Music is about feeling. Right? The bottom line is where the depths of emotion reach out to. It may cause you to feel a, b, or c (maybe all three at once). Some music you listen to, you nod your head, and it passes by. Neither really here nor there. Functional cause and effect. Then there exists music like this. So, on that very note: Afterlife.
Steve Miller’s production guise will doubtless suggest certain things to certain people but what he has achieved with this new album is quite breath-taking. In certain part that is down to the sheer wealth of ideas which have been incorporated into this freshly imagined musical equation, defying, then defining expectation. There’s a sense of play here which doesn’t get tied down to any particular notion, or indeed feel tired after the longevity of creating music of quality for decades. There is also a sense of joy as the sounds play on. Take the second track, Back To Mine for example which contains the sort of beautifully executed chord sequence that sends shivers rushing all over the spine – the true indication of bliss. Or even the tougher dancefloor pulses sparking Berimbau to life, follow that by the deep string intensity that sees Celluloid resonate across the horizon. All of this is music exploring everything. Which then brings us right back to the title of the album – a statement in itself. But not before tasting the fragrant African flourishes of Kora, Kora, Kora and the broken rhythms of Shelter, via the Mashti remix of keynote Afterlife number: Speck of Gold, which again retells a story from the artists rich history of reference (another avenue to explore). Back to the beginning. Music is indeed all about reflecting what you feel about life, love and everything.
Welcome back to Magazine Sixty, Steve. You are in the process of crowdfunding a vinyl release of your Afterlife album Speck Of Gold from 2003. So the first question is why have you decided to revisit that particular album in 2018?
Earlier this year I created a post on social media asking fans what they would like to see me release to celebrate 25 years of Afterlife in 2019. A sort of “Best of Afterlife” if you like. They all asked for it to be on vinyl and specified their favourite tracks, a lot of which were from the original Speck of Gold double album on CD. Even 15 years since its release it is still one of my top selling albums digitally so it made sense to be the first album in a vinyl format since Simplicity 2000. This release is Vol.1 only as with vinyl the maximum playing time per side for top quality is only 21 minutes max. If it proves popular then vol.2 with the remixes will follow. I thought it would be a nice touch to have gold vinyl rather than black. It was great to dig the premasters out of the archives and have them mastered with full dynamic range for vinyl only. These masters sound better than the originals.
And the second is talk us through the process of crowdfunding itself. Something which wasn’t an available option as such back in 2004?
Diggers Factory provide an elegant solution to producing short limited runs of vinyl. You specify a number of discs to be produced. They recommend a campaign period of 50 days to receive the pre orders. Once that amount is met then production starts and the wax is delivered to Juno Records for delivery to each customer. In this case I specified 200 copies. If pre orders do not reach that figure then everyone who ordered it will be reimbursed automatically.
What does Crowdfunding say to you about the breaking down of barriers between audience and artist and how each can now interact directly?
I think the concept of crowdfunding screams AUSTERITY loud and clear. In this case it helps cash strapped non mainstream artists and labels to still release vinyl which has expensive set up costs that may result in a huge loss if they misjudge their market. That’s OK for big labels to absorb but small labels can go bust. There’s a lot of talk about the resurgence of vinyl sales on the increase but the amount is still pitiful in comparison to digital downloads and streaming which is a shame because the sound quality on vinyl is just so much better. I have bought rare vinyl on this basis and when it arrives I get a warm feeling that I was part of a bunch of people that actually made it happen and treasure that.
Generally crowdfunding seems to be the new way for new ideas to become a reality via a populist vote unless you have a friendly bank manager or an investor that will want a share of the business. It’s a more transparent way of doing business and that can only be good.
What does the album’s title: Speck Of Gold signify? Why did you choose Cathy Battistessa in particular to sing it? And can you tell us about how you married the music to the vocal?
The track started as my reaction to the utter horror of the 911 attack. The world had become a very fearful place and I felt it was only the start of the madness to come. I began the original track the day after and it was incredibly dark hip hop.
