Between serving as Maxwell’s musical director, producing records by Otis Brown III and Kendrick Scott, as well as his bass duties for the Grammy Award-winning Robert Glasper Experiment band, it’s safe to say that Derrick Hodge has has a busy couple of years since the release of his debut record, Live Today. While constantly switching through different artistic hats might be dizzying to read let alone attempt for most, Hodge has chosen to let the busyness of his calendar inform and instruct every corner of his art-making practice.
The decision to do so shines brightest in his aptly titled sophomore recording, The Second where Derrick Hodge once again dons the roles of producer, bassist, and composer and tries his very best to coalesce all the different facets of his infinitely diverse talents into a focused 12-track album dedicated to his fans. As mentioned, Derrick’s a busy dude. So it was more than an honor and a privilege to be able to catch up with him across the 13-hour time difference as he hopped on the line on his day off from Seoul to discuss The Second. Here’s part one of our very long and instructive chat:
Revive: You’ve been crazy busy between touring, producing, and recording.
Derrick Hodge: It’s been a busy time and a focused time too. I’ve honed in my focus and made sure I start writing a lot more and making sure I’m putting out a lot more music for the people. That’s been what the focus has been.
R: It would seem that it’s difficult to manage all these different hats, but do you think that being this busy helps you grow as a solo artist?
DH: It does. The things I’ve been a part of — regardless of what that is — has always informed my musical experiences. It wasn’t like turning one experience off because it’s a certain type of music, it’s all-encompassing. Anything could influence me in a whole type of different way. It could be a sound check from one style of music or it could be writing for something else that influences me as an artist.
What I’ve tried to do is to document that the best way I can. The only way to do that is to write, no matter what situation I’m in. Continue to write and continue to document that and hopefully the music comes across as a hybrid. Because that’s kind of what I am, a hybrid of different things. Hopefully those experiences come across without me having to say, “Yeah I’m into this, I’m into that.” Hopefully they can hear it in the music.
R: Are there material that didn’t make it into The Second?
DH: Yeah. I had to make a decision. I tend to just write a whole lot and for this album I wanted to focus on a specific sound and instead of writing a bunch of ideas, focus it to a specific number of songs and cap at that. I wanted to make sure I don’t go to overboard.
Instead of writing new themes and melodies once I had the number of songs in my head, I wanted to maximize those songs by trying to be as honest and as detailed in delivering those songs as possible. Because of that I made the storyline become about exposing my full self. Instead of going to a bag of tricks and going to shed a bunch of hours, then a couple of months later record something and try to impress people with bass licks. That’s cool, but let me do something that’s different from me and try to put it all out there — my true experiences, which is a songwriter, the producer, and the instrumentalist. Because this is an instrumental label I’m on, I figured why not try to channel all of that and put it through the lens of a bass player in terms of solos and try to document it all.
R: Did you plan on taking on a multi-instrumentalist role for this record from the get-go?
DH: Yes I did. I knew I wanted to expose being exposed and put a lot of risk into it and give the people something that’s very honest. At first, the idea wasn’t to be all me. But I wanted to more of a self-contained type approach, so hopefully that honesty and vulnerability came across. Sometimes that only comes across if you put yourself in situations where you’re willing to be exposed and show everybody as many sides as possible.
The idea was to scratch out themes, work things out, and maybe have one or two people on a few songs. Between time, availability, and the ideas becoming very specific in my mind. It’s like time and circumstance actually informed this record. It ended up being just me, and I kind of said: “The stars are kind of aligning and this is the story you probably should be telling and just keep going with that.”
R: A lot of these tracks are just you. We’re hearing you sit behind the piano and different synths. Did taking on a multi-instrumentalist role make you better as an overall artist?
DH: That was the goal. Live Today was a leap of faith. My manager, Vincent Bennett, and I put up our own money and said, “Let’s just go to the studio and get it done.” That was really at the request of the people. I was involved in a lot of different things and I’ve always tried to give a hundred in whatever situation. But people showed love and said, “Try put something out.”
So we did that and the love they showed from that album, the people are the reason why the second album even exist. All the messages I received that gives me life of people saying, “This music did this for me.” You know what I mean? And to hear specific stories, so I [decided] it was time to make a decision. Are you going to do it when it’s convenient for you? Or are you do whatever you can to show people that you’re committed to this.
