The haunting electronic producer on his love of Cher's favourite synthetic vocal effect
Lounging on a London roof on a summer’s day, San Francisco musician oOoOO is talking about his love of Auto-Tune. He’s been using the synthetic effect for a number of years now, first on his haunting self-titled debut EP (Tri Angle, 2010) and now on his debut album Without Your Love, which is released this month on his own label Nihjgt Feelings.
Since Auto-Tune’s first “deliberate, creative” use on Cher’s 1998 hit Believe, the effect has become a no-brainer for pop producers, but for oOoOO (aka Chris Dexter) there’s another side to the audio processor. In our conversation, he talks of his admiration for James Ferraro’s autotune-based recent album Cold, and his friend oFF Love, a masked musican that uses the effect to twist his ballads into haunting missives. It’s a new, songwriterly take on a trope that Adam Harper noted in his 2012 ‘distroid’ article for Dummy, where he talked about the “digital brutality” of electronic musicians like Gatekeeper and Fatima Al Qadiri. Icy water, but buzzing with electric filaments.
“For me, Auto-Tune is a way of enhancing, even magnifying a voice's emotional intensity. It’s partly achieved by the fact that it conveys the effect of a broken person that still has deep feelings to express but could do so only with the assistance of a machine. There’s something moving and tragic about the effect.
M.L. on the new record is the same girl who did the vocals on my first EP . She sang back up vocals in this garage band that I had seen in San Francisco. Beneath the riffs and reverb I could hear in her voice that that's a good voice for like icy electronic music. Honestly she’s like a guest vocalist. I’ll send her a track with me singing the song exactly how I want it done. I give her every last thing – the lyrics, the melody.
I just think that Auto-Tune has a really emotional quality to it. Think of somebody with a full body brace with a completely broken body. Like, there’s a machine that’s carrying this person along because something in life has been so crippling and destructive to them they need this brace to walk. You can use Auto-Tune to convey this feeling that life has been so emotionally overwhelming that it can’t be carried on.
I don’t give this quality to specifically female vocalists. My records contain nearly as many male voices manipulated in this same way, sometimes to a far more intense degree of brokenness than the female voices. Songs like ‘No Shore’, ‘Starr’, and ‘Sedsumting’, for example.
I’ve stopped doing remixes for the time being. Some of my favourite things I’ve done are remixes but people just treat them like blog filler. I saw on the Marina and The Diamonds Last.fm page there was a YouTube video in the corner of my (‘Obsessions’) remix, so anybody looking there would think she was like dead-eyed and depressed! I really liked was the way she presented herself she was kinda like this weird odd ball teen who spent her time in her room like singing and playing the piano and had like dirty finger nails or whatever.”
Without Your Love is released on June 24 on Nihjgt Feelings.