Palmistry on how his father’s death inspired ‘Afterlife’ and working with SOPHIE on Rihanna material
Someone is hooting in Marine Ices. It’s a proper cartoon-style honk of a laugh. It cuts through the chipped-paint calm and steals the gaze of the other customers away from their sundaes. “That laugh’s really good,” smiles Will Ozanne, the 20-something producer who records under the name Gang Colours. We’ve met in the faded glamour surrounds of an Italian ice-cream parlour that’s been serving up Peach Melbas since the ’30s because it’s not far from Koko, where Will is heading later for Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards night. Not to play, he’s quick to point out, but as a fan. Well, not just as a fan – the Radio 1 veteran signed Will up to his Brownswood Recordings label after Ghostpoet tipped him off. The two had become friends on Myspace, back when it was a place musicians hung out: “He’s the reason my music got to Alex from Brownswood and why I’m probably sat in front of you now. I owe him a lot,” says Will of the drawling MC. While there’s little crossover in the musical corners the two inhabit, they do share an appreciation of slowness, a treasuring of moments. ‘In Your Gut Like A Knife’, out today on Brownswood, is a carefully observed EP that bubbles its way along a path that coasts UK garage, UK bass and minimal soul without nailing its colours to any (listen to the title track above). At once sharply chiming and weightlessly tender, it has a way of pulling you close enough to leave an imprint of the stitches holding it together. “For the casual listener it’s a tune but if you’re listening closely there’s an extra depth there for you,” is the way he sees it.
Will belongs to the generation of producers, emerging over the past couple of years, who are more interested in detail than grand statements. Mount Kimbie and James Blake are the obvious call-outs and both come up in our conversation: “Mount Kimbie, everything they do is fresh,” he enthuses. “It’s like wearing a new garm. It’s looking at something and being like, I couldn’t think of that, I can’t even question it. That’s fresh.” He’s also full of praise for Blake: “He’s doing his own thing. It’s rebellious, doing what you want to do, fuck it.” He goes on: “Melody is very important and that’s something that James Blake does so well. He manages to hold on to a moment for a whole track. The Wilhelm Scream just says one thing and I really like that.”
A magpie approach to sound is something Will has in common with that trio of trailblazers. “I literally take my dictaphone everywhere,” he says when I comment on the percussive nature of his music. One time he popped into a music shop to sample the ‘crrrrrrrrk’ of a guiro (a wooden percussion instrument) on his dictaphone because he couldn’t afford to buy it. Then there was the night fight he recorded in Brighton, reversing the audio to create a ‘vocal’ sample. “Vocals have got to say something without saying anything,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll be making a track and realise there’s something missing so I’ll play my track with a load of a cappellas and see what goes. I’ve got this a cappella pack from years ago. It’s got everything from A-Z and loads of little random bits. Sometimes a whole other new melody will come in from that. Another vibe.” While Simon Reynolds worries about pop eating itself, young, un-jaded ears find rock-pooling delight in discovering freshness through something old, shaping it into something new. “I like the element of surprise. It’s all about what I’m feeling at that time. I do my own thing with it,” he explains.
Growing up in Southampton (“I live and die in that town. I want to get out of there soon,” he laughs), Will got into making beats as a kid: “I can remember when I went to PC World with my dad and I wanted a programme called Pop DJ – it was like a really low-end version of the software I produce on now. So I started on that, making beats out of loops.” He had piano and guitar lessons for most of his childhood but dropped them at college “cos it wasn’t cool any more,” he smiles. While it’s something he could easily be regretful about, that’s not Will’s style. “I forgot how to read music when I was at college. I do things by ear, that’s how I live my life.” Music that made a mark when he was younger included ‘Original Pirate Material’ by The Streets (“It was so different to everything else. He’s never matched that.”), Antony & The Johnsons’ ‘I Am A Bird Now’ and that of his uncle, a busker and “really talented guitarist.”
He’s currently wrapping up the final year of a digital music degree at Southampton University, where he’s been both classmates and housemates with Chris of Tropics. The last few months have all been about putting the finishing touches to his final major project, an album. It’s been a labour of love – and a lesson in learning to trust yourself: “When you’re making a tune you kind of have to talk to yourself a little bit, like ‘is this finished yet?’ Something’s got to tell you the whole time, _carry on, persevere._” No doubt some or all of it will find its way to our ears at a later date, but back to the present and ‘In Your Gut Like A Knife’. He thinks the title came from a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson but after we both do our research a couple of weeks later, he realises it came from an essay about grief that he’d read when studying Tennyson at school. Mis-remembered but no less poignant, like much of life.