INTERVIEW Cowboy Rhythmbox

British producers Nathan Gregroy Wilkins and Richard X are no cowboys and they have only created ingenious dance hits that are far outcries from Western music, but they have certainly mastered rhythm and just about how to spell it. After the timely (arguably) release of 6AM Cowboy, their seventh release on Erol Alkan’s label Phantasy, Nathan Gregroy Wilkins and Richard X, alias Cowboy Rhythmbox, answer some of Torture the Artist’s burning questions as they sit in their own homes somewhere in London, weathering the pandemic. If you’re one of the people wondering where your overdue remixes from the duo are, you might want to read this.

The show must go on.

Torture the Artist: Hello Nathan Gregory and Richard, how is your day? Where in the planet are you situated right now?

Nathan Gregory Wilkins: It’s 2pm and I’m having a very pleasant day, I’m typing my answers whilst drinking a lovely glass of wine sat and listening to music to in my flat in Shoreditch, London.

Richard X: I find myself again in a small dark room somewhere in South London, feeling reasonable.

Torture the Artist: How are you coping with the current lockdowns and travel restrictions? The pandemic has hit artists quite hard, can you share any strategies or tips on how you’re maintaining mental well being?

Nathan Gregory Wilkins: I’m fine with it so far. I go out for a very long walk every day and am enjoying a totally new perspective of the city afforded by the sunshine and tranquility, this is London as it’s never been experienced before!

Richard X: Artists should embrace the “It’s ok to not feel creative, let it come and don’t push it” narrative, I have, well that’s what I’m telling the people who are asking me where their overdue mixes are.

Torture the Artist: 6AM Cowboy was just released on Phantasy last week, did you have to make adjustments or were you able to roll out according to plan?

Nathan Gregory Wilkins: Nothing changed. The show must go on etc.

Maybe the first 50 copies should have come with free Colt 45. (Nathan Gregory Wilkins)

Richard X: I think Phantasy have been handling everything in their classy style as usual. I feel it’s very us to put out a heavy club track on Good Friday in the middle of a pandemic lockdown.

Nathan Gregory Wilkins: Indeed, what better a time to release a no nonsense club record than during the first time in history that every nightclub on the planet is closed? Maybe the first 50 copies should have come with free Colt 45 (for shooting oneself in the foot)?

Torture the Artist: PH82RMX consists of Sharif Lafrey’s remix of 6AM Cowboy and your reinterpretation of Sharif’s remix. If we are following correctly, are we missing an original here?

Nathan Gregory Wilkins: There wasn’t an original in the traditional sense. We asked Sharif to remix a track from our last EP, Terminal Madness, and he thought it would be far more interesting is he used elements of all three tracks instead. So he created this brilliant amalgam and added loads of new parts of his own. It was such a fascinating new entity (we particularly loved the new vocals) that we asked if we could remix his remix. We’re all SO high concept! <winks>

Richard X: Yes, it snowballed like that and we got inspired by his creation. We could keep going round forever like this perhaps.

Torture the Artist: You’ve consistently contributed to Erol Alkan’s label since We Got the Box in 2014, how did your relationship with Phantasy come about? And how has this constant affected or influenced your production style through the years?

Richard X: Erol liked our Shake track that appeared on Comeme and we’ve both known him over the years from London clubs and musical life in general, he heard what became our first Phantasy release and loved it. We kind of get on with the tracks in our oddball production way and he’ll comment when we need another pair of experienced ears. Generally it’s his enthusiasm that is most welcome.

Torture the Artist: Your music is a mosaic of different musical styles and genres across decades. Who were among your primary inspirations?

Nathan Gregory Wilkins: Yello are a massive influence!!!

Richard X: For this I’d agree, and also all the one off oddball anonymous dance music tracks that have been made over the last 30 years

Torture the Artist: Did it take a while for you to figure out your own style and approach?

Nathan Gregory Wilkins: No, luckily it happened more or less immediately, we were lucky, we instantly clicked.

Torture the Artist: How did you meet each other? What made you decide to settle together as a duo?

