- Mon, 2007-10-01 13:20
On October 1st, DJ legend Paul Oakenfold's authorised biography hit the shelves, followed by his Greatest Hits And Remixes album on October 31st. Paul Oakenfold is one of the biggest DJs in the world. His rise from South London soul boy to world-conquering DJ is fascinating, inspiring and revealing.
I Like Music caught up with Paul Oakenfold to talk about meeting the Queen, making and mixing music and working with legends such as Grandmaster Flash and Dr Hunter S Thompson.
"I Like Music because.... it gives me the feelings and thoughts that I’ve never ever had in my life.” Paul Oakenfold
ILM: So… you’re officially a LEGEND, having done a show for radio one recently alongside legends such as Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher and Blondie. How was it?
Oakenfold: I was honoured. I’ve never seen myself as a legend and I was very surprised that Radio One actually chose me with the amount of people they have to choose from, so thank you Radio One. I thought it was very important to me to choose the right records and to choose the artists that were part of our scene and the milestones in terms of certain changes in my life, also, the records that were important to me. I mean there were so many to choose from.
Being into all kinds of music, there were different genres that I wanted to touch on, but I only had a certain amount of time. So, I tried to give a good perception of the kind of music I grew up listening to and why I chose Madonna, which was probably not an obvious choice for some people, but for me it was, because of my involvement and how she’s helped me.
ILM: I listened to the show and liked the stories you told about your choice of tracks (which included Chemical Brothers - Hey Boy, Hey Girl, Run DMC - It's Like That, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince - Girl's Aint Nothin But Trouble, Bob Marley, Soul II Soul, Underworld…I can’t believe your mate tripped Bob Marley up… what did Bob say?
Oakenfold: I thought we were going to get beaten up by the security. My friend is six foot odd and his feet are huge. I always fell over his feet; it was a standard joke. We were sitting like me and you are now (opposite each other), but we were in a club and it was a bit dark, so when he tripped Bob Marley, I was like ‘Oh my God, we’re going to get beaten up.’ When it happened Bob carried on but he looked over. His security gave us really dirty looks. It was an accident, so there’s nothing they could say about that, but we did think, ‘we’re going to get done in here.’
ILM: You did a gig on the Great Wall of China, you sold out the Hollywood Bowl, played Nelson Mandela organised AIDS benefit gig with Bono, Peter Gabriel and Beyonce, you’ve supported Madonna on tour, and you’re just back from supporting Underworld before heading out for a tour of UK Universities… tell us more?
Oakenfold: I’m really looking forward to it. I sold out Hollywood Bowl which is 17000 and then I play to 600 for one of the shows. It’s good. I’m glad I’m back in England. I’m looking forward to getting out there. I’ve been living outside of this country for five years now and times change. So I’m looking forward to getting back on the road and seeing what it’s all about again and meeting a completely different genre... In terms of music there’s a lot of new bands that I’m not familiar with and, in terms of the students, there’s probably a lot who’ve not even heard me DJ before. I’ve never been to Hull. Swansea, I’ve not been there for eight years. So there is certainly a student or clubber who hasn’t heard me unless they’ve been in America. So I’ve got to get out there, I’ve got to roll my sleeves up and I’ve got to prove myself all over again, and that’s a big challenge for me. And I don’t take it lightly…
…I’m not going to turn up and be like, ‘oh guess what, just because I’ve got a book and an album and I’ve done soundtracks, I am., No, I have to prove to you I am who I am and why I am this person, so I’m looking forward to that.
ILM: It’ll be a cosy vibe then.
Oakenfold: I prefer it when it’s small. It’s more personal. I like it when it’s intense. You come off from some big shows and you’re a bit removed.
ILM: You’ll be able to see the white’s of their eyes.
Oakenfold: They’ll be throwing things at me.
ILM: Nooooo they won’t.
ILM: A Lively Mind is your second artist album and second for Perfecto. Featuring 12 new songs composed and created by you it was three years in the making, which track did you enjoy laying down the most?
