Sumach Ecks sounds tired. He’s halfway through a heavy tour schedule which has taken him across Germany and the Czech Republic, before heading over to play shows in France, Belgium, the UK and Romania.
You’d forgive him for coming across as world-weary and a bit cynical, given that this is his first crack of the whip since he became sober, but it hasn’t done anything to diminish the fire inside which burns fiercer than ever before.
This fire inside has also seen him reap the benefits in a more creative sense, with two new records being released on Warp in the space of 12 months, last year’s Callus and the recent The Mandela Effect, featuring a rib shaking remix from Daddy G.
It may appear to be a tough re-entry into the world of live gigging for Ecks, but it’s one that he’s simultaneously relishing and going at with the a renewed force that has come to define his bullish approach to music making.
How’s the tour going? What’s life like being back on the road?
It’s the first time in five years. It feels good cos’ I’m sober this run. Last run I was drunk. My day is pretty much water, fruit, yoghurt, I feel present.
What’s it like on stage?
I feel like I have more control over my energy and where I want to direct it. It’s easier to see when my eyes are closed, I can see further. I’m treating it like how I teach yoga. It’s more about me giving energy as opposed to getting energy from other people. I don’t give a fuck what people think about it, I’m here to give people my soul, I’m not looking for an attachment from anyone. My goal is for people to feel like they’ve been recharged, releasing emotions that were previously stuck.
You touched on yoga there – am I right in thinking that you take classes every now and then?
I haven’t taught in about four years, my definition of teaching has changed. I’ve given up on old white mother fuckers, I’m not talking about skin colour, but a mind state, a lack of empathy. I’ve poured enough into old people, they’re fucking up the world, our generation, the young ones will take over. My definition of yoga is getting up on that stage and teaching from there.
So being on stage is your yoga?
It comes down to finding a way to connect with my body and mind through my breathing. Every day I’m nervous before I go on stage, I focus on my breathing and pour as much energy out as possible, sweating profusely.
“I respect the scene but I try to stay out of it; it’s a circle jerk.”
How fruitful is the west coast beat scene these days?
As much as I’ve been boxed into that shit, I’m not a part of it. I respect the scene but I try to stay out of it; it’s a circle jerk. There’s a lot of politics going on, fuck all that shit man. I’m over it. There’s a lot of people who control that scene who are afraid of me. Every show I do with Skrapez on the road, we make it up. It’s in the moment, pure, raw improv. That’s jazz. I respect the computer era but it’s got in the way of the soul in the performance. Those people that press the space bar for a pre-recorded set, that’s cool and everything but where are they when the power goes out?
After a big hiatus you’ve come back with two records in a matter of months – has something specifically happened to get those creative juices flowing again?
I just had so much shit in the vault that I hadn’t finished, so I’m just trying to build up my momentum. Right now I’m just trying out to put as much music as possible. What I’m focused on is the Black Hail Mary record with my wife. The next Gonjasufi record is already done as well. I haven’t just been sitting here beating off, I’ve been making fucking music.
Can you talk about the record with your wife a bit more?
We’ve been working on it for a while in between raising six kids. She’s my biggest inspiration and it’s important that I put that record out, she’s my backbone. A lot of women have approached me to do records with them but I’ve had to put them on hold cos she gets pissed off – it’s like I’m cheating on her or something!
How did the Tony Allen link up happen on The Mandela Effect?
He’d sent me some stems to a song a couple of years ago, it’s a record he put out and I had first dibs on the instrumental. I’d worked on it but never put it out, things just got in the way. Then I ran into him in Greece one day and I told him I’d been done with the song and he looked at me like “what the fuck’s taken you so long?!” Callus just got in the way when I first got the stems. I thought the shit was weak personally but we put it out anyway.
So you don’t think the track was as good as could have been?
Nothing I’ve done is as good as it could’ve been. Knowing when to let go is the hardest part. I’d rather be seen as a dude who is making mistakes than the guy who’s trying to put out the best shit every time. I’ve got a long beard, I’m a rough ass dude full of contradictions!
Do you ever listen back to old tracks and wish you’d done stuff differently?
Yeah definitely. Last night they played Appartions through the system and I couldn’t believe how awful that shit sounded. Back when I made it I thought it was the shit but now I listen and i think it sounds so bad.
Were there any artists that you wanted to have on the remix record but it didn’t work out for whatever reason?
Yeah there were a few but I had to compromise with the label. Just like some of the tracks that didn’t make it on to Callus, Warp didn’t want them even though they were the hardest ones I made. A lot of my songs have been swept under the rug which could be a whole different record.
“When I first saw it I was like “what are they doing on the record, that shit ain’t even on beat!””
With music being a very personal form of self-expression, what attracted you to the idea of having a load of your tracks remade by others?
I was happy to have them do it. It’s a heavy load to carry this shit, it’s like someone helping you to carry your bags. My favourite remix on the record is the Santino remix, that shit brought me to tears man. Now I’m more open to working with other heads, giving them half finished songs and seeing where they go with it. Before I was more controlling but now I see it more as nature, we’re all one being, one soul, let me see if I can get these other heads to try and express what I was trying to express but there was something in the way.
Were there any remixes that you didn’t like the first time you heard them?
Yeah man, but I’m not gonna say who. But they’re definitely on the record. When I first saw it I was like “what are they doing on the record, that shit ain’t even on beat!” but I take Warp’s word for it, I felt that way about A Sufi And A Killer and Callus but in retrospect they were right, it’s a trust thing. I’m learning to be more open, I’m not as tight as I used to be.