Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Will Ozanne, aka Southampton/Botley-based producer and vocalist Gang Colours, makes jagged and sparse electronic music that picks a simple idea and meticulously unravels it: in 2010 he blew us away with debut single In Your Gut Like a Knife, which sampled a fight he overheard in Brighton and distilled it over a tense, heated four minutes. Then last year, with his debut album 'The Keychain Collection' for Brownswood, his stand-out song Fancy Restaurant displayed his overwhelming talent for gut-twingingly simple yet sweet lyricism, as it tip-toed around the line "I know you don't care that much about money,/ But I'm gonna make some and take you out."
Last month, Ozanne announced his follow-up LP, 'Invisible In Your City', and while the new record (set for release in mid-September) follows this pattern, it also displays a fresh confidence from the pianist and vocalist. For starters, he's embraced the "pianist and vocalist" side of his craft much more; having moved home to Botley to make this album, he spent a lot of time at the keys and researching the art of songwriting, and that attention to detail and classical craft seeps through the very pores of this album. Not to mention, his voice is all over it, not only distorted and chopped and sprinkled over electronic shimmers, but actually up-close and emoting more than ever before. We caught up with Ozanne to find out what changes in his life and songwriting style led to this deeper intimacy and intensity in his sound.
Hi, Gang Colours! Where are you right now and how's your day going?
"I'm currently in my studio in Botley wondering when would be the safest moment to have my next cup of coffee, and are there any doughnuts to go with. I've also just made a new beat that kind of makes sense with some other beats I've been working on, so now I seem to be working on a 'thing' that is making some loose cohesive sense – which for any producer is a nice epiphany moment. But no doubt all these tracks will soon start to grate on me and will all be in the sin bin by the week's end. But generally speaking, positive beams are flowing from my conscious being today."
'Invisible In Your City' is such a confident and ambitious second album – it feels more melodic and richly, densely produced, whereas your earlier productions laid things bare. How did the creative process compare to that of your debut ['The Keychain Collection']?
"When I was writing the first album, I was regularly switching between my house at university (in the heart of Southampton city) and my home just up the motorway in little known place called Botley, which is very much a peaceful and rural affair, running at a very different speed to the inner city life. It's said that your environment can have an effect on the music you make, and I never really bought into that. But looking back, I guess the evidence is damning. For example, during the making of 'The Keychain Collection' I was mostly residing deep in the thick of an energetic university lifestyle whilst retreating back to the safe arms of Botley occasionally to record some piano and maybe get some healthy stuff down my gullet before heading back to town again to lubricate that grub with alcoholic beverages and other unhealthy habits. This erratic process resulted in something that was extremely sparse and minimal ('The Keychain Collection'). Now since finishing uni I've been spending the majority of my time at home (Botley) where my beloved piano sleeps. This recent stint in this altogether slightly quieter surrounding has produced something a little more 'busy' and expressive in, I guess, a much more literal way ('Invisible in Your City'). So the reaction to the environment is not as straightforward as I had been thinking all these years. I've found that I kind of repel the environment around me – in a positive way though."
"I set a challenge to have more weight on the vocals for this album, which naturally meant I had to change my style of production to allow space for this new and kind of dominant force entering my music. And writing vocals itself can be a very emotionally charged and inward-looking experience." – Gang Colours
This album feels very optimistic and colourful to me, with snatches of soul – how did you feel when you were making it?
"It's hard to pin down one particular feeling that was being felt whilst making this album as it was a long process (taking somewhere around 18 months to come to fruition). But I have no doubt that I ticked all the boxes of emotional states during its creation."
"What was new this time around was that I set a challenge to have more weight on the vocals for this album, which naturally meant I had to change my style of production (that I have been developing since I was 13) to allow space for this new and kind of dominant force entering my music. And writing vocals itself can be a very emotionally charged and inward-looking experience, at least that's what I was discovering. So it has been a somewhat lethargic and rewarding process overcoming my first dive into the songwriters' swimming pool. I wanted to do something different and be ambitious and I hope that basic principle sticks with me throughout my music-making journey."
What life events inspired the new record?
"18 months is along time and a lot of life can happen. I've had my share of highs and lows in that time – which I won't go into too much right now. But to be honest the life events that I drew from whilst writing this album came from the 25 years that I've been skulking around this planet so far. I just didn't know how to access those thoughts and memories and turn them into something somewhat artistic until now."
"The track Up the Downs on the new album is about a place in the Isle of Wight called Tennyson Down which I used to visit every year on my holidays with my family growing up. It's now a place I often think about in stressful times as a place for retreat and haven, a place to figure things out. I've found that I often draw from many experiences past and/or present for each track to end up with one story or sentiment. So often for me it's about how the past influences my present way of thinking."
