Inception to Mixdown: The Mouse Outfit on their latest labour of love, I Wonder

Since the release of their debut full-length album Escape Music in 2013, hip-hop collective The Mouse Outfit have gone from strength to strength; their diligence in the studio and on the road gradually reaping its rewards. Repeat listens to their latest single release I Wonder, featuring vocals from IAMDDB and Fox, reveal the depth and intricacy of its multi-layered beat, supple synth bass line and gorgeous electric piano sequence. We were keen to hear more about the making of this instant classic, so turned to its creators to ask about the writing and production process, as well as the individual contributions that make the track stand out.

Chini, you seem to have been in the driving seat for I Wonder, overseeing the track’s instrumental components, its arrangement and vocal recordings. Did the track originate from a sample, beat or concept and how quickly did it progress from the initial idea to a near-complete recording?

Chini: This one took quite a while actually! There are no samples – over several months we built upon a drum beat I programmed, layering up recordings of musicians, trying different bass lines, synth parts and structural arrangements with Metrodome until we had something we were really happy with. Once IAMDDB & Fox had been recorded we then looked at beat again with fresh ears and added the bells and whistles to fit the track around the vocals.

Are your peers in Manchester’s urban music scene; those who feature on this and other Mouse Outfit tracks, direct inspiration for your work as it takes shape, or do you seek inspiration from further afield, or even non-musical sources?

We’re surrounded by so many great producers and musicians in Manchester it’s inevitable that their sound will impact our own. We also try to keep an ear to the ground of new music being made around the world – it’s always inspirational to hear people pushing the boundaries. If we really want to work with a vocalist we might try to create a beat for them specifically but more often than not we just get in the studio and go wherever the track takes us…

There are three keyboardists listed on the track: Ashley Henry, who’s been making waves in the capital with his trio, Liviu Gheorghe who plays in tons of Manchester projects and Matt Wilmot to boot. Can you give us an insight into their respective contributions to the track; is it a chord per player during that opening progression, or are their contributions introduced stage-by-stage as the tune develops?

The main piano riff was by Ashley Henry and he was there at the start of the process. Liviu and Matt were brought in when the track was nearly finished to add some more layers and textures.’

Do the group work quickly in the studio, and was this tune exceptional when compared with your usual working practice, or did it follow a tried and tested route?

There is an element of luck as to how fast things progress. Some tracks, like I Wonder can take many months. Other times, we might have a few recording sessions in a week with different musicians and vocalists who are all feeling particularly creative and inspired by the other individuals involved. When everyone hits there stride together we can get a demo together in a matter of days.

Metrodome was on hand to mix and master the cut; did that stage of the process take place in the same room as the recording, or do you always give the tune a run through a few systems and take it to places with different outboard gear etc. when you’re nearing the end of the process?

Metrodome has been a big part of the creative process for our latest tracks. Mainly he has added effects (reverbs/delays/filters etc) to existing recordings, added drums/synth and helped bring the arrangements to life. On some tracks he has written basslines/keys/guitar and been more involved in the writing. 

The mix is usually developed whilst the track is being produced and yes usually in the same studio. We always try to listen back on other speakers in other spaces and in the van etc.

IAMDDB is taking over at present and her contributions are characteristically flawless. Did you have any sway over hers and Fox’s contributions to the track or do you tend to give MC’s and vocalists free reign when they hop on a track?

Yeah IAMDDB is smashing it at the moment and I’m sure a the rest of Manchester (including ourselves) could learn from her work rate and approach. Generally we let vocalists try whatever they like on tracks and if we are happy with the results then we keep them as they are. If we are not fully liking the results then we may suggest amendments or suggest that they rewrite certain sections. In this case IAMDDB wrote some lyrics without us giving her any direction. The chorus came about after she repeated a few lines of her verse the studio and we suggested that it might work as a chorus.’

The track is up on Bandcamp and iTunes now; can we expect it to feature on a forthcoming full length or is it destined for something different?

The track will be available on our forthcoming album, which we’re hoping to release in early 2018.

Finally, is there anyone else you want to shout out in relation to the track and music video?

Big thanks to Jay Bannister and Marcus Gillard for their work on the video.

The Mouse Outfit’s first December show is now SOLD OUT, tickets for their second show on 8th December are available here.