Note: This article was originally published on May 26, 2020.
A few weeks ago I linked up with Toronto producer/engineer Franz “GK” Liverpool to discuss his new instrumental EP “Too Late Till…”. We spoke about what inspired him to pursue a music career, how he got the idea for the instrumental EP, being a lowkey person, the importance of live instrumentation in music production, The Remix Project, building SoundMasters Studios, and what we can expect from him in the near future. It’s a candid conversation that provides a glimpse inside the mind of a perfectionist who is poised to create exceptional sound work and leave his mark on the music industry.
The interview below took place on May 03, 2020. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
It’s good to have you on 1VIBE today! Can you briefly introduce yourself.
My name is Franz “GK” Liverpool, I consider myself first an audio engineer, so more so the technical side of creating music. How I originally got started in music was through beat making from highschool days and that eventually evolved to learning more about the technical side. So, I guess I still have that creative side/input to me when it comes to music creation!
Did you and your friends start making beats on your own while you were going to highschool or was there a music program being offered there?
I started on my own from downloading a program to my computer at home, unlike a lot of people, I started out with this program called Cakewalk Kinetic, where most people started with FL Studio! When I first got interested there weren’t any courses for it, but later on as I got more involved with the music department at C.W. Jefferys C.I. (highschool) they did begin to offer a course called Music & Computers where you learned a few different programs related to music.
Yo that’s super dope! I also dabbled a bit with recording and production back in highschool. The first program I used was Cakewalk Sonar! Shout out Jeffreys!
Remix days were the illest! Shout out to Agile and Hagler! Ok, let’s talk about the project. On April 23rd, which I believe is your birthday, you released your first project. It’s an instrumental EP titled “Too Late Till…” and features 6 tracks. I really like the EP and have enjoyed listening to it while driving around Toronto. It’s become one of my social distancing soundtracks actually! Can you tell us a bit about how it came together and what inspired you to put out an instrumental EP as your first release?
The project was released on my birthday and had been in the making for about four years. The title came to me before the idea of actually creating a project, I was on the train one night heading to Exhibition Place for an overnight shift at BMO Field and while the train was stopped at a station the windows covered up a billboard and remaining were the words “Too Late To”. I didn’t think to take a photo of it so I don’t know what the actual billboard said! The original idea for the EP was not necessarily instrumental, but that was gonna be the basis of it. I originally just wanted to collaborate with a bunch of people. I think after going to NYC for NYE one year, I started creating a lot of ideas during the mornings at St. Alban’s Boys & Girls Club before I had to go to my job/training. A lot of those ideas didn’t make it on the EP. After those initial ideas, I kind of stopped working on them as I was working a lot more and doing other stuff. I eventually did get back to it sometime after getting the keys to what would be called SoundMasters Studios (recording studio) and began really honing in on what did become the final EP. “Downtown Lights”, “Cosmos”, and “The Art Of Firebreathing” were not created for the EP. “Downtown Lights” was a beat for a song that never got released.
Photo by Cindy Nguyen
While you were working on the project, did you let people know or do any promo for it, or was it something you were creating in secret for the most part?
It was mostly done in secret, I did tweet out some stuff years ago about wanting to create a project but nothing further than that! The people I did end up collaborating with obviously found out, but they also didn’t know it was an actual body of work until the EP was done.
Props to you for keeping it under wraps! I really liked the titles of the songs in particular. Some of the titles even make reference to astronomy. You also titled the intro song “The End” which caught my attention. Is there a story about how you chose the titles?
I’m a very low key person, so I think that’s probably why it wasn’t hard to keep the secret! The song titles were the very last thing I needed to do before uploading the project to Distrokid. I always had trouble naming things even when I was still beatmaking, I was mostly numbering. When creating I just had working titles. The only titles I had were “Downtown Lights”, which I didn’t actually name but really liked the title and “The Art Of Firebreathing”, I really liked that title as well. “The End”, apart from it being a joke, does kind of feel dark and that it’s coming to a close. “Cosmos” was originally “New Girl” which was the title of my friend’s actual song, and while trying to come up with a name I thought it sounded “spacey” and landed on “Cosmos”. I didn’t think of the name and astronomy connection originally; it was just how those two songs felt to me and trying to come up with a good name for them.
Photo by Cindy Nguyen
The record “Inverse” is only 48 seconds long. How did the idea for it come together and why did you choose to keep it short?
