- Tue, 2011-02-01 16:01
Saul ‘Chase’ Milton, and Will ‘Status’ Kennard first won a widespread audience with their debut album More Than Alot, gaining particular attention for the guest vocalists chosen to complement their smoothly-produced drum and bass. Ready to drop their new album No More Idols a little over two years after its predecessor, those winning elements have been turned up to 11. The list of collaborators is something to behold, and the beats promise to conquer more dance floors and more hearts than ever before.
We spoke to Saul and Will about how they’ve evolved on the new album, working with a wide range of artists, the music that’s been floating their boat of late, and what comes next.
“I Like Music because…silence is boring.” Chase & Status
ILM: How do you feel now that your new album is finished?
Saul: Relieved, yet very anxious. I want to see the reactions; how it’s going to be received, how it’s going to do.
Will: Kind of nervous excitement really, full of anticipation and expectation.
Saul: I want the finished album in my hand with all the artwork and CD casing…God knows who buys CDs these days but I’d like to see that as it is, and just put it next to the first album on the shelf!
ILM: How did you approach your second album? Did you have a set structure in mind?
Will: It was a case of taking what we thought worked from the first album and expanding on it. We definitely liked the fact that we used some vocalists from different scenes on More Than Alot; Plan B and Kano. We felt it gave some of the songs a bit more character than maybe traditional dance music sometimes has, it worked well for us and helped us stand out a bit. So we were definitely keen to use our links and our exposure to get some other songwriters to feature. We wrote a list of people we were interested in working with - it was quite a big list! We actually managed to get most of them on there, which was quite surprising. So it was just a case of “let’s try to write some exciting music, incorporate what we do with some of the talent in this country – new, old and established – and see what happens!” Just write as much stuff as possible and take the best 12 or 13 tracks. And that’s kind of how it worked.
ILM: How did it all come together in the studio?
Will: The biggest addition was probably the use of more guitars on this album. We did use guitars a lot. There were hardly any on the last album...
Saul: The live show really influenced the way we were writing music. With the first album most of the tracks were big tracks in the club before the album came out. We still have some club tracks on No More Idols, but a lot of the new stuff is geared to how we think we’d work in the live realm.
Will: So because of that, real instruments were brought into the studio a bit more - strings, brass and guitars were combined with dance music production.
Saul: It’s very easy just to compare it track by track with the album. Like “we need to write a new Eastern Jam, we need to write a new Take Me Away”. Then it comes to the stage where you’re like “well, we’ve actually done those, and maybe we can or can’t better them, but they are what they are. We don’t want to try and do them again, let’s get onto the new stuff!” It’s quite a conscious thing as well – there’s ‘second album syndrome’ that a lot of people suffer from which is just a lot of stress trying to write the second album when the first album just happens. And with our second album, we’re signed to a major…
Will: So it’s just the expectations really.
ILM: Thirteen tracks on your fifteen track album include a featured vocalist. Was there a lot to juggle?
Will: There were more people to deal with. Management – everyone’s got to manage everyone!
Saul: Deals, labels, time it’s gonna come out, not conflicting with their own projects. So on and so forth. There’s loads of stuff we leave our loving manager Joe Oakley to deal with...ha ha!
Will: However, on the other hand, it made the process easier because we were working with some of the most creative people in the country; singers, vocals and material that is inspiring helps you to get inspired too!
ILM: How would you describe your collaborative process with each artist? Was there a set way or working, was it different each time...?
Saul: Oh yeah, it varies. Tracks like Blind Faith – we must have 968 versions of that track! So we dubbed the beat and then asked different people to write to it. Liam Bailey just happened to write his part like that - 'click' - when we gave it to him. That worked out really well. With Maverick Sabre, he recorded the vocals over something else and then we wrote a track around it. White Lies, we gave them the track, they wrote to it. Dizzee, he wrote to a different track and then we swapped it over to that one. It just varied case to case really.
