INTERVIEW: Kevin Saunderson (Inner City) (ADE 2011)

Together with Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Flashin’ Eddie Fowlkes, Kevin Saunderson is one of the founders of the Detroit Techno sound. His underground records under the guises of Kaos, Reese, and Keynotes helped definite the early sound. Together with singer Paris Grey as the group Inner City, he created the masterpieces “Big Fun” and “Good Life.” Fast forward nearly twenty-five years and Kevin Saunderson has teamed up with respected house label Defected for a phenomenal mixed CD and new music from Inner City.

DJ Ron Slomowicz: How did you hook up with Defected?

Kevin Saunderson: I had worked on The Inner City track and was sitting on whether or not I should release it on KMS, my label, or if I should take it to someone else. I started thinking about what labels were out there that could do a good job. My manager Judy and I went through a list and there were not that many on there. I asked her to set up a meeting and get a feel for Defected. At the same time they were actually contacting us because they wanted to license some music for a compilation and do some other things as well. It happened hand in hand. They actually contacted us first before we went down there and we just initiated the meeting. My manager went and played them what we were working and told them some of our ideas. It spring boarded from there and seemed like an instant connection right away.

RS: So is this new, original music by Inner City?
Kevin Saunderson: Yes, it is new music by Inner City. I also did two In the House mixed CDs for the Best of Kevin Saunderson. There are a couple things going on with Defected.

RS: Are the mixed CDs a single-, double-CD set, or two separate mixed CDs?
Kevin Saunderson: It is two separate mixed CDs, but it is one package.

RS: Is one of them a daytime and one a nighttime? How are they vibed?
Kevin Saunderson: Similar vibes, but one gets a little more techno. The second CD has more techno towards the end. The other CD is a little more groovy and deep, it goes into a bit of tech house and elevates.

RS: You mentioned the new Inner City single, is there a full album coming? Is this a one-off song?
Kevin Saunderson: We have worked on several songs, but we have not determined if there is going to be a full album. We will work on enough material for an album. It will be determined on how our partnership with Defective goes and if we feel like we want to move into an album phase. Sometime it’s good to release a few records and let it flow. We plan on doing some touring and other things next year. If we were going to do an album, we would need to be in the studio heavily right now. If we end up doing one, it will probably be a little later. There will most likely be three or four records that come before that though.

RS: Are you still doing the High Tech Soul Project with Derrick May?
Kevin Saunderson: Yes, we have the West Coast to hit. We actually haven’t hit hardly anywhere in America. In November we are going to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and maybe Vancouver. We are also coming back to Europe to do some more dates, we will be in Barcelona.

RS: This is from a ZTT fan. There was rumors of a project called Intellects which was you, Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and supposedly Trevor Horn. What ever happened to that, did it ever come to fruition?
Kevin Saunderson: That was very early in our career. One thing that we enjoyed was our freedom to create whatever we wanted to. Derrick told Trevor that there were a lot of things related to promoting that he would not do if he was asked, such as a TV show if the record were to get big. I don’t think that sat very well with Trevor. At the time we were all busy. I had Inner City going on and other underground things as well. We felt like if it did happen, it happened and if not that would be okay as well. It did not ever end up happening.

RS: Is the Inner City lineup you, your ex-wife Ann, and Paris Grey?
Kevin Saunderson: Yes, Ann has written for many years with Inner City, she did “Pennies from Heaven” and “Blackwater.” She used to be moreso in the background, but she is now officially added to the team, and is in the front now. She will perform with us, and if we do an album she will be on a few songs as well. Paris Grey is an original and is on there as well.

