Four Tet's Kieran Hebden will not be pigeonholed


September 15, 2005|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,SUN STAFF

Kieran Hebden loathes labels.

This summer, the British producer better known as Four Tet couldn't be more tickled. With his latest album, Everything Ecstatic, Hebden fulfilled his three-record contract with Domino and shed his former sound, which the media dubbed "folktronica." Hebden hated the word.

"Everyone wants to describe a new artist as some new hybrid of this style or that style," Hebden said. "Everyone's been done now, to the point where people just come up with their own new names for things instead. It's an endless obsession with pigeonholing everything."

After Hebden finishes a three-month supporting tour -- he plays the Ottobar on Sunday -- he said he is taking a long breather. He has cut an album every other year since Dialogue's release under Output in 1999, and he said he doesn't want to be stuck in that kind of machine, grinding out record after record. Pause, his first for Domino, dropped in 2001 and was followed by 2003's Rounds and this year's Everything Ecstatic.

Though instrumental, each record incorporated new sounds and themes and revealed a marked progression from the last.

"I never want to repeat myself," Hebden said. "It's really important that each record moves on and develops a bit."

Everything Ecstatic overflows with percussion, from heavy tribal drum tracks to twinkling wind chimes and bells. Hebden said that, before recording, he gorged himself on music steeped in percussion, such as Indonesian gamelan orchestras.

"You can really pull someone in with drums, and then you can really tell them something with a melody," Hebden said.

Hebden bought a vibraphone, recorded some melodies and toyed with them on his laptop, which he uses to create and perform his work. His home is his workplace.

Sometimes Hebden will wake up in the morning, have a minor epiphany, amble over to his computer and add the loop or riff he needs to finish a track. He said he rarely forces out a good track. He would rather munch on toast and mull it over.

"All that gazing off and stuff works pretty well for me," he said. "It's those moments in the day that I really want to listen to music -- when I'm kind of losing it a bit and trying to relax. I find that's when I'm making the music that I need and the music I want to hear at the time."

Hebden recently got into jazz duo albums and decided to record a collaboration with celebrated drummer Steve Reid. The two performed together for the first time on stage in two improvised shows this year.

"We looked at each other, and we both knew it was all going to be OK," Hebden said. "Now it's become a really huge thing for both of us. I really, really love playing music with him. I seemed to have this instant connection."

They recorded material for a collaborative album, which is due out next year, Hebden said.

Now that Hebden is not immediately obliged to put out another Four Tet album, he said he is giddy at the thought of a little elbow room. He said he would love to continue working with Reid and other musicians.

"I like the idea that I don't know what I'm going to be doing in six months time," he said.

It sure won't be folktronica.

Four Tet plays the Ottobar at 9 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 the day of the show. The Ottobar is at 2549 N. Howard St. Call 410-662-0069 or visit

For more club events, see Page 28.

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