Tuesday 19 February 2013

Smoove: Smoove Operator [Interview]

Written by Imran Mirza

They say it takes many years to become an overnight success, and for Smoove, becoming recognised as one-half of soul and funk duo, Smoove & Turrell, it was actually in the making for many years!  It is something that seemed to happen very, very fast though.  Having their debut album, ‘Antique Soul’, released in 2009 by Jalapeno Records proved to be an instant breakout success and garnered immediate attention and praise from fans and critics alike, including BBC Radio’s Craig Charles, and subsequent soul music aficionados housed on Solar radio and Starpoint Radio.

John Turrell’s vocals aptly combined with Smoove’s tailored and multi-layered production skills to create a project embraced, frankly, by anyone that heard it.  Praise, adoration and even further notoriety followed with Smoove & Turrell’s sophomore relase, ‘Eccentric Audio’, which continued to further reinforce the name ‘Smoove & Turrell’ as genuine forerunners within the UK’s ever-emerging soul scene.

Not one to rest upon his successes here, Smoove’s resume goes on to mark even further achievements and successes, including being a leading contributor to Record Kicks’ 2011 release, ‘Mo Record Kicks: Act Two’, compiling the songs from the label’s current catalogue as well as contributing a few of his own remixes to the project, including a fantastic one for Nick Pride & The Pimptones’ ‘Waiting So Long’, which would also go on to find a home on the group’s own 2012 remix album (‘Remixed Feast of Jazz’), as well as Smoove’s own brand new remix compilation, ‘First Class’.

Smoove’s production talents are expertly showcased on this diverse compilation of remixes from Jalapeno Records and they demonstrate why his skills are becoming those of increasing demand.  Blessed with his golden touch on this release art acts including, Brenda Boykin’s ‘Hard Swing Travellin’ Man’, Electric Empire’s ‘Baby Your Lovin’, The Bahama Soul Club’s ‘Nassau Jam’ and Kraak & Smaak’s ‘Call Up To Heaven’.  In the same way that The Impellers caught many off-guard with their unorthodox cover of The Ting Tings’ ‘That’s Not My Name’ from earlier this year, it may be even more of a left-field turn wrapping your ears around Smoove’s funk-filled remix of Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’, as performed by The Third Degree.

The songs are tackled with a confident mix of soul, R&B, disco, Latin and funk providing excellent accompaniment along the artist’s original recording with new life breathed into them.

What can you say, the man’s clearly a Smoove Operator, whether it be in the recording studio or the DJ booth, so naturally, it’s our great pleasure to secure time with the UK’s very own, producer extraordinaire, Smoove!

Before we go on to discuss the current release, can we talk about the success of Smoove & Turrell?  You’re two albums in and have garnered a significant amount of praise for each release – you must be really thrilled with the group’s success?
It’s been a real breath of fresh air working on the project of Smoove & Turrell these last five years and I’m overwhelmed with the amount of success we have gained from all over the world.

What made you decide you wanted to pursue a career in music?
I was always into music as far back as I can ever remember. My father had a large record collection which generally got played at loud volumes in our home. I remember dancing to Spencer Davis Group and air-drumming to Jimi Hendrix when I was about nine years old, but it was The Police that really caught my attention.  Probably down to the intricate drum patterns.
I later got into breakdancing and then discovered hip-hop culture which is when I got into collecting and sampling records.
I really wanted to make my own record so when I got my hands on a 4-track recorder, the world was in my hands and anything seemed possible. It wasn't long before I met some like-minded musicians that helped me get to grips with programming and sequencing which soon got us our first record deal with Big Life Records.

Who were some of your earliest musical influences?
Funkadelic, Marrs, Dynamix 2, Richie Havens, anything on Street Sounds Records, DJ Jazzy Jeff , DJ Cash Money, Eric B & Rakim, Tuff Crew, Roy Ayers, 45 King, Trax Records, Brass Construction, Zapp, Azymuth, etc.

Following the efforts and remixes you placed into the ‘Mo Record Kicks Act 2’ compilation of last year, ‘First Class’ is an album fans will certainly be excited to hear from you – how did the idea initially come about for a remix album?
I had already made two Smoove solo albums on Acid Jazz Records in 2005 and 2007 – one called ‘Dead Mens Shirts’ and another called ‘Gravy’, which contained a lot of remix work. Over the recent years I have done so many remixes for different artists so I decided to compile a list of some of the most recent remixes. There was about forty to choose from so I sent the tracks to Jalapeño Records and offered them the idea of doing a compilation album which became ‘First Class’.
What makes you decide to tackle a song to remix, and how do you approach it?
I get offered a lot of remixes but don't always accept them as I will only work on a song if I think I can bring something out of the original version.  I try not to work on instrumentals as I find them very difficult for some reason.  I’m a beat junkie so I will usually spend most of my time getting the drums sounding really good and then most things will usually fall into place.

How did you go about compiling the songs for ‘First Class’?
I really couldn't decide on the track list so I left most of it down to Trevor from Jalapeño to pick the selections as I was happy to go with any of the 40 tracks I had sent him.

Is there anyone amongst the track listing for ‘First Class’ that you’d particularly like to hit the studio with?
A lot of the remixes feature great singers such as Brenda Boykin, Lex Empress from Kraak & Smaak, Jon Allen, Sandra Nkake and my partner in crime John Turrell, but I'd love to do a track together with Africa Bambaataa. He's a legend and real hero of mine! I’ve already worked alongside Jess Roberts on my early Acid Jazz albums.

How do you find DJing to a live crowd as opposed to performing as part of a band?
I love performing in both situations but they are so different from one another in many ways. Performing as part of the band is very exciting as there is always room for improvisation. The band is more of a team effort where as DJing is much more of a solo act where I can control things a bit more. I don't tend to work out my DJ sets as I like to freestyle and take the mood wherever I feel it. I sometimes DJ along side John Turrell where he sings along over my impromptu sets, which is endless fun!

What’s next for you at this point – will the solo work continue or are there plans to get back into the studio with John Turrell for a third album?
I’m running two record labels – Wass Records and Wack Records, constantly touring with the live band and DJing.
I’m back in the studio already working on another Smoove & Turrell album and I’m remixing various artists as well as working on some new Smoove solo projects!
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