OD Hunte has been producing music since the late nineties, working with a string of established artists as well as exciting newcomers. His work has been featured on some of the biggest TV networks both here and across the pond, and on some of the biggest game titles over the last ten years. Now he’s stepping out into the spotlight with his own music, and is gearing up to release his debut album Beatnik Ear Candy this summer. We caught up with the producer-turned-artist to talk about his musical journey.
How’s everything going? Life treating you well?
Cool thanks! Working towards my dreams so I’m optimistic for the future. Life treating me well? I think well is relative. I’m facing a lot of challenges but I’m a fighter.
We know you’ve been a producer for many years but can you tell us a bit about how you got started in music?
I first started writing songs when I was about 14 years old back in Trinidad. I stared learning to play the guitar and write songs and after a while taught myself to play the keyboards off a VHS video. After a couple years I moved to the UK and bought my first sequencing keyboard, a Casio CZ101. I was still a student and writing songs and sending demos to record companies, in the days when they used to write back. I went to the University of Surrey to study Physics with Modern Acoustics. In my final year my friend handed me a gift. It was a DAT (Digital Audio Tape) of some tracks off a Teddy Riley master of ‘Two Can Play That Game’ by Bobby Brown. That DAT changed the way I approached beat making. I soon began creating loops and hit upon the idea to start selling DATs. Soon after I got my DAT reviewed in Future music magazine and after the head of the largest Sample CD manufacturer called me up. He wanted me to produce the CDs and he said he would distribute them worldwide. Well as a student just out of University, I didn’t have a great deal of cash so I immediately called the second biggest guy in the business Matt at AMG. We soon struck a deal for him to manufacture the CDs and distribute them and I would provide the content. That was my first commercial venture! A few months later I was approached to do some production music. The resulting CD album Nu BlackBeats was one of the first urban discs for Extreme music library who are now owned by Sony/ATV, and my second successful commercial venture. From there I continued networking, meeting artists and managers, and got into commercial songwriting and production while still continuing to write music for TV and film, to the point where my music has been used in hundreds of shows and a couple games and has been heard by hundreds of millions of people.
You’ve produced lots of music that’s gone on to great success – ‘Get Them Hands Hi’ for example has been featured in films, TV shows and games. Is it still exciting for you when you get your worked placed in something huge?
It’s incredibly exciting yes! To know that millions of people around the world are either subliminally hearing or are aware of your music is one of the most amazing feelings. I always get a buzz when I speak to someone and they used to play Fight Night Round 3 or NBA Live 07 by EA Sports and they recognise my track and they are always like “that’s you?!”
Being in music opens the door to a lot of travel, where’s the best place you’ve been to so far?
Music’s taken me on a journey but I especially liked when clients took me to my recommended mastering place in New York called Sterling Audio. I was also in LA at Bernie Grundman Mastering to get another album mastered there. But also I enjoyed a trip to Barcelona to record a couple of singers. Barcelona is a beautiful city and it was cool touring the stadium on the day after recording.
Why have you waited until now to step out and release your own music?
I’ve been doing my 10,000 hours! Well several reasons - I’ve been as I say working with lots of up and coming acts and fantastic talent like Emile Sande and Leona Lewis, and doing remixes for people like Mattafix and Leela James. I thought I didn’t have anything to say but then several things dawned on me. One was that everyone has their own unique voice and you can talk about your life experiences, and my life experiences included going to university in England, getting a physics degree, coming over from Trinidad, and lots and lots of things in between. It wasn’t about selling drugs or gang banging or whatever but you know what? That’s played out. I did an album for Sony Publishing last year where I was rapping about seven whole songs, which I’d never done before and I found my voice. As an artist you need to find your voice, that place where you’re not trying to sound like anyone else, you just do you, and if you listen to a body of your work you’ll sound the same or very similar. So that helped me find my voice and made me say, “this is me” and if people like it great, if not that’s OK too. Like the song goes “don’t it make my brown eyes blue”.
How are you finding it being in the spotlight?
It’s great for people to appreciate me as a whole artist rather than just the backing tracks or beats that I do. I do so many things. Beats are a simplification of my talents and all that I can do so it’s not a complete representation of my skills. It’s good to get some recognition. But I’m very, very far from celebrity notoriety, although I have been recognised before.
What kind of influences did you draw on during the production of your album Beatnik Ear Candy? And do you try and combine different genres to create your own sound?
Beatnik Ear Candy draws inspiration from the music that I like listening to and making. Press have commented on how there is a real Kanye influence. Indeed I love Kanye’s music and he’s definitely an influence. He’s the number one artist I’d like to work with besides Rihanna. I like the combination of electronic instruments and real instruments, the combination of hip-hop with reggae elements. Everything I do is commercial so there are pop elements in there too. Also I’ve always been a Timbaland, Pharrell and more recently Rudimental fan but my music tends to sound more American because that’s what I grew up listening to and producing. There’s also a 60s Motown track on there with a girl called Geneva Lane from The Voice. I’m a big Motown music fan. I have to smile to myself because a lot of young people only know it as Amy Winehouse music but it was a sound that defined so much of music from the late 60s and 70s. There’s also the influence of Stevland Morris in there as well ie. Stevie Wonder on ‘So Gladly’.
