Rory Simmons is a producer working under the name of Harlequiin who just released his the latest single ‘ Like Wow’ last week. It was really fun talking to him in person about the song. We were blown away by the amount of positive energy that the track generates. We really need more of that.
Here is our conversation with one and only Rory Simmons.
Congratulations, this week you have released a brand new song ‘Like Wow’. Tell me more about it and what was the moment until the release?
I’ve been producing under the name Harlequiin for the last three or four years, quite a few different EP’s out. Elliot Cole is the singer based in Midland who works on most of Harlequiin’s stuff. He’s a great artist on his own. So he’s been sort of central to the project, but I’ve been collaborating with loads of different singers, different people over the course of the project.
For the new EP, I started working with this guy called James Smithells, the guy who features on ‘Like Wow’ and we worked together on ad pitch for some kind thing. I don’t know whether it was toothpaste, biscuits, coffee or something else. And we, we, we worked on this kind of unknown pitch, which kind of reference some of the sorts of sounds that you hear on ‘Like Wow’.
We pitched it with the classic thing. It just kind of goes into the ether and you never hear anymore about it. And then like two months later, I was like listening to it, and I felt this is really strong and we should finish this and make it into something. Cause that happened at the beginning of lockdown. And it was a really nice chance to collaborate with James. Hadn’t really worked with them before. And even though it’s for a commercial, we had a great time doing it and went really well.
Spending that amount of time doing it. The more I went back and revisited the track, I was like, I think we should do something of this. And this is really strong. He was up for it and we decided to do it. Luckily it was fairly generic lyrically. And it was kind of the idea was it was like a happy track, I guess, which also was quite cathartic to write something like at the beginning of the world falling apart in March, April. it’s quite nice to work on a track and a major key that was happy and euphoric. Then decided that was going to be the first single from the EP.
It really sounds positive. If I would compare ‘Baba Yaga’ and ‘Like Wow’ it feels like it’s taking a different route. Was the song originally written during the lockdown?
I think it was April. I was on tour in mid-March, came home and then in April, we started working on that thing. We turned it around pretty quickly. Like the first Genesis, the idea, it all came from three or four different gospel samples, big samples at the beginning, stitched together between three or four different gospel samples that I re-pitched them, stitched them together and kind of glued the sound of them so they sounded in the same world so it kind of sounds like one sample, but it’s actually four different, random live gospel things from the fifties and sixties. And it started like that. James had the idea for a big kind of tracky beat, sent that to him and he instantly had a vibe for it and we shopped it up between us and came up with the essence of the song.
How did the creative process look during the lockdown? Were you doing like Zoom sessions? Because it’s every different rather than being together in the same room and just jamming?
Yeah, totally. There were loads of WhatsApp voice notes of me singing vibes that I’m hearing. Our ideas were fairly fully formed. So we did a few Zoom sessions, a bit of WhatsApp. We found our feet with how it was going to sound pretty quickly.
So amazing when we have the technology to do that? You can be anywhere in the world and the quality of the microphones that singers can be using and just to record stuff in their bedroom and then send over to you. Then you can actually take that and build on it. You don’t need to go into an expensive studio anymore.
I was just speaking to a drummer that I’m working with on another project who has this audio movers app. Somebody sends it to you and if you click on it, they then have control of your monitors. So they can play stuff kind of Logic session and it comes throughout your monitor. So you hear it in your room. Sharing computer sound on zoom is always a bit dodgy, but the Audio Movers app works really nicely. There’s something I quite like about the process. When you’re in the studio with somebody, sometimes there are boring bits and there are bits that you just need to do on your own to follow a little creative path.
When somebody sits next to you or behind you, you’re second guessing what their instincts are about it. And sometimes you just need that kind of solitude of ‘I need to follow this idea cause I think we can get somewhere good’. But on the way it’s not going to sound great, but I felt like I had a vision.
And I think it’s like that freedom to play. Freedom is just a kind of an experiment. Sometimes it’s hard to do that when there’s somebody in the room because every decision feels like it’s going to be a final decision and you want to keep the energy moving and the dynamic is harder to read and you’re, you’re maybe doing more to kind of be diplomatic and work out how to keep the energy up, but it’s actually, sometimes you just need in a session, like I need half an hour to make the sound good.
