Dr Meaker: Dirt & Soul
To say that anticipation for Dirt & Soul – the new album from that West Country Powerhouse Dr Meaker – is high is a bit of an understatement. It’s mega-high. We got locked down and found out what makes the crew tick… pardon the pun, considering the explosive artwork.
Straight in to the title track, can you take us into and the story behind?
The title track ‘Dirt and Soul’ was started at home with the chords being written on piano. A few of the vocalists on the album wanted to write the vocals for the instrumental but Laurent happened to be around on the day that I wanted to continue working on it, so he got vocal duties and he smashed it! The vocals were all pretty much written and recorded in one session.
The song started with a working title ‘Anything’s Possible’ and once it was produced I thought ‘Is was the most representative of the sound I’m trying to achieve for the album?’ so I gave it the name ‘Dirt & Soul’.
And so this grew to the album title?
I’ve been using that term for a long time, to describe my sound and wanted this album to be named after that sound.
More later… so about the lyrics?
I’ve spoken with Laurent about the lyrics and he says it’s about when you know you want someone and you are determined to make them yours, regardless of how they feel about it.
Production-wise, the track was brooding and relentless and I just wanted to take it to another level for an epic finale. Walked the streets of Bristol for weeks, listening to the demo on headphones and trying to figure out what to do. I decided I wanted to hear screaming guitars so brought in guitarist Charlie Allen and distorted the hell out of everything as much as I possibly could… then brought in Celestine to ad lib her amazing vocals over the final section.
I was drawing on a memory of hearing a Rolling Stones song where a soul diva started to ad lib over the final section of a song and wanted to try that.. and it worked! I would love for this song to be used for a film.
It’s an epic outro to the album and sets the tone for the direction I’m heading in.
You mention piano: was this a starting point for a lot of your work on the album?
Yes it was. I bought a weighted piano during the process of making this album and I guess writing the songs on piano just made me want to keep that sound in the mix. I’m not sure how this is perceived by the listener, as being a good or bad thing.
How important is your studio space – and your neighbourhood- when it comes to composing music?
My studio space is pretty good. I do need to do a bit more acoustic treatment but I get a vibe in my space as I have very forgiving neighbours that put up with the bass and noise. My neighbourhood is in one of Bristol’s more diverse areas – Bristol is quite compartmentalised in terms of race and culture – so I hear and see alot of different things outside of my own culture, that interest and inspire me.
Who in the collective is instrumental for getting a vibe really happening? Beats, bass, vocalists… you tell us!
I usually get an initial vibe making the beats, sometimes with chords or a really hooky sample or something, or sometimes with just drums and bass. It’s usually only once the vocals start to come alive that I really start to get excited as hell. When you lock a groove – beats and bass – then a killer vocal … that feels real good.
I gotta give props to everyone in the band as everyone brings their own energy and vibes which helps to create the overall tapestry that is Dr Meaker.
‘Deep In My Heart’ has the wicked Bristol vibe and STRINGS! Have you roadtested this live?
Thank you! Yes, its such an emotional track and alot of energy went into making it. It really is a true story of the sadness when a relationship is dying.
Lorna smashed it with a brilliantly written and performed vocal. We went to Manchester and recorded the Kaleidoscope Orchestra, it was so emotional hearing them play. After I wrote the strings on keyboard, they were taken to a new level by string arranger Sam Price. Steve Pycroft conducted the orchestra and I worked with Break on the final mixdown which brought out that extra little bit of magic I felt it needed.
For all involved, we definitely captured the soul within us and I think it’s possibly my best work to date.
We haven’t road tested it live as we don’t currently have the money to pay for a live strings section / orchestra to join us (yet) and I fear it will be a bit shit with a backing track full of strings.
We’ll do it at some point but it has to be right if we are going to perform it live. Promoters will have to put their hands a little deeper into their pockets if they want the strings!
The ‘big’ tunes are present on Dirt & Soul: ‘Freaks’, ‘Remedy’, ‘Right Back’, ‘Good Fight’… did these work as starting points for the album, places to explore… and would you say that they give the album big starting points to get into Dr Meaker, if you are new to the fold?
Yes, they are the more accessible tunes, with ‘Right Back’ and ‘Freaks’ being the most uplifting of them. That tune was really made for the dancefloor and as a nod to the ravers who come out at night.
