Blueprint interviews Finnish instrumentalist MAW

Kakusei by Maw1


I first got familiar with Maw several years ago when he popped up on the Weightless Recordings forums.  He quickly became a regular poster and welcome contributor. Although his conduct was very mature, we soon found out that he was only a teenager at the time, which made him the youngest regular on our forum. Even more interestingly, we found out that he was from Finland and english was his second language.  You never would have guessed it by the way he interacted with everybody.

Over time, Maw started getting into hip-hop production and posting his beats in our “show & tell” forum. His beats were decent at the beginning – especially for a young kid who didn’t even seem to have any equipment – but he seemed to get exponentially better every time he posted something. Eventually he was damn good. From there, I always kept my eye on him, and every year he gets better and better. It’s reached the point where I check out anything he releases and try to spread word about him as much as possible.

I noticed that there was very little press or information on Maw out there, so I asked him if he would let me interview him for to help promote his latest release, Homilies of the Panda Tao Vol. 1.  Obviously, I’m not a member of the press, but I know my readers love learning about talented new artists – and Maw is definitely that.

Here’s our interview:

Introduce yourself for the people out there.

Hello! My name is Maw- and I’m from Jyväskylä, Finland. I make some dusty sounding instrumental hip hop music and I’ve been releasing all kinds of albums comprised of that stuff for a while now. Some people might know the moniker from all of that animal-themed cover art my partner equips my projects with, if the name doesn’t ring any bells musically. In any case, I’m one of those solo-rolling beatsmiths doing that dirty kind of soul-choppy, jazz-infused funky stuff that tries it’s very best in sounding warm and slick.

Tell us about what got you get into making beats?

I think it was the tracker programs that I used to mess with when I was a pre-teen, trying to make some beats to rap over. So I actually started with rhyming, but I found that it was less of a hassle to lay down instrumentals as opposed to recording vocals so that’s what I stuck with. Then I got exposed to all kinds of instrumental music like some downtempo, trip-hop and dub stuff(along with regular hip hop beats) and I started to emulate what I heard. Eventually that led to just trying to get the hang of producing hip hop beats. So it was basically just the creation itself that got me into what I do now, nobody really pushed me or encouraged me into going forward with it. Just my own independent tinkering.

Finland is a pretty small country.  Is there a hip-hop scene there?

Yeah, there is but I don’t really gravitate to it at all. A part of it must be because hip-hop as a culture and as a phenomenon over here doesn’t have anything like the history and development it does in the U.S., so I feel as though it’s simultaneously going through it’s childhood whilst trying to not look and sound all that dated compared to what the american folks are cooking up, and a musical breeding ground like that can make for some really half-baked attempts. I might be a little too hard on finnish hip hop, though. I’d certainly like to see it do better because I know there are talented cats in this country.

How did you make the transition from more traditional beats to instrumental hip-hop?

I was trying to make stuff that I wouldn’t get bored listening to, because that was really my whole idea behind making music anyway. Just making it for myself, trying to see if I could come up with complete works that would stay in rotation. And also because that eliminated the need and the expectation from others that I should collaborate with so-and-so, plus folks have less incentive to ask for beats when I’m not really doing stuff that’s supposed to have vocals over it. I’m no producer, not as of yet anyway.

When i listen to your music, it reminds me more of the early classic days of trip-hop and mid 90’s instrumental stuff much more than the current beat scene.  What are your influences as far as instrumentalism is concerned?

I think my influences are mostly steeped in the early 00’s burst of instrumental stuff, like Rjd2’s first two records and all of the stuff Madlib and Dilla were doing at the time. Count Bass D’s 2000’s output is also something that I always come back to and get a lot of inspiration from. I think those cats are the most visible ones in my work, and earlier than that I’d have to say dudes like DJ Premier and Pete Rock. I’ve also learned a great deal from studying what DJ Krush was doing with his mid-90’s work, even though it probably doesn’t really show in what I do. I think any producer or beatmaker could learn a thing or two from his Meiso-album.

As you release more and more music I’ve noticed that you’ve made vocal samples a more significant part of what you do.  It stands out to me quite a bit because back in the day most instrumental artists used a lot of vocal samples, but nowadays almost no modern instrumental music uses vocal samples.  It sounds really fresh when you do it.  What made you take that direction? And how much time do you spend searching for the perfect clips to use in your tracks?
That’s cool to hear that it works, thanks! I think that again, I was just trying to entertain myself and trying to keep things interesting so that my attention wouldn’t wane when I listened to the music. Of course, hearing Madlib slap a whole bunch of acapella snippets on his tracks was a big inspiration too. I think hearing other cats do it adds a level of challenge because I then try to look for stuff that hasn’t been used that often, or I try to flip the words and the phrasing of the original samples into something different. As for how much time it takes, I really couldn’t say. I always freestyle with it, meaning I have the instrumental fully done and sometimes even fully mixed before I start adding stuff in. So it’s always a spontaneous process and I always just dig into what I’ve collected at random moments throughout the years or I go and look for hook-ups on the internet somewhere.

Explain your beat-making process?  Drums first or sample first?

For me it seems it’s always the sample that dictates what’s gonna happen with everything. And again, it’s always real spontaneous and a spur of the moment kind of thing. I’m not one of those producers who have everything mapped out in their head before they sit down to make something. I’m always on some wildcard shit, I just grab a sample and see if it’ll work as a base and if it has enough “meat” in it to hold up as a full track. Then I head for drums from breaks and one-hits that I’ve compiled and once I have a basic beat going, I’ll start looking for extra instruments or something to wash over the track. Just something to separate the hook part from the verse parts, and so on. The vocal drops, skits and acapella samples don’t really come into play until it’s time to mix it down, which can make for some dead-end situations with song structures ’cause the only way I can change anything at that point is cut-and-paste. Still, that’s how I’ve accustomed to work.

