London-born producer and vocalist TĀLĀ burst onto the electronic music scene in 2014 with her debut EP, The Duchess. The same year, she released her Alchemy EP on Columbia Records, fusing pitched vocal chops with dramatic synth swells and bells over trap and R&B beats. TĀLĀ has since founded her Duchess label, teaming up with a range of artists, including award-winning vocalist and close friend BANKS, on a bunch of releases and Splice sample packs.
COVID-19 has kept most of us in the studio, but TĀLĀ finds inspiration in travel. When restrictions briefly lifted, she packed her bags and headed to LA, Poland and to her main studio in West London. Otherwise, she’s been pulling late nights in her home studio, collaborating online with BANKS and Lunakai. With the release of her latest track, Cabin Fever, she shares her pandemic-proof process and studio space, giving us insight into how she collaborates and explains the importance of keeping it simple.
- Yamaha Motif XS7
- Focal Alphas
- Shure SM7B mic
- Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol
- Teenage Engineering OP-1
- Neve Portico 5015 preamp
Tell us a bit about your home studio, TĀLĀ.
My home studio is a scaled-down version of my usual studio setup. I switched my Focal monitors for my Yamaha HS8s and have a Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol keyboard. I also have my UAD Twin Apollo, my mic, preamp, and OP-1. I just got a Roli Seaboard that I’m experimenting with – that’s a really fun addition.
I haven’t been here that long as I’ve been moving my studio around throughout the pandemic. I’ve had this setup since early January and I’m loving it. It’s taking me back to when I dropped The Duchess and was working out of my bedroom studio. I made the best ideas there!
How do you use your studio?
I work mostly out of my own studio or wherever it has moved to. I do travel a lot and love to collaborate so sometimes I work out of friends’ studios, too. Sometimes I’ll use other studios to record live drums and any other live instrumentation I need. One of my favourite studios is Genesis’s The Farm in Surrey. I spent a week there and recorded a load of live drums in their stone room that I ended up using on a few of my records and sample packs.
You’ve been moving around a few studios since the pandemic started. Can you tell us about the places you’ve been and how you set up a remote studio?
My first setup was in LA at Banks’ home. I booked my flight in advance and was one of the last flights allowed into the US before the first lockdown. I made a last-minute decision to go and quickly packed up a studio setup all into my carry-on suitcase.
We had a mini-setup in her living room which occasionally moved into her dining room. I set up my computer and a large MIDI keyboard along with our favourite mic, the Shure SM7B, on the dining room table and would just record in the evenings. She’s one of my best friends so a lot of the time it would just be us having deep talks, playing music, cooking, drinking tea and wine and drawing. Then as soon as inspiration hit us, we’re writing songs and recording in our dressing gowns. The process is always magical with us.
I was then moving back and forth between two Airbnb’s whilst out in LA, from Silverlake to Sherman Oaks. My space in Sherman Oaks was incredible and inspiring to make music in. It was a 60s Hollywood filmstar’s home that had so much character and light. Space and location are very important when I’m creating.
After three months in LA, when it was safe to travel, I came back to the UK and worked out of my main studio in West London.
I find travelling a massive part of my creative process and it’s how I collect my sounds. So I spoke to my friends Lunakai & Five Eyes about going somewhere together to create music. We had decided on Lisbon but, due to the quarantine regulations, had a change of plan that actually worked out for the best. We ended up having the most beautiful space to create in Poganty, Poland. We set up all our equipment on a very long table in one of the spare bedrooms in this beautiful house we were staying in and would just jam whenever we felt inspired.
We see you’ve been remotely collaborating with artists such as BANKS and Lunakai. What’s your process here?
I usually Facetime them and sometimes use Teamviewer so that they can view my screen and then I use Audio Movers to stream sound.
Banks and I work late at night UK time. She sends me parts and vocals that she is creating from her home setup. We spend time writing lyrics on Facetime, too, and sometimes we will voice note one another melody ideas throughout the day. I love how we share an obsession with music and there is hardly a day that goes by that I haven’t received a new idea from her when I wake up.
With Lunakai, we often mute one another when we are working on specific parts of a track. So we still feel like we’re in the room together. I love how I can say the weirdest idea and he gets what I mean. I don’t have to explain myself and vice versa. You know that feeling when someone finishes off your sentences? It’s like that but with music!
What do you miss about your main studio?
My main studio is at Ealing Film Studios. I miss the buzz and the people all around. I miss seeing Ben, my studio manager’s dog, and I love seeing the security guards who are always making me laugh. My studio is like a little magical cabin – it’s very vibey, with lots of things I’ve collected from my travels.
I really miss my Yamaha Motif XS7, she’s featured on nearly all of my records. It’s been such a massive part of me discovering my sound, especially when I was starting and experimenting.
Which DAW do you use?
I use Logic Pro and have done so for the last 10 years. I’ve experimented with Ableton Live and started on Reason but I enjoy using Logic. I honestly believe whatever DAW is the most fun for you to use is the one you should stick with. If it works for you then that is all that matters.
If you were left on a desert island, what one item would you take with you to make music with forever?
I started on the piano so I’d probably like to go out the same way! I would have to say my Yamaha Grand piano. I mean, it’s ridiculous to take to a desert island but I wouldn’t have to plug it in. I’m getting a vision of me doing some 90s style R&B video setup on the beach with this Elton John style piano. I love it!
Can you tell us a bit about Alchemist Villa?
Alchemist villa is a collective that consists of myself, Five Eyes and Lunakai. The concept is that we, the creators, are a moving entity and the Alchemist Villa travels with us wherever we go. The music is a mix of electronic and live sounds. All of our music has come from our very long jam sessions, where we just hit record and see what happens with collected sounds from our experiences and our travels. There is nothing better than enjoying the creative experience with your friends.
You released your second Splice sample pack in 2019. Any plans for a third? How do you choose what sounds are part of the pack?
I’m planning on dropping something new this year. I was meant to be putting something together before the start of the first lockdown but I had to postpone it. I like to see the sounds and samples like a collection, so they all fit together. I’m waiting for the inspiration to start putting stuff in motion for my third drop. This one is going to be my most exciting yet!
What’s been the biggest investment in your studio? Was it worth it?
My Mac Pro I bought a few years back. I maxed it out and it’s super powerful and been good to me. Also, Dropbox. It’s not expensive but has been a massive investment in terms of file storage and being able to access anything I need from the cloud. It’s literally changed my life
What is next on your shopping list studio-wise and why?
A Roland Juno-106. I love analogue sounds and I really want a new synth. Juno has always been one of my favourites.
What is your top piece of production advice?
Don’t overthink it, go with your feeling. Always test on a variety of monitors, car and laptop speakers and phones. Apple headphones are a good test too. Don’t stick to rules – experiment. That’s when the best things happen.
What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting out building a studio?
Start simple and with equipment that is fun and inspiring. Use the DAW that feels most fun to you. Ask advice from peers about what they recommend but remember it comes down to you and what you most enjoy.
Oh – and keep your space tidy!
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