Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Starsmith Interview: "Lesson One", Ellie Goulding's Next Record, and More

STARSMITH is undoubtedly one of my favorite producers.  From his early collaborations with Frankmusik to his co-writing and production of more than half of the smash hit Lights with Ellie Goulding, he's the definition of a rising producer.  Not only has he worked with other artists like Kylie Minogue, Marina and the Diamonds, and Yes Giantess to name a few, but he's also released some of his own solo work too.

"Lesson One" is his newest track (released yesterday), a French-House laid back jam with layers of great pads and an awesome synth solo.  I absolutely love this track, and it stands so brilliantly as a single.  It's an incredibly warm piece of music with a great shuffling beat.  The vocal effects are also terrific.  The b-side "Champion" is also is another classic Starsmith groove, which reminds me more of his earlier work.

I chatted with Starsmith about his new single, his favorite producers, and a bit on Ellie Goulding's next record (which I so dearly hope he produces again).  Read on below to catch up with Starsmith.

Great to talk to your Starsmith. Can you tell us a bit about how you got started with production?
Starsmith: "I was studying music at uni, a lot of my friends were studying a sound engineering course and I ended up sitting in on a lot of their sessions and playing for them too. They had a pretty amazing list of equipment that they could use 24/7 and I was able to be hands on with some of it and pick up tips and basic recording methods. I think this is what set me off on wanting to record and produce on my own and I just started off with Logic and a pair of Yamaha monitors."

'Lesson One' is a brilliant track, I've really been digging the pads and vocals. How did this collaboration with Alan Braxe come about?
"It was very much a case of me brainstorming the people I'd most want to work with and then firing emails off to their management to try and see if they were up for it! Alain came back saying he was up for coming to london for a few days to give it a go, and Lesson One was the first thing we wrote. We spent another week together at his house in Paris last summer writing a couple of other tracks too."

Can you tell us a bit about what's happening in this song, production wise? It sounds a bit like you're using a vocoder. Are you using mostly hardware or softsynths?
"Lesson One is mainly hardware. A lot of the pads were from my Prophet 08, the lead sounds are pretty much all from my Korg DS8 and I think the Arturia Minimoog filled in the gaps. The vocals were never really intended to sound vocoded, we layered up harmonies in about 6 different Melodyne tracks and they only really sounded good if we fiddled with the formant and EQ's to make it sound like a vocoder."

Lyrically, the track seems to be about a lost love. Is this a personal experience or are you merely connecting with a feeling everyone has at some point or another?
"Even though I write songs from the first person perspective, they're never about me. Lesson One is definitely about that feeling of loss and longing after someone who has left you. It's one of those universal feelings that everyone can relate to."

What is your current gear collection like? What is your favorite? For most of your production now, is it hardware?
"My gear collection is still growing. I think I've got enough synths for now, but what I really want to expand on is outboard units and eventually a desk for mixing. I recently got a Korg Trident and a Wurlitzer, both of which have been on my wish list since the beginning. The Trident sounds incredible, it's not got a broad range of sounds but if you want to most warm and deep pads going, then thats really the synth for it. My Moog Little Phatty is one of my favourite pieces of gear, but unfortunately it's broken at the moment so I'm waiting for it to be repaired. I can't really compare any soft synth to it for basses and lead sounds, they don't come close. I record via an Avalon 737 and 1176 and I think they're both amazing, the EQ on the avalon is brilliant for low end."

What are your top 5 pieces of dream gear?
"Yamaha CS80, API 1608, Fairchild 670, ARP 2600, Genelec 1031A's. The Genelecs are probably my next purchase when I come across a pair, and probably the ARP 2600."

What is your writing process like? What advice do you have for aspiring producers?
"I think breaking down some of your favourite songs on a piano, and understanding why they've chosen certain chord progressions and how well they sound next to eachother is a big thing. Or even just listening to it and trying to understand what chord progressions sound incredible and trying to adapt them and take them further yourself. When I started off, I was dead against using standard progressions and often took things a bit too far, but now I've really begun to appreciate how some of the simplest writing methods can also sound great with interesting production."

The last I heard about your record was that it was put on hold. Is there any chance we'll see it as a future release on Vulture?
"I'm not sure if there will be any future releases on Vulture, Lesson One was always really gonna be released there as it's Alains label and it really seems to fit his aesthetic for the label. I'm planning to release a few more singles over the next 6 months and whether they will be on one label or 3 different labels, I don't know. It's purely based on wherever they seem fit!"

One of the tracks I was most excited for was the collaboration with Stine Bramsen of Alphabeat. Is there any chance this collaboration will see the light of day, if not on the album?
"I'm pretty sure I'll hold on to that track for the album. Stine sounds incredible on it, like REALLY good. I think the main thing with the tracks for the album is that they were very current a year ago when I wrote them, so they don't really seem very relevant now (which is a good thing). It means that I can look at them in a new light and tweak them so that I don't think they sound naff in another years time and hopefully make them a bit more timeless."

Who are some of your favorite artists and producers of today?
"Stuart Price, Greg Kurstin, James Ford, Paul Epworth, Chemical Brothers, Bloodshy and Avant, Imogen Heap. They're all pretty big inspirations on the production side of things. Artists wise, The Magician, Phoenix, Miike Snow, Friendly Fires, the Tiger & Woods album is great, Foster The People. They're definitely the only people in the last couple of years with albums that have really stood out to me."

You're a huge part of Ellie Goulding's sound, and she's become an international success, recently selling out venues across the US. Do you think you'll be working with her on her sophomore album?
"We've started some tracks for it, she was round only last week working on a new one. What we're mainly trying to sort out first of all is really where the next record is going and pool together ideas we've both had. I'd like to work with her extensively again on this next record, we'll see how things go."

You've got a gig with Ellie as Goldsmith coming up. What are the main differences in the set performing with her? Will she be singing? Do you think you'll ever do a proper Goldsmith record?
"I think it would be quite fun to maybe do an EP down the line, because I think what we'd create would be different to where her records are going, and also where my own record is headed. The DJ set's with Ellie are not majorly different from my own, it's quite nice to have her pull out some random tracks that I wouldn't choose, and throw them at me to try and mix in to it all. I don't think Ellie will be singing, but she'll almost definitely be on the mic doing something!"

What's next for Starsmith? What music are you working on, and what other projects can we expect to see?
"I'm finishing off my next single, I've got a featured vocalist coming round this week to wrap up the final bits. It feels like the song I've needed to write for the last 2 years. It sounds like the song I needed to write halfway through making my album, because it would've tied everything together and given me motivation and direction for the rest of the record. That was something I was lacking, direction more so than motivation. I was working my arse off for 8 months solid on nothing but my album. I've done a few tracks with people over the last few months for their records so I'm hoping they will be out soon as I'm really proud of them. Theres a great collaboration I've done with Yasmin that will be appearing at some point in the near future too."

Be sure to download "Lesson One" on iTunes, watch the video below, and check out Starsmith's Twitter.  

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