The all-conquering duo spare us a few 'Moments' of their time…
There's no doubting that London-based duo Saison are very much in the ascendant right now. Last year they topped the Beatport Deep House Chart for a staggering six months with Moments, while also picking up Traxsource's Best Deep House Act gong for the second year on the trot. It's fair to say that the duo who made their debut on Toolroom in 2014 are definitely going places.
But then, these are no newcomers we're talking about: Saison may have only come into being four or five years ago, but Matthew Bandy and Leigh Darlow have both been in the game for a lot longer than that. Matt was formerly one-half of Deep House Souldiers, while Leigh was a member of The Layabouts; both, for the uninitiated, were successful deep/soulful house acts of the 00s whose work featured in iDJ many times back in the day.
As they explain below, the two originally joined forces to set up Earthworks Studios in London, with their own artist careers going on a back burner as they concentrated on mixing and producing for other people. But the creative urge will out, and before too long they'd got a brand new artist name, and a brand new lease of career life to boot!
And, as discussed above, it seems to be working out rather well for them. So with a new single – Show Me, credited to Saison feat Dominique Fils-Aimé – out next week on their own No Fuss Records, now seemed like a good time to corner them for a chat…
Let's start with the success of Moments last year… six months at No 1 on the Beatport deep house chart! That's quite a feat – were you surprised by how well the track was received?
"Definitely! We worked on what would become Moments for 6-12 months. We ended up combining two different songs we were working on, as we couldn’t finish either of them. Usually that’s a sign your ideas aren’t working. We had no idea it would be received as it was.
"It’s not a typical Beatport-sounding deep house record either, so for it to do well there was a surprise to the both of us. The fact that it has been so well received has given us more confidence to be ourselves when making music. We have found that sticking to what we believe in resonates more with people, rather than trying to produce what you think other people will like."
You picked up a couple of Best Deep House Act awards from Traxsource, too – that must have been a nice feeling?
"Both times that Traxsource announced the top deep house producers it was a surprise to us both, but especially the second time around. Again, it gives us a lot of confidence in what we are producing. We don’t tour as much as we’d like to, which means we aren’t always experiencing our music with people directly and we can’t feed off that instant reaction from a crowd. We're just two guys in a studio making music by ourselves. To get noticed for what we are doing means a lot to us."
Your next single is Show Me, so tell us a bit about that one… and about how you came to hook up with vocalist Dominique Fils-Aimé?
"We were introduced to Dominique through our publisher, Defected Music. They'd sent her a couple of tracks we were working on at the time and she recorded Show Me over one of them – she'd actually written the song over another backing track which we felt didn’t do her vocals justice. Then we spent about six months writing a new backing track to her vocals. We probably wrote about four or five different versions of the song before we chose the one to run with.
"Funnily enough we'd come across Dominique on the internet a few months before that and thought doing a project with her would be cool, and we hadn’t realised when we got the vocal back it was the same Dominique. So we’ve been super-happy with the results and the opportunity to work with her."
Speaking of which, I've read that the two of you first met "through mutual friends on the London scene". But more detail, please!
"It was about eight or nine years ago. We were both doing music for similar labels more on the London soulful house scene when we were first introduced. We both come from engineering backgrounds and had an instant connection talking about gear, production techniques and typical nerdy engineer talk. We did a few productions together under another alias, and shortly after that an opportunity arose to start a studio together. We built a facility called Earthworks Studios in north London and the rest is history.
"Saison came a couple years after we started the studio. We were doing so much production work for other artists, we missed the creative outlet we had personally when making music. At that point we'd both already had long careers in dance music, so to start from scratch again was quite daunting but refreshing as well. Starting a new name can be quite liberating musically."
Ah yes, your previous careers! Deep House Souldiers and The Layabouts were both pretty well-respected and well-known projects. So have they both been left behind now, or will you/do you return to them at some point?
"We’ll never say never, life always has its twists and turns, but we don’t have any intention of focusing on these past projects right now. Both projects defined a certain period of time in our lives. Currently beyond Saison we have so many other projects we are involved in, whether it be for us personally, our label or for other artists. We sometimes struggle to find the time to make music for Saison as it is!
"But one thing is for sure: having that experience of working on both those projects has enabled us to navigate our career as Saison and as studio engineers. The experience of touring, producing, working with vocalists and honing our mixdown skills has translated well to the sound we now produce."
Tell us a bit about how you work in the studio… who does what? Do you have defined roles or is it a bit more fluid? And do you tend to actually BE in the studio together, mostly, or is there a bit more remote/individual work involved?
"We both have our strengths and weaknesses, but are able to play any role at the same time. At our facility we have two rooms that we share. This gives us the ability to work on projects together at the same time, or different projects individually in our own time. By the time a record is finished, we’ve both put in the same amount of hours on a project if you combine our paired and individual efforts. It’s a perfect balance of being able to express ourselves individually and come together as a team."
