Chief Xcel & Herve Salters are established names in the music world already for their separate outfits in Blackalicious & General Elektriks respectively. In 2013 the’ve joined forces to start a brand new project, that has already, on their first single release ‘Turn off the robot’, seen them combine both styles to create something beautiful. With massive followings each and impressive back catalogues, we ask Burning House the reasons behind this exciting collaboration?
So, coming from two already well established, and successful acts in Blackalicious and General Elektrics, what’s motivated this fresh start, and brand new collaboration?
The fun of it really. We’d realized that whenever we’d get together to work on tracks for various projects, unexpected things seemed to happen. We both like to be surprised by music. We get a bigger kick out of it if it steers clear of formulas and routines. With Burning House, the tree bears fruits neither of us can predict.
Are you finding so far, that established fans of your previous incarnations are embracing the change?
It’s a little early to say, we’re literally just letting the music wander out into the world as we speak. No one has heard the album yet. I would wager that most Blackalicious and GE fans will find stuff in the album they will dig, if only for the fact that followers of both projects are usually open-minded people with an ear for the new. That said it’s always hard to tell. We didn’t think in terms of fan expectations when we made the record, we just went with whatever inspiration brought.
How did this collaboration come about, and has it been in the pipeline for a long time?
Chief Xcel and myself met in the early 2000s when I moved from Paris to San Francisco. From the very first time that I brought my Clavinet along to his studio, things just clicked. We’re on the same wavelength, even though we took different paths to learn the craft. We can probably date the seeds of the project toward the end of the Blackalicious tour that I took part in, in 2004/2005. We would toy with ideas once in a while, but it stayed on the backburner until a year ago, when Xcel joined me in Paris for a week and when much of the writing for the album happened. We finished it last October in Berlin, where I now live.
The single ‘Turn off the robot’ appears to be the perfect blend of both styles! Was there any conflict or compromise when blending that big 90’s Hip-hop sound, with that electronic vintage funk?
None! We bounce off each other’s ideas really easily. Tracks fall into place very fast. The finishing process might take a little longer, but it’s really just about keeping the original spark alive. Of course, there would be points where either I would think ‘wow, that’s interesting, I wouldn’t have done it this way’, or vice versa, but we both like that sensation. That’s what we like about collaborating: enjoying losing your bearing a little whilst still managing to walk straight. And since we both trust the other’s opinions and tastes, it’s easy to let go when the situation calls for it.
The music video for ‘Turn off the robot’ is pretty trippy, and one thing i noticed is the different styles of illustration throughout. Who is mainly responsible for creating, producing the video, and the idea behind it?
Christopher Mills directed the video and is the sole mastermind behind it. We got in touch with him because we thought that his style, which is characterized by a blend of techniques like you said, would fit the collage-y vibe of our song. We gave him general directions, mostly just telling him to let loose, not hold anything back, and make it pop! He took it from there and created this unique piece. We love it!
The single also has little vocal content, but i also got the vibe that a message is being sent. What is the message or thought process behind the song?
We had the broad strokes for the instrumental, but weren’t quite sure what to do on top of it. I had just laid down a Talk-Box track for one of the songs and thought ‘let’s just pop open the session for ‘turn off the robot’ (it didn’t have a title then), press record and see what happens’. So I did that, and since I had no idea what I was doing, I just went ‘What are you doing??’ into the Talk-Box when the verse came. That was the spark behind it. That first take is what you hear on the 1st verse, minus a few adjustments. It led to the idea of the paranoid robot that doesn’t want to be turned off. We did indeed slide in a message when writing the hook though, which is why we have the line ‘what you got?’ at the end of the choruses. It’s just a simple comment on the fact that we are nowadays so relying on machines that we sometimes forget that there’s a world outside of them. Turning that phone off for an hour in the middle of the day might be the best thing you’ll do. It’s all just a bit of fun though, definitely no lecture here! And we purposefully left this abstract, like with the rest of the lyrical content on the album. We like the idea that people can decide for themselves what we’re on about. Funny, someone left a message on Facebook asking if ‘Turn Off The Robot’ was an anti-Daft Punk song!! Definitely not, we’re fans of those guys!
How long until we see more from Burning House?
Very soon. The album will be out in September, with a second video to boot, this time for our song ‘Post Party Stress Disorder’. We’ll also be doing a first wave of touring in the fall.
Will you be touring as the duo, and if so when and where?
We’ll hit the road in Sept/Oct, in France/England/Germany to start with. We’ll be in London on Oct 15th, at the Cargo. The live version of Burning House is a 4 piece. We didn’t want to be too locked in by machines. We’re blending what is coming out of the turntables with instruments. Definitely more a concert than a DJ set.
Are General Elektriks and Blackalicious still going to be creating music, or is this now the main focus?
We’re dedicated to taking this new baby out into the world, and for now it’s the main focus. But both Blackalicious and General Elektriks have new albums in the works. I personally really like switching from my own thing to collaborations and vice versa. It keeps the creative juices flowing. It’s just more fun really. You only have one life, and there’s so much music you could be making! I wouldn’t like to be writing and performing only GE songs, it would feel like I’m always wearing the same clothes.
Neither of you are strangers to collaborations, as previously you’ve both worked with some big names. Who would you most like to see guest, as a third man, on a future Burning House track?
De La Stevie Bowie and the Family Quest. He’s the greatest!
If this interview has whet your appetite to find out more about Burning House, check out this interview of Burning House interviewing…well…Burning House!