Taste Nasa and Gladius (also known as Leroy Clampitt and James Wong) are two New Zealand musicians who now work based out of Los Angeles - and have worked with a number of artists you’re probably familiar with. As well as working on their own tunes, they’ve also collaborated together - most famously creating the music for Justin Bieber’s song ‘Company’, lifted from his latest album, ‘Purpose’.
We recently asked James (who is also known as Jimmy) and Leroy to interview each other - they discussed how their production process works, what it was like creating the groove for Justin Bieber’s ‘Company’, and other important things…
JAMES WONG: What other New Zealand artists are you loving at the moment?
LEROY CLAMPITT: That’s a good question, because there’s a lot of them. I’m really into BoyBoy - who is my friend Sam who actually lives just down the road in Los Angeles. Him and I worked on his project together and he’s putting it out and it’s really enjoyable to listen to. I also like Chelsea Jade who’s just put out two singles from her album, which has been really nice to listen to. Also, So Below - the three people I’ve named live in the same house together in L.A., and the fourth person I’m going to name is Space Above, who also lives in that house. I just kind of like all the people that live in that house. What about you, James?
JAMES: I have to be biased, there is a song out at the moment by an artist named Ryan Enzed in New Zealand. It’s a song that we did last year - me, him, and another artist named Sahara Skye. So I’m quite into his stuff at the moment. As for stuff that’s not my own stuff, I’m really liking the music from Leisure. That stuff is really cool.
LEROY: I think everyone can jump on the Leisure boat.
JAMES: Totally. It’s so dope. So cool.
LEROY: Really clean-cut sound they got going on.
COUP DE MAIN: Can you each tell me about how you guys collaborated on Justin Bieber’s 'Company'?
LEROY: I don’t know if we can remember exactly how it started, but--
JAMES: I remember how it started.
LEROY: It was the bass-line?
JAMES: It was the bass-line.
LEROY: We should probably mention first that we were given just the vocal track. So it was just the vocals, it wasn’t Justin singing, it was one of the songwriters, Poo Bear (Jason Boyd) singing, and we just had that blank canvas to work with. We started with the bass-line which Jimmy came up with...
JAMES: Yeah. So we chucked the vocal in there, and then the bass-line came about over the top of that. What else happened? The groove just started coming together.
LEROY: Yeah. Did we try any different grooves or did we just--
JAMES: I think we just tried that-- honestly I was going for a DJ Mustard sort of vibe, but then it started turning into this sort of pop-funk song.
LEROY: When you combine those two things, it really makes something cool that we’re into. It’s a tricky process, because we each sit at the computer at one time, but at the same time we’re all helping each other out. For instance, there’s a vocal cut in there that I put in, and I thought it was crap, I was having a hard time and I walked away, and then Jimmy was like, “Wow, that’s really great,” and I was like, “Really?”, and then he was like, “Yeah,”--
JAMES: The affirmation.
LEROY: So I was like, “Okay, cool,” and then that was a thing. A similar thing happened when we put some acoustic guitar in, and we were like, “That acoustic guitar sounds wack,” and one of us jumped on and was like, “Let me try this,” and we turned it into a synthesizer, and then it was great.
JAMES: It did go through a few changes before it ended up the way it ended up.
LEROY: Jimmy, how does your production process work?
JAMES: Well the best way to answer that, is that it’s different every time. Depending on who I’m working with, some people come in and they already have ideas, sometimes I’ll come in and I’ll already have an idea, but it just depends on who it is. I usually adapt to the different style of songwriters that I work with. For example, if I’m working with Leroy over here, usually we’ll do it different every time, so there’s not really any way to-- it’s just different every time.
LEROY: You find, generally, like he says, sometimes someone will bring in something, but quite often you’ll start from scratch, which is a cool place for us to start because it’s very risky because if you start from scratch, you could come up with nothing. If you start from nothing you could end with nothing. But if you start with nothing, you could end with anything as well--
JAMES: That’s a great way to put it.
LEROY: That’s the cool thing. Generally you’ll sit down with people, and you kind of start throwing around an idea - and sooner hopefully rather than later, something happens where it just clicks. Someone says a line, then you’re like, “Damn, that’s sick!” or like you play a little keyboard thing and everybody’s like, “Oh my god that’s cool,” and they instantly start being inspired. There’s always one moment like that, that triggers, and then you’re off - and you don’t really know what’s going on, but it starts coming together. It’s a really cool place to be because you can just watch yourself creating it without having to think too much.
