Kingdom
Future Music|November 2020
Ezra Rubin has worked with some of the mosttalked about artists of the last five years but as Leo Maymind finds out, he may have saved some of the choicest creative chunks for his own acclaimed work…
Leo Maymind
As Kingdom, Ezra Rubin has shown that visionary ideas can still have a place within the contemporary mainstream – it just takes his peers a few years to catch up. Equally informed by the elastic production work of studio lifer Timbaland and the Providence, Rhode Island noise scene, Rubin started the Kingdom using rudimentary Boss drum machines and an early copy of Reason.

But his attention to detail in the carefully constructed sonics of Kingdom tracks shows that Rubin’s skills as a producer have grown by leaps and bounds since those earlier days, and his tracks over the past decade have soundtracked everything from club nights to runway stages, and everything in between. In his own work, as well as running the cutting edge LA label Fade to Mind, Rubin’s dedication to a certain aesthetic remains pretty airtight. Just look at the visuals for Fade to Mind’s releases and you’ll see that they each capture a feeling and spirit of freedom, much like the euphoria and rush of a great, memorable night packed between two speakers.

Though much of his work remains behind the scenes, Kingdom’s past collaborations with Kelela, SZA, and Syd from the Internet show that he’s also able to steer the ship when he’s working with others. This September saw Kingdom returning with a new full-length album entitled Neurofire that finds the producer exploring headier sonics matched with slightly faster tempos. This time, he’s also chosen to feature less known voices, working with friends and newcomers. Future Music’s Leo Maymind sat down with Rubin to discuss his early mash-up attempts, learning from Bok Bok, and what it’s like to run a label that the LA Times has listed among “the most influential projects in LA underground music.”

So you are originally from Massachusetts but you went to school in New York City, right?

“Yeah, I grew up 30 minutes west of Boston, near to Natick. I then moved to New York when I was 18 years old. I stayed there for ten years, then headed west to Los Angeles.”

What attracted you to LA?

“I had been touring a whole bunch and visiting LA a few times a year for shows and just to hang with my friends. I was DJing at Mustache Mondays and other shows, hanging out and playing around with music with Total Freedom and Nguzunguzu. I liked the atmosphere and the weather and proximity to nature and a slightly more open and experimental music scene.”

We read that your entrance into music-making in the Kingdom world was through making edits and through putting acapellas over UK garage instrumentals and such. What were you making musically before that, if anything at all? What would you say was your first real musical obsession?

“Yeah, I was always making music. I was always fascinated with drums, and always wondered how electronic drum sounds were made when I heard them on the radio in the ’80s. My dad bought me a cheap Kawai keyboard when I was seven, and I used that thing every day. I never really got proficient at reading music but always messed around and definitely mastered playing drumbeats on the keyboard. I also had a brief stint taking piano lessons when I was eleven, just for a year. My teacher was really into early MIDI software and had a Korg M1. She could tell that I was never going to practice or really sightread so she would show me stuff on the computer instead.”

Wow. That is incredible foresight!

“Yeah, it definitely planted the seed early on. But then I never saw another piece of music software again until like 2004, so like 10 years later! In the gap in between that, my brother dragged me into some ska and punk bands. I also had a four-track recorder that I played around with on the side, playing keyboard and drum parts into it one by one, making my own tapes.”

What sort of music was influencing you around this time?

“This was 1997-1999, so Darkchild, Timbaland and the Neptunes were most of the sounds you heard on the radio. When I heard them I was obsessed – hearing pop become so polyrhythmic and stutter. I would try to imitate the beats. By then I had a Roland Dr. Groove (DR-202) and Dr. Sample. The DR-202 was a super cheap, all-in-one machine. It had 808s, 909s, 606s, and a few other basic kits, and around ten bass sounds.”

So, what led you to the Dr-202 and the Dr. Sample? How did you know to get them? Was your brother a part of that decision too?

“All of the options were connected to speakers at Guitar Center, so I just went in and found them. In my mind, I was already into synth drums and basses, so the Dr. Groove made sense because it had it all. It also marketed itself with genre names, like trip-hop and drum & bass and lo-fietc, which made sense to my brain at the time.”

So you were into electronic sounds from an early age? It doesn’t seem that common around Boston. Do you remember having to seek out those sounds? The jungle wasn’t a thing on the radio really, I don’t think.

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