Leigh Ryan (aka Plutonic Lab) is an ARIA nominee (as one half of group Muph & Plutonic) and a UK Mercury Prize winner, for his work with Speech Debelle. He is also currently the tour drummer for multi platinum & award winning group Hilltop Hoods.
Plutonic Lab’s eclectic music production has provided the backdrop for a vast number of artists with over 80 releases locally and internationally on several record labels including work with Notes To Self (Canada), G-Love (US), Renee Geyer, Dialectrix, Drapht, Hilltop Hoods, Wiley (UK), Speech Debelle (UK), Task Force (UK), Fat Lip (Pharcyde), Eternia (Canada), The Grouch & Eligh (US), amongst many, many more.
Now after more than a decade he has announced the release of his new solo project “Deep Above The Noise” which is out on June 17 via Wax Museum Records. The 12 track album showcases Plutonic Lab’s production with featured guests including Guilty Simpson, Miles Bonny, Coma-Chi and more.
What are your earliest memories of music?
Probably my Dad playing Jazz, he was a Hammond player and played gigs on weekends. I grew up in a house with a dedicated “music room” we had all kinds of instruments laying around. My Dad actually played music right up until he passed.
What led you into Hip Hop production?
I was making music in a friend’s home studio in the early 90’s and playing gigs in rock and reggae bands etc. I met an MC who had recently moved here from LA. He really made me interested in making beats & also kinda educated me on Hip Hop culture. It didn’t take much to transfer what I was already doing in the studio to beat making and I became hooked on it pretty quickly…like it was the thing that had been missing in my life.
Who were your musical influences coming up?
Late 80’s – early 90’s rap, Ice Cube, Ice T, De La, Tribe, Beatminerz, Mobb Deep etc. The MC I mentioned would get beat tapes from his friends back in LA, those were hugely influential on me.
What equipment did you first use compared to what you are using now?
Tascam reel to reel & mixer, ASR10, Atari computer (just midi), it was all hardware back then, now days you could probably do what you could back then with a room full of gear on a Mackbook. I use a mixture of real instruments, hardware and a computer. Native Instruments Maschine is my weapon of choice.
When did you realise you could make music as a career?
I was always told I couldn’t, my family were kinda working class and I think they wanted me to learn a trade. But conversely they bought my first drum kit for me when I was 10, so they were both supportive too. I always thought I would just do it no matter what, persistence kinda paid off I guess. When I was consistently playing drum gigs I thought I could probably carve out an existence with music.
Outside of your own music you tour as the drummer for Hilltop Hoods what have been some of your most memorable moments in your time with them?
Playing venues I had seen bands play as a kid…like Festival Hall….right up to Rod Laver Arena! That’s an amazing feeling, I remember doing a Hip Hop festival in Adelaide in 96 that they played at, so to be part of that, to see the boys achieve all that is mind blowing. Touring the States and Europe a bunch of times has been incredible, we did 6 weeks on a sleep on tour bus in North America a few years back with 2 Canadian DJs (Rhek & Brand) an MC & DJ from Minnesota (Sims of Doomtree) and the rest of the crew…amazing times I’ll never forget, I couldn’t think of a better bunch of humans to do it with either.
Do you think being a drummer has helped you with your own production?
I think coming from more of a muso background has informed my beat making in general for sure, probably in subtle ways too, like the way I’ll record a take of just hi-hats & cymbals over a beat so I can humanize it a little. A lot of my producer heroes don’t play any instruments though, I don’t think it’s important one way or the other, I love to program drums!! It seems more prevalent for more traditional musicians to take up beat production these days.
It’s been over 10 years since your last solo album why the delay and how have you found the process of releasing your own music now compared to back then?
I think when Muph & Plutonic kinda took off I became less interested in my solo stuff, it’s like all the albums I’ve made since “Codes” I feel are kinda like my records, so my solo stuff seemed redundant because I never really went hard on trying to get beat placements…I was always much more interested in taking on an entire record…so I treated them as my own. I guess it fulfilled the need to push my own records. I’m much more grateful these days, to be able to do this, I’ve had some pretty humbling moments. 2013 is perhaps my “lost weekend”.
The album has an eclectic list of guests what did they each bring to their featured tracks?
I’ve been really lucky with all the guests on it, I think the beat selection suited each feature really. The hardest but most rewarding feature was probably Coma-Chi, I went to Japan and borrowed a studio to do the session, we even had to play around with the lyrics, because she wanted to sing in English but rap in Japanese. It’s probably my favourite track, “The Notes To Self” joint is another favourite, we’ll definitely be working together again.
What do you want the listener to take away from “Deep Above The Noise”?
This record was a chance for me to get some other sides to my sound out there, hopefully it still packs the emotional quality of “Codes” but also updates the listener of where I’m taking it. I feel it’s just the start of the next chapter. I got the feeling fans used the last record as a kind of soundtrack, instrumental records will let you in, because you yourself can fill in the blanks and find meaning in the music. I hope that happens with this LP too.
You have previously released music on Obese and Nuffsaid now the new album is coming out via Wax Museum. With the recent closure of Obese how important is it still to have an outlet to support an artists release given the digital age?
You still need good people around you, you CAN do it yourself these days, but I think certain things may suffer without relinquishing some of the control and let people do what they do best. I don’t think it’s possible to write, record, produce, mix a record, market it, be a publicist and a distributor alone… that’s mental. You need people that are good at what they do too.
What one MC would you most like to hear over a Plutonic Lab beat?
I would have loved to have produced for Saafir, I think it would have been a dope fit.
Out of all the artists you have worked with which one did you feel you had the most chemistry with?
Ooh one?, no matter who I say it’s gonna upset someone right? Ha. probably Dan (Muph), but also Dtrix & Jess are up there too. That question is hard, I like to think I can only really make something good with someone I can vibe with.
You have a long distinguished catalogue what has been your favourite release and why?
“Sounds To Expire To” “Axis” and “Cold Light Of Day” each of those records feel like they’re the closest to how I wanted them to sound. Each of those I feel were kinda fresh to the local scene too. I’m really attached to all the records I’ve worked on though. I think the M&P releases were really innovative, I can hear echoes of them in groups like Horrorshow etc, I think Dan really paved the way for that style of MC here.
For those not familiar what 5 singles / albums do you feel best represent Hip Hop from Australia?
Briggs – Bad Apples
Maundz – Maundzilla
Sampa The Great – Blue Boss
Hilltop Hoods – Rumble Young Man Rumble
Dialectrix – New Generation
How would you describe the Plutonic Lab sound?
Drum heavy, atmospheric, hypnotic, emotion dictates structure.
What was the best piece of advice ever given to you?
Don’t give up!!, and no-one cares more about your shit than you do, so don’t leave it up to someone else haha
What does the future hold for Plutonic Lab?
I’m just starting the engines back up again, I have a bunch of new projects on the horizon. I’m particularly excited to continue the “Fieldnotes” project, which is a photography/record book series, and some dope collaborations on the boil.
What’s your definition of Grindin’?
Work hard on your efforts, that doesn’t mean up in people’s faces with it, but grind because you are compelled to.
Interview by Duggs.