Todd Edwards is one of the most innovative producers of his generation. His signature vocal cut-up technique, where he creates sample collages over disco and 2-step beats, has earned him a place amongst the godfathers of UK garage. He's won several Grammys thanks to a collaboration with Daft Punk on Random Access Memories. He's also one of the most earnest, chipper guys you'll ever meet. In fact, he's so heartwarmingly upbeat that when he called me back in September to ask if he could bring a friend to an interview we'd arranged that night, I found it nearly impossible to say no. That's how I found myself sitting in the austere dining room of a Brooklyn hotel, sitting across a beaming Todd and a woman with flaming red hair who introduced herself as Lady Miss Kier. Oh shit, from Deee-Lite! That's when I realized I was sharing breadsticks with a 90s club icon—the voice of "Groove is in the Heart," no less. I invited her to join in the interview. Thus began one of the most unconventional—and authentic—three-way conversations I've ever had.
LMK: What are some of the earliest songs that have stuck with you?
TE: There's a disco song called "Dance With Me."
LMK: Peter Brown! That's funny, I just met him. Crazy guy.
TE: The oldest 45" that stand out in my memory are "Dance With Me" and "Controversy." My older sister was into disco, so it was always playing in the car. I remember hearing "Turn the Beat Around" on the radio. I love the round singing, when the female vocalists start singing the rhythm.
THUMP: You mentioned earlier that this year has been a tough one for you, creatively. Can you tell me more about that?
TE: I moved out to LA two Julys ago. I couldn't have anticipated the feelings that came with it. When I first moved out there, it felt like freedom. But after a few months, I started to get isolated and really depressed. I've been a devout Christian for a long time, and a lot of my music has been indirectly about God. I went on this soul-searching journey, reworking my faith and trying to understand what I believed in. I don't want to make some complicated album that's so specific to my personal issues that no one would be able to relate to it. So that kind of stumped me. I also felt pressure to become a work machine. I've always felt this overwhelming desire to help my parents out financially, and put a lot of pressure on myself. My way of thinking was warped.
LMK: Did your mom tell you as a kid, "You're the one who is going to support me"? I'm wondering why you had this pressure.
TE: I think it was a warped interpretation of Christianity, actually. I felt compelled to take care of my parents. I'm overly concerned about their wellbeing—an unhealthy concern. I always make a joke: there's a fine line between a Grammy winner and a creepy guy who's living in his parents' home.
THUMP: So that feeling of being disconnected from your faith was spreading into your music?
TE: It was preventing me from feeling creative. Usually, I make dance tracks and the music would be about God in some shape or form. I really didn't feel like writing about that, so I thought, what am I going to write about? In some ways, I had so little personal experience—I wasn't really living. So I've really taken the last year to just develop relationships and find myself in LA.
LMK: LA can easily end up being a very isolated place. You have to make a point to see people, you gotta get in your car. And if you're a studio head, you're probably used to people coming around to see you.
TE: When it comes to creativity, when you're anxious or going through something, you can't function. I never learned how to compartmentalize my feelings. Normal adults put things tidily into a mental drawer so you can go back to it. I couldn't function until I'd figured it out.
LMK: I think you channeled it into your music and that's why it sounds so good!
TE: Well thank you! When I was younger I definitely did channel that energy, but for some reason this particular year it was so strong. I've had years where I've only written a little bit of material. I would love to be a machine.
LMK: Take time off. I was so burned out I had to stop. I didn't really choose to but I had to. The hardest thing is to do nothing. But I I found out that when I did nothing, time slowed down so much. There were these in-between moments where I learned more than I ever learned by just staying busy. "Let's write another song, let's write another song." But what does it mean? I don't know!
THUMP: Todd, you won a Grammy at the beginning of this year. What was that experience like?
TE: That was the best night of my life. That was epic, to go from an underground house music producer to being on stage at the Grammys. The best part was calling home and hearing the pride in my mother's voice. Like I said, they've seen the struggles, the good years and the bad. They never told me to get a regular job. So even though it's just an award, the Grammy is something tangible that people can cling to, you know?
LMK: Parent's don't understand the impact you had on a screaming dance floor.
TE: Or the fact that I unintentionally helped invent a sound in the UK. They still can't fully describe what I do. But a Grammy they can grasp. My father literally goes around asking everyone if they know who Daft Punk is, and he's like, "Well my son works with them." I'm like, Jesus! Dad!
THUMP: Did you get to celebrate with Thomas and Guy-Manuel?
TE: I didn't really get a chance to talk to them much. They were under pressure—they had to put their live show together in like two weeks. They were stressed because they had a vision for what they wanted to portray on stage and they needed to put everything into it. And they did!
LMK: So you've got this instantly recognizable style where you chop up vocals and turn them into custom rhythms. I'm just wondering, when you're doing remixes for people, are they like, "OK we're going to let you do your thing…. But now we want hip-hop vocals in it." Or do people give you the creative freedom to what you want?
TE: I got the idea for the original cut-ups from listening to MK because he was the original, so I always give him credit. I just took it into my own direction. I have to say that out of my whole career, I've had to go back and change something because they didn't like it less than ten times in twenty years.
THUMP: That's great. OK, last question. If 2014 was a song, what would it sound like?
TE: It'd probably start out really happy, then get very dark and then start to swing back into a high-note again. Like I said, I needed to grow a lot. The one thing I can say about everything I've been through is it's going to make for great songwriting. If I had started writing the album last September when I had wanted to, I don't think I would have had half the things I have to say.
THUMP: How's the album shaping up?
TE: We're still in the beginning stages. The goal is to get a lot of live instrumentation involved. When I write songs, I am very in touch with my emotions. It's almost like I always hear a female vocal while I'm writing.
LMK: Ooh, top five female vocalists?
TE: I love Bjork, Brandy, Imogen Heap. I've always listened to Enya—her vocals are instruments, and she's partially the reason why I got my style. I guess it'd be a toss-up between Karen Carpenter and Carole King. But when you hear someone like Adele or Amy Winehouse, that big voice… you have generic-sounding voices that work really well in a pop market, but then there are really memorable voices that go a long way.
TE: At some point I will address relationship stuff. I never really had a longterm relationship and developing that an older age was a major part of my anxiety. I'm a late bloomer.
THUMP: You're waiting till now to tell me you fell in love this year? Besides, isn't that prime material for writing songs?
TE: Yes, that's what the album is going to be. I always thought that it was so cliché when people write love songs but someone told me that people can relate to these songs because they all go through issues in love. You can't fake a love song. If you do, it sounds cheesy.