Richard Russell's studio is located beneath a steep flight of stone steps, the kind more often found on a treacherous mountain range than a quiet side-street in west London. "I would struggle getting down here," I say when we meet, "especially if you're drunk and it's late at night."
If that were to happen though, it's likely I wouldn't be allowed inside. As I learn from spending time in The Copper House, reading a sign on the wall, there's nothing going on here beside music – no outside energy allowed. It's something of a sacred place, a hub of artistic freedom and expression. A wall downstairs is lined with countless records, small pieces of art sit on windowsills or alongside mixing desks, incense snakes its way across the room. This insignia is no doubt part and parcel of the end product, however it's the serene feeling of the place that stands out.
As part of his Everything Is Recorded project, the XL Recordings owner has, over the past year or two, hosted a who's who of strong creative voices in this space. Giggs, Damon Albarn, Sampha, Syd, Ibeyi, Brian Eno and newcomer Obongjayar are a few of the names that have collected here, some of them taking part in fourteen-piece jam sessions. "I wanted to make space for different voices but where they weren't in each other's way and you got something that was more than the sum of its parts," Russell says, as we describe his latest venture.
Released earlier this year, the debut EP from Everything Is Recorded – so named because it's oblique, not specifically tied down to one artist, it simply is – takes from Russell's production and scope as much as it does the combined energy of each artist, piecing various talents together and into a larger picture. "I was trying to do the slightly schizophrenic thing of being involved in the making of the mess – being committed to that; enjoying that – and then I would come back to the sessions and go through it bit by bit" he explains of the process. The result: a five-track record of pure creativity.
As well and good as it is to speak to Russell – and I probably could speak for hours: about his background as a record producer; his journey toward XL Recordings; his collection of books – I'm here today to feel around the background of the latest release from Everything Is Recorded, a video and track called "Mountain Of Gold", featuring Sampha, Ibeyi, Wiki and Kamasi Washington. And that's exactly why I'm in his studio speaking about the process of involving so many different musicians, drawing out their energies, creating a space for doing that. It wouldn't make sense to sit behind a laptop in the VICE office, attempting to feel it out from a distance. That's not how it works.
The video, which you can see above, was filmed in Los Angeles last year. After shooting wrapped up, everyone went to go and see Kanye West play one of his last shows before he took a break from music. Performance wise, "Mountains of Gold" is a strong look. But there's something deeper there – something between Wiki's verse and Sampha's vocal – that seems to have come from someplace else, drawing purely from each musician's core spirit and appeal. "There are some processes out there where people are going out of their way to make songs to be hits, to be commercial – that puts its weight on things. We weren't doing that. We were trying to make things that were exciting, you get a certain feeling from," Russell explains when we speak about the creative foundation of Everything Is Recorded, its core values and complete approach.
While there are certainly other groups of musicians out there creating for the sake of creating, there can sometimes be a sense of an ulterior motive – opposing a mainstream ideology as a way to score points, doing something to be seen as a specific type of figure, creating from a place of ego rather than of self. Everything Is Recorded isn't one of those projects. Though there's the benefit of having a studio and musician friends, there's a sense Russell would be doing this even if he weren't afforded the luxury – as part of a lifelong passion and journey with music.
Now "Mountains Of Gold" is released, Everything Is Recorded will be sharing more music in the future. And Everything really Is Recorded by the way – whether that's the countless samples Russell collected from the jam-sessions, using them to form tracks, to the photography lining one wall (some of which can be found on the Instagram page here). Ultimately, however, its biggest triumph is in its ability to bring out the best in music, to return it to a collaborative practice, to embody those pure moments we each look for in the songs that excite us – to feel free.
"Transcending the ego is a big part of what we're exploring with this record," Russell says toward the end of our conversation. "There are all these strong characters – and I'm a strong character – and I think everyone got something from this that's beyond each individual." Hopefully in reading this, listening to the music, watching the video and exploring the themes behind it, you will too. And now it's time to stumble up those steep, stoned steps and into the Autumn rain.
You can find Ryan on Twitter.