Kmag sits down with A Sides for an in-depth interview as the ever-prolific producer, DJ, and all around music mogul delivers a master class on everything from mobile studio essentials to music publishing and production. With a career that has spanned over two decades, this one is essential reading for all those who hope to create a music career that will stand the test of time.
Hard to believe it’s been nearly 25 years since you started messing with your uncle’s Roland TR505 drum machine! Take us back to when you were a youth: what kind of music was your family into, what were you listening to before d&b and how do you see that as setting the stage for you becoming a DJ/producer?
Back in the days I was pretty much raised single-handedly by my mum after my parents divorced when I was ten years old. My mum was always behind what I wanted to do. After taking drum lessons at school she bought me a drum kit and then when I was 15 years old she laid down the deposits for my first set of decks and brought me my first mixer for Christmas. I then paid them off as I was working a milk round and a paper round while I was still at school.
I pretty much grew up listening to my older brother’s record collection and music that my uncle (Jah Free) used to play. My brother was more into rock like Nazareth, Led Zeppelin and Electric Light Orchestra while my uncle was blasting my ears with Steel Pulse, Bob Marley and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. After that I got exposed to “Rockit” by Herbie Hancock and “Buffalo Gals’ by Malcolm McLaren and they were big life changing tracks for me. That was definitely what set me on track to becoming a DJ / producer as I’ve never been much of a dancer or an artist so I took to the music side of things instead.
Do you remember the exact moment “A Sides” was born? Is the name still relevant in a digital world where there are no a- or b-sides to releases anymore?!
I first came up with the name around 1990 in the early rave days. I had several DJ names before, mainly Base Jase, but then I wanted something more serious and I was really into some of the Euro sounds coming out of Belgium at the time especially a guy named Frank De Wulf who used to release EPs called ‘B Sides’ so I flipped that around and named myself A-Sides out of that.
You’ve mentioned that most of your royalties actually come from non-dnb related work you’ve done over the years. Give us a sense of what kind of projects you’ve worked on and how that fits in to the overall scheme of your career.
I was lucky enough to get involved in some music library projects when the going was good and managed to get my non-dnb projects placed on radio/TV ads and documentaries. I’ve had my music featured on shows like Top Gear to Ross Kemp On Gangs. It’s a pretty big list and I used to look forward to my statements to see where tracks had been played or even crazier is when you are watching TV and your music randomly comes on.
Nowadays everything has changed; the bottom has fallen out of the music library market with hardly any production advances and a lot of other companies offering bulk licensing at silly prices. I was lucky I was in the right place at the right time and still have money that comes in each quarter for projects that I worked on 10 years ago generating more income than I do from sales for drum & bass projects.
Does that imbalance worry you somehow? It seems like things are getting worse with sales rather than better.
It does worry me as it’s getting harder and harder to generate income from sales and it seems a lot of download stores are closing down as well as major distribution companies like ST Holdings. As an example of the difficulty we face, my last album was retailing at just under £7 for 14 tracks and when you break that down most download stores will take 50% so you are left with £3.50 for 14 tracks. Income is going down while the cost of living is rising. I’ll let you do the math on that one.
Most of the time now I only make albums and then tour them as promoters like product to push and you can generate more money from touring if you have some good shows on board. My advice would be to get your publishing in check and see if you can get airplay on major radio stations as there is good money in that, especially Radio 1 where a single play can be the equivalent of selling 30 albums! I am a firm believer in the fact that good talent will shine and will still break through. People like Command Strange, Ulterior Motive and Rene LaVice are prime examples of this.
You’ve just released your fifth solo LP Revisited on Eastside. Give us a sense of how this album came together and how long it’s been in the works.
I spent around two years on this album from start to finish. I would say it would have been done quicker but as most people know I took a lot of time out to put together the We Gotcha LP Combination 1 and We Gotcha LP Combination 2 albums for MC Fats. With Revisited I wanted to do an album with different genres of drum & bass but also revisit a lot of the early sounds that were used in drum & bass, be it hardcore rave stabs, ragga vocals or rare groove loops, hence the album title. Every track I made for the album was molded to fit that theme.
The image on the cover of the LP is from Piha Beach in New Zealand – discuss the significance of this and the meaning and importance of this place and image to you and the project.
I actually try to revisit New Zealand every year and Piha is a very special place to me. I go there to unwind and it’s a very spiritual and relaxing place. The image is actually my shadow as the sun is setting over the beach. The photo was never taken intentionally as being the album cover but I wanted something different on the cover and something that reflected on my travels and it just seemed to fit perfectly.
The LP opens with a nod to not only a classic tune but your relationship with MC Fats who has been dealing with some serious health issues this past year. Talk a bit about your relationship with Fats as you guys have worked together for years and how this past year has been for you in helping him to face the challenges headed his way.
Myself and Fats have been good friends since the 90’s and we have spent a lot of time together in the studio and on and off the road. I love him like a brother so of course it’s been a big strain to see what he has been going through over the last 2 years. When he first went into hospital I was away on tour for a long period of time and felt like I needed to be there for him or do something from where I was to help him so that was when the ‘We Gotcha’ project came about.
