Ask The Experts: Nightmares on Wax
The iconic Warp mainstay answers your questions.
Ask The Experts: Nightmares on Wax
The iconic Warp mainstay answers your questions.
Evelyn, who originates from Leeds, England, formed the N.O.W project in 1988 alongside John Halnon and Kevin “Boywonder” Harper. Having seen Halnon remove himself from the project, Harper and Evelyn went on to release their first album, 1991’s A Word of Science: The First and Final Chapter, via Warp Records. The 11-track release followed “Aftermath,” an iconic British chart hit, and was lauded for its blend of hip-hop, soul, and funk. Harper then left the collaboration.
Under Evelyn’s guidance, Nightmares on Wax has gone on to become one of the most iconic names on Warp’s roster—releasing some of the finest downtempo, trip-hop material of the last few decades. Smokers Delight landed in 1995, thrusting him into the limelight and establishing N.O.W’s work on the other side of the Atlantic. It was followed by 1999’s Carboot Soul, which saw Evelyn incorporate more live musicians, and there have since been various EPs and four more LPs—the last of which had landed in 2013 in the shape of Feelin’ Good. As one person comments on Discogs: “He’s delivering one masterpiece after another.”
His most recent release,Shape the Future, NOW’s long-anticipated return—an eighth full-length—landed last week, and is said to capture the marriage of soul, hip-hop, dub, and timeless club sounds that N.O.W. has been perfecting for years. The LP includes the shamanistic vocals of recent single “Back To Nature,” and in particular the arresting voices of Mozez alongside Kanye West collaborator Allan Kingdom, as featured on the brand new cut “Citizen Kane.”
In support of the album, Evelyn has read all the questions you submitted and answered his favourite ones. You can read his responses below.
I want to know about your approach with Quincy Jones for the fantastic “Nights Interlude” and how it worked out. Did you talk to him first or did you produce the song before talking to him?
That’s a funny one because with A Word of Science we didn’t clear any samples. So with Smokers Delight, and “Nights Introlude,”we had to clear the sample and I remember Steve or Rob from Warp actually saying, “So look, the publisher is saying that they need to know why you wanted to sample “Summer in the City,” Quincy wants to find out why you want to sample it.” So I literally had to write a two-page letter to Quincy Jones to get the sample cleared. I wish I still had a copy of the letter. Quincy Jones is a massive mentor and big part of my life. It is an important track in my life. But yeah, I always sample first and clear after.
What gear did you produce Carboot Soul with?
I used an Akai S1000 sampler, a bunch of samples, a bunch of records. And a lot of the sample sounds that we used on that record were created by me and Robin Taylor-Firth, my keyboard player at the time, which were actual real samples of string sections, etc. which is why it has such a unique sound. And there were live musicians including bass, guitar, percussion, keyboards, all recorded on a reel to reel tape machine. So not a ton of equipment, really.
“I was listening to the KLF Chill Out album while tripping on acid (which I’m still blown away by, not just because I was tripping) and it just gave me the idea to make a hip-hop chill-out album that would be a trip and journey.”
How did you make Smokers Delight? Absolute classic
I was listening to the KLF Chill Out album while tripping on acid (which I’m still blown away by, not just because I was tripping!) and it just gave me the idea to make a hip-hop chill-out album that would be a trip and journey. I’d already been sampling a lot anyway. I used to just put lots of loops together on cassette and we used to listen to these cassettes after we DJed at raves when my friends and I were hanging out at the after-hours. And that was all part of the early rave days so chill out had only really just started to surface. It wasn’t really a thing because raving culture was just in its infancy. So was really just born out of the routine of hanging out after raves and listening to these loops. It’s created out of that and my getting lost in the excitement of sampling.
Do you read reviews of your work—and how does criticism affect you?
Probably when I was younger it affected me. Reviews are interesting to me because it is nice to get them but then you can actually read too many of them and sometimes I think it’s good to have a distance otherwise you shift the onus of what you are doing, which is music, to what other people think, and that’s a dangerous territory because you got to stay true to yourself. So I do read them but I don’t get lost in them.
What’s the story behind the Nightmares on Wax alias? Where did it come from?
When I was a bedroom mix DJ back in the 1984 or ’85, my friend told me about this guy John Halnon who had two turntables and he was the first person I knew with two turntables. He had two turntables, a three-cassette deck and a reel to reel. We became friends and we started to do these megamixes together where we’d mix our record collections together and edit these tapes, and his record collection was made up of hip-hop, electro, gothic music, indie, film scores and mine was funk, soul, hip-hop, reggae and electro. This one particular mix we did, John was like, “Ah shit man, this sounds like a nightmare, and I said yeah, “On wax!” So I said we should call ourselves that and he said that sounded a bit negative and I said, “but it could mean to turn out your wildest dreams on vinyl.” And that’s how the name was born.