Oakenfold: I think the track I enjoyed recording… I enjoyed it all. It was more of a creative process than the first album, and I was working with a lot of different people, similar to the first album, but the title Lively Mind came because I was being stimulated generally. I was working with an artist, a hip hop writer, a producer, so it was very stimulating. I was also working with guys who’d never put music out before, so I felt it was very creative. Probably the track I had the most fun with was a track called Vulnerable with the guys from this new band called The Bad Apples, and their music hasn’t come out yet. So I was in a studio with a full band and we were doing electronic music. So I was saying to the drummer ‘no you have to stay really tight and really on the rhythm, because in electronic music it’s programmed, there’s no slack movement.’ So with the guitarist I was like, ‘I need just a riff, not a part, like musicians tend to do’. So it was a different process but I enjoyed it; and we had fun.
ILM: Faster Kill Pussycat featured Brittany Murphy on vocals. Pharrell Williams featured on Sex N Money. Grandmaster Flash is on Set It Off. With regards to collaborating with Grandmaster, Flash how was it working with another DJ?
Oakenfold: First of all he’s a legend and it was an honour to work with Grandmaster Flash. I was really nervous and was wondering how it was going to work. The idea was that we would merge hip hop and dance/trance together. So it was like, where do you start? The first thing was finding out where the beat was gonna be, because hip hop is down here and melodic music that I play is here. [Oakie moves his hands to indicate BPM/speed of the music] So we had to start with a tempo that worked.
So we figured out what we were going to do. I said, ‘Listen Flash, you should do a lot of the scratching and do the lyrical content and I’ll do more the musical side because that’s your strength and that’s mine, then, let me mix it,’ because I do more mixing than he does and it was a case of finding the balance. I didn’t want to put vocals on it and he talked me into it. I said, ‘Flash, I don’t do vocals,’ and he was leaning on me, because the theme was ‘Yo wassup,’ English and American, so we needed to get the right balance.
ILM: Now, let’s talk about tour mishaps, because I was reading your biography and you’ve fallen off stage in New Zealand and had to dry your records with a hairdryer the first time you met U2 and one time the tour manager forgot to bring your records to a gig… what’s been the worst tour mishap?
Oakenfold: They are the ones. I hurt myself when I fell off stage, and I nearly got kicked off the tour when the tour manager forgot my records. I was in front of 50,000. It was horrible, because apart from missing the show and being told off by the promoters, I was with Outkast and Nelly Furtado, and it was embarrassing, so I had to fire the tour manager on the spot. There were no excuses, I learned from it; you have to take responsibility and I did. And he was a good guy, so that was the problem. He made the fatal mistake, because he thought someone else had them. You never presume in life; you have to check. He presumed someone else had ‘em and they presumed he had ‘em, and that’s what happened. I never presume anything as a result.
ILM: You’ve had your fair share of great moments too on tour though, having toured with U2 and Madonna (my idol). Can you share any amusing moments that happened on those tours?
Oakenfold: I don’t think funny things happen on those, because there’s so much risk and so much pressure. Yeah, there’ve been moments where we’ve been hanging out and they’re in the book and there’s even pictures where I’m with U2 and we’re clowning around. But there’s too much to lose. When you’re on stage in front of 80,000, you can’t be comical, because if you are, people perceive that as not being professional. You can be comical after you’ve finished the show and you’re having a few beers and you’re sitting in a hotel room.
ILM: You’re one of the first DJs to have a residency on Ibiza, you're the biggest DJ in the world (Guiness World Records says as much) and now you live in Hollywood. How is it living in Hollywood and being able to see the Hollywood sign from your kitchen window as you’re making the tea?
Oakenfold: I never dreamed that would happen. That was part of the reason for buying the house. I said to my mum, ‘I can’t believe that it’s here.’ You sum it all up and all these thoughts come back to you, because you’re writing a book. I never thought that would happen but I’m happy where I am in my life. I’m really happy with what’s going on and it’s kind of taken me to that point really.
ILM: Queen Elizabeth presented you with a Pioneer of Dance Music award! Wow! How was that experience?