You’ve given the album quite an unusual name, there must be a story behind that?
When I was growing up I started playing football really late. In fact I only got interested in it when watching Maradona play in the ‘86 World Cup in Mexico. Anyway, when I was learning I was playing every day I could to get better and during a game in my home town in Trinidad a guy said to me, “Hunte your style real unorthodox you know”, which roughly translated to “you’re very unusual with your playing style to the point of not being good”. But looking back at my life and career I’ve always been unorthodox, by different rather than shit. So when it came time to name the album I was thinking of unorthodox but because Bruno Mars just released an album with that word in it, I used Beatnik instead. In terms of Ear Candy, the music is very different like pick and mix, and also it’s sweet to my ears.
We love ‘Big Things’, which is also a favourite of DJ Semtex. It must be nice getting such a great reception for your first releases right?
Yes I know my music is good but sometimes good music isn't heard - it’s cock blocked by “gate keepers” in the industry who don't care about if it’s good but have a political agenda in terms of who they will or won’t support. That’s why I was so pleased to get my tracks independently into so many US shows and games because these people were saying “we don't’ care if you aren’t this or that, your music is good enough to sit alongside Black Eyed Peas, Dipset, Akon, Gnarls Barkley etc.” It would be great if that were the case but instead I have promoters telling me “your song is a hit and it would be great with Rihanna or Rita Ora on it but with this unknown singer you won’t get radio play”. That’s the frustrating side of the industry.
When can we expect the video for that one?
We’re working on the answer to that one but that’s up to the label. Hopefully soon.
Last year you recorded and shot a video for ‘I Can’t Breathe’, a tribute to Eric Garner. Clearly tackling social injustice is very important to you, so is this something that we’ll see/hear more of in your music?
Yes once I get back into the zone for writing I will tackle whatever I feel compelled to write about. The one rule I try to stick to is to write about real stories that have happened to me, friends or that I am made aware of like news events. The situation in America as far as black issues particularly, police brutality, is still shockingly bad. I have no plans to turn into an activist but if I see something that I want to comment on musically, I will. Fortunately I live in a country where you are free to do that.
There are a lot of collaborations and features on your album – if you could work with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
There are lots of talented artists alive but many of them for me are legacy artists. In terms of right now, commercially and artistically, it would be a tie between Kanye and Rihanna, because I could make music at their level production wise and would have commercial success with the resulting track. I think Kanye is a funny dude and an interesting artist whereas I think Rihanna is the ultimate pop artist. She has everything, image hot as hell, a solid unique, versatile pop voice and has the persona that people want to see live. Musically if I had to choose one person I would want to work with, it would be Stevie Wonder but what could I offer such a genius? He has everything! He sings, plays to an exceptionally high standard, he only doesn’t rap so I guess I could do that with him! But I guess Michael Jackson because he still relied on a producer to help shape his ideas.
You do a lot of work with up-and-coming artists, can you give us a couple of people that we should be looking out for?
Look out for Fleur East who as we know is now signed to Sony. I’ve got several tracks co-written with her before she signed, so let’s see where those tracks go. And there are other up-and-coming artists - Monica Alcorano, Geneva Lane and Malisa Grace who I’ve worked with and enjoyed the process for different reasons.
What are you listening to right now?
I’m discovering new music from people like Action Bronson, enjoying Kanye’s new single. KSI’s ‘Lamborghini’, Fetty Wap, lots of commercial stuff. I don’t have a great deal of time to listen to music and I tend to listen to commercial music being promo’d or that I see videos of. Otherwise I’m in the studio working on my own music. On the iPod I also have Rudimental, Jeremiah, Outkast, Ellie Goudling, Rihanna, Diana Ross and hundreds more. iTunes match is a great thing but I still have several hundred CDs that I need to encode.
What’s the first record you bought?
Sign O the Times by Prince. Killer record.
Which song in the history of music do you wish you had written?
Umbrella ella ella aye.
What would your superpower be and what would you do with it?
My superpower would have to be time travel backward and forward. I’d fix all the mistakes I made in life if I could and more importantly, save those who were taken from us by other people’s wicked deeds.
If you could fill a swimming pool with anything, what would it be and why?
I’d fill the swimming pool with a magic potion of fairness. If my potion was able to stop suffering, I would get it to everyone who deserved it on this earth. We are born and we die but it would be a magical place if we didn't have suffering by the masses in between.
Follow OD Hunte on Twitter.