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SUPER BUDDAH INTERVIEW

I first met Barb Morrison through a mutual friend, Chloe Jo. I’d never heard of the production team Super Buddha, but she highly recommended I reach out to them when I expressed interest in having a remix done for my song “Alright OK”. Barb and I met in person at The Coffee Shop in Union Square and immediately hit it off. A focused bundle of high-energy, wit and passion, her love for the process of making music was instantly infectious. Plus she was wearing a very spiffy tie! After a fantastic experience hanging out with her and her partner Chas at their Brooklyn studio, I walked away with a whole new level of respect for a genre of music about which I knew very little, and specifically - a production team who are in it for “all the right reasons”. We just completed work on a new remix a week ago, and I was honored to kibitz with Barb, who generously agreed to be put in the hot seat.

RSAs a self-produced artist, I definitely idealize partnerships like you and Chas. Tell me a little bit about how you and how you and he met, and the moment when you knew you wanted to become music collaborators, for the “long haul”.

BMBack when I was in a band, our bands were playing a lot of the same bills together. We admired each other’s work in that medium and then collaborated on a piece of music for a Miami based choreogrpaher named “Dance Esaias”. That piece of music led us to score our first film called “The Safety Of Objects” starring Glenn Close. For that film, not only did we compose the score,we also wrote and produced rock songs for one of the lead characters played by Joshua Jackson to sing. We realized that we were good at doing that so we just kept going.

RSWho was your first official production client, as Super Buddha?

BMWe both had been producing our own bands since we were teenagers. Our first real paying gig was the movie I just mentioned and from there we started producing our friends who were in NYC downtown rock and punk bands such as Miss Guy (from the Toilet Boys), members of The Lunachicks, Karyn Kuhl from Sexpod etc.

RSWere there any musical or technical challenges you didn’t expect on that first official “gig”, and if so, can you describe them?

BMWe had never scored a film before so we just kept saying “yeah we can do THAT” and we literally got thrown into the deep end of the pool since it was a big indie movie with an all star cast. There were LOTS of hurdles but we handled it.

RSI know you used to DJ. Firstly, did you have an actual “DJ name”, or did you just go by your real name?

BMMost of my DJ gigs billed me as “Buzz” which is what a lot of the rappers I work with call me. One of them just named me that and it stuck.

RSHow big an impact do you think your years spinning records (CD’s?) in clubs has had on your current process, as a producer and musician, and what - if anything - do you miss about that time in your life?

BMDJ-ing had a huge impact on my record producing mostly because it’s the kind of thing you really have to keep up with, especially since I was spinning hip hop and dance. The hip hop and dance industry moves so fast, if you sleep on it for a week, you’re way behind already. A hip hop DJ has to know everything the minute it comes out. And they’re cranking that stuff out- fast. It also helped me to really notice what a crowd will or will not respond to. Like the first time someone came up to the booth and requested Shakira, I was like “you’re kidding, right ?” but I put it on and the place goes berserk. You start to really pay attention to what kinds of rhythms work for people in that sense. And also how to take a crowd of people on a journey that lasts a few hours.

RSFor the stalkers out there, you call Brooklyn home, and it’s your professional home-base as well. What do you like most about living in Brooklyn?

BMNo tourists. I like that my street is quiet and I don’t have to deal with people from Mississippi with cameras on the weekends.

RSHave you lived or traveled any other places that have specifically informed your musicianship or approach to production?

BMEverywhere I travel informs my approach and my inspiration. I’ve recorded sounds from places like Istanbul and Thailand on a small hand held recorder in hopes of using that stuff on a future track. But I really like to listen to the radio in places I travel to. I rarely ever turn my iPod on when I travel. I’m more interested in what they’re playing on the local radio stations in the mountains of Puerto Rico or driving along a volcanic beach in Greece. I can listen to my iPod anytime. But you can hear some incredible sounds if you tune in locally wherever you are.

RSHas an artist ever come from overseas to work with you guys at your Brooklyn studio, and if not…have you ever schlepped anywhere far away to work with someone else?

BMI think the furthest place someone came from was this artist named Kerli – she came from Estonia to work with us.

I have traveled for work but only in the USA so far. The craziest one was in Minneapolis when I stayed awake for four days to track an entire record for a band called All The Pretty Horses. I wouldn’t suggest that anyone do that. It was insane. But the record did rock.

RSYou and Chas both play multiple instruments. If you were teaching a class somewhere about music production to a bunch of young kids, what degree of emphasis would you place on mastering one or more musical instruments, versus learning the technical aspects of the recording process/new technology?

BMI would always suggest that people explore musical instruments. We’re getting a wave of kids now who have never touched a guitar or a bass but are calling themselves producers. And at the same time they can throw down a sick beat and are able to cut up a sample like crazy. But I would tell them to learn about both things. Because in the present, it’s crucial to know how to work at least a program like Garage Band or a simple DAW.

RSAre you also well-versed with the techical end of things, or do you basically look at your relationship as a symbiotic balance between your strong musical ideas/insights and Chas’s programming/engineering skills?

BMI can get a track up and running, I can throw stuff down but Chas is definitely a genius at it. He’s really fast and eloquent when it comes to being an engineer and a mixer as well as being an incredible producer and musician. He is one of the most talented people I have ever met in my life and I’ve met a lot of people.

RSOn another note, why do you think there aren’t more women who engineer professionally, and if you hadn’t met a production “partner”, do you think you would’ve still wound up being a producer, doing what you do now?

