The making of “Music By Cavelight” Part 1

I’ve gotten tons of requests to do a write up about how this album came to be, so I figured I’d take a stab at it. In case you don’t know, “Music by Cavelight” was my debut solo album on Ninja Tune. It dropped in 2004. A lot of these are fading memories but I’ll try to wrangle as many little tidbits as I can. My apologies if this is a bit scattered but, you know, this brain ain’t what it used to be. A lot of these stories I’ve told endlessly over the years in interviews but , judging from how often I get asked about this album, I’ll just assume you guys don’t really listen/read interviews. I don’t blame you. Those things are fucking boring. Anyway…let’s take it from the beginning.

How it came to be
Around 2000, Mush records approached me about doing a “Break beat album”. At the time, I had no idea what the fuck they were asking for. To me, a breakbeat was a drum track. It was explained to me that they just wanted ten or so short beats that mc’s could freestyle too or DJ’s could cut over. So, I took ten beats that really had no home (Due to how weird they were or the speed) and threw together that “Album”. It was called “Blockhead’s broke beats” and this is an example:

Around that same time, I made an my first real instrumental track for Aesop’s “Daylight” Ep called “Forest Crunk”.

I don’t quite remember why I made that track for him but I think he just wanted an instrumental on there to switch things up a bit. At that time, I was very unfamiliar with instrumental hip hop. Aside from listening to DJ Shadow’s “Entroducing” album in passing a few times (which I liked but never got into that deeply cause I’ve always been more of a fan of music with vocals) my idea of instrumental hip hop was basically “Make a beat with changes”. As opposed to “A loop with drums = a beat”. So, with that in mind, I made “Forest Crunk”. Shortly after that, Mush records approached me about possibly putting together a full length album. I was pretty excited about it and got to work immediately. The thing was, I had no idea what i was doing. I was sitting on hundreds of beats at that point and I had to figure out how to turn those regular rap beats into songs that could stand alone. The first thing I did was pick out all the random tracks that I liked but had never really fit into anything else. Meaning the tracks that no rappers wanted or ones that simply weren’t right for rapping on. I collected those tracks and started making songs out of them. The thing is, because of my limited experience with that genre of music, I was kinda just winging it. I was making an album of what I envisioned instrumental hip hop sounded like based on my preconceived notions of what I imagined it would sound like. That’s why it’s always funny to me when people would compare me or assume I was greatly influenced by DJ Shadow. It was understandable (as he changed the genre) but I can honestly say he had zero influence on that album. I simply wasn’t that familiar with his solo music (I was well familiar with his work with mc’s though). Outside of “Organ Donor” , I don’t think I had really bumped his songs at all.
Anyway, I finished the album around 2002. As soon as it was mixed, I hollered at Mush records about putting it out. I heard nothing back. Now, keep in mind, they hadn’t even heard the record yet. They weren’t getting back to me on any level. Months went by and this continued and I was just sorta sitting on this done album. My manager decided it had been long enough and he started shopping the album around. He sent it to all the popular instrumental trip hoppish labels of that time. The people who responded were Warp records and Ninja Tune. Actually, what really happened was that Warp liked it but didn’t feel it fit with them (or their subsidiary label Lex) so they passed it along to Ninja Tune. From what I’ve been told, they just kinda played it around the office for a month or so until they decided “fuck it, let’s put this out”. And that’s how it happened…I got signed in the old fashioned way. By sending in a demo. Nowadays it’s unheard of but back then those things actually worked at times. We dropped the “Insomniac Olympics” EP and the rest is history.

Just some background info on the album…It was recorded and mixed at my boy Baby Dayliners house. He also mixed the PFAC album, “The music scene” album and my newest album “Interludes after midnight”. I’m not clear on how long it took to make it but I’d be lying if I said the tracking wasn’t the longest process. I’ve always worked in a fairly archaic fashion and because the midi on my sampler wasn’t working we had to record every track , one at a time, and then line it up. You have no idea what tedious is until you’ve done this.
My boy Damien Paris played all the guitars/bass, Omega one did all the scratches and Bbby Dayliner played Violin on “Breath and start”.
Now on to the tidbits…Song by song.

