Interview: Will Saul
Will Saul’s two labels – Aus Music and Simple Records – have long been admired as bastions of high quality, lovingly curated house music that retain an open minded outlook. Next week Simple will celebrate its 49th and 50th releases – an impressive feat for any label, especially when the focus has remained steadfastly geared towards quality over quantity. Saul’s DJ sets have long incorporated dubstep seamlessly next to house and techno, and as such 2010 saw the likes of Appleblim, Ramadanman and Scuba all join Team Aus. Last year also saw what Saul accurately and proudly describes as a “landmark release”, namely the Carl Craig re-edit of Ramadanman & Appleblim’s “Void 23”, which served as the first occasion on which a certified Detroit legend had worked directly with the new school of UK future bass.
Tasked with questioning Will Saul in the days after a punishing return flight from Australia, Tony Poland was perhaps the perfect foil to sympathetically ease some answers out of the decidedly jetlagged Simple boss, having himself recently recovered from the sore end of a transatlantic NYE DJing oddysey. The resultant and lengthy chat touched on everything from stalkers and the correct pronunciation of ‘Aus’ to his upcoming solo album and more.
You’ve just got back from NYE in Sydney playing alongside Seb Leger, Freq Nasty & Slam how was it?
I played on New Year’s Eve and on New Years Day and It was quite a mixed bag, the NYE night was average, though it was a cool club called the Brown Alley with an interesting layout. However for some reason they put me on at 9.30pm before one of the residents, so the first hour of my set was a bit empty, but the second gig was good fun and the organisers are lovely people.
What kind of music were you playing?
Quite a mixture really, started off quite slow naturally, some slow disco then some slow steppy stuff like Appleblim and Ramadanman, a lot of music with 909s basically.
Everyone loves a 909!
Indeed everyone does, myself included!
So does Freq Nasty still have those icky dreads?
He still does have them yes, Darin is a lovely man, but he’s still fully dreaded up. I was actually wondering how he sleeps with them, he must just lie there still as a stone and sleep on his back as you can’t roll about with that sort thing attached to your head, surely.
Haha, so speaking of New Year’s, 2011 is gonna be a big one for Simple Records with you celebrating your golden anniversary of releases, and you have something special planned for it don’t you ?
We do yeah, there are four new tracks from me – it’s quite rare that I release that much in one go. Simple 049 is four tracks from me and Tam Cooper and then there are remixes from Wolf & Lamb, Art Department and Side Show. It’s a double gatefold double pack vinyl beautifully designed by Michael Place of Build and Designers Republic fame, who has created the visual identity for both Simple and Aus. He’s got a really distinctive photographic concept for the release which you will see on the cover of the sleeve and it looks absolutely stunning. I can’t wait to have it in my hands as it’s not back from the finishing plant yet. We just thought we’d do something special for the 50th release and it certainly is that.
Both Art Department and Wolf+Lamb are pretty hot choices for remixing, it must have been an easy decision to ask them?
Yeah, I’ve been in touch with Johnny White from Art Department for a long time and I saw them do their first live show at Miami Music Conference last year – I was absolutely blown away by it and was really keen to get them to do something for the label. After sweet talking Crosstown Rebels we managed to get them on this release!
So fifty releases is quite a milestone for a label, would you say you’re ahead of schedule?
Um, well the first two to three years were very slow, it was a case of us learning how to release records and just about managing not to go out of business. Then I took the record label over from the other three guys that founded it, bought them all out. From that moment on, I started Aus as well and it gained a lot more focus after that, as there was only one guy doing it full time as opposed to four of us doing it part time. Since then it’s been around six releases a year, and often more than that. I don’t really want to schedule more than six singles or EPs a year, that’s enough unless you’re releasing albums as well and stuff around that. You have to be careful not to flood the market as people might become a bit bored.
What else do you have planned for Simple this year?
To be honest after we drop this double pack for the 50th release, Simple will be reasonably quiet. We’ve got some stuff from Gadi of Wolf + Lamb and maybe some more Motor City Soul in the next six months or towards the end of the year but my main focus is going to be on Aus this year with lots of music planned.
I’ve seen mention of a new Will Saul album too – when is that going to see the light of day?