RS: Last night you were probably here for the DJ Mag awards. I wanted to ask you how you think that the world of DJing has changed from when you started to where it is now.
Kevin Saunderson: I think it has changed because technology has changed and so has DJing. There are all these great programs, anything from Ableton to Traktor to Serato. It changes the way a DJ approaches things, some is positive and some negative. For me, I am from the old school but without technology I would not be where I am today. I definitely always push the levels of technology. I love a lot of the new technology. I try to make myself play with tables as well, but incorporate the newer technology. It definitely makes it easier for a DJ to get out there and play. Sometimes the downside is that DJ’s do not know how to feel a crowd, they just want to get out and show what they think they can do. Overall I think it is a good thing that we have all this great technology. I do not have to carry tons of records anymore and it has saved my neck and back!

RS: Are you currently DJing with vinyl, CD, or laptop?
Kevin Saunderson: I am actually using Traktor with my laptop. I use the vinyl part of Traktor and sometimes CDs and controllers. It depends on the event, venue and sound.

RS: Who are some of your favorite DJs right now?
Kevin Saunderson: That is hard to answer because I can always go back to the past. Presently I do not hear DJs like I used to. I seldom hang out at gigs, so right now I do not have too many DJs that I could name. I was inspired by Ron Hardy, Larry Levan, and even Derrick May. Even though Derrick and I were around the same age, he started before me and gave me a boost.

RS: Here’s a question from the past. You did the version of “Rock to the Beat” as Reese & Santonio; it was a massive house anthem. At the same time, there was 101 with the New Beat version on Speed Records in Belgium and Wing/Polygram in the US, then Lisa Moorish did an acid house take on it with Juan Atkins and DJ Pierre for Jive in the UK. In your mind, how did that play out and how did you react to three different versions of your song going on at the same time?
Kevin Saunderson: It was interesting because it was so popular, people just wanted to try to redo it. People could not get it for a license. Originally I did not license it and I ended up giving it to ffrr. It was just one of those records that people wanted to recreate the best that they could. It had darkness, energy and drive to it. It was a form of flattery; it tells me that people just loved what I was doing and they were trying to emulate it. It was a song that you could emulate it because it was just strings. Compared to other songs it was harder to do.

RS: Do you have any funny or interesting anecdotes of your time with the Wee Papa Girls?
Kevin Saunderson: I do not know, that was so long ago. That is going back about twenty five years. I do not remember much, but they were cool little chicks that rapped.

RS: What remix of yours was the most fun to do?
Kevin Saunderson: The Wee Papa Girls – “Heat It Up.” It was the first remix, but I still think its one of my better ones. It was definitely a challenge in those times because to remix a record you would reedit. The remix was not like it was until I did the first real remix. When I went and listened to the original I did not think it would be any fun to re-edit it. I just said that I was going to use “it’s like that, yeah; it’s like that- so heat it up.” I made a whole new song with it. It was fun because when I looked at the end results I had shaped a whole new record based off of it, it was just a great experience. I was in this super big studio, I felt like the captain. I had never seen a studio like that. I was in Zomba studio and they had a board that was out of this world. It was new to me because I had been working on 8-tracks and 4-tracks and things like that since it was the early days of my career.

RS: Of all the remixes that you have done, what has been the hardest or most challenging?
Kevin Saunderson: The hardest was probably The Christians’ “The Bottle.” It has a lot of vocals and harmonies in it so it was very difficult. It came out great but it took a long time for me to be happy with it. Back then we had problems since we were still using multi-tapes. We had to sync it up and get it to lock. We would spend hours upon hours not being creative, trying to get to the creative process.

RS: Yes, the technical side of things which kids don’t have to think about these days.
Kevin Saunderson: Yes, today it is all taken care of.

RS: When you are in the studio now are you working with Logic, ProTools, or Ableton?
Kevin Saunderson: I actually work with all three of them; it depends on what I am trying to do. A lot of times I mix out of ProTools or Ableton. Usually when I am done with the body of what I am trying to go with I put it over to Logic and finish off in Logic. I then make stems and put it over to Pro Tools and mix it.

