There’s a story behind every track, or at least the good ones.
Welcome to our new music discovery feature, Listening Room, in which we share a stream of a new track and ask its creator about making it.
Kicking it off for us is Sheffield, UK producer thatmanmonkz, who just released a stellar new EP, Burnin’ Up. The title track features vocals from Dnae and the contributions of several other musicians (detailed below) and is out now on vinyl from his own imprint, Shadeleaf Music.
Tell us the story behind “Burnin’ Up”, from the original conception to the final mix.
Well, “Burnin Up” has been a long time coming. The main synth part and the basis of the rhythm track were written and recorded on the MPC about 5 years ago. I’d just moved out of a studio space a few months before, going through some “life changes” and all that, and was back to just having a couple of analogue synths, the MPC, some decks, and a laptop rigged up for my own amusement in the yard.
It started life as an 8-bar loop that had my head noddin’ really, came up with it in about 5 minutes, called it something lame like ‘Dee Troit 1’, saved it, and didn’t think anymore about it…
A couple of years ago, when I’d just moved into my current place, and my housemate and I had set up a new studio in the basement, a friend who was messing around with edits and stuff wanted to come over to learn a little about outboard ways of working. The first thing I did was look through some old loops and stuff on the MPC to show him that, and came back across this one.
Again it had my head noddin’, and I recorded it into Logic as parts, put some new bass synth down, engineered the individual sounds, and layered it up a little. My friend (Dan Swain, who I went on to release a couple of joints with as S&M, and also has some nice solo stuff of his own coming) took these parts and basic arrangement away into Ableton, chopped up some samples of the “Jive Talk” scene from, I think, Airplane 2, to lay over the top, and sent back a little version that we called “Aint No Thing”.
Now, it was pretty rough and ready, and more of a mess around/show him the studio than anything, but good fun nonetheless, and, again, I didn’t think too much more about it…
Fast forward to a few months back, Dnae Wellington (the vocalist on “Burnin Up”), her guitarist Tom Wylie (from her band The Indigo Sound Project) and I had done a couple of sessions working on some solo material for her, and had a couple of hours left one day. She was like “You got anything for me?” I said, “Sure, give me 10 minutes”, made them a coffee, and went looking on the MPC for any ideas.
I loaded a zip disk, and, sure enough, came across “Dee Troit 1”. Clicked play, head nodding again, looped it up on Logic real quick from the MP, and put down a little bass guitar. Dnae came back down to the basement and had the melody line real quick, and we were all into it. I asked Tom to get his disco chops on, recorded a couple of different octaves of rhythm guitar, and let him have a solo at the end of the session (which he smashed so it made it onto the track)! A week or so later I’d sketched out a basic arrangement and put some other parts down, and so called Dnae in again to write and record the final vocals for it.
The happy accident was that at some point just the guitar tracks were playing with the kick drum, as I was messing around with something, and it led to her finding a new melody line, and then us coming up with the idea for the second half of the track. The 8 bar reference to Marvin’s “Inner City Blues” later on in the arrangement, is nothing other than me being a huge fan of him, and that record…
Having multiple musicians on a recording is rare now and becoming rarer with each passing year. Can you tell me who these folks are and how you decided “Burnin’ Up” needed this?
With pleasure, I’m lucky enough to know some great musicians that benefit what I do greatly, and that more dance music should utilise proper musicianship where it can, so getting the chance to talk about them is great! (As an aside here, I think that we Producer/Artist/DJ types that get to generate extra revenue from things like deejaying should always make absolutely sure we credit and give shine to the engineers, musicians, and vocalists we work with, I think that’s really important.)
Onto “Burnin Up”: Dnae did all the vocals, and I did the rhythm track, bass, and most of the synth parts. There’s Tom Wylie, who I’ve already mentioned, on guitar, Bennett Holland (from the band King King, just won UK Blues keyboardist of the year, and is also a co-writer on more dance music than I could list) plays organ, though we were never in the same room. He recorded (on a Nord Stage I think) at his place jamming over a basic version of the instrumental after we’d chatted on the phone, and I edited it in from there (we’ve worked together a lot before so it was pretty straightforward).
The string parts were added very late in the day by Pete Simpson, who I’m lucky enough to get to work with loads, and is also a great friend of mine. Most people know him as a vocalist, but he’s a really slept on player, particularly on keys but on pretty much any instrument you can find laying around in the studio.
I don’t know if I ever knew that the track absolutely needed to go in the direction it did. It happened completely organically really and just felt right for it. A lot of my work has distinct sections or mood changes that I don’t really think about, I guess I just like it when music does that. In many ways I find it harder to stay on the same groove or idea for a long period, so I’m probably more aware when I try and stay repetitive than when I change up.
On playing the track to Chris Duckenfield, he said he wanted to do a re-edit for dj use, which he kept a lot straighter and more focussed on the tougher elements. I loved it after playing it in clubs, so I feel like that base was covered really well by his version, and his interpretation indirectly led to the opportunity to put it out myself, so there’s that too!
You released this on your own label. Do you worry about a lack of perspective when you’re self-releasing music? And tell me about the label while you’re at it.
That’s a good question. Hopefully, my experiences with releases stand me in good stead with regard to self A&R-ing, and, I’ve got good people around to help with that. Friends like Chris Duckenfield, who has had years of experience as an artist and DJ, and works at the distributors… Pete Simpson, and Ross Orton, are always there to offer advice. And I’m my own fiercest critic. If anything, I’m enjoying the artistic freedom having my own outlet, though, it’s a very different skill to learn to think of the art itself in a business context after the creative process is over.
Shadeleaf Music came about as an opportunity that was too good to miss really, with regards to the financial aspect of it. I had always wanted to do it, but figured I was about a year or so away. People are being really helpful and supportive in helping me spread the word, and, I really love being able to get music out more quickly and regularly, without the waiting and creative negotiations that can associated with labels (although I’ve still got plans to release elsewhere, and have things in the pipeline with Local Talk, and Fifty Fathoms Deep in early ’14).
Actually, the next release on Shadeleaf is some reworks I’ve done for the hugely talented vocalist/artist Khalil Anthony from his album Train. This kinda ties in nicely, as Khalil was born and raised in Chicago, and based in the US when we first talked, though he’s currently over in Berlin… That one’s due out in January.
It’s snowballing on me already, as I’m getting some great demos sent through from some pretty random places, and have works in progress due for release with Dnae (from “Burnin Up”) and J.Gordon, a singer from London over here…. I’m getting to work with people I think are really talented and deserve to be heard more, and I get to make up the rules as I go along, so, I’m in a great place right now!
Thanks very much for giving me the opportunity to speak to you, I’m a big fan of the site….