ArchiveX is the hugely talented new artist based in San Francisco who has been causing a storm in the media across both sides of the pond with his brand new album ‘Some Ungodly Hour’. Ratha Gud checks in to get the low-down on this incrediblly talented artist and his new collaboration with the mighty Dr Kucho!
Hi Archive X, where are you in the world right now?
I am on vacation in New Hampshire, sitting by a big lake, deciding whether I need to move at any point before lunch.
What was the first piece of music you heard today?
I was stuck in a car for a while yesterday with some 12 year-olds who were listening to “KIIS FM: LA’s Hit Music!” on satellite radio, and the first piece of music I heard this morning was the last thing I heard last night: Sean Paul’s voice singing “More than di-a-monds, more than go-weld,” over and over in my head. Relentless. My brain is a bastard.
How would you describe your sound?
That’s a tricky one. I’ve sort of boiled it down to SoulAmbientElectroRoots, since that captures a fair bit of it, but it’s maybe closer to SoulAmbientPopElectroRockGospelSingerSongwriterHipHopRoots. I have commitment issues.
What’s the meaning behind your name?
As you might guess from the last answer, I slither around from genre to genre a lot. Describing the sonic inspiration for any given track during the making of this album, I’d find myself saying, “that one’s kinda from the 40’s gospel archive,” or “this one’s largely from the moody electronic rock archive,” and that just sort of led to calling it ArchiveX, with the X standing in for the odd gumbo that it all becomes, and for the fact that you never actually quite know where a given inspiration comes from – it’s just sort of a gift from the aliens. That’s the “X” factor.
You have an incredible vocal range with gospel and blues tones, how did you first get into singing and writing?
Thanks. I used to sing all the time as a kid, harmonies with my brother and schoolfriends in the car, etc, but the songwriting bit began later as a survival strategy during an atrocious period of my life. As far as gospel and blues tones go, much of that is down to a serendipitous relationship I struck up with a neighbor in SF. It turned out he was a badass Jazz, Soul, and R&B musician who’d played with everyone back in the day. We started playing together and he just slowly whipped my ass into shape on the vocal front, refusing to let me settle for stuff in my comfort zone.
You’ve just about to release your debut album, ‘Some Ungodly Hour’, how long did it take to write and are you pleased with the results?
About half of those tracks were written in a couple months, then the rest spun out in dribs and drabs over the next couple years. And yeah, I’m pleased with the results. It’s a pretty offbeat record, but I think much of the emotional impact I was after is in there. Still, like most musicians, I can be seriously impatient with stuff I’ve already recorded. A recording is a static thing, and we’re not static! So I’ll hear things I’d do differently today, I hear possibilities I didn’t hear when I first wrote, etc. In truth, that means I’m never permanently satisfied with anything I’ve recorded, but you know what? That spurs me to write new music.
Talk us through a couple of your favourite tracks from the album?
The first track on the album is an a cappella track called Hymmmn. It’s just humming, no lyrics, and it came together as this very organic, earthy thing. I was calling it “mmm” as a working track for a long time, and then I just tacked on the h,y, and n to honor a sort of mystical quality it has. It reminds me of something that happens in old-school black Baptist churches when the congregation just lets loose singing freeform sans musical accompaniment. I am not at all a religious person, by the way, but I love that sound. The song just feels like a bit of a secular prayer to me, a sort of touchstone.
Another favorite is Drink the Water, which to me is really just a joyful, seriously old-school vocal romp (it’s directly inspired by 40’s gospel quartets). That, too, started off as an a cappella track, and I had a lot of fun messing about with the music underneath it.
You’ve had quite a colourful past from time as a Naval officer to a literary editor to fronting a Gospel choir, has that influenced your songwriting?
I got myself stuck in the Navy when I was 17 — signed on the dotted line as a way to pay for college — then couldn’t back out of it when I realized I’d made a terrible mistake. I ended up being trapped for years in what, for me, was something utterly hellish. And because I was an officer with people’s lives and careers depending on me, there was really no shrinking from it. Basically I spent the whole time in a defensive crouch, trying to preserve my sense of self. Awful. I started writing music during that stretch as a means to emotional survival. When I got out I was waaaayyyy messed up, a total wreck, trying to figure out who I actually was, trying to recapture some lost sense of joy, trying to figure out how to make a thin dime (I had no skills that didn’t involve some weird arcane shit like operating a ship’s pneumatic system). It was harrowing.