JAMES: Starting from scratch is definitely my favourite way to do it.
JAMES: How do you know when a song is complete?
LEROY: That’s a good question. It kind of gets to a stage-- essentially our job is a lot of the time, making demos, which is the really fun part about our job, we’re not making songs and then putting them out on our own to the world, we’re making songs and then they get sent to artists and their record labels. Essentially they have to decide whether it’s finished, so we can try anything. We can put in the dumbest thing and it would sound maybe really bad. For instance, I did a song with someone the other day and it’s just got gibberish in the chorus because the songwriter couldn’t think of any lyrics so he just mumbled, and sent it to the label, and the label loved it, and now it’s going out. Whereas if I was writing it, I’d be like, “No we have to finish that and re-write the lyrics,” but it’s one of those things where you come to terms with, nothing’s ever sort of fully complete, so you just please yourself, please everyone, and have a fun time.
JAMES: Wow, you said everything I was going to say. Pretty much, the last thing you said. It’s never complete. A song is never complete. It never gets to a place where you’re like, “Wow, it’s completely perfect,” because the imperfections are what make it so special and so unique. Let me think of an example... Sometimes we do songs and we know-- just tonight we just finished a mix and I realised that I hadn’t put any echoes in the last chorus, and it really doesn’t matter because no-one's going to know, unless it’s a completely different melody, or something’s musically different. It doesn’t really matter because the person on the street’s not going to care, as long as they can sing along to it, and they can dance to it, it’s all good.
LEROY: Okay, so I’m going to ask you this one. You co-wrote ‘I Lied’ (on the new Fifth Harmony album) - is that what it’s called?
LEROY: Cool name. I’ve just got say, if Jimmy can be one of my New Zealand artists? Because he helped write this song... It’s a really good song, really clever. So you co-wrote that, how did that come about?
JAMES: Well, this is actually a good story. There are these producers in L.A., they’re a group of producers, there’s four of them, and their team is called The Monsters And The Strangerz. Basically what happened was I got set up a meeting with them, and went and met them and they were like, “Hey, we’ve got this great track, and the vocal's done, everything’s written, but it doesn’t have a drop, doesn’t have a post-hook drop.” Funny enough, Jason Derulo, he was like, "You need to put this drop that Gladius and I did into the song, and it’s going to be a hit." So it was actually Jason Derulo’s idea for us to get together and put this song together. We did it, and he actually sung on it before Fifth Harmony did. I don’t know if I’m actually allowed to tell you that, whatever, it’s all good. They did their version and they liked it so much they wanted to put it on their album. So that’s pretty much it.
LEROY: Just to make sure, Jimmy’s producer name is Gladius. So Gladius has a reputation as a 'drop guy' in L.A. - Jason Derulo knows his drops as the Gladius-drops.
JAMES: He had heard another song I had already done that had already been placed with an artist, and the drop from it was just perfect for the Fifth Harmony song. So we kind of re-did it a little bit, and there you go. I don’t even know if I should say that, but it’s all good.
JAMES: What’s your favourite part about musical collaboration, Leroy?
LEROY: When the people leave their studio, and you’re on your own. <laughs> I don’t know, I’m really into not thinking too much about feelings until you have perspective on it. So I’ve been asked this question before, I never could answer it really - the best kind of answer I could think of… There’s two answers, but I’m going to choose this one. I like waking up in the morning and then turning on my laptop and listening to the song I made the day before with two complete strangers, or someone I know, or whatever. The song I made with a group of people, we’re together with collective consciousness, we came up with a new thing out of the blue - and I like having this thing in a song-format to listen to. I get a lot of joy from waking up in the morning, being like, “Whoah, that didn’t exist yesterday, and then three or four people, or two people got together, and now it exists.”
JAMES: That’s amazing.
LEROY: I don’t know if that’s a thing, but it’s the part I really like about musical collaboration because I couldn’t have done it on my own.
JAMES: That’s nice.
LEROY: What about you?
JAMES: Well I guess my favourite part would just be the fact that it’s pretty much what you said at the end there - I can only do so much on my own, but when you put yourself together with someone else, somehow, a chemical reaction happens and you come up with stuff that you ever thought you could. The other person might not even be that hands on, but the fact that they’re in the room is making you think a different way, it’s making you feel a different way, and you find yourself coming up with stuff that you would never normally come up with on your own, so that’s the most exciting part for me when it comes to collaboration.
