It’s rare that an American producer would be one of the founding fathers of a movement coming from an entirely different continent, and whose name today still inspires a sense of mystery from his adoring fans. Paul Johnson once tried to describe a track to me and said “What’s the name of that one big producer who uses a ton of samples in one song?” Why Todd Edwards, of course.
His intricate use of multiple often discordant samples results in a tapestry of beautiful music carrying an indelible stamp. You know a Todd Edwards song when you hear it. And his contributions to the UK Garage scene from the early ’90s onwards continues to impress with remixes and work with St. Germain, Kim English, Robin S, Justice and Daft Punk.
His stories about intense stage fright, subliminal messages in his tracks and female impersonations made for a very interesting afternoon of conversation…
It’s funny because I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that you’ve lived in Jersey for most of your life, and not the UK. I’m sure you get that a lot…
Yeah a lot of people think that I live in the UK, some people don’t even know what I look like. A lot of people think I’m an English black guy.
And living in LA now, are you friends with MK (Marc Kinchen)? We just recently interviewed him for our anniversary issue. Any plans on collaborating?
We haven’t yet but I’d really like to. I’ve gotten to know him better over the last year. I DJ’ed with him for the first time last year at this party in San Francisco… him and his brother Scott. That was a long time coming and I’ve always given credit to him for inspiring my style in every interview that I do. I had met him a long time ago in New York at the Sound Factory, but I never really got to know him back then. He’s a really down-to-earth, humble guy.
Now I know you got a lot of your influences from the early ’90s House scene like Masters at Work, Todd Terry, Roger S, etc. Were you a big club kid in that vibrant scene?
I wasn’t really a big club kid but I did go to several places like the Shelter. The main one was really the Sound Factory because Lil Louie Vega would spin there every Wednesday night. It really was the most inspiring place – he would always play all his new music. To me then you had the top five producers at the time that were Louie, Kenny Dope, Kerri Chandler, Roger Sanchez and Todd Terry. Nervous Records, Strictly Rhythm were out there. It was a really hot scene as far as underground House Music was concerned.
When I started making music I would try to imitate them but I so missed the mark. [laughs]
But you came up with something that was so uniquely your own. With the signature style you’re so known for, using multiple samples – how many exactly would you use in one track?
It can go anywhere from 25 to over a hundred. I do more sampling now than when I was younger since I obviously have better equipment. Back when I started making music the sampler I had only had the capability of holding about 5-15 seconds worth of sampling time. You really had to make do with what you had so the tracks were much simpler. Then once I got a sampler with more memory, it allowed me to really make more elaborate tracks. Which is kinda funny because people have been craving the older stuff lately, everyone’s been going back to the old House thing… They like the deeper, more spacious tracks.
With so many samples in one song, how much attention would you actually pay to fixing up a sample? I would think that would drive me insane!
Well I’m very anal when it comes to that and I want everything to be pitch perfect. I’ll build sample banks and I’ll be working on a remix. I think the most frustrating part for me sometimes is that the sampling process can take longer than I want it to. Because I’m randomly picking music online – just like going to a record store, buying records you’ve never heard before. Now I sample from MP3s moreso than vinyl.
I’ve been using Rhapsody a lot. However some vinyl sounds much better, the dynamics are so much richer. I’d like to go back to doing that again. It’s just that I have a thousand records sitting in my manager’s house!
You mention in one interview that DJing was necessary because it was a way for you to connect more with your fans, a way to put a face with the name. But you were really more into producing I gathered?
When I was in my early 20s I had extreme stage fright which was a real disadvantage because at that time I could have really cleaned house. Especially back then there was more money in the pot to go around. I didn’t really start DJing until my early 30s and it was pretty epic. I spun at a UKG party at Time & Envy in the UK. I knew I was popular because I was getting a lot of remix work but I didn’t make the connection until I felt the intense love of a live audience.
The thing is – obviously DJing these days is part of the process for paying the bills to go with production because there’s not as much money in independent music. The one thing I’d like to do is create a live show which I don’t have a vision for yet. I’m enjoying DJing more and more but I’d really like to expand. I want to leave a bigger mark and I feel like a live show can really do it.
Perhaps playing keyboards, a live singer?
Yes all that. I can sing well myself, I’ve actually sang in a few things and in my own work as well. And I like the idea of playing samples live. The thing is I don’t have a full vision for it yet and I don’t like forcing things. Anything I do I usually get a vision for it and then I go full steam ahead.
I have the tendency to be a perfectionist. That’s the curse and the blessing of having a lot of equipment because you want to perfect it more and more. Back then, there wasn’t as much time to overthink things.
Speaking of vocals, I wanted to ask you was about your album Odyssey and how you credited different vocalists… but they were actually you playing different characters?
I really didn’t have great access to a lot of vocalists, and I was very good at impersonations because my voice can get quite high. I can do female impersonations, I did Michael McDonald from the Doobie Brothers, in one track I tried to sound like a big soulful woman, another track I wrote in the style of Bjork, bought a tank of helium and sang the song. It’s a good thing I went online to check first, because I was going to suck the helium right out of the tank and I would have punctured my lungs, so I’m glad I realized I had to go get balloons.