I wanted to put something out that’s hardcore me and the best way to do it is to show that sacrifice and to show that risk in a different way. When I listen to The Second now, I think that was captured. I think people are hearing the way I’m thinking. They’re hearing a little bit of the composer side. They’re hearing the recluse side where I’m sitting in a room by myself working things out for hours — not necessarily bass themes, motifs and scales. Not necessarily putting it all out on the instrument, but in other ways. Obsessing over the sound of things. Obessesing over music choices like sound design and getting a certain sound to come across.
I think that was captured in this record, but that’s all for the people.
R: How much does your training on bass inform you as a producer and how does having produced all the records you’ve worked on lately inform you as a bassist?
DH: I wanted to expose myself fully but focus on three specific things that are informing the decisions of this album. Producer, instrumentalist and also song-writer. When you’re doing things self-contained, it allows you to do that. If you’re patient enough with yourself. You can put it on the bulletin board and say, “Let’s give people these three things. How are you going to do it?” Then you let one thing inform the decision of the next.
For example, “World Go Round.” I shed early in the morning — that’s kind of the only free time I get with the kids. That specific time, I wasn’t trying to create anything. I just started thinking about my best friends: Thaddeus Tribett, Adam Blackstone, and Wayne Moore. We all grew up together in Willingboro, New Jersey.
I had just finished shedding. I also tend to have the mic set up right next to the bass amp. It’s good to listen back to critique your touch, pressure, and how your ideas coming across the instrument. Especially when you’re shedding and you’re working on things that are uncomfortable — you have to listen back and be willing to listen back.
So that was already set up and I had just finished practicing and I was listening to my warm-down, as I like to call it where you just do whatever you want to do. And when I was listening, it brought up that feeling of Willingboro. So I wanted to do something with that. That was one of those moments where I wasn’t necessarily thinking as a producer, but as an instrumentalist. I wanted to keep that raw and play something real quick. I didn’t even want to go back and re-record, I just went back and thought about me as a 15-year old kid if I was in the room with my homies playing bass.
I just started tracking over and over maybe four of five times and I just let it be. No matter what happened, I just said to myself, “Let me let that be.” I didn’t want to try to gloss it up, I just wanted to let the bass player inform that decision. The producer kind of kicked in where I asked questions about how I wanted it to come across.
I chose to let it be honest, but “World Go Round” wasn’t exactly all about songwriting as opposed to “Song 3” where I let the songwriter in me inform the decisions about that song entirely. Hopefully regardless of what instrument — whether it was the keyboard sound, the drums, or even the bass melody — if you honed in on anything, hopefully you can get the spirit of the song no matter what.
It was letting one thing inform the next. It wasn’t always the producer and trying to focus on the sounds. It was about letting it all come across so that at any given point, you’re feeling it all and nothing is being abandoned.
R: We’ve mentioned this topic before in our previous interviews. But for readers who aren’t aware, can you talk about what it was like growing up in Willingboro, NJ?
DH: It was a crazy time. Aside from Thaddeus, Adam and Wayne there was just a bunch of musicians. I could start naming names. I feel like I was really a product of my environment. I’m actually from Philadelphia and we later moved to Jersey. It’s so easy to claim Philly because I’m technically from Philly and that’s how we all got our breaks, but in reality — at the core of it — that hunger and that drive came from being on the outskirts. We didn’t necessarily get all the attention. Thaddeus Tribett probably did because his brother Tye had a choir and they were extremely popular.
But by in large, we were living in Willingboro, NJ and had each other. It was one of those things where iron sharpened iron. It wasn’t just about the music. It became about not trying to cut each other down. I think that stuck with each of us to this day. The spirit we had as kids kind of stuck and informed how we treat people and treat others in the business. I’m kind of proud to say that it’s something that we’re known for all.
We work hard and we try to put ourselves in positions where nobody can say “I outworked you.” But at the same time, we do whatever we can to uplift others and do things for the scene and do things to motivate others. A lot of that was informed back then when we had each other. All we had was each other and we had a choice to go at each other’s heads or support each other and we chose to solidify and rock together. We still do to this day.