Hello Popartz:

This was the intended intro song. It ended up getting cut off the European version of the album cause Ninja felt it didn’t mesh with the mood of the album. I see where they were coming from but, at the same time, it was a fun way to introduce myself. Two things people always mention about this song are the charlie brown samples and the polish beat boxing at the end. The Charlie brown thing was sort of a gimmie as it was a great way to portray the name “blockhead” in a funny way. The beatboxing thing was a late addition. At the time, a friend of mine was hanging out with this polish girl and she left this polish hip hop cd at my house. I never listened to it cause, well, I don’t speak polish but, for some reason, while making this album and mining anything I could find for sounds, I popped it in. Perhaps I was looking for open drums sounds. Anyway, the beat boxing and chant part popped out and ended up fitting perfectly to this beat. As a bonus, I later learned that “Popartz” means something like “Let’s go!” in polish. Even more fitting.

You’ve got Maelstrom:

This was the most “rappy” beat to me on the album. I honestly don’t know why a rapper never took it. The samples in the beginning were from comic books on record. Omega scratched them up nicely and really set the tone for the entire album. Not much more to say about this one except I always enjoyed the “Then I change my style” part at the end where it becomes a subtle ode to Freak Nasty’s “Da dip”.

Carnivores unite:

The original titling on the floppy disks that i saved this beat on said “Moby off the Chain”. I don’t know why, but I felt this one sounded like some Moby shit after I made it. Looking back, i was way off as this song didn’t even have one vocal sample of slaves singing. But, with this in mind at the time, I decided to call it “Carnivores unite” cause I knew Moby was a vegetarian…and I thought , well, fuck that guy. I honestly had no reason to dislike the guy aside from not liking his music but it seemed undercover enough that I could just have it as my own private joke.
Probably the most talked about part of this song is the very end. The Kool Keith sample. For more info on that , read this:

Sunday Seance:

This was always one of my favorite tracks off this album. If you ever feel like there are sort of mournful tones to the album it’s probably because of this song , “a better place”and the triptych series. To be honest, Some of these beats had originally been made as far back as 97. While they may not have meant to be at the time of creation, when it came time to make songs out of them I definitely was thinking about my father who had passed away in 97. He died on a sunday and this song just seemed like a perfect homage to him. The vocal sample singing “can you here me call you name” didn’t have much meaning to me when I initially made it but when put in context of the song, it made a lot of sense.

A Better place:

Like “Sunday seance” , this song was definitely part of me dealing with my dads death via making music. In fact, the opening vocal sample is a recording of my father playing around with my older brother when he was a baby.
On a more technical note, this beat initially came about in a strange way. I had made a beat already (parts of that beat later became “Tugboat complex pt. 3” off of Aesop’s “Labor Days” album) and was about to turn off my sampler. I had a flute sample that I had used and I accidentally pressed the lower keys on my keyboard. The tone just struck me as kinda hypnotic so I started playing with lower keys and came up with the opening music for the track. At that time, I never really did beats this slow. Because of that, I had a feeling no rapper would use it so I took liberty with the drums. There had been the Bjork song I loved which was the LFO remix of “Possibly maybe”.

The drums always stuck out to me and I wanted to have that mood. Suffice to say, I failed miserably but that was a direct influence on this song.
Also, The guitar solo was played by Damien , who came over delirious from the flu. Since where were on some super lo-fi shit , we miked the speaker he was using and for some reason had to put him under blankets in order to keep other sound out. I have no clue why that was but it was necessary at the time. Anyway, he busted that solo out in one nyquil induced take, emerging from the blankets drenched in sweat. When we played it back to him another day, he had no recollection of any of it.

Well, that’s all for now…I’ll get to the other songs next week as , if I don’t split this up, it’ll be way to long. Hope you enjoyed these completely aimless ramblings.

33 thoughts on “The making of “Music By Cavelight” Part 1

  1. Nice – just scored a used copy of this in Brooklyn ($8!) It came with a third disk, something with Aesop? Haven’t had a chance to play it yet.

  2. I think I’ve been to every single train in NYC listening to a track from this album.

    Sunday Seance and A Better Place along with the Triptychs have always been amongst my favorites. I’ve always wondered where the opening recording of A Better Place was from!

    Great Stuff!

  3. good stuff. thanks. you touched on pretty much all of my favorite titles from this album. listening to these makes me want to pop the CD back into my truck. back when this came out, i was hanging out by one of the rivers near austin. just sippin beers and floating around in the water with some friends jammin this CD with my windows down. another car pulled up next to us. it didnt take them long and they came up to me and had to know who i was listening to. i thought it was pretty cool.