RS: As the legendary DJ producer that you are, what advice would you have for the next and newer generation of producers out there?
Kevin Saunderson: If you really believe in what you are doing, you have to work hard at it. You have to work hard to improve every week and day and become better at what you are doing. It takes time and you have to be patient, and you can’t think it is going to happen overnight. You need to stick around and be a part of this music that you love; a lot of people come and go. You can be successful and then be gone just like that. To have a long career, you need to be passionate and get better at what you do.

RS: When you mentioned touring, you mostly mentioned European and British dates. Why do you think that you are more successful and better known in the UK and Europe versus your homeland of the US?
Kevin Saunderson: It would be nice to be known in the US. I think that at the time that we had our most success, America was not ready for it. I think that it is more ready than it has ever been before, due to satellite radio and social media. I am hoping that we can have a run in America and an opportunity to spread the word of what we have done with Inner City and Kevin Saunderson. It is all a new generation and new people.

RS: Speaking of Social Media, what do you prefer to use?
Kevin Saunderson: I use Facebook the most. Twitter (@kevinsaunderson) is the easiest because of its quickness, but I use Facebook a lot.

RS: What would you like to say to all your fans out there?
Kevin Saunderson: I am very glad that I am recognized and have fans for all the work that I have put in. I love my music and I plan on doing this for at least eight more years. I am glad that I can continue to be inspired by fans because I inspire them and they do the same for me.

Interview conducted October 2011 during Amsterdam Dance Event.

Image from Kevin Saunderson Facebook.

INTERVIEW: The Shapeshifters (2008)

The Shapeshifters, or Shape:UK as they are known in the US, broke out onto international scene with “Lola’s Theme,” one of those rare club records that enter the mainstream consciousness yet stays true to the club roots. A string of commercial hits followed – Back to Basics, Incredible, and Sensitivity for major label EMI. The duo, Max Reich and Simon Marlin, have gone back to their underground and noctural roots and signed to house heavyweight Defected Records for their future releases. Watch out for their Treadstone EP and a mixed compilation in the near future.

DJ Ron Slomowicz: Max and Simon, of the Shapeshifters, how did the two of you meet?
Max Reich: We met up in Sweden about twelve years ago, in Gothenburg, my home town, and there, through a mutual friend, we were introduced. Simon was working at an independent label looking for new artists, and I gave him a cassette with hot stuff, so there you go.
Simon Marlin: Yes, as Max said, I was signing stuff and he gave me a cassette. That shows how long ago that was. And two weeks later, I signed him to the label. I was working, at the time, for Down Boy, and then we went on to work together at Sony. We signed the Aquafused project that was part of Sony, and then we basically have been working together ever since. I worked at Peppermint Jam for a while, and then we decided to do it ourselves. We set up Noctunal Groove with my wife Lola, and the first record we released was “Lola’s Theme.”

RS: Where did the inspiration to use that sample come from?
Max Reich: Well, it’s Johnnie Taylor’s What About My Love, an old record that Lola had in her record collection, an 80s record.
Simon Marlin: We were basically listening to old records one night and it was one of those things, the timing just worked out. I heard the first eight bars of What About My Love, and I put it on plus six and thought, ‘oh this might work.’ I said to Max the next day, ‘let’s do this,’ and three days later we pretty much had the record finished.

RS: Did you guys have any idea the record would become as big as it did?
Max Reich: Yes, we did actually. We knew it was going to be number one and knew it was going to sell half a million records, that’s it.
Simon Marlin: You know, we knew it was going to be the most bootlegged record in years and be on five hundred compilations. No, we had no idea, that’s the honest answer.

RS: How do you follow up a single like that?
Simon Marlin: Just be true to yourself. You just do what you do. That’s such a big thing – you just have to keep carrying on making records. The thing for us now is that we just want to keep making records for the dance floor, and if they become bigger records, then so be it.

