exclusive interview with Meta4

interview by dimmSummer
date: 11.09.01
transcribed by derek beres
listen: Streaming MP3 40kbs mono
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ET: What's your real name and you are from?

META4: Ian Menzies... I'm from Vancouver.

ET: What's the scene like up there?

META4: Well it's smaller than it would be in a place like New York, where I happen to be tonight. There's a very vibrant world music proper community there... Very big and successful annual folk festival that embraces world music in a big way. The jazz festival there is very progressive and is always bringing in people like Bebel Gilberto or Cesoria Evora, that kind of vibe. It's also interestingly, especially for the down-tempo stuff, like the Bebel record or Thievery Corp., always sells per capita better in Vancouver than anywhere else in the country.

ET: So the downbeat is really big there

META4: There's a house scene, there's all kinds of scenes there, but they're all smaller and more microcosmic than in the larger centers like Toronto and New York. I think the down-tempo side just flourishes because it isn't as "clubby" a town, and there's much more lounging going on.

ET: (interrupting Charilie-Rose-style) -More sophisticated. I'd expect that up there. More laid back, in the background for conversation.

META4: It does well, but at the same time it's a tricky market. Because it's less hyper, less driven, sometimes it can be difficult from a promoting standpoint. But at any rate, it is a very multi-cultural town, and the scene is smaller but growing.

ET: What brought about the Geosonic Grooves Vol. I compilation?

META4: Like most things in life it's the result of a fairly prolonged amount of focus and activity in the genre. It's a process I can trace back five years. In specific terms it was about last year at this time that I sat down and cut a deal with the label to do the compilation and blend it into proper forward motion to put it all together. But it certainly helped that I was able to draw upon tracks and sources from the network that I had begun to build much before that.

ET: Do you have a favorite artist and did you include them on the compilation?

META4: I'm certainly a huge fan of Natacha Atlas and I have a track of hers on there. Particularly if I think back one of the artists who over the last five years has been a big inspiration for me Natacha definitely qualifies. But I can't say all of my most favorite tracks and artists are on the compilation. Unfortunately the logistics of actually doing a comp and the budgets you get allotted and the legalities of securing licenses and so on, there were quite a few tracks that would have been great to get on the comp that I didn't get on the comp. So there are some compromises. Having said that, it's certainly all stuff I believe is strong.

Because it's a mixed comp there was a need for one song to lead into the other in some sort of quasi-logical way. Therefore, some tracks, even though they were great tracks, I couldn't find a way to fit them in. Also there's a mix of obscure, lesser-known stuff, along with some of the big name stuff like Bebel or Natacha, and that is primarily a financial thing. If you have a handful of lesser-known artists you get a bigger deal, and a package comes into place where it makes sense to do it.

ET: You also get a chance to give exposure to new artists.

META4: Absolutely, and I'm really happy to say there are four Canadian produced tracks on there. Although it wasn't my main mandate to make them Canadian it was really nice to include them coming from Canada... Those tracks are Legion of Green Men, Delirium, Conjure One, who has not had any previous releases so it was cool to get their first track, and a track that I myself worked on that's a rework of a local Vancouver project called Third Eye Tribe.

ET: Do you produce remixes picked up for other compilations?

META4: My previous incarnation, going back a few morphs, I had started, with some partners, an acid jazz label in the mid-90s called Mo' Funk Records. Through that process I did do some remixes that found their way to release, primarily through my own label, I'll grant you. I've had smatterings of them; it's never been a big line of work for me, but I have been hired to do remixes in small measure. Certainly if this cd does well, I'll be looking for more work, so if anyone wants remixes, email me!

ET: Nutone isn't a huge label, but they're a known label. They have a world flavor to their releases, so I think you're going to see some sales.

META4: It helps to get a handful of known artists, because that always helps everybody's cause, there's no doubt about it. To some degree my network and association to the scene helps some of those people be more willing to have a track go on because they knew where it was going.

Nutone is relatively new, but it's a sub-label of a label called Network, which is a large indie most known for Sarah MacLaughlin and other singer-songwriter rock stuff. Currently they have stuff like Utah Saints and Skinny Puppy. It's nice to have this sub-label that's delving into more experimental and fringe stuff but have a backbone of a larger company.

ET: What's standing in your way in producing your dream compilation? Is the label worried that too much good music will do too well?

META4: In my case, one of the main constraints was simply the money I was allotted to spend. Big name artists with great tracks, the labels who control those tracks tend to want a certain amount of money or you can't have that track. That was one aspect of it. If I had gone for twelve tracks as well known as the Bebel Gilberto track, it would have been a significantly more expensive comp. There are also, in some cases, there are strange legal issues or territorial issues - the world is divided, from a music business standpoint, into territories. There are quite a few tracks that are available only for Europe, or only for North America, and we were very hopeful in making this a worldwide release. So some of the tracks that could have been had couldn't have been had for the world, at any price.

