Exclusive Interview with Swiss beatmaker – CHIEF

Chief7 PhotoByJulienBarrasThere’s much debate on whether hip hop music is alive or dead. Hearing producers like CHIEF, you realize there are those who work hard to keep rap music as a true art form, pure in creation and where the ultimate goal is not commercialism, but appreciation.

Born and still residing in Lausanne, Switzerland, CHIEF makes me wonder about the vibrant music scene in Europe right now, as a lot of great stuff is coming from overseas. Founder of Feelin’ Music record label, his new full-length release, Collabo Collection features an A-list group of guest artists such as Moka Only, Kissey Asplund, Le Nubians, Dynas, Co$$, Sene, and blu., to name a few. Collabo Collection is a blend of smooth and chilled Dilla infused beats where his collaborations bring the tunes to fruition, notwithstanding the cool instrumentals within the collection. The beatmaker shared with Muphoric Sounds his philosophy and method to creating, his new album, the power of the internet in making musical connections, and his various music influences. Truly someone to keep your ear open for.

Kick back and listen to some of the tracks off Collabo Collection below and for Free Exclusive Download – “Lost Love” featuring Co$$, who will be releasing his new album on Tres Records very soon. Collabo Collection is scheduled for release November 3rd.

There is so much great music coming from Europe, to a point that people are beginning to think Muphoric Sounds only features music by European artists. How do you describe the music scene in Switzerland?
Although Switzerland is a tiny country, the music scene is definitely very rich, especially considering the size of the country. As we speak 3 different languages in Switzerland (French, German, Italian) depending on which area you live in, there are lots of different influences, sub-cultures and music styles. Each part of Switzerland somehow bears mad similarities with the bordering country using the same language, i.e. France, Germany and Italy. The rock and pop scene is the biggest, but has no chance to export itself due to the language issue.. let’s not even mention the accent for those who try anyway. Both the electronic and hip-hop scenes have been growing stronger over the last few years, and quite a number of Swiss producers have been able to make a name for themselves outside of our mountains. There’s definitely talent, passion, and involvement here.

How did you get started?
Alright, this is going to look like a “copy and paste”, every producer from my generation probably has the exact same story! I first started DJing when I was 14 years old, it was in the 90’s and at that time the hip-hop scene was really taking off in Switzerland, thus I immediately got interested in that scene. When I was 21 I started making beats, with the usual heavyweights like DJ Premier, Pete Rock and such being major influences on my sound. Over the years, as my skills developed, my style evolved, took different directions, I tackled varied styles, and it finally turned in something quite different and more personal. I guess the goal of every beatmaker is to have your very own sound signature, create beats that can be very different from one another, but still retain that one special touch of yours, whether you can pin exactly what it is or not.

How do you describe your sound?
Electric, vintage, smooth, with an organic groove! I still like to start with samples and build up from that foundation, but the elements that truly make the track are all the sounds and tricks I then add, all the twitching which kind of hide the original samples.

What collaborations and moments at the start of your career made your realize you were onto something as a producer/DJ?
There wasn’t actually one specific event that made me think I was onto something, instead it was a slow evolution. When I was a teen and I was djing and generally really into the whole hip-hop thing, I reached this point when you want to go deeper into it, get involved and add your own brick to the wall. So I bought a mpc and got started. Around the same time, I left my job and started a sound engineer formation. That allowed me to focus on music more generally, start my own recording studio, and hopefully this will allow me to avoid having to get a shitty job in the future!

Tell us about your new album “Collabo Collection” and the people you chose for the project.
Collabo Collection” is not a real studio album, it’s a compilation of tracks I made over the latest years. You can hear different influences or styles depending on when these tracks were recorded (between 2005 and 2009). I did a number of collaborations over the last few years with many different artists. With most of the artists, it was kind of an “exchange”, you give them a beat for their album, they give you a featuring for yours in return. It all happened very naturally, I hooked up with different artists, others then came to me, etc…. and at some point I realized that I had quite a lot of tracks that I was really happy with and which had never been released, so I decided to compile the best ones and make an album out of it.

I did several albums with Sene from Brooklyn, one got released on Shaman Work and that brought the connection with John Robinson. Sene is friend with blu. and Co$$, and they too got involved for some tracks. And there are other connections that happened via myspace or internet networking in general, like Kay Dee who got in touch with me after checking my beats on Myspace, which led to connections with El Da Sensei, J Sands,….. On the other hand, I once stumbled upon the music of Kissey Asplund a few years ago on the internet, and I instigated that connection. Same thing for Moka Only, who released his album “Lowdown Suite 2” on my label earlier this year, where we invited Kissey on a track. It’s a small world, the word gets spread fast.

