- Fri, 2008-08-08 16:45
In 1990 Elevate My Mind by the Stereo MCs was the first UK hip-hop track to reach the US R&B Chart. DJ and Producer Nick Hallam and Vocalist Rob Birch, who founded their Gee Street Recordings Studio and Label in London, went on to score considerable sucess. Not only with their Stereo MC's outfit - perhaps most famous for their 1992 LP Connected, live shows and Brits for best artist and album, but also as sought after producers, working predominantly under the name Ultimatum. After a break from releases for a few years the Stereo MCs are back with their latest release Double Bubble. We caught up with Nick to chat about the new release, the Connected album and his thoughts on modern music and current issues.
"I Like Music because… It is about freedom. Freedom of expression. It's an escape but it can also change the world.” Nick Hallam, Stereo MCs
ILM: Your latest album Double Bubble is out now...What is the vibe of the album?
Nick: I think we deliberately wanted to make a record that was a bit more up tempo and a bit more dance floor friendly. With the last album we realised we had reached a bit of a cul-de-sac with our record deal with Island. We realised that we needed to get out of the deal, because we had been there too long and we had become a piece of the furniture to them. Paradise helped us to get back into the process and get our confidence back. When we toured we just thought it would be nice to do something that was a little bit more up. Also, we had been listening to a lot of the electro music that has been happening in the last four years. That really inspired us. Rob had been out DJing and playing much more up-beat sets. That really helped. In a way a lot of that electro music does harp back to the early rap and early electronica. It is much more compatibable with what we are into, the rap and funk side of things. We were never really into just straight house music.
ILM: You've been making music for a long time. Did you learn anything new this time around?
Nick: Yeah, I think we did. We did a bit of work with a local kid that Rob had bumped into. It was a way of getting away from our working mehtods because you can get stuck in the ways of doing things. This record is much more computer driven. Not that we haven't made the other four records with the help of a computer, but this time around we totally immersed ourselves with making the record in the computer. As a result, a lot of it was done in different places. We did use our studio in Brixton but a lot of it was done in different hotel rooms. Obviously, the power of the laptop is that you can have this massive multi-plex studio that you can just carry around with you and be constantly working on.
Last year in October we were doing the Parklife tour in Australia and Rob was DJing. That was inspiring as well because we were with people like Justice, M.I.A and Digitalism. It was inspiring just being there. We did some work in hotel rooms there. All over the place really, Rob's living room, my living room...!
ILM: It must be nice to have the chance to act upon your inspiration almost immediately, rather than have to save it up for the right setting?
Nick: Exactly. It always used to be Oh, we're going in the studio next Monday and we just had to save ideas for that. But now you don't have to treat it like a 9-5 or a 12-12 or whatever, it is just a constant process.
ILM: Just like creativity is. You don't have to put a barrier upon it...
Nick: Yeah. Because what music is about, more than anything, is ideas. And if you haven't got an idea then don't even bother. I think that's one of the problems we had years ago after we made the Connected album. We were kind of burnt out. There was so much pressure on us to make another record, to maximise on the success of the previous one. It made us actually implode and we found it nearly impossible to make another record. We were in the studio for nearly a year and we didn't even finish one track. We just shouldn't have been there. We didn't have any ideas. But everybody wanted us to make a record.
ILM: It must have been hard. You can't always force your creativity to come out whenever you want it to. With this process were there any particular highlights? Eureaka moments?
Nick: It was more productive. One of us would come in, one morning, and have a little idea for a bass line and by the end of the day we would have finished the whole track. That is how music that feels best happens. It's usually the quickest ideas, the ones that have a little essence about them.
ILM: How do you and Rob work together? Has that changed over the years?
Nick: Not really. It has kind of changed, in as much as when we started we shared a flat together and we were working on music all the time. When you have families and stuff, it's kind of more difficult to do that. We've got a studio which we both come down to everyday but I think, essentially, Rob will get an idea on his own, or I will get an idea on my own, and we will come together and take some of them forward. Sometimes we're not even in the same room....I might be upstairs doing some e-mailing or something and just shout down Yeah, yeah, sounds cool. You know what I mean?
ILM: Yeah...A natural process.
Nick: Yeah. An evolution.
ILM: You guys have had a long standing career in the music industry, do you have any particular highlights?
Nick: There are so many highlights. From playing in a little 200 capacity club in Vienna in the late 80's, early 90's, water dripping off the ceiling and everyone going wild, which was amazing and incredible! To playing in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco to 250,000 people. To playing at Glastonbury in 1994 to a sea of people as far as you could see. To the gigs we have just played. We played in Germany the other day, which was incredible. There was a total vibe there. There had just been a lightening storm. It was one of those outside experiences with weird clouds in the sky, that little electricity in the air.
ILM: From looking back to looking forward, what are your future plans?
Nick: I think we feel totally fired up about music at the moment. We really want to just take it as far as we can take it. We've got an energy for it. People say Oh, you've been doing this a long time but I think it depends what kind of person you are, how you feel. It's not like we went into the countryside and didn't listen to anything. Music is what we live for. We've still got the same fire that we had when we started.
ILM: What music are you into at the moment?
Nick: So much stuff. I love that Santogold album. All that stuff like Crookers, Switch, M.I.A, Diplo...All that music. There's some really exciting music around.
ILM: Where do you stand on the whole internet, free downloads debate?
Nick: I actually totally like what has happened. I think it is more difficult for people to earn a living from music, but at the same time I think it was something that needed to happen. Big record companies have had such a monopoly on the music business, since Elvis Presley, and it's time it changed. We have had good experiences at major labels. When we signed to Island, Chris Blackwell who started it was there. He was there til after the Connected album. But, as soon as he was nothing to do with it, I hated it there. They started putting small walls up in the office. It was horrible. It was less fun than going to my bank! The whole thing just wasted money, 20 people just chipping in their little opinion about things. I think this has given them a kick up the arse, and I think it has given people a different way of putting music over.
ILM: Indeed. You need creative people, not just business people...
Nick: Yeah. Eventually I'm sure it will level off and there will still be ways for people to make money. Then I think the general public will feel less ripped off.
ILM: If you could offer any advice to someone wanting to start out in the music industry what would it be?
Nick: I think if you're a band then go out and play as many gigs as you can. Build things up like that. Do it yourself before you get tempted. Even if someone offers you £150,000 grand, make sure it is the right thing for you. It is very tempting when someone offers you a lot of money but it's not always what it seems. You've got to believe in yourself and if you can't be bothered to go out and do gigs then just give up.
ILM: Keep that passion going...
Nick: Absolutley. Make it real. Make it real for yourself, not just a record company product.
ILM: If you could change one thing about modern society, what would it be?
Nick: I think it would be good for people to give themselves the power to decide how they can, it sounds corny, but make the world a better place. You get the feeling that nobody really wants to do anything about anything. About pollution, crime, everything that is going on at the moment. Things are pretty weird. I would love it if normal people would just put the decision into their own hands. Do something, not just wait until it's so bad that cars are banned...or something. I wish people would take the initiative and realise what it is about. Their future. Their childrens future. Why wouldn't you do something about it?