Interviewed and coordinated by Whitechapelmolly

Graphics by }static{


Keith Hillebrandt's been part of the Nothing Collective for three years now. He's helped remix artists like 12 Rounds, David Bowie, and Nine Inch Nails' 10 Miles High is actually Keith's deconstruction of the unreleased-at-this-time original version. Clint Mansell's solo project, Clint at the Controls, also employs Keiths handiwork. So just what's up with this guy anyway? WhitechapelMolly gets the scoop on how things work in Hillebrandt land.

Did you go to school?

      Yes, but I dropped out during college because I realized I hated school. It was too regimented! I studied Film, but quickly got bored!

Was your family supportive of this decision?

      I was lucky because my parents were very supportive of whatever I wanted to pursue, even though music is never at the top of any parents' list. They knew how much I despised sitting in a classroom, and that I really didn't feel like I was learning anything other than contempt for the people I went to school with and most of the teachers. They knew I was stagnating there and were all for me getting into the 'working world'.

So, most of what you do is self-taught?

      Musically and programming yes! How else could I come up with such a perverse way to succeed in life!

Why music rather than say the movie industry?

      The idea of sitting around and spotting car screeches or footsteps to picture is so dull. It is such a JOB! I would like to persue film scores like Clint [Mansell] one day. He's got a great situation going in that world right now, and he's doing a great job of it.

I like making noise, and music is the best way to exhibit that! I also think that when you work with a bunch of guys making music there is a much better chance of camaraderie, which makes life fun! I guess this was my only real option to enjoy life in a 'work' sense!

How did you finance your electronic obsession? What kinds of jobs did you work at?

      I started working while I was in high school, mainly for the purpose to buy keyboards and synths. I did a lot of things from pumping gas to working as a plumber, whatever paid best to get gear! When I left school I started working for a company called Otari, which is one of the biggest manufacturers of multi-track tape machines. That was my introduction to the audio biz, which led me to work for other audio/music related jobs for Waveframe and Opcode.

How did you become involved with Nothing Records initially?

      I knew Charlie from my work at Opcode. I had been doing sound design for OSC, and they decided to let me put out a CD Rom of my sounds, of which I gave an advance copy to Charlie. He liked it and gave it to Trent who liked it enough to hire me to create a 1 gig library of sounds for the next album. While I was working on this in San Francisco, I came down to New Orleans a couple of times to visit. We all got along, so Trent asked me to move down here.

What is it like working with NIN? You've already mentioned you enjoy the atmosphere can you expand the thought?

      At times it's like being on summer vacation and at others it's like running full speed up a mountain! Trent raises the level of your work and your creativity, which is good but not always easy. It is great being in a private studio with so many possibilities at your fingertips, but it was always most important to keep focused on the album. I found at one point when I did lose the focus it was hard trying to get it back! While it was fun playing with some new piece of gear or software, eventually you had to ask yourself if this was really going to be of service to the album or was I just wasting away my time.

      So much was learned over the two-plus years we worked on the album. Sometimes it's hard to believe we did it! I never would have thought that it would be so consuming of time, energy. Of course now that it's done I miss it! I'm just about ready to start working on the next NIN record!

Who visits the studio that you enjoy working with and why?

      It was great having Mike Garson there because he was SO incredibly talented. To watch him play was like watching an alien, his hands moving at super sonic speed, and yet it all made musical sense! My favorite quote from him was that he "took the 80's off to practice"! For someone to be so dedicated to his work that he took off an entire decade to become even better still blows my mind!

What do you do to get out of a creative rut?

      Run away! Actually the best thing for me is just a change of location. Not that I leave town, although that does work, but sometimes just going into another room helps out. If I'm in a rut here at the studio, I will take some gear to my house and try things out there. That usually works for me. The rain always helps too, but I have no control over that!

What's all this about your new project? Is there any date when we'll be able to hear some form of what you're doing?

      The new project is an album of songs that I will be recording with a yet to be determined vocalist. I have about 25 songs written with about 14 of those developed to the point to where they need vocals. When we finished The Fragile I was determined to take all of the things I learned working with Trent and Alan and see how I could apply them creatively. I learned so much about writing SONGS that I had to see if I had it in me, and I'm quite pleased with what I've come up with so far. The music is taking a very dirty, atmospheric tone so far, not a heavy aggro sound. It's noisy, which is to be expected, but more so for altering moods. I'm using mostly synths and samplers to make the music, some guitar. I don't want to make a dated electronic sounding album. Not yet anyway!

What's your stance on MP3s and their role in music distribution?

      I like the idea of it, if it helps break the chains of major corporations deciding what we listen to. I never would have thought when 2000 came that we would be in worse shape as far as major music content then we were 10 years ago. Of course with commerce driving music now more than ever I think MP3s can actually be a cool alternative, and I mean cool as in the underground record stores that I grew up with in San Francisco and Berkeley. I like the idea of having to go hunting around for something on the net just like you would for all those hours in the record stores.

      Another thing I enjoy about MP3s is that some artists continue to evolve songs, much like software versions, so it's like the song is an evolving living organism. A new version of a track every few weeks or even days! This could be tricky however for those who can never quite let a track go and say it's finished. Could you imagine just working on one song and updating it for years? Actually that sounds kind of cool!

What inspires your music?

      Bitterness! Emotions are pretty inspirational in the things I work on. I do find the best inspiration though is a run of success where I'm staying busy and hitting the mark more often than not.

Do you ever get the uncontrollable urge to make cheesy dance music?

