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Close: Will Saul

Will Saul, his labels Simple Records and Aus Music, and now his new alias Close, are (and will be) amongst the most respected entities in the UK’s dance music community. Between them, the imprints have showcased the musical works of (to casually name a few) Joy Orbison, Dusky, Sei A, October, SCB, Midland, George FitzGerald, Ramadanman, Actress and Bicep.

As an artist, Will Saul has a penned a solo LP, a collaborative effort with Tam Cooper, amongst tens of top-class singles on labels such as 10 Kilo, Systematic and Studio!K7 . His contribution to the development of UK house and techno is barely rivalled, and with the imminent birth of new alias Close, Saul begins to scribe another chapter of his illustrious career.

Hyponik caught up with Will Saul to chat about the increasingly blurred boundaries between his labels, the difference releasing music circa 2003 and how his new Close project came to be…

What can we hope to see from yourself and your two labels over the next six months?

We have EP’s in the pipeline from Bicep, Cottam, George FitzGerald, Midland, Dusky, Duke Dumont, Sei A, Glimpse and a couple of collabs from me & October as well.

Presumably, just from the way in which you’ve released your own material, you feel your own tunes are more at home on Simple Records than Aus Music. True?

Perhaps in the past but going forward they could fit on either as the music on the album is pretty eclectic.

There seem to be some releases that would fit the discography of either label – Sei A’s ‘You Can Bring’ EP and Bicep & Ejeca’s ‘You’/’Don’t’ might be examples. What are the specific characteristics of each label that help you to decide which is more appropriate?

Traditionally Simple has developed into a label for house and techno for the deeper end of the dance floor spectrum (from the likes of October, James Preistley & Dan Berkson, whilst Aus always pushed off into leftfield (Sideshow, Lee Jones, Appleblim & Ramadanman, Joy Orbison, Midland, George FitzGerald etc) but over the last year or so the boundaries have continued to blur in electronic music (for the better in my opinion) and I guess the lines of difference between the labels are less clear. I’ve tried to let the artists on each label make the distinction and focus on developing them but as people from a house and techno background start to make more bass-line driven music and vice versa, it is becoming harder to separate the labels.

Simple Records’ first release was in 2003. How much has the process of putting out a record changed in that time? Has anything changed for the worse?

Its changed beyond recognition to be honest. For the first release I drove to the manufacturing plant and picked up 3000 records, loaded them into the boot of my car (in fact 3000 records pretty much took up all the space in my car to the point where my car was dangerously dragging over speed bumps), drove the majority to the distributor and then took 300 to the promo company Zzonked for club and radio promo and then went to the post office and posted 150+ records to press and more DJ’s. Digital sales were only just starting at that point for dance music.

Beatport arrived on the scene a year or so after we started and it took them a few years to get a foothold. I think the barriers to entry into the world of record labels are a lot lower – by this I mean it costs much less to start a record label and release music digitally. There are many levels of detail that I’m not going to go into now on this topic but for me it means the overall quality of releases in the digital world isn’t as good as the market is flooded with average releases.

When I started Simple (at the time with 3 other people, but now it’s just me) you needed £10,000 just to secure the first few releases in terms of promo/manufacture for a physical record – that means you needed to be pretty committed as no-one drops this kind of money on a whim. Also the key thing is that at this time (2003 and previously) the distributors kind of built in a level of quality control, as to get a distribution deal you needed to have 4/5 records signed, sealed and planned out and as I’ve just outlined that costed quite a bit back then. It’s much harder in many ways to get started these days as you have a glut of digital releases out every week that you’re competing with. Anyway there’s loads more on this topic but that’s a separate interview in its own right to be honest.

In the same timeframe how much have you found life as a producer/dj to have changed?

I have never really had a big hot patch as a producer/dj as I have never released a huge amount of my own music in a short space of time (and that doesn’t guarantee success obviously – but the momentum helps if the quality is there). The labels have always been my calling card and what people associate me with. That means that I’ve had a steady stream of quality shows/gigs over the last 10 years – it’s never gone mental but I usually have 4/5 shows a month (sometimes more, occasionally less) so life as a dj/producer has remained pretty constant albeit on a nice gradual upward curve. I have a feeling this will change a little next year with the Close project and all the touring that that will involve, but I’m ready for a new challenge.

How different does a 2012 Will Saul set sound to what you might have played back then?

Not hugely to be honest. I still play a lot of older records and have always played across the spectrum from breaks/broken beats/house/techno/electro and now whatever you want to call the dubstep/postdubstep/future bass/whatever. I guess I probably play a little more 4/4 than I would have done 10 years ago.

Tell us about your new project Close. Why did you want to start a new project and what will be the technical differences from what you’ve made as Will Saul?

I started out just writing another Will Saul artist album but it kind of organically evolved into a much bigger project in its own right. I wanted to write a proper artist album that could be listened to from start to finish, so really tried to plan it out in terms of the styles, vibes, tempos, moods and the people I wanted to work with for collaborations – whether that be vocalists, other producers or musicians.

As the writing process evolved I realised that the tracks were being worked on with many different people and morphing and changing and slowly getting closer to how I wanted them to sound. The layer of collaboration and the time and development required to get the album sounding right meant it felt like it was much more than just a Will Saul album and the name Close seemed to fit with this process.

The album will be performed live with Al Tourettes on drums and me on various machines (a 101, 808 and laptop and controllers) and we are developing an audio visual show with a design team called Silent Studios so yet more collaborations and layers will develop. Also I hope that the tracks on the album are a real step-on from anything I’ve produced in the past so it felt right that it should have a new identity. The initial secrecy as to who was behind the project was to ensure that it was listened to without any pre-conceptions and try and create a bit of mystery and intrigue to get it signed to a bigger label who could really support the album fully. This worked and the album has now been signed and sealed. More news on this will surface over the coming weeks.

Combining djing, making music and running a label has become increasingly common. What do you find to be the difficulties of this balance?

It depends on what needs to be done on whichever day of the week. I could be doing any of the above. Some weeks I spend more time doing one of these disciplines than others but over the last year my partner and fiancee has been doing the majority of the admin for the labels and this has enabled me to focus my time on the Close project and A&R’ing the labels. I would like to have spent more time in the studio over the last 10 years and this is definitely my priority going forward. I have a young son who is about to turn one so I have to work as close to a 9-5 as is possible during the week and I certainly don’t drift onto after parties and let my weekend slip away anymore. I’m straight on the earliest plane/train home so I can hang out with my son and his Mum on the weekends.

What can we expect to see from your set at In:Motion? How do you find playing in Bristol?

All of the above! I love playing in Bristol as it’s as close as you can get to a home town gig for me as I live about 45 mins away from Bristol and have lots of friends there so it’s always a pleasure. Rag and his crew have really nailed the In:Motion events and it’s great to be involved.

Will Saul plays at In:Motion, Bristol on Friday, November 9 w/ Joy Orbison, Scuba, Paul Woolford, Eats Everything, Claude VonStroke, Justin Martin, Dark Sky and more. Tickets and more info here.

Richard Akingbehin