RS: A lot of club music is now based on samples or dub tracks, but your music tends to be vocal-based. Do you have a problem translating vocals to the club?
Simon Marlin: Sometimes we end up playing our nocturnal mixes, which are the more dubbier ones. It’s a tough thing. To be fair, right now in 2008 we’re actually using less vocals, and doing more dubby stuff anyway. At the time, that’s what was right for us. To be fair with EMI, they always wanted us to make vocal-led records because it’s better for radio. But a year ago we decided, we don’t make records for the radio, we just do what we do, and if people like it, they like it. You can’t make records for record companies, you have to make them for yourself.

RS: Is New Day a sign of the way you’re going with your new album?
Simon Marlin: Yes, but we’ve done a whole album. We’re not going to put it out because we’ve just left EMI.

RS: OK.
Simon Marlin: And we’ve just signed with Defected.

RS: Wow. So this second album is never going to come out?
Simon Marlin: No, it will come out, not right now, though. Right now me and Max feel like we just want to go back to our roots, in the clubs and do the things that we feel like doing when we’re DJing.

RS: How did you all hook up with Defected?
Max Reich: Just knocked on the door. I think the rumor spread quite quickly when we left EMI. Many labels did approach us, and Defected was one of them. We handed them another couple of tracks, off the album we’d done, and they immediately wanted to release them on Defected.
Simon Marlin: Simon Dunmore, he knows his stuff and we were very flattered. He picked up the phone and said, ‘Let’s talk,’ and we liked what he was saying. He obviously liked what we were saying. He’s giving us the freedom to express ourselves again, in a bit more of an independent way. And it’s just a good vibe, it feels right, it feels like a good home for us. If there is something we do that does have the potential to be a big record again, he’s more than capable of putting it away.

RS: So the next thing coming from you all is going to be a full artist album on Defected?
Max Reich: No. We have two singles, one called Treadstone and one called, well it’s actually a remake of The Shine, you know, the old record? Those are the two first releases and then, we’ll see how it goes. We’ve got Treadstone from the album. Basically it’s an EP, the Treadstone EP.
Simon Marlin: We’ve done an album deal with Defected, but they’re not pushing us to release an album straightaway. What the plan is, is to release Treadstone through here, and obviously into Ibiza, and then to do an in-house compilation, which will be out around October, I think it is.
Max Reich: September / October.

RS: When you guys DJ out, are you two both on the decks together? How do you all DJ together?
Max Reich: We’re more back to back, really. Two or three records each, and then go and have a few drinks. Simon goes out to have a cigarette.
Simon Marlin: Yes, that’s the handy part of being a duo – if I want to go and have a cigarette, then I can go and have a cigarette. We’ve always done it that way, and we just kind of vibe off each other, we’ll throw things in the mix.

RS: There’s a big movement of the Swedish house DJs, the whole Swedish House Mafia – are you part of that?
Max Reich: Yes, actually I am. No, I’m sorry – I’ve been in London. I lived in London for ten years now and, you know, this house mafia thing is one of the new generation of the kids. There’s Axwell and Steve Angello and Ingrosso.…
Simon Marlin: And Max was releasing records on Bush Records way before these boys even knew how to use them.

RS: OK. I’ve got to ask you – you don’t do a lot of remixes for other artists, but one you did was Christine Aguilera’s “Hurt.” How did the project come about, and what was it like working on that record?
Simon Marlin: Hosh Gurelli from Sony/BMG approached us because he likes what we do. We were obviously over the moon. He played us the record over the phone and I said ‘yes, I think we could do something with that.’ He sent us the parts, and to be honest, it was a joy to do, to work with a vocalist like that. The only one we haven’t done, what we really want to do, is Mary J.
Max Reich: We’ve done the Leona Lewis single as well – “Bleeding Love” – which is a massive hit.

RS: Very cool. What would you like to say to all your fans out there?
Simon Marlin: Well to be honest with you, we should have come here a few years ago. All I can say is, we’ve had great response on MySpace and stuff from people here, and there seems to be a real love for what we do. So all I can say is ‘thank you and keep the love coming.’ I think what’s nice about the U.S. is that they do appreciate a good vocal.

Interview conducted March 2008.