Oakenfold: I was nervous. It was a pioneer of the nation award. You can’t take anyone with you; you can’t go with your partner. So, I was very nervous and I had a few glasses of wine. And afterwards you’re elated. I felt so good afterwards, I hung out in the Palace as long as I could; I got talking to some security. Also I was fascinated. I thought, ‘How often are you going to be in Buckingham Palace? How often are you going to see and experience this? Probably never!’ It’s a very special award to be seen as a Pioneer of the Nation, so I’m promoting Britain, England, and what we’ve done. There was a scientist there, there was the guy who invented the Transistor radio there, there were people who save people’s lives; pioneers.
So I just wanted to really be in the moment and really live it. I didn’t want it to end so I milked that night and day for every bit I could get out of it, because I think in year’s to come it’s going to be one of the things that I look back on and think ‘that was one of the special days of my life!’ So, when I got up that morning, I went into it with that mindset. It was only when I got to Buckingham Palace that I got nervous, I suppose everybody does, so you have a few glasses, then all of a sudden I was like, ‘I need water,’ but I wasn’t drunk.
ILM: Your world has been primarily instrumentally based as a DJ, but you've moved on to songs and are moving forward as a result. Your projects always involve a high level of artistry. Can you describe the Paul Oakenfold process of making, well, frankly blinding music?
ILM: Do you get a theme in your mind and then a melody… how does it usually work?
Oakenfold: That’s a good question and you’ve touched on it. There is a process and there is a theme. The process is a melodic sound and also music that makes me feel good. Because I think it’s not about listening to music or listening to a DJ, it’s about the feeling you get when I play as a DJ or when you hear a piece of music… you feel. That’s what music does, that’s what music is partly there for. You can feel sad by listening to music in a certain key, you can feel melodic if you’ve got something that’s reoccurring and know that’s going to come there, so I approach it in that way. I like melody; I like song, so I work on hooks. So there is an approach and there is means behind the thought.
ILM: Bunkka, your debut artist album (out 2002) featured Starry Eyed Suprise and Ready Steady Go went Gold and featured vocals from Nelly Furtado, Tricky, Ice Cube and Dr Hunter S Thompson's final recorded appearance – how was it working with Hunter S Thompson?
Oakenfold: It was wonderful. I rung him up and I was like ‘your references from some of your books, I may have used on flyers of clubs… you’ve touched a new generation and would you like to do some work with me in terms of dialogue?’ He’d never worked on a record before. He’d been asked a few times, but turned it down. His wife told me, the reason why he agreed to do it was because I was bringing a completely new genre and generation to his work.
So, I sat there with him; I interviewed him similar to the way we’re talking, and it was to get a story and a piece of dialogue out of him that I could write music to. We sat there for two nights, just kicking it and shooting shit and talking about different things. He told me about his early days with the Hells Angels when he was on the trail of one of the presidents, Nixon, and he went through all these different genres. And then, I found something that was related to youth and felt was something we all have and we lose, which is dreams.
When you’re that young kid or teenager, you have these dreams that when you grow up you’re going to be this person, and the older you get the more you lose your dreams, because you don’t become that person you want to be. And my point was saying, ‘no, you don’t have to, you CAN become the person you dream of being,’ and I’m the living example of that. So, in the book, on the record when it came to Bunkka, I was like, ‘look, he got his dream, I got my dream, so you can go and get your dream.’
ILM: Indeed. You’ve certainly followed your dreams. From your first signing as an a&r rep (Will Smith, followed by SaltnPeppa) to founding Perfecto in 1991, remixing New Order, U2, and Madonna, writing film scores… you’re definitely living the dream. What advice would you give to young people on following their dream career?
Oakenfold: Follow it, follow that dream. It’s a difficult path; it’s easy to give up. You will be one of the 10% of people out there who are in that bracket because you’ve succeeded. 90% of people don’t live their dream, they talk about it. We’ve all been in the pub when you’re mate says ‘I’m going to do this’ and you go back a year later and he’s sitting in the same chair saying the same thing; we’ve all been there or know someone who’s been there.
I consciously said to myself when I was 16 sitting on a subway in New York that I’m not going to be that person who’s on that tube going every single day to work for 35 years doing the same job, that’s not going to be me. I’m not knocking that person, that’s just not me. I said to myself, ‘I want more out of my life’ and that’s how I ended up 20 years later writing this book and being here talking to you.