Well I’m three quarters of the way through it now but I’m not sure if it will come out on Simple or Aus. I might see if there’s any other labels that are interested in it. There are lots of collaborations on it, with six of the eight tracks I’m working on featuring vocalists. I wanted to get some vocalists involved as it can make an album more interesting, give it some longevity and separate it from instrumental dance music albums.
“I was so proud of the Ramadanman & Appleblim release with the Carl Craig edit because for me it’s a landmark release for electronic music. It was the first time that one of the old school first wave of Detroit ‘legends’ had gotten involved with dubstep directly and Carl’s involvement definitely opened the release up to a wide range of house and techno people that wouldn’t have necessarily bought a dubstep record”
So which vocalists have you been working with?
There’s a collaboration with Joe Dukie from Fat Freddie’s Drop and a couple of tracks with a girl called Charlene Soraia who has just signed to Peacefrog, who I think is going to be massive this year. She’s got this phenomenal Mariah Carey-esque vocal range but she can control the top range of her voice like a whistle and it’s quite unnerving to hear. You’re constantly thinking how she is able to do it – there’s so much control of her voice it’s phenomenal. I’ve done a three minute indie pop track with Bastien from Detachments, who is a lovely guy – that’s quite a departure for me. Then there’s a track with Paul St Hilaire which is a slow chuggy Basic Channel style techno.
The Joe Dukie track should be interesting as he did a brilliant track with Recloose a few years back.
Ah yeah “Dust”, that’s one of my favourite records I love that track – I’m really happy with our collaboration, it’s not quite finished yet but it’s a 115bpm track with a beautiful soulful vocal from Joe, and there’s all live drums and bass from Fink/Side Show. At the moment I’m still looking to do some more collaborations, I’ve been chatting with Deadboy about doing something together and there’s two other potential collaborations who I can’t really discuss yet! I’m calling the album Getting Closer as there’s a lot of collaborations and interesting hook-ups with different people and it’s been a really good process of getting to know them.
For you personally, it must have been good process to work with a lot of different vocalists.
Yeah it has, though I’ve only been in the studio with one of them personally which was Charlene – the rest have been long distance. Paul St Hilaire is an enigma in general and very difficult to get a hold of! I was actually speaking to Carl Craig about this yesterday, he told me he’s found it impossible to get in touch with Paul for a couple of tracks he’s working on for him, so I feel slightly better that it only took 18 months for me to get the vocal out of Paul. It was the same with Joe Dukie, where we was uncontactable for four months over the summer! So there’s been some brilliant experiences and some quite sketchy experiences.
You said this year you were going to be concentrating on Aus – firstly could you clear up something for us at Juno Plus as there’s a bit of an Anglo-Antipodean standoff regarding the correct pronunciation of the label.
It’s Aus [pronounced as ‘house’ without the ‘h’]. I actually took it from the German word which has a number of different meanings but it mostly means ‘off’, and as the label is an offshoot of Simple it seemed to fit perfectly and it sounds like ‘house’.
Thanks I just won a fiver! So 2010 was probably the best year to date for Aus…
2010 was a really defining year for Aus. We had a string of records that I was really proud to be involved with. The Joy Orbison The Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow EP opened us up to a wider audience due to Pete’s huge first record and we then followed it up with the Ramadanman and Midland 12” “Your Words Matter” which for me was a very unique record, touching on house, garage, dubstep and beyond in a way that was totally fresh and sounded like nothing else out there at the time. Ramadanman and Appleblim’s “Void 23” then closed the year for us on a massive high with the Carl Craig re-edit.
Which Aus release are you personally most proud of?
I was so proud of the Ramadanman & Appleblim release with the Carl Craig edit because for me it’s a landmark release for electronic music. It was the first time that one of the old school first wave of Detroit ‘legends’ had gotten involved with dubstep directly and Carl’s involvement definitely opened the release up to a wide range of house and techno people that wouldn’t have necessarily bought a dubstep record. So I was really proud and I think that’s also why Carl wanted to do it and I think it turned out really well as it’s such a good record to play out.
You must have been pinching yourself when he agreed to do the re-edit?
I was, yeah absolutely thrilled and he’s been a really fascinating guy to work with as well.
Do you have anyone else who’s on the Aus remix wish list?