BMYeah I wouldve been a producer cuz ive been doing it since I was a teenager with two cassette decks and a DJ mixer in my bedroom. The minute I learned how to multi track with the two cassette decks, I was off to the races. I was about 14 when that happened. And I know a few really awesome female engineers. I’ve worked with Hillary Johnson and Trina Shoemaker. They’re both amazing. But yeah it’s mostly a boys’ club. And that’s ok cuz it makes the girls more special!

RSWhat are some of your non-musical hobbies and interests, and how do they help you unwind from - or alternately, inspire - your musical endeavors?

BMMaking music is really my life. When I’m not at the studio, I’m just spending time with people I love and making sure each day is special.

RSHow much sleep do you get a night, on average?

BMit depends. i can go a few days on about 4 hours a night and then take a big crash for 9 hours. You hafta remember, being in the studio is kinda like being in Vegas. It’s an air tight room where you watch the seasons change from a slit in the curtain. Sometimes I look at the clock and I think “5 o’clock… is that AM or PM ?”

RSAnd along those lines haha… How deeply involved are you in the business aspect of managing your own career?

BMVery. Although we do have a good agent. But before we got her I managed pretty much everything so I just got used to it. It’s important to know how to do that.

RSAre you primarily responsible for finding new clients or at this point, do most of them just “find you” and then you decide which ones to work with?

BMWe’re lucky in the sense that we don’t hafta take jobs if we’re not totally into them. We’re booking 4 months in advance right now. So its really everybody that we absolutely love. Most of our artists come by word of mouth or they’ve heard something we’ve done and liked it.

RSAt what point do you think a producer needs a manager, if ever?

BMWhen there’s enough business or big enough accounts. it’s important to have a manager cuz the producer shouldn’t really be talking business with an artist. It can hinder the creativity. Leave that up to the business folks to hash out.

RSWhat do you consider to be the most important quality in someone who’d be representing you in that manner, and how would someone at that stage of their career go about finding one?

BMThere are two things that are important when youre looking for someone to manage you : 1. they are well liked in the business (people wanna DO business with them and take their phone calls) and 2. they actually GETyou. As in “understand” you. (You don’t want someone repping you who has no idea how to describe what you do or what you’re about )

RSYou’ve done some film-scoring. As a former jingle-writer and someone who’s written musical scores for a number of theater and dance productions, I found that type of visually-driven work extremely fulfilling, in a completely different way from crafting pop-music. How much of that type of work do you and Chas do these days, if any - and what are some of your long-term musical goals, for say…five or ten years from now?

BMWe do film score all the time. We just did a score for a VH1 show called NY77. it was a documentary about NYC in 1977 so we got to do all this really cool music from that time period. Classic rock, classic disco, the birth of hip hop, funk and soul. It was cool cuz they needed all these big tower of power type horn sections on songs so they bought me a trombone and me & Chas arranged a bunch of 6 piece horn sections. Chas playing two trumpets and me playing two saxes and two trombone tracks. It sounded so huge and awesome. We loved it.

RSOK we’ve come to the easy part of the interview. What would you like to ask me? (Keep it clean, my friend)

BMI’d love to know how you get your inspiration for your songs. Do you come up with melodies first or lyrics or chords?

RSWell, I’ve written songs every which way, at various points in my life, but these days I tend to write lyrics and melodies simultaneously in my head, while away from an instrument (i.e. on a plane, in a car, or most commonly, walking), and then I’ll go to the piano or guitar later, to work out the chords. When I was a kid, I always wrote at the piano, because my family had a beautiful one and it was just a pleasure to spend hours exploring my relationship to that instrument. I have to admit I haven’t felt that way in many years about a plastic keyboard, much as I try to customize and decorate my SP-88’s. But I do have a Wurlitzer electric piano in my office, and sometimes if I’m there late at night working I’ll noodle my way into a song…

I’d say the lyrics are what make me want to finish a song though. Having something to actually say, for me, is my biggest motivator! In college I composed hours of instrumental music for theater productions, which was a whole other type of process that I really enjoyed; I also spent several years as a jingle-writer about a decade ago, and that gave me a different type of discipline to be able to “write on command”. I strive to be able to work all different ways, ultimately. Music is music - and as a writer it doesn’t really matter how you create, as long as you do!

As far as inspiration, I think I draw mine from different sources each time I write a new song. It could be a film, a conversation I overhear, a painting I see or just a feeling walking into a particular environment while I’m traveling. Anything that moves me, makes me feel alive and sets a “scene” of some kind from which a story can unfold, is fair game. The trick is just to be ready, willing to be a vessel - and to always carry a notebook!

BMAnd I’d also like to know how you feel when you hear your songs remixed into dance music since the original versions are so completely different.

RSI feel fabulous. And it makes me want to do a whole album that way…You may not know this, but I started out as a teenage synth-pop artist. I was Ms. Howard Jones at my school with drum-machines and synthesizers, shlepping my gear around to talent shows and generally wanting to make people smile and shake their collective tuchas. Then I went to college and heard a whole new genre of music - for me! - in the realm of folk, folk-rock, and basically the broader singer-songwriter genre at large. Something about the lyrical possibilities really resonated with who I was becoming as a person, and has contined to do so; but I’ve got a dance-diva in me, I just tend to unleash her only in front of a mirror with a hairbrush haha! Perhaps with a little gentle nudging, we could see more of her in public, hmmm….

BMAnd last but not least, when are WE gonna work together again? :)

RSI’d love to do something from scratch that is not a remix, but has that edgy, electronic feel you’ve brought to the two tracks we’ve done together, while still holding together as a well-crafted song. Sort of my version of Moby-meets-Madonna-meets-The Beatles haha. I’d want to play Wurly on it, and you’d have to play horns! I have lots of ideas, but I know you’re pretty damn busy, so should we block out some time in December or January? Cawl me, we’ll tawk!