James Hinton aka The Range & the Infinite World of Duality
This past weekend marked the ninth annual Pitchfork Music Festival here in Chicago. On Saturday afternoon, LYFSTYL had a brief phone interview with Providence-based electronic artist, The Range.
If you haven’t heard of or listened to The Range and his beautiful debut album Nonfiction yet, I’m going to stop right here and make you put that shit on. My apologies for the abrasiveness but to read about and appreciate The Range’s delicate music, you have to immerse yourself in it.
Okay, diatribe over. Let’s continue.
The reclusive man behind intricate polyrhythms and syncopated beats, James Hinton, immerses himself in the infinite world of duality. From the delicate drum patterns he painstakingly layers on top of each other, to balancing between blissful and dark dance music, he takes introspection to an inclusive frontier so that he can achieve the same teetering edge in his live sets. Hailing from Providence, RI, he spends most of his time in the quiet city creating music and exploring ways to express those bridged emotions in his production style.
While Hinton’s project as The Range has been compared to producers such as Four Tet and Burial, Nonfiction is distinctly a juke and footwork album (hell yeah, Chicago!). The music itself, he found, was generally consumed via listener’s headphones, making it a personal and introspective album to digest. He seeks out the upbeat technicality of his music by making people dance hard at shows but still wants them to take pause and contemplate what he’s playing.
This comes across brilliantly with his delicate weaving of polyrhythmic drum patterns which is the core of his production. Playing drums and recording music since he was 13, he constructs songs based on a percussionist’s ear rather than a strict focus on melodic chords and harmonic interventions. When I told Hinton I picked up on his subtly gorgeous use of polyrhythms, he was surprised that I could hear them. He explained how many listeners can’t pick up on those lines layering against one another since they’re meant to create a surface – you can pull them apart and digest each one on its own emotional level or consume a layer here or there for a multi-linear listening experience.
Music consumers who are classically trained in rhythmic breakdowns may have an easier time picking up on those subtleties, but that isn’t meant to alienate anyone from enjoying the sonic experience Hinton’s created with The Range. Hinton himself earned his degree in physics from Brown University and he uses mathematics and music production simultaneously to create these delicate soundscapes. Some lines, while rippling in my headphones and taking me on evocative dreamscapes are subdued when they’re blaring out of massive speakers, which took me on a raw, emotional dance experience. James Hinton rides that line between dark, emotive feels and footwork BPM levels to get us to explosively implode.
Hinton and I laughed when we found out we both had late nights (VICE after-parties are always full of debauchery, especially with a Ryan Hemsworth set) and shared the collective struggle. After I embarrassed myself by telling him how much I cried listening to Nonfiction, I was able to move out of the fangirl sphere into an actual chat.
RJ: What were the circumstances behind the making of Nonfiction? With it being technically juke and footwork, the album is definitely faster paced but has a lot of underlying dark tones to it.
James: [laughs] You know, I get that a lot. I made the album during a pretty pleasant time in my life, but I don’t know – the more time I spend alone, especially if it’s a minor key I’m working with, that’s always resonated more with me. When I listen back to [Nonfiction], it doesn’t quite vibe with how I was experiencing life. It’s euphoric to some degree, but also very sad. I wasn’t processing music at that time – I was into movies and traveling quite a bit and doing good stuff. I just lean towards making music that’s pretty dark and try to shift them into a positive space.
RJ: This sense of duality that you’ve mentioned before really seems to resonate in “Jamie.”
James: Yeah, I’ve been going for that duality in most of my songs. I even struggle with it – riding the line between overly sad or overly euphoric and I try to do as much as possible on any given song at any given time. “Jamie’s” a really good example of it, especially on that piano line. The tonality of the piano and the sound itself was switching with the key. I don’t have the need to make a really happy record or a really dark one as well. I’m trying to occupy both simultaneously.
RJ: I feel like a lot of electronic producers are trying to achieve duality these days – take Giraffage, for example. He went from being euphoric with Comfort then took on darker tones with Needs even though it was still a happy-sounding album.
James: Yeah, definitely! Giraffage brought himself into the sadder space, whereas I default into that darker space. We’re both pushing for the middle but from different sides.
RJ: In a previous interview, you mentioned how you were still struggling to achieve that duality in your live performances. Has this changed at all?
