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Interview | Hummingbird Tapes

When caught in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s often difficult for musicians to let go and freely create. What if they had the chance to get away from it all and work with like-minded people in a tropical place? Thanks to Hummingbird Tapes, now they do, and it results in both organically-created music and an increased sense of artist community.

Michael Beckhart is one of the founding members Hummingbird Tapes, a nonprofit artist collective that hosts isolation sessions that allow artists to create and collaborate in beautiful places. Their latest release, Fever, came out on February 28th. It consists of two upbeat, funky songs that celebrate the electric feeling of falling in love. What makes this EP really special, however, is the story of how it was made. Blisspop had the opportunity to talk with Michael about Fever, how Humminbird Tapes began, and where their collective is headed in the future.

Tell us more about the inspiration behind Hummingbird Tapes and how it all got started.

I’m currently a student at the Berklee College of Music, and I met some friends here who were from around the same city that I grew up in. The summer after our first year I decided to invite them to my home in San Miguel de Allende, which is about 3-4 hours north of Mexico City. They all came over and we locked ourselves up in a house for a week to make music. At that point, the intention was just to have a good time and do something productive. Out of this came our first isolations session, Dusk Stays. We had so much fun that a year later we decided to do the same thing again but we invited some more people to join us. At that point, we realized were doing something really special. There was a certain synergy going on — when you realize that you only have a week to create a compilation of songs, you’re able to let go of any prejudices you have towards yourself and let yourself explore musical creativity with everyone else in the room. Time constraints also make a big difference because when you’re limited on time, you’re way more likely to commit to one idea and dive right into what you’re making.

In the beginning we were more focused around the artist collective idea—we were really inspired by what’s happening in hip-hop and how collectives are bringing themselves up. It turned out to be a bit too broad of an idea to pull off at first, however, so we decided to revolve the project around these isolation sessions. Hummingbird Tapes summarized is, “A one-week trip to a remote place to disconnect from the world for musicians to collaborate and make music together.” That’s pretty much our elevator pitch there.

Who were the artists involved in Fever and how did it all come together?

Fever took place in May of 2018 in Ticumán, the first time we tried [it] in a new place. There were five collaborators: myself, Diego Valencia, Marie Elodie, Fabian Garduño, and Miguel Szekely. Each artist has their own unique style and independent projects, so there were a lot of great and different sounds. We had one day to set up and made music for four days. We started by sitting in a circle and talking about how we were feeling, where we were in our lives, and how we wanted to show that with music. It was both relieving and revealing to get on the same level with everyone — I feel like it definitely made everyone more vulnerable during the week. We also passed around a sheet to see which genres we wanted to focus on, and funny enough we were all gravitating towards electronic music. The first day we jammed we came up with a folk-rock kind of thing but decided we had to stick to the idea we originally decided upon. That’s when we came up with the first track on Fever, “Closer”. “Fever in Me” came about on the third day and we also used its title to name the EP.

The cool thing about our creative process is that you get what you give — there were moments where I needed a break so I would go for a swim, and everyone else would keep working on the song. I could reconnect two hours later, and two other people would go relax while I jump in where they left off. It was awesome how we were all very sharing with the song, and I think that it was very important. It made it easy to add in or change things, and every time I came back it was like, “Wow, I can’t believe you did that with my idea!” It’s very important to say yes to everything and make everyone feel like they’re being heard.

Going into the more musical side of things, what is the vision behind Fever? What did you want to make people do?

We wanted to make people dance, feel lively, and provide a sense of nightlife. Between the two songs, “Closer” is kind of disco-funky and “Fever in Me” feels a little more on the EDM side of things. In terms of production and songwriting, both songs follow traditional song-form, with solos and certain sections around them that we tried to make sound unique. Both of the songs have romantically-inclined lyrics, but in different ways. “Fever in Me” is about the ecstasy that a person can feel from another when they’re in love or falling in love. “Closer” is more surrounding infatuation and attraction.

Do you think you will use this isolation session as a model for future ones?

This is definitely going to be a model. We’ve learned a lot going through these isolations, the first one happened very organically and the second one we did, Soaked, taught us a lot about timing. We did it in three days so it was very intense and rushed. For Fever we added a set-up day, which gave us a lot more time and made us feel less rushed. We also committed to making less tracks to make more of the ones we have, which was an agreement made amongst the musicians. This third session was a pivoting point in terms of our hosting logistics. We really want to continue learning from these isolation sessions in order to improve them in the future.

I notice that all of the isolation sessions so far have been in Mexico. Do you plan on expanding and trying out new places, or do you think that its starting place is something core to Hummingbird Tapes?

We do want to go to other places outside of Mexico. The main reason why we’ve chosen Mexico is out of convenience — the locations we’ve chosen are largely based on where we have country houses right now. It’s also easier to do a lot of things like get a car, grocery shop for the week, and everything else that goes into having a good vacation. As of now we’re a non-profit, so all the musicians get to keep 100% of their royalties and copyrights of the music. That’s something we offer to them — all we ask in exchange is that the music be released under the collective artist name, Hummingbird Tapes. We’re looking into hosting sessions in New England and possibly Europe. The mission of this project is to unify people through music and celebrating differences by working together. We feel like taking it to different places will definitely promote that unity.

How often do you plan on hosting the isolation sessions ideally?

Ideally, three a year. Our 4th isolation session just happened this winter, and we hope to have our 5th and 6th by the end of 2019. We would really like to see it grow in terms of the collaborators.

If there was an artist that wanted to get involved or collaborate with Hummingbird Tapes, what would the process be for that?

We eventually want to open up an application process, but as of now we want to keep it personal for everyone included. We’re trying to create a community and bring musicians closer to each other. There are a lot of factors that go into deciding who would come with us such as current location, musical style, and ability to travel and spend a week making music with strangers. For now, just follow our Instagram page and send us a DM showing us what you have — we’d be happy to see what we can work out.

How did you come up with the name Hummingbird Tapes?

During Dusk Days, the backyard of the home we were staying at would always be filled with hummingbirds. We wrote the song “Hummingbird Dreams” because they would be all around the garden while we were up late making music. Fabian Garduño is really into the nostalgic factor of tapes and physical copies of music. When we’d take a break we would sit down and listen to a full-length record on his cassette player. At some point, we got really inspired by it and played some of our music through empty cassette tapes. There are moments in the first and second releases where the music runs through cassette. We decided to use “hummingbird” to honor the place it started, and “tapes” for the way we listened to the music there. At the beginning of every EP, there’s a sample taken from the place we were in, and a sample of the music recorded on tape that week hidden somewhere in the song. It’s something we’ve coined and put in as a signature.

Hummingbird tapes have another isolation happening this summer and more planned for the future. They also have some other really exciting things in store, but for now that’s top secret! If you’re interested in learning more about the isolation sessions or want to know more about the work of each collaborator involved, head over to their website. They’re also on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Soundcloud. Listen to Fever on Spotify below!