A Chat with R.M. Hendrix (09.08.2020)

It has been two years since we last heard from R.M. Hendrix with his release Can It Find Us Here?. Now, he is back with ‘Bullet Point’ that follows in the footsteps of bands such as Talking Heads. While a departure from his shoegaze roots, the track swirls with texture and the experimentation he has always used. We sat down with R.M. Hendrix (RMH) to talk about the new single, creative process, music and much more!

OSR: Your last release was Can It Find Us Here? In 2017, why the long hiatus?

RMH: It’s a combination of day-to-day life and my creative process. I’m a designer by day and a musician by night, so I go through long periods when I don’t have time to write new music due to my job. The upside is that I get inspired during that time, especially if I’m travelling. I fill my phone notes and notebook with notes and lyrics that I know will start to make sense later.

When the moments to write music finally emerge I can draw on those notes. Songwriting usually happens off and on until things suddenly start to gain momentum. So in this case, it was a little over a year after Can It Find Us Here? that I started writing new songs and it took about 18 months to turn into War Is On Its Way.

OSR: What first drew you to your preferred genre?

RMH: Funny question, what genre am I? My earlier records were heavily influenced by Ride, Sonic Youth, The Cure, The Lilys, and other dream pop bands. The last two records have departed from that sound. Now I’m more influenced by Massive Attack, Portishead, Thom Yorke, and Brian Eno. What ties it all together for me are the textures of the sounds. There are qualities of erosion, distance, reflection and warmth. All the lyrics feel like they were written in a mental twilight.

OSR: Is there a backstory to ‘Bullet Point’?

RMH: Yes there is. It’s tragic. A dear person I worked with was murdered in a mass shooting in Las Vegas. She was dancing with her husband at a country music festival and then hit with a bullet. Fifty other people were killed that night too. The song isn’t about her specifically but about the psychotic gun violence culture we’ve created in America.

OSR: What was the creative process for this single?

RMH: This song began as all the songs on War Is On Its Way began, with modular synthesizer experiments. I linked two Moog DFAMS and a Moog Grandmother together and then experimented and explored until I found sound patterns I liked. Once I found something, I’d record 15 minutes of me taking that pattern through variations of speed, pitch, filters, and waveforms. I came back to the recordings about six months later and began chopping them up into smaller sections and adding new beats over the top. The songs just emerged from there.

I’d get a phrase I like and then join it with another. Then I’d add a bass line, keyboard melody or guitar riff. It was meticulous but it also felt inevitable like the songs were just happening. That’s really different than my previous albums that were primarily written on guitar. For those records, I was the songwriter. For this one, I felt like the songs just happened to me.

OSR: What would you like listeners to take away from ‘Bullet Point’?

RMH: I hope listeners hear the song as a single metaphorical image inside a larger portrait. War Is On Its Way is a painting of what it feels like to live in America right now and ‘Bullet Point’ is one aspect of life. The song has a chaotic sensation. Combined with the psychotic rant of the character singing it can be disturbing. I wanted to create something like ‘Pscycho Killer’ by the Talking Heads. The music draws you into the story and now you know the story too. I hope it builds further awareness about this mess we’re in and resolve to help change it.

OSR: You had a text art installation on your social media building up to this single, can you tell us a bit more about this?

RMH: I love art by Jenny Holzer and Barbara Krueger. I wanted to do something similar that explores the language of violence that we take for granted. I created short videos with song clips from the album then overlaid them with text like, “Launch the Panic Attack,” “I’m Killing It Today,” “Dead Drunk,” and “What is Friendly About Friendly Fire?”. I wanted to cause reflection on this violent language we use every day. ‘Bullet Point’ uses some of this language in the lyrics.

RM Hendrix

OSR: If you were a new addition to the crayon box, what colour would you be and why?

RMH: Ultraviolet Blue. I might be moody but I bring an unexpected brightness to those around me.

OSR: What piece of advice do you have for artists looking to follow in your shoes?

RMH: Stay persistent and don’t let the pressure of time wear you down. Just pursue your own artistic growth. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. I often think of something I heard Rick Rubin say in a podcast. He said that if an artist can create the same sensation a person has from looking at waves in the ocean or at a sunset, then she’s succeeded. Look for those moments in your own music.

OSR: What is the greatest hurdle you have had to overcome?

RMH: When it comes to pursuing music I’ve often found myself wishing for a different situation. I want more time, more talent, more solitude, more collaborators, more of what I don’t have. What I’ve had to learn is that my situation is not lacking anything. It just is the one I have. Accepting it has been hard because it’s easy to tell myself stories that I could be better if things were different. It’s a massive mental exercise to accept your situation without judgement.

OSR: What are your plans for the next 12 months?

RMH: War Is On Its Way comes out on September 10 so I’ll continue promoting it for the rest of the year. I plan to start writing new songs this winter to break that 2.5-year release cycle! Next spring I have a book being published called Two Beats Ahead. It’s about the shared mindsets of designers and musicians. Another one of my “day jobs” is teaching at Berklee College of Music in Boston. The book is based on my class and features interviews with Hank Shocklee, T Bone Burnett, Imogen Heap, Pharrell and others. My co-author and I break down the creative process of great songwriters, performers and producers and show the similarities we use in the design process at IDEO (where I work) and in my own career. I might be a designer by day and musician by night, but in truth, it’s all the same.

Thanks to R.M. Hendrix for chatting with us! You can find more about him on his website, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.

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