Q… Who is Mark de Clive-Lowe (MdCL)? What does he do?
I’m a musician, producer, DJ, artist and general worldwide creative. I love to make music – whether it’s on the live stage or in the studio; electronic or acoustic; beats or suites; I love it all.
Q… Please tell us more about your musical journey? What lead to you taking that route than anything else like being a hand model or a nurse (male nurse)?
My dad started me on piano lessons when I was 4 years old growing up in New Zealand. That started me early and was a consistent thing until my early teen years when I decided to delve more into jazz and drop the classical lessons. I messed around a little with Native Tongues hip hop and early New Jack sounds for a minute, but it was the jazz that really had my attention. I spent a year in Boston at the Berklee College of Music, and then back in NZ was touring my jazz projects around the country. When I heard Jungle, that got me back into club music in a big way and was part of the reason I ended up in the UK in 1998. The UK really shaped my path as a musician and producer. Meeting people like 4Hero, IG Culture, Restless Soul, Bugz in the Attic, Goldie.. it just felt like the right place to be and became my home for 10 years. Over that time I toured the world over and over, performed in so many cities and countries and collaborated with countless artists and producers. I would never have imagined it would happen so fast and so much. Within a year or two I had worked with people like Kenny Dope (Masters At Work), DJ Spinna, Joe Clausell, Francois K, remixed Shirley Horn, Jody Watley, Omar, and so many more. Two years ago I decided it was time for a fresh start and change of scene, so I relocated to LA. Sunshine time!
I did consider other career paths. In fact, I was supposed to go to Law school, but the first day I woke up and thought, “Hold up. I’m going to do music”, and went back to sleep. That was the last time I had to make any sort of decision about whether to do music or not. I feel like it chose me more than I chose it.
Q… Clearly this was all spawned from a love of music. It resonates from the music you make. What does music mean to you?
Creative expression is one of the most unique things a human being can do. I love that facility and love to experience it myself as well as see it in other people. Whether it’s art, music, dance, graffiti, sculpture, fashion, whatever it is, it’s all about creating something that didn’t exist before. Music is a language that transcends any kind of boundary or difference and its universality proves itself over and over again every time I perform in a different country. It has no borders and knows no different than to simply Be. It’s a really natural way for me to express myself so I’m thankful that I have been able to make a career of it.
Q… How did you get into the whole music scene? How did you get started? Was it an easy road (considering your talent)? Is it as glamorous as most people tend to think it is?
I was always around people who wanted to involve me in something – in NZ growing up, there were musicians I’d play with, DJs I’d jam with, rappers and percussionists who’d come down and sit in at gigs. In the UK similarly, everything just fell into place. After meeting a couple of producers, next thing I knew I was in studio every day with someone different, creating new music that didn’t exist the day before. I feel like I was very much on my destined path and a lot of things came pretty easily. I reached out into the world and the world helped me straight back. On my way to the UK in ’98, I was in Cuba for a couple of months. I ended up at legendary Cuban piano player Chucho Valdez’ house hanging with him and talking music – these kinds of happenings and connections seemed to happen over and over for me. I truly believe that if you follow your heart and your passion, you will be rewarded with the results. It’s glamorous mostly in that I get to do what I want to do, how I want to do it, for people who want to share in the experience. That’s priceless. Sometimes it’s glamorous in a more regular sense too – staying in some amazing places around the world, eating incredible food while overlooking spectacular scenery. I can’t complain!
Q… I got introduced to your sound after listening to Tides Arising and then you’ve done some house releases. It’s evident that you have an eclectic taste in music. Is there a genre of music you prefer (to make) and which is your personal favourite (to listen to)?
I love pretty much everything. As far as making music, I don’t really discriminate. If I’m going to make house, hip hop, soul, breaks, jazz, experimental or pop, it’s still going to have that MdCL flavor to it. I love the challenge of making music that’s not second-nature to me and performing with people who make me step up to another level – people like Pino Palladino, Dwight Trible and RAMP to name a few. As for listening, I’ve got pretty eclectic tastes. Two favorites though would be Jazz and Brazilian.
Q… What is the biggest event you’ve ever performed at? What would be your ultimate performance and where?
Probably the DEMF 2001 (Detroit Electronic Music Festival). I performed there at Carl Craig’s invitation. It’s such an amazing event, I think they had over 1 million people over the 3 days. We did a live show on the main stage, earlier in the day so I’m guessing there was probably (only) 20,000 or so there. We were opening up for De La Soul and Inner City. It was a pretty amazing day and night. I’ve been lucky to perform at a lot of great festivals, clubs and locations. I’d still love to do an All-Star lineup at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Bring in my favorite collaborators for a crazy MdCL Presents event.
