A FEW MINUTES after Steve Lacy arrived at a dingy, weed-clouded recording studio in Burbank, the 18-year-old musician flopped down in a plush leather chair in the control room. Vince, one of the studio’s proprietors, came in to show Lacy how the mixing boards and monitors worked. Lacy didn’t care; he was just in it for the chair. He picked up his new black-and-white Rickenbacker guitar, then reached into his Herschel backpack and yanked out a mess of cables. Out of the mess emerged his iRig, an interface adapter that connects his guitar directly into his iPhone 6. He shoved it into the Lightning port and began tuning his instrument, staring at the GarageBand pitch meter through the cracks on the screen of his phone.
Guitar ready, Lacy relocated into the studio. He usually works in the vocal booth, where he’ll light candles and hang for hours, but since I had a cameraman with me he agreed to sit somewhere a little more visually appealing-and bigger. Lacy, wearing jean shorts and a plaid khaki shirt underneath an unzipped blue hoodie, sat on a drum throne in the center of the studio and re-assumed his previous pose: right leg crossed over left, Beats headphones on his ears, iPhone perched precariously on his bare knee (he swears this isn’t how he cracked the screen) and connected to the guitar in his lap. Then he went to work, kind of. He’d never call it work. He doesn’t even call it recording, or songwriting, or producing. He calls it “making beats.”
It’s a weird recording setup, but it’s working for Lacy. Last year, he was nominated for a Grammy for executive-producing and performing on the 2015 funk-R&B-soul album Ego Death, the third release from The Internet and Lacy’s first with the band. He’s a sought-after producer, featured on albums like J. Cole’s “4 Your Eyez Only” and Kendrick Lamar’s new “Damn.” Earlier in 2017, he released his first solo material, which he’s playing as part of the setlist for The Internet’s worldwide tour. (Somewhere in there he also graduated high school.) The only connection between his many projects? All that music is stored on his iPhone.
That night in Burbank, Lacy had no real agenda or deadline. It was just a brainstorm, a jam session. He paged through the drum presets in GarageBand for a while before picking a messy-sounding kit. With two thumbs, he tapped out a simple beat, maybe 30 seconds long. Then he went back to the Rickenbacker. He played a riff he’d stumbled on while tuning, recording it on a separate GarageBand track over top of the drums. Without even playing it back, Lacy then reached down and deleted it. It took three taps: stop, delete, back to the beginning. He played the riff again, subtly differently. Deleted it again. For the next half hour, that’s all Lacy did: play, tap-tap-tap, play again. He experimented wildly for a while, then settled on a loose structure and began subtly tweaking it. Eventually satisfied with that bit, he plugged in his Fender bass and started improvising a bassline. A few hours later, he began laying vocals, a breathy, wordless melody he sang directly into the iPhone’s microphone. He didn’t know quite what he was making, but he was feeling it.
All night, Lacy goofed around. He found a sword in the studio, and made up a shockingly catchy song called “Sword in the Studio” that’s still rattling around in my brain. He paused every few minutes to snack on Sour Patch watermelons or let out a deafening burp. Occasionally, when I asked him a question, he’d respond with a British accent. He paced around the room, took a call from his mom, and joked with his manager, David Airaudi. And even when he’d get back to making beats, it still looked more like play.
Lacy’s smartphone has been his personal studio since he first started making music. Even now, with all the equipment and access he could want, he still feels indelibly connected to something about making songs piece by piece on his phone. He’s also working this way to prove a point: that tools don’t really matter. He feelds a tension that’s been part of the music industry since the Tascam 424 Portastudio made mobile recording easy in the 80s, and has come up time and again since then. He wants to remind people that the performance, the song, the feeling matter more than the gear you use to record it. If you want to make something, Lacy tells me, grab whatever you have and just make it. If it’s good, people will notice. Maybe even Kendrick Lamar.
Read More/Original Source: https://www.wired.com/2017/04/steve-lacy-iphone-producer/