Interview by Angela Stengel
Let’s get this straight from the beginning. Pedro is the name James Rutledge goes by when he makes his solo music. James makes the music on his own from his home in London. He uses his old computer, a synth and a record player. “Sometimes people say something like ‘This is James from Pedro,’ and you can kinda tell that they think you play in a band. When I sent this album to a few labels they said; ‘We really like it, it’s great, except for the free jazz stuff. Can you get your saxophonist toâ€¦.’ and I think, ‘I don’t have a saxophonist! It’s just a record!’ But I’m pleased, because that’s really what I wanted it to sound like,” says Rutledge.
It’s understandable that there can be confusion. Pedro’s latest album, You, Me and Everyone, samples live instruments and there is a sporadic placement of drums that sounds like it could only be a straight live recording. “I really dislike that coffee table-type music where you can really hear a loop. It’s badly done and it irritates me unless there’s a real musical point like there is in hip-hop, or if it’s done really well. It always gets to me because I know it’s relatively easy. I think it’s kinda laziness or lack of imagination,” he laughs.
“I try not to do too much anal editing because it just sounds rigid and I like those accidental sounds. Green Apples is the track that people often say sounds like it’s live. Someone said ‘Did you get a drummer to play on that?’ which I found really kinda flattering. It’s put together with samples really, nothing live you could say.”
You, Me and Everyone, his first album in a few years, is anything but coffee table music. There are beats without a time signature, moments of free jazz, and hiphop loops with delicate xylophone melodies. It’s a clear shift from the sounds on his first album, which was held up as a fine example of folktronica. “I really dislike the folktronica tag and it’s funny, because when my first album came out I remember meeting up with Dan who is Caribou and Manitoba, and Kieran who is Four Tet. I think we were at a Prefuse 73 gig and we were joking – it was just when this genre was coming out – that if this venue blew up, then folktronica would go down,” he says with a huge laugh. “I remember it was just a few journalists in the UK who came up with the term and all of a sudden everyone was using it. The weird thing is when you read a really clueless journalist review of some rock band and it says ‘Yeah, this is folktronica’ just because it has an acoustic guitar in it. It’s kinda ridiculous.”
“I found being labelled as folktronic to be really irritating. I have folk records but the number of jazz and classical and hip-hop and dance and whatever records far, far outnumber those. It was kinda never an intentional thing.”
The influence of his eclectic record collection comes through on the album and there’s hardly a whiff of folktronic acoustic guitar. “I wanted it to sound like it was falling apart, or like it was being played by a ham-fisted school orchestra or something like that. Most of it is made with samples and what I normally do is just have a real solid rock for the track. On Green Apples I just had a drum beat and then a key it was going to be in. I’d then start playing stuff in off my record player over the top. It’s just a Technics turntable that you can alter the pitch on. So I started playing loads of records over the top – like weird free-jazz records or anything really – then I’d alter the pitch so it’s in tune with the music. Sooner or later you hit something nice and you record it in and it’s chaotic, but it’s also like catching accidents. Once you’ve got it in you can move it around.”
Rutledge makes it sound easy but it hasn’t always been this carefree for him. The production of his first self-titled album was ‘a disaster’ as far as he was concerned, with the wrong version of the music being pressed and the wrong artwork being printed, yet he does acknowledge that it received good reviews and sold well.
Not long after making this album his friend and fellow member of band Dakota Oak Trio (DOT) went missing while on holidays and his remains were not found until two years later. During this time Rutledge became disillusioned and stopped making music. “It’s funny because on the one hand you look at music making as being really fun – I don’t like to sit and take it too seriously. When I actually made this album it was relatively easy to make. It came quite quickly once it came, but before I started it I thought ‘I’m giving up music. I don’t want to do it again. It’s too painful’,” says Rutledge, somewhat lightheartedly in retrospect. “But at the moment I’m not disillusioned at all. At the moment I’m having so much fun doing it all and I’m doing a ridiculous amount of music as well. I’ve got like 10 things coming out this year. I’m really happy about it at the moment. Thankfully.”
This year Rutledge is making up for his time away from music production by immersing himself in musical projects. As well as the release of You, Me & Everyone he has produced an album for British band Goldrush which will come out this year and he has also recorded an EP as Chapters with some old friends. He’s already able to cross off ‘remix album’ from his list of things to do after releasing Fear & Resilience in 2004 which included tracks from some big names such as Danger Mouse and Four Tet.
“Most of the people on that album I know on a personal level, but still I really admire their music. I don’t really consider the fact that my music is out there and people buy it and people actually like it, or even the fact that I might influence people. I just find it incredible and bizarre, and so when you’re being remixed by these people that you really respect and you have their albums then you kinda revere them to an extent. It’s a really surreal process! I really wanted to do a good remix album and I chose all the people and asked them personally and they got virtually no money for it, so it was done in a really nice way rather than it just being a promotional gimmick or a marketing tool.”
“In the US it came out packaged with the original album and people gave it really good reviews despite it being four years old. Naturally, I am quite an underground person and to get the sort of exposure of having Danger Mouse, Prefuse, Four Tet and people like that remixing, it does help, because sadly people won’t often pay attention to what you’re doing unless you have names like that attached.”
While he knows some of the big names in his scene, he can also claim to be widely read in many musical areas due to his compulsion to discover new music, particularly through reading Wire magazine. “I get it every month religiously and I love it and hate it at the same time. They’re really good at picking up on stuff really early on. If I’m reading a review of something or if I’m reading an article I’m often attracted to words like ‘chaotic’. If they ever say ‘this album’s a mess’ or ‘it’s got loads of influences’ then I always pick up on things like that.”
“It’s such an obvious thing to say that you should just listen to as many different things as possible, especially if you’re a musician, because that’s where you can get ideas from. Such an obvious thing to say but I’m always alarmed at how many people don’t do it or will just start listening to something as soon as it becomes fashionable.”
“To find new music you just start cross-referencing stuff. Say I just got into Jim O’Rourke – he’s a really good example – you get into someone like him and he’s done so many different projects and he produces so much and then you start to reading interviews with him and he mentions a few artists – he’s definitely one of those sorts of people who can like all sorts of different music. After reading an interview with him you’ve got a list of twenty things to check out and it goes on and branches out from there. That’s how I always try to get into new music. If I ever feel like I’m missing something, then I just go online and type in the name of whoever I’m listening to at the moment and then you’ll get an interview up and from there you’ve probably got 50 possibilities of things to listen to.”
Rutledge’s MySpace page unfashionably proclaims he’s ‘never been reviewed by Pitchfork’. It mightn’t be the case for much longer, especially seeing some have referred to him as the ‘pioneer of folktronica’.
“I meet some people and they say ‘oh your early stuff really influenced us’ and I find it really flattering, but I’m still quite alarmed that anyone would refer to me as the pioneer of anything. I wish it was something else though and not folktronica.”