DP Steve, hello & a warm welcome to Music2Deal & indeed, to our blog. Both I & Mario are very pleased to have you onboard the Music2Deal platform per your background so today, let’s focus on yourself and your career in music specifically. Can you tell us something of yourself to begin and perhaps give our readers a deeper insight into your background & motivations please Steve?
SM Hi Darren, well I’ve been writing and producing electronic music for commercial release for the last 20 years. Before that, I toured with a reggae band and worked occasionally with K-Klass on some of their remixes. As a child, I was classically trained at the piano. As a teenager striking out in the world, I once found myself in a testing situation when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life vs. my parent’s expectations of the path I should take.
DP So clearly you have a life-long background in music?
SM Yes, although a photography professor once told my parents that I should go to art college as my photography was also excellent although my parents wanted me to be a lawyer. So many parents want their children to be an improved update of themselves rather than recognise the fact that their children are each individual spirit’s and have very different ideas about what they themselves want to do whilst they are on this planet.
DP Thanks for that candid background to your motivations Steve. Now, before we dive deeper into the man behind the producer, can you tell us, which are your own top 3 tracks that you’ve produced as Afterlife to-date?
SM The following tracks in no particular order;
‘The Way to San Jose’ – from the album ‘On Being’ (released July ‘17) San Jose is one of my favourite villages in Ibiza and a place we have driven through a lot travelling from Ibiza Town to the San Antonio Bay area so I decided to create a soundtrack to match.
‘Speck of Gold’ lyrics & vocals by Cathy Battistessa** (released June 2004) From the album of the same name, this was my reaction to the events of 9/11 and this track took over 2 years to get right.
‘Guitarra G – Banda Sonora’ (Afterlife Mix) (released Feb.’09) When Defected initially sent me the parts to this track, they included a LOT of guitar takes by a very talented guitarist from South America (name unknown). The takes were not really used much in the club mix so that’s why i started with a long ambient intro to allow the guitar to shine through.
SM My first professional work was as keyboard player & writer for 9-piece reggae band ‘Bassdance’, led by Basil Gabbidon, ex-guitarist from Steel Pulse. We toured for 6 years nationally between 1984 -1990 then I left the band and headed to Los Angeles to learn digital music production. I returned to the UK 3 years later and consequently sessioned all keyboards on Karl Pitterson’s** own album. Karl incidentally was the sound engineer on Bob Marley’s legendary ‘Exodus’ album and produced the Handsworth Revolution album by Steel Pulse.
Karl taught me about engineering and I then worked with Nigel Luby** who taught me a lot more about engineering & electronic music production generally. Then I worked with K-Klass for about a year on remixes, then the Afterlife project commenced in 1993.
DP In-terms of output can you fill us in on the projects you’ve completed?
SM See the discography below;
“Another Chance” – Roger Sanchez – Defected records and UK Number 1 (Silver disc awarded for UK sales, see shot below*)
“At Night” Remix – Shakedown – Defected
“Visions” – Jakatta – Rulin Records/MOS (Gold disc awarded for UK sales)
“Pjanoo” (remix)– Eric Prydz – MOS
“Mad World” (remix) – Tears for Fears – Universal
“The Best Things in Life are Free” (Janet Jackson & Luther Vandross (K-Klass mix) A&M Records
“National Anthem” (remix) – Lana Del Rey – Polydor
“Guide me God” (remix) – Sinead O’Connor – Rasa Records
“American Dream” (remix) – Jakatta – MOS
“Sandcastles” (remix) – Jerome Sydenham & Dennis Ferrer – Defected
“Balearic Unplugged” – Lovely Laura & Tyrell – Album (production, arrangement, mix and additional instrumentation) – Hed Kandi
“The Sun Goes Down” (Pete Gooding remix) – Level 42 (production, arrangement, mix and additional instrumentation) – Universal Music
“It’s You” (No Logo Sunset Mix) – Shapeshifters – Defected – (production, arrangement, remix and additional instrumentation)
Discogs Recent additions to this platform include my new album ‘On Being’ as well as a new album from ‘The Normalites’ (me and Chris Coco).
Lovely Laura* & Tyrrell – Hed Kandi: Balearica Unplugged Final production & additional instruments.
*With Roger Sanchez at Cafe Mambo Ibiza after a hot sultry evening & just before we both went to do the ‘night shift’ at Pacha.
DP Have you licensed your music/signed your artists internationally Steve?
SM Yes, I’ve licensed my own tracks to over a thousand compilations, I’ve also licensed my own albums to Hed Kandi & Defected records in the past but now run my own label, Subatomic UK.
