James Hinton recently graduated from Brown with a degree in physics. Instead of embarking on a major research project like the rest of his classmates, he’s taken off on cross-country tours under the alias The Range. However, he hasn’t left science behind entirely; for his latest record, he developed a series of search inquiries on YouTube to find some completely undiscovered talents. His latest record released in March of this year, Potential, is the final product, made entirely of YouTube samples from videos with mainly under a few hundred views. The Superimpose documentary followed at the end of this summer, which features the people behind the voices (did I mention an accompanying EP for the film as well?). Now, The Range is on tour with Phantogram until the beginning of November. Somehow managing to squeeze in some time to talk to me on the phone in San Francisco ahead of his Seattle stop, I got to talk his process, physics, and the Pacific Northwest with The Range.
AK: How is the tour with Phantogram going?
TR: It’s going really really well. I put out my first record in 2013, and went out with them for a couple of shows in 2014 so I knew them a little bit, but it’s fun to actually be on a long tour with them. They’re really really nice guys so it’s been amazing…we’re a tight group. So it’s cool.
AK: Would you ever want to collab with Phantogram or any “known” artist, or do you just want to stick with YouTube finds?
TR: I guess it’s a funny question, like the whole record itself is about the possibility that you don’t have to necessarily work with singers or producers. Recently I am actually very interested though, particularly with Phantogram. Josh and I talk about it all the time that it would be very fun to make something together. I’ve been working with a couple of other singers on maybe an EP, just to kind of see how that goes, cause I haven’t really thought about that since I used to sing in bands. I think it’s kind of fun to think about doing a small project, but for records it will probably be something along the lines of Potential for quite a bit of time.
AK: I was reading that you graduated from Brown with a degree in Physics. Do you think that that science or math background plays into your music at all, and if so how so?
TR: I think it definitely doesI get that asked quite a bit, and people kind of assume it’s more like using numbers in some way to generate something. Physics is really good on giving you a framework on how to think about things, and I tend to think about the world and music in a very physics type of way—like the fact that it’s literally frequencies that hit your eardrums, and because of that I kind of make music analytically to some degree. Hopefully, what will happen is a lot of inspiration will come from places not very cerebral at all. Then, when I’m in the middle stages of making something, is often when that part of my brain takes over, in terms of how to make it sound better, or to maybe think through how harmony might work better in a certain register or something like that from a physics perspective. I think about that all the time- I think once you kind of get in that way of thinking it never really leaves you; I doubt it could even stop thinking that way even if I wanted to.
AK: Do you ever think you’ll go into physics?
TR: It’s really funny- I just caught up with a couple of my classmates from Brown recently, and they’re all of course like, “Oh, it’s so sick you’re a musician you get to travel and everything” but I always don’t want to talk about it…I want to talk to them about their research. I wish I could go back to it. With physics it’s really interesting, it’s kind of like making an album. You work on a research project for a long time that you dedicate yourself to. It’s kind of a unique thing to make a new discovery and I miss that. Music gives you a lot of satisfaction but there’s something unique about physics that I do miss. I don’t think that any graduate school would take me at this point [laughs].
AK: Can you talk about Superimpose, the documentary that came out about your album?
TR: That was kind of an amazing thing, I never really thought that that would ever come to fruition. But it was something that I had been thinking about right around the time when I figured out what I wanted the album to be about…I thought a documentary was a really unique way to show people a little bit more about the album. It’s one thing to hear “Oh this guy made this record out of YouTube samples” and it’s unfortunately been kind of cast that way, I think people have been treating it with a bit of nuance. But a documentary let me kind of have this piece of material to just show people like “No no no no no—this is real.” These are people that are real human beings, not just this abstract idea and to that end I’m really really happy that it’s out there and that it’s been received. It’s almost like it’s part of the album—I think they’re both enriched by each other to some degree, so it’s been really amazing to kind of have that out there in the world. I know that it’s something that’s going to travel widely for many years to come hopefully so I’m excited to see where it lands.
AK: Is there anything else that you’re working on that will come out in the next year or so?
TR: I just put out an EP that’s music from the sessions when I was doing Potential but are also on the documentary, and I have a lot of material that’s still kind of in that same world. I have a couple of other YouTube samples, and I’m starting to think about the idea of having this EP with some collaborators, but also having another EP that maybe has some YouTube vocal samples maybe some other pieces of material. I’ve been going to the library a lot and finding old records of people speaking and that kind of thing, like maybe it could be fun to have people from YouTube but also their counterparts throughout history I’m starting to think that that might be a fun thing, and that would be out within the next year if that comes to fruition.
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