Liquid legend: Utah Jazz
With his highly anticipated fourth studio album, Portfolio, dropping next week on the Spearhead Records imprint, Utah Jazz, real name Luke Wilson, is proving that he is well and truly on form. 14 brilliant tracks presented in signature Utah Jazz style, the album is a refreshing reminder that the old school vibes so many of us cherish are still alive. From ambient sounds, to throwbacks to jungle and the old school, to heavenly liquid rollers, the album showcases Luke’s eclectic style. Ahead of his appearance at Fabric tonight for Bukem In Session we caught up with the man himself to chat about how the album and the samples he used came together, how he juggles fatherhood with his music career and more!
Big up Luke! Thanks for joining us… how are you battling this heat?
My pleasure. I’ve got a fan facing the computer and have been known to resort to nakedness in extreme temperatures (too much information?).
Not at all! Most of us are naked in the office. It gets a little awkward sometimes… Back to it: The new album Portfolio is nothing short of brilliant – what a journey from start to finish! Did it take long to piece together?
Thanks! The LP came together last summer before the birth of my daughter. I didn’t have much time because my studio room was about to be turned into a nursery so I ended up doing about 20 tunes in 4 months and the bulk of them went on to make up the album.
There seems to be a 2 year pattern forming between your albums- is this intentional or simply how long the artistic process takes?
A bit of both I think. I’m conscious of not over saturating things in terms of putting out singles every month but on the other hand, if there’s too long between projects then that’s not great either. I guess it generally takes me 6 months to get an album finished, 6 months of prep for release and then a year or so of intensive touring after that – leading to the 2 year cycle.
You’ve been DJing since 93/94, do you almost feel like a veteran in the world of d&b? It seems like so much has changed since then, and yet the passion and dedication to the genre has remained the same…
I certainly don’t feel like a veteran although it is crazy to think it’s been that long! I’m 34 now so was DJ-ing as a teenager and the time seems to have flown by since then. Also, because my early influences and the pioneers of this scene are generally still going strong, I perhaps don’t really equate how long I’ve been going for as much as I might do (if that makes any sense).
It does! Can you remember your very first gig?
Well at the very beginning, I had a show with my brother on an internet radio station called Interface which was run by Mad Ash. Internet radio is obviously standard practice now but at the time this had really never been done before. Chris & Tony aka London Elektricity also had a show (this was before Hospital Records was born) and they were good mates with my brother.
The radio station had a gig at DogStar in Brixton and I was asked to DJ. I must’ve only just been 15 at the time though so my brother had to accompany me. I’d never played on a proper system before with monitors / feedback etc so it was an interesting experience!
What were some of the defining moments of drum & bass for you?
Hearing ‘Pulp Fiction’ for the first time at Metalheadz / Blue Note. Listening to Bryan Gee and Jumping Jack Frost playing Planet V dubs @ Movement. Fabio testing out classic Liquid Funk tracks from the likes of Calibre or Carlito & Addiction @ Swerve one night and then playing my very earliest productions on Radio 1 a couple of nights later… Good times.
Do you find that as you mature your approach to production has changed over the years as well?
Yes possibly. I think the kinds of samples I’m now using or the ideas I’m coming up with are a bit different to when I first started. I can’t quite put my finger on what though exactly. I don’t even remember making many of the tracks, they just seem to come together.
You’re renowned for the use of samples in your tunes… Can we get an insight into some you used in Portfolio?
Sure. The samples in ‘January Silence’ actually came from an old episode of Silent Witness. Also, if you listen carefully then there are a couple of samples from the Blumarten sample pack too – such as the arpeggio in the breakdown of ‘Endless’ and a string in ‘Live Your Life’.
Wicked! A lot of the tunes are sounding like proper throwbacks to the old skool – where do you draw your main influences from, or does it vary from tune to tune?
It kind of varies but I would say I’m pretty old fashioned when it comes to production so I guess it makes sense that the tracks sound like that. I’m also not at all keen on trying to keep up with whatever else is going on in terms of mainstream D&B (maybe this is to my detriment?) so that also probably means that the tracks can sound quite old skool (or ‘dated’ to some – ha ha).