Ultimately if money is no object, and time is no object, you can compile the perfect twelve-song comp with your twelve favorite songs. The other thing that then comes into play, if you're trying to put those twelve songs into continuous mix, even if they're your twelve favorite songs, you can't find a logical way to string those songs together. So there's three ways you can get distracted from making your twelve favorite songs: one is, musically you can't make them all fit. Two is there's territorial issues, and three is straight-ahead finances.

ET: That sounds horrible. Sometimes you go out and get a comp and it just sucks. Is that the reason, because of the bureaucracy?

META4: Probably not. Probably the reason most comps suck is because they just suck. (laughs) We live in a world where 50,000 or more CDs can be released in a given large market like America. It's a given that 45,000 of those just stink. There aren't 50,000 people making fantastic music. If there were, the world would be a different place.

I think it's pretty safe to say that people include tracks on comps for reasons other than thinking this is the very best track to put on a comp. I don't feel any of the songs on this comp are like that. I think they make a very nice, flowing CD. What I meant to say was 'Is it my wish list of my top twelve songs of electronic groove ever that I put on there?' No. It's a different compilation based on the reality of the situation and the comprises I had to make.

ET: Good answer... A lot of times I see repeats on various compilations, from the Buddha Beats to Karma Beats to the Traveler Series. But I haven't seen the tracks on Geosonic Grooves anywhere else, and that's good.

META4: That is good. In fact I know a couple of those tracks have shown up in other places, but not in huge ways, and there were a couple of songs I decided against because I knew they were cropping up all over the place. One thing that's interesting about the comp is that I think it's a little unique in that it does not come from one particular place in the globe.

The Traveler series, for one example: it's Asian Travels, it's Arabian Travels, it's a part of that world and they fit it within that box, for better or worse. Ultimately this compilation has no box. That made it more challenging to make it flow from one track to the next. It has a possibility to open up some minds. They're just getting my own personal paste from all over the map, in a global-electronic sense. It's exciting to be working in a genre that's almost not a genre. It's so wide open. It's unlike any other genre you can name, except maybe pop, which is limited by being 'poppy.' Reggae, ska, jazz, funk - what have you - world is the best category going because it doesn't have any borders.

You have seen a lot of the electronic stuff, for marketing purposes I'm sure, positioned as one flavor from one place. This is not like that. What was causing some of that repetition, if you were doing an Asian Underground thing, you have less of a pool to pick from. You want to get some names, so you end up picking some tracks from other comps.

ET: That's a good point, but it leads me to another question: if there's one track from an artsist such as TJ Rehmi that shows up over and over again on various comps - isn't there somebody behind that track just pimping it out over and over, perhaps ignoring better tracks by the same artist?

META4: ...Speculation: Part of the reason that TJ Rehmi's track will show up over and over again is that a lot of these compilations are not put out by people who are die hard fans, connected at the grassroots. There are just people who put out a ska compilation and then turn around and put out an 80s compilation, and the sources they go to find about what to put on are the other compilations in the store. It's like 'TJ Rehmi, he's the guy to get because he's on these other ones.' That's part of it.


META4: (laughs) That SUCKS. You got that right buddy...

The other side of the coin is that this is what has made the music business the best of times and the worst of times for it's entire existence. Nobody knows what a hit is until it's a hit. Nobody, I don't care who they are, don't know. A lot of stuff that everybody says is crap you'll hear it nine times a day. The correlation between quality and success is very tenuous in the music business. Arguably the more quality you can objectively say is in the music the LESS likely it is to do well in the market... Which also sucks.

ET: Most people have the ability to hear an entire CD and pick out what's going to be a hit. I think these same people in charge of compilations are the same people picking the worst songs to put on the radio, and then pound you with it incessantly because it makes money.

META4: You can ram it down people's throats to a certain extent, even though that fails to a certain percentage point. To go outside of music, talking about films or books, most of the movies you go see or decide not to go see, there's a high attrition rate of what survives everybody's personal bullshit meter. Having said that, there still seems to be this ability for inane pieces-of-crap movies have millions of people go. How those two exist together I'm not exactly sure

But it's just as true of Italian restaurants, more or less. You've got a zillion of them. Most of them aren't that good. Most people have their own barometer on how to establish which ones are good, and which ones you repeat your business with and so on, and yet there still exists a chain of them called The Olive Garden that do huge business while everybody more or less acknowledges that they're crap. I don't have the answer to this dilemma, but this is sort of the way the world works.

ET: People want crap maybe.

META4: I do believe people get what they deserve, if not what they want.

(Translator's note: Before fully initiating my career as a transcription expert for EthnoTechno.com, I spent a solid two months in 1997 as an Olive Garden server. For your own safety, beware that their "choice vino" costs about fifty cents a gallon, and all those "fresh" sauces arrive, yes indeed, frozen in giant plastic bags. But they do have some slamming pumpkin pie...)

Fade into "Silk Road Samba" -Meta4 Vs Third Eye Tribe