Producer in demand Fred again..: ‘I was lucky not to be good at anything else’ | Music

SLying on the sunny balcony of his luxurious Los Angeles rental, Fred Gibson looks like music’s go-to super-producer. Even dressed in an oversized embroidered sweatshirt, Gibson’s dominating Zoom screen smile suggests things are going pretty well. After overseeing hits for everyone from Stormzy to Rita Ora, Ed Sheeran to AJ Tracey, Gibson was responsible for a third of Britain’s No. 1 singles in 2019. A year later, he won the Brit Award for Best Producer, before relaunching his own dance-focused artist project, Fred.

But appearances can be deceiving. When I suggest he’s gotten the best deal on interview locations, the 29-year-old South Londoner responds with an “I yearn for where you are” which is too kind a thing to say. say about the south- east London suburb of Brockley. He also balks at the super-producer label (“That’s pretty rude”), while the mention of his Brit is greeted with a polite shrug. “I’m not really restless, he says. “I don’t want to shit on something that matters to people but it’s just then not why I do it.

Gibson is in Los Angeles as part of a sold-out US tour ahead of his third Fred album, Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9, 2022). Formatted like a music diary – its first two albums are similarly timestamped – the tactile and deeply personal series Actual Life is not made up of guest highlights like typical producer-turned-artist projects, but a tapestry of ambient audio recordings, taken from Gibson’s phone, featuring friends and strangers, as well as viral social media posts and snippets of poetry. These are then wrapped in delicate piano, percolating beats and, when a specific mood can’t be found online, new lyrics sung in hushed Gibson tones. A key character throughout is a construction worker called Carlos whom Gibson met in Atlanta. His exuberant, invigorating phrases such as “we’re going to get there” now adorn the corps of fervent Gibson fans (his next three shows at London’s O2 Academy Brixton sold out in less than a minute). “I’ve seen hundreds of tattoos of Carlos’ words on people,” he smiles proudly. As Gibson began thinking about turning his cache of recordings into a pre-pandemic musical project, Actual Life part one – subtitled April 14 through December 17, 2020 and released April 2021 – rang with a collective sense of digital saturation. after lockdown. With all the recordings compressed through his phone and the tracks later finished on his laptop, there’s a palpable sense of close comfort that reflects our months spent communicating remotely. “For a lot of people, albums are lockdown records,” he agrees, “but I was already down the rabbit hole with that. [by that point]”.

The trio of albums also carries an overall sense of emotional purging, another big pillar of lockdown. Eloquent, thoughtful, and driven by music-nerd enthusiasm throughout our conversation, Gibson seems on less solid ground when discussing personal details, his responses becoming sketchy. “Essentially, it’s about falling in love with someone who got really sick and then…” He falls asleep. Later, he mentions how difficult it was to visit hospitals during the lockdown. Actual Life 3, he says, is about “drawing a line in the sand…because I have to give myself permission to do something else. And write about something else. Initially, he assumed he’d be able to chart his own path through grief with each album, ending with a resolution, “but that’s not how that aspect of emotion works.” On the album’s beautiful single, Blue, a ghostly voice sings “I just know it gets better with time.”

Even though Actual Life 3 has become more club-focused than its predecessors, understandably influenced by the past year of “playing raves again,” it maintains a feeling of dancing through the pain. It was a process of creative catharsis that ultimately helped shift Gibson’s mindset from producer for account to artist. “The messages I’ve read from people telling me how [the albums] mean to them have changed my life,” he says, his bright smile reignited. “I now make music in a totally different way than I did before.”

Born in London, but educated at Wiltshire Boarding School Marlborough College, Gibson rarely turned away from music. At the age of eight, he began composing classical piano pieces on his aunt’s tape recorder, while at school he often dropped lessons in favor of the music room. “I was lucky not to be even a little good at anything else,” he says, “so I had a clear vision.” When Gibson was 16, a family friend invited him to rehearsals for a neighbor’s a cappella band. That neighbor was Brian Eno, and that a cappella group often included people like Annie Lennox. Gibson helped make tea and put away song sheets, often taking time with Eno to discuss new synths he had discovered. “Then I wouldn’t sleep for six nights doing 100 song sketches,” he smiles, dazed by the memory. “I’ll be back next week and try to make it look really laid back.” After two years of mentorship, Eno asked Gibson, then just 18, to co-produce his two 2014 collaboration albums with Underworld’s Karl Hyde.

Other production work soon followed for UK rap heroes such as Roots Manuva, Flowdan (who gave him his artist nickname), J Hus and Stefflon Don, before pop called via Charli XCX, Clean Bandit and George Ezra. In 2019, he co-produced the majority of Ed Sheeran’s Collaborations Project No. 6, as well as three songs on Stormzy’s Heavy Is the Head, showcasing an ability to cross genres. “The whole thing about ‘what kind of music do you like?’ is such a dated concept and I’m so glad it is,” he says. “Everyone I work with grew up hearing everything and seeing everything the same way.” He’s not interested in sniffles towards pop, and Sheeran in particular. “I can’t remember the last time I talked to someone who thought what someone like Ed does is easy. It’s so obviously ignorant.

Fred again… performs at the Electric Picnic festival in Ireland. Photography: Kieran Frost/Redferns

Before becoming pop’s go-to producer, Gibson had struggled to make various artists’ projects work. “Essentially there was something I had to do that I couldn’t do with the lenses I was looking through,” he says. It was Eno who gave him clarity. Using Gibson’s favorite medium, the voice note, Eno messaged him that while cleaning his kitchen to the soundtrack of a random iTunes, he’d rush off to check out what amazing song was playing only to find out that c It was something Gibson had sent him. . “He was like, ‘Enough now Fred, you gotta get back to this stuff, it can’t just be sitting on my laptop.'”

There’s more than a hint of Eno influence in Gibson’s unique approach to finding inspiration and how it connects to the practical side of music-making. Most of Actual Life’s albums were made while on the move, whether via long train journeys or meandering tube excursions (“I had a lot of useless flat whites in Harrow and Wealdstone,” laughs -he). That sense of restlessness is reflected in the artwork, with each album featuring a filtered selfie of Gibson walking, riding a tube, or sitting in the back of a cab. He’s also prone to wirelessly sending work in progress to the phones of unsuspecting people, whether they’re fans on his shows or strangers on airplanes.

While most people use a phone camera to document a day, Gibson’s favorite medium is sound recording. “I think it’s about finding places where you get a conveyor belt of humanity to affect you subconsciously,” he says, recommending London’s South Bank. “You can’t help but get excited by hundreds of excited humans.”

Actual Life 3 is out October 28 on Atlantic Records.

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