At first glance, reinterpreting seems like cheating, it is frowned upon by the masses as a cheap way of writing a song. What many don’t realize is this is how the pros in nearly every genre work. Using re-contextualization of a part can be one of the ways a genre opens up to new creative doors. In reality, if you are creative enough to make something new from your original source material, that is what separates the men from the boys.
While this practice is not emberassing in the Hip-Hop or Dance world, the Rock world has it’s hand in the cookie jar in a more disguised way. The saying, “Stealing from our favorite thieves”, is the ultimate trueism. If you don’t believe me do some investigating:
- Take a listen to the bridges in Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You Been Gone” and The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps”
- Take a listen to some early Modeselektor and then Radiohead “Hail To The Thief”
- David Bowie is associated with a qoute that goes “It’s not who does it first, it’s who does it best”. A reinterpreters motto if I have ever heard one.
- If you are fan of LCD Soundsystem listening to some late 70′s/early 80′s dico funk may really open up your eyes!
The most basic form of reinterpreting a sample is taking a track you like the feeling of and replaying it. As illustrated in our Daft Punk post, this works for many a band. The ones who are really good at it make it so you can never even spot them. Famously, Dr. Dre hired a slew of great session musicians to replay all the songs he had written with samples in order to avoid paying out for all of his heavy sampling, a technique he innovated on his early N.W.A. work. There are many tricks to making this work for you be it varying the melody or rhythm of the original work or drastically modifying the tempo (works for Justice).
The next level of this is to build the song from a single instrument you liked in one song. Many rock bands will take a loop into say an MPC 2000 and jam on top of it until they create something that works with the loop. The original loop may never be included in the main song, but you are able to build a feeling that works with the element you liked from the original song.
Some people know they have diverse enough influences that when they recontextualise the song they are working from, it will never be spotted. One of the main keys to a good reinterpretation is to have diverse enough influences that people do not hear it as being a generic rip off. If you are stealing from the biggest bands in your genre, everyone is going to know it. However when you are a Dance artist stealing from Frank Zappa you are able to create something intersting. However when you steal from within your genre you end up with a generic-inbreeding-cess-pool like this one (just watch the choruses)…. First you have:
Then you get this:
Followed by the horror of this:
When you are young and don’t have a lot of influences yet, it is easy to get caught in this mold. If you are going to rip off another artist, practice varying up your parts enough that people can’t recognize the parts. Tell someone where you stole the riff from and see if it is still recognizable and if it is, face the facts and go back to the drawing board. Happy reinterpreting!