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Vermont-based musician and producer James Hinton, aka The Range, has returned with his first record in six years, Mercury. To celebrate the new release, The Range spoke with VMP via email about making his latest record, sample discovery and his Mercury-inspired home listening mix.
Releasing music as The Range, Hinton’s last album, Potential, came out in 2016. In the years between then and his latest album, 2022’s Mercury, the subtle changes of everyday life to the larger ones — like his relocation from the bustling city life in New York to the quiet woods of Vermont — spurred moments of introspection for the producer and DJ. In his new album, Hinton expresses a sprawling range of emotions that resonate deeply, from feelings originating in loneliness and burnout to the uplifting journey that comes afterward. It’s an album that flourishes through Hinton’s ability to string together seemingly disparate samples and sounds to communicate more than just any singular work could do.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
VMP: You released your last album, Potential, in 2016. Conceptually, what was the process with starting Mercury? What prompted you to revisit the production of an album and how has the process changed for you since Potential?
The Range: When I finished Potential, I knew I had kind of finished the thesis defense of my process with sampling vocals. I knew that I wanted to see how much further I could push myself with finding new ways of manipulating vocals, not just in the foreground, but all throughout the picture. I kept thinking about the ethereal music I loved and I wanted to be able to wring as much emotion out of each sample that I found, both lyrically and with regard to lots of different uses of the inherent timbre.
With that in mind, I went to work with my usual process of chasing feelings as quickly as possible and then trying to think creatively of ways to manipulate the limited sample material I had in each song.
Lastly, I think this album was quite interesting in that I actually ran out of videos associated with my search terms that I use on YouTube at one point, which is something I didn’t think was possible, given the scale of the internet. That contributed to it taking a little bit longer to finish the album this time, as I had to branch out to the new places that people were posting themselves singing, and I had to adapt to the different algorithms on Instagram and Periscope. I think it’s the best and worst part of my process, in that I get to see the full breadth of the human experience through these huge platforms, but I’m also kind of at the mercy of any changing winds that might come in at any time, such as what happened with people largely migrating towards Instagram during the recording of Mercury.
In your new album and with your previous work, you’ve taken the approach of curating samples across Instagram and YouTube for their lyrical content to, in a way, vocalize your emotions and give yourself a voice beyond the sonic aspects of your music. How did this come into play when crafting the narrative behind Mercury?
It's interesting because the overarching narrative of albums always comes as a result of the aggregation of songs for an album over time. It’s amazing that a narrative always does emerge and I like to think of it as this interesting 40-minute slice that represents the whole duration from the time my last album came out to the end of recording this one.
When I listen back to the album now, I mostly see a picture of a pretty difficult time in my life where I was trying to grapple with a bunch of big changes all at the same time. I had left New York and moved to the woods in Vermont, which in retrospect was a bit of a double shock in both leaving a pretty vibrant social life and then coming to terms with mostly being alone for long stretches of time. I think a song like “Urethane” is a good example of how I tend to work with my samples to narrate things I find difficult to articulate myself. I just remember it being the dead of winter in early 2019 and not having seen anyone in a very long time and feeling completely forgotten. Those lyrics feel like an attempt at finding resolution to force myself out of that state.
Did you already know what direction you wanted to take when making the album or was it something you discovered along the way?
Outside of that instinct to try to push myself technically I was very much following my instincts as I usually do. I think because of my process my albums already take on a concept whether I like it or not and when I’m writing individual songs I’m much more thinking about chasing the feeling of a melody line, or a great vocal line, or a drum idea and trying to paint the canvas as quickly as I can. I like that as an artifact of that process my albums have lots of nooks that develop because of the idiosyncrasies of the making of each song.
I think that if I set out to make a more pure concept album I’d run the risk of thumbing out the wick of each song in service of the album.
Moving on to your mix, is there a significance to the way you discovered any of these tracks, in the same way you’ve discovered samples for Mercury?
Very much so — that was the theme of this mix. All of the songs were discovered while going down some sort of rabbit hole online at some point. I’ve started to do a very similar thing when on long train rides … endlessly chasing related artists until I find something that I really like that I had never heard of before.
At the moment, I’m really excited by the feeling of warehouse garage from the ’90s, so while not all of these tracks are directly from that period, I think they all tend to give me that same nostalgic feeling.
Sometimes, I will find myself in a fugue state where I’m just searching for music for hours on end and posting the screenshots on Instagram, and a lot of these are from those times that I can’t really remember with the exception of the screenshot.
And as you worked on this mix, did you find yourself specifically finding tracks to include or did you work on this in a way that was more freestyle?
I knew there were a few songs that I really wanted to form the base of the mix, CiM as the midpoint and “Anytime” by Nu-Birth as the apogee. Then, I was pulling songs to support my way to those points in the set.
What influenced the sound on the mix? Is there any specific track or artist featured on the mix that’s a favorite of yours?
I think because I grew up loving ’90s kind of IDM and break music, I have a nostalgia for that time frame, since I was too young and mostly in the wrong country to experience it. I keep thinking that I will get over it at some point, but the nostalgia just keeps broadening.
It’s tough to pick a favorite since there are so many relatively new discoveries to me, but I think my favorite idea has to be CiM. I know that was actually a big record to a lot of my cohort, but I think I was just young enough to completely miss it. It felt like a totally fresh discovery to me and I remember listening to it basically on loop for three days straight when I first heard it.
Lake People: “Point in Time”
Cameo Blush: “True”
Baba Stiltz: “TMTM”
Forces of Nature: “Tell Me”
Janeret: “Beyond (The Range Edit)”
Closet Yi: “Veilside”
DJ Pierre: “Box Energy”
Anna: “Hidden Beauties”
Coffintexts: “Into It”
freq444: “Lost Flight”
Jillian's origin story began with jam sessions to early 2000s Eurodance tunes, resulting in her current self-proclamations as an EDM aficionado. Jillian has followed her favorite artists to over 15 music festivals and countless concerts.