- Mon, 2007-01-01 13:05
Steve Sutherland is one of the most successful names in urban music. He’s been DJing since he was 13, but his career in music took off after his Twice As Nice album went platinum. Since then, he’s had a few Golds, released 11 albums, and is the only person to have won six MOBOs.
These days, he has a successful radio show on Galaxy FM, was a judge on TV show Chancers alongside Beyonce’s dad, and has DJ'd for P Diddy and Jay Z, among others. Now he’s one of the guest judges for the Hugo Urban Rules talent search.
I Like Music caught up with Steve Sutherland to talk about Beyonce and Usher, Hugo Urban Rules and drinks prices in Ibiza.
“I like music because… it’s sexy, emotional, it brings out the best in people, and it’s all good.” Steve Sutherland
ILM: You’ve played as headline DJ for high profile events such as Jay Z's party for the UMF, The MTV Nokia world and European snowboarding championships, various MTV Europe parties, fortnightly guest with Roger Sanchez for 2005 in Pacha Ibiza as well as headline DJ for Sony / BMG, Atlantic / Warner Music & Universal Music artist events, what’s been a particular highlight for you?
Steve: I’ve yet to come to real climax with the whole DJ thing. Every day is different. There are no two mornings or afternoon’s that are the same, so I don’t reflect on anything that long.
A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Beyonce. I’ve got an urban radio show on Galaxy and it was the only radio show she did while she was over here. She was supposed to be there for 20 minutes, and there were all these industry bods around and they were like, ‘you’ve only got 20 minutes, Beyonce won’t answer this and she won’t answer that.’
And, I’ve interviewed her before and it was quite a struggle, but this time she sat down and, an hour and a half later this girl was still there, which was fantastic. And I got everything I needed out of her. So, if there’s a high point in my career it’s when you interview artists like her.
I interviewed Mariah, she was the same, she was supposed to be with me for 20 minutes, but she was with me for two and a half hours, and we had some champagne, so we drank a lot of that and we relaxed and she had a really good time.
Maybe I can talk for England, but I’ve never had an interview that’s run out of steam.
ILM: You’ve released 11 albums - one platinum and three gold for the ‘Twice As Nice' series. What is the main thing you’ve learned about making albums since the first one?
Steve: You want to know something funny? The first album I did was the best album I did, because it had no involvement… it was an album I did myself with DJ Spoony. The reason why is because it had no involvement from anybody. At that time, the urban music, hip hop, rnb and garage weren’t big things then, so we had no pressure from anybody. We got our wishlist and sat down and got the tracks we wanted.
And I sit back and I listen to that album sometimes and think, hold on a minute - that was a bloody good album! And all the tracks that Spoony did on his side and all the tracks that I did on my side are still played now six years later. The DJs still play the same tracks, which says a lot about that album.
The main thing I’ve learned is … be yourself. My musical genre has spread a lot more now, so I might play a bit of Madonna in my set, there’s nothing wrong with Madge. And my club clientele has changed. I started out in urban London, Twice As Nice and then ended up doing international brands, like Pacha, which is one of the biggest dance brands in the world. I don’t do Pacha in England, I do Pacha internationally, and that’s a big deal to me.
ILM: So good diversity and you’ve grown in your career?
Steve: Yeah, exactly. I’m exposed to a lot of different cultures, new music. I DJ with Roger Sanchez. I wasn’t that bothered with house music initially, but I like it now. It’s allright. I wouldn’t play a whole set of it, but I’ll play a few records if the feeling’s right.
ILM: You have one of the biggest urban music radio shows in Europe and DJ in amazing clubs around the world … what other ambitions do you have left to fulfil?
Steve: I want an even better radio show. My radio show is one of the biggest in Europe and I’m quite proud of that, because that show is developed and completed by me, there’s no interference from Galaxy, the radio station. They’re like, ‘just do want you want dude,’ and that works for me.
When I won my last MOBO award, I said, ‘Thanks to Galaxy for not interfering in my sh*t’. And there was a round of applause from the crowd, I was nervous when I was up there, but my point was it’s important for me to be myself and do what I want to do, rather than what someone else thinks I should be doing.
I like the media business, so I want to get to the top of my game in the media business. I’m going to do TV, I’ll write a lot more. I don’t want to do music, I want to do lifestyle stuff. I’m a gadget fan. It’s all about lifestyle in the 21st century. I’ve traveled to a lot of countries and been exposed to a lot of different cultures, so hopefully it’ll work out.