DP Which country do you find is the best to license music to and why?
SM I don’t think there’s any best country to license to as all labels release worldwide, irrespective of their country of origin & if they are serious about what they do.
DP What are your current artists/projects/goals with the Afterlife brand and ‘journey’?
SM I’m really pleased with the reaction the Micko Roche album ‘Bleu’**is receiving. It was released in May of this year and has received a lot of DJ and radio support across Europe. The nicest email I got was from Danny Rampling who absolutely loved it. Micko is a very talented musician & songwriter as well as a real pleasure to work with. I have signed a couple of tracks from Micko’s daughter Jesse who has a fine voice and writes good songs. It will take a couple of years of careful work but I see an album there. She’s working on a live performance but that will take time getting the right players together to replicate the recordings.
DP Whilst in the area of vocalists Steve, what advice would you offer to newcomers seeking a vocal career in music?
SM Find a vocal coach that teaches you the basics of correct breathing and pitch, no more than that, the rest is up to you.
DP Would you advise vocalists to seek out a manager and what attributes should they look for if so?
SM You will only get a good manager when you are worth managing and when that happens they will find you. The PRS has great guidelines about the sort of manager you should hire, for me a good legal knowledge of the business is essential.
DP Indeed, although per the age we’re in, do you feel that artists even require a manager per the variety of widely available self-promotional tools, platforms and human connections e.g. Music2deal as well as social media?
SM Only when they are successful enough to be worth managing properly, then it’s a must so the artist has the time to concentrate on their art.
DP Ok so is a track-record of live performances a must-have for any vocalist that you would consider collaborating with? e.g. Cathy Battistessa** & Melanie Williams (Sub Sub)
SM Yes, there’s not much point being a singer if you don’t do live gigs, it’s part of the job.
DP What’s your view on live performances Steve? i.e. can you describe for us your ideal environment and setting?
SM An audience of people NOT videoing the performance with smartphones, rather simply living in the moment is a good start. Secondly, outdoors in the sunshine with a great sound system and engineer.
DP Ok thanks & moving on to the bigger pictures in wider music-industry terms, what do you feel is the biggest single problem faced by the industry today and how do you think it can be resolved?
SM Streaming. Artists do not receive anything like the correct share of streaming income, streaming sites cater to the lowest common denominator of pop music, the algorithms used are incredibly “narrow-minded” and do not represent the enormous range of new exciting music being made around the world. It’s the McDonalds of the music business and without a decent income, we will see more part-time artists and less professionalism. That’s not good for anybody. It’s a fact that only 20% of Full PRS members make their living solely from music. 20 years ago, the figure was 80%.
A ‘Breather’, an interlude.
At this point, I thought we’d take a step back from the main interview & dig into one Afterlife track in particular. It’s a highly popular track in the Lounge downtempo arena and unsurprisingly so as the vocal performance from Rachel Lloyd fully complements the audio experience created by Steve so, let’s dive in for more;
‘Breather’ (track 8, album ‘Simplicity 2000’) – the origins of the initial version;
Nb. Play me while you read me!
DP 3 random comments via YouTube
“15 years later it’s still sooooo sooooothing……..
“OMG this song takes me back 17 years, I can’t even describe how it makes me feel, such a beautiful nectar-like timeless warm mysterious summer night”
“This brought a fresh air of holidays and images of an island to me. when it ends I’ll realize the quiet of my room. and then I’ll travel somewhere else with another song ..”
SM Breather was the first track I made with Rachel Lloyd. Rachel was a vocalist who came to the studio with a couple of DJ’s who wanted her to sing on a house track (which never took off incidentally). When the session was over, I asked Rachel what she thought of the backing track to Breather and she indicated that she would like to try a vocal so, I hit record and away she went. Her vocals are just a stream of consciousness really, I liked the take so I said I would edit and arrange it later into a song which I then did. It formed part of the original Simplicity album (released late ’99 by Hed Kandi) and it consequently sold out in a week. Then, Mark Doyle (founder/owner Hed Kandi) deleted the release and suggested we commissioned remixes so, we then re-released a double album with quality artwork the following year. Rachel came to the studio several times during the making of the track and I always remember that her way of working was to never hear the track before she started recording her vocals so it really was as I mentioned, a stream of vocal consciousness which seemed to work and which Rachel was happy for me to edit the takes into a song format.
‘Breather 2000’ was, of course, the remix of the original:
SM The brainchild behind it was Eric Walkoff** who was a Norwegian national broadcaster on NRK Radio**, essentially Norway’s equivalent of the BBC.
