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For the 40th issue of The FADER we profiled Ewan Pearson on the recommendation of the Ratpure’s Mattie Safer, but honestly we’d been trying to figure out how to get dude back in the magazine (he gave DJ picks in F34) for a while now, because of his selections, remixing and original dance tracks. Pearson teamed with producer Paul Epworth to produce eight magnificent tracks on the Rapture’s recently released blastoff Pieces of the People We Love, and in the Q&A after the jump we got his thoughts on this experience, his philosophy as a remixer and about bringing back Tracy Thorn. EBTG, ya’ll!
Are you still DJing these days?
I’m still DJing a lot. With the advent of doing all this production work I'm having to scale it back a bit. I was traveling a lot; it takes awhile because you are booking gigs four or five months ahead. The DJing was kind of an accident really, something I did for fun, which I then did a little bit of to promote what I was doing as a remixer, and then it got a life of its own really. I never imagined that I’d be playing a club like Fabric in London. I consider myself a producer first and a DJ kind of sixth or seventh. When people say DJ/producer I always harrumph a bit.
How did you get into doing production?
As a kid I grew up in a family where music was a massive part of everybody’s life, even though nobody in my family did it professionally. My dad played and still plays guitar as a hobby, and he played in various bands since before I was born. It was really important to my mum as well, it was always a massive part of my life and then a hobby. I bought a computer, and then acid house and rave happened when I was just leaving home. Actually I didn’t like it much, I thought it was rubbish, but when the crossover with independent rock and dance and people like Andy Weatherall doing stuff, that was what really fired me. I started trying to make dance tracks, at that time all I wanted was to make a record that had my name on it, and I sort of did that when I was 21 after I came out of college. Then I did another one and I did another one. Once again it was something I did for fun that took a life of its own. I was at college until my mid-20s, my intention was to teach, to carry on in academia. I did one year of my PhD. I ended up writing a book—half a book—a cultural studies book. Eventually I had to give the academic side up. I decided to be a self-employed musician and spend the next five years completely broke and my friends going, “Are you sure about this?” and me kind of stubbornly insisting that it was what I wanted to do.
What were you studying?
I was at Cambridge University doing an English degree, then I went down to University of London to do a masters degree and started doing a doctorate, but didn’t get too far. I was running around promoting an album and I wasn’t in the library very much and I felt really guilty because I had a grant from the British cabinet. I felt kind of bad that I was using money that somebody else should be using.
Were you just doing your own production stuff or were you getting into remixing?
I started off doing dance stuff, making records for independent dance labels like Soma Records in Glasgow. I started doing a bit of remixing, I only really made records myself because I didn’t have anyone else to make them for. I really wanted to produce and there are various ways that people get into production. They tend to do it through the studio route, getting a job at a studio and going up through the ranks assisting and engineering, and if they are musically talented enough, getting to produce. Or they go through the making records themselves route. I was just trying to do whatever I could. I taught myself to operate whatever I could. I started doing remixes and then gradually about three to four years ago the remixes actually started doing something and getting played by lots of people.
People have different attitudes about remixes, some people see it as just a sort of cheap marketing thing, and a lot of people that do remixes basically do new tracks and put a tiny bit of the original in or whatever. The remixes I really love are the disco model really, the ones that didn’t get rid of all the original stuff. My attitude was to treat this as a reproduction. That was my training really. I always did full vocal mixes so hopefully what I was showing to people was that I knew how to treat the songs. And then gradually people have wanted me to do more bits of production work. I programmed on the last Gwen Stefani record. Which was an interesting job, a bizarre job, it’s interesting to see how it all works.
What was bizarre about it?
I was used to basically working on my own in a little room somewhere with stuff being delivered to me and just sort of doing my thing. All of a sudden I’m put in this position where I realize what I am doing is very much working for somebody else, and you’re there to kind of throw out as many ideas as possible. I was used to making all the decisions myself rather than being a gun for hire like that, but it was a really good experience.
Then I was in New York to DJ, God it was maybe 18 months ago now, I did a remix for the Rapture on their last record and DJed with them in Ibiza at the Manumssion club. Mattie [Safer] and Gabe [Andruzzi] came down to the gig in New York and were like, “We’re looking for people to help out with the new album and you’re on the list.” And I was like, Oh that’s nice, and didn’t think anything more of it. And somehow I ended up co-producing eight of the tracks
How did they bring the idea of working with Paul Epworth to you?
