ABOVE: JAMES HINTON, AKA THE RANGE. PHOTO COURTESY OF EVAN WILLIAM SMITH
A farmer’s son turned math-savvy Ivy Leaguer, James Hinton is one of electronic music’s most exciting new talents. “New,” of course, is a relative term. Known by alias The Range, Hinton, 25, has been making music since he was a 13-year-old farmhand in Pennsylvania. Now with a degree in physics from Brown University, he lives as an urban recluse in Providence, RI.
Blending footwork’s frenetic percussiveness with velvety R&B grooves, high-key piano twinklings, and chilling vocal distortions, Hinton manages to stand out in an increasingly saturated genre. His sound is equal parts intrapersonal and extroverted, subdued and garish. Even for EDM novices, Hinton orchestrates hypnotic melodies and musical parentheses that are quickly accessible to all tastes.
Hinton released his sophomore LP, Nonfiction, in October to critical acclaim. The album marks his full-length debut with the UK’s Donky Pitch, with whom he has two EPs, Seneca and disk. The whole of the project is unpretentious, forthright, and elegant. There is nothing sterile about Nonfiction‘s infectiousness.
We caught up with Hinton after a busy holiday weekend to discuss the LP, getting lost in the “YouTube hole,” and why he refuses to live in New York.
NAME: James Hinton (The Range)
HOMETOWN: Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
WHY NOT NEW YORK: I think New York’s a great place for people that are already established, I suppose, but Providence has always been a place for me to be removed from that and really focus on my music. The culture has been really influenced by lightning bolt and analog electronic stuff, and that kind of grittiness and sound certainly has also influenced the way I think about music. Perhaps it’s even a pull-back away from that, a response to it.
MUSIC VS. MATH: I’ve always been interested in math, and I never was able to focus in on one, so I’ve always just done music and something in math and physics. After projectile motion, I just became enamored with it and studied cosmology at school. I did study electronic music, as well, but I only ended up majoring in physics. I think that is reflected in my music a little bit. Nonfiction is really about the fact that I haven’t read a fiction book in probably—I can’t remember the last time—maybe seven years or something. It’s a reflection on that duality.
ON “THE RANGE”: Everyone kind of has this hyper focus on genre. [With The Range], I wanted to be sure I removed myself from that conversation, but also [to incorporate] this idea of math being an important part of my music. It might not be super obvious, but I’m using polyrhythm and syncopation in a really intentional way that helps me insure that read of my music. The songs themselves, they’re very melodic, but there is a lot of delicate percussion stuff going on.
WORKING WITH DONKY PITCH: It’s been a really cohesive sort of relationship where they’ve been onboard with pretty much everything. I’ve been quite happy they’ve been willing to grow with me and not keep me in the same box where I started. The process is definitely very singular—it begins with me and my computer—but I think, in a sense, knowing that they were going to be really supportive whereas a lot of record labels are way, way more hands-on… that freedom, maybe it’s even a subconscious thing, [but] it certainly is a really helpful process for any artist.
“NONFICTION”: I see a lot of the footwork rhythm being generally centered around the tempo at 160, whereas a lot of the club music that’s going on right now is at 130. It forces you either to work in the halftime version where you’re kind of forcing there to be a lot of space, or it allows you to really explore weird tempos where your rhythm starts to broach being on randomness. I find [Nonfiction] to be trying to explore that boundary that’s forced on you because of the tempo, similar to what jungle did in the ’90s, I suppose. But it’s still important to me that I am working aesthetically and working with voice and trying to make sure that the songs stand out while pushing that boundary.
SAMPLE SCROUNGING: The main thing I find most often grabs my attention is the weird part of something that is completely unrelated to a particular song or sample. Someone at some point had to put that in there. It’s super weird, and it’s super intentional, and I like to kind of strip that away and see what it could have done if it wasn’t involved in the original incarnation—if I could reframe it or take it in another way.
THE “YOUTUBE HOLE”: Some of the more productive sessions are ones where I just happen to be not even with a project open and I’m not even trying to make music, I just find a song or someone linked to something and then I click and eventually I find something completely away from the music process, but I enjoy it. I do spend way too much time on YouTube, for sure.
HOW TO LISTEN: It’s really important to me that the music works well played out in a club setting, but when I’m making music, a huge part of my process is getting it out of the computer and being able to go walk around Providence. You want someone to be actively listening to your music because you feel that there’s a lot of important stuff that you need to be paying attention to, but I think that’s unrealistic in 2013. For me, it’s a great compliment that people are comfortable with it in that setting where they can take a run, they can take a walk, and still have sections pop out where it’s super enjoyable. I don’t think I’ve intended on either; it’s important to me that both are valid.
NEW YORK’S TO-DO: My favorite thing to do in New York? Honestly, it’s always the place where I get to see my friends. It’s called Little Brother. It’s this barbeque spot right across the street from my friend’s house. It’s right next to Astro Nautico [in Brooklyn], so to be able to get in and have a really nice space that feels comfortable for me is my favorite thing.