Talk me through the interludes on the album, I’ve always been fascinated by the use of interludes and the feelings they evoke.. what’s your take on them?
Well I remember when I did the 1st album for Liquid V and I felt that the D&B tracks could do with something to break them up. So every 3 or 4 tunes, I added an interlude – like many producers do. I did about 5 interludes in a day and used 3 of them. I’ve always had good feedback from them so decided to keep adding them in each LP project. One label even got in touch once and offered me a deal to just make tracks in my interlude style so maybe I’ll do that one day!
That would be awesome! You became a dad for the first time last year – is it difficult juggling production and touring duties with dad duties?
Yes, pretty difficult to be honest! Because I want to be as involved in her upbringing as possible, that means the time just simply isn’t there at the moment to continue at the work rate like before. She’s 9 months old and I look after her 2 or 3 days per week whilst my wife runs her design practise and vice versa.
Thankfully this still gives me just about enough time to get a bit of work done and I’m still doing gigs at weekends and I’ll be stepping up the pace again work-wise once she gets a bit older.
Sounds like you’re a superdad! Was a lot of the album inspired by your daughter?
Yes definitely. The LP was made in the lead up to her birth and it was certainly an emotional time as you haven’t got a clue what to expect from being a parent.
Love the tune M.A.M off the new album – moving, powerful, different.. I’m intrigued by the title. What does it stand for? Have to admit that my friends and I have had some fun coming up with amusing possibilities…
Thanks. It actually stands for ‘Mongo’s Ambient Masterpiece’! My mate ‘Mongo’ & I were chatting one day last summer about our love for ambient music and I made the track a couple of days later as an homage to him. I love the vocals, which were actually done by good friend (and D&B Arena Forum regular), Stamina MC.
The title could not be further from our guesses! And i had no idea that was Stamina! Big up! Personal favourites off the album?
Not sure really. ‘Love Everlasting’ has been going down well at my gigs but ‘Live Your Life’ sounded good when I made it plus it has a bit of a different arrangement with off drums too which was fun to create.
Your brothers played a big part in encouraging your career as a producer/ DJ.. would you encourage your children to get into the same line of work?
Probably not! Ha ha. I’m not sure. I think it’s certainly an unstable line of work but maybe that’s not such a bad thing as it keeps you on your toes. I’d encourage my children to go for whatever they love but hopefully instill a work ethic that means they’ll have the best possible shot of making it. That’s what my parents did for us and I guess we’ve all had relatively successful creative careers.
You’re playing at Fabric on the 25th as part of Bukem In Session – how do you approach your DJ sets and do you plan them in advance?
Yes, I always look forward to Fabric. I’ve been playing there for 15 years now and it’s amazing to see how well they’re still doing. Their Friday night dedication to D&B has been huge and their line ups are still really diverse when you consider the size of the club and the commercial potential etc.
I have certain bits planned ie 3 or 4 track sections that I know I’ll play and that mix together but that’s about it. I may have 3 or 4 hours worth of 15 minute segments that I’ll piece together on the night depending on vibe / set time / set duration etc. I do try to draw a bit more deeper and atmospheric for the Bukem In Session events though too & I’ll be working on this & selecting tunes throughout the week in the lead up to the gig.
How does it feel to play alongside luminaries such as Bukem that you looked up to growing up?
It’s great. Bukem has been a big supporter of my tunes for many years now and one of the first DJs who’s mixing style was totally unique. I still listen to his Essential mix to this day… Him & Conrad were one of the best combos ever.
Indeed! What’s next on the agenda for you?
I’m just looking forward to the album being released next week (28 July) and to see what the reaction is like. Then once the dust has settled, I’ll be doing a huge worldwide tour (DJ set) through the rest of 2014 and early 2015 . If any promoters are interested then they can email: firstname.lastname@example.org – Nice one!