California based artist Nate Hendrix is a producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist. He expresses himself through various genres inspired by contemporary pop and R&B, as well as a bygone era where jazz and big band music ruled the charts.
We caught up with Nate to talk about his musical upbringing, producing and what’s next.
What's your background?
I’m from Oakland, California. I started off as a kid in church playing the drums and piano behind my older brother (James Vinson). From there I played trumpet in an elementary school band, joined jazz bands and studied saxophone with my teacher at the time(Barbara Hunter). I got into production after I got a laptop and a midi controller for my 15th birthday. I started using GarageBand and haven’t looked back since.
How was it growing up in Oakland?
Back then it was dangerous, growing up in the late nineties/early two thousands there was a lot of violence. I would say the last 8-10 years It became a lot better here. Sort of cleaned up and gentrified.
What’s the scene like in Oakland these days?
There’s a Hip-Hop and R&B scene, a lot of live music as well - jazz and gospel. It’s sort of a bubble though.
What were your influences back then?
I was into gospel. I come from a pretty strict religious family and so I couldn’t really listen to anything else than gospel growing up. My first 10 years in my life was all gospel. After that, I used to sneak and listen to other music.
How was that having a strict religious upbringing?
It was interesting, my family are christians. Now thinking back it was cool, but at the time I was pretty upset. I think the church played a huge part of who I am today and why I got into playing and producing. I think it was a good start at church, the best musicians come from church.
Church helped you navigate those early years?
It kept me out of trouble and I had something to look forward to after school. The Pastor would open the church for me to jam and practice. Back then I was actually known around the neighbourhood as the music dude.
Are you playing at church these days?
Before the pandemic, yes, now It’s been a while. Last time was probably this time last year, before everything was locked down. It’s been a year since I played in church.
How did you come up?
I came up pretty oldschool, I had a cool music teacher (Mr.Brown) in high-school. He had all of the studio equipment, but it wasn’t really set up. We got together and built a little studio in the school's music room. I would go in there at lunch and after school to record. It was recording my friends as well as my own music.
Before that, I learned audio from the church. My mentor at the time (Maurice Bircher) taught me how to operate the mixing board and the outboard gear. He used a 32-channel Allen & Heath board.
That was all analog, so I took all that knowledge and started to use it with my software. That was pretty much the extent of my training. I didn’t go to school for audio engineering, I just jumped in. This was around the time YouTube came out. I was searching and watching videos on instruments, music theory and software.
I had a DJ mentor in high-school (DJ Tasi), I went along with him to play venues, helping him lift and set-up equipment. I learned how to DJ along the way.
Then I started interning at a studio. Cleaning up and organizing the wires, going to get pizza, water and all that. I really appreciated that though. I just worked my way up from there.
Do you feel like social media played a big part back then or did this come later for you?
That came a little later, Instagram had just come out and I wasn’t using Twitter or Facebook much.
It definitely wasn’t what it is now, It’s crazy all that you can do on social media now. If I did have social media like it is now, I definitely would have had a bigger following.
It definitely helps me now, I found you guys for example! Just the fact that you can just type in anyone's handle and just send them a message is really cool. Nowadays you have direct access to anyone. I’ve changed the way I looked at social media, now I use it more as an international phonebook to connect with people all over the world. I got over the whole need for a million likes.
Have you always sought out new ways of making music?
It’s always been like that pretty much, I’m still like that. I use instruments more like tools rather than saying that this is my instrument, because each instrument has their own specialty. I’m always exploring new sounds and new ways to do things.
How did you get to know about Freedrum?
A friend at the studio showed me his pair. I tried it out and then I ended up reaching out to you guys on instagram. This was around 2-3 years ago, Philip and Seyran. It just kind of happened naturally. After that I went to NAMM, I think this was 2018, and there I met them in person.
At NAMM 2020 I was a demonstrator for Freedrum. We all had a great time! It’s a little freaky to think about now, I don’t think anyone there would’ve imagined what the world would be like a few weeks after. That was the last really big get together I can remember.
What were your first initial thoughts of Freedrum?
I thought it was super cool! You can play drums in the air. My friend didn’t have the kick and the hi-hat sensors yet, he just had the drum sticks and two sensors. When I saw that the complete kit had a kick and hi-hat I was like woah.
