Wednesday 4 July 2012, 12:10 | By Andy Malt
Q&A: Dan Le Sac
Dan Le Sac came to fame as one half of hip hop duo Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip (he’s the Dan Le Sac half, if you were wondering), when they released their debut single, ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’, in 2007.
Following the release of their second album, ‘The Logic Of Chance’, in 2010, last year Scroobius Pip released his debut long player, ‘Distraction Pieces’. This month Dan follows Pip’s lead with his own solo debut, ‘Space Between The Words’. Though the new album finds Dan in good company too, with guest vocals on the album from Merz, Emma Lee-Moss (aka Emmy The Great), B Dolan, Sarah Williams White, HowAboutBeth, Joshua Idehen, Pete Hefferan, and Fraser Rowan.
With the album out via Sunday Best on 9 Jul and a performance at Bestival’s Wildlife Summer Party in London on 14 Jul, CMU’s Andy Malt sat down with Dan for a bit of a chat.
AM: When did you start working on ‘Space Between The Words’? How long did it take to complete?
DLS: All in all it feels like it’s taken eighteen months to write, record and mix, with it initially set to be released in November 2011. But then the PIAS fire caused Sunday Best to push it back into 2012, and it actually bought me more time to write tracks like ‘Beside’, ‘Play Along’ and ‘Memorial’.
AM: Do you see the finished album as a cohesive body of work to be heard in one go in a specific order? Is it realistic to write in that way any more?
DLS: I still believe that the album is king, and I write that way. For me the album should always be a body of work to be listened to in one sitting. And there are three tracks on this album that were only written to improve cohesion and flow. An issue that always arises when I’m working though is how do you get such different genres to work together on a record. Hopefully ‘Space Between The Words’ is an answer to that.
AM: So was there a clear vision for this album from the outset?
DLS: I constantly come up with wonderful concepts for records but never stick to them. I just tend to write and write and then see what themes the tracks have in common. This time, once I had the first unwieldy draft done, I realised that it was a total ‘sausage fest’ and had to find more feminine touches.
AM: Speaking of which, there’s a good mix of guest vocalists on the album, how did you select who to work with?
DLS: It just happens through conversations or dumb luck. Merz has been on my fantasy collab list for years. Dolan and I have been writing together since we first toured together back in 2008. Fraser, Pete and Josh all happened whilst talking in pubs or at gigs. HowAboutBeth literally just turned up at the studio whilst I was recording something else.
AM: Was it a case of sending finished instrumentals to each guest, or was it a more collaborative process?
DLS: The initial drafts were certainly more complete than if I were sending them to Scroob, but I think this was down to nervousness on my part – I wanted these people to be into it and didn’t want them to be put off by shoddy production. With Pip, he understands that everything I send him is subject to change. That said, Sarah Williams White and B Dolan definitely had strong production ideas. In places I felt the need to manipulate the collaborators as well, sending them upbeat versions of tracks to change the way they sing them, then pulling the beat out from under them when it comes to the final track.
AM: The Emma-Lee Moss track in particular seems to take her out of her comfort zone. How did that come together?
DLS: Emma’s vocal came in return for a free remix I did for her, it was the very last collaboration I wrote for the record. I like the complexities of Emma’s lyrics in the Emmy The Great records, but I wanted to simplify things, pull down the word count and focus on the strength of her voice.
AM: How did working with all these other people compare to working with Pip?
DLS: Considerably less pressure, it was almost relaxing at points. None of the collaborators were relying on this record, no one has expectations. Pip and I are pretty uncompromising, which leads to some tracks ceasing to exist altogether.
AM: Was it a conscious decision for both you and Pip to start working on solo material?
DLS: Yes, very much so. Around the release of ‘Logic Of Chance’ I had decided to try and get out from under the beard for a while. This isn’t about breaking away from him though.
AM: How do you think working on solo albums will affect your work together in future?
DLS: I am hoping that we can take what we’ve both learnt technically and creatively to improve what we do next.
AM: You’re playing Bestival’s Wildlife Summer Party in London later this month, what can people expect from your performance?
DLS: Late last year I toured a “one-man sound system” show. It was entirely a party set with live remixing and me jumping up and down a lot – I think that show is what a late night in Peckham deserves. Obviously, with all this new material, I do intend to work some of the new album in to the set but I’m certainly not just going to hit play on the CD, I’m planning to rework some of it especially for the night.
AM: On that subject, Deadmau5 recently derided electronic producers who go to any lengths to try to recreate their music live, rather than just pressing play on a series of studio recordings. As someone who puts a lot of effort into his live sets, what would your response be?
DLS: The fella earns tens of thousands of pounds a gig, and he’s built his show to be musically and visually engaging for the audience. The fact that he’s built the show in a rigid, non-live way, speaks more to the idea that he doesn’t want to, or is even scared of, disappointing his ticket buying audience rather than anything else.
For me performing live should be about that fear – if I’m not shitting my pants that a gig is going to fall apart any second, then it doesn’t feel like it’s a gig. Each to their own though. When people part with their hard earn cash for a ticket to your show, it’s your responsibility to give them value for money, but it’s all dependent on your audience. Deadmau5’s audience are there for entertainment – it’s a party, it’s what his music is designed to do – but if your audience want to be challenged, then you have to take bigger risks.
AM: Do you have plans for more solo shows?
DLS: I do indeed, the first full show for ‘Space Between The Words’ – which my girlfriend keeps calling “The Dan Le Sac & Friends Show”, as if I were Jools Holland. That will be at Bestival, then I plan to tour it during October and November. I’m pretty sure that will be the only tour, as Pip and I will be busy together after that.
Over the coming months I’m really hoping to get some other musicians involved and break away from the laptop a little more. I played live on the album so why shouldn’t I on the stage?
AM: As well as that, you and Pip are playing a few shows this summer, are you looking forward to those?
DLS: The act of standing on a stage and playing our songs excites me greatly, but I’m really not looking forward to dealing with the logistical ball-aches!
AM: Back to the album briefly, for the cover of ‘Space Between The Words’ you poured treacle on your head. Would you recommend the experience?
DLS: God no. I was in a derelict pub at the time, one of the pubs we used for the ‘Caretaker’ video. It was freezing, the treacle set on my face, sealed my eye shut and everything. If you’re going to do it, make sure you have access to warm water, ice cold water doesn’t do a great job of getting treacle off!
AM: Finally, what’s the most important thing anyone involved in the music business should remember?
DLS: To pay fucking attention. It causes me great irritation when you talk to a musician and they don’t know how publishing works, or what their recording contract means, or how much their label pay for PR, or even how to make an invoice. Yes, it’s rock n roll, it’s not cool to focus on the business, but knowing that stuff will keep your career going way longer than liking skinny fit jeans.
Having parted ways with our manager recently (very amicably, I’d like to add), I’m so glad I’ve asked so many questions, I’m glad I’ve paid attention. It’s meant that I’ve managed to manage this project, and, touch wood, nothing major has slipped through or gone wrong. Knowing where that money is going is ridiculously important.