James: I remember that interview, and since then it’s changed. You’ll see in an hour what I mean by it with this explanation. With live performances, I feel like I turned a corner, especially since touring with Jon Hopkins. I feel like I opened a door or something – I didn’t do anything differently, but I mixed old songs together in new ways. I used to go either super dancey or head noddy, but now I feel like I have more of the crowd doing a middle space. I don’t want it to be super club or having everyone head-nodding. Pushing tempos further up the ladder into happier levels but not with a 4×4 kick. [Note: Hinton is known to hate 4×4 drum kicks and has worked hard to not have his music go into 4/4 tempo]
RJ: Speaking of Jon Hopkins, how was your experience touring with him?
James: Oh man, it was amazing. You’ll see him perform tomorrow and see what I mean by this, but I thought I knew how precise you can get a sound, but he gets so specific and there’s not a certain sound that gets reproduced in his head. He’s so willing to tear it to pieces and reconstruct it on stage. He’s also so willing to engage and push the audience to let him take them to a certain place. He has a lot of experience with it.
RJ: You said that you’ve recently gotten used to going out late at night but aren’t the type to really dance around, so where do you go in a club? How do you interact with music in live settings?
James: [laughs] I really didn’t used to go out and I’m honestly still a shut-in [laughs more]. I didn’t want to go out and have to experience anything. In venues and clubs, I tend to hang back a little bit, unless I’m with friends then it’s more of a fun thing, rolling out of the venue and doing our own thing. Especially in Europe, I would always end up going out and checking out what their friends were doing at night. I don’t know, lately I feel like going out even less. It’s amazing to hear new music, but there’s a lot to say about actually making music on the road. When you get into that mode, you don’t really have time to yourself with all the traveling and it can go away pretty quickly. I’d rather spend those moments creating music than going out.
RJ: After spending so much time on the road, are there any cities that have began to influence your new material?
James: It’s an abstract connection, but Paris is a very creative place for me. I’m not certain if it’s the culture or anything, or that it’s all house music, but it’s a DJ club thing for me. It’s how I process music in Paris, having access to all the museums and being able to roam the streets there, but I come away with a huge amount of ideas. Music just seems to flow while I’m there. London is really good and I see a lot of new stuff, but Paris is very special. I’m hoping now that whenever I go to Europe to at least have one day and see if it still holds true.
RJ: Have you been to Asia? A lot of your music reminds me of roaming around Tokyo late at night taking in the underbelly of the city.
James: I haven’t been to Asia, actually! I really hope to go to Japan sometime soon because I feel like it could be a very personal thing. It has this deep, rich culture and it’s a city of technology and it all merges together. The music that comes out of Japan is always precise and out there. It’s a huge generality that I’m not comfortable making, to be honest, but for me that’s it. Stuff like Cornelius – it’s so precise and well-considered yet is really experimental but still accessible.
RJ: Who are you most excited to see at Pitchfork? Your music is almost nostalgic, introspective juke / footwork, so being in the city must be emotional.
James: It’s bittersweet, for sure. I didn’t digest the Rashad news very well. I feel unsettled in a lot of ways, and I don’t feel comfortable. He was such a seminal figure, I don’t know. I feel strange about it and pretty emotional. It’s so intertwined with the city and it makes total sense. Like when you’re in LA all the Brainfeeder stuff makes sense but the same is true in Chicago – footwork and juke makes so much more sense to me here. It’s exciting and formative for me, and this project was started around the time I got excited. Seeing DJ Spinn tomorrow will be emotional for me.
We ended the call since he needed to prep for his Pitchfork set and I high-tailed it to the festival. Out of breath and having a bizarre stare down with Sky Ferreira and her crew upon walking into the festival, I made it to the blue stage just in time for his set. After watching James Hinton perform for the first time on Saturday, I understood what he meant about achieving the duality he’s been fighting for in his music and in live settings. The crowd moved with him, sang, and traversed that fine line between nodding in deep introspection to dancing to their very core. We were transfixed and commanded by this collective experience where your neighbor was a friend and comrade. James Hinton as The Range is a master of treading that line between multiple spheres and shared memories.
You can download his debut album Nonfiction and his latest EP Panasonic off the Donky Pitch Bandcamp page.