That experience profoundly impacted me as a songwriter, drawing me towards unstinting, emotionally frank music. As I said earlier, I’m not remotely religious, but nonetheless old-school black gospel music really resonates with me – that sense of staring down really terrible life experiences, naming them, then going after a bit catharsis and emotional rejuvenation that allows you to push through another week. I ended up singing in a black Baptist church choir as a favor to a friend who was paid to run the choir, and though my non-religiosity was sometimes awkward, tapping into that generous place in one’s soul that recognizes shared humanity, that forgives and consoles, was incredibly powerful, and I think that came through when I sang there. The church folks called it Jesus, I called it music, but I think we ended up in the same place. That’s a place I try to get to with my own songwriting.
You’ve enlisted the help of Spanish giant Dr Kucho! To remix your new single ‘Drink The Water’, tell us about the remix and how you hooked up with him?
Because “Drink the Water” began as an a cappella track, it’s a prime contender for remixes. So we thought it would be fun to see where someone far removed from my experience would take that vocal. My main and unshakeable requirement was this: any remix of that track would have to be sparkling with Joie de Vivre. Phil Loraine, who works with my management company, has a good bead on the house scene, and he got Dr. Kucho! interested. And man, did Kucho deliver the goods! I love that he used mostly old-school instrument samples – acoustic piano, Rhodes piano, guitar – and coupled them with the funky antique-style vocal to create a killer modern dance track. It’s definitely crackling with life. He is one talented dude.
What’s good on the San Francisco clubbing scene?
Given my current retro kick, one of the things I’m most enjoying right now is a pop-up “speakeasy” scene. People go all-in on 20s garb, throw down on pre-prohibition cocktails and dance to some of the best musicians in town stripping their music down to 20s instruments. It’s kind of a nice respite from the usual, especially in tech-drenched SF.
What’s been the biggest challenges of your musical career so far?
Being a musician is long on labor, long on rewards of an existential sort, but unfortunately very short on rewards of a tangible career sort. My biggest challenge, always ongoing, is to tap into my best musical self while simultaneously slogging through the rest of what I need to do to get by in the world.
Who or what are your biggest influences?
For this record, far and away the biggest influences are old-school gospel greats like Mahalia Jackson, early James Cleveland, 40s quartets like The Spirit of Memphis, then some early soul singers like Johnnie Taylor. But I have a whole host of musical personalities that like to make unannounced appearances in tracks. Radiohead, for instance, was a saving grace for me in dark hours past, and that certainly bubbles up in this album from time to time.
Name a record that makes you say “damn, I wish I made that!”
The shocking deaths of both Prince and David Bowie sent me back through their entire catalogs, finding a bunch of records that I wish I’d made along the way. Both of those guys were true artists, never afraid to do something totally new, always pushing the boundaries. They worked at their craft relentlessly, they practiced constantly. They set the bar for what a musician can aspire to. For those of us coming up in their wake, they are guiding beacons.
Who are your top 5 artists right now?
Right now I’m still in a deep retro gospel kick, so there’s Mahalia Jackson et al plus J. Robert Bradley. By extension, also loving neo-retro bands like St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Alabama Shakes too.
Who would you most like to make a collaboration with?
Recently I’ve had a fantasy of collaborating with St. Vincent. She has a kind of manic, anxiety-fueled energy – a sort of exorcising-the-demons vibe – that’s something I often tap into. She’s also creatively fearless. I think working with her would be a blast.
What is an average week like for you
Tons of generic life-maintenance bullshit leavened with a good bit of practicing of instruments and sprinkled with occasional moments of musical clarity and writing.
Any plans to tour the album in Europe this year?
No plans finalized, but none rejected, either, so … we’ll see!
Finally what’s next from ArchiveX
I have an entire album of remixes coming out in the fall – another dozen tracks that go off in all kinds of interesting directions with some very talented remixers at the controls (like iGloo, best known for Grammy-winning work with Ludacris). Some excellent videos coming out as well. Exact dates tbd. We’ll keep you posted!
ArchiveX ‘Drink The Water’ ft Dr Kucho! Is out now on LowEx Music.