I keep badgering Floating Points for a remix as I love his productions, and I’d really like to get a Motor City Drum Ensemble remix at some point though I’m not necessarily sure for Aus. I really like Zomby’s stuff though he seems to have dropped off the radar a bit. I’d love to get something from some Detroit cats this year like Rick Wilhite, and Maurice Fulton who is absolutely bonkers. I think we certainly want to work more with Ramadanman who’s going to have a massive year, and I’m loving Braiden’s debut for Doldrums especially with the Kassem Mosse remix – I think those two guys are gonna have a big year.
So you have a SCB release up next on AUS – what else is planned for this year?
We have got EPs in the works from Cottam, Midland, George Fitzgerald and Appleblim – all work in progress to be finished. Lee Jones has a new EP and an album on the way and maybe my new album will be on Aus, I’m not sure, but it should definitely be a good year. I think we’ll try and do another label compilation, but something a bit different from bog standard releases of this ilk as they’re a bit boring. So what I’m thinking of doing is getting Mike Place to design a special t-shirt and CD package. The CD will be a label mix from one of the Aus artists which will be released every six months along with the bespoke designed t-shirt.
Do you feel as a label boss you need to think more like this, put more ingenuity into your releases to distinguish them?
It’s not necessarily that, I’m just trying to do more as I’m just getting bored of the basic format and how it’s evolved. So I’m going to try and integrate a bit more, not necessarily fashion but a little bit more design, things like posters and t shirts to make the label a bit more flexible and open it to a bigger audience. People just don’t like music, they appreciate design and clothes so there’s plenty of scope there to link it all together.
Is there going to be some more Sideshow material?
I hope so yeah, we’re trying to get him to do a dub of one of the tracks on the SCB release though he’s currently working on a Fink album.
Yeah I really like the early Fink stuff on Ninja Tune before he went folky as Fink.
Well absolutely, he’s one of my best mates and we started Aus together and was involved in all the A&R decisions and is still very much part of everything we do.
Actually the first Simple record I bought was his Fink Presents Sideshow twelve inch.
Yeah Sounds Of Today….
I could never quite work out whether it should be played at 33 or 45 actually, it used to flummox me.
You could play it at both actually, and the B Side to that, “I Don’t Why”, samples an answering machine message from a proper bona fide stalker.
Oh I‘m going to have to dig that again now!
Yeah I don’t know how she got his number, but she tracked him down and left him this weird message, a hardcore stalker!
I‘m sure she must have appreciated being part of Fink’s debut release for Simple!
Yeah I don’t know how she felt about that record…
“I love soul music and music for me has to have soul, not necessarily from any period or genre but that sort of melancholy music which simultaneously fills you with sadness and joy is what makes me tick”
Moving on from stalkers, we were discussing earlier how Aus is involved with young artists like Ramadanman who are melding different genres to create something new , how do you feel about artists like him, Braiden and Julio Bashmore, and labels like Night Slugs and where do you see yourself fitting in?
I think it’s wonderful, as for how I fit in I think just trying to keep up and provide a platform via Aus for these amazing artists to release music I’m constantly enthused by it. I love it and want to keep doing it for as long as possible. Production wise, I’m constantly being influenced by this ingenuity, whether that will come through as much on the album or not we will see, but these guys have different reference points to me. So I think trying to do something new like them is not necessarily the best way to approach creating music, at least for my generation. But it’s amazing to hear what they’re doing.
Yeah it’s nice to hear people approach music with such a flagrant disregard for genres. A lot of people get stuck in this mindset of delivering music that’s strictly deep house or techno and these guys come along with a track and regardless of what it is I’ll put it out.
Totally, it’s very refreshing. I don’t really recall a time like it in the last ten years and there’s so much cross genre pollination going on which I love. I’ve always been interested in a wide range of music and I’ve always tried to play really diverse sets when I DJ so it’s great to see that the wider public are hungry for this diversity.
You mentioned the difference in reference points earlier, where do you look for inspiration when you get down to making music? Is there a particular theme to your forthcoming album?
I love soul music and music for me has to have soul, not necessarily from any period or genre but that sort of melancholy music which simultaneously fills you with sadness and joy is what makes me tick. And my intention is to try and to combine that musical emotion with contemporary or futuristic production. Future soul is what I want the album to sound like and that’s quite a wide bracket of interpretation, but that’s how I want the album to sound. Whether that is achieved or not, I’ll let you know in three months!
Interview: Tony Poland