Urbandy knows what finished looks like

As a music producer, Something You Said’s 25ThC released two free electronic albums through Urbandy Radio in the early noughties. Urbandy (aka Andy Stewart) is an accomplished music artist and now head of Step Pepper Records based in Birmingham, America. 25ThC caught up with Andy to discuss his music, the label and the general state of music in this digital age:

Andy, you have some of your own tracks on the Step Pepper Records label sampler and have also released a brilliant album and mixtape on the label. Can you tell me a little bit about what inspires you in your productions and also what your current recording set-up is?
I really like the dissociative qualities of certain sounds, and feeling haunted by a piece of music. I also listen to a lot of music while driving, which probably affects the rhythms I want to hear. Being interested in both history and technology causes a recurring techno-shock that can be heard in my music. It can be nostalgic for the future-past, like getting older or becoming obsolete. It deals with art and life in an urban cycle.

I currently use an Akai MPD32 and a laptop to cue samples in Traktor. I love the ease of a cue point system. It’s really good for breaking down layered compositions for a live setting. I need a setup that’s portable and low-maintenance. It can be forgiving, but if I stop moving my hands the music will stop.

Describe Step Pepper Records in 5 words?
Experimental music and pretty pictures.

How long has the label been in existence, who is involved and where is it based?
The label formed in 2010. My friends Ant’lrd, MackONE and I all met in Birmingham around that time.

Prior to setting up the label you ran Urbandy Radio promoting unsigned artists including regular podcasts. What did you learn from that period and what benefits did you find when it came to setting up the label?
Urbandy Radio was a step in the right direction. It taught me about sifting through endless streams of music and making contacts. It was a glorified hobby. The urge to archive music you love is the goal of both a radio and a label. You have to love digging and it helps to be organized.

What was the intention in setting up the label and what do you hope to achieve with it?
We needed an outlet for the all the stuff we were making. I always want to know how production works and how to make a printed product. We like precious stuff. Step Pepper definitely has a DIY spirit, but the main reason for setting up the label was to work inside a production environment. It’s a machine for making art.

It may be difficult to say but which of the artists are you particularly proud to have on your roster?
I’m proud of all of our artists. We have two guys on the label, Omari Jazz & Jack Vogt, both 18 years old. It’s exciting and a privilege to have them. MackONE is our funkiest member and a non-stop producer. Ant’lrd has put out some amazing stuff on Step Pepper. All of these people are dear friends, too.

Do you actively recruit for the label or do people approach you and ask to be involved?
Both. I listen to music like it’s my job, and so I’ll definitely reach out to artists I come across. People just turn up. The few events we did last year put us in touch with like-minded people from all over the US. Recently, we partnered with Self-Educated Vinyl, a vinyl-only imprint out of Louisiana, and we’ll be helping each other get shows and release some music.

How do you encourage your artists to experiment and push boundaries in their productions?
Last summer we did an EP Scramble. I gave all our artists 2 weeks to create an EP’s worth of material; about 12 to 20 minutes of audio. We released the albums in 2-week intervals, so about 6 releases in 3 months. Everyone was naturally charged about a little friendly competition. It was a good exercise in agility and honing a single concept. We also solicited local video artists to create short 10-30 second promo videos for each album. I couldn’t resist being proud of the result. The audience response was great. People like sagas and they can easily digest an EP. We’ll probably do another scramble this year if everyone’s up for it.

What does 2013 hold for the label?
We’ll be hosting more live events, in town and elsewhere than in 2012. Omari Jazz just gave us a taste of his latest brew, and our newest artist Balcony View just released his debut drone album. Urbandy has a series of beat-tapes in the works. Loveislight’s new album Gim is gorgeous. MackONE is always working on a new magnum opus, his experimental feedback album drops soon. This summer we’ll release new stuff from Jack Vogt, Omari Jazz, Urbandy and VAWTER. We’ll also be working with Self-Educated to produce some vinyl releases. 2013 is pretty much booked.

In this day and age when we have a generation which expects music to be available for free, how does that affect you with running a label and presumably having to make at least some income in order to be able to continue?
So much of the music I listen to is streaming for free. I listen with my phone plugged into my car stereo a lot. Everyone’s using these services legally now, but no one’s getting paid. I think it’s worth compensating artists for their effort, but I also think information longs to be free. Punishing people in 2013 for stealing music on the internet is like telling your kids they can’t go trick or treating at Willy Wonka’s house. We all love the listening freedom of the internet but we should support music we like. It’s easier than ever to pay an artist directly.

Do you have any advice for budding producers, artists or label managers?
Work smarter not harder and know what ‘finished’ looks like.



Interview by 25ThC