I get more requests for vocals. A lot of people didn’t realize I did the vocals for the song “Face to Face” on the Daft Punk album. I never considered myself a vocalist because when I was younger I used to sing all the time in high school and I had some friends tease me about it so I got discouraged and just focused on production. And the only reason I stopped was because I let someone else’s opinion influence me.
Can you tell us the story about how your remix of St. Germain’s “Alabama Blues” came about? Is it true you heard them pay homage to you in a song and then shortly after that they approached you?
Yeah that’s exactly what happened! The weird thing was I was listening to DJ Disciple’s radio show in New York and I heard this song and I could have sworn I heard my name. It was crazy. And then a couple of days later the label I was on got a call about doing a remix for that track. It’s funny because I have the tendency to be a perfectionist – and again, that’s the curse and the blessing of having a lot of equipment because you want to perfect it more and more. But back then, you had limited things and you worked with what you had. There wasn’t as much time to overthink things. The dub I did for “Alabama Blues” I think I did in one night. I smoked about a pack and a half of cigarettes working on that. Everything just felt right when I was doing it.
I would say this song was definitely one of the ones that put me in the map. There were three tracks that really did it. One was “Alabama Blues”, the other was on Roger Sanchez’s label Sound of One for a remix for “As I Am” and “Saved My Life” on i! Records.
Most of the things that got big were the ones I did really quickly.
Bottom line is that I had a falling out with i! Records. Honestly I don’t see a dime from that work. I would rather give my material away, and I’ve been thinking of making a YouSendIt file and just giving it to whomever wants it.
You know I’ve been having a hard time getting a good copy of that. Will you be re-releasing some of your older stuff? Some of your music is hard to acquire.
That’s kind of a tricky question. Bottom line is that I had a falling out with i! Records, and they’ve re-released all of my back catalogue on iTunes and Beatport. Honestly I don’t see a dime from that work. I would rather give my material away, and I’ve been thinking of making a YouSendIt file and just giving it to whomever wants it. I’d really rather give it away for free than to see i! Records get another dime from what I should be getting. Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll give it to you. It’s not even about the money. I want people to have my material.
Let’s go back to how much the UK embraced you and your sound. I’m curious as to how they just found you, the one American isolated from the bunch!
The way I understand how it happened was there was a group called Tuff Jam (Karl “Tuff Enuff” Brown and Matt “Jam” Lamont) and they were interested in my music and very supportive of my work. There was also MJ Cole who also started doing his thing with broken beats and he was a lot more musical because he was clasically trained – very beautiful chord progressions. There was also Armand Van Helden with his remix of “Professional Widow”: that style with the whole buildup and the drops and then the drums come back in.
All of them were some of the people that inspired the whole UK Garage scene. It was something that I never anticipated I would be a part of. When I set out to make music, I wanted an identifiable sound, just the way someone like Todd Terry or MK had their identifiable sounds.
One of the frustrating things was that there was a whole falling out between the US House scene and the UK Garage scene. It’s like the elements that are supposed to be bringing people together are actually pulling them apart. I wasn’t a part of any of that debate.
Really, I never heard about any kind of conflict between the two scenes at that time!
Well the thing is the UKG thing turned into Speed Garage, which was a much quicker version of the sound and just like any other sound that gets big it became watered down and saturated. And it kind of went off on its own tangent and split off on its own genres… You had 2-Step and Grime. Grime was starting to give off some negative connotations to UK Garage because it had its influence in some of the negativity of Rap music, and there were many more splintered versions.
How do you feel about the offshoots that have resulted such as Bass Music, Breakbeats, Dubstep, etc.?
I’m very happy to have left a mark that would impact other people. I feel good about the other forms of music. You know some people can’t get into Dubstep, some people love it. I think there’s room for everything. My rule is simple: I don’t like negativity. It’s not me.
Even if something sounds darker, you know we all have emotions, God made all emotions. I think there’s a big difference between expressing darker or sad chords as opposed to spewing lyrics that are extremely negative. There’s a big difference. You can express God in music without words.
So how do you go about putting your messages about God in your music? Is that something you intentionally set out to do, because the way you’ve incorporated them has been very clever and creative. Nothing is obvious, and many still don’t know that you do that! Was it because you were always conscious that you had more of a secular crowd?
The one thing I noticed in House Music: there were a lot of cliches in their messages. Words like “freedom”, “joy” – it wasn’t really directed at anything and I wanted to have a little more direction.
And then I hit a bottom point when I was 24 years old which was kinda funny because that was during the first wave of success that I had, and that’s when I felt divine help. From that point on I wanted to give messages that said “Here: this is what I went through and this is how I got through it.” Or just when you’re feeling like you’re alone, that’s when a prayer gets answered when you least expect it.
Those were the types of things I would put in there. Very subtle, not in your face. I think people associate God as being very boring because they look at Him as a bunch of rules – don’t do this, don’t do that. No one wants to be told what to do. I know what my focus is supposed to be right now, it’s about making really good music and that glorifies God as well.