I use them for my drum programming. People normally quantize midi perfectly, but that’s not realistic if you’re going for a natural sound. I like how you can play drum samples and still have that natural drummer feel. That is one of the interesting things about it. I use it a bit different from traditional drum sounds, for example using a clap for a snare. Sometimes I mess around with other sounds like vocal chops and guitar loops.
What downsides would you say the product has?
I hear people talk about problems with latency but I get around that when I turn the buffer size down on the software. I turn it down to 128 and it’s normally good. Sometimes when I play and get a little excited, it might go off and I have to re-calibrate. Or I’m not paying attention and the sensor on the stick might go upside down. Other than that I haven’t had any problems.
What kind of software do you use?
I use Ableton, at the studio (25th Street Recording) I use Pro Tools. I may be transitioning to Ableton permanently after version 11 comes out. They finally added a multi-take feature, which is going to be a great help! For quick set-up with my Freedrum kit, I use GarageBand, that’s the easiest and fastest way for me to set it up. For midi I use my Sensel Morph.
I see you play a lot of different instruments?
Yeah, I play the drums, bass, guitar, saxophone, piano. I think of instruments as tools rather than saying that this is my one instrument. Each instrument has its own specialty. Lately I’ve been playing guitar a lot, it varies which instrument I’m into at the time. I actually just picked up a ukulele. That will be added to the mix once I learn the rest of the chords.
Would you say you’re a producer first?
Yes, producer and composer first. I love leading the recording process, and bringing something out of artists that they don’t know is there.
Have you worked on any fun projects lately?
Yes, we finished up an entire album last year during quarantine titled “Trillionaire 2” with Roco, Chanzie Jones, Anjali Asha, Chloe Jean, Michael James, Veteran Beatz, Matt Falls, Moka, Mekfly & Taj Mahalo.
I see you’re pretty active on different platforms sharing your work, is this something you plan and think about a lot?
Lately I’ve been using more strategy and thinking about different ways to maneuver, and the best ways to get stuff out. Today I think it’s just as equal having good music as well as a strong and well thought out strategy to get it out to people.
Do you collaborate with other artists?
Yes! I love collaborating, everyone has a different perspective on things. Sometimes they say “Try this” and that opens up everything. I add things to the table. I love to collaborate.
In these times it’s hard to collaborate, if we get together it’s in small gatherings in a big studio so there is room for everyone. Other than that, I send tracks to people, they record and send it back.
Who inspires you today?
I like Kanye West a lot, I’m a huge fan of his music. Take 808s & Heartbreak, I think hearing something completely new at that time really inspired me. I like how he keeps on re-inventing himself, every time he puts out new stuff it’s something completely new. Lil Wayne as well, he really raised the ceiling. Prince is a huge influence of mine! I like Gene Page, he did orchestrations for Barry White, Nancy Wilson and many others. Also, Quincy Jones, Nile Rodgers, Glenn Miller and Burt Bacharach are my favorite composers.
The last year I’ve been really into big band music, orchestration, string arrangements. I’ve been studying orchestration myself. I like the 70s-80s funk like Rick James, George Clinton with Funkadelic. I really wish I was living in that era, I’m going to bring that stuff back!
What are your interests outside of music?
I like to read a lot. I like old school video games. I have a Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. So, I play Super Punch-Out and Sonic the Hedgehog. I like design thinking and drawing eyes. Also, I like to go around with my camera and get video clips and take photographs.
Have you ever made a Chiptune style of music?
I’m really into that, I love that stuff. The music on Sonic is so good, I’ve been doing a lot of research finding out how they made that music back then. The guy from the Japanese band “Dreams Come True” (Masato Nakamura) composed the music for both Sonic 1 and 2 back in 1991-92.
I’ve been trying to understand how they produced that sound., If they produced it the regular way and lowered it down to 8-bit or if it was made through a 8-bit chip. I’ve been playing around with bit crushers to knock it to 8 or 12 bit. I’m really into that video game sound for sure.
What’s next for you?
Definitely more arranging and composing, I will still produce Pop and R&B, but adding more orchestration elements, strings, woodwinds and French horns. Bigger sounds mixed with the electric sounds. Mixing the 1970s with 2044.
I can get a bit philosophical for you.
“Do not give up, the universe will take care of you. Sometimes negative situations can be positive situations. Your car can go flat and the guy who pulls over to help you could turn out to be a record executive or that investor you’ve been looking for. The universe puts things together in interesting ways like that".