With a new album out now and a tour on the way, we catch up with Bristol's progressive house heroes
With an average of six years between their last three albums, and two strong solo careers in their own right, you'd be forgiven for assuming that Nick Warren and Jody Wisternoff split and reunite every time they release another Way Out West record... but that's not the case. Way Out West have been active and together since they first formed in 1994, and even during the years of silence from their Bristol HQ there's still always something bubbling away in the background, works in progress and ideas bouncing between them.
"Way Out West never went away - we just take a very very long time to finish tracks!" laughs Warren over the phone. "These things take time. We have our own touring schedules, we have our own solo stuff and commitments. We also have very specific tastes in music, so it takes a while for us to find what works best for both of us. But that's the beauty of the situation. Nothing goes out without us both being absolutely happy."
Even the adage of an old married couple rings true. If anything, Jody argues that the dynamic partnership that's given us six albums and genre/era-defining anthems such as The Gift and Ajare is stronger than the cliché.
"It's been over 20 years. That's the length of three decent marriages!" he laughs. "When you're doing something by yourself, the tendency to go up your own arse is a big and very valid danger. So to have that second perspective and opinion is priceless. For that reason alone, it's really important to keep the Way Out West ship afloat."
That ship's latest voyage is Tuesday Maybe. Released this summer on Above & Beyond's Anjunadeep (a label where Jody plays a major role as head of A&R and compilation curator), it captures many of the duo's original signature elements: bright, immersive, progressive atmospheres, deep driving grooves, a steady (but never gung-ho) sense of euphoria, strong melodies and subtle samplecraft.
"It's about the elements that made Way Out West exciting in the first place," agrees Jody. "Sticking to your guns and believing in what you're doing and not just jumping on a trend. The worst that can happen is every 10 to 15 years is you become cool again, but you'll always be respected."
It's definitely an appropriate year for Way Out West to deliver new music. Between their synth-heavy last album We Love Machine and Tuesday Maybe, electronic music has experienced a paradigm shift in every possible way. EDM wasn't even a thing in 2010. Mercifully it's much less of a thing in 2017, too, and there's a sense that fans who came into electronic music through the bright, LED-lit EDM gateway are looking for something with a little more authenticity and substance. It's no coincidence that fellow prog luminary Sasha has also had a pretty immaculate return to form in the last two years.
"The biggest change I've seen during that time is that DJs used to play records they liked. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed that people would play anything if it increased their popularity," Nick considers. "And in the end, people see through that. People want something authentic and want to see someone who's enthusiastic about their music, rather than being enthusiastic about their stardom."
The same can be said for Nick and Jody. Their quality control and process involves years of road-testing demos before they're ready (several of the tracks on Tuesday Maybe have been spotted by keen-eared fans in their sets since 2013) and they're both incredibly passionate about what they do and how they do it. Nick digs obscure and crafty samples from his 40,000-strong record collection, they're avid synth collectors and they rarely use the same sound twice.
In the case of Tuesday Maybe, it's also seen them incorporating violins and strings on tracks such as the album title track and Diamond Dust. Two of their most spell-binding productions since their 1999 remix of Lustral's Everytime or their 2004 Balearic rippler Chasing Rainbows, cuts like these are a reminder that, unlike EDM, goosebumps and emotion-evoking music genuinely are timeless.
To complement the album, Nick and Jody are now taking it live. Following a successful tour of the US this summer, in early 2018 they'll be taking it across the UK for a series of concert-style shows. With Jody running arrangements and Nick triggering samples, the tour sees the Bristol pair hitting the road with the same sense of authenticity that they approached the album with.
"It's really exciting," grins Nick. "We're going back to the roots of a touring band in our own van. Just us and a tour manager, hitting the road like we did in the 90s. As DJs we're very spoilt, getting flown around the world, getting nice hotels and drivers and all the luxuries, but this is much more DIY and I think that's important."
"It's a lot of fun playing live," adds Jody. "It's very intense and takes a lot of concentration. But when it all comes together, it's an incredible feeling. I'm really looking forward to hitting the road... but only if Nick does all the driving!"