Inverse was always supposed to be an interlude, the working title was “INTLD” and the beginning of that song is in fact in reverse when all the drums come in. The original idea featured some other instruments and eventually I got Yuda to play drums on it. At a certain point it was supposed to go in reverse exactly how it did forward. I wanted to add some bass on it, and had no idea what to play, so I showed it to Jordan Lewis and asked him to try some stuff on it. I really liked the new direction he pushed it towards so I worked on it a bit more. I guess the shortness, I didn’t want to make it too long and if I did I would have to figure out more changes to keep it interesting.
Very cool concept, I really appreciate when extra thought is put into the creative process, everything from the sounds to the arrangement of a track. After listening to the project a few times, the main thing that stood out to me was how cohesive everything sounds. It’s surprising how well the beats fit together. Was this by design or did things just turn out that way?
The cohesiveness is weird, because this isn’t the EP I originally set out to make, and some of the ideas were made during different periods. Maybe it’s just a certain sound that I’m inclined to produce that made it cohesive!
I think everything really came together in the last year, I was listening back to the ideas and chose which ones to continue working on. The beats that were originally made for songs, I re-mixed them to sound better than the originals, but I didn’t add any extra production on top of those. The collaborations such as my friend Jonathan playing guitar on “The End”, and Jordan Lewis assisting on “Inverse” – those were all done in the last year or less. Mixing took the most time to get the project where I wanted it, even though I did end up mastering the whole thing like 5/6 times because of overthinking!
Photo by Jeremy Rodney Hall
A perfectionist at work! It certainly translates into the music. I found it hard to pinpoint any imperfections. What is your favorite record on the project?
It’s really close between “Downtown Lights” and “The Art Of Fire Breathing”.
Who chose the name for Downtown Lights? And what is the “art of fire breathing”?
“Downtown Lights” was chosen by a friend who used to go by the rap name Latto. I think if you want to know the real meaning of fire breathing you have to check out the full song by K Witz on SoundCloud, I believe it’s a reference to anime and just spitting bars!
That’s so ill, I love anime! Will def check K Witz – are you also into anime?
I won’t say I’m super into anime, but have watched some stuff here and there!
What’s the last show you picked up?
It might not be a full show, you probably know better than me but I did watch some of the Tournament Of Power from Dragonball Super!
DBZ! I’ve personally dedicated a lot of time to that franchise, I’m a big fan.
I haven’t watched the series from top to bottom, but I’ve watched clips here and there! I feel like I should eventually!
You should and I suggest watching all of them. It’s going to take a while, but if you do find the time, it’s certainly worth it!
I think the only anime I’ve gotten through top to bottom is Inu Yasha!
I’m on Mob Psycho 100 right now but I watched Akira again the other day. Can’t believe that was made in 1988!
Photo by David Nguyen
Who did you collaborate with on the EP and what was that process like?
Yuda played drums on “The End” and “Inverse”. We tracked those two on the same day back in 2017! Jonathan played guitar on “The End” and had full freedom to add whatever he wanted! Florian actually flipped the original idea I had for that “Dark Matter”. I sent it out to him to add drums and he sent it back almost exactly as you hear it on the EP! “Inverse” I kind of talked about it above, but similar situation to “Dark Matter” actually!
Let’s talk about “Dark Matter”. It’s one of my favorite beats on the EP, I especially love the switch-ups and transitions that happen at the 1:20 and 2:06 marks. I believe originally you had a whole other idea for this beat. Can you tell us more about how you made this instrumental?
When I say Florian complete switched it up, I really mean it! You have to hear what I had prior to him sending it back to realize the extent! The switch up at 1:20 was me trying to figure out how to not just make what happened prior repeat again, but to break it down and sound different! The switch at 2:06 was originally a separate idea that had a bunch of other instruments but I really liked that keyboard line and wanted to add it to the end of one of the songs and the song that made the most sense to me was “Dark Matter” as a contrast.
Super cool! Shout out to Florian! We gotta jam together one day. I was watching this NPR series the other day about sampling and there is an episode with Just Blaze who talks a lot about adding live instrumentation to beats but also revealing that some of his best work comes from emulating drum samples with his fingers. How important do you think live instrumentation is when it comes to making music these days?
We have to definitely link up once this Corona slows down. I watched the NPR series as well! I may be super biased, but I love working with live instruments and musicians! I’m currently working with a band by the name of Everything But The Rain who I’ve known since high school! We would have probably completed or come close to finishing these songs if it wasn’t for the corona-virus! If we’re talking about hip-hop or r&b, live instrumentation adds a different dimension to certain songs, it may not work for every single style/sub-genre but when it does work it’s special. I’ve always loved the production on Just Blaze’s “Show Me What You Got”. A lot of that extra drive and feel on the beat comes from Bam, formerly from 1500 Or Nothin’.
I was shocked to learn that some of those drums were not live. Like no way those are programmed!
