A-Trak’s Spin Zone

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At 15, A-Trak was a world champion DJ. By 20, he was touring the world as Kanye West’s mix master — just the two of them on stage in front of thousands of people. Now, Montreal native Alain Macklovitch has branched out on his own to start Fool’s Gold, his own record label who boasts artist like Chicago party-starting rapper Kid Sister (also his girlfriend) and Atlanta-based producer/DJ Treasure Fingers. No longer someone’s else’s DJ, A-Trak is turning the tables on what a scratch DJ can be with the release of his first proper disc, Running Man: Nike+ Original Run, a 45-minute piece of original music commissioned by Nike. I spoke to A-Trak from his new Williamsburg apartment about establishing himself as a producer, making people run, and getting a degree from Kanye U.

So what’s going on with you right now, are you touring a lot? I was, and then I stopped. I took a break for July to do a bunch of recording. But I spent all of May in Europe, and then June I came back for a little bit and then back out there for two weeks. And then I just came back here to record stuff.

How’s the release of the new album going? It’s going good, man, I’m excited. It’s my first release, my first record. For all the years I’ve been DJing, people will be like “hey, I like your stuff, where can I go buy the record” or something, and I would always be like, “Well, I produced the beat on the B-track of this vinyl, I got some scratch records if you want, and I did a remix for some German guy.” Now there’s actually a record, right now, you got it. And for me to actually record the thing and produce it took many months, and a lot of banging my head against the wall. So now that it’s out it’s definitely a big sigh of relief.

So how did you make it, because this is a record with a specific purpose. It’s supposed to make people want to run. I could give you all these guidelines, as far as the pacing, time, and how to organize your 45 minutes.

Did Nike give you very technical guidelines? No, it’s actually kind of vague. Basically, it’s just timelines that give you a general idea of what pacing and energy level to have throughout the 45 minutes, as it relates to a run that’s that long, and then it’s kind of up to you to do what you want with the music, to provide that effect. And for me, on the composition side you could say, I basically made five tracks and connected them all together.

Was there a lot of trial and error? Yeah. It wasn’t really like making one long song. I deconstructed it into segments and then stretched each one of them out to be like seven, eight, nine minutes. And it’s only within the last week of the whole process that I finally was able to put them back-to-back and listen to it in the right order.

Did you listen to the ones made by LCD Soundsystem and Aesop Rock to get an idea of where to take it? Oh yeah, the LCD one especially. And that’s how I got the idea, I listened to theirs and was like, “Okay, well this is just four or five songs stretched out.” So I did the same thing.

Did they approach you to do this? Yeah. They approached me like a year ago, and I had less of my own production out, so I was super excited. That was my main mission for last year, to establish myself as a producer. On one hand to get the Kid Sister record out, on the other hand to do remixes.

Did you learn anything from Kanye West as far as production goes? I learned more from him about time management than actual production. Just a sense of, I would have two days off during a tour and block everything out and just go in the studio and do nothing else. For a long time I was just managing myself, so every day I would have a bunch of calls and e-mails and other stuff to do, and I would just try to find two or three hours to do music. But seeing him, I was like, that’s how you do it. In terms of actual production, he never showed me anything first hand, but it was cool to go in the studio with him many times and see just how much of a perfectionist is.