What are the things you look for in vocalists/emcees to collaborate with? Is it planned? Or is it coincidental?
So far it has all happened very naturally, through encounters and common taste, in the end it’s really a vibe thing. But of course I only work with people whose work I truly appreciate, the same rule applies for confirmed and unknown artists. I’ve never made any collaboration based on strategic reasons, never will.

When Muphoric Sounds interviewed Moka Only back in June, I threw out that he’d worked with Bay Area emcee blu., when in fact, it was you who had something in the works. How did your collaboration come about with blu.?
I was working with Sene on our album “Garbage Pail Kids” for Shaman Work, and Sene, who knows blu. well, asked him for a featuring, that resulted in the track “King me”. It was before the blu. & Exile album, and we did other tracks after that, like “True Love”, which is on “Collabo collection”. We also played some gigs with Sene, blu. and Exile after that. blu. is a very talented artist, and he’s definitely one of the next big things in hip-hop. I’m glad I could have him aboard.

And of course the wonderful Kissey Asplund. How did working with Kissey come about as well?
It was around 4 years ago, I came across her Myspace page, and I was bluffed by her voice and style. She really has a unique style, and a groove in her voice that makes her special. I got in touch, we got on well, and there! We did a few tracks together, gigs, we invited her on the Moka Only album, and we are currently working on more tracks for a release coming in 2010. Kissey is a great person and an amazing singer, someone I would definitely like to keep working with.

How many productions do you have under your belt thus far? Which are your favorite productions, and why?
I’ve been making beats for over 8 years now, so all in all I did hundreds of productions. I don’t keep a count, but I guess I have about 200 productions that were released in one form or another. Some of my favorites are “Felt before” with Moka Only, “Demon love” with Kissey Asplund, “Anyway” with Moka Only and generally I’m happy with the beats I’m working on nowadays, which are actually quite different from what you can hear on “Collabo Collection,” it’s much more electric!

Who are your greatest influences? What are your musical roots?
When I first started, it was DJ Premier, Pete rock, DJ Spinna,…. And today I’m really into beatmakers like Jneiro Jarel, Madlib, Jay Dee, Sa-Ra Creative Partners… and still DJ Spinna! But I’m listening to a lot of different stuff, so I guess that influences me as well.

What is your method in creating beats? What inspires your creative process? Computerization or live instruments?
Here’s how it usually happens: I go to my studio, put a record on, and start getting ready for the day; drink a coffee, check my e-mails,…. Inevitably, a sample, a sound, a mood or anything from the record will catch my attention and inspire me. And there it starts. I use this as a foundation to create a new beat. I then add keyboards, drums, different sounds, scratches, synth bass, etc…. sometimes you can’t even hear the original sample that I used, I like to rework the whole thing. I don’t like raw samples, I like to make them as abstract as possible, to leave room for something fresh and brand new.

You recently put out a compilation “Random Hearts,” where you and Ngoc Lan refashioned some familiar songs, with some new. How did that project come about? And the choices made for it?
Ngoc Lan is also from Lausanne, and we often DJ together, we have a good music connection. We both regularly release free mix albums, and we recently thought it would be fun to make one together. We both met with a selection of records, and the wax battle started!

What is your ideal musical future?
I would like to keep on working with other artists, expand my horizons, keep developing the whole thing to hopefully someday work with artists that are currently hard to reach. Besides, I’m now working on an instrumental album to be released in early 2010. It won’t be just random beats compiled, these are beats in a “song format” if you will, something that stands on its own and doesn’t have you dying of boredom, beats that can keep you interested throughout the whole duration of a full-length and create a cohesive album. I’m excited about this project, and I’m currently developing a live formula to go with it. And of course I want to keep expanding my label, Feelin’ Music.

What is Chief listening to now?
Sa-Ra Creative Partners, Rozzi Daime, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Madlib, Mayer Hawthorne, DâM-FunKMark De Clive Lowe, Platinum Pied Pipers,….

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Roseann V. Warren

Founder + Editorial Director at Muphoric Sounds
A Brooklyn-based writer with a background in digital marketing, proudly calls herself a Prince head, and believes Hersey's chocolate should be a crime. Follow her @webdiva3000


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  4. Dubturbo

    December 20, 2012 at 3:17 am

    That is a great interview I mean as well! Just a quick note to tell you that I have a passion for the topic "Beat making issue" at hand. I was in the hunt for this type of brilliant work. Thanks the head up……….