If you’ve ever witnessed the spectacle that is PicPlayPost you will no doubt, at some point in your exploration, have seen the inimitable Mr. Talkbox.His lyrical and expressive musicality have taken the talkbox, as an instrument, from unheard of levels of greasy, down home, finger lickin’ funk all the way up to the uppermost, cloud strewn echelons and harmonic Lay Lines of the Ozonosphere.
To see his uplifting and animated persona in the multitude of tiny frames – each signifying a different part or harmony, is to be privy to the very joy of creation itself. We caught up with Mr. Talkbox during the production of his latest studio album ‘Back to the Box’ and asked him to spill the beans on studio tricks, plugins and of course, Talkboxing.
So how did Byron Chambers get seduced by the greatest instrument never known?
“I was very inspired by Roger (Troutman) from Zapp” he begins “I was only twelve years old at the time but when I first heard him I said to myself, I’m gonna do that. I was consumed with a thirst for that knowledge, you know – how to do it, what was it? How to get that sound,” he remembers. “Now I’ve been doing it for twenty five years!”
How do you get a good sound with a talk box?
Well, to answer this question we first have to break down what it actually is. The talkbox was designed by Bob Heil back in 1973. It’s essentially just an amp and speaker. The speaker shifts air through a snaking, plastic tube from the unit into your kisser. You connect the output of your synth into the unit whilst you express your consonants and vowels through the tube. If you put your mouth over the speaker on your cell phone, creating a seal and then enunciate different words whilst music is playing, you will get the very same effect – only without the carrier signal – or synth which is what makes this device so cool. The TalkBox is very much like a vocoder in so far as your mouth becomes an infinitely adjustable EQ. In essence, the TalkBox shares much of the vocoders’ DNA. “I use a Yamaha DX-100 synth as a Carrier. If you’re new to the TalkBoxing game, the most solid start you’ll get is by using the preset ‘Lyrisyn’ or alternatively ‘Basic Saw tooth’. I express emotion I don’t just play – you hear a spirit or a personality behind it. It’s a feeling. I was a pianist first but I’m also a singer and I play bass guitar and drums. The talkbox is so rhythmic but it’s also harmonic – so you have to know voicings to get the best from it.”
Describe your first TalkBox
“My original TalkBox was something I made myself. I used a JBL horn driver in the beginning (and still use them from time to time), and a Samson power amp.” He pauses, ‘It was huge and it was heavy, man!”
Then Jim Dunlop created a thing called the MXR talkbox. They sent me one. It had the volume the tone and Master gain. I’ve been using it for the last two years. I can now carry my whole setup in my backpack – which I often do. In fact, I have my setup with me 90% of the time these days!”
Any favourite plugins?
“I’m very simple and use the onboard gear from Logic. I’m really happy with the basic compressor and I save most things as presets. I started using a tap delay – very subtle and depthy. I like the exciter for cleanliness, the channel EQ, Space designer – just a splash of small room and will automate if I need more sustain on a finishing note, for example. Less is always more.” Great advice for any producer.
What DAW do you use?
“I use Pro Tools but, in the last five years I’ve started using Logic a lot more because it just seems quicker and more intuitive for me.”
Where does your sense of harmony come from?
“Well – I am and always have been a huge fan of ‘Take 6’ – an old school vocal band. I Grew up in a Gospel household – Quartet music was what we did. We travelled a lot during my childhood. I’ve been singing my whole life and, doing this style of music I came to really love and appreciate the low end stuff. It’s that low end that makes it funky. I like that full sound. ‘Singers Unlimited’ was another group. And of course Zapp. Blackstreet – Teddy Riley was very innovative with harmonies and he’s now a good friend.”
You have a Grammy Nomination too, I believe?
“Yes, I was nominated for a grammy for the work I did with Nathan East on the album ‘Daft Funk’ – I did all vocals and talkbox. Brian Linux who is a very well known Mix Engineer was working with Nathan’s label (Nathan East played bass on Daft Punk’s album ‘Get Lucky’) and he suggested that instead of using Daft Punk and having all the parts Vocoded that they use me. That album spent 25 weeks at number one on the Jazz charts. A record in itself.”
What is Mr. TalkBox working on now?
“Thanks for asking,” He laughs, catching his breath, “I’m actually working on a new album called ‘Back to the Box’. You see, I’ve been doing Christian music for a long time and it’s a very conservative world. I had to sing a lot more and do much, much less with the TalkBox because they just don’t understand it.” He pauses, considering for a moment. “So I’m going to get back to the box. It’s an R&B Soul and Pop record. Between 9 and 12 tracks. These are songs about life, music and feeling good!” Back to the Box will be available later this year (Top of Fall) with a single due to appear before then. “I also start touring in May with with Family Force Five and Social Club Misfit, playing new music from my album. I will be posting on YouTube!” He laughs – “We just want to take over the world, man!”
What about any other interesting Collabs or features?
“Well, I have a feature on R&B singer Avery Sunshine’s new record called ‘Right Here’,also the reggae band Morgan Heritage,” (featuring artists with direct family ties to none other than the original Reggae überstar, Bob Marley) ‘Want some more’ which I believe comes out in May” The next track he mentions with much pride, “…and then there’s a collab and feature with Bootsy Collins which should be out this year too.”
Brilliant competition to win Mr. TalkBox and Gospel Musicians' TalkBox Jr!
“So Jamal Hartwell (“he’s my brother!”) and I created this plugin called TalkBox Jr. We took my Talkbox to the studio and sampled every note in every different way and Jamal turned it into this incredible instrument that runs as a library that you can use with the free UVI workstation” (available HERE). Winning it couldn’t be easier. We have One license for the best comment on this article (down below) and One license for the most shares on social media. Get busy!