Reading those personal dynamics is like, as much as I like having great gear, great instincts and great musical skills to whatever extent you believe. Those things are important to a session. I think like that diplomacy or personal skills of being able to be cool in a session to be able to know what people need and make people feel comfortable. It’s kind of paramount. I think kind of above all the other stuff.
As a producer, you need to collaborate and collaborate with others to put your music together. Do you have any criteria for musicians that you reach out to, especially for singers that you write with? How do you find them or do they find you?
Well, it’s a bit of both. And also it’s so often about a nice personal vibe. Going back to what I was saying before a nice personal vibe. The idea of working with somebody in the studio who I thought was an asshole is not something that I want. My studios at the bottom of my garden. The most important thing is having a good personal relationship and respect for somebody. I think being pushed out of your comfort zone is really good. And having to employ different kinds of co-writing techniques with different people. For example, some people arrive and they know 100% what the lyrics are and what the sentiment of the song is, and they don’t want you to get involved in that, but they just need your input with the musical and production element of it, which is great. I love that.
But it’s also really exciting when somebody comes, who’s got a really strong musical and production idea and they can sing, but they have a fragment of lyrics, but might not really have a narrative or they don’t have a lyrical concept. I love that as well.
I try to reach out to people I think are going to challenge things for me in terms of process and in terms of sound because I think that brings more interesting results.HARLEQUIIN
It means that you’re kind of ever evolving, creasing your skill set, but also developing as a musician, producer.
Did the whole lockdown situation have an impact on you? It sounds like you were very busy anyway. So did you become busier because now you don’t tour and you’re just basically all the time in the studio?
I see so many people talking online about the mental health aspect of being a musician during lockdown. I’m always quite proactive at doing my own stuff.
And I think a lot of people have found solace at this point of being like “I finally got the time to do what I’ve been meaning to do”. But I feel like I’m always getting on with that anyway. I don’t think lockdown offered me any more solace in terms of being in the studio. I think it’s the opposite. Actually. I kind of need to be out doing stuff to make what I do in the studio make sense to me as an individual. So it’s been hard. It’s up and down, but I’m lucky that I’ve got space that’s basically in my house to work and to help people.
There’s peaks and troughs which I think have an impact on mental health in anybody’s life. You just have to observe those peaks and troughs and not to go into a free fall with them. But observe that this is a down period now or an up period now and just let that drift and just observe it rather than wrestle to make yourself happy or wrestle against the stuff that you’re finding difficult. I think just observing seems quite powerful.
I haven’t mastered that, but in theory, that’s what I like to think.
‘Like Wow’ serves as a teaser to the EP and in your press release, it mentions that you were thinking of releasing it this year. Is it still happening?
I’m still working that out with a few of the other people involved, I’m running the kind of business end of the project. The next single is coming in about two weeks, which is also going to feature James Smithells who’s on this track too. He’s also a great artist in his own right under the name of The Last Morrelle. Well worth checking out his EP.
If people are feeling too Christmassy by like November, then I’ll probably leave it. Cause it’s definitely not a Christmas feel, although ‘Like Wow’ it does feel good, but I don’t want it to be lost in the noise of crisp and it’s too much. So at the end of this year or the beginning of the next year.
There are a couple of other guests on it. An artist that I’ve worked with called Nym. Who’s an amazing singer who sings with Paloma Faith. I worked with her and a more jazz focused singer called Fini Bearman and Elliott Cole, who also features on a lot of the old Harlequiin’s stuff. He’s been a longtime collaborator of mine and we’ve done this kind of like LCD Soundsystem meets Junior Boys vibe which I’m really excited to get out there. I think that’s going to be a banger as well.
There are a lot of people right now who are still trying to go into music. What would you advise someone who is thinking about it, maybe they‘re stuck and they’re not sure where to do it or not? What would be the advice that you would give them how to start the journey?
The most important thing is just to jump in and not worry about making mistakes. Don’t limit yourself. Be open that different career trajectories and paths could come. The idea being an intern engineer at a local studio in your town is as important as getting a nice session gig with somebody or doing some work in an electronic shop, fixing musical gear could be as important as doing the co-write with somebody. There’s a myriad of ways that every different experience can affect your ability to be a creative, interesting musician. So just be open to ideas and open to like exploring and learning. And I don’t think learning is ever to the detriment of what you can offer creatively.
Make sure to connect with Harlequiin