Looking at the current musical landscape, which artists are you impressed by right now?
I want to big up a couple of producers I know. Acid Mondays, they’ve been producing music for a while but are starting to get some heat up now and their productions are amazing. They just released a 12” on R&S Records called Universal Rhythm. Also, some guys called Bon Voyage which do some kinda hip-house production that’s really great. And Special Request, my homeboy from Leeds. I think his production is really dope. And stateside I’m gonna go with Illa J because he’s just taking his vocals and production to another level.
Why has house music never reached the great heights of the late ’80s early ’90s?
It depends on what we are calling house. I think the difference with house music in the late ’80s and early ’90s is that we were on a wave of musical revolutions not just with the music but within the scene. The combination of those two things happening, we were in an experience of something that never really happened before which gives it a unique starting point in itself.
When you DJ what do you prefer to use? Vinyl, CDJ, Controller w/ computer or hybrid (a mix of the three)?If you use software what do you use?
I used to DJ on Serato but I prefer to play now on CDJs, Mac 2000s. I didn’t play on CDJs until the Mac 2s came out. And playing on turntables with vinyl. So between those two.
What is your favourite club to play/perform?
That is such a hard question. I’m gonna say Cervantes Ballroom because the actual venue is an old jazz venue from the 1940s and it was the first venue I ever played in Colorado. The energy of the place is incredible and the promoter is amazing and I’ve just had so much love and so many amazing sold out shows there. I wouldn’t say it is my favourite though because that is too hard to choose.
What has been your most surprising gig (venue, city &/or country)?
I went and DJed in the Shetland Islands back in the mid-’90s. It was a last minute request for little to no money but I just thought when else am I gonna go to the Shetland Islands, so I agreed to go. I must have DJed to 75 people at this gig in a village in a church hall that also doubled as a social club. Literally, because the population was about 500 people I’m pretty sure the entire crowd were related to each other. I was there for two or three days because there weren’t many flights in and out of there and it was dark all the time. I didn’t see daylight and there were no trees, but there were loads of ponies. The people were really nice but it kinda felt like being in Twin Peaks. Big up to the Shetland Islands!
“That’s the transition I’ve been making over the years: digging in deeper with these musicians but still using the same mindset I had when sampling records.”
My question is simple: you started by sampling old-school loops from soul and hip-hop, and you’re now searching more and more for live and “organic” music. How did you manage the transition from a little guy with his machines making loops, to a band coordinator? And did you have the idea of making a live show with the band when producing Shape the Future or was it just a logical step to make it live after finishing the project?
Well, it actually happened with Smokers Delight. I was working with the keyboard player Robin Taylor-Firth. I remember when I delivered the album to Warp, Steve Beckett asked me if I was gonna do it live and I said, “Yes,” and he said, “Well, alright cool and then after I was like, “Oh shit, I better put a band together.” So I put a band together that consisted of a bass player, guitar player, keyboard player, and MC. And we went and toured Smokers Delight. And during that tour, I remember being on stage and thinking, “Shit, I can sample my own musicians,” and that then inspired Carboot Soul which has got more of a live element to it. So I think the live involvement in my music has been evolving over the years and now it has just come to a place of maturity. And through playing with all of these amazing musicians I’ve learned a lot and I’ve become more confident working with musicians. I’ve made it my personal mission to create a perfect marriage between analogue and digital and the analogue part of it to me means the importance of having musicians on your records to get across a different emotion than the digital emotion. That’s the transition I’ve been making over the years: digging in deeper with these musicians but still using the same mindset I had when sampling records.
How do you create that sense of warmth in your production and DJ sets?
Well, first of all, I wouldn’t take full responsibility for the warmth; that comes from the people that made the records. I would say it is because I’m attracted to deep grooves. It’s all about the deep grooves for me when it comes to DJing. It is the same when I go to listen to other DJs, I listen to their groove. It’s not about how many big tunes they play, it is about the journey. So Djing to me should be about the journey.
What is your favorite song of yours?
“Nights Introlude.” I was leaving the studio with Kevin Harper, and I had just worked with Robin Taylor Firth on the first string arrangement for it, and I remember coming home from the studio thinking we just made a baby. And it’s always been a baby and every time it comes on it is still a baby. It’s been a big part of my life.