Sally Rogers is a songwriter, producer, singer, sound designer, DJ, a senior lecturer at Leeds College of Music and all round Renaissance woman. She is best known as one half of Balearic funsters A Man Called Adam (AMCA) along with production and songwriting partner Steve Jones. AMCA began their career on Gilles Peterson’s Acid Jazz label and their early productions heavily influenced the development of what became known as “Chill Out” music. Their appearance in 1990’s A Short Film About Chilling documentary along with the likes of 808 State, Alfredo and Andy Weatherall cemented their place in the Balearic/Chill Out pantheon.
However, to limit AMCA‘s music to simply “Chill Out” does it a disservice. Their debut 1991 album Apple is a Balearic classic, epitomizing the eclecticism that characterized the earlier Balearic scene before chill music was commodified into a cliched collection of warm pads, low tempos, restrained breakbeats and ocean samples. Taking in different tempos and moods, gently strolling across a range of musical styles and settings, Apple was danceable and home-listenable and sounds every bit as good today as it did in ’91.
The 1998 follow-up Duende featured a mix of glittering dance floor-targeted songs and more laid back, sun-kissed tracks, full of Rhodes, birdsong, layers of gentle percussion and downtempo electronic explorations, exemplified in the sublime “Estelle.”
2004 saw the release of their All My Favorite… compilation, a mix of tracks from their previous albums and new material, and we’ve since had remixes from the likes of Andrew Weatherall, Tom Middleton and the Idjut Boys via AMCA’s Collected Works volumes 1 to 3.
Sally and Steve have also have released avant-garde electronica under their “Discrete Machines” alias and pursued experimental sound design, including work for BBC Radio 4, the Miraikan Museum in Tokyo and the UK’s National Science Museum (and things like this).
In March this year, the pair released their latest full length album, Farmarama and it shows the influence of their sonic experiments, along with a confident maturity. You get nine tracks, ranging from percussion-laden slo-mo house full of space, gentle arpeggios and warm chords, to more challenging electronica pieces, with fleeting moments of dissonance and sonic confusion.
The songs on Farmarama gently unfurl, slowly presenting their wares, often taking in unexpected diversions on the way. There’s a brief moment in “Higher Powers” where the tinkling keys, rubbery bass, acid flecks and 606esque percussion teeter on the edge of falling apart before reassembling themselves in an extremely pleasing way. “Michael” is perhaps the most recognizably AMCA-esque song, with Sally’s unmistakable vocals floating on top of a pair of faintly familiar chords (100% Pure Poison’s “Windy C”?).
The whole album contains enough memorable melodies and intriguing production touches to withstand repeated listening and is a strong return for AMCA.
photo by Prisca Lobjoy
So thanks very much for taking the time to chat to us Sally. First of all, where are you and what have you been doing today?
My mum does my cleaning every couple of weeks and then I take her out for coffee and a cheese scone or whatever she wants. When I dropped her off I took the dog to the beach, it was a glorious day so we walked for half an hour then I sat on the dunes staring at the sea while he dug holes. It was pretty zen. Now I’m listening to deep house music as I have a couple of DJ mixes to deliver.
Now that the album is finished and released how do you feel about it?
I’m almost embarrassed to say it but I like listening to it. Its almost the extract duration of the drive I do to Leeds twice a week so I like it in the car. It’s weird because it usually takes about four years before we can listen to them again so this probably means I’ll hate it in four years time. S’ok tho, we’ll have made some more by then.
How would you describe the album?
Ugh, I dunno. I’ll leave that to someone else.
The tracks are full of unexpected deviations, and, from a production point of view, lots of interesting twists and turns – any favorite little production touches?
I like the “Mountains and Waterfall’s” drop. It’s a Traktor mashup. Stems plus breaks plus versions. I did the same on the “Ladies Of Electronica” re-rub. And I love Steve’s keys on “Paul Valery At The Disco,” proper Stevie J anarcho synth.
Can you tell us a little about your approach to production?
It’s varied. Sometimes a track will take a long time to evolve and refine and sometimes it just happens – bang! Some of the tracks don’t even have multi-tracks. They’re live recordings effectively.
So what’s the Man Called Adam creative process like? You and Steve live in different countries, is that right?
Yeah, we Facetime, Skype a lot when we’re working and send each other files, in real-time often, but we also set aside recording and writing time. He’s here about three or four months a year and I get on with it when he isn’t around. We also worked with our friend Paul (Smith) on this one. There are limits to my musicality so Steve and Paul kinda split that job sometimes, and then we all work together too. That’s the best time, when we’re battened down in a nice house in the middle of nowhere with lousy broadband and the studio set up. Owls hooting outside. Paul and Steve are both great cooks so that works for me.
I know it’s a broad question, but can you tell us some music/producers/artists who have influenced your approach to songwriting and music?
I started to DJ more regularly a few years ago and I remember loving Suzanne Kraft, Young Marco, that Nu Guinea album with Tony Allen, Sotofett, Kose. I like music with ethnicity so that all hit home for me. With songwriting that’s different, Steve likes all that art-punk stuff, 23 Skiddoo and I like Furniture and bands like that. I send Paul DJ mixes of tracks I love, sort of “mood boards” sometimes. He responds with something. Plus the obvious: Kraftwerk, Talking Heads, etc…
Was there anything that you were listening to/reading/watching etc. while putting the album together that influenced its character?
See above, but maybe we weren’t afraid to go “deep concept” with a track this time. They’re all pretty high concept. If it’s a disco cut up, it’s really a disco cut up – of ourselves. If its an ambient track it’s really an ambient track. The idea goes top to bottom. Maybe it’s all that study, we’re very thorough!
Moving away from your production career, you’re also an accomplished DJ, can you tell us a little bit about your approach to DJing?
I love worldly sounds, instruments and voices but love them best when they’re locked onto/into a great new mix or DJ remix. Moscoman or Carrot Green. Then you can play a great Brazilian track from the ’60s or ’70s, or an African funk track and it connects the dots between all the places, and all the music and all the time. Time hopping, and finding the journey that the room want to go on. That’s what Amit at Brilliant Corners says: “You play for the room Sally.” I hope I do.
And is there anything AMCA/Sally Rodgers-related coming up that you’d like to mention?
I’m sick of the sound of my own voice frankly! No, I’m busy enough, I’m enjoying rebooting the label, working with our agent Matt to get us in the right place to do more, release more. And then a summer of AMCA gigs, more remixes, and we’ve got some new tracks on the go. It’s all going to be ace.
And finally, what is the question that you never get asked that you would like to answer?
How about “What would you do with the money if you won the lottery?” Obviously family, donkey sanctuary, wildlife, dog stuff, but I’ve fantasized about opening some kind of cool art-music-education-performance-space, like The Kitchen in New York. I know so many amazing artists and talented people who could make it a meaningful place to make art and learn and share. Not least Steve.
Farmarama Remixes Volume 1 featuring mixes by Prins Thomas, Carrot Green & A Man Called Adam is out now.