By Michael Lello
Pete Lawrie Winfield – who records as Until The Ribbon Breaks – is such a student of American music and film, the Welshman had to see for himself what makes the country tick and moved to Brooklyn.
“I’m not disappointed,” says Winfield, who moved to the U.S. six months ago. “I’m still like a tourist. I’m still taking pictures of yellow cabs and smoke coming up from the streets. It’s still a novelty.”
A film major in college, Winfield has created his own videos to go along with his brand of electronic music, which is gaining acclaim from the likes of NPR, Interview, Pitchfork and Spin even though he’s only released singles and EPs so far and Until The Ribbon Breaks’ debut album won’t be out until 2014.
Fresh off a tour as direct support for Lorde and about to go out with Phantogram on a tour that kicks off Dec. 4 at Terminal 5 in New York and hits Union Transfer in Philadelphia on Dec. 6 – both shows are sold-out — Winfield gave us a call to chat about his love for American hip-hop and film, watching Lorde become an international superstar in front of his eyes, doing remixes for the likes of Lorde, The Weeknd and Tegan and Sara and what to expect from Until The Ribbon Breaks’ first full-length.
H81R: You’re about to go out on tour with Phantogram. Have you worked with them previously?
PLW: No. I think we share — as boring as this may seem — we have the same agent. So I had been a fan of theirs anyway. I’ve always liked Phanotgram, so it was exciting for me definitely when I found out we had gotten the tour. And I had always wanted to play Terminal 5. I saw James Blake there a few weeks ago.
H81R: How would you describe your live show?
PLW: I think what’s really exciting for me is I had no idea we were going to do it at all. I made the record without thinking about doing it live; I knew I wanted to do it, but had no ideas of how.
With two of my best friends, musicians [who will perform with Winfield on the tour], I stood in a room the first day with a load of gear and thought, “How are we going to do this?” [laughs]. We rehearsed every day straight for six weeks and ended with a fully formed live show. And to me, I think the songs, there’s more scape in them, and things comes out that I didn’t even know were there.
It’s amazing because of the other two musicians. And we also incorporate visuals into the show.
H81R: What’s the status of the debut album? Are you done recording it?
PLW: Well, funny enough, I thought I was finished for a long time, but after that we did a Lorde tour, and I’d done a bunch of DJ shows, and there was something about how the crowd reacts to certain sounds and feelings live. After that tour, I felt that there was a couple gaps left on that record. So after the Phantogram tour, we’ll go back in the studio.
H81R: Who are you working with on that album? Any producers or guests?
PLW: I did the majority of it, but I definitely have gotten help from my friend Rollo Armstrong [Editor’s note: Armstong is Dido’s brother], who was in a band called Faithless. I write the songs and do the framework of the production and take it to him, and he would kind of say “that works” or “that doesn’t work.”
PLW: I mean, it’s difficult because the whole point of Until The Ribbon Breaks. I took that name because I wanted it to skip around from genre to genre which I wanted it to do, because its meant to represent when you gave someone a mixtape on cassettes and include everything that person likes. It’s sort of in the same world as the EP, and a lot of the EP will be on the record, but it has its similarities in a sense that it’s me singing, but sonically it definitely has variety.
H81R: Tell me about the visual aspect of your work, including the videos you’ve made. And do you think the videos have helped expose your music?
PLW: Um, I did a university degree in film, that’s always been a massive passion of mine and something that I’ve always been interested in pursuing. Just at some point music took over. I wrote the songs projecting film onto the studio walls silently. So I don’t think there’s a separation from the music and the visuals
I guess it’s helped people find out about Until the Ribbon Breaks, or hopefully it has become . . . maybe there’s more to engage with if you’re watching or listening.
H81R: Do you think electronic music is gaining wider acceptance in the U.S.? Do you feel the U.S. is still lagging behind the U.K. and mainland Europe in that sense?
PLW: Yeah 100% [to the first part]. A lot of the starting points of some of the genres in dance is in the UK, but also some of them were the U.S. and Europe. Personally, I don’t see a divide really. Certainly there’s a massive scene here for the more leftfield electronica and dance music.
H81R: Why did you move to Brooklyn?
PLW: Fundamentally, I just wanted change. And it seemed exciting to me to come to America on my own and see what would happen, and even more than that, mainly I grew up with so much American culture in film and music. I was a massive hip-hop fan, and most of my heroes are from New York, let alone the States, and in film, similarly with Scorsese and Spike Lee. Just the culture is what attracted me.
H81R: You alluded to the tour with Lorde. Obviously she has really emerged as a superstar. What was that experience like for you?
PLW: Fascinating, because at the start of the tour, obviously she was big, but by the end of the tour I think she had an American No 1. Just seeing the sudden incline in her kind of stardom and it coming so quick was crazy. Yeah, at the beginning of the tour people were showing up early, which was amazing, because as the support band we were playing to full venues, but by the end of the tour, by 4 in the afternoon the queue was around the block just in the hope of maybe seeing Lorde. She’s great and totally has such a smart, older head on her shoulders. She’ll be fine.
H81R: You’ve done remixes for Lorde, The Weeknd and Tegan and Sara, among others. How do you approach remixes? Does the artists give you some direction or do you have free reign?
PLW: I always make it clear before I do it just so that they know that I will never take the vocal (away), and therefore I’m going to do whatever I can to make it not sound like the original. In order for me to ask if I can do one or even start one, I would never do a remix of something I didn’t fundamentally like. It’s almost that I want to put the vocal in a different frame or see if I can get a different emotion out of it. So just to create something completely separate from the original.
H81R: Do you get a different type of satisfaction from remixing another artist’s song compared to writing your own material from scratch?
PLW: Yeah, it’s a pleasure, because there isn’t the same amount of pressure. Obviously I want it to be good and wouldn’t put it out if I wasn’t happy with it. It’s less personal, so I don’t have to feel that kind of pressure of saying something; the vocal says its thing and is just trying to convey that feeling other than my own.
H81R: What type of music did you grow up listening to?
PLW: I was always a massive fan of the Mos Def and Talib Kweli and that type of era I suppose. But then, you know, also the first Eminem album, and I’ve always been a Jay Z fan and a Biggie fan. It was kind of an era of the late ’90s and early 2000s and even earlier when hip-hop was incredible.
H81R: Are there any other projects you wanted to mention?
PLW: Um, I’m just kind of getting my teeth into doing some film score work. At the moment only friends’ short films, hopefully doing some bigger things and I’m definitely enjoying that.