As 2012 rapidly draws to a close we are busy preparing for our year-end celebrations and the dishing out of our annual SoulBounce Honors. Busy we may be, but we managed to squeeze in a chat with one of our favorite producers/artists, Soulpersona. What began as a few simple Q&A's became quite the in-depth talk, as SoulP spoke about his beginnings in the industry, his friendship with regular collaborator Princess Freesia, his take on remixing the work of others and his close relationship with friend and mentor Jocelyn Brown, who he credits with stopping him giving up on music altogether. (Ms. Brown... we are eternally grateful!) Clear some time in your schedule and board the Soulacoaster to experience the highs -- and the lows -- of the music biz.
SoulBounce: First of all thank you for taking the time out to answer our questions, we know you are a busy guy, what with making music, remixing duties and running your own label, DigiSoul.
You broke on to the scene as an artist in your own right with your debut album, Soulacoaster, back in 2009. We assume that wasn't the beginning of your musical career, though. What were you up to before that?
Soulpersona: Ha, I was a van driver, and made music every day when I got home. I then got a lucky break in 2008 and got a job as a music teacher at HRC College in Hertfordshire, teaching the young people how to work music software like Logic and giving them the life tools to be able to record and sell their own music. All the while, I was quietly running Digisoul. From 2001 to 2004 I worked with Jocelyn Brown as her personal assistant at her then company, Joycee Music. In 2004 I decided to get serious with Digisoul, so I spread my wings and got a job as a driver (and many other rubbish jobs) just to fund my hobby, which was and still is, making music. In my younger years, I started out as a drummer, played in loads of rock bands that I hated! I still like to play when I can, I also play piano by ear so that helps me a lot when I'm programming.
SB: The Soulacoaster album incorporates a range of sounds, from straight up soul and R&B, to raregroove, and elements of disco and hip hop. It also features a varied list of guest vocalists. Was the album a collection of tracks you had been working on for a while, or did you set out with the intention of crafting such an eclectic (yet cohesive) set?
SoulP: In 2004-2008 I was making loads of songs with different people I'd met on Myspace, artists like Princess Freesia, Kia Bennett, Darien, Replife, etc. I'd send them an MP3 of an instrumental and then they would record their own vocals and send the stems back for me to mix. I had the honor of meeting John Manuel the drummer from RAMP and helped get them over here to perform for the first time as a band since 1977. Through those shows I met Sibel Thrasher who is the original singer of RAMP and we hit it off. She had written some lyrics in 1977 while she was recording the RAMP Come into Knowledge album in Electric Ladyland Studios and that's how "In Your Eyes" came about, her lyrics just seemed to fit to my instrumental. In 2008 I decided to put the best of this collection of songs together and try to put it out as an album. There were so many musical twists and turns in the record, different tempos and flavors, so I decided to call it Soulacoaster. I never thought it was going to be as popular as it has become. I remember picking up the CDs and thinking that I'd probably end up tiling my bathroom with them, or using them as "soul" coasters for drinks. But as soon as I put word out of Facebook, the whole thing just blew up and for that I'm grateful as I had absolutely no expectations.
SB: For many of us, your debut wasn't just an introduction to your sound and style, but also an introduction to your friend and regular collaborator Princess Freesia. How did the two of you meet, and how did you start working together?
SoulP: In 2005, I was on Myspace looking for potential singers and I was tag searching for artists who like "Soul and Raregroove." This crazy blond-haired girl appeared in the search and I clicked on her profile and what I heard blew my mind, it was a track called "Shooting Stars and Rockets," which we later put out on her album The Hoxxxy Demos. I sent her a message and we started working together. I sent her an instrumental I'd made with her in mind and it came back as "Candy Wrapper." I was amazed by her vocal ability, her vivid imagination and her original creative writing. I still say there is no other singer like her in the world, I'm constantly in awe of her performances and we seem to work together effortlessly. She's also a fantastic producer too and her musical understanding is impeccable (she produced her entire debut album The Rainbow Ride).
In 2010 she came over to London on a Visa and moved into my spare room, so for two years we have built on our repertoire, recorded The Lapdancer album and many other tracks we're proud of, including our forthcoming 2013 album Soulperfreesia. So as Dexter Wansel had his Jean Carne, I've got my Princess Freesia. We'll be doing albums together for a long time to come I'm sure.
SB: You are as well known for your remixes as your original material, if not more so. I assume in some instances you are asked by artists/labels to remix a track, but when that isn't the case how do you choose what songs to work with?
