Josh Wink (interviewed May 17, 1998)
by Andrew Duke
Josh Wink. Ever heard of the guy? What about that dark, minimal mover with the "ha ha ha ha ha ha huh" loop that goes on incessantly, or the houser that breaks down midway to a hip hop jam before relaunching with a feverish "I am ready" robochant, female "alright" screams, and that drum roll that seems to go on forever? Ringin' any bells yet? How ‘bout that boom bap bap ba doo bap break number that simmers before the floodgates open and acid line squelches and screeches for mercy? Aha. Now we're getting somewhere. The names and labels differ, but there is a certain continuity. Whether you're talking about "Don't Laugh" from Winx on Nervous, Size 9's "I'm Ready" that started out on Virgin UK before blowing up all over, or "Higher State Of Consciousness" from Winks for Strictly Rhythm, they're all the work of one Josh Wink. If you were alive in ‘95, almost anywhere on the planet, you've probably heard the timestretched title and clean the wax out of your ears highs of his "Higher State". "Don't Laugh", "How's The Music", and "Hypnotizin'" were included with a number of other tracks and some spoken word for 1996's "Left Above The Clouds" album for Nervous as Winx. And 1997 saw the release of the DJ Rob Sherwood answering machine message sampling "Are You There..." from Wink, but since then, not so much as a recorded bleat, break, or beat. Now, up pops Wink with "Herehear", his second full length album and his first on Ovum, the label he runs with fellow Philadelphian King Britt. By the way, Trent Reznor (that guy from Nine Inch Nails) is a featured vocalist on one track. Thought maybe that might get your attention. Josh, where have you been?
"I separated myself from a lot of the media and traveling for a good year and a half because I wanted all the hype to calm down," Wink says in defence of his AWOL status. "I didn't like how big the whole hype about ‘Higher State' and about electronic music was getting. I just wanted it to calm down and then start at a new point." Wink ain't tellin' no lies. Like piranhas just picking up the salty taste of fresh blood, press and publicists play a wicked game. First they love ya, then you're kicked in the ass. Starting with the letter H is just one similarity between Hype and Hysteria. Calling from Toronto, Wink truly is laying low press-wise. This is his only interview today. In fact, it's late Sunday evening and he's spent the day chilling with his girlfriend. In a couple of hours he'll cab it over to Industry's Victoria Day celebrations to mix it up with Sanchez (Junior), and Sosa (Carlos aka DJ Sneak). Listening to Wink speak enthusiastically about the advance copy of the new 4-Hero double CD Dego's sent in the mail, or the limited edition UK only Matrix mix of "Crucial" that's been done for Ovum's Jamie Myerson, Wink's love for music is readily apparent and it's easy to forget the reason for our conversation--he's got a new album to promote. But gone are his days as an anonymous 13 year old dragging wax crates and paying his mobile dues. "Higher State", like it or not, was a true love-it-or-hate-it beast if there ever was one. It wasn't easy dealing with the change from DJ Josh Wink, releasing a single here and there at your leisure, to Josh Wink, the dreadlocked vegetarian from Philly with your mug on mags worldwide.
"It was hard for me because I was happy doing one off releases before that," Wink explains. "I had a lot of singles that were getting really cool support and there was a nice buzz in the underground, and then all of a sudden--in one year--‘Don't Laugh', ‘Higher State', and ‘I'm Ready' all came out and it was like--woah!--a lot to deal with. But I don't feel like I have any pressures. It's cool that people like the tracks in the past but I didn't want that to be known 100% as my trademark sound. You can listen to an Armand Van Helden record and say, ‘oh, that sounds like Armand.' People have their own style but I think I have my own kind of production sound, but not my own production kind of formula. I always like to do different things and that's the thing I like to be known for doing. It's too easy for any person in my position, if you make a dance record, just to make everything else like it. I could have done that, but the problem I run into is as soon as I do something that sounds remotely like those three songs, people say one of two things: either ‘that's awesome, I love your music, keep it sounding like that' or ‘I wish he'd do different music, it's always the same thing, I don't like it anymore.' I don't want to continue doing the same stuff because I want to grow and move on. It's cool that those are back there and it's opened up the door for a lot of people to know me, and for things like Ovum, and getting to travel the world."