LEROY: It’s all about feeling out people’s personalities - generally you only have one of your own personality, so when there’s three different opinions flying around, it’s... opinions are an ugly word, but three different thought-bubbles flowing around. It’s really cool to pick and choose which parts of people’s ideas you want to place to create this thing that everyone likes.
LEROY: What’s coming up in 2016 in your solo work? I’m releasing a single this year. Just one song. It’s probably going to be one of the best songs ever. It’s got a music video, I think it’s going to come out next month.
JAMES: I didn’t know that. That’s going to be dope.
LEROY: Yeah, I kind of like snuck and did it. It’s just one song. I’m not going to follow it up or anything, it’s not for an album, just a single. I don’t know if that came up as a joke when I said it was going to be the best song ever - you can say that I said that if you want. Do you have anything to mention?
JAMES: I guess, no.
LEROY: One day.
JAMES: If you want to rephrase the question for, what else is coming out in 2016 for me as a producer? Then I can say I have a song on Bebe Rexha’s album coming out, it’s called ‘Small Doses’ - I don’t know if I’m allowed to tell you that but I’m pretty sure I am. She posted it on her Snapchat. The other song that’s coming out is on Iggy Azalea’s album, that’s called ‘Three Day Weekend’.
LEROY: Got some deep cuts.
JAMES: What’s your spirit animal?
LEROY: Is a meme an animal? Because I think my spirit animal is a meme.
JAMES: That’s amazing. Wow.
LEROY: I’m just going to go with that.
JAMES: I might have to give a boring answer to this one.
LEROY: When we went sailing the other day - the seals?
JAMES: Oh man, yes, the sea dogs. They’re so cool.
LEROY: But wait, you can’t swim!
JAMES: That’s exactly why. I can’t swim, right. I love dogs, but seals... They were trying to get me to learn how to swim. They’ll guide me through the journey.
JAMES: If you could steal one thing without consequence, what would it be?
LEROY: Interesting, there’s so many cool things to steal in this world.
JAMES: Without consequence as well, that’s a big one - you don’t even get caught.
LEROY: You could say something easy like a Lamborghini. I’d steal a baby from someone who was poor and maybe couldn’t look after the baby, like they had it too young or something and they couldn’t handle it, and I would look after it and feed it, take care of it until the Mother was ready to take it back.
JAMES: Wow, that was the nicest theft I’ve ever heard of.
LEROY: Because if there’s no consequence, the Mother won’t feel bad about me taking it, and the baby will be happy. You couldn’t do that otherwise because the Mother would be like, “Ahh, my child!”
JAMES: Ah, Leroy, I was going to say something stupid like steal a World Cup or something like that. Some kind of World Cup.
LEROY: That’s the first thing I could think of after Lambourghini.
JAMES: I’d like to steal a franchise. I got a great one. There’s this Vegan fast-food place in L.A. called Vege Grill. I’d like to steal one of those places and I guess I wouldn’t manage it but it would be mine.
LEROY: I guess the perks would be that you get it all the time.
JAMES: And I could pretend I worked there. Maybe clean the toilets.
LEROY: You could have parties there.
JAMES: Vege Grill parties. Please give me Vege Grill for life.
LEROY: What’s your favourite pop song of all time?
JAMES: I’m going to go with - and by the way this changes every second - the first one that came to my head, ‘September’ by Earth, Wind & Fire. I guess it’s old-school pop. It was either that or ‘Ignition (Remix)’ by R. Kelly.
LEROY: Both are really good.
JAMES: Just good old pop songs. And you my friend, what is your favourite pop song?
LEROY: I could answer this with so many different answers, but I’m just going to go straight up the guts - ’Toxic’ by Britney Spears, but I found this really cool version on YouTube which has the original vocalist, the person who wrote the song with the songwriters, and it’s really amazing. Britney is really awesome and I love her performance, but I’m really into this undercover one that was only meant to show for Britney - it’s really cool, Cathy Dennis is the vocalist, you can really feel it and they came up with something very special that day and you can hear it in the voice.
JAMES: That’s really cool.
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Watch Justin Bieber’s music video for ‘Company’ below…