We spoke to the man behind the recent success of Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen to talk about his new album 'Version', Christmas with Saigon and what the future holds. Check it out!
Hey Mark, how's life treating you?
Alright, still. Tank you for asking.
How do you feel to be nearing the release of your new album?
Slightly nervous. When I made the record, I didn't have a deal. I was just paying horn players out of my pocket and doing it because I loved it. Now I'm on Columbia Records, and there are much bigger expectations, as opposed to no expectations. I'm still excited though, being proud of the record and all that.
How long have you been working on it and how much of a struggle has it been?
I've been working on it for the past year but took time off to work on Amy's (Winehouse) album, as well as Lily (Allen) and a few other things. The only struggle has come from trying to do justice to some of my favourite songs of all time.
Tell us why you chose to do a covers album as opposed to creating original tracks from scratch.
I never know what the concept of one of my own albums will be until I've got a few tracks. I was messing around and before I really realised, I had the backing tracks of about 5 of these covers. There's a lot of amazing songs out there. I'd rather fuck around with them than write my own mediocre ones.
Was it hard deciding what tunes to rework and were there many you had to leave off from the LP?
Early on, I got an idea of what kind of songs would work. Mainly ones with blues based progressions. You wouldn't know that 'Toxic' by Britney, was a bluesy record until you stripped it down to just the chords. I didn't. I left a few of the covers off the record because we ran out of space, but they'll be B sides.
Have you got any guest artists contributing vocals or is it an instrumental affair?
Most of the songs have guest vocalists. Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, ODB, Robbie Williams… A lot of the people I've been working with in the past year.
What are the key pieces of hardware you use to make your beats?
The MPC 3000 is the staple. After I lay down the beat on that, I play mostly everything else live except the horns, which are all played by the Daptone Horns.
How would you say this differs from material you've previously given us?
It's a bit more mature, musically. I learnt a lot from working on 'Back To Black' like how to sit in front of orchestra. Things that I would have been intimidated by before.
What's the favourite remix you've ever heard by another producer?
Aaron Lacrate's gutter mix of 'God Put A Smile'.
What are next plans once this album's out the way and do you think it'll be as long a wait for the next album?
i'm going to be touring with a band this summer, and then i'll probably finish Daniel Merriweather's album, a few more and then do another one of my own. That could be totally off though.
Who are some of the artists and producers that have really impressed you over the past few months?
LCD Sound System's new album is amazing. so is Richard Swift's.
When you signed Saigon did you forsee the huge hype and anticipation around his forthcoming album?
I've always thought he was an incredible rapper with so many important things to say. I hope he does well.
Do you think he'll live up to the expectations and drop the classic everyone's hoping for?
I can't say. I've heard he's got some great records though. He came to my mum's house for Christmas lunch and seemed excited about the album.
How do you feel about the current state of hiphop music? Do you think it's moving in a good direction?
I think most of commercial hiphop in the US sucks.
Do you keep in tune with what the UK scene is doing?
Very much. I find the UK scene much more inspiring. People are hungrier and just more excited about hiphop, whether it comes from Brooklyn or Peckham.
What was it like to work with Amy Winehouse and how did it feel to see your work together being so successful?
Neither of us had any idea it would be so successful, even when we played 'Rehab' for Darcus (Amy's A&R) and he got all excited. I was like, "really?... If you say so…". Amy writes such incredible, heart-wrenching songs. All I have to do is make them sound good.
Do you plan or hope to work with her again on future material?
Yes. We're always talking about it. She came to NY over christmas and wrote some pretty great suicidal christmas songs.
Would you like to collaborate more with UK artists now you're in a really strong industry position?
Except for Rhymefest and Ghostface, I've only been working with UK artists. I don't know why exactly. I think people think less narrowly about music over in the UK which gives me more room to do interesting shit, as opposed to Pussycat Doll nonsense.
Are there any shout out's or plugs you'd like to round this up with?
Big up MC Karl Rove. Check my blog Straight Outta Congress for details.