Q&A: T.E.E.D. On Surprising Himself With His Singing, Bandwagon-Jumpers, Remixing Katy Perry And Lady Gaga
Primitive plodding creatures and an environmental catastrophe that wiped them from the face of the earth: not topics that usually loom over enjoyment of spit-shined synth hooks and gleeful twists on dance-pop. However, that's exactly the case with Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, the willfully weird professional name of Oxford-born producer Orlando Higginbottom. More manageably abbreviated as T.E.E.D., the 29-year-old Higginbottom's reputation for electronic eccentricity has grown in the last year following releases on Crosstown Rebels and Joe Goddard's Greco-Roman labels, a remix of Lady Gaga's "Marry The Night," and the appearance of his single "Garden" in a commercial for Nokia.
Despite the crowd-pleasing nature of T.E.E.D's appealing tunes, which draw from all manners of thickly-produced dance music with a smattering of ornate flourishes, the name Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs was actually chosen to drive away uninterested, interloping listeners. A name so absurd, Higginbottom has figured, is a poke in the eye for the music industry, a name that could never be sold as hip. Within the world of dance music, though, a series of high-profile remixes have garnered T.E.E.D. even more attention, with contributions from the likes of Soul Clap, Jamie Jones, and John Talabot teasing out an undercurrent of romantic resignation and paranoia to thrilling effect. Both Jones' remix of "Trouble" and Talabot's treatment of "Tapes-N-Money," (dubbed a "Ritual Reconstruction") latch onto repetitions of the word "lies," Talabot's vocal loops in particular smearing into a gorgeous, claustrophobic soundscape of sighs.
Ahead of the opening night of his U.S. tour, T.E.E.D. spoke to Sound of the City about the remix he's most proud of, hating the sound of his own voice, and why he'll never touch hundreds of his unfinished tracks again.
It's the first night of your tour. Do you ever get opening-night jitters?
Sometimes. When I did my first UK headlining tour, I was nervous for the first night. You take a new show on the road and you just want to make sure it works. But I'm always on the road at the moment, so I know I can do what I'm going to do and get away with it.
Have you noticed your crowds changing at all as the run-up to the new album started?
The last two big trips I did a UK tour and a German tour. Those both sold out, everything sold out, which was great. In America, I've still got a long way to go, so I'm just really happy when people turn up at all. More people are coming, which is nice.
You're still living in Oxford, right? Do you think you'll ever move?
Sure I will. Right now it's where I want to be. When I'm touring this much it's nice to go somewhere that really feels like home, to get my feet back on the ground. And I really love Oxford. Maybe when I've got a big break from touring I might move somewhere else for a bit, but right now it's working for me.
I read an interview from February where you said you were living with your parents. Moved out yet?
Yeah, I moved out last week! But I've only spent two nights in my new house.
Can you talk about "Trouble," and how the construction of the album was different from the EPs you've released previously?
The first thing for me was looking at the difference in length, obviously, between an EP and LP, and thinking about how I was going to keep things interesting for so long. Also, I was thinking a lot about why dance albums are so often the lowest point in producers careers. It's more the singles and EPs in dance music that are successful. I was aware of the problems of electronic music albums and I wanted to do something with as much variety in my sound as I could get. I don't know if I fulfilled that, but that was the idea. Also, that it would listenable at home and also good to dance to.
In the process of making the album, did you find yourself naturally leaning more towards a side of making things for the dance floor versus home listening, and did you have to consciously balance it out?
It's strange, I think it just kind of happened the way it has. With the instrumental and production side, it's definitely dance floor, and then when I start singing and writing lyrics for the songs they suddenly become... more songs, basically, more actual, individual songs, which balances those two things out. It's been an accident that it's a bit of both. More and more, certainly with the music I'm going to be writing, I don't even want to think about those two things, I don't want to think about dance floor or home listening. Because I think it will just happen naturally, a track will work in some circumstances and not for the other. I don't want to write music for specific things too much.
You draw a distinction between the vocals and production side of your music. What are your different influences from dance music for the production side, versus vocal influences?
With the kind of dance music thing, my tastes are pretty broad. I really love people like Kerri Chandler and Green Velvet, classic house and techno people like them. But I grew up listening to more bass-y music in the UK, I grew up listening to jungle and dub and things like that. And then I've always loved classic pop and people like Stevie Wonder when I was a teenager, and Erykah Badu when I was growing up. But I never really thought I'd do any singing. That was never something at all. I am genuinely surprised to be putting out a record that has me singing on most of the tracks.
Why is that?
Just because I don't really consider myself a singer. It was just something that happened in the studio, and I found the results interesting.
