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In Session: Pablo Nouvelle

Bern-born producer and filmmaker Pablo Nouvelle craft a soulful, sample-heavy mix

  • Words: Gemma Ross | Photography: Roshan Adhihetty
  • 1 December 2021

Swiss producer Pablo Nouvelle is the ideal artist for a world where film and music go hand-in-hand. Taking his stage name directly from the ‘nouvelle vague’ age of cinema (French new wave), Pablo - real name is Fabio Friedli - has an extensive cinematic background, even bagging himself Oscar attention for his self-produced film In A Nutshell in 2019. Musically speaking, his dedication to the arts has now taken him on multiple tours around the world .

The Bern-born producer, DJ, and filmmaker has been hot on releases across the past couple of years. Releasing his self-titled debut in 2013, Pablo has since worked with a plethora of popular artists - Gorgon City, Aurora and Marina & The Diamonds to name a few. But the influence behind his sound, self-described as “sensitive electronic music”, strung from an earlier love for Wu-Tang Clan and a broader passion for hip hop. “I had an MPC2000xl and got into sampling early on. Only after a few years, through Wu-Tang Clan and other sample gurus, I discovered that I was actually much more into soul music than rap,” he explains.

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By catering more to soul-based productions, Pablo’s joyride through genres is a fusion of R&B, timely samples and neo-soul, opting for a sound that creeps its way into dance music. “I always try to keep a certain warmth and fleshy vibe,” he admits, but adds: “I guess soul music is still the root of everything I do”. On a trajectory from his self-titled debut, Pablo toured Europe in 2016 playing over 150 shows in 11 countries, and continues to take his live performances across the globe.

Fresh to his discography, Pablo teamed up with Leeds-based producer Kinnship last month with a joint record, ‘Stones & Geysers’. The 10-track album marks the eighth LP in the visionary’s portfolio and uses his sensibility for cinematic sounds in a film-worthy re-imagination of both soul and electronic music.

Check out our Q&A with Pablo Nouvelle below, and listen to his exclusive In Session mix.

What's your relationship with film and cinema? You pursued filmmaking at college, right?

I studied animation film… by accident. I wanted to get into visual arts as a counterpoint to the music. Through a friend, I realised the endless possibilities animation offers - you’re the story, the characters, the set design and the music of your own universe. You’re God, basically. I made several short movies, of which one got on the long list for an Oscar called In A Nutshell. Now I’ve started to write more and more music for films and advertisements, too.

It’s been a busy few years for you - you released two mini-albums in the space of a few months last year. Do you find that your sound develops more with each release?

I do feel like it’s coming into place. My first official two albums were a very colourful mess including dark techno tunes and light-hearted pop songs. In 2019 I moved to London and released more concept-based albums. Starting with ‘Piano Pieces’, followed by a downtempo electronica album called ‘Atlas Internet Cafe’, then an uptempo dance album ‘Obsolete’, and an EP based on old samples from the International Library of African Music. Now with the new collaboration album ‘Stones & Geysers’ together with Kinnship, we open up a new self-contained musical universe, which is probably best described as electronic folk.

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Could you talk us through your new joint record with Kinnship, ‘Stones & Geysers’? Why did you choose to work together on this one?

We’d worked together on a couple of tracks for our respective solo projects, and we found working together incredibly easy. Ideas came very quickly, so it was really a desire to do more of that, helped by the fact that I was living in London at the time. After a couple of sessions, it became clear that we were on the way to making a body of work. In retrospect, it feels like ‘Stones & Geysers’ came into being more than us deciding to create an album. It went that far that sometimes when composing, we knew which song in the tracklist that day’s tune would become.

What was the process of making an entirely collaboration based album? And what comes first, the beat and bones of a track or the vocals?

I’m very drums and percussion focused. I would start to chop up samples and create a rhythm whilst still talking references and inspirations. Kinnship is the endless idea generator when it comes to chords and melodies. While he tries out different ideas, I would throw various sounds at him to try on. Once we got a basic idea down, I focus on the production adding more elements and already doing a first raw arrangement. Kinnship starts writing lyrics that he tells me very little about, but I’m not much of a lyrics person so I’m fine with that. I know it’s going great when he gets all quiet and almost disappears into the corner. Then, after a few hours, I'd put on the mic and we record the entire thing at once, layering track on track. After that, we discuss the arrangement and my head starts to smoke while I push hundreds of little boxes back and forth. By dinner time, we’re done.

