Interview with Tim Fite: Little-T Ain’t Stealin’ No More

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Tom Fite: Ain't Ain't Ain'tTim Fite: Ain’t Ain’t Ain’t (Anti-, 3/2/12)

“We Are All Teenagers”

[audio:|titles=Tim Fite: “We Are All Teenagers”]

Tim Fite has come a long way since his rap roots. Though many may recognize his face from the 2001 hit “Shaniqua” with One Track Mike, the man formerly known as Little-T has spent eight years and ten albums singlehandedly bridging rap and indie folk under his current moniker. That, however, makes his career sound much too simple: Fite’s half-rapped, half-sung delivery has paired with a massive library of samples and an alternately cut-and-paste and acoustic aesthetic to craft something unparalleled.

For the final installment of his Ain’t trilogy on Anti- Records, the aptly titled Ain’t Ain’t Ain’t, Fite reinvents his own unconventional process. He’s still sampling, but gone are the bargain-bin cuts; instead, they’re rearranged compositions by Fite and his friends. Thematically, the album’s prequels were youthful commentaries on adult topics, but Ain’t Ain’t Ain’t flips that as well — offering a mature take on the heartbreak and joy of his teenage years.

When did you begin sampling, and why?

Probably when I was a little kid. Because that’s the only way that I knew you could make music then. I only listened to rap music, and that’s how it was being made. So I was like, “Oh, that’s how you make a song: you steal.”

When do you start working with samples in the songwriting process?

Right off the bat. There’s a big difference in the way that I approached the samples for this record, because usually I would dive into other peoples’ recordings and steal big chunks of songs that are already layered up, already recorded, mixed, mastered — the whole shebang. But for this record, I made my own samples, so it was like going in a time machine to before the samples exist.

I’d take all my friends and just record random sounds, without considering song structure. And then we’d get a bunch of BPMs from the drums — different beats, different tempos — and build up this huge bank of sounds. And from that bank, I could start where I would normally start building a song out of things that are already there.

How does Ain’t Ain’t Ain’t compare to the rest of the trilogy?

I think that this record might be the easiest entry point because of the subject matter, being a teenager. That’s really great in a lot of ways, because I come pretty harsh sometimes on other records. I like emotional intensity; I like a full scope of emotion, which is sort of rare, I find, when it comes to albums. And even artists — most people pick their emotion and they stick with it. “I play sad songs; I play mad songs; I play happy songs; I play songs that go in a Target commercial.” With this record, and with every record I’ve ever done, I try to play all those songs. And that can be hard sometimes for people to get into.

You’re a visual artist and storyteller in addition to a musician. Do you try to put your music and visual art in conversation with each other?

To be really honest with you, I would say that I’m not a musician. I would say that my songs are visual art. Just because my songs have to go through your ears to get to your eyes — that’s just a different path to visual art. I think about it the same exact way compositionally, structurally, of thinking about it as a picture, not necessarily as a song.

Tim FiteSecret sounds of Ain’t Ain’t Aint

Tim Fite’s newest album is a cornucopia of weird sounds. Here the hybrid collagist comments on a few of the unsung MVPs.

Self-made samples and piecemeal solos

“I’m not Yo-Yo Ma or some shit. If I can’t play a solo that’s 42 notes long, I will play each note, one at a time — and then size it, and pitch it, and clip it together until I sound like Eddie Van Halen.”

Justin Riddle’s junk kit

“My drummer, Justin Riddle — his drum kit has gotten junkier and junkier over time. Now the only real drums in his kit are the hi-hat, the snare, and the kick drum. Everything else is trash.”

Mr. Fite’s farm equipment

“[Engineer] Rob [Bedenoch] followed my dad around while he was using the chainsaw and the Gravely tractor, doing a bunch of work at my parents’ house. There’s a bunch of beds of white noise and machinery, deep in the depths.”

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