Writer, producer, keyboardist, and vox man Oli Rockberger’s credits are both wide and deep. He’s gigged live or in studio with a virtual Who’s Who list of A-players including Jordan Rakei, Becca Stevens, Louis Cole, Carly Simon, Chris “Daddy” Dave, Steve Jordan, Richard Spaven, John Mayer, Steve Gadd, Gloria Gaynor, Nathan East, Will Lee and Randy Brecker. Oli is also a member of Laura Mvula’s touring band and has appeared with her on Glastonbury’s main stage, The Lincoln Center, at The Barbican with the London Symphony Orchestra, Jools Holland, and Afropunk (NY, Paris, Jo’berg).
Oli is also a co-founder of influential electronic project Mister Barrington, with Zach Danziger and Owen Biddle. Together they’ve released three albums in addition to the five solo collections Oli has put out under his own name. Oli’s latest, the self-produced Terra Firma, is a blend of modern folk and soul with an ambient and electronic sensibility, reminiscent of recent work by James Blake, Bon Iver, and Bibio. Upcoming plans for Oli include two new solo releases in the works for October 2019 and Spring 2020, in addition to a number of exciting writing/production projects for others.
We chatted with Oli on how he’s using Sequential instruments in his music:
What made you choose Dave Smith / Sequential?
I was introduced to the world of Prophets and the Prophet-6 through my touring as part of Laura Mvula’s band over the last few years. Hearing the Prophet-6 for the first time in rehearsals, I was struck right away by the depth and richness of the sound coming through the speakers, regardless of the patch. And after our shows, I was receiving really strong feedback from Laura fans and fellow musicians about the sound of the Prophet. Words like “epic,” “spiritual,” and “otherworldly” kept coming up, which were all in line with how I was experiencing the instrument.
With my new awareness of the keyboard, I then began hearing the Prophet-6 as a key production component on many albums that were inspiring me in my solo work. Artists like Bon Iver, James Blake, and Laura Mvula in her beautiful Dreaming Room album were all using Prophets in creative ways to powerful effect. I wanted to capture some of this sonic depth in my own live and studio work moving forward, and so the idea to own one was already forming in my mind. But I’d say my moment of resolve came during the course of a record date for acclaimed Drummer/Producer Rich Spaven over five days at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Nov 2017. We were recording Rich’s latest album Real Time, for which he brought along his Prophet 12 module to add to my keyboard station along with acoustic piano and a Rhodes with pedals. I have to say that it was truly love at first sound for me. After the session, I spent some time with the full keyboard version, and then bought the Prophet 12 keyboard a few months later. The music I was starting to write was calling for it, and the instrument went on to play a key role on my new EP Terra Firma that I released a few days ago. I can honestly say that buying the Prophet 12 has been a total game changer for me creatively, both in my solo work and in my writing, recording, and production for others. The keyboard is without question one of the best and most significant purchases I’ve made in my career to date.
How are you using them?
My Prophet 12 is now a key feature in my writing, recording and production work both for myself and others. Terra Firma’s’ lead single Forgiveness heavily features the P12 both as a foundation and solo element. The keyboard also plays an important role on my next release Folk Songs (due in Oct 2019) which is currently being mixed by the great Patrick Phillips, who also mixed Terra Firma. On the collaboration front, I recently had the chance to work with one of my favorite artists today, the supremely gifted Jordan Rakei. I contributed a co-write and additional production on his track Speak (released on Ninja Tunes in June 2019) with my P12 also making an appearance on the song. Meanwhile, the Prophet-6 continues to play an important role in my ongoing touring work with Laura Mvula, and is a keyboard I have come to love also.
What does it give that other synths don’t?
How long have you got? [laughs] For me it’s the sheer breadth and depth of what the Prophet 12 offers both as a studio and live synth, combined on a basic level with how it sounds. Because even straight out of the box it simply plays as a beautiful, otherworldly sounding synth, with endless creative possibilities. In this respect the keyboard continually inspires me on a writing level more than any other I’ve worked with. On a performance level, the Prophet plays like a living breathing instrument which just happens to be a synth. So in the same way that a pianist, guitarist or drummer has the potential to achieve a distinctive “voice” or “sound” on their instrument, so to can the player of a Prophet because of the endless creative possibilities it affords. No keyboard up to this point had ever made me see this kind of artistic potential for myself as a player of synths. So achieving a distinctive voice with the instrument is what I aspire to, and I feel that I’m now on that journey in the way that I have been for a while with the other aspects of what I do.
Otherwise, for me the Prophet 12 really combines the very best of digital and analog aspects — a richness and depth of sound combined with highly intuitive and powerful editing features for the creating and storing of sounds. And significantly for many of us, you also don’t need to be an expert in music synthesis to start creating evocative sounds straight away. It also functions really powerfully as a live synth, with the ability to quickly and easily engage and then adjust things like onboard delays and arpeggiators in real time. Pre-production for usage in live show situations is similarly intuitive, with the ability to make set-lists and easily assign sliders and keys with different kinds of aftertouch and such. I never encountered a synth which is simultaneously so user friendly and yet so deep in terms of the creative possibilities it affords.
Any interesting tricks or techniques to share?
The Prophet 12 has expanded my production and session recording in so many ways. One that I can quickly highlight would be the way that the keyboard has impacted my approach to the use of pads in certain situations. This is something I’ve explored over the last few years on Laura Mvula’s gig with her and producer/musical director Troy Miller using the Prophet-6. Firstly, it’s quite straight forward to arrive at a beautiful pad that exists in a space somewhere between say an organ or french horn, but significantly, without sounding quite like either! By combining a sound like this with external pedals, cutoff, and pitch bend to swell and slur in and out of chords, I can now achieve the padding afforded by say strings/organs/horns, but with an otherworldly dream-like sonic quality. This has been a great discovery for me in situations where I want something functionally to occupy that middle layer of “glue,” while offering something less traditional aesthetically.
MORE ABOUT THE PROPHET-6
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