Were you self-conscious about your voice when you started constructing these songs?
Very, very, very. The first couple of times I did recordings with my voice I was putting loads of effects on it and chopping it all up, and you couldn't really make out any human in it at all. And I had to sort of...it was a risk for me. When I wrote the actual track "Trouble," that was the first song I ever did where I was singing over the whole track. And that felt pretty strange, but also kind of liberating to not give a fuck and just do it, though it's not like I'm some grade-A singer.
How frequently are you recording? It seems like you're pretty prolific. Are you recording every day on tour?
I just started doing a bit more writing on tour. I find it quite difficult. If there's space and time I might fiddle around, but mostly it's when I'm at home. Honestly, since I finished my album I've avoided my studio. I just wanted to give myself a break. Hopefully I'll set up a new studio in the next couple of months, a completely new space. When I was in the full flow of writing the record I was writing every day, and there are hundreds of tracks that never got finished or never made the album. They will never get finished.
What will you do with them?
Nothing! They're just weird memories for me. It's like looking at a diary and remembering shit. It's not really music for other people.
Are there are particular styles of popular music you absolutely won't touch across your productions?
Nothing as brutal as that. I've never written a straight dubstep track, but that's not to say certain elements of dubstep haven't influenced my music and crept into my own music. Certainly the earlier stuff, which wasn't so wall-of-sound. I'm very aware when something becomes the hyped music, and the trend. Right now in the UK there's a huge amount of deep house music, suddenly everybody and their mum is writing it. I think that's often a shame, suddenly everyone feels like they need to be writing this one style. I can see why it happens, but it to me it doesn't feel like creativity, it feels like just joining in on some fun game. Which is all very well, but is not really the point of music.
How would you feel if when "Trouble" comes out suddenly you're the one defining the trend and everyone else jumps on?
What trend is that?
That's up to you.
[Laughter] Well, I don't know. I think I can safely say there's enough different-sounding tracks on my record for me to not be... if someone wanted to write music that sounded like me, they could write music that sounded like one of my tracks, but not me. You know what I mean? I know that sounds ridiculous, but there are loads of different sounds and styles in there.
What contemporary dance music inspires you? Can we talk about your remixes, both who you've remixed and who you've had remix your own songs?
I really enjoy finding people to remix my tracks, and I'm really happy with the people we found recently. For "Tapes-N-Money" there was some great people, like John Talabot and Eats Everything and MJ cole, who's a bit of a legend in England. Also, these new guys called Casino Times. I've always tried to get younger people from my generation, get established people with some history, people you might call legends. Luckily, since I've been signed to a major label there's been the kind of budget to do that stuff.
So you've chosen all the people who have done remixes for you?
It's taken a bit of arguing. They have things they need from remixes, and I appreciate that, but so far there haven't been any that I've massively disagreed with that have ended up on there. It's all been people that I've wanted to do something.
For your remixes of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, what was the experience like doing that and being commissioned by their labels?
Interesting. Obviously, they're huge artists, and I was trying to make the most out of that situation, but without just doing something massive and cheesy. To be honest with you, neither of those remixes I did are ones I'm particularly proud of. The Lady Gaga one is alright. But it's a good exercise, and it's just strange to sit in the studio and think to yourself, "Shit, I'm remixing one of the biggest artists in the world." That was a weird feeling.
Going into a remix, do you have any sort of specific philosophy in terms of how much of the original you want to retain?
It really depends on the track, the parts I pick out and the bits I find interesting. It changes with every track.
What remix have you done that you're most proud of?
There's one for some guys called Fur Coat, which is on Crosstown Rebels, that I really like. That's a good dance record.Fur Coat & Argenis Brito, "Space Ballad (Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs Remix)"
Do you have plans to DJ more?
Yeah, I really enjoy it. Doing it occasionally is really fun, but it's concentrating on the live show at the moment and just DJing for special occasions and small parties.
How have you changed as a performer in the last two years or so?
I think the main thing is enjoying performing more, enjoying the experience more and feeling more relaxed and caring a little bit less, becoming less self-conscious about it. That's been the main thing with me, just learning to have good fun with it.
Do you envision ever touring with a full band or expanding the live show?
Yes, but not many more musicians for this record, I don't think. I might do it for another record, if I could start from scratch and build it up again. But doing this sound completely live would completely change the sound of the record. I'm not really sure there's much point in doing that right now.
After you're done with the tour, what are your plans?
All touring, really. Lots and lots of festivals, and coming back to America in August.
Do you enjoy touring or do you find it to be a grind?
Most of the time I really enjoy it. It's only a grind if you run out of time to sleep, and then it becomes tough.
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