Revan – No Royalties [FLXA121]

As 2020 draws to a close, Flexout Audio and their ever-growing roster of talent continue to churn out weapons of mass distraction. Their latest heater is the first solo EP from Revan – ‘No Royalties’ – a four-track exploration into the sound of Bristol-based Sofa Sound regular & Collective DJ, featuring a collab with fellow Flexout newcomer, Objectiv. 

Some will know Revan, aka Haden White, as one half of Ill Truth. Others will know him as a teacher, engineer & active member of Rotations. I caught up with Revan to talk about his solo venture, how he’s adapted during COVID & why whiteboards are the key to success…

We’re two weeks into lockdown 2.0 & so far you’ve been hitting the studio hard. I feel like the theme of the first lockdown divided most people into two categories – those who just got reallllly fucked and those who invested time into self-improvement – do you have any lockdown plans?

(laughs) I don’t plan on getting fucked up! I did enough of that in the short space of time that events were back on. Every week it was like ‘oh my god there’s a seated drum and bass event on!’. The plan would be to go and not get too drunk, but you get so excited because there’s like four of your mates together on a table and just end up thinking, fuck it.

I’m gutted that the lockdown has happened but I think in a kind of selfish way, I’m glad because it means I can utilise this time again. I think it sucks for the country, and for anyone in a creative profession – it’s kind of gone two steps back, but I’m just trying to keep busy and forget that all of this shit is happening…

You’ve had some good things to focus on recently though, haven’t you? (drum roll please)…your latest EP ‘No Royalties’ has just dropped on Flexout Audio…

It’s funny because the EP was actually finished just before the lockdown happened and then during the first week of lockdown, I made ‘Slapdash’ which is the most recent track on the EP. I sent it to Bassi and we decided to swap out the other track that we were going to use and we’ve just been sitting on it. I’m not in any rush really. I felt happy with all the tracks and was confident that they’d still be as good in seven, eight months time & it gave me time to work on loads of other music as Revan, and present ‘No Royalties’ as a kind of kickstart for what’s to come.

 

Talk to me about the title – ‘No Royalties’…

‘No Royalties’ was a title that Mitch Blue, Sam Lilywhite, Satl & I came up with while chatting about track names at Sun and Bass. I was making the tune after the festival was done, I was really inspired and really hanging so I started making some drums and we came up with the name ‘No Royalties’. I wrote it down and then started sketching out some more Revan stuff and put the name to that track.

The title itself is kind of political and a bit of a dig almost, at the scene. I feel like from an outsider’s perspective as a DJ or an artist, some people that haven’t worked in the scene just assume that you’re loaded and music is full time for you and you’re living the dream. Then when u get down to the crux of it, it’s actually not that at all. But that’s what makes dnb so good to me.

I feel like the people who think they’re above you in the drum and bass scene just get shut down and the people who still act like they are above you, the ones who have developed this attitude that they’re better than everyone because they are are all the hype – there’s no place for you here. There’s no space for royalty in this scene, so it’s kind of a double meaning. It is a bit melancholic and it’s a harsh reality, but that’s what keeps people humble and what makes our community so great.

Do you have a stand out track from the EP?

I think ‘The Method’ was a bit of a turning point because I had been wanting to make a track like that for so long and I’d never tried. Then I sat down and it was one of those where I just went on autopilot and didn’t really know what I was doing, and then all of a sudden was like, ‘shittt, I’ve got this track that I’m super happy with – how did I make this?’. I think the method gave me a lot of confidence in what I’m doing now. And I’m not bigging it up too much but for me, that is the sound I want. I’m not saying I’ve nailed it but that was the sound that made me think, ok I can do this.

Have you found that working as a solo artist has given you more creative freedom?

Not really, Jay & I are very free in what we do as Ill Truth anyway, there’s not really any constraints. We try and be as weird as we can with music. I think the main difference is not having someone else to send your track to and get that secondary input for changes and tweaks etc.

Jay & I have worked together for so many years and this is only the second EP I’ve done as Revan so the first one was a bit of a shock. With this one, I feel I’ve developed things a lot further and I wanted it to be just me. If people gave me the feedback like ‘I think you should change this’ I was like thanks but, I’m happy and I’m going to trust my gut & take that risk.

So would you say working as a solo artist has helped to solidify your belief in your own judgement as well as your production skills?

Yeah. definitely, I think you can get too reliant on each other when working as a duo. There’s a 50/50 balance – you’re each expected to pick up 50% of the slack. Whether that’s making music, promoting or whatever. For this EP I purposely tried to make it not sound like Ill Truth. I think the only one that might sound similar is ‘No Royalties’ but I just really like that tune and thought fuck it. I don’t want this to be a spin-off of Ill Truth….

And I don’t think anyone thinks that either. Your first EP was a well-received taster of what to expect and now you’ve identified the direction & sound you’re looking for as a solo artist. Tell me about the artwork…

So because of the double meaning of ‘No Royalties’, me, Bassi and Pete Arkaik – who does most of the design work for Flexout – discussed ideas of a throne in a squat or run-down building, to convey the contrast of how out of place the two were. Pete then sent over a sketch of the artwork and the whole idea had been inverted, so he had this really opulent throne but he put the squat inside the upholstery of the throne. He absolutely smashed it and I’m really pleased with the artwork, it’s really embodied the meaning well & I love his work.