Will: Just any way of getting the vocal in the first place, and quickly. When you’re working with someone you don’t know very well it’s important to keep the energy up. You don’t want to be sitting around for two days head-butting the wall going “why aren’t we getting anywhere.” So we’d just try and get anything that they liked, just record something and then go and do the geeky stuff - maybe end up changing the track completely.
ILM: We chatted to Will last year when your lovely new studio was being built! You mentioned that you wanted to focus on UK artists only. However, US soul superstar Cee Lo Green makes a cheeky appearance on this record. How did that come to be?
Saul: Unfortunately, he was the only artist on the album we didn’t actually end up in the studio with, he just sent us some vocals. We chatted to him a lot though. He’s a very nice chap! What’s great about him is that he’s got a huge portfolio and he’s had a great year, and he was really cool with us doing whatever we wanted with his vocals. Some people are like “you can’t do this, you need to do that”; he goes “just go crazy, do whatever the hell you want to do!” He’s very passionate about London as well, that’s why we felt that it suited our British themed album, especially because he sings about Brixton.
ILM: With so many strong collaborators, how did you approach the balance of the album?
Will: We were worried that it wouldn't sound like a cohesive album, that it would end up as a bit of a compilation. But we didn’t think too much about it! The more you think about trying to achieve certain things when you’re writing music, the harder it is. So we just thought “let’s stick to our guns, write the stuff we're really into and hopefully that will give it a cohesive sound” – our sound. We don’t really know exactly what our sound is, but people seem to think they recognise it! It was a case of writing 20 tracks, picking the ones that we thought worked. Just working out a good set list if you like…
Saul: How an album flows is very important. I know some great records that I think have been structured badly, and as a result my listening pleasure has been affected because of it. If an album flows well from start to finish…
Will: Especially with an album like this with all the different featured artists, it’s important that it feels like it makes sense.
ILM: With a musical background centred in the underground, your debut album went on to achieve considerable mainstream success. Whilst creating album two, No More Idols, was there a conscious concern to please both the mainstream and the underground throughout the process?
Saul: Not really, basically you have to write music for yourself. If you’re passionate about it then hopefully people who are into you will feel the same. Obviously you’ll have the die-hard fans who just like drum and bass and think we’re shit because we don’t just make underground drum and bass for 45 topless white guys in a club somewhere. That’s how it is, you know. I think if you’re a fan of someone, you’ll go with them through their journey. You might not like everything they do, but if you’re a true fan you’ll just follow them, hopefully excited to see where they’re gonna go next.
Will: I think it’s naturally got more of a mainstream sound because we have got more mainstream tastes now. When we were starting out, we were those guys that hated anything on Radio One.
Saul: I was that topless white guy.
Will: Yeah! If anything was poppy, it didn’t matter what the music was, we just didn’t like it.
Saul: You’ve got blinkers, don’t you?
Will: Yeah. But now we’ve become a bit more open-minded with our tastes, and I think that’s probably affected and influenced our music.
ILM: As a duo, how do you push yourselves to evolve?
Saul: Things such as improving technically as producers. We might want to try a new nerdy technique out on making a bass noise or making drums or whatever, which we won’t bore you with... Also things you might even be watching on television or things that have happened in your life. A lot of things have actually happened to us individually over the last couple of years, good and bad. Those might influence the record you’re making that day, so on and so forth. I think all that seems really key in how our music is made.
Will: I think we push ourselves by just never celebrating anything. We have this thing where we never actually celebrate anything we do, because…
Saul: There’s always so much more to do, in our eyes.
Will: Yeah. We’re very aware that the music industry is very fickle and can be short lived. So we’re always pushing ourselves to achieve something bigger and better, even though people say “you’re doing well.” We always think someone’s doing better and we could be doing better. That keeps spurring us on.