"I kind of miss that, not over-thinking stuff. But it's part of my job now to over-think. I think." – Gang Colours
It seems like there's more of a focus on classic songwriting this time around; what were you listening to mostly in between the two albums?
"Since leaving uni, I've become a sponge for new knowledge. Which I wish I'd had whilst attending at least one step on the education ladder. I guess it's that its all on my watch now, I'm the demon headmaster – I decide when lunch is. So I'm home schooling myself in all the things I want to explore, in my own time. And because my life is so intrinsically connected to music, that high brow education will often come in the form of music documentaries. So I've been watching all of those 'Classic Albums' documentaries where they go behind the scenes of popular albums such as Peter Gabriel's 'Go'. I love all that 'behind the scenes', 'how it's made' shit. And so as a result of this, I found myself listening to a lot of classic albums by the likes of Phil Collins and such other pop stars. Then as I got deeper into my quest to enter the world of songwriting I would go back and listen to albums that I deemed 'classic' growing up, and the focus was to understand the lyrics that are being said and really analysing what was being said and why. It was really interesting as I had spent most of my life listening to beats while the actual lyrical content was rarely being given a second thought. The melody of the lyrics was important, but really I was more interested on how the overall sonic structure of the track was having its poignant effect on me. This is a conclusion I have come to later on in life, I certainly wasn't thinking this whilst caning Dizzee Rascal's Brand New Day in my headphones on the way to school. I kind of miss that, not over-thinking stuff. But it's part of my job now to over-think. I think."
There are some places on the album, like Up The Downs, where your voice is woven into the track in a way that makes it almost feel like one element of a composition rather than the lead, and it has a beautiful effect. There are also lots of wonderful vocal flourishes pushed into the foreground on Led By Example. Did you try to play around with ways of using your vocal more than before?
"Yeah, with this album I was much more intrigued with the actual recording of things and experimenting with what was available to me. So that meant exploring what my vocals were capable of and sometimes the results came out interesting. Led by Example is a good example of this experimentation with my own vocals as it has quite a few sections of vocal experiments in the background and the foreground, I'm all over place! I started to really understand the power of the human voice or tone in a track, I think as humans we are able to recognise it, in all its forms, even if I've put a ton of effects all over it, our minds can recognise it and connect somehow. That's just one of my pointless and thoroughly unresearched mantras that float around my mind to reassure myself whilst making or most probably over-thinking my music."
"I got my old VHS tapes that I used to record all my favorite cartoons on, which were rather territorially named 'Willz Cartoons'. I sat down with my mic in front of the telly and went through the videos recording any noises that seemed interesting to me…so my childhood cartoons are littered all over this album." – Gang Colours
What lessons did you learn from the first album that you used to help make the second?
"Like I mentioned before, I'm a sponge for information these days, especially when it relates to music. And over the last year or so I've been fortunate enough to work with some really great artists and thats when I would pick up tips that I use frequently in all my productions today. But I guess what the first album constantly reminds me of is my love for minimalism. This might not be entirely obvious within this latest effort, but that's because I can't stand doing the same thing over and over. I get restless and want to try different things, and try to push myself out of a zone I'm comfortable in. But the love for minimal is still there and has in fact found its way back into my most recent productions that I have made since completing this second album."
In the past you've always carried a dictaphone around and used a lot of field recordings in your music – did you use found sound as much this time around?
"I used everything I could get my hands on really! So yes a few of those dictaphone cuts featured on this new album. For example, the static noise on the title track Invisible in Your City is all samples taken from recording me on the piano at home, but because that dictaphone is completely fucked now, it seems to add a erratic static noise to my recordings whenever it pleases. Which just happens to be one of my favourite noises to use in production, I often make parallels with how Jean-Michel Basquiat uses white paint in his pictures, it just seems to aid the balance of a track. But putting pretentious parallels aside, yes 'found sound' is a very important tool in my productions at the moment still. Especially when you make it personal to you. For example, before getting knee deep into the production of this album I got my old VHS tapes that I used to record all my favorite cartoons on, which were rather territorially named 'Willz Cartoons'. I sat down with my mic in front of the telly and went through the videos recording any noises that seemed interesting to me, and I'm so glad I did. I eventually made about five huge patches of sounds that I could play with at a moment's notice. So my childhood cartoons are littered all over this album. I don't want to get into any legal trouble, but if you listen to this album, you will have digested a subtle dose of Fireman Sam."
Brownswood will release 'Invisible In Your City' on the 16th September 2013.