Q… Give us a breakdown a day or night in the life of Mark. Do you sleep with your keyboard? What’s the preparation like, leading up to an event or a “normal working day”, and what happens afterwards? What kind of diet do you eat to keep you going?
When I lived in London that was definitely a 24/7 musician life. While that was great and led to a lot of great times and music, there’s more to life than just that. In moving to LA I’ve also re-balanced that. For me, life is more about people and family than anything. I love the music, but I love them more. I’ve also reached a point with my music where I know how to do what I want to do, so I don’t feel a need to be as obsessive with it. On the club live shows I’m creating all the beats and music live, improvising studio production as I perform. With that kind of thing, I’ve been preparing all my life anyway, so there’s no extra preparation needed! Those shows are always heavily influenced by where I am, the vibe of the crowd, what I’ve experienced leading up to that gig and so on. I have a monthly jazz event in LA called ‘CHURCH’ where I perform a jazz trio set for the first half, and then an improvised beats/electronic jam set for the second half. There’s always some preparation to do for the jazz set whether it’s arranging tunes, writing new tunes or just making sure I’m spending ample time with the piano and feel comfortable on it, especially if I’m spending most of my music time on the drum machines and synths.
When it comes to studio, I work pretty fast. I have studio at home, so when I’m there if I have something that needs to get done I just go in and do it. If I want to make some new music, I just go in and do it. I used to be stuck in the idea that creativity needs to happen when it wants to happen, and could not be called up on demand. That’s a widely romanticized myth which I’m happy to have been able to dispel from my own reality. If I’m working in studio with other people we’ll often lock down for a whole day and end up with a dozen or so tracks. Those are some of my favorite days – going into studio and having no idea what you’re going to come out with.
Q… What about time with family and friends – How do you manage that? Do you still find the time to relax?
As I was talking about just before, that’s become a real priority for me in more recent years and something that I make sure there’s always time and space for. Loved ones are more important to me than anything.
Q… Given your insight into what’s fresh and sounds good, what do you think is the way forward for music (whether it’s trends, technology or the business)?
Technology is progressing so fast and enabling so much that I think there’s an inevitable backlash to come, but not a complete one. I think that more and more it’s becoming about how the Musician meets the technology. It’s not difficult for someone to make music and ‘perform’ using technology and very little musicianship and artistry, but I think the way forward, and the way Music and creativity can evolve and move forward is a meeting of the two – otherwise the machines are leading the way and not the people. There’s so much noise in our lives too – from social networks to pure volume of media, it’s so noisy. So maybe it’s going to be the quieter creations that will be the loudest, really standing out amongst the noise by their contrasting dynamics.
Q… Has the economic climate affected your pocket?
I definitely notice the change, but I’m thankful that I’m able to keep working and surviving through sharing my music with people around the world. Traditionally, in times of economic recession, the arts grow. It’s an interesting time now though as the climate is at a more critical mass point than ever before – oil is past its peak, currencies are falsely upheld and the ruling economic forces won’t help redress the balance. I’m really curious to see what happens next!
Q… Your thoughts or comments on music piracy. Please tell people why they should buy music.
Download culture is never going to be stopped. The fundamental message people need to hear though is simple. When you get your car fixed, you pay the mechanic for his work. When you use a cellphone, you pay the phone company for the service. When you go and buy some food or a meal, you pay the restaurant for that food. Not doing that for any of these things would be stealing. When you steal music, it may feel like you’re not hurting anyone, but the artist and musicians who created that music are not being paid anything. Wherever possible, find the most direct way to buy from the artist – itunes is the most popular, but doesn’t put the most money in an artist’s pocket. Go to their website and see if they have any direct buy links. I think stopping music piracy is more about educating people than anything. I do put some music online for official free download, but when it’s got a price tag on it, that is money that helps pay for studios, musicians, engineers, and for the artist to keep on making more of that good music.
Q… Have you had any awkward moments with fans? Have you performed at an event that made you go ”WTF???”
I did perform at a deaf people’s event one time – that was kind of curious, but I guess there were vibrations and sonics that they could feel their way from. I’ve performed at a few events that I thought weren’t the most appropriate for what I do, but thankfully, they’ve been few and far between. The most awkward fan moment would have been in Bangkok right around the time of a lot of rebel and political action. We had some fans invite us to hang out after a show and we ended up in a high rise apartment on a truly dark and stormy night hanging and drinking with them when one of my band noticed something behind me and it was a machine gun. Casually leaning on the wall. Add to that some explosives materials lying around and the head to toe tattoos on our hosts and it was clear we were in a real junior militia gang pad. It was unnerving for us, but in hindsight, they loved the gig and what safer place to be than the Lion’s Den?!