Cathy and I had discussed writing a track together so I called her and said “I have this really dark track that needs the sunshine of your voice”. When she sent the vocal back with those pure, melancholic lyrics I realised that the backing track needed to be more hopeful, less despairing, to create the right amount of juxtaposition, so I rewrote the track from scratch working with the vocals as inspiration. Still too dark. Three attempts and two years later it was finally complete after at least 100 hours of studio time. Naturally it had to be the title track for my next album.
The original album featured a number of significant guests. Is there a certain track which you feel resonates more now than it did in 2004? Or did one of the collaborators capture something that has defied the time in-between?
It has to be the title track Speck of Gold. Right now the world is in so much trouble due to human greed and stupidity it resonates more than ever with the opening line “Hope is all we have, with each birth, every tear, we have hope”.
It’s time we put our differences aside once and for all and started living with compassion and intelligence. This world could be a beautiful place and we, at the moment, as custodians need to take responsibility for it.
And finally. What else have you been working on, are there any forthcoming plans you would like to share moving into 2019?
I am just working on the finishing touches of my next album called Everything Is Now which is scheduled for release on 7th June next year.
So, String Theory. Is it about strings or theory? Or the combination of both? Perhaps the opening GIVE IT UP reveals part of the answer as its soaring combination of fiery Trumpets, rushing arpeggios plus timely drum-breaks alongside refreshingly cool chords all eventually crash and burn, while disintegrating into the rather beautiful Like This, igniting a sense of past times via engaging rhythms and evocative atmosphere’s. The album’s title track then feels reassuringly familiar touching upon classic Balearic vibes moulding sunsets amid poignant instrumentation that in turn play with a variation on strung strings. However, blue sky thinking is firmly grasped on a number of tracks and the darker, more intense edges relished on the likes of the blistering BARBUDA along with the deeply resonating SPANISH FLY move the music in intoxicating directions. The probing, blissful electronic weirdness generated by the echoes contained within the particularly brilliant final number, LAST SUNSET perhaps best gather up all that previous information and transform it all into epic proportions completing another first rate realisation from the maestro Steve Miller. As a bonus two remixes complete this latest long player with the first track, Give It Up getting frisky and jazzed up care of WOLF Music’s Medlar, then contrasted by Futureboogie’s Christophe who injects further party excitement into it all.
Your latest compilation of music (alongside Chris Coco) has just been released: MARINI’S on 57 – Sunset Hours Volume Two Compiled by Chris Coco & Afterlife (Secret Life). Can you tell us how the project originally came about, and how you decide which music is included on a particular mix?
Secret Life called me and Chris and said Modesto Marini had asked if we like to make a compilation for him, we took a look at the restaurant and saw that he was doing something exciting and different. Modesto is a great chef and we wanted to make something to compliment his talent. We decided upon a plan. 1. Interesting new (where possible) edgy downtempo, the sort of thing we would either play or want to hear if we were having dinner there. 2. We both had to absolutely love every single track. 3. Maybe we would make a track that we felt epitomised watching a sunset and eating serious Italian cuisine from 57 floors up in a steel and glass tower in Kuala Lumpur. This last bit was a piece of synchronicity as the next day Modesto asked us if we fancied making a track called Sunset Hours. We said “all right”.
One of the standouts on the new ‘Balearic’ album is your edit of Micko Roche ‘Baltimore’. Can you tell us about the process of producing the version for the album?
Micko is signed to my label Subatomic UK and I had produced the original version which, halfway through, kicks in with some stunning electric guitar work which works well but takes the track to a different level to what Jim at Balearic was feeling, he really loved it but asked for a more acoustic edit and when I saw the track list I understood what he was looking for so it was easy as I still had more of the original acoustic guitar files which worked very well and kept the track organic.
You recently posted the question, ‘what really concerns me is the question: is there an underground anymore?’ What do you think the answer is?
Here is a reasonable definition to start the ball rolling. “A genre in music and other forms of media intended for an elite audience, that is often characterised by its high levels of originality and experimentation, and does not conform to typical standards, trends, or hypes as set by the popular mainstream media. The mainstream media has a tendency to steal new ideas from the underground.”
But surely the underground used to be that which was not in the media. These days media is everywhere, difficult to escape. That was why I posed the question. I think that “popular mainstream media” cannot be so easily defined anymore, we can all create our own media if we want to. So at this point, I think Yes and No, and not Yes and also not No. That might sound pretentious but it’s a quantum answer in a quantum world.
