Mix-master Alphabethead, aka David Morrison, is a Wellington-based turntable musician who has joined forces with F In Math to celebrate Flying Nun's 30th Anniversary this November. He will be re-mixing tracks by cult Kiwi artists such as The Clean and Chris Knox, as well as the labelís more recent additions like Die! Die! Die! and Grayson Gilmour. An intrepid explorer of all things vinyl, Morrison is a former champion hip-hop dj who combines all manner of sounds and beats to create a blend of noise that is intriguing and exceptionally danceable. Under The Radar had a chat with Alphabethead about the upcoming tour and how he plans to avoid ruining New Zealandís favourite songs.
How have you prepared for the Flying Nun shows and what type of material are you going to use?
For the last few weeks Iíve immersed myself heavily in just Flying Nun. I had about 5 or 6 records in my collection, they sent me about ten, and I went to the library and researched the label! Iíve been listening to heaps of the records and just jotting down the things I like about each one. In two weeks Iíll be a Flying Nun expert.
Are there any artists youíve come across that are new to you? Some pleasant surprises?
I hadnít even heard a few of the bands before, like The Skeptics, and it just blew my mind when I heard those guys. Or, the Jean Paul Sartre Experience! Theyíre not one of the bands that blew up in the 80ís but they were so ahead of their time - a bit like My Bloody Valentine. Itís some goosebump inducing stuff.
How much are your sets planned and how much do leave to the night so you can cater it to the crowd?
These days at least 80% is highly rehearsed, but on the night I can change how long I extend each section - it all depends on how the audience is reacting.
Have you and F in Math worked together to prep a set or will you both do your own thing?
At the moment weíre both hidden away in our respective labs and are just putting our own stuff together, but once we get on tour there may be songs that fortuitously we have both picked and maybe we can combine forces. It would be funny if we were all covering the same songs!
How have you approached the material because youíre dealing with some kiwi cult hits?
Iím not butchering the songs. I would hate people to come up to me and say I ruined a song. It has happened in the past Ė people have said ďAww you chopped my favourite song by Deep Purple but then you ruined it!Ē
Iíve gone into this tour knowing that people have really bonded with the Flying Nun songs and if I was to mix them in my traditional way it might offend people so Iíve tried to keep at least one verse and a chorus in tact.
Do people actually do that? Come up and tell you that youíve ruined their favourite song?
Yeah it has happened a couple of times before. But sometimes itís true, sometimes I do ruin their favourite songs!
Iíve still had more kind words than negative ones.
In hip hop we donít always sample the parts of the songs that the audience love. We sample the interesting grooves. Say they like Billie Jean by MJ, I donít even know that the lyrics are saying in that! I just know that it starts with a really awesome beat and bass line and thatís the part Iím interested in.
How do you usually approach mixing when youíre not so mindful of respecting the original material?
Usually I sample from lots of different records. Any one song might have 10 to 30 different components. I use the turn tables to manipulate the drums but then Iíve got samplers which I use to layer up the parts I choose, so I produce my music built from lots of samples.
How did you get into scratching and why?
I grew up listening to hip-hop and I wanted to participate but I couldnít really rap, so it was the scratching that intrigued me and it sounded like something I could do.
I really wanted turntables once I got into hip-hop, and I was so lucky that I had to save for two years straight mowing laws. Every lawn I mowed Iíd dream about one day having turntables.
Mum forced me to do classical piano for 7 years before that, which I did to keep her happy and it probably helped in terms of giving me knowledge about the structure of songs and chords and melodies.
What type of music did you listen to growing up?
When I was a kid a guy moved into my neighbourhood who was a few years older than me and lent me some music. Up until that point Iíd just been listening to what my parents listened to. You always meet someone who is a gateway to a different style of music and this guy lent me Cypress Hill and De La Soul. I think they were big at the time and the music really grabbed me.
Who does all the artwork for your blog and mix-tape covers etc?
Oh youíve seen that? I actually do it all. Itís just something to do. Iím not very good at drawing. The way I make music is the same way I approach art Ė collage basically. When I started making mix tapes I would get the womenís weekly from Mum and cut legs and heads off. All the stuff on my blog is my own stuff. I make something each month to put up there.
So whatís coming up for you over the summer?
I have a few Alphabethead gigs dotted around places, like Splore for example.
Iím also in a noise band called The All Seeing Hand which started out as a fun project and sort of snowballed. Weíre bringing an album out soon which we will tour. Weíre hoping it will be out by 21 November.