22 years, five albums, two artists who've remained true to their vision, stayed inspired and are tighter than an old married couple. As we interviewed them separately, we thought we'd wrap up by putting them to the test and asking them the same questions in a Mr And Mr-style quiz…
What's been the craziest moment in Way Out West's history?
Nick: "It must be Top Of The Pops when The Gift was in the charts. Our dressing room was next door to Peter Andre's and every time we went past it he was oiling himself in front of the mirror, which was a little bizarre. The whole experience was crazy and, if I'm honest, not particularly pleasant. It was in the old dirty studios and the sofas in the dressing room had 40 years of semen on them and were rotting. All the kids are shepherded round from stage to stage like cattle and it was all very disappointing."
Jody: "The craziest moment I always remember was a very scary experience on a plane in Australia. We were flying between Sydney and Melbourne and one of the engines blew up about 10 minutes into the flight. There was a loud bang, everyone went deadly silent and the plane flew with a really eerie, high-pitched vibration. At the back of my mind I knew planes could fly on fewer engines but it was very tense and scary. Very crazy."
What are you most likely to disagree about?
Nick: "Vocals. I don't feel the need for that many but Jody will often think something does need a vocal. So if we disagree on anything it's usually a vocal. But there's never real big disagreement ever to be honest."
Jody: "Vocals. Nick really isn't into them as much as me. Not just with our songs but in DJ sets. He'll happily play a full instrumental set but I love a good vocal. I think we'll always agree to differ on the validity of humanoids in dance music... but not a lot else to be honest."
And what are you most likely to agree about?
Nick: "Aiming to get better after every show."
Jody: "That we're bloody awesome?"
What's your personal favourite Way Out West song?
Nick: "If I went through the whole lot I'd choose Ajare. It was a tune of its time: uptempo, powerful, that proggy bassline and uplifting vocals. I don't think there's much wrong with it. James Barton, who ran Cream, was the A&R man for the label Deconstruction back then and he turned it down eight or nine times, asking us to do it again. We thought, ‘This guy's an idiot'. But he was spot-on, because the final version really was the best."
Jody: "Our remix of The Art Of Noise, Your Dream Or Mine. I still really love that remix and will never forget being in the studio working on it, because Trevor Horn came down during the session and showed me the synth sound on the Roland XP-80 he used on Grace Jones' Slave To The Rhythm. How cool is that? He came down and hung out for a bit. Absolute ledge!"
What has to be on the Way Out West rider?
What's your first memory of each other?
Nick: "He was a kid coming into Tony's Record Shop on Park Street where I worked. He'd have his Kangol cap on backward and would buy hip-hop records off me. It was his dad, who I knew from local clubs, that actually got us in the studio together. Quite glad he did, to be honest."
Jody: "Tony's Record Shop. I was this jumped-up little hip-hop dude, with my Kangol cap and all the early 90s gear. I was actually trying to steal some records the first time we met. I thought he'd seen me!"
What are each other's greatest strengths?
Nick: "Jody is just an incredibly talented musician and producer. One of the very best in the game. It's as simple as that."
Jody: "Nick's a visionary - he's very good at overseeing projects and seeing the end target beyond what's happening in the thick of the creative moment. He's also an insanely good digger. It's a skill that's been lost by the wayside, with people being lazy finding things on YouTube, but he's always on it, buying records wherever we tour around the world, finding these incredible nuggets of gold."
What's your favourite non-Way Out West production by each other?
Nick: "Cold Drink, Hot Girl."
Jody: "Buenos Aires. That's a really nice tune, fair play."
Who's the biggest stress-head?
Nick: "Jody can get quite stressed in an airport. He looks at the screens every three minutes to double-check the flight hasn't been cancelled and things like that. I think I'm a lot more laidback. I hope I am, anyway."
Jody: "Oh, me, for sure! Especially at airports. I'm conscious of delays and problems and like to keep ahead of them by turning up in good time for the flight. He just seems to wing it and doesn't give a fuck. I'd like to think I'm really professional and he's over the hill and is going back into chill mode."
Words: Dave Jenkins
Tuesday Maybe is out now on Anjunadeep. For Way Out West's tour dates and tickets, click here