Interview with Riley Lake

Things+That+Happen+At+Day++CoveThe man behind the curtains for some of the best music released this year is Will Mitchell aka Riley Lake. Lake produced milo‘s projects things that happen at day, and Cavalcade, as well as helping milo and his alter ego, scallops hotel, mold poplar grove (or how to rap with a hammer). His production stands past others and can’t be labeled with anything we’ve previously heard before. Layers on layers of sounds that complement each other in their own off-script fashion. We got to ask the Wisconsin producer some questions about his work with milo, Hellfyre Club, being classically trained in music and more. Check it out:

Where did you get the name Riley Lake from?

I grew up next to a lake called Riley lake and I wanted to confuse people by using a pen name that sounded like a real name so I just went for it.

When did you first meet milo?

We met IRL for the first time on December 31, 2012 to celebrate New Years and the release of things that happen at day.

I heard in an interview with milo that you’re “classically trained” in music. When/why did you start learning music and when did this transcribe into you becoming a producer?

I started violin lessons at age five; my moms really hooked it up. I think learning music that early gives you an innate familiarity with music, akin to knowing a language from immersion as a kid. I also had some sense of how arrangements work too. Honestly tho, once I like purposefully abandoned the paradigms of the established music world, I started making cooler shit.

What’s your current production setup?

The computer is the hub of everything. I have some midi pads and midi keys that I use to control software samplers and the occasional software synth. I use a lot of samples; I think we’re still in the golden age of digital sampling and there is a lot of potential to make interesting, novel shit that is rooted in what people are familiar with and thus accessible. I’ve got one hardware synth that I’m pretty in love with, and whenever I can get my hands on other shit, like old synths or rack gear, ill record whatever I can with it and sample later. Like, I covet hardware super bad but I feel like I could be doing more with my current set up than I am right now, so I can’t feel justified copping a bunch of synths, as much as I might want to. I think the ill workflow is to do as much sound design and live instrumentation outside of the computer as possible and then process and mix with all of these wild digital plugins. I just wanna balance artistry/humanity and control over the sound as much as possible.

What ever happened to the digital beat tape you were going to release called the philandering hands of the whiteman?

It turns out senior year of college is pretty hard. I came up with the idea of this sprawling beat tape on tour, but I haven’t had the time to compile and polish it into something that held up to my standards of what my first release should be. I wanna put the milo instrumentals out there, but I respect his work to the point that I think the instrumentals are pretty worthless stacked up next to the original songs. Instead, I think I’m going to make “dub mixes” of those songs where I kinda rework the beats into something that is more densely layered and immersive, with overarching thematic shit. Hopefully ill get day done over my winter break and then as soon as its done imma pull a beyonce and just throw it up on the Internet. Except nobody is gonna buy it, but that’s fine.

Your production on things that happen at day is very left-of-center from anything that’s popping up in the rap game or really anywhere. Where do you draw inspiration from when making your music?

I mean, my personal narrative is a lot different than your canonical “rap game” perspective, so it seems a little disingenuous to follow the prevailing sound. I was back home in rural Wisconsin when I made all those beats, so I think that isolated setting is reflected in the music. Plus my taste in music is crazy eclectic; so there was a lot of stylistic alchemy involved in that record. I guess my overwhelming instinct is to make something that sounds as different from other people as possible, so that also probably accounts for a lot of the weirdness.

According to milo, you were the only man for the Cavalcade job, in terms of being able to sample America in the fashion he wanted. But he said that it was a challenge because at times you just wanted to go all out with original instrumentation. Can you tell us more about that and how you balance instrumentation and sampling in your production?

Idk man I don’t like my production on that mixtape at all in hindsight. It was overworked, too busy, I didn’t give Rory enough room to shine. I think that comes from trying to bend those samples out of context with brute force, by throwing some other sample into every song. Some shit worked pretty gracefully, like the Kanye loop with the america piano on red oleanders, but other times there was just too much going on for the listener to get a foothold. I could be being hypercritical here but that’s just my impression.

As far as balancing sampling and instrumentation, it sorta depends. Usually I use instrumentation as detail, fleshing out the musical skeleton that the samples create. At this point, it’s becoming more malleable, sometimes a instrumentation plays a more crucial role with samples adding flourish. At the end of the day, different musical ideas call for a different balance. I don’t really have any rules for the shit, I kinda bang on the pads til it sounds ok and then chisel away with the mix until it sounds good.

On that note, what’s the creative process for a track between you and milo?

We never have been able to be together in the same room while making music so I make a beat, I send it to him, he raps on it, I mix it down and add some nuance stuff to the beat, send the mix down to him, he gives me comments on the mix, and we repeat til the song is done. We talk a lot about the overarching aesthetic we want but it’s pretty tight because we’re pretty much just autonomous artists doing are thing and it just so happens that it clicks.

You scored a religious film based around salvation (link!). How did this project come about?

I used to smoke pot with the filmmaker quite often and she mentioned that she needed a soundtrack for her senior thesis film, and I thought it would be fun. It was cool to just like, watch this trippy thing and design a soundscape that I felt complemented the visual field. I also got some help from a friend names Ben stein who is super nice with the music theory side of things, so he would write me these scores that had all sorts of interesting, thick chords. I scored it mostly on an arp 2600 (with no keyboard) and a dx7 that my school owns, so it was super fun to switch up my workflow.

Is it true that milo picks all the vocal samples (films/speeches) for your tracks together?

Yeah, he’s the man with the words. I threw in the sample at the beginning of “besos” which is from the “best I ever had video”, but that’s it.

What artists/bands are currently getting the most plays by you?

I got obsessed with yeezus because the production is so ridiculously nuanced and finely wrought. I love immunity by Jon Hopkins, nothing was the same makes me happy when I listen to it, the lil homie iglooghost is killin it out here, rory has some cool shit that’s gonna come out soon. Laid out by shlohmo has really stuck with me. Also, I dj a fair amount, so a lot of my plays go to finding hot shit to play out. I’ve gotten into the hbk stuff, dj mustard is a genius, really anything that’s doing something inventive and enjoyable with the tropes of mainstream rap gets my thumbs up. I try to stay up on what’s happening in the British dance music world because that scene has such a rich heritage, plus people are stupid critical so it takes a lot of careful artistry to make it over there.

What are Riley Lake’s plans for 2014? Any hopeful collaborations outside Hellfyre Club?

Me and 2chainz are sitting on a tape together. But forreal, umm haleek maul has one of my beats and I really hope he raps on it. I’m gonna do some stuff with my boy safari al. There are a lot of people I would love to work with, kool ad has really been doing his thing. I don’t know man this is a super hard question because I really respect the work of so many people right now. We’ll see what happens.

Mostly I want to do some out strange shit personally. I wanna design a software instrument, like a composition machine, make these beat tapes and also some weird physical accompaniments to the release, maybe write/record an album. Also I’ve been engineering shit for the hellfyre club and I think it would be tight to do more mix work. Mostly I want to graduate for college.

Any final comments?

Damn if you read this all thanks so much.

  • tarotdaking

    this nigga hella pretentious, he best check hisself speakin like that if he gon be puttin out his “rap music”. shit sounds terrible

  • Melvin Burch

    Fire interview. Great read.

    • ryan magnole

      Thank you! Riley Lake made for a great interviewee.