Does the fact that one of you is American and one English have any impact/influence on the music you make, do you think? And does it ever cause any problems?
"It absolutely impacts our productions and reference points. We both have different influences but they are still rooted within house music. This has given us the ability to marry two different perspectives. Saison is truly the sum of two parts and it’s what has defined our sound. It’s been positive overall as we can both look at the same song with different opinions and angles. We share those ideas with each other which affects the final outcome, and more often than not in a good way.
"Having that broad knowledge of house music in its various forms from the early 90s, when we both partied in the USA and the UK respectively, still influences us every day we are in the studio. Pulling out different reference tracks from that wealth of knowledge can be the catalyst to finalising a track."
Matt, what's the most important thing you've learned working with Leigh? And Leigh, same question re: Matt?
Matt: "Nothing is precious if it doesn’t help the overall production! When we started working together, there were times where I may have spent many hours on a part, whether that be a synth line, sound design, or a drum part, and Leigh would delete it. At first, I’d be gutted thinking, 'I’ve spent so much time on that!'. But then I'd realise by the end of the project that this element was holding the production back or just didn’t fit.
"Leigh does it to his own parts as well, so it’s nothing personal! Music is like a puzzle sometimes – even though some pieces look great on their own, they may hold the whole picture back from fitting together. You can’t be precious about parts and need to think about how the overall production fits together. As an engineer I see this happening to a lot of other producers. If something stops the production from being completed, let it go… no matter how personally you are attached to it."
Leigh: "I think eight years ago, when we started working full time together, I still accredited myself as being a sound engineer/producer. Working with Matt made me realise my main strength was in producing and arrangements. He encouraged that side of things for me, and it gave me a lot confidence to hone in on that skill. My mixdown/mastering skills were more than adequate at the time but Matt was way ahead of me and had more understanding of how to put a mix together.
"We learned a hell of a lot from working with each other over the first three years. Taking on Matt's approach to the mix speeded up my production time, and by the end of that first three years we were streamlined and had a system we still work to today. This enables us to jump back and forth into projects and troubleshoot with ease. Between us there aren’t many issues we can't solve, and if we can’t, the background knowledge comes into play."
Tell us a bit about Earthworks Studios – what kind of services you offer and so on. Is it a bit of a bonus having a 'real' business to fall back on for income, rather than relying purely on record sales and gig fees?
"We focus on mixing, mastering and production. We’re kinda known as “the finishers”. We are able to take ideas and help artists finish them into a releasable song. It’s this concept that we’ve taken into our label No Fuss Records. Unlike other labels, if we hear a good idea in a rough demo we’re able to take that idea and produce it into a record we can put out. Most other labels would have to pass on the project for being “not quite there” or tell the producer to go back to the project and give it another go. It’s great to have our fingers in a lot of different pies because it means we aren’t reliant on one source of income… the drawback is we are extremely busy and juggle a lot on our plate!"
You've both been in the game for a good while now, and the music you make definitely comes from the more 'traditional' end of the house spectrum. So thoughts on where house music is 'at' in 2020, please! Are we in a good place, both musically speaking and in terms of the financial health of the industry?
"Yes and no. Musically, house in all its forms continues to be creative by pulling from its many styles throughout the years yet still moving forward. Financially the scene has more of a focus on performance and DJs, not the producers and music makers. There’s been many changes since the traditional way of selling music and unfortunately that monetary stream has become dimished. As devastating as Covid has been for the scene, we hope it inspires music lovers to search out the music they like in other ways since they can’t go to a club and hear it. Whether that be through streaming, live sets, downloading or buying vinyl."
With the entire industry going through a bit of a shake-up as we emerge from lockdown, what other changes would you like to see… and what roads should we NOT go down?
"We know many artists have a little more time on their hands since they aren’t traveling as much as they were a few months ago. We hope people are using this time to be more creative in the studio and perfecting their craft. We hope to see a bigger creative shift in the music that’s being released six months to a yea'rs time… so we can see the bar being raised and some great music coming out."
Finally, what else is going on in Saison's world right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"We’re really excited about our next single Show Me, which we’ve talked a little about. We have an amazing remix by Waajeed from Detroit that will be released later this year as well. We have a few remixes coming up for Soulfuric Records, Jalapeño Records and Kevin Yost. We are also working hard on our release schedule for No Fuss and have some great releases and remixes from Massiende, Risk Assessment, DJ Romain, JT Donaldson and Roger Sanchez. We’re very excited about all of that.
"Besides that, we’ve taken a conscious effort to focus more on our original Saison material and have become very picky about the remixes we take on. We are really happy with the outcome so far!"
Words: Russell Deeks
Show Me is out on No Fuss Records on 17 July