Interview: Sinjin Hawke

The Canadian bass wizard breaks down his long-awaited debut LP

It was 2011 when Sinjin Hawke officially debuted with The Lights, an EP that married hip-hop rhythms with bright synths and a penchant for future-facing low-end manipulations. Since then, this RBMA alumni has kept busy, launching the Fractal Fantasy platform – he prefers not to call it a label – alongside partner Zora Jones, collaborating with artists like L-Vis 1990, MikeQ and DVA.

For the release of his long-awaited debut album First Opus, Sinjin Hawke spoke with Shawn Reynaldo on Red Bull Radio’s First Floor about the LP’s genesis and his ambitious plans for the future.

Sinjin Hawke Manu De Leon

Your debut EP The Lights came out way back in 2011, and you’re releasing your debut album First Opus six years later. What have you been up to in the intervening years?

I’ve been doing a lot of things. It took me four years to make the record because I’m a perfectionist. I didn’t want to rush it. I was also collaborating with a lot of my favorite artists. I started Fractal Fantasy, which is a platform I created with Zora Jones. Doing gigs, traveling around working on other people’s records, working with vocalists and different rappers... The time flew by.

When people hear the word “opus” it has this sort of lofty connotation to it. What were you thinking when you gave the album this title?

When people hear the word opus, they think of “magnum opus,” but opus just means body of work. It’s typically what people do after a classical composer dies – their bodies of work will segmented into opuses. For instance, if a classical composer were to have done a bunch of symphonies, concertos or sonatas during their life, they would then be chronologized and numbered, starting from the first major body of work to the last. This is my first major body of work. I took my time with it. I wanted it to be a pure representation of myself. I felt like this classical naming convention kind of resonated with the mood of the record. It was kind of pragmatic.

Sinjin Hawke - Dawn Of Infinity

What were some of the biggest challenges that you ran into while you were putting this album together over those four years?

The biggest challenge for me was just getting it to a point where I loved it, because I find that I have quite a competitive spirit with myself when I’m working on music. What I wanted this album to do was one-up everything I’ve done in the past, which is difficult, because to make this album just as good as that work, it needed to be all types of different things.

So, the mixdown process took a long time. The visuals took a long time, just to get everything right so that I was happy with it. Everything is done in-house – the mixdowns, the mastering – so not delegating all these tasks to different people can be a large creative burden. The creative energy that is needed to do everything needs to be segmented into little periods of time, but it amounts to something that’s quite long.

Listening to the album, it’s difficult to describe the record as any one thing. There are elements of hip-hop and R&B, and various strains of bass music, but there’s also a lot of sound design and large swaths of the record don’t seem to have been designed with the club in mind. What were you going for sonically?

The whole idea behind be this record was just to make the most beautiful and potent body of work possible. So, whether that works in a club setting or whether it’s something you just listen to on an iPod, it doesn’t really matter. I just want it to evoke the emotions and the intent behind everything.

My first major musical experiences in life were choral experiences, so that’s kind of my brain’s default setting when I sit down to work on music.

One of the defining features of your music, and this album in particular, is your use of vocal choirs. They’re not gospel choirs, they sound more like young boys, and they have this arresting, angelic quality to them. Where did you get the idea to start using these choir sounds, and what is it about vocal choirs that you find so appealing?

I gravitate towards the form of cantata, or just choral music, because it’s what I’m most comfortable with. My first major musical experiences in life were choral experiences, so that’s kind of my brain’s default setting when I sit down to work on music.

For me, it means a lot to be drawing from my childhood and using those textures and instruments that initially gave me joy. I was in the Canadian Children’s Opera Company from the ages of six to 13, and studied theory and technique at the Toronto Royal Conservatory of Music. So, that was kind of where I first started doing music.

Choralists are in high demand because their vocal tone is pure, like a sine wave, and they have these beautiful and natural legatos between notes. That specific aspect of choral music is what resonates with me and has been present in my work from the beginning.

There’s another element of your music that never really gets talked about, even though it’s always been present, and that’s your use of these big, bold horn sections. Where does that come from?

My dad was a classical french horn player, and he was always playing horn music and orchestral music in the household when I was growing up. There’s also something so powerful and big about horn sections. They have such a rich timbre, they fill up almost every part of the frequency spectrum and the tone of a horn evolves over time. That’s something that I’ve used in my music ever since I started making beats. I was really excited about Just Blaze and DJ Premier instrumentals when I was a kid. I wanted to make instrumentals like them, and horns were one of the key components to their music as well.

Another constant in your music is Martyn Bootyspoon. The Lights had a song called “The Ballad of Martyn Bootyspoon,” and First Opus has a track called “Prophecy of Martyn Bootyspoon.” Both of these songs feature these really funny and really bizarre stream of consciousness monologues, over music that I presume you’ve made. Who is Martyn Bootyspoon and what’s the deal with these tracks?

Martyn Bootyspoon is one of my best friends. He’s an amazing person from Montréal, and anybody who meets him remembers him right away, not like one of those guys where you have to try to find their face when they’re mentioned in conversation. Everybody who’s met Martyn Bootyspoon knows Martyn Bootyspoon.

During the course of our friendship we had a fixation with a lot of ’90s rap culture and in particular album skits. Like, from No Limit or Ruff Ryders Entertainment records, or even Puff Daddy records. They would always have these sketches in the middle of them that would crack us up. I always want to have some sort of rap sketch, just to add a bit of comedy.

How do you go about coaxing him into saying all these crazy things?

We usually just meet up and he’ll have half a bottle of wine, and then the ideas just start coming to him and he goes off. It’s not contrived at all. It’s part of his personality.

Sinjin Hawke - In Loving Memory

The closing track on the album is called “In Loving Memory” and the album announcement said that the song was a eulogy to a friend that you lost. Can you tell us a bit more about the track and what inspired it?

"In Loving Memory” is about DJ Rashad, I made it directly after he died. It was the only song I didn’t change throughout the whole album process. Around the time of his death we were actually working on a song together. He had emailed me a few days before he passed, and I got the news that he had passed away, and I was in complete disbelief and denial for a long time. It took me a few years to come to terms with it.

"In Loving Memory” for me was a part of that grief process. It was a part of me getting through it and having a comprehension that he was actually gone. I’m happy I was able to be a part of his life and that I was able to witness him. Because he’s one of those truly special dudes that everybody who met him remembers and understands that there’s something different about him.

You run this platform called Fractal Fantasy, and the website features online art that people can interact with. Could you talk about the visuals that you did to accompany the album?

The visual concept of the album came from an idea that had been floating in my head for a while, something that my dad and I had been obsessing with for almost five years. It comes from this idea that our generation is on the brink of being infinitely intelligent and having access to infinite amounts of power. Right now these things called neural computers have the same architecture of the human brain, so they use neurons to draw connections and create impressions rather than doing raw math, like traditional computers do.

So, these neural computers have about 1% of the computational power of the human brain, about the same amount of computational power as a worm’s brain. But, if you take into account Moore’s Law, which says that technology capacity doubles every year, or every two years, I think with this developmental pace, neural computers may reach the level of human brains within our lifetimes. Once the capacity of the human brain is reached then it can replicate itself exponentially until it reaches a point of infinity.

The opening visual is called “The Dawn of Infinity,” just like in 2001. For this we’re using this kind of ominous, bold, rectangular object to punctuate the dawn of infinite intelligence. Then, on the second phase of the visual, the computer intelligence has taken on the form of nano-liquid and starts enveloping the world.

By Shawn Reynaldo on May 15, 2017

On a different note