I didn’t know either until I watched a behind the scenes video of him recording it in the studio!
I personally think live instrumentation adds an extra layer of authenticity. I also think collaboration and bringing different people in to touch the music and add their creativity can take a project to new levels.
There is still some live instrumentation going on today. Even though “To Pimp A Butterfly” came out in 2015, it’s one of my favourite albums and there’s a lot of live instrumentation on it from top notch artists.
Photo by Gabriel Altrows
Let’s switch things up a bit and go down memory lane. You and I first met around 2010-2011 at The Remix Project. How did Remix influence you around that time and is there anything in particular that you remember about being there?
Remix was probably what really made me explore different avenues of production, going from beat-making to audio engineering. I definitely learned a lot during my time there and it pushed me to actually go to school for audio engineering.
How important do you think a program/organization like The Remix Project is for young people who are interested in pursuing a career in creative arts?
I think it’s definitely important for an organization like that especially in Toronto! Over the years there have been more organizations popping up trying to do similar things. HXOUSE and Launchpad come to mind. There are smaller ones as well – I was involved with St. Alban’s Boys & Girls Club for a small time (The INC Studio)
Let’s talk a bit about SoundMasters. What is it, how did it get started?
SoundMasters Studios is something Jordan Lewis and I eventually named after renting this space! We offer studio time, as well as recording/mixing, and recording podcasts. In the past, we have also held a panel here with some good friends in the industry. We actually have the whole conversation on SoundCloud if anyone is interested in listening!
When this is all over I gotta come check out the space! How important do you think it is to have your own studio space vs trying to work at home or bouncing back and forth between other studio spaces?
Definitely come through! The reason we were both looking for a space was to have the freedom to work whenever we wanted and bring in whoever we wanted and not worry about the usual conflicts that arise with home studio setups. When you have your own space, you don’t have to worry about booking time and working around others’ schedules. There are occasions where we will still rent time at other studios because they can better accommodate for certain things.
I’ve always been a big believer in building out your own creative space and creating freely on your own terms. The comfort level is key to allow the art to breathe in my opinion. I applaud you guys for making it happen!
Thanks, it’s been a long time in the making on both sides!
Photo by Mark Nguyen
For this part of the interview, we want to learn more about you as a person. Think of it as a rapid Q&A. Can you remember the first hip-hop album you listened to?
The first ripped copy of something I remember having was 50 Cent’s “Get Rich or Die Trying”.
Name a few producers that you look up to and whose work you respect.
Just Blaze, 40, Mike Dean, Sounwave, Timbaland and Boi-1da. I’m definitely forgetting some others.
What does “GK” stand for in your name?
Grenadian Killa. When I first started making beats that’s the name I chose to post under, GrenadianKillaBeatz.
Do you have roots in Grenada?
Both of my parents were born there!
Name 5 artists you would like to work with at some point during your career?
I haven’t really thought about that, but I might put Kendrick at the top of that list. Would be interesting to see and learn his whole process.
Others that I can think of at the moment include Terrace Martin, Anderson Paak, Twenty One Pilots and Dr. Dre.
Name your top 3 films of all time.
StarWars, Black Panther, and the Fast and Furious franchise.
What is your favorite song (any genre) of all time?
Song For The Deaf – QOTSA
If you were stuck inside a car for 24 hours and could only listen to one hip-hop instrumental, which one would it be and why?
Anything from TPAB. It’s a great album, really well put together, lots of jazz influence in there! Can’t go wrong with Kendrick!
What is a talent or something that you are really good at that isn’t music related?
Cleaning! I’ve been a cleaner for almost 10 years, first with Exhibition Place, and now with the TDSB. Add that with a hint of perfectionism, although I don’t try to go overboard with it!
You’ve probably learned a lot about discipline and gained appreciation for being organized working that gig. Props to you, work ethic is very important, and I think it translates directly into the music. Speaking of music… What’s next for you? Are you working on a new project? What can we look forward to?
Thanks, I appreciate it! I try my best to be as organized as I can, my desktop is a good indication of not going overboard!
I’ve been playing around with some ideas during this whole lockdown, when or will they ever get released? I have no idea! But I am looking forward to finally getting back to work on Everything But The Rain’s stuff once this quarantine slows down, that’s what I really want to do, it’s been years in the making as well!
That’s exciting, we can’t wait to hear what you are cooking up! I hope you continue to stay safe during these times brother. Once we defeat covid, we’ll catch up again at SoundMasters. I’m about to go take a drive and bump "Too Late Till…". It was a pleasure speaking with you, hope to have you back on 1VIBE soon!
Thanks, it’s been a pleasure! Hopefully covid slows down sometime soon!