In the ten months since we last caught up with him, Mike Kleine has certainly been keeping himself busy, returning to the States from a year in France, graduating from University and publishing his debut novel, Mastodon Farm. Thankfully he has also been keeping himself occupied working on new music for the Fancy Mike project too. Amidst playing shows alongside Shigeto, SelfSays and Roots Manuva, he has found the time to write new album ‘Mary B. James’, which is out this week on the Canadian King Deluxe label. In light of this, we took the chance to check in with Kleine and he has kindly obliged in joining our mix series alumni with a stunning forty minute selection.
In our last discussion we touched upon music as an exploratory process for a self taught musician and producer, and the evolution in Fancy Mike’s sound on ‘Mary B. James’ is certainly impressive. While in many ways a natural continuation of the occupations that informed his earlier releases, the new record is undoubtedly his most accomplished work yet. Stripping away many of the layers and mechanisms that shrouded previous productions, the album revels confidently in the space it creates, resulting in a cohesive and thoroughly immersive listen with uniquely transportive qualities. Where Kleine’s music has always struck me is in managing to live in its minutiae while working towards an overarching feeling, each element articulating its own fragment of the puzzle with precision and purpose, and this is precisely where ‘Mary B. James’ excels, but in new forms. Here the nuances do not lie in frenetic rhythmic intricacies or saturated frequencies, but in the delicate balance of emotions and sweeping arrangements that surge through its eight haunting and frequently beautiful tracks.
From the first notes of sweeping opener ‘Africa Sky’, held aloft between joy and sadness, Fancy Mike lays the foundations for the journey that is about to unfold. Skittering rhythms give a tense energy to the poignant weight of the swirling synth calls on ‘Miami Vice’, tumbling rhythms guide you through the shimmering landscape of the eponymous ‘Mary B. James’ and lofty synths on ‘Vangelis Horse’ threaten to abandon gravity completely if not for the gallop of the rhythmic anchor. I could take you through every track on the album, but really it is best seen as one entity – a voyage through unknown territory, both for the creator and the listener.
Ahead of the release of ‘Mary B. James’ I caught up with Kleine to continue our dialogue, discussing creative processes, evolution and the new record. Stream the album in its entirety below and read the results of our discussion underneath. To accompany the interview, Kleine has also put together the twenty second installment of our mix series, guiding you through an eclectic forty minutes selection that provides a rich context for his music and provides an enveloping listen.
Hi Mike, how is everything going?
Hi Sam. I am well, thank you.
So you have got a new album on the way, which we will talk about in a minute, but before we get to that can you fill us in on what you have been up to since we last caught up at the end of 2011?
I was living in France for a year. Just moved back to the United States a few months ago and I’m still sort of adjusting to everything. It was nice though, being able to get out of the country for a bit and do something else. (I was teaching High School-level English). I also had the opportunity to play some shows while I was there, with Shigeto, SelfSays and Roots Manuva. Awesome stuff, good people. I was also scheduled to play with Das Racist but the entire leg of their European tour was cancelled. Otherwise, I had a lot of time to read—I read a lot of books. Also, I recently graduated from university so, I guess this is my first official foray into what they call the real world. I’m trying to see what I might like to do as a career. In the meantime, I’m making music and realizing that I’m in super debt (because of school).
‘Mary B. James’ will be your third album for King Deluxe which is quite unusual for an electronic music artist so early on in their career. Do you think your music is particularly suited to the album format? Or is it more the creative freedom that the format affords that entices you?
I find most forms of cataloging pejorative, and honestly, things like: EP, album, mini-album, etc—these are all just semantics, a way to sell music. Really, I see all of my releases as albums. Whatever. It doesn’t even matter. The fact is, the music is just there, listen to it or don’t. And other than length, I don’t think it makes it any different, an album that is 12 tracks or even 36 tracks. If someone feels they can say what(ever) they wanted to say in just 3 tracks, that’s fine also, I will not condemn them for that. Who knows? Maybe my next release will be 500 tracks… With digital releases these days, you really can do anything you want.
Aside from that, it is really prolific. How quickly do you work?
Not very. I mean, yes, I could probably come up with an album’s worth of music very quickly but my standards are much too high for that. I’m usually second-guessing myself a lot and thinking things like: is this really the best I can do with this track/record? As a matter of fact, I almost ended up not releasing Mary B. James Album at all. What happened is I sent the demo to Peter (head of King Deluxe) and the response time was something like two weeks. During that time, I freaked out a little, I guess, and sent an email the day before his reply saying I had changed my mind and didn’t want to release anything this year. This is just part of my personality though, how I am about everything—and I think Peter’s figured this out by now. In the end, it all worked out and Mary B. James Album is releasing October 22!
What lessons have you learnt from the last two going into the new record?
I wouldn’t call what I’ve learned ‘lessons’, but something did happen, yeah: it’s just a sort of natural growth I think—something that sort of comes from putting yourself out there, your music, reflecting on that, and then trying to figure out what to do after—the next logical step, I guess. For every record I’ve done, there’s always been a sound, or feeling—a sort of overall theme I’ve really fallen in love with (and this theme cannot always be expressed in words). I think, in relation to everything I have ever released (so far), Mary B. James Album is my most cohesive record. And what I mean by that is this: you’ll be listening to the tracks and you’ll definitely hear some familiar sounds/melodies that come back. And as whole, it’s much more ‘together-sounding’. Like there’s a message tucked in there somewhere.
What influences have been feeding into ‘Mary B. James’ in particular? What have you been listening to when not working on the album?