How much time per day do you spend working on beats?

Hahaha, I’d say not enough! My other passion is gaming so I end up having to juggle that with music, whilst working a day job at the same time, so it can be anything from an hour or fifteen minutes or the entire day. I try to utilise any window of time I get, but it’s generally one of two modes that I’m in – either music or games. They kind of inspire each other though so it’s cool, if I’m working on a project I usually get a decent amount of work done in a week. More than two songs usually. But then if I’m deep into games it’s no telling if I get anything done the whole week.

What is your production setup?

Just some old obsolete trackers, and Audacity for the edits, mixdowns and extra samples. I’ve don’t work with an MPC or anything like that, though I try to emulate it with the sequencing on a tracker, and I don’t have an audio interface or any fancy gear at all, no studio monitors either. I’m trying to get by with as little as possible, and I like to have limitations like limited sample time and not having all that many plugins to get lost in. I feel like working around all of that stuff and keeping it minimalistic makes my mind work that much harder at trying to come up with something fresh, I can’t really imagine myself being surrounded with lots of keyboards and other toys to work with, as backwards as it may sound!

You’re a pretty young cat. How much access to vinyl did you have growing up?  Is record collecting culture pretty big out there or is it more difficult because of the high prices of importing vinyl?

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I never really found myself working with vinyl other than listening to my dad’s records when I was a little kid. Vinyl kind of went past me because my parents separated kind of early on and I was left to live in a home where if I wanted to have music around, it was my own responsibility to make it happen. So I ended up growing up with cd’s and not really having any vinyl around. I wouldn’t say that record collecting culture is a big thing at all here. As I see it, it’s really only reserved for folks who go out of their way to put up with the prices and the measely selections that you run into over here. I know some countries are somewhat famous for the digging spots and whatnot but I wouldn’t say that finland is one of those places.

Your past few releases all seemed to have strong themes.  What’s the theme behind the newest release, Homilies of the Panda Tao Vol 1?

I was trying to make a kind of an escapism-type of record, something that you’d be able to seek comfort from when anxiety and adversity strikes. The music started to take a life of it’s own though, and the album ended up becoming part-serenity sermon because of all of the introspective interludes, and part-beat showcase because I wasn’t able to keep the vocal sample drops out of the finished mixes. As far as the whole fantasy/storybook-type element and theme that the cover art has along with the music – that’s something that I pull out of video games, the japanese fare specifically. Like how my previous full-lenght release before this one had all of the song titles and some of the moods reference the game Breath Of Fire 3. I always make it a point to reference games in some way when I put all these projects together.

With the emergence of controllerism and producers getting on stage more often than ever, have you started considering what you would do for a live show yet?

Hmm, with live shows it’s like this – just on an idea level I feel like I’d definitely love to perform my music to people, but at the same time I’m really shy and I don’t like to be in front of people so it would definitely take some time for me to work up the courage to do that! I think I’ve kind of subconsciously taken live performing out of the equation of me as an artist, but I wouldn’t count on it staying that way forever. I mean, there are some things I could do in a live setting that I’m not able to do as efficiently with just releasing my stuff online. Like playing exclusive beats you’d only hear in that particular show or deconstructing some of the songs using the original source material live.

Explain the whole panda thing for the people who don’t know.

That’s the work of my partner, Espe, who’s been in charge of all of the visual representation of my musical journey for quite some time now. The panda is just one of the recurring characters in the grand story that her cover art pictures tell, and that’s something that continues and runs on with each release. We just somehow got to a point where her ideas with the visuals and cover art images kind of started to run parallel with the music and the panda is just a central, recurring character of that whole timeline, if that makes sense.

Name three emcees you would love to work with and why.

The first cat that springs to mind is Blu, probably because I’ve had the new Blu & Exile on repeat for a bit now. I just like how he has this cool breaked out approach to landing his rhymes on a beat. It’s on some real fluid shit.

Homeboy Sandman is another one, I’m a big fan of how seriously he takes making every lyric count and trying to be dense with words. And I like how he always wants to rhyme over the weirdest stuff! I’d be inspired to really go do some otherworldly stuff if that cat was on the mic.

My third choice would probably be MF DOOM. He’s pretty much my favorite lyricist and emcee of all time. To be honest though, whenever I think of what the collaboration would be like, I’m always thinking of the 2004 Madvillainy-era Doom. I always think that whole cadence and voice would match some of my music really well.

A lot of your music makes me either want to zone out or write rhymes.  Do you have any plans to work with any emcees in the future?

Nothing I’d dare to mention at this point but I’ve started to work on some proper beat tapes for the first time in a long while. We’ll see what the future holds!

What are you working on now and what’s next for you?

Right now I’m working on the second volume of the Homilies Of The Panda Tao--series, and I’m trying to gather enough source material to do a project where all of the sample material is from obscure video games. Trying to come up with a handful of projects to release this year, like I always try to do. Other than that, I’m just trying to get my name out there and am hoping to catch people’s ears and offer them some music they’d want to hold onto. It sometimes feels like a real hassle because of all these new cats vying for attention so folks get lost in the shuffle, but I’m still gonna stay as consistent as possible with everything and work hard on trying to have more people know what’s up if my name gets mentioned!

And I gotta say I appreciate getting to do this interview. A real honor and a pleasure! It’s awesome to get support like this from someone I’ve been listening to and following for a long time. Respect.

Peace to everybody.

And there you have it folks.  Please support my guy Maw by downloading his latest release HERE.  You can also visit his bandcamp page and download all of his other releases for free as well. Hell, download them all, they’re free.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

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My latest album Two-Headed Monster is out now.  Order/Listen here HERE