Will Holland is a musician and producer who records under the name Quantic. Since his first release we have been fascinated by the many twists and turns of his musical career. We caught up with Will by email from his home in Cali, Colombia. We had a number of questions for him including the evolution of his early electronic sound to his passion for Cumbia and Latin American rhythms.
KGNU: Looking at your musical releases over the years there seems to be a common thread of you as a crate digger, and that the things that resonate with you from that research tend to draw you a great deal deeper. For example, uncovering Northern Soul records at Mr. T’s One Stop Record Shop or the Diskery in your youth somehow leads to your World’s Rarest Funk 45 collections or the formation of your band The Quantic Soul Orchestra. Likewise, donning a dust mask and uncovering lost recordings above a hardware store in Puerto Rico somehow leads to you relocating to Cali, Colombia, discovering a wealth of musical talent and forming another band with Quantic and his Combo Barbaro. Do you see that as a pattern for yourself?
QUANTIC: I guess I am a listener first and foremost, I like sound in all its shades and tones. Early on I discovered that there was so much music in my neighbourhood that was sitting dormant in piles of vinyl. The experience and sensation of wading through all these discs and peering into each one’s sonic cache was ear opening. The experience was somewhat addictive for me, so no matter if I had piles of un-listened to records at home, I’d go out to find more. I guess as you listen more, your tastes deepen, and what started with Soul and Rock soon lead to Jazz and then eventually to West African and Latin American sounds. Collecting records was first a direct source from which to sample and chop up beats and loops, then as I progressed as a musician, it became an educative aid from which to learn through observation: horn arrangements, microphone placements, mixing and panning.
KGNU: Do you have a sense of where the Quantic journey may lead next?
QUANTIC: Mmmm… well the Quantic journey has been interesting alright… But not too sure, I’ve been using Cali as a base to explore music in Brasil, Venezuela and Panama. I’d like to get to Angola this year. I travel a lot out of the necessity of needing to make a living and that usually lands me in less-left field locations, so most of my more ‘exotic’ destinations are usually out of personal curiosity. What I will say is that I’m very happy in Latin America, from the outset it might look like one thing, but the art & music close up is a whole other experience.
KGNU: Can you tell us how your experience in Cali, Colombia has changed since you first arrived there with the intent to record Tradition in Transition?
QUANTIC: Well, I’m over the holiday period! It’s now about really getting into the music here, as a record and as a producer. I came to Colombia to look for Cumbia records, but I found something far more interesting in Cali, Pacifico or Pacific coast music. Pacifico refers to Curulao & Chirimia amongst other styles, all that originate from the small coastal Afro-Colombian villages of the coast. In Cali this music has become urbanised, orchestrated, sampled and reinvented. But the essence of the music still carries the message of the people from this region, their customs and lifestyle. My singer Nidia Gongora (who recorded ‘Un Canto a Mi Tierra’ on the Combo record) is from Timbiqui and I find working with her a joy.
KGNU: Was your interest in vintage recordings seen as strange by people in Cali when you first arrived? Were people at all surprised that you were interested in the recordings you were into?
QUANTIC: Cali has a long-standing appreciation of vintage recordings, especially Salsa and Pachanga from the 60s and 70s on LP format. Old music is still heard a lot around the city and most of the popular songs played in the Salsa clubs are probably 30 or 40 years old. Catholicism may be first as a religion but ‘La Fania’ is not far behind and I see more pictures of Hector Lavoe in this city than Jesus!
That said, there is a whole spectrum of music that is very alien to people here, Afrobeat, spiritual Jazz, Soul, that sort of thing, but I think Cali people are pretty open to anything in the end, but it should always be remembered that they are truly Salsa lovers to the death.
KGNU: You’ve mentioned that at first you spent a lot of time focusing on the “original” classic artists and tracking them down and that your focus on that in some ways had you overlooking the youth of Colombian music and what’s happening there now. Can you give us a glimpse as to what that young pulse is?
QUANTIC: Sometimes when you have a record in your hands from a recording artist that you love, you start to think ‘Where there hell are they now?’. A lot of my recordings here started with that curiosity, people like Markittos Micolta, Alfredito Linares, Wilson Viveros. But then you start to think about all the young people who are coming up, who are just as talented… I think the best recordings are usually made with some super solid experienced players alongside younger fresher blood. After all, it’s about putting energy into the recording and trying to capture a certain energetic feel. At the end of the day, it’s about making a good record and the interesting thing about music is that you cannot see who made it. I mean, essentially to the listener, you could be black, white, old, young, its not important… its just the music that is judged. I’m working with a really great young clarinet player at the moment, who unfortunately just cut half of his finger with a circular saw…. I recorded him again the other day, he’s recovering, he’s having a little trouble playing but essentially is as badass as ever!
KGNU: What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable rising force of Cumbia? Do you recall the first time you were exposed to Cumbia?
QUANTIC: The first Cumbia record I heard was ‘Cumbia en Do Menor’ by Lito Barrientos, an El-Salvadorian band recorded in Colombia. I bought that record in Puerto Rico, after that I bought some records by Anibal Velasquez, who is now teaching me accordion…. funny how things turn out.
I always tell people that Cumbia is like the Reggae of Latin America, it really is universal and is one of the easiest things to dance to.
Reggae and Cumbia for me go hand in hand. It seems like it’s the second or third wave of Cumbia, Colombia… Panama… Mexico… Peru and now the United States! We’re all a little late to the party, but glad to be here!
KGNU: Even as far back as your early releases like Apricot Morning, there seemed to be a focus on international rhythms, how do you think that initially made it’s way into your music?
QUANTIC: My parents played a big influence in that, they were very open minded in my youth and took me to a lot of concerts, poetry, art and theatre. Nothing was ever discounted due to it being in another language or culturally different, I think both my mum and dad thrived on folk music from all over. That rubs off on you I guess. I have the same attitude, its just now I live in a world where its so much more easier to access music from other regions and put that into my own musical output. To be honest, I’m not really sure, but I’ve never been content to musically stand still, it’s only ever interesting to me if its changing.
KGNU: You’ve mentioned that you’re not defined by the music you create and that, for example your musical tastes span from Norwegian Black Metal to Dolly Parton. Do you ever feel compelled to create recordings based on your other more varied tastes?
QUANTIC: Yes, would love to, was thinking on working on a folk project soon, have been getting back into acoustic instruments.
KGNU: Second last question… What would you say to someone who is thinking of visiting Colombia?
QUANTIC: I’d recommend latin america as a whole, theres more to it than rough guides and backpacks. If you’re a music lover I’d recommend visiting a city when there a music festival on, for instance the Carnival in Barranquilla, Cali’s Petronio Alvarez Festival, Recife’s Carnival, Panama’s Carnival…. theres so much going on!
KGNU: Finally… How’s the accordion playing coming?
QUANTIC: Good, in the process of recording an accordion record at the moment. I think my neighbours might sue for repeated accordion exposure… but all is good (laughs). Thanks for the interview!