When I was in France, where I was living, I didn’t have direct access to the internet, like here in the United States. I actually had to go to a certain room, (the only room with internet) with my laptop (a slow laptop), and my connection was limited to something like 60 minutes every day. That means most of what I was doing was sending emails, checking Facebook and reading album reviews—for an entire year! As you can imagine, that meant no new music, that entire time. But I took that as a sort of good thing, since it allowed me to regress and really pay attention to all the music I already had (which was a lot). But like I said in our previous interview, I’m influenced by everything: what I see, hear, read, eat, whatever—whether I like it or not—it’s something that happens. But I was listening to a lot of film soundtracks also, namely Paul Hertzog, Cliff Martinez and John Carpenter-type stuff. I also finally started listening to Vangelis and got back into stuff by artists like: Johann Johannsson, James Pants, Tangerine Dream, Ben Frost, Air, Wendy Carlos and MR. OIZO soundtracks. Recently though, Pixelord introduced me to artists like Sand Circles, which is akin to some of the lofi music I love. That’s artists like S U R V I V E, Monroeville Music Center, Vic Mars, The Advisory Circle and—yeah, there are just too many to even list here.
If someone has been following your music up until this point, how would you define the new album relative to the last two?
Madison Square Gardner was my first official release and those tracks were all recorded in the space of about 8 months—and I was new to everything production-wise so it was more of a self-investigative process (but making music always is) and some tracks were collaborations/features, so the sound was a little all over the place—in terms of structure, instruments used, and the way things were recorded—which is fine, that’s what I wanted with Madison Square Gardner. Sigma Chi Primavera was a remix album, a HUGE collaboration, nothing more. I didn’t want to make a Madison Square Gardner 2 with Mary B. James Album, and, if you’ll notice, there are no features or guests this time around. It’s all me. This is something new, so maybe that means something?
So I have had the chance to listen to a couple of tracks from the album, which are sounding great! ‘Miami Vice’ in particular is absolutely stunning. To me they sound like the natural succession to ‘Superman’ which closed out the last record. Did the writing process organically bleed into the new material?
Haha, no, not really. ‘Miami Vice’ is actually the second track off the record, which is a natural progression of ‘Africa Sky’ (the first track). Everyone I know (in real life) that knows my music says I make beats, which I guess, was sort of true during my Madison Square Gardner phase but Sigma Chi Primavera, I think, showed that I tried to move away from that aesthetic/vibe/sound with the closing track ‘Superman’ and yeah, I guess, Mary B. James Album sort of follows that same idea, as in none of the tracks are beats, really. I wanted to work with composition and structure this time around, so all of the tracks on Mary B. James Album, I think, are songs, and not beats.
What can people expect from the rest of the album? Is there any overarching theme or concept driving it?
I hate to tell people what they should be thinking when they listen to my music or what my intentions were (as I hope the music can sort of speak for itself) but in terms of what to expect? Synths and melodies. Lots of synths, and melodies. Always synths and melodies. Sven Swift (from Error-Broadcast) describes it as “Devo meets Oneohtrix Point Never.” It’s synth-pop sprinkled with Midwest Minimal.
We talked last time about the importance of artwork and the visual aspect of your music. What are the plans for this with regard to the album? And did you have a lot of involvement in the process?
For Mary B. James Album, I wanted something simple. I worked with Austin Breed again (who worked with me on Sigma Chi Primavera). The album name, Mary B. James Album, is actually two things. There’s the Aphex Twin Album (Richard D. James Album) naturally, but then, there’s also the cross-dressing party that happens every year at my college. It’s called Mary B. James. All my albums I’ve ever released (except FANTASTIQUE) have had some sort of collegiate theme/reference, something connected to my college. The artwork for Mary B. James is indebted, I guess, to Richard D. James in the way it is presented, but also, I have always wanted an album cover with just my face. It’s something that cannot be explained.
In the interim you have had a book published as well. Do you think that this has had any perceptible impact on the album? Is it possible that the way you write prose has had an effect on the way you write music?
No, I don’t think the way I write prose has had an effect on the way I write music, and the album itself has nothing to do with the book. No connection really, they are two wholly different projects. My book, Mastodon Farm, is a satire of life, set to music… lots of music! CV Hunt describes it as “A celebrity edition of the Sims,” and I think that’s pretty accurate actually. There’s a sort of new musical term I coin in the book: Ivy League music. Again, with the collegiate references (but, also a reference to Madison Square Gardner). Everything is connected.
You have put together an exclusive mix for us. How did you go about putting it together? Was there any premeditated concept behind it?
No premeditated concept. Just music that (I feel) really vibes with Mary B. James Album. It’s not supposed to be some revelatory type thing either, haha. Just some new/familiar artists and sounds.
LIMINAL SOUNDS VOL.22: FANCY MIKE
01 The Caretaker – When The Dog Days Were Drawing To An End
02 Mr. Flash – Domino Part A
03 Julee Cruise – Floating
04 Elite Gymnastics – Andreja 4Ever
05 Walsh – Helicopter Does Not Exist
06 A Thousand Years – Flying High
07 Boy 8-Bit – Just Before Dawn
08 The Advisory Circle – Learning Owl Reappears
09 Cool Runnings – Belewe
10 Fancy Mike – Hercules Hercules
11 Street Fighter Victory Song
12 Paul Hertzog – April Fools Day
13 Comma – Twegionaire
14 Arafat Group – Blown Out Rice Cooker
15 Fancy Mike – Alien v Predator
-FANCY MIKE ‘MARY B. JAMES’ IS OUT NOW ON KING DELUXE