A d&b producer with a distinctive and recognizable yet eclectic style, Stray’s really bringing an original sound to the genre, something that’s been recognized by labels with the caliber of Critical, Invisible and Med School. He’s collaborated with and remixed some of favourite artists here at BC, such as Blu Mar Ten, D-Bridge Halogenix and Stray, the later two who he released the early 2012 soul infused hit Oblique with on Kasra’s Critical label. With The Pursuit/Poison (Ft. Halogenix) just dropping, a return to the Warm Communications label, we caught up to get the scoop on it as well as chat influences, his approach to remixing, d&b existing alongside other genres and more.
Easy Stray, cheers for dropping through. Tell us a bit about yourself firstly, what else takes up your time other than music?
At the moment, not much is taking up my time besides music. There is definitely a feeling of (healthy) obsession. I’ve flirted with the idea of using my degree to try and secure a proper job so as to take off some of the pressure of having to make a living exclusively out of music, but I’m currently managing ok doing just that living in the lovely and inexpensive city of Leeds.
What’s an ideal day in the life?
Sleep in, coffee, go to studio, tunes, come home, TV/stoned/eat. Wait, was that ‘ideal day’ or ‘most days’… hard to tell – I guess that’s a good thing?
Talk us through three tunes that you feel have defined or influenced turning points in your musical career…
Herbie Hancock – Headhunters
This was the first record that I owned and loved. I remember playing it over and over again when my bro gave it to me when I was about 8 years old. I just about recall it making me feel like nothing else did or could. I’ve not stopped listening to his music regularly since then.
Plaid – Cedar City
It’s difficult to pick just one track of theirs but it’d be unfair to ignore the influence that Plaid and their eerily beautiful melodies have had on my musical tastes.
Squarepusher – Boneville Occident
Particularly for the drop at 3.14 – strange way to first get into drum & bass (especially since this tune is about 200bpm) but it definitely did the trick
I read your brothers a jazz pianist, would you say that’s influenced your sound at all? Any plans on getting him involved with a tune?
I wouldn’t say that anything or anyone has had a greater influence on my sound than my brother, either directly or by means of a sort of knock on progression effect. As much as he or many involved with it might despise the term ‘jazz’ in itself, I think there is a somewhat useful meaning to it that extends beyond the sonic palette of the New Orleans born genre itself – a sort of satisfaction in finding sweetness and resolve outside of the overly familiar, but not just for the sake of being or sounding different.
Working together successfully is something we both dream of doing and whilst it can be tricky to find effective ways of collaborating with someone of such a different discipline entirely, we are fortunate to nonetheless share many of the desires and goals a musician might have irrespective of their technical approach to making it. So watch this space I suppose…
I mentioned the other day in a quick review of The Pursuit/Poison that some of those jittery, shuffling clicks and drums you use, particularly in The Pursuit, remind me of swarming cockroaches. I don’t know how you feel about that haha, but how would you describe them, and your sound in general?
Using words to describe music is actually something I have difficulty with – I think I’m a bit of a purist who believes that one of the reasons immersing yourself in music is so uniquely gratifying is because you are able to communicate things in a way that feels direct. Trying to then use a different language such as words to describe that communication can result in indirectness and a sense of inaccuracy to the point where I generally try to avoid it. Having said that… a few people have said to me that ‘The Pursuit’ reminds them of the ‘Terminator’ soundtrack!
You’ve produced some incredible tunes alongside Halogenix now, how did you hook up with him and what makes him so good to work with? Do you tend to work on stuff in person or send stems back and forth?
I used to live with someone 3 years ago who was good friends with a good friend of his. I got a CD of his tunes and tracked him down and hit him up because I could tell straight away that we were on the same wavelength. I was right, and the rest is history. He lives down the road from me in London so we always work on tunes together in the studio.
Oblique with him, Sabre and Frank Carter was an absolute stunner as well, so much soul! How did the ideas for that come about?
Me and Halogenix were spending a lot of time this one summer at Sabre’s studio, enjoying the sun and wanting to write some liquid d&b. Either one of them, I forget who, brought an Eno sample they wanted to use to the table. I had some drums I’d made lying around unused so we fused the two to good effect. Whilst we were making it, I remembered an acapella I had on my hard drive that I imagined would be in key and work with the track – this was the Frank Carter III vocal, which I’d found on a great site called CCmixter. When the track and vocal came together and after Kasra signed the tune, we sorted licensing with Frank and are now working with him directly on some more music.
You’ve done some really nice remixes as well, with the BMT bits standing out for me, what goes through your head when your sitting down to remix a tune you already love? How would you define a great remix?
I’ve not got strong feelings about what constitutes a great remix beyond being a great track in and of itself. Sometimes I use all of the sounds I’m given and barely touch some of them, and sometimes I barely use any of the original at all. I guess it depends on how I’m feeling on the day or how easily useable the components are…
You’ve always produced under a variety of tempos. How do you feel this has influenced your development within d&b?
People will generally shout at your from all directions that one of the healthiest approaches to writing within a genre like d&b is to draw inspiration from different styles and different tempos as opposed to just other d&b. In reality this is easier said than done, but it’s important to at least find a balance. Ironically, I think that one of the reasons I’ve been able to get to where I have within the d&b world is because I couldn’t truthfully say that the entirety of my heart and soul has ever resided in the genre alone at any stage. I think this may be true of more people than you might expect, and that the people with the most faithful, focused love for the genre and the genre alone may find it harder making the same level of impact within that very genre. This is an unfortunate and often confusing reality for many.
I do feel the need to add to this as a sort of disclaimer that of course I do fully love the music and am constantly re-gripped year on year by its indescribably magnetic charm and energy.
Do you feel d&b should merge with other genres more rather than being so inclusive, and at times elitist?
Put it this way – the artists within d&b who are doing things that people (whose opinions you or I would respect) are taking note of are already merging it with other genres, and that’s all that matters.
You’re music career worked in the reverse of many, in that you moved through production to DJing rather than vice versa. What do you think are the pros and cons of this?
Provided a producer turned DJ respects that it’s their responsibility to work towards and enjoy putting on as good a show as someone whose first love was DJing then there aren’t really any clear drawbacks to it at all. I suppose if you produce first you avoid falling into the trap of seeing tracks merely as products to earn you DJ work.
Give us an idea of the kind of stuff your putting in your sets nowadays. Are there any fresh producers your really feeling that we might not have heard of?
As is hopefully evident from the sets of mine you can find online, including my recent Kongkast mix (below) – I genuinely do prefer to play across the board in a way that remains cohesive since it reflects my own tastes. Since I don’t only enjoy one style of d&b, I don’t only play one style in the hope that it might gain me more fans or DJ work – instead I try to appeal to people who are like minded in their broad tastes I guess. The most important thing is to read the vibe of the night of the crowd and bring enough different tunes to work in any situation. I might start out deep / minimal and move through to jump up or jungle; it doesn’t matter so long as you do it in a way that makes sense and is somewhat progressive.
Some fresh producers people should listen out for? Frederic Robinson, Konichi and Nickbee off the top of my head.
What else have you got planned for the rest of 2012?
Lots of things that you’ll have to wait for official announcements from respective label owners about…
Thanks Stray, any last words/specs of musical wisdom for us?
Yeah… don’t get hung up on the technical side of things. All Beethoven had was a piano and some paper.