SoulP: With my re-edits it's normally playing my iTunes collection on random. If a groove comes up that sounds appropriate for a re-edit (and if it gives me goosebumps) I'll just do it there and then. With remixes, some of the time I'll search the internet for a cappellas and just add some new arrangements and instruments. I class this process as perfecting my skills, so I'll usually put them out for free download on my SoundCloud page. Through doing these I began getting commissioned for remixes. They're my bread and butter so to speak and I love doing them. I only remix songs that I instantly love so I make a point of having to love the vocal before I remix it, if I'm not feeling it, I'll leave it alone. I'll also never listen to the original version if I can help it, that way, Ill always create something original.
SB: Are there any artists or songs that you have been itching to remix that you haven't yet?
SoulP: I like remixing great songs with great vocals, as long as it has that criteria I don't care who it's by.
SB: We happen to love the vast majority of your remixes, but have you ever encountered an artist who didn't particularly care for a remix that you did of one of their songs and how did you deal with their reaction?
SoulP: I'm grateful as it's not a situation I've been in... YET!!! If I remix something I have to get the goosebumps first and foremost and if I get those, I find the artist is happy too. I put 100% love into any remix I attack, if I'm not feeling the love, then I'll gracefully bow out and save the artists time and money!
SB: You've been very outspoken on social media and critical about illegal downloading (naturally) and music streaming services like SoundCloud and Spotify (surprisingly). Do you feel as if there is anything positive to come from the exposure that people get to your music via these means or is it ultimately a lose-lose situation for the artist? <
SoulP: I constantly strive toward a better deal for the independent artist, although I appreciate that Spotify has its uses as a promo tool, there are just some fans that will just rip streaming music from Spotify and YouTube straight to MP3. I give away loads of my remixes for free on my SoundCloud, in hope that some might actually return the favor and buy the music I have available to purchase. Without our music sales we cannot upgrade our equipment and in some cases just survive. I know so many great musicians, producers and singers that have just given up making music as they simply cannot afford to do it, but mainly they lack the drive as this way of life isn't for everyone and it's a big commitment. It's survival of the fittest out there and I just keep productive and do as much as I possibly can, in hope that one day someone like Erykah Badu or R. Kelly asks me to produce an album for them!
I think the internet is a great resource for the modern day artist, and Facebook helps me immensely as does SoundCloud. I just get pissed off when people take that extra mile. But as a whole I'm grateful to the internet because without it I wouldn't be working with such great artists and musicians that I am today. But on the other hand, if we don't keep supporting the artists and avoid paying for their music, then I fear that the quality of independent musical output will rapidly suffer over the next couple of decades, and that's something we really need to be mindful of. I think so anyway.
SB: We touched on the fact earlier that as well as being an artist, you also run the DigiSoul label. Was it always an ambition of yours to release music on your own label or was it a matter of necessity, as seems to be the case with a lot of artist-led labels? Also, do you intend to release music by other artists, or are you happy keeping it to yourself, and close friends such as Princess Freesia and Jocelyn Brown?
SoulP: Digisoul started off as a bit of a pipe dream in 1999, I came up with the name, and my brother started doing designs for the logo. We always wanted it to be a label and even though it's run from the dining room in my house I feel we have music that I am very proud of. I think too many labels make the mistake of signing too many artists. I prefer to keep it small and release music for artists and musicians that I consider good friends. This is why there's a good understanding between us and our artists. 2013 will see new albums by new Digisoul artists like Carl Hudson (one of the best instrumental jazz funk, soul albums I've heard since the '70s/early '80s), The Andy Tolman Big Band (a stunning album of soulful, jazzy big band arrangements) and a couple of others that are currently works in progress. So we're keeping it small for now as there is only two of us (me and my brother Tukka) doing all the work. Luckily Tukka does all the designs and album artwork for our releases and website, and I take care of the music side, although it's always a collective decision between myself and Tukka to put anything out on Digisoul.
SB: Talking of Jocelyn, I think we agree on the fact that she is massively underrated!! How did the two of you start working together?
