Interview: Sam Zircon

Producer and DJ Sam Zircon chats about his recently released LP Anxiety Skits

Posted on Apr 29th, 2016 in Features and Interviews, Sam Zircon, Blah Records / By Sam Bennett
Interview: Sam Zircon Sam Zircon is one of the producers at the forefront of the hip-hop scene in the UK; he's worked with MC's such as Stinkin Slumrok, Black Josh, Cappo, Dirty Dike and many more, and has just released his instrumental LP Anxiety Skits through Blah Records. Bearded caught up with him to chat about the new project.

'I think the first thing I used was probably eJay or something like that' says Sam about his first production experiences. 'I thought that was how you made beats; it was basically like blocks of Lego. It turns out it wasn't. I tried to use Music 2000, and even that I didn't get. Then I used Fruity Loops and was like 'Fuck this'. It just confused me even more, plus our internet at home didn’t really work so I couldn’t research how to create music. I didn't really do anything for ages, then when I went to college some guys showed me how to use Reason, and it went from there really'. I wonder what made him want to get back into it after giving up at first. 'I was always into it, but I was just really lazy with technology; it put me off, but when I learnt the basics the rest fell into place'.

I ask who some of his main influences are. 'I started off trying to sound like other people; I was like 'I wonder how Pete Rock did that' or 'I wonder how Lewis Parker did that'. Lewis Parker was always a massive influence, literally to the point I was like I need to make my drums like he does, but then you go off on your own tangent and get your own sound. I'm influenced by loads of different genres nowadays though; I always try and listen to as much different music as possible so that things don’t get stale'.

I wonder if he thinks that makes being a producer more fun than being a rapper, and I'm greeted with silence. Would he even say it is fun? 'Sometimes (laughs). It definitely is. I do sometimes look at it as work and then it's like 'Ahh I've got to get this done, I've got to get that done', but then I'm happy that I can get this done and that people want music from me. I've done it for a while now and I know what I'm doing to an extent. Compared to rapping, I don't know, I've never been a rapper so I couldn't say'.

Was making beats his first musical endeavour? 'I've had decks since I was thirteen, but I wouldn't class myself as a hip-hop DJ as I’m not much of a turntablist. I think teaching myself to DJ was the first thing. If you've got a good ear and you know what sounds good, the technical side anybody can learn; you've just got to put the hours in and learn how to do it. I think if someone really likes music and knows what sounds good that's the most important thing'.

I ask whether he has a certain process when looking for samples. 'When I first started getting records I just picked up everything that looked good, like 'That'll have something on it, this one will too', and nine times out of ten they did. Over the years I've developed a wide knowledge of labels and artists, but I mainly just feel my way through it'.

The Anxiety Skits project has just been released through the established independent label Blah Records, and I ask how he first got down with the crew. 'It was through Stinkin Slumrok; he put Don Pong out through Blah and I had a few things on there'.

'I've wanted to do an instrumental project for ages' says Sam, expanding on what he wanted to do with the new album. 'I wanted to make something a bit different a project where it was just one beat after another. I grabbed a load of strange records I had and set a loose idea to work to, then I found a few older beats that seemed to fit in with the others. 'Ode To Erykah' uses the same sample from 'The Healer'. I found two different versions of that sample, and I used both of them, and made that. That one's probably my favourite one on there. I just started making moody music really. I didn't have a preconceived idea of what it was going to end up like, I just messed around with sounds until it slotted together in a way that I wanted it to'.

This project definitely takes more of a left-field, experimental direction than some of Sam's more traditional hip-hop work. 'I used to try and make upbeat stuff, like 'This is for hip-hop yeah', and I just kind of got bored of doing the same thing' he says. 'I wanted to experiment with samples and sounds I'd never delved into before'.

One track that really sticks out from the project is 'Take It Or Leave It', and the Anxiety Skits tape frequently has elements that are reminiscent of a horror film soundtrack, with weird effects and off-kilter samples. 'Let me just refresh my memory, I've not heard it for fucking ages, I finished it and then it was like 'Get this out of my life' (laughs)'. I can hear the beat play faintly on Sam's end of the phone. 'Oh this one. This one I made specifically for the tape as well actually. That was a sample I found and thought I could do something with. I'd made a beat beforehand and it sounded nothing like that, and I was making it for about an hour and I was like 'This isn't really going anywhere'. I tried again the next day with the same sample and made that finished version. it's weird how that happens sometimes. It depends on what mood you're in, or maybe not even that, it's just a different day, and I'll flip a sample in a completely different way. So many times I've had something crash, and then I remake it, and you lose what you had before. You can try again obviously, but it's never the same. That beat though, it's a bit weird isn’t it! I made that with a sound effects record, the main part is a wind sample amongst some other sounds, and I've just pitched it up and down using automation'.

I wonder if there have been any instrumental projects or beat-tapes that have particularly influenced Sam. 'The main instrumental album I used to listen to a lot was Pete Rock's Petestrumentals, every sound on that album fits in and doesn’t sound out of place, and the mixing and mastering on there is incredible. I’ve listened to a lot of Madlib over the years, as well as people like Evil Ed, Samiyam, Flying Lotus, Burial, Hydra Beats and Adrian Younge. There are loads more too obviously'.

Sam has worked with a host of talented and respected UK names, and I ask who some of his favourite people to collaborate with are. 'Cappo will always be up there, he's amazing and he's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. He just gets shit done, and can rap on anything with some of the most out-there lyrics. Slumrok, he’s one of my good friends, we have so much music recorded and he's one of the most fun to work with in a studio; it usually just ends up with us getting too drunk though (laughs). Then of course all the guys on Blah; they're all genuinely nice people that want to make good music'.

'It's always good to have a project as a project' says Sam when I inquire if his creative process differs when working on a full length collaboration with an MC. 'I dunno, I've got an EP with Lee and Josh which is basically done; some of the tunes on there are really weird, then there's some slower hip-hop stuff, but it works together. We've been doing stuff for that for a while now. My process now is to just see what happens, instead of trying to stick to a certain idea'.

This is when it got a bit weird to be honest. I ask if there's anything else Sam wanted to cover. 'Nah I don't think so. Oh, congratulations on your bus driver job, I saw that on your Facebook innit. Big ups man'. I've never been a bus-driver, and am slightly confused where he's got this from. 'Didn't you get a bus driver job? Were you trolling'? My Facebook profile isn't exactly the most serious page on the internet, but I don't think I've ever posted anything about this. 'What the fuck? (laughs). Do I think I'm talking to someone else? I'm going to look like a right idiot, I swear it was you bruv (laughs). I wanted to be a bus driver once but I've got three points on my license so I can't do it. I was going to congratulate you. What the fuck, who the hell was I looking at? Shit, I swear it was you man. I don't know man, this has freaked me out. That's upsetting, I feel like I've gone a bit crazy now. Well, congratulations on the job anyway (laughs)'. Yeah, cheers I say. 'Someone's going to see this and be like 'That's me, what a fucking weirdo why is he on my Facebook (laughs). I don't need to speak to people anymore, I just need to lock myself away (laughs). Nah anyway, just safe to Lee and Reklews for putting the Anxiety Skits project out, big up to them'.

Anxiety Skits is out now through Blah Records