      Only when I see how easy and fast it is to make it!

What's spinning in Keith Hillebrandt's CD player these days?

      Roxy Music's Viva and Siren albums. I'm obsessed with the track "Both Ends Burning" for the last few months! Any Aphex Twin, Coil, Meat Beat Manifesto. I like the new Korn cd, good noisy guitars, good angst.

Is there any music you find yourself embarrassed to like?

      Kid Rock, Eminem and Tom Jones!

What would you like to see in the future of music?

      Smarter listeners! I would like to see all the packaged music go away, but we know that would probably not happen. I think once the focus turns away from the TRL mentality, and back to the music that we will see some interesting new or undiscovered artists coming around. Music is ready for a reactionary, defiant stage again. A little angst would be good; I really miss that in music today. Music needs to be dirtier! Whatever it is it just has to get better. It's time for a change!

Have you heard any music in the last five years that has made you rethink your approach to your own creative style?

      Well you have to keep in mind that I just started working with Trent in the last 3 years, and in that time my creative process was completely overhauled! Rediscovering older records by Bowie and Tom Waits, and looking at them from a new prospective definitely got me going. One thing that was nice about coming and working with Trent was that for the first time in a long time I was working on something that I knew was going to be heard! Before I came here I was in a bit of a mindset of "well nobody will ever hear this", which doesn't make you examine the importance, or lack of, what you are doing as much. When I came here I went back to a lot of the recordings that I've liked over the years, to rediscover what it was that had an impact on me, because I knew that if were applied to the album that it would be heard, by a lot of people! I wasn't just another fleeting idea I'd have that would disappear to an audience of none! I think that was the biggest creative change for me, invigorating!

You mentioned an interest in doing music for film. Is that your ultimate goal?

      I think it's something I'd like to explore. I like the things I've seen Clint do with his new soundtrack, and he's fortunate enough to have worked with a director that understands what he's going for. I think if I got that opportunity and the director was someone I could work with, I'd jump at it.

What is your favorite piece of gear?

      For rhythms the MPC 2000, for noise the Nord Modular, for melodies the Virus, for bass The Super Jupiter or MC505.

How are all the samples managed in the studio?

      The library that I had created before I came here was both in E4 format and AIFF for Sample Cell. At one point we tried to have all of our sounds on the server, so we could get to it easily but it was never quite perfected. In reality, Trent usually knew in his head what he wanted, so we either created the sound in the studio or I would go to the various sources and give him a load of possibilities for him to choose from. Since we have so much sound at our disposal, we really have just relied on recollection on who has the sound to get it on the server and go! With that said, we really should have a little better system for our future recordings!

Unusual distortions seem to be something you enjoy creating. Is there any particular process that gets you every time, something you like to run everything to?

      For as out of date it is now I still love to use Turbosynth. Other software programs have come along, but none of them are quite as unique as Turbosynth. There is such a gritty, bombastic nature of that program that I just can't resist! Listen to the guitars at the end of "No You Don't". The last round of guitars there are Turbosynth, full throttle! I also like the modules in the Kurzwiel for more 'zipping' types of distortion and have had good success with both the Virus and the Sherman Filter Bank. I've just started using the new Bitcrusher Plug in for Logic, which is quite grainy, and the new Pluggo Plugins have some great new possibilities of serious sound manipulation! They even have a Waveshaper plug in that is almost as good as the one in Turbosynth!

What's your take on the development of virtual modeling synthesizers? Where would you like to see that go?

      I think it's fantastic. The Nord Lead was used on every song on the album and was always the first synth Trent went to whenever he had a keyboard idea. I have a rack with a Nord Lead 2, a Virus and a Nord Modular, and at no point do I ever think to myself "I really wish these were analog"! They all sound great, and it would take someone that was far more of an analog purist than me to tell you it wasn't a Prophet 5 or a Memory Moog.

      Of course I still love analog machines. There are certain sounds that I get through my ARP 2600 that I could never really quite perfect on the Nord Modular. I love using my 2600 for processing, and my MKS-80 for basslines. It's just cool to be making music and noise in a time when I can have both.

As far as signal processing goes, is there ever "too much"?

      From a sound design aspect I'd have to say no since over processing sometimes leads to some very interesting results. If you continue to process a sound, in a lot of cases you will get something that is so far away from the original noise that you've manipulated it into something completely crazy.

      I do think you can over process in song writing however. Many times we found ourselves tweaking a sound so much that we forgot that we were working on a track. Sometimes it would work, but more times than not it just derailed our inspiration.

Do you follow any general process in creating a song? A remix?

      The process I have been using lately to write has been to write very simple tracks, just piano, bass and drums, verse, bridge, chorus and then take those songs and build them up. In some cases I'll deconstruct them a couple of times before I get something I really like. The idea here is that I'm trying to not make the song so complicated at the early stages that it just leads you to a dead end. Before when I wrote I'd work more off a "cool sound" and build around that, but then when faced with creating a chorus or a b part for that song it would always sound awkward because the main part of the song was so built up. With the more simple approach the different parts are already established, so it gives you more flexibility on where the track can go. It also makes it easier to add parts to the complete track, seeing it as a whole as opposed to just looping around the same few measures. You keep from digging yourself in a hole.

      My approach with remixes is more of deconstruction. Taking the elements that are in the track and manipulating them into something unique. I'm not really into the 'remix as a club track' idea; I like to take a track into a new atmosphere, not just beefing up the rhythm track.

The NIN Hotline would like to thank Keith very much for taking the time to answer our questions.


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