Letta's debut album 'Testimony' literally took a lifetime to build.
Issues with mental health, poverty, and addictive sent the producer spiralling towards Los Angeles' infamous Skid Row area, before music literally pulled him out of the darkness.
An immensely intimate experience, 'Testimony' fused the skeletal futurism of grime with elements of trap, fractured electronics and more.
It was a heady onslaught of ideas, but left one lingering question: what next? After the storm receded, Letta pulled himself out of Los Angeles, with his travels finally settling in the Canadian city of Vancouver.
Focussing on his next statement, the producer found that as the clouds receded he was left with simply more questions, more pathways to explore.
New album 'Redemption' is the result. Sonically, it builds on the abstract bass pot pourri of Letta's debut, while adding brave new elements in the process.
No less personal than his opening statement, 'Redemption' finds light in the darkness - and the contrasts seem to place both in sharp contrast.
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What prompted the move to Vancouver? It’s a great city, how have you found it?
I actually didn’t move there, I was just kind of there for a bit and ended up staying for like five months. It was great, I grew up in the northwest about an hour south of the city, so I got to spend a lot of time with my family who all still live up there. It was amazing, such a beautiful place and the weed is fire and everywhere and also crazy cheap, so yeah, I could kick it there forever. I might have to apply for that permanent resident card.
Do you believe your music is informed by your surroundings? How has the move impacted on the way you create?
I’m sure that on some level it affects my sound but I don’t really notice it, I’ve been a nomad this year for the most part. I think i just take it all in but I’m sure my sound will come out different if I’m in Brooklyn working looking at the New York skyline than when I’m in Vancouver staring at snow covered mountains, watching seagulls fly around and shit, but I guess I never really thought about it that much. I just enjoy the view wherever I am, smoke spliffs and write songs.
‘Testimony’ was a painfully honest debut, did the acclaim it garnered bolster your confidence? If the new album a follow on from this, or does it operate in its own universe?
The response was pretty insane, I really didn’t expect people to like it that much so it was a very humbling experience. I would say it gave me more confidence to keep trying to take what i was doing further and I think this album is chapter two. It's a continuation of the story I started with the first one and I’ve always kind of thought it was going to be a trilogy, so I got one more to go.
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I kind of go into a different space...
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In the press note you mention you are “channelling stuff” – what is your creative process like? Is it quite improvisational, or are you more structured?
Yeah I kind of go into a different space when I’m working on stuff. I’ll just smoke a lot and mess around playing melodies until something happens. I never really start with the drums, the melody needs to come first — Ii don’t usually have a specific feeling I’m going for when I start playing notes, but eventually I’ll play something that resonates inside me and makes me think of a certain time or place, or person, and then everything kind of comes together. I can kind of hear the whole song already done once that happens, then I'll just zone out and put all the pieces together.
Your music touches on grime, trap, and more, without every fitting into those boxes. Are you purposefully avoiding this, or does that emerges when “channelling” music naturally steer you away?
I think I’m just a bit of a weirdo and a lot of times if I really like a specific part of a song, I’ll try to replicate it but it always comes out way different. I think over time I just kind of accepted that, whatever comes out comes out. I don’t really try to avoid anything, just always do it in my own way I guess.
Speaking of which, what producers have inspired you of late?
Ah man, so many people are putting out amazing music, this question is always hard for me. I’ve really been into what’s going on in Tokyo, they’re killing it right now. Producers like Prettybwoy, Double Clapperz, Chocola B, Sakana, Beta Pack, UNSQ — the vibe out there is crazy. Out to Swimful in Shanghai as well, his dubs are always inspiring.
The record opens with a spoken word sample, what is it? What drew you to those words as an introduction for your music?
It’s the ending scene from one of my favourite movies, The Night Of The Iguana. It’s from 1964 and it’s based on the Tennessee Williams play. To sum it up, there’s this very old poet who was been working on his final poem for years, he came to this place in Mexico on the edge of the world to complete it and it’s beautiful — and then he dies. There’s way more to it than that though, so you really just need to watch the movie. That poem always stuck with me, it was delicate and final — the completion of a life, the end, or the beginning I guess.
This album feels more song-based than your debut, was that your intention from the outset? Do you feel songs – rather than beats – is where your soul lies?
I don’t know if I really see a difference in the two, I just kind of do my thing, but I have always looked at my songs like movies. I always wanted them to tell this story that you can see. I think I’ve always been trying to make songs too, I’m just getting better at it with practice.
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Mr Mitch and Ryan Hemsworth both pop up – how did those collaborations come about? What is the collaborative process for you? Is it difficult to share, or easy?
Man, I feel so fucking fortunate to get the chance to collaborate with such amazing artists / people. It’s actually really trippy to me that i got to do that. Before this year, I hadn’t really done a lot of songs with other producers like that, so I wasn’t totally sure how it was going to work and both those dudes are so incredibly talented, so for sure I was a bit intimidated. For both tracks, I started with a few elements and then sent them over and we would just go back and forth on it until it was done. It was actually a really organic process and I feel really honoured that Ryan and Mitch were down to be a part of it. I am forever grateful.
‘She Does Die’ features Fielded, and it’s one of the record’s real high points – musically stunning, and hugely emotive. How did you two construct this? Were you worried about sharing so much, and in such a direct fashion?
(Letta): I don’t think I’m ever afraid of sharing too much, I’m an open book and thats’s what I try to create on my albums. It’s very personal but I’m not afraid to talk about it and let people know where it comes from. I’m really proud of this song because it’s the first time I got to really work with a vocalist, and I wrote a lot of stuff with Fielded in mind until I came up with something that really resonated.
(Fielded): I reached out to Tomas from Coyote about any possible artists he might have in mind who would be interested in working with me. I'd been looking to do some collaborations with other producers. He introduced me to Letta - via e-mail, of course. I'd had the unfortunate experience of collaborating with less-than-safe men in the past (a tale for another time) so I was honestly very forward with him about his story, how he views the world, what he cares about, etc. I was floored by his not only sincere but completely open e-mail back about his life, his traumas, his work and his pleasures. It inspired me to respond just as openly.
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Truth be told making this track was a huge part of my healing process.
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I feel we formed a bond during our time of working together; we've both experienced loss and eventually found a happiness within ourselves. Regardless of the difference in our paths we share a lot of ethereal truth. So when he finally sent the track I felt it was a beautiful opportunity to open up about my own experience of being raped and the pain - but eventual healing - that came with it.
Truth be told making this track was a huge part of my healing process. The mood of the track gave so much room for melancholic exploration. There was this sense that it was okay to feel haunted by my experience because it had the company of a new friend's haunt, as well - we got to exist in our sad places in the song and still be productive, expressive and vulnerable.
In the press note you mention that ‘Redemption’ is for “the friends” who went through those dark times with you. Have they heard the record? Do they connect to it as well?
Yeah, my friends that are still around from those times connect with the record I think. Unfortunately most of the people I was really thinking about while writing the record are gone, most dead, some just out of my life with no way to find them again. There’s a handful of people that I feel are really present on this record, they have all passed on and I miss them very much. Maybe that’s what I mean when I say channeling too, I really feel that their energy is present in the tracks.
Where next for Letta? Will you be concentrating on live shows in 2017?
I’m really trying to score a movie, that’s always been something I really wanted to do. I’m also trying to play way more shows, yeah! I was very fortunate and played so many dope parties around the US as well as Asia this year, which was a life changing experience — huge up the whole Cakseshop squad, they are the fucking best. Seoul changed my life, Tokyo same thing. I met so many amazing people on that journey and this year, I’m gonna try and see the whole world.
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'Redemption' is out now on Coyote.