A. The album was mostly inspired by a road trip I took with my wife at the start of 2013 where we drove from New York to Los Angeles, something we’d wanted to do for ages. Half the drive was on Route 66 (between Oklahoma and LA) and everything about it was inspirational: the old motels, ghost towns with burnt out neon signs, deserts, mountains, and driving on this tiny historic road through vast expanses of emptiness where we often would go hours without seeing another car. I wrote quite a lot of music in the evenings, so this was where the album started, and as it began to take shape, I also decided the artwork and imagery should also be inspired by the trip, and eventually the name too. I’ve always thought an album should be more than just a collection of singles: the whole product should be a reflection of what’s going on in that artist’s life at that point in time, and I think Drive definitely does that for me.
Q. How do you approach recording a new song? How does the song writing process start for you?
A. Usually it’s unconventional. I’ve found if you wake up early and are sitting in the studio at 9am with a cup of tea ready to write a hit, it won’t happen, because it’s not spontaneous enough. So I’ve just learnt to have your creative radar running all the time, because ideas will usually arrive at unexpected times. Often I’ll be out for dinner with friends, or in an airport, and I’ll get an idea or melody in my head – it’s almost always in a place where I don’t have access to a studio. So I’ll record the idea down by singing it into my phone as a voice note, and then when I get in front of my laptop, I’ll try to flesh out the idea a bit and see if there’s anything there. 70% of the tracks on the album probably started as voice notes sung into my phone in random places. The hit rate is pretty low as well: out of maybe 100 voice note ideas, 10 become full length demos, of which 5 become finished tracks, of which one becomes a hit. It’s a long process.
Q. You are one of the biggest names in Trance/EDM music now, but who were the DJ’s you looked up to when you were just starting?
A. Ha, well a lot of people in the trance scene wouldn’t really call me a trance artist any more. Lots would, but lots wouldn’t, haha. I still love trance but as the years have gone by I’ve really diversified and if a record is good, I’ll play, regardless of what genre it’s in. Good music is good music right? So yeah, you’ll hear Armin van Buuren and Ferry Corsten in my sets, but you’ll also hear Avicii, Swedish House Mafia and Skrillex. It’s really about variety. In the early days, the people that inspired me were mainly the superstars of the late 90s era: Paul van Dyk, Paul Oakenfold, Armin, Sasha, John Digweed, Carl Cox, all of which are still pretty big now!
Q. You have a few different collaborators on Drive, including your sister Roxanne on one of my personal favourite tracks “Soldier”. Tell us about some of the other contributors on the album. I believe one of them is a YouTube sensation?
A. As best as possible, I try avoid working with the sort of collaborations people would expect me to work with, you know, the typical ‘big name’ vocalists: a lot of those guys are amazing but come with all the baggage of their previous back catalogue, so people will always compare your music to that. It’s more exciting for me to find people from different worlds who have never done electronic music before. So on the album I’ve got LJ Ayrten who’s an acoustic singer songwriter, and Gavin Beach who we found on YouTube singing cover versions. He works in Tesco’s, although I doubt he will be there in six months! With him, we’d actually tried a few more established singers for the song, and nobody quite got the emotion we were looking for, so we expanded our search, brought him to the studio, and he nailed it straight away.
It was also great working with Roxanne: she co-wrote four tracks on the album and featured on one, she’s an amazing songwriter and usually comes at stuff from a different angle to me. We used to struggle to work together as things would get very heated if we disagreed, but as we’ve both got older and more chilled out we’ve forged a fantastic working relationship.
Q. We grew up together in a small suburb outside of Southampton. You now spend most of your time in LA? How is that going?
A. Pretty good. The main reason for being here for me isn’t to try and be a celebrity or any of that shit, it’s just a great place creatively. There are amazing studios on every corner, talented people to work with all over, plus a lot of my management team are based here, so it’s just easier to be on the same time zone. Plus I do a lot of shows here, as dance music has really exploded in the US. Before I moved here some months I was travelling to the US and back three weeks out of four and it was killing me.
I really love the history here though, we live off the Sunset Strip and it’s just everywhere. The tattoo shop next to our house did Sid Vicious back in the day. The venue over the road (Whisky a Go Go) used to have the Doors as their house band. I rented a room at Henson Recordings to finish the album and it turned out Daft Punk had been in it for the last two years: they produced Random Access Memories there. It’s pretty fucking humbling at times to be in the middle of it all.
Q. You’re constantly touring, playing a new gig every night it seems. Do you ever see a time when you may slow down, or are you having too much fun? The final track, the beautiful “Long Way Home” could be taken as a hint at that maybe?
A. I’ll never stop writing music as long as I live, but at some point I’d like to slow down on the touring front. I mean, I love this lifestyle, but I travel way too much: about 200 flights a year, I’ve been to nearly 100 countries, and whilst it’s amazing, it’s also brutal, and you miss a lot of stuff. I’ve missed friend’s weddings, birthdays, funerals, christenings, and been a pretty crap friend at times. You make some big sacrifices in your personal life. I guess when I’m done with touring I’d like to try and move into writing music for films, or be in a band that only plays major festivals, something like that. But it won’t be any time soon because I still feel like I’ve got a lot to give to the world of electronic music. I”m 33 now, so maybe when 40 is approaching it’ll be time to re-evaluate.
Q. As we know, Podcasts are huge now, you were literally one of the early innovators I think? I certainly recall you having a podcast before I even knew what they were. True?
A. Ha, yeah, I started mine in 2006 so I definitely was an early adopter but I was lucky too. For me, it was just about doing something different. I wanted to start a radio show, but Armin already had his very well known A State of Trance show and I didn’t want to start an identikit show that didn’t do anything different. It would just have ended up a poor man’s version, you know?
Anyway I’d heard a bit about podcasting, and loved the fact they automatically downloaded to your computer, so you didn’t have to be listening at a certain time. I mean, I’m disorganised and I always missed my favourite shows, so it had a lot of personal appeal. I also deliberately made it just an hour long, a length of time I knew I could fill with good music without ever needing to scrape the barrel (as most shows are two hours), and I also decided to include a much wider range of music that I play in my DJ sets. 5 years or so back we went from fortnightly to weekly, but everything else is basically the same, 8 years and 290 episodes later!
Q. This being a movie AND music site, what movie(s) would you say are your all time fave(s)?
A. Five of mine would be (in no order)
In The Name Of The Father
It’s A Wonderful Life
Lost in Translation
Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels