Floex & Tom Hodge: 'one moment we were banging some pots, the next we were collaborating'
When Tom Hodge and Floex met by chance in Berlin, they couldn’t have imagined that just a few years later they’d be working on a full length album project centred around the concept of modern life, but here we all are! Their album, A Portrait of John Doe, combines Tom Hodge’s background in classical composition with Floex’s in electronic production — the result is a body of work that’s as generically flexible as it is thematically coherent (read: very). We caught up with the pair to talk about their musical partnership, their album concept, and their plans for the live show.
What did each of your see in the other that make him an ideal collaborative partner?
TH: The process couldn’t really have been more organic, so there was no sense of choosing one another as collaborative partners. One moment we were banging some pots, the next we were ‘collaborating’.
FX: We met in the studio almost by total fortune. Tom had opportunity to come to Prague for a few days so we were like let's try something together. The chemistry worked almost immediately, which was really the driving force behind our collaboration. If these first days in Prague had not been successful we wouldn't become musical partners.
Talk me through your collaborative process. Was there a clear division of work, or is the process more fluid than that?
TH: It was very fluid in the first phase of our collaboration, where we essentially wrote the bones of the album. Indeed we look back now and are unsure who came up with what and on what instrument. We definitely both played pots, pans, bicycle spokes, chair, pillows, and some piano and clarinet too.
Because we have discussed it a fair bit now, we have managed to identify three phases. The second was the introduction of the orchestra and all the things around that- writing, arranging, recording & editing a symphony orchestra. I have had a good bit more experience with this than Tomas, so I took the lead on this. The final phase was the production phase and this was very much Tomas’ world.
What came first, the concept or the music?
TH: The music. We only realised there was a story to tell as the music started to present us with one.
FX: As Tom says we didn't really have plans to make conceptual album originally, it was very organic process again.
How important do you feel it is in general for music to have a specific meaning?
TH: Good question! Personally I only need the interest that comes from the space between the notes, the colour of a harmony, the silence either side of the noise.
But in the case of John Doe, we had a large body of (at least to begin with) quite disparate ideas, and when a narrative presented itself it really drove the project forward, indeed we wouldn’t have completed it without it.
FX: During the process of making the album, music became very intimate and emotional for us and we just started to project our stories into it. Later we realised these stories can be generalised and that's how John Doe was born. It seems quite specific for this album. I also think that music has to stand on its own.
What did your studio set-up look like?
TH: We did all our work in Tomas’ studio in Prague, except the orchestra record…
FX: It is mixture of things, both in the box and out of the box. In the beginning, we were looking for the instruments which were easy to grab and immediately play. Obviously clarinet, piano. I like to create in the studio certain chains of the instruments, tune them for the later usage, so you don't need to try to figure out how to set them up that much when you are in the middle of some creative thought. You just grab them and know what to expect.
As an example, surprisingly we used a lots of Microkorg. It’s a funny little synth but but for some reasons it works great with the Tube distortions, this digital grid and especially delay stimulates the valves in very unusual way. Another great thing about Microkorg is that you can randomise its settings, and some of the best presets we used on the album were just created like that.
During the mixing we experimented with old vintage gear too — there are loads of Space Echoes, Vermona reverbs and also Zener Limiter on almost every drum bus. We used Space Echoes in many different ways, often just to run something through the tape. My favourite example is that main motif in 'Machines Are Dancing'. The original sound is just a funny little preset from FM7 which become totally different beast when running through the tape and transposed up or down.
What will the live set-up look like?
TH: This has proved a huge conceptual challenge. When we first finished the record, we agreed we would not play it live without symphony orchestra! But that is a slow process and while we are arranging collaborations with orchestral groups, we decided to attempt a ‘slimline’ version. When we performed our grand preview show in Prague with the PRSO last year, we put GoPro cameras throughout the orchestra and we are now in the process of creating a virtual orchestra floating above our heads in projected light balloons. We will perform as a trio (me, Floex and our drummer Jakub Tengler) underneath these visuals.
How do you feel about A Portrait of John Doe now that it’s out in the world?
TH: Quite proud actually. Perhaps I‘m dreaming but I like to think we added something new to that point where classical and electronic, or even more simply acoustic and electronic, meet.
FX: I'm very thankful for this record. When I think about the whole process, sorry for sounding pathetic maybe, I just think it was our destiny to make it. As you probably understand, many things happened by complete fortune, and I am just happy that this record exists in this world now.
Quick fire round:
A song to get the creative juices flowing?
TH: Anything sung by Ella
FX: Anything from Radiohead
As a musician: on the stage or in the studio?
TH: Stage- people making music together live and in the same room. That’s rare, right?
FX: Haha, for me the opposite. I am very much studio person, I just like to create the sound worlds, dream about it. I like the freedom of it, concerts are much more complicated.
As a fan: live show or listening party for one?
TH: Live show - people making music together live and in the same room. That’s ra....
FX: Hm… this is much harder, but still I think my best musical adventures happened between me and my headphones.
The best live show you ever saw?
TH: Battles at Electric Picnic in Ireland, maybe? Each of my visits to the Village Vanguard in NYC has been pretty transcendent too though. Um, Prince wasn’t bad either, but that was long ago..
FX: Arve Henriksen and Jan Bang live.
What’s your desert island instrument?
TH: Would love to say something quirky, but I couldn’t look past the piano. It just does everything you might need for a long stay on a desert island I think. Not very portable though. Nose flute fits better in the pocket.
FX: For me too actually. I am very basic piano player, but the piano is king of instruments and a healer. I am originally clarinetist, but the clarinet is mono instrument, not so much fun when you are alone on the island for the composer.
Listen to A Portrait of John Doe on Spotify here