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How to make music according to Brockhampton

Brockhampton member and head producer Romil Hemnani talks us through the making of their ‘Technical Difficulties’ series, working at Abbey Road Studios and their next, unannounced album.

by Douglas Greenwood
08 September 2020, 2:00pm

Image via Instagram 

When Brockhampton’s Romil Hemnani wakes up in the morning, he only has to cross the street he lives on in LA to get to his studio. It’s the same for the seven other members of the group, who all live on the same road — no more than 10 minutes away. For the past few months, the group have gathered to create the music they’ve wanted to, at a pace they desire. Not much change then, from the usual creative patterns the prolific artists (who released three albums in 2017, and one every year since then) are famously known for.

“It’s a very Brockhampton way to do things,” Romil says of the group’s insistence on staying close, forming a bubble as the world seemed to burn.  “We’re all together all the time anyways, but outside, the pandemic sucked. In our country, we don’t know what we’re doing. Fuck the pandemic in America.”

Many artists have taken the time away from studio spaces to reflect upon how the outside world can affect and imbue their music. But Brockhampton have always been insular. Despite the absence of live shows, they’re continuing as normal. “The way I explain it to people is like, even if the NBAs were on an off season, I’m sure Kobe was still shooting every single day,” Romil says.

For the past few months, they’ve been simultaneously working on a new album (more on that later) and a series known as TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES, released sporadically (then, in some cases, retracted) onto the internet; scuzzier slices of music that felt a little more impulsive than their more recent, formal releases.

It’s a far cry from the set up of their first Billboard Hot 100 chart topper, 2018’s Iridescence, a record that was recorded in London’s legendary Abbey Road studios. Two years have passed since then, and circumstances are different, but it’s a relationship Romil is keen to uphold. He recently judged a competition for them, the prize for which was a one-to-one feedback session on production with Romil himself. In the end, he chose “Redlights” by Munboi.

In this conversation, Romil looks back upon the group’s time at Abbey Road; gives us a rundown of how one of their biggest TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES releases, “Things Can’t Stay The Same”, came to be; and spills a teaser for the group’s hotly anticipated next album.

You might be back in your home studio now, but you famously wrapped Iridescence at Abbey Road back in 2018. By the time that was coming together, you guys had a robust reputation culturally. Was there a ‘pinch me’ element of recording and writing in that space?
Even to this day I still can’t believe it. Every great artist ever has made a record at Abbey Road. Walking in there and seeing photos of the artists on the wall and knowing we’re a part of that lineage feels really good.

There was an element where it felt like I was in a museum or a time capsule. I’d walk out of our studio and down the corridor and realise: ‘This is the console that Pink Floyd worked on!’ or ‘This is the tape machine that The Beatles recorded on!’. It’s almost like you can’t touch these things, but we were able to use them.

You were asked to judge the production prize by Abbey Road, and you chose “Red Lights” by Munboi. What drew you to it?
I just love the chorus on that track. After listening to the songs that were sent through a few times, I could just hear that chorus in my head. I’m a producer by trade, but I still think that, as a listener, 95% of a song is just the vocals. To me, the vocal melody of the chorus cut through so well and I couldn’t resist singing it. That was the catchiest part of the song.

You chose “Things Can’t Stay The Same” as the track you wanted to unpack with us. Why did you choose that one in particular?
After so many studio sessions and so many records, things blend together, so it’s easy to recall something you made a couple of months ago as opposed to a couple of years ago! Also, being at Abbey Road, those two-three weeks were a blur. Nobody left the studio except to go and get food. There were like eight of us in one room. Those three weeks felt like one long day.

So “Things Can’t Stay the Same” came together in this studio space across from your house, right?
Yeah, we did this series [TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES] during quarantine where we all learned how to DJ. All eight of us who live on the same street. We’d just have get-togethers and DJ and have fun. It got to a point where I was like, ‘I want to make a song that I would [play if I was a] DJ. We’d make these songs then spin them and see how they sounded, then we decided to drop them on YouTube for free. This song stemmed from our urge to make something, rather than for any particular album cycle or roll out. As artists, we felt drawn to it.

We had started that song on a Thursday and released it on a Friday. Ian [Kevin Abstract] and I chopped up the sample, and then Ian recorded his verse, and then Matt recorded his. The night we were about to put it out, we sent it to Kiko [a BROCKHAMPTON-adjacent producer] saying ‘What do you think of this?’ and he sent it back with some drums on it. I was like, ‘Oh this is sick’. So we produced a mix that sounded bad, like an old bootleg, listened to it on speakers and in the car, and then thought, ‘Okay let’s put it on YouTube!’. That was it. The entire track took less than a day.

Can you recall what the germ of the idea was?
We loved the sample, “Trouble Will Remain” by Amnesty. At first we just had people rapping over the guitar, which was cool. And then Ian had the idea of trying to make a way for there to be more space for the vocals, so we started muting the sample at certain points. Everyone in the room together was searching for that same thing.

Is it easy to identify an idea like that when working collectively? 
Once you work with someone for so long, you develop an unspoken language. It’s as simple as a nod or a look. Someone might play something and then the whole room stops and is like, ‘Wait, that’s it. Keep pulling from where you just pulled from’. It’s almost as if you keep digging until you get to the source of what made everyone in the room react. You have to leave your ego outside. When you collaborate unselfishly, that's when you get something innovative.

Do you have any first step advice for young producers?
I get this question a lot and I always tell people: Don’t stop. Keep pushing through no matter how frustrating it gets. Music is one of those things where you could have the worst time working on something, but hearing the finished product feels so good, you know? Always acknowledge that the most important thing is the song and not you. We search for that: great songs that make us feel something. Whatever it takes, even if it makes you uncomfortable, go for it. Don’t get in the way of it.

You don’t know what you’re missing until you stumble upon it. Some of the most magical moments will come from a band jamming. Something every artist should have is the ability to trust themselves, and not be afraid to stand by what they make and what they like.

How do you handle the process of having people listen to, and critique, your music? 
That was in my mind until earlier this year. It had fucked me with forever. It’s so easy to be connected and see what people have said about everything you do, you know? You have to acknowledge that, while also trying to remove it from your process of making something. Quarantine helped me a lot. Whatever song you make can be great but it’s also not as serious as the other shit going on in the world. Like, why am I so stressed about the mix on this song when there’s all this shit going on in the country I live in? It’s helped me gain perspective on what truly is important. Now, I’m a bit more free and less worried about people’s opinions.

Are you working towards a definitive project at the moment?
We’re always working on an album. I can’t say much about it, but I can say that the initials of it are ‘RR’. Maybe the fans will figure out what it is. I’m excited about it, it’s my favourite one yet.

Do you feel like that about every record when you’re working on it?
You have to. What’s the point in putting a record out if you’re not 100% in love with it?

Kevin Abstract
romil hemnani