Elisabeth Esselink, Solex to her record company, is well-known for stitching songs together by sampling the product in her second-hand record shop. I've been playing her records on my radio show since the first single, "Solex All Licketysplit," a couple of years ago but this interview only occurred when she asked me to stop emailing her my playlists to try and cut down the amount of crud bombarding her inbox. Not an auspicious start, but it resulted in a series of mails which concentrate more on her methodology and than it does on any other aspect of her work. In the relatively short time she's been releasing records, she's put out a couple of albums and half-a-dozen singles on Matador and a few splits and compilation appearances for other labels including Fierce Panda.
You were in bands before Solex, Sonetic Vet being the most well known...
Yes, I was 17 when I joined the first band. I was a singer. After that one a few others followed in which I was a singer or a drummer. I did release one mini-album and a single with Sonetic Vet.
Can you still get hold of them?
They were released & distributed by Play It Again Sam. Benelux only! You cannot order them any more (I hope)...probably you can find 2nd hand copies in the cheapo bins ???
Why did you decide to do everything on your own?
Solex doesn't really sound singer-songwriter-ish but actually that's exactly what it is. I've been in too many democratic bands far too long I guess. It actually came a bit by surprise that I liked it that much...
Surely it takes longer to stitch loads of samples together bit-by-bit than it would take to organise a band?
Yes, although my former band wasted so much time on chatting & rehearsing...
So is the advantage of doing it yourself that you have total control?
It is as big an advantage as it is a disadvantage. It depends on the situation. When it comes to song-writing it's a big advantage, if it comes to organising stuff like...picking up the van for a gig, book keeping etc it's a disadvantage.
How do you go about constructing a track?
I start with a loop. This loop functions as a click track for all the rest. The rest of the samples have to fit with this loop rhythmically and melodically.
Do you have an idea in your mind and collect samples for that idea? Or do you sample a load of interesting stuff and later pick the things that you think sound good together?
Neither one. I don't look for anything particular up front. When I bump into a nice sample I immediately record it and use it in the proper song. I never sample something that doesn't fit on to a loop immediately.
How long does a track typically take to put together?
Normally I work on about 8 or 10 songs at the same time. Just because I don't want to risk bumping into a great sample without being able to use it. Maybe 1 song takes 2 days.
Is it a painstaking task?
Not at all !!!
What computer/software/hardware do you use?
I use an Akai S2000 sampler and a Roland digital 16-track recorder (Roland 1680). One midi Casio keyboard to trigger the samples. No computer.
Who do you see as contemporaries---either in sound or in the way music is made?
Aphex Twin, Matmos...nice bunch of lovely freaks. I am a huge Aphex Twin. fan. He's very good at integrating experiments into a pop format. It is still pop music, oh yes ! Some experiments are so much about the sound that it doesn't make any sense any more. (30 minutes of bleeps...come on)
How much of the first record came from vinyl in your shop?
None. I only sell 2nd hand CDs.
Have you any idea how many records you used?
Probably about a 120 recordings per Solex-record.
What do you do about copyright? Do you clear your samples
What about it ? I don't clear samples, it's immoral to do so I think !!!
Have you ever had anyone seeking compensation for an unauthorised sample?
No...not yet. Musicians should make an effort to let anyone sample them for free. A sampler is an instrument just like a guitar. Unfortunately as it is now, a guitar with expensive and cheap chords.
Do you think that the same should be the case for cover versions, so that the song writer would get no royalty? Or is that something different?
That's different. I don't believe in paying an amount of money. I do believe in percentages. If you pay for a sample you would pay, for example, $10.000. The majority of released songs will never make any money for a musician. If you record a cover song, then the original writer gets a percentage.
How about if you were to sample the "hook" from a song? should that get royalties?
Sure. The "hook" is worth a percentage. Again: I believe in percentages, not in vast prices!! The original artist should get a percentage of the royalty rate (which is a percentage as well.) I don't see why 'the original artist' should get any money for something that probably will never make any money for 'the sampling artist'. If it does, the original artist should get a percentage.
Have you found anyone sampling Solex songs yet?
No....have you ???
Not yet. What's the most well-known record you've used that hasn't been spotted?
Are you joking ???
Ha ha! Yes. When do you put music and lyrics together?
At the final stage
Do the lyrics ever come first?
Not in my life
On "Solex vs. The Hitmeister" they sound almost like nonsense poetry that fits nicely to the music. Do they mean anything to you?
It's no nonsense to me. The lyrics are small sketchy stories about not-every-situations.
How about the titles?
Well, every song needs a title. I agree with the suggestion that a good song title is more important than good lyrics.
And on the subject of names, does Solex mean anything? It sounds like something you might use to repair a shoe! Where did it come from?
A Solex is a scooter from the 60's. A very slow one. Originated in France. They still make them, but now the factory is based in Budapest, Hungary.
Still on that subject, when I played "Randy Costanza" on the radio I said that it was my porn-star alias. But who is it?
Randy is a nice & talented guy from Pittsburgh. He might be a better porn-star than artist however.
Why did you move on to sampling live bands on "Pick Up" [the second album]?
To avoid the copyright clearance hassle.
Did anything else in your approach change?
I wanted to make a poppy & happy 2nd. album...what do you think???
It sounded more, I don't know, grown-up than "Hitmeister".
Ever heard of the term "reflection"? Most people think the 1st one is more poppy & happy. They consider the 2nd as more raw & experimental...I found out it's useless to have an approach in the first place. Next time I'll come up with one after the record is completed....
Do you consider it an improvement on the first, or just different? Or something else?
Different...ask me again in 5 years.
Was the second album recorded more quickly?
No...the first album took me 2 months, you can double that for the 2nd.
The current single, "Athens Ohio," has 5 remixes on it. Do you like the results?
It took me a few days to get used to them but now I'm totally hooked !!
How do you feel about remixes in general?
Fun, fun, fun.
Does it bother you that someone else is taking apart what you laboured over for so long?
No, I also make remixes for other musicians. It's about fun not about respect.
How about when you're remixing someone else? Is it like starting a track of your own with a constrained set of sounds?
Yes, definitely. I do add sounds if I can't do the job with the original element however.
I really enjoyed your remix of Khan, but it sounded a lot like a Solex track! What was the idea of a "Karaoke remix"?
Thank you, but that song is not really a remix. I took the complete instrumental Khan song and tried to write lyrics and melody line for the vocals to it. So it really is a Karaoke song. Khan just asked me if I liked the idea of writing a vocal part for a song off his record, "Passport." Most songs are like nice invitations for vocal parts anyway, so to me it was a real treat to do the job for him.
This just sums up what most appeals about Solex records: the apparent simplicity that belies the underlying depth. Elisabeth's answers are the same. Almost every question is greeted with a seemingly glib response that invites further investigation: "Most songs are like nice invitations for vocal parts anyway." How can you pass that up? What does it really mean? What lies behind that thought? The way that she works, simultaneously building several tracks at once from the base, simple, skeletal framework, into a detailed mosaic of samples but without altering the surface appeal of the initial loop. That's why there's so much mileage in her music, and why this interview could've gone on much, much longer.
Write to Elisabeth c/o C&D, Solex, Koningsstraat 52 BG, 1011 BG, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. For discography and so on, check out the Matador web site: www.matadoreurope.com.
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