SoulP: In 2001 "The Queen of Soul" took me under her soulful wings after hearing some early demos of mine that managed to find their way into a record label meeting. I remember not wanting to play mine as I thought she wouldn't like them, but I was wrong and so I ended up working for her and learning as many aspects of the industry as I could possibly digest. I learnt so much from that wonderful woman and we still remain an integral part of each other's lives and we speak on the phone most days, and I go to her house quite often and enjoy every last piece of her friend chicken and potato salad! As an artist, Jocelyn is extremely underrated. She's recorded with musical icons and was a huge part of the disco movement that erupted in New York in the 1970s. Her voice is on Luther records, Change, Kleer, the Salsoul Orchestra, Cerrone, Gregg Diamond, David Ruffin, Quincy Jones, Roberta Flack, Chic, Diana Ross -- the list is kind of endless. For example, it's even her singing background vocals on George Benson's "Love X Love" and "Give Me The Night." She's a living legend and remains one of the most humble people I know. I've learned so much from her and she's always supported and encouraged me to produce music. If it wasn't for meeting her, I'd have probably given up a long time ago.
SB: You and Jocelyn have released two singles, "In The Middle" and How Can I?" Can we assume that these are a precursor to a full-on collaborative album? Can you share any details?
SoulP: Yes, hopefully the Jocelyn Brown and Soulpersona album will be out sometime in 2013, we have done eight songs over the past three years and we just need to record about four more and it will be finished. There's no deadline, as I hate rushing a project; it will be out when the time is right. If you hurry a release, the quality suffers and we want this to be a wonderful album. As it stands it's a raregroove/disco album, giving a respectful nod to her career in the '70s and '80s and I'm extremely proud of all the tracks we've done thus far.
SoulP: I have no idea, I just thought it would be a great subject for a film, so I decided to do a couple of demos and sent Freesia the tracks and told her about the concept. She loved the idea and instantly set about researching the whole lapdancer way of life, she even became a "dancer" in a club for two weeks just so that she could experience what it was like, so it would inspire her song writing. We did the whole thing in a couple of months, when she moved to my place from Australia we almost instantly started adding to the initial demos, and it was kind of like a conveyor belt of me feeding her with instrumental grooves and she'd go off into her bedroom for the day and night and record all her vocals (through an internal Macbook mic). With each track she would gradually put the story together and we'd talk about possible subjects for each song, then she'd go away and work her magic. We had so much fun recording that album and we're extremely proud of it. When we did it we could have never imagined how well it would be received, in fact we thought that people wouldn't like it, so it was a bit of a risk releasing it. But I enjoy taking risks and going against the grain as does Freesh and it worked out great for us in the end. In fact, we hope to be making a proper independent film production of it over the next couple of years.
SB: Recently you got involved with the re-release of Yo Yo Honey's Voodoo Soul album by remixing the first single, "Groove On." The track is considered an underground soul classic. How did it feel to be able to put your stamp on it 20 years after it's original release?
SoulP: I was honored, I had the original of that tune on vinyl back in the '90s and used to play it in my DJ sets. So when I was asked to do it I just couldn't believe it! When I played it out back in the day, I'd always mix it into The Mary Jane Girls classic "All Night Long" so that's what inspired the remix. Mani [Shoniwa] from Yo Yo Honey has asked me to do another remix from the Voodoo Soul album for the new year, so I'm looking forward to getting stuck into that.
SB: Who are some of the artists and what are a few of the current trends in music that you dig?
SoulP: I don't really listen to a lot of current stuff as I mainly listen to music from the '70s and '80s, but I love Deborah Bond's album, Madam Palindrome, and Nick Van Gelder's Groovitas is a fine disco jazz soul record. The new stuff I get most excited about the artists coming though Digisoul, as I spend most of my time listening to what they do, and when I'm not listening to that, I'm making my own music.
SoulP: Haha, thank you. Yes, if all goes well Soulperfreesia will be out in February. We have finished all the tracks and we are currently in the mixing and mastering stages. This record is a culmination of all the music and melodies in the '80s that stuck in my head, so I've kind of remixed them into my own thing, and Freesia has once again got into several different characters and written some amazing songs with an '80's theme and references running throughout. There's a duet with Jocelyn Brown and Freesia that is simply mind blowing! So very much looking forward to 2013.
SB: Thanks again, SoulP!
SoulP: Thank you too SoulBounce, I'm so grateful that you like my music, take your time to write about it and help promote what I do. I eternally appreciate it. Thanks again, was a pleasure.
Tags: Carl Hudson, Darien, Deborah Bond, Jocelyn Brown, John Manuel, Kia Bennett, Mani Shoniwa, Nick Van Gelder, Princess Freesia, RAMP, Replife, Sibel Thrasher, Soulpersona, The Andy Tolman Big Band, The Mary Jane Girls, Tukka, Yo Yo Honey