ILM: How does it feel to be the only person to have won six MOBOS? (Best Club DJ, Best Club and Radio DJ, among others)
Steve: I never say die, it’s just another facet of what I do. I’ve won other awards, but it’s fantastic. When people slag the off and say awards don’t mean anything and they’re nods to the industry, but MOBOS, you’re nominated by the industry, but you’re voted for by the public, so that’s two nods from both sides. That’s how I got to do something like Hugo Boss Urban Rules – a multi national company doing something with MTV and Galaxy, and I’m kind of accredited, seen as someone doing something within the industry, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it.
ILM: It must give you the confidence to know you’re doing something right.
Steve: Well, hopefully I’m doing something right, when the calls stop coming and you don’t want to speak to me anymore, I’ll have a problem.
It’s like when DJs say, ‘I played here and I played there,’ and I say, ‘so you’ve been to Australia once, but how many times have you been called back?’ I believe that if I go to Australia to DJ or the states to DJ, I’ll get repeat bookings, repeat work and that’s the name of this game. You’ve always got to be in people’s mindset all the time. Going there once, it’s no big deal, but I’ve been playing Pacha Ibiza for three years now, and I’ve been in Ibiza for six years.
ILM: So it’s all about longevity?
ILM: HUGO are investing in the whole culture of youth and urban music. What’s your role with Hugo Urban Rules? What tips do you have for young artists, DJs and producers just starting out on making it in the industry?
Steve: Hugo Urban Rules is a chance for people to get involved in performing for free, to get involved in something that could really make a difference to themselves. A lot of aspiring artists ask me, ‘how do I get into the industry, I’ve tried so long, I’ve sent my demos in, Hugo Urban Rules is not just about people going on stage and singing or watching Amy Winehouse, its about people being involved in the workshops that are happening the day before and meeting music industry dons like Mervin Linn who works at Sony BMG.
He’s responsible for Usher, Beyonce, Justin. This guy knows his stuff; he really is a don in the music industry. He’s going to be doing the workshops on a face to face basis, not in front of 1000 people in an auditorium. I’ll be one of the judges also.
That’s an ideal scenario. To get all that for free, I’d pay for this. This is something which could change your life or it could change your perception of what’s going on in the music industry and also, at the end of it, there’s a great night out. People just need to log on to www.hugofragrances.com and get the details. This is a no-brainer.
ILM: You’ve also been involved with Rhyme4Respect, a lyrics competition, and the winning lyrics have all been chosen. What do you look for when judging talent competitions, such as this and Hugo Urban Rules?
Steve: Someone who can sing or rap would be really good [laughs] – talent. I can’t sing for toffee, in my head and in the shower I’m the best singer in the world, but when I’m on my show and I take the mickey, I start rapping on air, not a good look!
What I’m looking for is talent, it doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s not about a gimmick. I did a TV show a couple of months ago called Chancers with Matthew Knowles, Beyonce’s dad, on Channel 4, and I was the main judge there. And what I found funny about the whole thing was that the people with talent just came like they were popping into their local newsagent, just natural and they blew me away, but the ones with the fiery red hair who could juggle at the same time as singing while doing the splits, who were a nightmare.
At points you can catch me on national TV crying with laughter because some of it was so bad, hysterically. I mean, they had the talent but they overcompensated. This is about scaling it right. The judges know what they’re looking for. Don’t think I’ve got to be the next Beyonce, Eminem or Lemar; it’s all about being you, but bringing talent to the forefront.
This is the second Hugo Urban Rules, and there will be more after this, so it’s about bringing everything to the forefront and making people get involved.
ILM: You can no doubt teach the next generation quite a lot. You yourself must have also learned a great deal over the years from your peers. I read that PDiddy was giving you some advice about finding the right balance in terms of spotting talent. What else have you learned from the likes of PDiddy, Jay Z et al?
Steve: You’re very good at your research aren’t you?
ILM: Thank you.
Steve: Well, I’ve interviewed Usher maybe nine times and on interview nine, I asked him, ‘how do you keep up? How do you keep this going?
He says, ‘You know what? I’m in the studio every morning and then I go and do my weights at the gym, then I go and have vocal training, have a sleep, go shopping, come back, do some more vocal training, go to the gym…” . You know, these people are the top of their game and worth hundreds of millions of dollars, because they get up and still do what they’ve got to do.
