Starting out with the post-rock outfit Fridge while still a teen, getting his first Four Tet album, Dialogue, released at just 21 and recently starting his own label, Text Records, Kieran Hebden (AKA Four Tet) is one busy dude. I got a chance to speak with him just as he was in midst of being late for a sound-check in Atlanta due to one of the seven American wonders: the outlet store.
Where are you right now?
Oh, you don’t even want to know. We’re in a place called Clothing Carnival, a factory outlet store somewhere in Georgia.
So what brings you to Clothing Carnival?
We just found a t-shirt with a naked woman on it, and on the back it says “Nothing is finer than sewing your hopes at the crack of dawn” and there’s another one with a picture of a naked woman with a gun and it says “Nothing is finer than hunting.”
(laughing) Well, as I happen to be Canadian, I have to ask you about Dan Snaith (AKA Caribou). I understand that you are friends, this is true?
Yeah I’ve been friends with Dan for ages; I met him at a festival in England ages ago. He wasn’t even doing music or anything. He was just hanging out at the festival; he arranged for me to come over and DJ at a night he was doing in Toronto. So I came over and we got on well, met a whole load of people and made some good friends. He played me some CDs while I was there. And he was like, “I’ve started making music as well,’ and that was the first Manitoba
stuff I guess.
Do you two communicate about your music?
Yeah, he lives just down the road from me. And we often both work on albums at similar times and we’ll get together and play each other what we’re working on and tell each other if we’re doing something good or bad.
With everyone living in London, do you go out for tea and have expensive jams and stuff?
(silence) Ah, expensive jams?
Yeah, well, that was one of my only London experiences. At Heathrow Airport I had to pay a lot of money for toast and jam. Toast I understand
is universally affordable so the high price must’ve been due to the jam.
Well, I don’t really do a lot of my shopping at Heathrow.
Wise. You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you found the Riot Grrrl movement to be quite influential.
So what was it like for a young Brit lad to be into these third-wave women from Olympia, WA?
It was good, you know. I must have been about fifteen or something and I remember going to see bands like Bikini Kill and Team Dresch and all this sort of stuff. It was exciting for me because all these records were coming out, especially stuff on Kill Rock Stars and K where the whole attitude was just have the confidence; anyone can make a record, anyone can put a band together, record something and release it, it doesn’t have to be done in a big studio and it doesn’t need some old guy in a suit telling you it’s all right. I think that gave me the confidence to think it was fine to make music and release it.
Did that influence your starting your own record label (Text Records)?
Yeah, I think because I grew up with this whole low-fi scene going on. It’s a constant thing, I come back to the mentality behind it—bands like Fugazi and stuff, I love the attitude behind what they do—the whole DIY way of recording your own things. With the label, I wanted the experience of putting my own record out, not having it run through any big company. We did the artwork ourselves, everything, recorded it ourselves and produced it ourselves. I remember selling CDs at shows and thinking, no one else had been involved in this. We didn’t have to go through any big company in order to do our thing.
You’re speaking of you and Fridge?
Yeah, but even ‘til this day. Because of the time when I got into music, the whole way of thinking, I don’t have a manager. I work on my own terms in quite a unique way. I mainly do shows with independent promoters. In the UK I do these tours that are booked almost entirely just from kids emailing my website asking if they can put a show on.
So have you played some pretty strange venues coming out of that?
Loads! I’ve done lots of shows where the people putting on the show have never put a show on before but were just really excited about the idea.
The first person you signed to Text Records happens to be Canadian: Koushik, who will be supporting you at the beginning stages of your tour. So is it through Dan that you met each other?
Koushik is actually standing right in front of me and he’s just found a t-shirt that has Southern Comfort on it and it’s got some American guy with a sword chasing some Arab guy on a camel. It’s really tasteful, we’re really in quite an amazing shop. He’s a friend of Dan’s, and grew up with Dan; when I went over and met Dan I met a whole ton of people and I met the guys that ended up being in Dan’s band as well. And then Koushik played me the stuff he’d been recording and I really, really loved it so I put out the 7-inch when I had the idea of getting a label going. Then we gave copies to Stone’s Throw Records and they’re really into it now. He’s signed to Stone’s Throw and he’s done some EPs and he has a compilation of his EPs out at the moment. He hopes to have an album out next year.
Your tour schedule is pretty packed,
Yeah it is, something like 25 shows.
How do you handle it?
I’m quite used to it but this is quite long for me. Normally I only do two or three weeks. I was thinking about it; it’s something like my seventh American tour.
The kind of music you make just being you and your laptop, I imagine is largely produced in solitude. But then to bring an audience into this
relationship – does it create a strange dynamic?
Not really, I think a lot of the music comes about through what I do live. Live music is often the backbone of what I’m trying to do, really. Doing live shows isn’t just about going out and promoting the album for me. It’s a musical statement in itself. I see it as a chance for me to put forward my musical ideas and show people where I’m at that time.
So what’s next? Every album has had a different feel. Is there anything in the works that you would like to share?
I’ve got two albums coming out next year that I’ve recorded with this drummer, Steve Reid. He’s a jazz drummer and it’s albums of improvised music, jazz and electronics. He used to play with Sun Ra and James Brown and all these people; he’s an incredible musician. Domino will be putting them out next year.
Thank you for talking with me, and I hope you enjoy the Southern Comfort t-shirt.
I don’t think we’re going to buy it.