At first it was just going to be a small project with a few releases but then as time went on and the situation with Fats got more serious more people wanted to get involved so in the end there were 40 tracks made which were released as two 4 track EP’s and two 16 track LPs. We are also working on a deluxe CD package which will feature bonus material too but that will not be released as of yet.
For those of you who are not aware Fats lost one of his legs from the knee down last year due to complications from diabetes. He was readmitted into hospital again this year with more issues with his other leg which he also had to have amputated from below the knee and he is now in a rehabilitation program for the next 8 weeks.
I spoke to him yesterday and he had just received his second prosthetic leg and is doing 2 hours physio therapy every day. It’s a long journey but he is very focused and positive about things and appreciative of the love and support coming in from everyone.
It seems like you’re always on the road – how much studio work is being done on your laptop and how much takes place at your home studio?
A lot of ideas are built on my laptop especially when I go to New Zealand as I have a lot of spare time on my hands so it’s always a good time to get creative there and build sketches. A lot of the last album was made in Miami too at Basshead HQ (shout out to Juan Basshead for the accommodation). Myself and Juan have a label and a studio there which I use a lot too but I like to finish things off at home in the UK as that’s where my studio is and I have the best equipment for the job here.
Give us a quick snapshot of your mobile studio essentials? Are you using any specific headphones for monitoring? Are you processing bass visually and then fine-tuning lower frequencies when you get home?
I have a 13” Macbook Pro Retina which has been pimped up to a 512SSD drive and a 3 gig i7 Intel processor. I use this laptop to DJ on and it also runs all of my music software when I need to too. When I travel on long trips I always take my Maschine MK2, iPad, and carry a UAD Satellite and a Glyth Portagig hard drive (and also a backup of that).
For monitoring I use Sennheiser HD25 headphones and most definitely fine tune lower frequencies at home. Sending to a friend can also be handy if they have a decent set up and can tell you what needs fixing on a demo mix. I can get close without monitors but always like to play safe.
What’s your home setup look like then and what’s your usual process or schedule?
My home set up is all based around a Mac Mini running Logic 10 and Live 9. I like to run the outputs through tubes and valves so I have a TLA Audio Fat Track Tube Suite and also a TL Audio C1 Valve Compressor which I can insert into my Logic sessions using the I/O plugin. It really warms up the sound and helps drive the signals nicely plus I get to use a nice analog EQ which I love the sound of.
I use a Liquid Saffire 56 Audio Interface and Dynaudio BM15A Monitors. Normally vocals are recorded and processed here through a Focusrite ISA220 Pre Amp but the vocals on Revisited were not recorded here. Spikey Tee recorded his vocals with Will Jolly in the USA and Vanessa Freeman’s vocals were recorded by Mike Patto who is a serious don of an engineer!
When I am at home most of my time is spent in the studio and if I am not writing music I am working on something related to it. I wake normally around 10 or 11 am then sleep at 4 or 5 am. It’s a mission keeping up with all the time zones but also I think good creation comes at night. If I am not feeling creative there are always other things I can be doing like working on tours or mix downs, etc. There is always plenty to do here and that’s the way I like to keep it.
You are well known for being prolific in the studio and the phrase “with over 500 releases” has been used over and over in the past few years – you have to be up to over 600 by now right? Who’s doing all the counting?
I lost track of the amount of tracks I have made a long time ago and have not checked for years. I had a lot of alias names back in the day too so it’s hard to keep track but I would imagine it’s way over the 600 mark by now and that’s nothing compared to some people like Calibre who is rumored to be over 2,000 tracks not that they have all been released!
What do you cite as the key to your productivity and success? Related to this what sort of advice would you give to an up and coming producer who wants to follow in your footsteps?
I work hard, I like to keep myself busy, I’m a good networker, I know how to handle my own business and I like to involve myself with a good team which is important to my being here today. I have a passion for what I do, I love music, I’m a free spirit and all of these things have helped me to get where I am today.
My advice for others is to keep being persistent, to try and get involved with good people and let your talent shine through. Don’t listen to what other people say as I remember being told I would never make it as a DJ by certain people back in the day. Just keep doing your thing, Keep your finger on the pulse and follow what you love!
What keeps you inspired and moving forward? The music industry has changed so much over the course of your career – were there any moments where you considered walking away?
I don’t think I have ever considered walking away and if I was to do that I think I would just do something else that is connected to the industry in some way. But for now I still feel the passion for what I do. Music still gets me like that and I love what I do so why change things. I always look up to my uncle who is now in his mid-60s and still playing reggae every week. That’s love for you!
Last but not least, where does A Sides go from here?
Next up for me is a collaboration album with Makoto from Japan. This should see release early 2015 as we are reaching the end of that project now. As I mentioned earlier there will be more ‘We Gotcha’ projects coming for MC Fats hopefully including a Brazil project with all the Brazilian producers and another one with the ladies, Jenna G, Deeizm, Riya etc. not forgetting the Deluxe CD which will be coming soon too.
Tour-wise I am working on the Revisited tour right now playing throughout Europe and I will be heading to Dubai for Halloween then onto Asia, Australia and New Zealand from December until March. Hopefully myself and Makoto may be able to tour our joint album in the Spring and then I’ll be heading back to the USA in mid-2015. I am my own booking agent so if anyone is interested in booking me I can be contacted direct on email@example.com or for USA bookings contact firstname.lastname@example.org