Meet FRASE: a singer, musician, and producer from Montreal, who you may know from his live band project FM Hi LOW. The multi-instrumentalist effortlessly blends together big-sounding modern EDM technologies with crazy guitar licks, and amazing vocals to add a unique sensual and soulful touch; it’s no wonder he cites Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, and Disclosure as influences. We got to know the prodigal producer and found out a bit about his beginnings, his love for Montreal, and his soon-to-be released EP.
When did you start DJing and what is your musical background?
I’ve always loved music, ever since I was a little kid. My dad was a hobby DJ back in the ’70s; he used a reel to reel tape machine and one turntable to play parties and school dances. He had a vast record collection and a Hi-Fi stereo system that he handed off to me and it’s always been a source of entertainment and education. I started making mix tapes with his records and songs off the radio in high school and have just kind of evolved with music and technology since then. I graduated with a Jazz guitar degree from Bishop’s University back in 2006.
In that period, I also picked up the bass, piano, percussion, started to dive into my own voice and songwriting, and would DJ the occasional party or event. After Uni, I performed and toured with my band FM Hi LOW for many years as lead vocalist/guitar/keys. In about 2012 I started incorporating Ableton Live software into our sets, where I would trigger sequences and FX live, and at around the same time I started doing solo hybrid DJ sets with the same set up and it’s just kinda grown from there.
Which artists and styles do you see as your primary inspirations?
Golden-era Hip-Hop will always be my favourite. There’s something about that mid-nineties sound that will forever be equated with being a teen and discovering music that I could call my own. I saw A Tribe Called Quest, Cypress Hill, and the Fugees Live in Montreal when I was 16 and it blew my mind — it’s had a huge impact on my taste since. Last year I went on a J Dilla tangent and pretty much just listened to nothing but Dilla instrumental beats. I’m also into producers like Freddie Joachim, Thriftworks, MR.Carmack, DJ Shadow, Exmag & my roommate Atamone, who makes beats all day everyday! I’ve always been inspired by soulful jazzy blues too, music with mad feel and soul in it like John Lee Hooker, Jimi Hendrix, Big Mama Thorton, BB king, Miles Davis, Bill Withers, Cymande, Erykah Badu, and Grant Green — those are the staples.
What types of music do you sample from?
On my new record we used a lot of vintage breaks. There is something about the air and warmth in those drum recordings that just adds so much feel to a song. I also sampled some old Afro Beat horns, they were super out of tune and hard to mix but just have so much character. Pretty random stuff I guess, just simple touches here and there but most of my songs are based around original recordings. I have an awesome music publisher and she is super hard on me about not using samples.
How would you describe your approach to DJing? What do you usually start with when preparing for a set?
Well the term ‘DJ’ has been quite watered down over the years. I don’t really jock disks, or scratch or use turntables, so I would say I’m more of a singer/musician/producer, but I definitely incorporate a DJ aspect in my live set up. I use Ableton live and an APC 40 controller, so there is not much beat matching or mixing live, but there is a lot of pre-production involved. I spend a lot of time mixing down stems and instrumental versions of tracks and then chopping them into loops in one large session so I have control over when I want to drop into the bridge or outro, etc and can feed off the crowd. When performing live, I sing and play guitar over my beats so Ableton allows me to mix all that together, make live layered loops of my voice and guitar and add effects. My set is always changing depending on the vibe of the venue and the lineup I’m playing with. While I was on tour in India last March I realized after the first gig that I needed to add more upbeat material, they like it pretty fast out there!
What are some of your favourite things about Montreal?
It’s a super multi-cultural mix of all things awesome. I love the parks and cheap eats and eating cheap food in parks. I just got back after being on tour for 6 months in India, Australia, France, Spain, and Italy, and it was an amazing adventure but it’s nice to be home for a bit.
Who are a few Montreal DJs that our readers should know about?
DR.MAD, Dead Horse Beats, Shash’U, Atamone, and who doesn’t know my girl Vilify?!!
What projects are you working on now?
I was in Australia back in April/May working on my new EP. My homie Dub Fx (beatbox/looper/producer extraordinary) has an amazing house and studio in the rainforest outside of Melbourne where he graciously let me stay and work while he was on tour in Europe. Our mutual manager Cade Anderson stepped in to help produce and he killed it! Our skills complimented each other really well and it reflects in the sound of the record, which I think is my best work to date.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
I’m putting out that EP Daggers & Shields online (Soundcloud, Youtube, iTunes) and I’ll be hosting a listening party and live show at Divan Orange on September 15th. There will be a free BBQ from 8-9 PM while the record spins, and then we have a full live lineup of Montreal talent, featuring Atamone, Fawna , Dead Horse Beats, Dr. Mad and of course my own FRASE set.