I met Paul at Manumission in Ibiza, he’d been doing live sound for Zongamin. I was DJing and he was getting ready for Zongamin to come on so he was doing sound tests. Somebody must have switched on all the floor monitors and I was DJing at the back of the stage where the band would play. All of a sudden all the music I was playing got blasted back at me really, really loud, I was kind of trying to clamp my arm over my head and jump up and down and motion to him across he room. He was absolutely deafening me. I ran backstage after they played and shouted at him. And he was like, Oh I’m really sorry, I didn’t realize. But yeah we got along well, we went to New York in November of last year to do a track with the band, we did this track "The Devil" and that was to see if we got on with the band.
So in the studio it would be all six of you guys together?
Yes, in a very small control room, and an engineer, and a ProTools guy we brought from London. It would get a bit cozy.
How did you feel about working with Paul as a team?
I’m a big, big fan of his. I really loved the Maximo Park record especially and the Bloc Party stuff and lots of his remixes. I didn’t know what to expect. I thought at best he was going to tolerate me because he has a big track record with his production and I basically don’t. I thought he was being polite. But when we got in together, you don’t actually talk about who’s done what before, you just get on with it. I learned an enormous amount in the process. He’s an incredible engineer. You get the sense that with him that he would basically do it all and probably be able to play most of it as well if you left him to it. He’s an amazingly talented guy and very generous.
Mattie was saying that it wasn’t like Paul does the guitars and you do the programming ,that you kind of mixed it up. It wasn’t like you were the electronics guy and he was the rock guy.
No, absolutely not. Obviously he knows about more of the technical side of recording acoustically, but I tracked lots of stuff, he programmed lots of stuff. There was no hierarchy, if anyone had an idea, when anything sprung to mind we just got on with it. In that sense it was a genuinely collaborative record. We decided we wanted this record to be a bit more forward, to be more produced, to be a little bit more joyous, to be kind of a little bit more upfront than the last record. We were just trying to throw as many ideas in as possible, and the whole kind of editing process and whittling it down…we made a lot of work for ourselves. There is one track that we didn’t finish that is really, really good that we hopefully will get a chance to finish.
Do you think you can get that on as a b-side?
It could end up as part of another single. It’s a really strong song, so it’s a shame that we didn’t get it done. But yeah, everybody seems to be up for doing more. I mean Paul and I are already talking about what we’re going to be doing next.
Do you feel that there was a certain remix or production that was your breakthrough?
I did a largely instrumental remix for this band Freeform Five in the UK which became a big kind of sleeper dance hit in 2002 or ’03. It got played at Ibiza and those things. I did a mix of Goldfrapp’s “Train.” I did six mixes or something ridiculous, I think that's when people started taking notice and seeing and thinking about what I was doing in terms of being more than just kind of getting a cheap remix, that it actually had a kind of musical substance, I think remixing, when its done well, is an absolutely valid kind of art form.
Have any of your remixes been rejected?
There’s been a couple times I’ve had to go back to things again. The irony is that when artists ask me to go back to it again it’s usually because I’ve left too much of their original in, rather than kind of ridden roughshod over it. I did a remix for Leslie Feist of “Inside & Out” from her last record. I’m completely in love with that woman and her music. Al Usher and I just kind of sped it up a little bit and added a little bit of an outro and drums and she wrote me up and said, You know I was kind of hoping you’d change more. We went off and did a completely radical dub that you couldn’t tell was a Feist record.
What else do you have going on right now?
Now that I’ve actually started doing proper production as it were, I'm doing more basically. I’m doing Tracy Thorn from Everything But The Girl. I’m doing her first solo album in 20 years or so. Before she was in Everything But The Girl she made stuff for the indie label Cherry Red in the UK in the early ’80s. We’ve done seven tracks for this record of hers. We’ve done a couple dance things, we’ve done an Arthur Russell cover, She’s just written these amazing very personal songs. We are kind of trying to do an indie record really, sort of bed-sit miserablism.
Do you feel like you have a particular sound or a particular thing that you bring that characterizes you as a producer?
When you start and you are trying to be an artist you’re very much into this notion that you are making something yourself and it’s all about ego. My career path at this point has gone from thinking about ego and self-expression to basically wanting to make somebody else sound as good as possible. My job as a producer is to think about what the band is bringing and the songs they’re playing and to think about how they can best be served. I’m not trying to be invisible, I’m not trying to shoehorn them into what I do, I’m trying to fit myself into what they do.