This is your first solo EP on Flexout (congratulations!) How did you find working with Tom & the label?

Tom’s great….but he’s a nightmare because you’ll send him a tune and be like this is my baby,  I’m gonna get this tune baptised, and he’s like, ‘it’s not the one, man’, and you’re like, ‘whattt?!’.

Then you give it a couple of weeks and you’re like, fuck. He was right about that, it really wasn’t the one, was it? So I’m glad there was some push back from him. I didn’t want this EP to be two big tracks and two filler tracks that people won’t play. I wanted it to be my best work and he definitely helped me get there. I’m already pencilling in stuff for the next lot of EP’s, as well as a collab EP with Felix Objectiv…

That’s exciting, tell me more about what you’ve got in the pipeline…

So I’ve got a Sofa Sound single out in January, a single with Lockdown Recordings in February/March, I’m currently constructing some stuff with Teebee on Subtitles and the rest is all Flexout. There’s a track I’m determined to get a specific vocalist for…

I remember you showing me that track…

Yeah, so I’m waiting on that and I just wanna put out the EP with Felix when we can, again we’re in no rush. It’s been really fun working with him and we just get on really well in the studio. There’s no arguing or anything like that it’s just like ‘do you like that? no/ sweet, let’s move on’ and have fun. One of the tracks we sampled someone gagging and put it in the track, it’s just jokes…

I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that session…

Yeah, it’s quite weird! Apart from that, I’m just trying to work on my stuff. I don’t want to put out cannon fodder, or throwaway music – I’d rather only have one or two releases a year and those be my best work, rather than just put out stuff for the sake of it or because a label will pay you to put a release out. It is hard for artists and I understand that a lot of artists need that income, and it’s good that labels will pay but I think you’ve got to weigh up the benefits and think, ‘Is it helping my output or am I just doing this for some quick cash?

You lost a lot of gigs this year & that’s a block on your income gone. How have you, if at all, adapted to keep money coming in from music during COVID?

I’m fortunate to work a 9-5 job but I’m also unfortunate that I work a 9-5 (laughs). We were supposed to have a lot of gigs this year, and I’m grateful that I still have a job given the current climate – but – gigs keep us sane, as you know. You meet new people, get to travel & get inspired. Without gigs to keep me busy I’ve been focusing on keeping some of those connections through my work with Height Mastering & the Tuition that I offer. For anyone interested, Height Mastering offers single track and stem mastering services (with a smile) and I also do production tuition for all skill and experience levels. The tuition is currently one to one on Skype, and when we can it’s face to face and it’s loads of fun. I’ve always loved teaching, so it’s nice to be able to share knowledge rather than keep it bottled up until I die…

That’s definitely a good way to look at it! Has teaching online allowed you to open up to a wider audience outside of Bristol? That’s got to be pretty cool…

Yeah, it is really cool. More so because it’s really interesting to hear people’s music. I’ve got a few students who don’t believe in their music and feel they need tuition, then they come to their lesson asking how to make their track better and I’m like, ‘damn! these tunes are sickkkkk, are you serious?! – get it out there!’. So it’s nice in a way even if I only teach them a few things, it’s good for people to get that second opinion, gain confidence in themselves & take a step towards releasing music.

You’re a member of Bristol-based cohort Rotations & regularly provide feedback at their social events, and you obviously enjoy it. How important do you think those types of feedback sessions and feedback, in general, is to an aspiring artist?

I love them. Whether it’s teaching or just helping people out, I love it. I wouldn’t have learnt as quickly as I did if I didn’t have people who were more experienced at all levels than me,  helping me out or giving me feedback. It’s good to have someone there to give you honest, useful criticisms. Some people only give feedback for money, and that’s cool. But going back to the no royalties concept, we’re all in this scene together and it’s nice for everyone to develop and not just those who can afford to pay for a service.

Agreed! You’ve recently invested in a separate studio space, has that helped with productivity, creativity etc?

My setup before was in my room and I was working from home so my day would be; roll out of bed onto my laptop, work, lunch, finish work, shower, work on music in the same space, make food, eat food, carry in with music, turn around and roll back into bed. All in the same room, so having a dedicated space now is really important for me mentally and I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to find the space that has worked out for me. It’s really, really helped. I can just come home now and shut off which is quite hard for a lot of creative people.

Well, it’s almost like having two full-time jobs as a creative when you work 9-5 too…

Yeah, my working day starts at 8.30 am and finishes at 10 pm most days after I’m done with music and mastering…

Your workflow is pretty rapid though, every time I speak to you’re working on something new…

Get a whiteboard, that’s all it is! Everyone is always like ‘why do you have a whiteboard’ and I’m like, ‘just get one’…

The best brains have whiteboards…

Whiteboards are the answer! Mine is now in the entrance to my studio, so now I go in and it’s right there in front of me…

You heard it here first, cop yourself a whiteboard & up your studio game! Big up for the time & happy lockdown 😉

‘No Royalties’ is out NOW on Flexout Audio & you can grab your copy HERE. For anyone wanting mastering or tuition, email heightmastering@gmail.com.