Wink kept up his DJ work, piling up the credits on his Air Miles card, and generally taking care of business. "I went on a six month hiatus of not working on any music, just working on Ovum and the artists, and making sure everything was cool with that. And then as soon as I got back to making music, I did a whole gambit of stuff." These recordings slowly evolved into "Herehear", eleven tracks that include everything from old school breaks and a fiery jazz blowout to Wink- style house, techno, and drum ‘n' bass. New is the addition of live musicians and vocalists.
The album's genesis dates back to October 1996 when Wink was trying out some new instrumentals he had recorded; one in particular was getting a lot of positive comments. "This one track was slow, yet it had so much tension and anxiety. People used to come up and say, ‘What the hell is that?', so I thought, ‘why don't we put a vocalist with that?'" Former Ultramagnetic MC Kool Keith was hooked up to lay down the lyrics, but it didn't work out. "I was calling to get information about flying out to San Francisco and doing it, but no one knew where Keith was. He was supposed to come back from England and he didn't. So we were thinking about other people and someone suggested Trent." Jason Jordan, the A & R person for Ovum at Columbia had a friend who was a friend of Reznor, tapes were swapped, and a year later "Black Bomb (Jerry In The Bag)" was completed. Reznor lent his lungs and Wink's cat Jerry sang backup. As Wink puts it, that was essentially what got the project off the ground. "(Black Bomb) was the first track where really I was thinking, ‘okay, I got an album to do, this would be cool for an album.'"
Seeing the potential in working with other artists, Wink began to look at his music in a different way and his visions for "Herehear" started to grow. "All the tracks on the album weren't thought of for vocals, they were all instrumentals, and then it was just like, wow, that would be cool. I wanted this album to be more organic and to use live musicians and vocalists." One of those he approached was poet Ursula Rucker, known for her work with The Roots, Bahamadia, 4-Hero, and King Britt's Sylk 130. "I played Ursula the track and she's like, ‘I dig it, there's so much room to move.' I took her a capella and sampled a lot of the words to give it actual meaning in a sampled kind of way. Like if she said ‘angry', I'd put it through a distortion and it would kind of sound like anger." Wink was happy with the results. Not just because "Sixth Sense" went on to become the album's first single ("Are You There.." is also included), but because it was so unlike previous material. "I think it was a good single to come out with because it's not different for me, but it's different from what people are expecting. It's a quirky, experimental techno track, but it has this avant garde Laurie Andersonish kind of poetry over it." He sent a track to Caroline Crawley, best known as the voice of This Mortal Coil, that would go on to be "I'm On Fire", a sensual drum ‘n' bass number. "We got the tape to her and she really dug it; she said, ‘there's room to breathe, I think it's very seductive and sexy' and did her magic on it." Wink can hear the reviews already. "For me to use vocalists, a lot of people will say ‘oh, Josh Wink's using vocals now, blah blah blah', like I'm not allowed. It was a growing point for me as a producer and an artist because I couldn't get to that level writing songs that were all instrumental. The voices were substituted for things like synths and 303 lines, but I wouldn't necessarily say that any of those three tracks are commercial; they complement the track and balance it well, and that's why they were chosen to be on the album."
Elsewhere, Wink brings in Philly's Elliot Levin (who's played with the Sun Ra Orchestra) for sax on "Hard Hit"; "Young Again" has Levin, plus John Wicks on guitar and Herschel Gaer on bass. Gaer is a good friend of Wink's and leads The Interpreters, a local rock trio. His is the voice on "Simple Man", the album's second single, out now with remixes from Optical, Allen Placer, Boom Boom Satellites, and Gonstermacher (Pete Reardon and Dust Brother Matt Dike).
Wink has seen the glare of the spotlight and would be happy this time to avoid the Media Machine tentacles. "One of the reasons why I waited so long before putting out my album is because I wanted to stand aside from all the hype about electronica," he says. "I deal with a lot of journalists that just know rock stuff and all of a sudden at the end of 1996 there's a big Christmas gift under their tree called ‘electronica'. There's all this hype and only one band lives up to it--The Prodigy. Then they say it's died. I don't want to deal with that shit so I choose to separate myself. It's hard for me in terms of getting such mainstream press because I'm doing my own thing, I don't do my music for journalists."
Ovum/RuffHouse/Columbia (through Sony in Canada) releases Wink's "Herehear" June 16.