artist who is trying to make something different.
Chris: I have something to add to that. A lot of hits are being made in someone’s room or basement. You don’t have the opportunity to collaborate or coproduce with a big name like David’s. If you were trying to clear one of Bendeth’s productions from the 80s or 90s, David could ask for 90 percent of the track. With Kingsway, there’s a set price point.
David: Speaking of that, I was surprised that people were not asking for sync licenses to use my work. If I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do it properly and with someone who’s been doing it for years. It was like a clash of the titans. I come from a Rock and Jazz background and they grew up with their own music. Chris has a Classical background. Brandon is like a Hard Rock guy. Brandon on the first day took off his shirt to show his tattoo of one of the biggest bands I’ve worked with: It was Underoath and the logo was on his back. I sent a pic of it to the lead singer, letting him know I’m doing a Hip Hop project in Toronto, and he just laughed his brains out. We have an underlying connection through music and growing up in the same area. I went to school with Rush. They were in my class; Howie Mandell was in my class; Alannah Myles was in there, too.
Kingsway Music embodies collaboration and a willingness to branch out. Talk more about this.
Chris: Personally, for me, when you start as a modern-day producer, you have the impression that you have to do everything from making the melody, the beat, and sending it out. You kind of get in this cycle of making music that has already been done. Like, when it comes to making a beat for Drake, for example, people start to demand that style more and more. However, you start standing out when you develop a fresh concept working with others. And with these sample libraries, this concept really comes out more as people start interpreting your sounds in a different way. There’s a million ways to reimagine that little chunk of an idea. It’s about seeing the initial creation grew in different directions. Like, how did they even think of that?
Is there any other producer or sound designer that has created a new sample library with someone of David’s stature?
David: Let me address that. It comes full circle for me. You see my discography and there are a hundred Rock albums. You gotta understand that’s not where I come from. My own records are R&B and Soul records like George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and Miles Davis. I wanted to be a guitar player in Earth, Wind, and Fire. That’s my background. That’s what I love. I hated all that Rock shit; I just ended up there (laughs). So, every time I’d hear something clever in music, I’d be like, “Damn, I wish I did that.” I hear Eminem or Jay-Z records and wish I wrote on those albums because they’re so clever. That would be more fun for me. So, when we started this project, I was gonna throw everything that I knew about Rock music out the window.
We didn’t listen to any drums for about a week. I actually asked Brandon about halfway through the project to put some drums on one track and he just looked at me and went, “Really?” He actually did put drums on one track and I thought it sounded insane!
Brandon: I actually put drums on a track, and it was like an aha moment for David. Then he started to see the vision and possibilities of the project and what we were setting out to accomplish. Sometimes we’ll take a random element from the Prophet and it could provide a percussive element, but not necessarily a drum sound.
Are there any last words?
David: Even though Chris and I were playing instruments and jamming, each one of these guys, and they’re not gonna talk about it, went over to the computer and played it like an instrument they’ve played their entire lives. My mouth was on the floor after I heard what they were doing to the sounds inside their computers. It really opened my eyes to using a computer as an instrument. That’s a real skill that they can do that others can’t. There’s a fine line, though, with not letting the music stay in the background and letting the computer takeover. The music sounded better as a result of what they did.