Q… How many groupies or stalkers (or both) do you get?
You want the precise count ? lol. I guess as long as there’s performers, there’s going to be groupies and stalkers. Things like Facebook have made that easier for them, but it’s also easier to deal with for the artist when you can just ‘ignore’ or ‘block’. If I meet them in person, I’m always friendly as long as the situation is under control. I dig that people love the music and often want to get involved with the experience of it as much as they can, some people just don’t know where the limit is.
Ok. I’m adding to this now. I’m writing this interview from my room at the Southport Weekender in the UK. I’m performing here tonight but arrived yesterday from Europe shows. So last night I needed to sleep – there was amazing music going on at the festival here but I really needed the rest. So here I am lying in bed and the door bursts open and there’s 6 girls in my bedroom. The West London Wreckers. All “Good Morning Mark de Clive-Lowe!” and that. Handing me glasses of champagne while I’m lying in bed and they’re downing all sorts of random cocktails. All in good humour and harmless fun, but thought I had to add that in here since it just happened!
Q… Did you always know you’d end up where you are today? Do you have any qualifications under your belt for any studies you may have completed?
I really didn’t know where I’d end up, but I knew along the way what I wanted to do. When I made my album Six Degrees, it was released in NZ in 1999, then I took it with me around the world, meeting with labels all over the place. It ended up being signed to Universal out of the UK which was what really facilitated me relocating fully to London. I couldn’t have foreseen that, let alone staying there for a decade and then relocating to LA… I’ve always just gone with the flow of things. I’m truly thankful to have had such great opportunity and to be able to explore my own creativity and musicianship in so many different ways. The best thing is that the journey is far from over and I still have no idea what is waiting around the next corner.
I have no formal qualifications – my one year of study at the Berklee College of Music was a great experience, but I didn’t apply myself enough or spend enough time there to warrant a piece of paper from the experience. It was still great though!
Q… You’ve worked with an array of artists. Do you prefer to collaborate or working on your own?
I like doing both. When I work on my own – whether it’s live or in the studio – I get to really go inside my own world and be the creator of it. Often I’ll do that and then bring in a collaborator later once the foundations are all built. When I collaborate with other people in a live situation, that’s always great fun. Ideas get thrown back and forth in real time and the reactions to it by each other create a musical tapestry and conversation that could not have happened in any other configuration. My best work has been a result of collaboration, there’s no question about that in my mind.
Q… Your dream collaboration?
I’ve been so fortunate to work with many great musicians, artists and producers – many of whom would have been on a dream collaboration list for sure and I’ve been able to tick them off one by one – Omar, Sheila E, Pino Palladino, Kenny Dope and so on. I would have loved to have had a chance to collab with J Dilla (RIP). He was a true game changer. People I’d still love to work with include Herbie Hancock, D’Angelo, Q Tip, Kanye, Esperanza Spaulding, Chaka Khan… the list goes on. There’s some exciting collabs on the horizon at the moment, word as it happens.
Q… Who do you regard (aside from yourself) as a producer or performer that just moves you?
J Dilla. Everytime. Without fail. Deetron is smashing it on the house tip. James Blake has struck an uncanny balance of sensitivity and contemporary. Miguel Atwood-Ferguson has been doing some amazing stuff on the strings tip. Nia Andrews is one of my favorite songwriters out there right now. There’s a drummer named Eric Harland who I think is pretty amazing. There’s no shortage of talent out there. Beatmakers I’m not so moved by – I’m not hearing very much in the way of originality or pushing-the-envelope artistry. I’m always open to hearing something new though.
Q… What’s in store from MdCL?
There’s a whole lot coming up. I’ve just released a new digital only EP ‘Leaving this Planet’ (only available at http://mashibeats.bandcamp.com) and gearing up for the release of my new album ‘Renegades’ this summer. It’s the bridge between my London time and LA featuring guests from both sides of the Atlantic including Omar, Nia Andrews, Pino Palladino, Sheila E, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, musicians from Outkast and Badu camps, and more. I had a lot of fun making that record. There’s also big band album with the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra – think Ellington meets the drum machine and synths, and albums I’m producing for artists Sy Smith and Sandra St Victor. I’m always working on new remixes and projects, and there’s the live events going on monthly in LA and around the world. It never stops!
Q… What is the key to the success you’ve achieved thus far?
I love what I do and I do what I love. I follow my passion and commit to my craft and creativity. Every time I have a dream or aspiration I’ve done my utmost to follow it. Most of all, I’m comfortable being myself. If I’d tried to do this by trying to be someone else, it would never have