  4. love it thanks man for the insight to this truly awesome album – also, popatrz means “take a look” – i should know, i’m polish – still fits tho! peace

  5. Awesomeness. Carnivores Unite has always been my favorite. I have always wanted a huge poster/wallart of the Album Cover, which i can truthfully say is one of my favorite, if not my most favorite album art…it represents something nostalgic for me and the music complements it perfectly. thanks for the writeup

  6. ‘Popartz” rather ‘popatrz’ means ‘look (at)’, but It’s nice to find a piece of good Polish hip-hop in the foreign sounds, what’s more, the band from my region and I am talking about Paktofonika. Come to Katowice. Greetings to You and Professor Kliq.

  7. whoa damn. that’s dope, thanks for sharing all of that block. Of course sorry about your pops, its wild that it had such a deep affect on the tracks, and that sample, man I always wondered where it was from, crazy that your dad is the only one to make the album vocally lol.

  8. For reals though, thanks for this. Obviously this is the first album of yours I fell in love with (no homo). No question is represents an era in my life and when I hear it to this day it takes me back. I definitely agree that it is a melancholy album (except for Breathe & Start), but that is not to say it makes me sad. I always found it so comforting and it really put me on to the way you build up your songs. IMO, this shits all over Endtroducing, and I consider it my favorite instrumental album of all time – fuck, it’s one of my favorites ever.

  9. I bought this album on vinyl at a Virgin store when it first came out based solely on the album art work and it being on ninja tune, this was pre-itunes. It turned out to be maybe the best purchase I have made based on those two things, since those days are long gone now.

  10. Found it kinda crazy reading that part about Sunday Seance. I listened to that and DJ Shadow’s “Midnight in a perfect world” on repeat in a room for about 3 days when my father took himself.

  11. Much love for this album!! Why anyone would omit the intro is beyond me. . . Way to go Europe. You guys screwed yourselves!! The Kool Keith sample may be the greatest thing ever sampled! He’s dope!!!. . . Like an image of a glass man!! Shout out to Seltzer Water!!!

  12. such an amazing album. I was a sophomore in high school when i first heard it, it was a time when i was getting into all that underground def jux ninja tune genre

  13. You know what’s weird? I used that Keith Jarret sample from Sunday Seance on one of the first beats I ever made. That’s not so weird in itself. The weird part is that I also used the Eric Gale sample from Daylight on the same beat. Of course, the beat just sat on a forgotten cassette forever, and it wasn’t nearly as dope as either of your beats. You bastard. I know you moderate these comments so of course feel free to delete if I’m snitching on the samples.

    • Stop Snitchin’ bro.
      Just kidding.
      That Eric Gale one had been used a ton I think. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, obviously. Lucky for me, mine blew up first.

      • Really? I don’t remember anyone else using it. I just used the first half, not the whole thing. It’s the first two bars of the first song/title track, so it’s not like it’s hidden.

      • Yeah, I think one of the living legends used it…and I recently heard some new rapper flip it. Like I said, mine was the biggest version to hit.

  14. Just want to add another “thanks for this”. For the info, and the album itself. Also, I reckon Ninja Tune was/is pretty much perfect for your music so I’m glad it worked out like that (Warp are pretty cool too though, obviously).

  15. For some reason I always thought Aesop made that Forest Crunk track, I remember thinking he must have a ton of respect for you because it sounded just like something you would’ve done.

  16. Man, I just gotta say that im a HUGE fan of yours. The first time i heard this CD was while i was in college and it hit me in a way that no other music has. It really opened my world to the genre of triphop and similar styles. I’m so happy you did a breakdown of Music by Cavelight, it is my favorite CD of all time, no joke. I find such inspiration in your music, and as a film school graduate, i love listening to your music to delve into new ideas to portray on screen. You are the shit, and i really hope you keep up the dope tracks. I really really hope you do a breakdown on how the Triptychs were composed, all three are my favorite tracks, i think they’ve got over 1,000 plays each on my itunes. Please, for the love of good music, keep doin what you do.

  17. Was searching for some info on the Keith Jarret / DJ Shadow sample connection on Entroducing. Stumbled here via Google, now playing your album via Apple Music. It’s awesome, one to add to buy list for sure.

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