The Outlaw Ocean Music Project | An Interview with David Berman (Just Big Hills)
In line with my coverage of The Outlaw Ocean Music Project – I caught up with Dutch producer Just Big Hills for a quick chat. His wonderful piece, The Skirmish, was featured in my top twenty picks from the project overall. It is a brooding, atmospheric and absorbing composition. A hellishly talented music-maker, Berman speaks about how taking part in this project subsequently opened his eyes to a whole new way of producing music.
He is predominantly a LoFi electronic and Trip/hop artist, his work on this project sounds more like a cross-over between Bonobo and Emancipator. High class stuff – check out what he had to say in the interview below.
Make sure to listen to the track whilst reading the interview for the best experience.
How did you find out about the project in the first place? What inspired you to take part?
Ian Urbina reached out to me. At first, it wasn’t a direct invitation to take part in the project itself. He was asking what my vision is in regards to how music can empower a story. Urbina followed up by asking me if I was interested in hearing about his big idea. So I said, yes. I was sent the whole concept which outlined what The Outlaw Ocean Music Project was all about.
Scoring music for videos, movies and games has always been an ambition of mine, this felt like the first time that I was invited to take part in a project outside of my own music. It was based around something that I don’t usually write about, a topic that was very poignant. That’s why I got involved.
What are the artists tasked with doing after agreeing to take part?
I was sent a pretty big library, with all sorts of material : there’s audio material, short memo’s of him reading passages from the book and videos. Some of the videos are of shoot-outs at sea and others just of quaint harbor scenes. There is a wide range of content to get through at the beginning.
A big library must have been quite overwhelming to begin with, how did you decide which sounds to use?
It was indeed quite overwhelming at first to get this really big folder to work through. However, for all of my songs, I already had certain sounds in mind. For example, I thought it would be cool to use the sound of a radio frequency (stressed sound) in the music to outline the intense nature of life at sea. We are writing music about something that’s happening on the ocean so it’s important to incorporate some sounds of the ocean into the pieces.
I had a structure in my mind about how I was going to compose the music and the samples came from scrolling through until something fit.
Tell me about the creative process behind The Skirmish.
When I started to write ‘The Skirmish‘ at first, it didn’t really have any samples in it. When I got stuck, I came up with the idea to look for sounds. I found a nice voice memo of Ian reading and was able to work the song around it. This actually really helped me, initially the song starts with a dark theme which is quite action-packed. It then gets a little bit more hopeful and euphoric during the bridge. I was able to come up with the atmospheric bridge through using the memo from the archive.
The voice clips I used are centered around how Ian had seen ‘beautiful things’ and had ‘beautiful encounters’ – these uplifting words gave me the idea to turn around the emotions of the song and make it more cheery.
‘The Skirmish’ is a really brooding piece, there have been a few big powerful electronic tunes made for this project. Is this your usual style?
The music I’ve made for this project is really different to what I was releasing beforehand. I think what caused this was that for the first time I wrote music about someone else’s story. I took a conceptual approach to writing music, normally my music is about my own emotions and moods. It was interesting writing from a different perspective. It enabled me to explore a whole new range of moods and I think this is why it turned out so different to my usual material.
When I first got contacted, I didn’t expect there to be quite as many artists involved. That may be the only slightly disappointing thing but what matters the most is that I’m really proud of it. It doesn’t matter if it will get a lot of streams or not, I can truly present these songs to other people with confidence. I expanded my own musical horizons by taking part in this project and found a whole new approach to writing music.
I’d like to hear about the technical side of The Skirmish, what instruments and technology did you use?
Most of the tools I use when I make music are analog. I have a minilogue synthesizer, I have my guitar and my bass guitar. This is pretty much what I used to produce most of my music on this project.
You can hear all of these elements in The Skirmish. In terms of sound design, whilst using synths, it really helps me experiment if I can physically mess around with the sound dials (instead of just sitting at the computer). I started out as a guitarist so I generally need to take a physical approach to my productions. For me to come up with my best ideas, I really need to jam with myself. Analog gear helps a lot as I can play, arrange and layer the music easily. Most of the lead synths and background synths were made with the minilogue. These elements are all work well with Ian Urbina’s voice as he reads through his book throughout.
Listen to the full EP David composed for ‘Outlaw Ocean Music Project’ below
Follow all of the project’s releases here.
About ‘The Sound Sniffer’
The Sound Sniffer is a one-man music blog which is still only a baby – Founded and run by Kevin Coakley in early 2019. He is a music writer and ghostwriter. ‘The Sound Sniffer’ also runs gigs and showcases in London since Oct 2019. The showcases are picked from artists I find in my submissions inbox.
Check out my Interviews HERE