Will Saul: ‘The labels are a mirror’

As Simple Records turns 50 with a double EP from Will Saul and Tam Cooper, listen to a mix from the label founder, and read some of his thoughts on vinyl, collaboration, and the future of dance music.

With the release of double EP ‘Hi Lo/Room In Your Heart’ from label head Will Saul and Tam Cooper, Simple Records turns 50 releases old. It’s quite the achievement in the modern music climate, considering that, as well as digital, they’ve stuck with visually distinctive, well put together, vinyl all the way through. Most impressive though is the label’s back catalogue. Alongside Saul and Tam Cooper, Motorcitysoul, Gadi Mizrahi of Wolf+Lamb, Mike Monday and Adultnapper have all put out releases.

Things kicked off for the label back in 2003, when Will Saul, then primarily with an interest in broken, less straight-forward beats, set it up. Since then, Simple has developed more along techno and house lines, becoming a fantastic space for producers with a deep, future facing aesthetic. Meanwhile, Saul is also responsible for the creation of Aus Music which, as he puts it, provides a platform for the more “left-field leanings” of his taste. Currently he’s working on the album follow up to 2005’s intriguing ‘Space Between’ LP. Simple Records are also celebrating their 50th release at Corsica Studios on March 5th. He’s keeping busy, but took some time to answer a few questions about the ideas behind the label, and his own forthcoming release.

Can you please describe both this promo mix and the EP you’ve just done with Tam Cooper? Why this particular EP for the 50th release?

The promo mix is a selection of my own music from the last 10 years – DJ mixed. Hopefully it shows the different areas of house/techno/disco and beyond that I’ve touched on over the years. As I saw the 50th release approaching I decided that I wanted to do it with Tam as we are the core producers behind the label so we custom built 4 tracks for it. We’ve tried to show the different shades, moods and tempos within house and disco that we like. Fin (also Fink on Ninja Tune) has always been a big part of both Simple and Aus so he was the obvious choice for one of the remixes. Wolf + Lamb and Art Department are two of my favorite dance production outfits at the moment so they were top of my list when choosing remixes.

This EP is on vinyl, as is all of the Simple Records output, which is both noble and wildly important. What is it like operating a vinyl-centric label in the current music market/economy?

It’s been tough for a few years for vinyl but now but it is now very very hard to break even on a vinyl release. I’ve always said to myself that as long as the vinyl at least pays for itself (in terms of covering the cost of manufacturing it) then I’ll keep doing it. We are just about doing that with Simple. Aus is in a better position with vinyl and sells much more – dubstep, post dubstep, future bass music or whatever you want to call it definitely sells better than house and techno generally on vinyl at the moment – for us anyway. The flipside to that coin is that it doesn’t sell as well digitally. Vinyl definitely holds sway when convincing bigger more established artists to release/remix for you. I think it show’s that you are committed, serious and still at the top of your game if you are still able to release vinyl so it’s an important gauge for some artists and will often be the deciding factor as to whether they will work with a certain label at all.

You’ve put a lot of work into the artwork for Simple Records and this release with a limited run of posters and shirts. How do you think the visual side of music has changed especially with all the movement towards mp3/blog culture and away from physical packaging?

I have always been into design and really believe it’s vitally important when creating any brand/product/project to set yourself apart in terms of image. When we started Simple vinyl 12“s were the core of the business and the blank canvas you had with a 12” sleeve was an opportunity to do something unique. You always remember your favorite record sleeves from over the years….and this becomes part of the collecting process. This is all disappearing in terms of record/music buying now with download culture. You don’t hold anything in your hand when you download music so you obviously can’t appreciate a labels design ethos in such a clear way as the pack shots/ads on i-tunes/beatport are so small. There’s no sleeve notes and info which was also part of the fun of collecting. But now you have discogs/blogs/twitter/facbook for an insight into the artists and web-site design is the window into the labels design identity.

When you started Simple Records, what was your original vision for it? What’s the reality of it now at 50? What’s the future for releases 50-100?

We always wanted it to be very open musically to releasing whatever we liked and felt was good within electronic music and occasionally beyond. The labels are a mirror for what I’m into musically in terms of how I’ve A&R’d them, so you can map my changing tastes in electronic music with the output on the labels. We’re now very much a house/techno label with Simple albeit very deep and musical. Aus caters for my more left-field leanings within
electronic music. If I hadn’t created Aus then Simple would definitely sound like Aus now as I’m most excited by all that’s happening in the dubstep scene at the moment. In all honesty house feels kind of stagnant at the moment. But this is just my personal view and everything goes in cycles so no doubt we are due an exciting phase in house again very soon.

Can you please tell us a bit about your new artist album coming out in the spring?

I think it may be slightly later than spring now as I’ve gone back to the drawing board on a few tracks. It’s taken a lot longer than I expected as I’m working with a lot of vocalists and musicians and when you are relying on someone else within the creative process then it takes longer to finish tracks. The people you are working with are not always on the same page as you with time lines/schedules. I’m working with people in different countries – Paul St.Hilaire and Joe Dukie (Fat Freddies Drop) – I send them the instrumental sketch and then wait for them to deliver the vocal…sometimes the wait is quite extensive. You can’t force creativity and sometimes it takes a while for the song/lyrics to click for them. As a result this album has taken a lot longer than I expected but I hope it will be better for it. It will touch on dubstep, house, techno, soul, disco and beyond but all with a lush, futuristic, spaced out feel. At least half of the album will be vocal tracks – Detachments and Charlene Soraia have also contributed songs as well and Paul and Joe.

Of all the collaborations you’ve done both on Simple Records and other labels (such as Aus Music) which ones have really stuck out for you? Not necessarily as your favorites, but maybe as the most challenging or the ones you’ve learnt the most from?

I think probably the collaboration I mentioned above with Paul St.Hilaire (also known as Tikiman on Rhythm & Sound). This has been a work in progress for well over 2 years now. I sent him an instrumental and then he would send me back verses or little ideas every 6 months or so then he would disappear on me. I kept thinking he’d decided he didn’t want to do it any more then I’d get a phone call from him saying he’d just sent me something to listen
to. It’s been the longest track to finish ever…..Also the first time that Charlene Soraia (she’s just been signed to Peacfrog – an incredible talent) came into the studio to record was pretty mind blowing – she has unbeleivable control of her voice and can control the top register of her voice like a whistle. This needs to be seen/heard to be believed. She can hit the high notes of Mariah Cary but when she gets up there she has so much control. Opera singers can take 10 years to get this level of control in their upper register so for someone of 21 this is pretty incredible.

Lastly, dance music (spanning all genres): where do you think it’s all going? Where do you want to see it go?

If I knew where it was all going then I’d be a rich man! I think on a commercial/pop level dub step will continue it’s rise in the UK for a while longer. Dance music has fully infiltrated American pop at the moment thanks to David Guetta, god bless him, so I would imagine we’re all going to be sick of it in about 6 months…

Simple Records released Will Saul and Tam Cooper’s EP ‘Hi Lo/Room In Your Heart’ on February 7th

READ JOHN ROBERTS INTERVIEW: ‘IN AND OUT OF HARMONY OVER TIME’.

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