‘Remedy’ is much darker and much more leftfield. We didn’t make concessions when making these tracks and stuck to our artistic visions, which might not make for big radio hits but was a really cool and creative process and I can now look back on my catalogue and know it’s been created from the right place.
And when did ‘Remedy’ actually take shape?
‘Remedy’ started out when Romaine played me a tune he had already written the vocals for, and I said that I would love to rewrite the music and make something new from it. Romaine is a true Bristol artist and he either feels something or he doesn’t and we really made this tune on a pure Bristol vibe.
Mark Crown played a lovely trumpet lick too. It felt so easy and simple that we really didn’t think too much about it. Those tracks are the best ones to make; the ones that write themselves. So many people have been showing love for that tune.
The story behind ‘Is It You’? Seems to be about direction, about focus… the things that matter. Is that right? Do we need more of this in life?
Lorna wrote the vocals for this one and Laurent sang it. Lorna herself says: ‘It’s about unity, and yes, definitely staying close with the ones that matter. I think everybody questions where they fit in the world and in life and the song questions that and tries to remind us that love and unity is a strong grounding and can see us through.’
What inspired ‘Wanna Feel Love’? Love this vocal!! Who is it?
The track was initially inspired by a sample. I had been working with that same sample on loads of different versions of songs since 2008 but nothing ever fully stuck. The sample is from Teddy Pendergrass ‘Close the Door’. We had to get the sample replayed as the original record label in America were asking too much $$$$ for the usage of the sample.
Yolanda Quartey wrote and performed the vocal. Yolanda featured heavily on my first album too. Since then she has featured with Chase & Status ‘Blind Faith’, Massive Attack, DJ Fresh ‘Believer’, Sub Focus ‘Turn Back Time’ and Duke Dumont ‘Won’t Look Back’. She’s originally from Portishead near Bristol. She is part of our collaborative crew here in Bristol and she smashed it like only she can!
Yolanda = FIRE!
… also titles like ‘You and I’, and the inference of your tune ‘Glastonbury’ and its spiritual power… it really is a ‘people’ thing with this album: is that right?
Yes, I was thinking about this the other day and I feel the album is tied together really well because the lyrics for almost every song are very personal, open and honest and nearly always about the theme of love and relationships. I think because I am quite an open and honest person, vocalists that come into my studio also feel they can be the same and write from the heart about what feels important to them.
I think this honestly about relationships helps to sooth people and lets them know that they are not alone with their feelings. It isn’t contrived.
This honesty is where the vocals speak to the ‘soul’. So it’s a very personal album on the whole and not really for the dance floor. I feel like its more of a listening experience and encourages you to think about what you are hearing. ‘Glastonbury’ is about a feeling. I tried to include all the different sides to Glastonbury and the feelings I experience at the festival and put it all into an instrumental song.
I grew up 10 miles from the festival site and it has been a great source of inspiration for me and many of the other band members too. We won the Glastonbury unsigned competition in 2007 and have played there nearly every year since. This song is a thank you and a nod to the festival.
Bristol has such a big live rep for ‘dance’ music, a genre that is GENERALLY not known for live work. So what can people expect from you on the live front? And how does the set maintain electricity and punch all the way through? With a DJ they can adapt for the crowd… can you?
For our live set we build it up throughout the set, starting on a slower tempo and building it into a frenzy towards the end. We have some of Bristols’ best musicians and vocalists, including guest vocalists to keep it really interesting as the show progresses. We move through different styles and there are at least eight of us getting into it on stage.
We also have some D&B anthems in our back catalogue to draw on, so that really helps.
We have never played a bad show yet as we love what we do and that vibe on stage spreads throughout the crowd. Words only get me so far: you have to come see us to catch the Dr Meaker Live vibe.
We mentioned it before but… more about the ethos of the album title? There’s more really isn’t there: it’s in your DNA.
I’ve been using this phrase to describe my music for years: ‘Dr Meaker splice Dirt with Soul to Fire up the Sound System’.
So the title has been there all along. It just felt like the right time to really shine the light on it. It not only describes our sound but it also describes the way I see life, the human condition and the ups and downs of life itself. It’s the rough and the smooth, light and shade.
In everything there are two sides. There is beauty to be found in the darkest of places.
That is Dirt & Soul.
Dr Meaker gallery shot by Chelone Wolf