Nathan Gregory Wilkins: I was running a record distribution company called Ideal with some friends from the mid 90’s until around 2002 and Richard approached us with regards to distributing his game changing first Girls On Top single. Richard and I got chatting and discovered that we both had similar tastes in regards to lots of early 80’s synth music (especially the Human League’s first two albums) and I guess the partnership grew from there.

Torture the Artist: Where did you guys grow up and how was the electronic music scene back then?

Nathan Gregory Wilkins: I grew up in Birmingham which had a great early 80’s club scene (great Jazz Funk and NewRomantic scenes) and then great House, Indie and Techno scenes later on. I was very good friends with Surgeon and spent lots of time hanging out with him from around 1992 until I moved to London in 96, we even used to DJ back to back together at a night called House Force, which I believe not a lot of people know that.

Richard X: Near Blackburn in Lancashire, we had some great commercial dance in the late 80’s early 90’s, and the Eastern Bloc record shop scene from Manchester was a big inspiration on young kids trying to make tracks in their bedrooms.

Torture the Artist: You released your first track on Comeme back in 2012? How long did it take for you guys to complete the first project?

Nathan Gregory Wilkins: There was something crazy like a five year gap between starting Shake and finishing it. We have speeded up considerably since then and we now manage to release something about once a year! Incredible!

Richard X: Yes, our first release we started in 2005 and finished in 2011, I don’t think there was any particular reason it took that long! It was a bit out there but I think by the time Comeme picked up on the track there was more of that left of centre dance stuff going on so it fitted in a little more.

I constantly have to check I am spelling “rhythm” correctly. (Richard X)

Torture the Artist: What’s the story behind the Cowboy Rhythmbox moniker?

Nathan Gregory Wilkins: This I cannot remember!!! Richard?

Richard X: It was Nathan’s suggestion and all I know is to this day I constantly have to check I am spelling “rhythm” correctly.

Torture the Artist: Do you like cowboys, hat, horse, gun and all?

Nathan Gregory Wilkins: I love movie Westerns. I think Sergio Leone is one of the greatest directors that ever lived. Off the top of my head some of my big favourite Westerns are Johnny Guitar (this has such a killer title song), Il Grande Silenzio, The Shootist and The Missouri Breaks.

Richard X: I’ve never really thought too much about that to be honest, but I’d say , yes, thumbs up to Cowboys.

I’ve not been a great fan of the remote working, everything seems to take twice as long.

Torture the Artist: How much of collaboration do you spend face to face? Have you gotten accustomed to working in a digital workspace?

Nathan Gregory Wilkins: It’s always face to face.

Richard X: With CBRB it’s always hands on as there’s a lot of live tweaking and improvising. So far in the rest of my musical life I’ve not been a great fan of the remote working, everything seems to take twice as long which when you like grabbing a developing an idea to see where it takes you can be quite painful.

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Picture by Jessica Mahaffey

Torture the Artist: You’ve done a fair amount of originals, as well as remixes? Do you enjoy doing one more than the other?

Nathan Gregory Wilkins: We’ve only done two remixes and one was rejected. We are not keen on doing remixes to be honest. Original stuff is way more fun!

Richard X: Our style is a bit changeable for people to get what they want from a remix , I think we’ve turned down a few, we both have to like it and see a way in to pull it into our world for it to really work.

Torture the Artist: You guys took a break from releasing in 2019. Did you need to take time off to focus on other aspects of your life? Or did you just need to take a break?

Richard X: We don’t really have a set schedule, generally we’ll have a few starter ideas and it’s only the ones that make us feel Rhythmbox-y that we spend the time finishing. It just looks like we’re lazy! I’m generally working on records for other people as a producer most days of the week so sometimes it takes us a while to get together.

Torture the Artist: What’s the first thing you would do or the person you would see once everything comes back to normal?

Richard X: I’m sure I’ll just go back inside to that small dark room with a screen and speakers in it.

Torture the Artist: Thanks for the chat guys.

Interview by Marie J Floro

Cover picture by Jessica Mahaffey