Four Tet Looks Back on 'Rounds'
Four Tet Looks Back on 'Rounds'
"It feels like more than a decade has gone by," says Kieran Hebden. That's how long it's been since the English DJ/producer, better known as Four Tet, released his breakthrough album, Rounds, which is getting a 10th-anniversary reissue today. "It feels like so much has happened since. It definitely feels like a long, long time ago. But I remember it all pretty vividly."
Rounds was his third full-length LP as Four Tet – a warm, flickering bonfire of sampled sounds that drew in fans from Thom Yorke to Bruce Springsteen. Looking back, Hebden remembers feeling frustrated with the work he'd done up until that point. "I was a bit critical of the records I'd released previously at the time – the records were becoming too much a product of influences," he says. "I realized that I needed to try and make something more unique and get more of my soul into it somehow."
Hebden recorded the 10-track set over 10 months in his small North London flat. "I had a lot of free time – it was quite nice," he says. "I'd get up in the morning and work on music a little bit, and eat some cereal and then work on music a little bit, and hang out with friends and then come home and work on the music a little bit. I felt like the best music I'd made on the previous records had happened in these intimate moments – maybe in the middle of the night, where I'm feeling a bit more reflective or emotional or something."
His recording setup was simple. "I just had an old, clunky Dell PC or something," Hebden recalls, "hooked up to a regular home hi-fi." He spent hours searching for inspiration in his "sample diary" – a huge file full of found sounds that he started assembling in 1997 and has maintained up to the present day. "I was working in the same way a hip-hop producer was," he says. "I was sampling a little bit of flute off one record, and a little bit of guitar off one record, and then a bunch of drum machine sounds I found on the Internet, and then some piano that was on a DVD or something. Making collages out of loads and loads of sounds."
His major influences at the time included avant-garde producer Jim O'Rourke ("He put out this record called I'm Happy, and I'm Singing, and a 1,2,3,4 that really blew my mind") and hip-hop and R&B hitmakers like Timbaland and the Neptunes. "Rodney Jerkins actually was the most influential for me," he says, citing the producer's work on Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right, But It's Okay" and Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine." "The fact that one was led by a thumb piano and one was led by a harp, and he combined those things with very crisp electronic rhythms – at the time, I thought of him alongside Aphex Twin as being on the cutting edge of electronic music. If you could make music that was very experimental but really connects to people on an instant level, as well, then you have the power to change the course of music forever."
With those examples in mind, Hebden labored over each sound on his new record, twisting and teasing the samples into novel shapes. "A lot of the sounds you hear on Rounds are kind of misleading," he says. "You might hear something that sounds like a bass, but it's actually the sound of a guitar or harp or something that's being slowed down a lot and reversed and then manipulated. I was really interested in making music that was completely humanly impossible – something that no human could ever play."