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Is collaboration essential to your production?

Although I spend most of my time alone in the studio, I would say that this is definitely the case. Everything I compose is in some way dialogue with someone else. Be it in a co-writing session, when using samples, or as a producer for other artists or a film. I’m always looking for that external input that inspires me and brings me to places I would normally not go all alone in my black box.

Speaking on the new album, you said that it’s about finding the relationship between human connection and mother nature. Can you expand on that?

I’ve got to quote Kinnship, who wrote all the lyrics to answer this question. There’s a line in the title song ‘Stones & Geysers’, that goes: “I tend to think about spiritual things in a physical way".

That line sums up the whole album, and it’s an exploration into trying to talk about spiritual or emotional concepts in more finite terms. We both take great inspiration from nature, and it’s a place of deeper connection, realising there is more to life than ourselves and whatever we’re dealing with, but ultimately, nature is a physical thing. Geysers, for example, can represent the process of anger, resentment and subsequently forgiveness. Pressure often builds with negative emotions, yet when forgiveness is exercised, it can bring a release of pressure and also powerful beauty with it - just like when a geyser erupts.

You recently mentioned that you created a lot of this record at Pirate Studios - what was that experience like? Does that creative atmosphere help in your production?

We wrote most of the songs in London where almost no one can afford to have their own studio. So, we became studio nomads and wrote songs wherever we found a space for a day. In the best case, you end up in a studio with gear that will help create sounds that you wouldn't find elsewhere. On the other hand, it’s comfortable to have your favourite synths nearby when you know exactly what kind of sound you’re looking for at a particular moment. I guess it’s the mix of both extremes and the variety that helped make those sessions unique. For me, London definitely has that distinguished creative aura. I can even smell it in the metro!

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There are a lot of moments in 'Stones & Geysers' that feel quite ambient and mellow. Why did you opt for those downtempo sounds?

‘Stones & Geysers’ is far from being a dance record. Although it’s based mainly on electronic elements like synth and programmed drums, it’s nonchalant and calm. Probably not very zeitgeisty, but hopefully thanks to that, it’s also timeless and will remain a good listen in ten years.

Your live sessions are hypnotic, you seem to know your way around a lot of equipment. How were you introduced to the equipment that you use?

You try to get your hands on the object of desire and then you auto-didactically work your way through the beast. I’m far from being a modular synth… or a live nerd. I’m chasing presets or sampled sounds and take them as a starting point when it comes to writing and producing songs.

Read this next: The US Library of Congress has made recordings spanning 100 years available to sample for free

Could you tell us a little about your In Session mix?

With this In Session mix, I tried to turn it upside down and showcase the songs in a more dance-related context - it’s quite the journey through all kinds of different BPMs. I was eager to include some of my current favourite artists like Fred again.., Overmono, Weval, and Susso. I smuggled an evergreen in there from my all-time favourite electronic band Mount Kimbie, and it contains an exclusive remix I did for my former guitarist Long Tall Jefferson alongside a lot of tracks from the ‘Stones & Geysers’ album.

‘Stones & Geysers’ is out now. Grab your copy here.

Gemma Ross is Mixmag’s Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter

Tracklist:
Kinnship & Pablo Nouvelle - ‘Hearing The Quiet’
Kinnship & Pablo Nouvelle - ‘The Wholesomeness Of Waiting’
Kinnship & Pablo Nouvelle - ‘Medicine’
Robot Love - ‘Numbers Station’
Fred again.. - ‘Eazi (Do it Now)’
Pablo Nouvelle - ‘The Karman Line’
Fred again.. - ‘Kyle (I Found You)’
Kinnship & Pablo Nouvelle - ‘Frank Miller’
Lapti - ‘Sao Paulo’
Elizete Cardoso - ‘Vida Bela’
Overmono - ‘Bromley’
Mount Kimbie - ‘Carbonated’
Susso - ‘Ansumana’
Long Tall Jefferson - ‘Everything is Wrong (Pablo Nouvelle Remix)’
Kinnship & Pablo Nouvelle - ‘Kilo’
Weval - ‘It’ll Be Just Fine’
Kinnship & Pablo Nouvelle - ‘Stones & Geysers’

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