A Motor City Soul with Amp Fiddler

Joseph Anthony “Amp” Fiddler’s musical legacy is the thing of legends. A keyboardist, producer and artist, his sounds have graced records from Prince to Moodymann with his touch on the keys a fundamental part of P-Funk since the 1970’s. As a Detroitian, he stays close to his roots and besides working with artists from the city like Carl Craig, he has also established a few careers, most notably that of J.Dilla when he introduced the teenager to the MPC.

Amp’s is a DIY ideology, from which he crafts durable expressive moments as a solo artist, collaborator and session musician. His solo works are soulful, congenial pieces that speak of the traditions of Detroit that started in Motown and moved beyond House and Techno. Five albums and countless EP’s to his name with distinguished titles like Afro Strut and Ghetto Waltz amongst them, Amp Fiddler’s mark on music has been a significant one.

Born from the stage, Amp Fiddler is a performer who takes his cues from people like George Clinton and hones them in his own modest way, far removed from the braggadocio of the big stage, and remaining true to the DIY nature of his work. For this next tour he’s even opted the route of going it alone, leaving the backing band back in Detroit for a series of solo live performances with Jæger his next stop. It’s given us context to shoot some questions over to him about playing with other musicians; solo live; the legacy of Detroit; and his last album Motor City Booty.

From past interviews we’ve surmised a cool, calm character who’s very visage embodies soul and when we get our answers via email a few days later, his disembodied words still reflects this…

We’re very excited to hear your live show, which has been billed and emphasised as a solo live show. Can you tell us what are some of the ideas behind the show?

Thank you for having me in Oslo this week. I feel the need to try something different as I always do. Being a lover of technology I decided to explore performing solo, which I know and feel is making me grow in different ways than the norm. My first idea was to explore my Roland connection with DJ Recloose and using the Roland DJ-808 along with Roland System-8 and their RC-202 loop pedal along with a microphone.

You’ve played with some amazing people in the past (and we’ll get back to that in a bit) so why a solo show and what dimension do you hope it brings out in your music that a full band couldn’t reach in the past?

Being solo has allowed me to make any and every decision I choose when I choose without limitations to what’s mandatory with other musicians. It’s different, It’s liberating, and it’s the freedom to be at will to make choices.

Jæger is quite an intimate venue and we hope it will be the perfect environment for your show. Is there a specific feeling or mood you particularly want to capture during this tour?

My mood seems to change at will but for the most part it’s a funky party.

The tour comes shortly after “Motor City Booty”. What particular element of that album are you bringing out on tour with you, and can we expect some tracks from Ghetto Fly and Afro Strut too?

There will be a mixture of the past and the present, which is my philosophy about most things. Fashion, Music, automobiles etc…

When you’re playing album tracks live, is it about replicating the sound of the album or merely using it as a jump-off point to take it to new territories?

It’s a combination of  playing backing tracks as well as creating on the fly and hopefully reaching new territories which is the real fun.

I’ve heard from more than one reliable source that your live shows are absolutely captivating. What is it about the live context for you that particularly works well in your music?

The mic, the freedom to be and create on the fly and the sound when it’s good, Which has to do with the sound person the equipment available and the venue.

I want to rewind for a bit and talk about Detroit. From Motown to Techno and House from the likes of May and Moodymann (something we obviously feel very close to at Jæger) to people like Dilla, and even the White Stripes. What in your opinion and from your experience makes the city such a great creative hub?

Well for one…..Snow! For two…..minus one temperatures and our passion is music. We love and eat music all day. Knowing our city was a hub for creative energy from Motown on we tend to also have a passion to carry the torch

Is there something of a community that exists there, where you all feed off each other, or is it all coincidental?

I don’t believe in coincidence so for me it’s all love and community growth sharing the vibes and frequency of each other to help grow and cultivate in whatever kind of music.  We all seem to have a need to collaborate and jam together for the good of it all

Time and again Detroit has faced socio-political problems and adversity to remain the cultural icon it is, especially since artists like yourself, Moodymann and Danny Brown continue to call it home. What keeps you there and accounts for the city’s staying power?

  Shit! …….Somebody’s gotta do it and show that we can become a centre for music again in the US. Show that we are fighters and win in the midst of loss of business and commonwealth. Were coming back and we are sticking and staying. Standing for the city and falling for nothing!

Motor City Booty seems to be particular homage to the city and it’s music, and not just in its title. From the Motown-like “Soul Fly Pt.”1 to tracks like “I got it” with it’s Funk and House references, was there a conscious effort to highlight various eras of music that the city produced?

Not really, It was Yam Who who came up with the idea for the title. I think the lyrics and titles are just where our heads were at the time reflecting the music being so funky.

You have quite a versatile and varied musical voice, which is always open to new musical styles too I believe. What musical features and styles particularly draws and holds your attention?

Thank You. I would say that soul and jazz are the first two but I love so much music that I find it challenging to sing over music of many styles. I am normally eager to try anything different, If I’m singing from my soul than it can normally fit over anything depending on the melody

Are you constantly adapting to the musical world around you, and how do you approach new influences in your own music?

I am always adapting to the future. Electronic music is flying while waiting for no one so I’m always listening. Sometimes we’re so busy we don’t have a chance. I also have to be conscious of my demographic and lane that fits me best. If I do something its because I love the music and not that it’s the next thang everybody is buying. My influences are based sometimes on new gear i acquire and mix with old gear. I love technology so that effect how I approach new ideas.

Getting back to the people you’ve played with in the past and continue to play with today. I know from a previous interview, that what you took away from the Enchantments, was that you learnt to play a song from start to finish perfectly, before taking it to the stage. Do things like this still happen and how have various eras affected how you sound today most significantly?

Yes indeed…Performing songs means knowing it top to bottom unless it’s just a groove. Now with performing some electronic music I have not had to focus so much on song or composition but there are many exceptions and I still have to learn songs.