I saw an amazing thing the other day on TV and there was a vocal coach had worked with Stevie Wonder. He’s been in the industry for 40 years, he’s regarded as a God by the music industry, yet he had vocal lessons every morning. Now that should tell people that even though they think they’re the best, these guys really are, even at the top of their game they’re are aspiring to be better and better and better.
Remember it’s not just about the music. With something like Hugo Boss Urban Rules, it’s not about necessarily being a vocal artist, the spinoff is amazing, you can go into TV or radio, it’s not just about one thing.
And these workshops, which are really important, they’re on the day before and people should get involved in those. So check out the website to book a place.
ILM: Totally, learning just opens up more opportunities. HUGO URBAN RULES will train people up with masterclasses on dance, business and singing. What are your two top tips for excelling in the music business and at singing?
Steve: I was in a DVD on the music business and still getting emails from people in America saying thank you. And my thing is, get as much as those DVDs and books as you want, but if you’re not actually there to see it, how can you participate? It’s about getting off your arse and doing something. And even if you don’t want to get into the music industry, come anyhow, you’ll get a chance to see me play a few records, Jay Sean is a wicked performer and Amy Winehouse has got a number one album, so that’s not bad.
What always interests me is the amount of people that enter, a mad amount of people. Only one person is going to get through at a time, and if you want to enter Pop Idol or X Factor, this is great training, whether you win or not.
ILM: In terms of life skills and staying on the straight and narrow, what's your advice to kids?
Steve: I’m not a social worker… but, luckily with the advent of downloads, the internet and the worldwide web, I think a lot of people have got a lot more avenues to get their stuff out.
As far as life skills per se are concerned, I think most people out there are going to learn what it’s like, it’s not a fairytale dream, it is actually possible. Everything is attainable.
I left school with a couple of O Levels, a couple of A Levels and that was it and I’ve worked, did my degree and now I’m doing what I want to do. But I invested in myself. I paid to go on some seminars in America myself, things like this Hugo Urban Rules, even things that weren’t applicable to my genre, like the big one in Miami every year.
I’d sit down in the workshops, the only British person from my genre of music and I’d be scribbling down like mad, just learning.
So when I came back to England, I’d meet someone high up in the industry and have the ability to communicate on the same level and have more of an understanding of what’s going on.
ILM: And I guess it’s that learning that gives you self-confidence in what you’re doing, which is perhaps how to get more female MCs into the game, something you’re keen on.
Steve: A lot of MCs have too much confidence.. I am the man… which is great, but do they know how to put the packages together, the marketing get the record on radio, and get signed by a major or independent label? Do they know these things or do they just know they’re the best one in their gang?
I meet a lot of female artists who say I can sing, I’m better than Jamelia or Corinne Bailey Rae, but nobody wants to hear me. Go to something like this and just soak it all up.
ILM: You’ll be DJing at the free concert on the 22nd when the HUGO URBAN RULES winner will perform live on the same stage as Jay Sean, Amy Winehouse; that must be exciting.
Steve: Yeah, I’m one of the judges for it and DJing. MTV are filming this also, the whole process. How many people get a chance to get even that far down the line? It’s difficult in this industry getting noticed, so this a great opportunity to do that. And, for those who don’t get through this one, they can go away, hone their craft and come back next time, because there will be more of these.
So far they’ve had Sway, Terri Walker, Amy Winehouse and Jay Sean and it’ll be a continuous thing.
ILM: You’re back in Ibiza for my Pacha residency this year. What’s the best and worst thing about Ibiza?
Steve: The best thing about Ibiza is the lifestyle. It’s really cool, laid back, relaxed. I don’t do drugs, so I wouldn’t know about that. I mean it’s a party island, but it’s a nice place to be for three months. A lot of DJs would give their right arm to DJ there, the only urban residents who are djing week in week out are me and Trevor Nelson. He’s on one day and I’m on another day, that’s it. Everybody wants to play at Pacha. Jade Jagger’s got a hip hop night there. So that’s three main nights that happen.
The worst thing? The drinks prices! Vodka and orange? £15? C’mon! £10 for a bottle of water? I don’t drink alcohol, how can you get drunk on an island like this? A lot of people save up for months on end. You need more than £100 spending money!