The Range on Moving to Vermont and His New Album “Mercury”

Aug 03, 2022

By Jordan Michael

Photography by Elizabeth Weinberg (main photo)
Web Exclusive


In 2018, James Hinton was living in his small Bushwick, Brooklyn apartment, hitting the streets five nights a week. The Domino electronic artist had been saving up money for a studio, but the jetset life and small living space was starting to take a toll.

“I was sooo…I couldn’t have loud speakers, or make much noise at all,” says Hinton, 33, who recently dropped his fourth LP, Mercury, as The Range. “I was getting really into mixing and leveling out production, which is really hard to do on headphones. I was desperate to have space. I wanted to get away and not be around people, not be distracted.”

Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” from The Idiot pops into the conversation, and we agree that the sonic banger could be the soundtrack to that Brooklyn music scene lifestyle. “It is so good,” Hinton says. “Just think about how many bands are within how much square footage of where you are? Someone is always there. But I was desperate to have a month straight of just writing.”

Brooklyn was starting to get too expensive and Hinton was feeling like a lark. “I was finding places in Vermont where you could get a barn-style house and all this other stuff, and it was much cheaper than anywhere else. I don’t have any family in Vermont, I just wanted to get out and get lost in music.”

Hinton went as far as applying for relocation incentives through the Vermont Legislature, but says he did not get accepted. “They’re trying to get more young, tech people to the state, but it has completely flipped due to COVID.” According to ThinkVT, the state passed legislation in 2022 for a fourth relocation program.

Built in 1986, Hinton’s A-frame house is near Manchester. He has a piano and drum kit in his living room, and a mixing studio in the bedroom upstairs. “It’s not huge, but the acoustics are perfect and there’s enough room where I can run some XLR cables through. I live in a beautiful place, that’s what hooked me. There’s not much to do and not many young people outside of Burlington [VT], but it is just so beautiful. I love it.”

Originally from northeast Pennsylvania, Hinton, who has a physics degree from Brown University, loves robotics, but says he has no real ability to build machines. “I built a big bookshelf that has a sliding ladder. I have a robotic lawnmower and weed eater, and maybe a snowblower is next. You don’t really have a choice but to get good at making stuff when you own a house. Stuff needs to be maintained.”

During the pandemic, Hinton’s water tank broke, but the plumbing company wouldn’t come fix it; he had to figure it out. “Wood and stuff like that will break, maybe that’s why the new record was delayed,” he says. “It takes a long time to get art done with regular life going on.”

Mercury is The Range’s first full-length in six years; Potential came in 2016 and Nonfiction debuted in 2013. Mercury might be Hinton’s most wide-ranging album, and his memories of rave music and grime played a heavy influence on the sessions. “Not For Me” was made right after Potential and other album tracks didn’t get finished until 2020.

“My favorite is probably ‘Urethane,’ and I did that during my first bad VT winter in 2018,” Hinton says. “I lost power twice in one day, and started feeling isolated. Another time, I crashed my car and decided not to fix it. I was in the woods with not much else than a shovel.”

Hinton’s first total music obsession at 16 years old was Aphex Twin, which you can hear all throughout The Range discography when synths ride up against sailing beats. “It blows your lid off, especially with drugs and that entire hole,” he says, mentioning his total sobriety nowadays. “Squarepusher, Warp records…all that stuff rips.”

Early on, Hinton made footwork and Baltimore club music, which naturally led to him clipping samples from YouTube, Periscope and Instagram. “Over time, I got less interested in using Aaliyah or Mary J. Blige, and started really digging for stuff,” he says. “I found amazing a capellas and stuff like that—the tambour quality is great—it gave my music something different.”

No worries, The Range does get permission for every sample used.

“The hardest thing is getting someone to believe my legitimacy because I am so niche,” says Hinton. “I treat the music carefully and level it up. We all share; this is a sharing world. The sampling world always has a gray zone, but I take it seriously and give it a different context.”

Hinton played four shows this summer with a live drum kit. Now that he has the space in Vermont to play drum solos, it has made his electronic parts stronger. However, Mercury is all sample breaks, not live drums. Hinton needed the clearance to mix and blast music; Mercury shows that.

“The pendulum had swung all the way to being so completely isolated that it was hard to process the transition,” says Hinton, who tries to make the four-hour trip to Brooklyn once a month; he shares a studio with his friend/keyboardist, Andrew Fox. “I wanted to move and I know it doesn’t make much sense, but…I was in the cage of fighting something unknown, I forced myself to isolate and work. You’re supposed to go out, live and be active, but your mind and body gives out.”

Craving New York City when he’s in Vermont, and thirsty for VT when he’s in NYC, Hinton realizes that people need people. “I’m an only child, so I grew up alone, and looking back, that’s why I wanted to move to VT. I like the feeling of having stretches of time where I can do what I want to do. I like that default. I do get depressed and anxious if I’m in the woods for too long, and that’s when I can go to the city. There are stretches when I don’t utter a word at home and that is not healthy.”

Hinton doesn’t use his physics degree in a traditional sense, but it did teach him how to frame a problem and how to not sweat the small stuff. “That logic has stayed with me and it really helps when my emotions get going—I don’t like that spiral,” he says. “Also, curiosity, which goes so deep. Physics gives you scale, not being too obsessed with your own life. If you’re happy and your health is there, it’s okay.”

Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, and while making Mercury Hinton liked the idea of the planet one day being burnt up. Since it has been such a hot summer, all of humanity might be living in a scorched orbit. It’s metaphorical physics.

“We have plenty of time, a couple billion years or so [until Earth burns out],” Hinton says. “Before that though, the sun will become a red giant and take over Mercury and Venus. We all die and reach an end, but we have time to accomplish life and keep orbiting.”

www.therange.us

(Hinton sent us some photos of his Vermont house and home studio, view those below.)

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