Out of Utrecht, Netherlands, The Night Service Commute has been making a cinematic brew of liminal noir and lo-fi hip hop with a strong minimal aesthetic of trains and metro stations. The protagonist is unnamed and glides in the ebb and flow, blending into the almost mundane action of commuting. The first album of The Night Service Commute drops on the 29th of September via UK-based label Certain Sounds, and I got a moment to call Tommy, the man behind the scenes, to ask him about his process and the album. The album itself plays seamlessly as a soundtrack should; it touches on the sounds of some earlier Ninja Tune albums like Skalpel, 9lazy9 or The Herbalizer, and the edgy, crunchy smooth of Dj Krush and Samurai Shamploo.
Hi Tommy, thanks for agreeing to do this interview, could we start with some context of how you started making music and what has led up to you starting night service commute?
Well, I started making music about 15 years ago, give or take, I was producing, and friends of mine played instruments, and I would record them; we had a little band called Monkey Stuff, and yeah, we just did that, but as we got older it kind of fell apart, people finish schools and start careers and don’t have the time anymore. I was still doing my own thing and just getting people over to do some recording, and eventually, I was like, well, I don’t want to do it under the same name anymore, and so I started the Night Service Commute.
Could you tell me more about the concept behind the Night Service Commute come from? What’s the story behind it?
As I went from what I was doing before I first had to figure out a name, I was on that for ages, like what the hell is this going to be called. The way I look at music, it’s like a journey, so it would be like a commute so to say, as a commute is a journey from A to B, the events that are part of this journey are being told by my music, that’s how I look at music, how I experience music, it’s like a story. The night service part is kind of the mood; at night, the world quiets down, and parts being told get clearer as all the noise and rumble disappear, and what’s left is the essence.
Can you talk about the aesthetic of Night Service Commute, black and white photography, practice as a photographer?
Well, I like photography a lot, I do it as a hobby, I like to get outside, the thing about photography is what kind of light shines on something and what do you see, that’s something that I really like about that and I and just really love black and white, the feeling of it I really like the vibe that gives.
I see from your Instagram that you really like using tape in your music. Do you also use analogue methods for your photography practice?
I really love using tape in my music, but I shoot in digital.
And the album cover?
The album cover and design was done by a good friend of mine; the album cover was taken on his travels in Japan, in Osaka if I’m not mistaken. He helps me with the graphic side of it; you can have so many ideas, but to filter then to have something tangible.
Can you talk about your influences when it comes to your music?
My musical taste really comes from hip-hop and skateboarding; that’s my youth basically; I was always around that culture, with the hip-hop stuff, I started realising that things are being sampled and started to listen to the original music, and that’s basically what influenced me, it’s like the blueprint of the sound of your youth really. I started to listen to those records, a lot of jazz, soul, funk. That’s kind of how that came about. In the skateboarding community itself is really creative; people are doing loads of stuff, so there are a lot of influences, so you get exposed to a lot of music and cool stuff.
I find that a lot of sampled music is like a gateway drug into a whole era of music…
Yes, totally! If you talk really about a specific artist, it’s difficult, but I think A Tribe Called Quest was a really big influence because all of the samples in there and starting to search for all that music, especially later on with everything becoming digital was easier to find with Spotify and what not, there is so much stuff you can research, I really enjoyed that, finding the samples and listening to the artists and all of their other work.
Can you talk about the sound of In Transit, your artistic process and how much of it is played and how much is clicked?
I play a bit of piano and a bit of trumpet, that’s what I do, and I’ve got friends that play alto saxophone and guitar. So when I’ve got enough stuff, mostly when the project is nearly done, then we try to record all the guitars in one day, well, try at least and then the saxophone parts and when that’s done, final mixing really comes in. Drums and bass are being done with midi; midi has come a long way, man.
So you come up with an idea on piano and take it from there?
Most of the time, I get a mood going, a mood going, some chords. That’s what music is to me; it’s got to have a feeling; I fiddle around with chords and then find something and am like, oh, it feels good, a good chord or some melody things going, that’s basically the start, then I record that first and once the chords are down do some melody stuff and make a bass line and do drums, and you just start adding stuff. It’s a lot of call and response. That’s how I try to tell my stories in my music.
Gear ! So much nice gear tapes, the Fender Rhodes seem central, but also the process of using the gear and effects, how many creative ideas come from gear and processing sound.
That’s a good question; the Rhodes and the chase bliss pedal immediately gives me a feeling of nostalgia, there are so many things that are possible, but that something that came a bit later and isn’t on the first album.
That makes me look forward to the next album...
Yeah, the second album will be more experimental with sound and processes; the second album is going to be really cool.
I noticed that you used a lot of field recordings; they really give a sense of time and place to the tracks. Can you tell me more about that?
Yeah, that’s something that I like a lot. What I’m looking for is a story being told, and actually, in the next album, there is going to be spoken word and stuff like that to vocally put emphasis on the track titles. There is certain things in the processes you evolve, and once you get more acquainted with it, you can dive deeper into it.
Can you tell me more about your relationship with Certain Sounds and how that came about?
A friend of mine has a drum and bass label called Next Phase Records, and Certain Sounds also does drum and bass on a different label, and they are friends, so he sent over my stuff, and he really liked it, so that’s how that came about. I’m so happy that it’s coming out on vinyl; it means so much to me.
I can imagine, coming from hip hop and digging records, it’s like going full circle to have your own vinyl is really meaningful. Congratulations on the release, and looking forward to hearing what comes afterwards.
The album drops on the 29th of September via Certain Sounds and releases digitally and with a limited edition vinyl.