Saul: It’s best to always aim for new goals. Lots of people are happy to hit a plateau and just stay there and that’s fantastic, but for us we’re always trying to set ourselves new goals. A question I always get asked is “what’s the highlight in your career?” and I never give it an individual answer. For me, every single part in our career has been a moment; signing to this label, releasing an album, writing this one. There’s always a next level to go to. We’ve got more albums to do, more production, more ideas. We like to think we’ll be doing this until we’re very old.
ILM: What can we expect from the No More Idols live show?
Will: The live shows have superseded all our expectations, and it’s got a bit of a reputation itself for being quite chaotic. A lot of carnage, a lot of young people coming out and going bonkers really.
ILM: That’s what you want though!
Will: Yeah! Atmosphere. If everyone isn’t just fighting by the end of the show then we’re disappointed. Something’s gone wrong! Ha ha! But we’re going on tour in March to really promote the album live. It’ll be an extension of what the live shows have already been. We’ve been lucky to lock down lots of the vocalists and they’re going to come and do guest appearances and support us. We’re fortunate to have an amazing drummer and amazing front man who really add some class to the shows as well. Just a whole lot of insanity. More than ever before really.
Saul: We’ll be playing new tracks off the album for the first time on the tour as well, which is exciting-slash-nerve-wracking. But that’s part of it you know, going and doing something brand new on stage, gauging the reaction.
ILM: In terms of DJ sets, who do you admire? When you get the chance to be a punter for a night, who would you like to see the most?
Saul: David Rodigan.
Will: Andy C is an idol of ours.
Saul: He’s an old friend.
Will: It’s always a pleasure to see him. Recently he was at a gig and we just stood next to him and watched him DJ, and it just kind of brought us back to why we do this in the first place. Him in that sense; David Rodigan for being the…
Saul: The absolute legend!
Will: …The most charismatic, coolest DJ of all time. He’s a reggae DJ, but he’s sort of a British institution. He’s an example of what the essence of DJing is actually all about.
Saul: Selecting, showing, taking people on a journey through the music.
Will: Educating them.
Saul: Rodigan’s the man for that.
ILM: What is it about electronic music that keeps you coming back for more?
Saul: The fact that you can make your own rules. You break rules making this music, and you can just try new stuff. Hearing the explosion of dubstep recently and all the exciting, new, young, talented producers such as people like 16 Bit, really pushing the boundaries out there and showing that electronic music has limitless possibilities. You might get bogged down in one thing for a while, and you’ll hear someone else doing something completely out of the box and it’ll rejuvenate your excitement. And – being a bit of a nerd – technology and new synths and equipment coming out; we get to make cool noises…
Will: It’s relentless. Technology, possibilities; it’s just never-ending.
ILM: Who have you been listening to recently?
Saul: Ah, so much! Aloe Blacc, new White Lies album…
Will: Kanye West…
Saul: Rick Ross and Yelawolf are my favourite. Rapids from America, a guy from Alabama who just signed to Shady Records. He, for me, is the future. There are so many. Nero, they’re some exciting guys to watch out for, we’re releasing their album on our label MTA, Welcome Reality’s gonna come out in May and turn a few heads.
Will: Arcade Fire, who are on Mercury with us – their first album was amazing.
ILM: What are your future plans?
Saul: We’ve got our label, MTA, which we’re very passionate about. We’ve got Nero and 16 Bit signed to us and we’re currently talking to some new bands to get them on board.
Will: Signing some bands!
Saul: Yeah! We’ve got some weird folky, eerie, dark, exciting music. We’ve also got an MTA night. Next one’s February 24th 2011 at The Nest in Dalston, and it’s just a night celebrating great music. There are no preconceptions. People can come down and do what the hell they want when they play for us. Anything goes. We want to push the brand and push our artists. We’re going to be doing stuff for films, production for other artists, American and UK.
Will: Lots of stuff, basically.
Saul: And start writing album three, probably, then number four… Before we get told we have to. Ha ha!