SM Erik called me one day saying he had an idea to make a Latin remix with a brilliant guitarist who (at the time) was the best in Norway and did a lot of sessions for TV. It was completely Eric’s idea to remix the track in a Bossa Nova style, he commissioned the players, the studio and he then went on to be the mix engineer. He also remixed a house track I’d made (‘Sunrise’) which became the main release of that song which was then remixed by Roger Sanchez (both tracks can be found on the Speck of Gold album). Eric was a recording genius and he loved to do live mobile recordings. You can hear one of his recordings here which he did at Roskilde of Groove Armada live. It was (I believe) GA’s first live performance and Eric took the NRK mobile studio to the gig specifically for Groove Armada. He then recorded the live set then mixed it back in the main studio at NRK to create this mix; Balearic classics Vol.6
I consequently visited Erik’s home in Oslo and he came over to the UK many times and we became good friends.
DP I always enjoy such insights to a tracks creation so yes, I did indulge myself completely with that last question peeps (blatantly some may say as it is a fave!). Let’s now continue with our discussion and interview itself. I put this next question(s) to Steve specifically as he’s a known industry collaborator with a good ear for a fine vocalist and has worked with many in his production career personally based on what I’ve seen & heard so, well, there it is and on we go.
DP So tell me Steve, when you collaborate with another party to license their music or indeed sign artists to you your label, what sort of music are you looking for and why?
SM I tend to work with artists who can play at least one instrument very well and have some fresh ideas but need help with the production side. Musically it can be very diverse so it’s more about what grabs me on an emotional level.
DP Creativity vs, the business aspects of the music industry, what are your views on this (just as) important area?
SM I think that a lot of artists are too involved daily with social media and spend less time in the creative zone. Only last week I saw someone post that they had started a record label but didn’t realise how much hard work went into it, they had no idea whether they should be a PRS member or PPL member and were asking people on Facebook for their opinion…you might as well go down the pub and ask a bunch of strangers how you should run your business…
DP Do you have a view with regards to social media, how do you project yourself as well as share your work in both music & art?
SM Facebook and Twitter work for me. I don’t have time to share photos on all the rest.
DP Can you fill us in on the background to the creation of the recent Afterlife album?
SM It’s simply a snapshot of the last 12 months of my life, I think that’s all an album can ever be.
DP Can you give us a flavour of Afterlife’s plans for 2018?
SM I’m concentrating on my next album and my monthly radio show Subatomic Radio. The latest Afterlife album was released July 7th this year ‘On Being’ which includes two tracks that I co-wrote with Rood Chakra who were Holly Chand, Naked Nick, Matt Black and Jonathan Moore (Coldcut). Later in the year, there will be an E.P. from No Logo (Pete Gooding and I).
DP as an aspiring writer of lyrics myself, can I ask whether songwriting is an area that you’re very comfortable with Steve? and would you perhaps even describe your own ‘process’ of writing lyrics & songwriting (that’s a purely ‘just for me’ question peeps, it’s a wordsmith thing )
SM Well, I don’t write lyrics at all but I DO really enjoy editing a stream of consciousness & vocal takes into a song arrangement so, I’m very comfortable writing music, it’s the space that feels the most real. The process usually begins with a melody or bassline and groove in my head and I must then drop everything & get into the studio quickly to get the bare bones down before I lose it, (or write down the dots on paper). Sometimes though with tracks such as ‘Blue Bar’, it was simply because I had been asked to write a piece of music for a specific album – in the case of this track, Jose Padilla phoned me and asked me if I could write something for Cafe del Mar Vol 3.
DP After building a solid reputation on the underground down-tempo scene what are your ambitions for the future?
SM To make even better records.
DP What’s been your experience of using the Music2Deal platform so far?
SM I think it’s a great way to bring like-minded people together.
DP Overall what have been your best & worst experiences in music?
SM Best: Listening to the Protection album by Massive Attack for the first time, I played it repeatedly. Worst: Listening to anything by David Guetta! (DP chuckles loudly!)
Like that last response! :D ok, that’s a wrap, always leave em’ laughing right dear reader.! Seriously, I trust that you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I did during my scribing & conversations with Afterlife over various mediums. A big thank you to Steve Miller for his time & insights. Myself, Mario & the M2D team appreciate & are pleased that you’re on board Music2Deal for the future!
SM It’s been a pleasure, thanks for putting together Music2Deal, anything that helps unite music makers has to be a good thing.
DP Finally, and just for yourself dear reader, my last words are simply these; Go listen, get inspired then go create! Why? Because that mantra works for this sometime scriber & always sound lover
Peace & music, forever
Darren E. Pearson – UK Country Partner