Talking a step back. Who originally informed your taste in music, and what for you are the most important attributes in its composition?
The originator was a friend called Erskine Thompson who signed this record http://manudibango.ru/a86.html check out the personnel and all will be revealed.
For me music must have the following:- groove, story, feeling, in no particular order.
What are your views on House Music currently with the trend for early the 90’s and even a return to the Acid sounds of the late 80’s – is it at risk of becoming the musical equivalent of Northern Soul?
I think it’s cool, it can only lead on to new mutations of something good to start with. EDM was just someone getting House music totally wrong and exploiting it. When people hear real House music made with the heart and soul some of them realise what they have been missing. This then leads them on to real Downtempo – it has to be called something these days to even figure – there’s no difference really, where does House tempo begin and Downtempo end? People are opening up. No, it’s definitely not going down a Northern Soul route. That was a dead end.
Can you talk us through how you re-imagined the House rhythms of The Shapeshifters ‘It’s You’ and transformed them into your and Pete Gooding’s No Logo Sunset Mix for Defected?
I put the vocals up in solo. I really liked the sound of the stems, I think probably the only stems I have never attempted to improve sonically. Then I started hitting different pads to get a groove that worked with the vocals. Pete and I thought it would be nice to make a mix that could work at sunset at Mambo; starts super chilled and builds forever like an old Frankie Knuckles mix and then, if you wanted to, mix it into the original version and take it higher…
Can you tell us about your studio setup and any favourite software/ hardware?
I mix “in the box”. It’s a 64 bit PC 6 x 3.2ghz i7 running UAD quadcore cards with all UAD & Slate Digital Plug ins and some anonymous extras. Cubase Pro 8 & Wavelab 8.5. I worked in big analogue studios a lot so fot me, this software is as close, or closer, as it gets. Rhodes piano and Prophet 600 and Korg Trinity /TLA 5051 valve input stage, vintage strat and precision bass, some exotic percussion, lap steel guitar.
I love my Korg Global Wave drum, no midi. But most of all I love my Mackie HR824 monitors. You can work all day and night with them and they never hurt but they never lie.
Oh and my Neve 1073 EQ, of course.
Where can people get to hear you DJ over the summer? And what are your forthcoming production plans?
On Mixcloud https://www.mixcloud.com/afterlife Unfortunately, or otherwise depending on your point of view, I am one of the 5% of the population who has a very serious reaction to strong pulsed microwaves such as wifi and smartphone frequencies so well and truly grounded. Very fucking tedious actually, so I make a token mix every month whilst in mourning until things change for the better again. It happened for tobacco so I live in hope. People seem to be taking the issue more seriously lately…
Forthcoming productions will include working on the debut album of Fondue, their first single is getting great reactions https://pro.beatport.com/release/absolem/1533670
I AM really excited about my latest production. A debut album by DF Tram from San Francisco called “Illegal Lingo” due for release on 10th July
Your new EP along with Pete Gooding as No Logo is called ‘A Cubic Centimetre of Chance’. What’s the idea behind the title? And can you tell us about how the EP was conceived and brought together?
The new EP charts their creative meetings during the last three years when they have a chance to relax from their busy solo careers hence the EP title taken from the Carlos Castenada book Journey to Ixtlan: “All of us, whether or not we are warriors, have a cubic centimetre of chance that pops out in front of our eyes from time to time. The difference between an average man and a warrior is that the warrior is aware of this, and one of his tasks is to be alert, deliberately waiting, so that when his cubic centimetre pops out he has the necessary speed, the prowess, to pick it up.”
Which perfectly describes their approach to collaboration. Pete and I rarely have time to work together as much as we would like to because of other commitments so when we do we regard the time as special and make the most of it. This EP is a perfect example of something being made over a four year period – 6 tracks + 6 times we spent together in the studio that reflect how we felt at each time and sometimes provoked by the vocals of Steve Smith (Dirty Vegas) https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=707418365&fref=ts , Ashibah https://www.facebook.com/ashibahmusic?fref=ts and NYC rapper River Nelson https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Nelson
And finally. What is your philosophy for life?
Do no harm but take no shit. It’s trickier than it sounds.