When Phace’s new album Between hits tomorrow, September 5, the drum and bass world will once again feel the full force of Neosignal. Both Phace and his partner Misanthrop have been working on a set of singles this year. They’ve both done a lot of collabs and of course there’s been festival season to contend with, but the two Neosignal heads have been relatively quiet since Misanthrop’s Blurred EP released in October last year. Quiet until now, that is.
Quite a few singles have been leaked from the 11-track epic Between, with two surprises premieres, including the massive “Congress,” right here and right now. Fans thus have been able to preview what’s to come and hopefully to observe the absolute madness of the pre-releases but truly nothing can prepare the DnB world for what is about to happen upon the drop of Between. Rough and raw yet to technically tight you can bounce a quarter off it, if this is what Phace calls a “transitional album,” he’s also about to transition the whole scene to another level. It’s that different, and it’s that good.
Despite the mind-blowing technique and innovative sounds produced by Between, Phace was quite pensive and reflective when Your EDM sat down with him to discuss the album. Not just a transitional album for him but rather an expression of a concept he’d been kicking around for a while before starting work on the album, Phace wanted to explore the idea that being “between” in music or in life shouldn’t be seen as good or bad but as its own step on a journey and capable of producing great things of its own volition. That’s certainly true of this album, and he’s got a point about life too. Check out the exclusive last premiere of “Congress” and read about Phace’s epic journey or examining the space Between.
There’s a lot of sounds on Between that many fans might not expect from a Phace release. Were there any new techniques you employed or were you really just focused on making something different all around?
I did write this album in Ableton 10 while I was beta-testing the software 1 year before it was officially released to the public. So I did use quite a fair amount of new features available in the tool. After I released my last LP in 2015 I also got my studio room reconfigured in terms of acoustic treatment. This was a life changer. Since I worked on my last album, I of course also learned new production techniques on how I could translate and create my musical ideas even better and also make them sound better. I wanted ‘Between’ to be a clear progression towards my last LP, also more musical and a more diverse experience in terms of styles and emotions.
With regard to making the album more musical, how did you achieve that but still make it sound modern and like a Phace album?
The challenge for me was to sit down and spend more time with working on scales, harmonics and progressions, trying to get my head around that. I had focused on it in the years before but wanted to go down the rabbit hole deeper.
I wanted to combine this with my vision on sound aesthetic and give it all a boost, to get that new edgy sound which I’m after. I also didn’t just want to write an album which is only a cluster of tunes but I wanted to write something that was fun and entertaining to listen to as a whole.
It was definitely a surprise. From a compositional standpoint, it seems like you broke a lot of rules on this album, both with drum and bass and with music composition in general.
Thank you, that is very good to hear and I hope others feel that way as well! What I like most about music is when something knocks you off your feet, shocks you or takes you by surprise. It may sound a little weird or unusual but as a piece of music it actually works and hopefully sticks out of the rest. That’s something I always wanted in my music because that’s what I like. When I went out as a young raver I always wanted to hear shit like I never heard before. That’s what I’m still trying to translate in my music.
For this record I wasn’t after a specific sound in terms of genre or trend. I wasn’t trying to make a neurofunk album or anything you could attach to a genre or subgenre. I just wanted it to be a cool interesting piece of music that people would both enjoy listening to and want to dance to. I wanted it to be a reflection of my inspirations. I know sometimes my music can be crazy and unusual but that’s simply who I am as a musician. I don’t want you to always know what to expect.
So how was that composing process in terms of working with those musical elements?
Well, I was just sitting in front of my synthesizers and playing keys (laughs). I spent a good amount of time trying to understand harmonics and pushing my knowledge even further. I didn’t go into the detail of creating a score in my layouts of the songs. For me, my composition comes step by step. I come up with a theme or a chord progression and then from there write a solo and other surrounding elements.
So with all those moving parts, how do you know when a track is done?
When I can listen through it without having a moment where I feel like I have to stop and fix something. It’s kind of like I have this switch in my head and when the green light is on, I know it’s done. I don’t know, it’s just a feeling I have. Even though you might think you can enhance it and make it better, you’ve got to have this one point where you make a decision and say, “ok this is done.”
For me I always try to make that decision once I’ve taken a bit of distance. I finish a track, take a week or two, listen back, maybe compare it to some of the other things I’m working on and then if nothing is really sticking out and I feel it all makes sense, then it’s done. It’s actually a tough question to answer, but when it comes down to it you should feel like you can just listen to it without jumping to fix it, and you can sit back and groove a little bit too (laughs).
Going back to the theme of Between for the album, what did that mean to you in the grander scheme of your musical journey?
(Laughs) I still haven’t really figured that out yet. I guess I would say it means I’m on a mission and when I’m on that mission sometimes it’s cool to be in between. It’s a sort of transitional album. There surely are a few classic “Phace” sounds in there, but for me more importantly there is a whole new world of Phace sound on the record, a direction where I’m heading towards. It’s still a transition but I also knew exactly what I wanted to do.
I also wanted to get outside my comfort zone. The seed of most tracks on this album was planted outside of my home studio while I was touring and I really enjoyed that because it gave the album its own theme and sound. I was staying with my friend in New York for much of it and I think that really contributed to the vibe, just being in a different city and not knowing what was going to happen, I think that really influenced how it sounds. That’s also why I call it ‘Between’; in between places as well.
Did you do the actual writing and production while on the road?
I have a mobile studio setup that consists of an 11” laptop and a pair of noise cancelling headphones and it’s perfect for me to produce ideas anywhere I am. I can’t go that much in-depth using that system, but I like the limitations and it’s perfect to write quick layouts directly when emotions or ideas pop up. Sometimes it’s nice to limit yourself and the possibilities especially if you already have an idea because you have to be really creative in a different way in terms of how you get there. For this LP I did most of that early writing of musical ideas on my laptop and then went to the studio and produced the tracks out.
How long were you working on the album?
I had a couple of layouts in the end of 2016, and then 2017 I fully dedicated my year to it, so probably one and a half years in total. I wanted it to actually be out earlier at the start of this year but all the end parts took a while like the graphics and the finishing touches. Then I decided I wanted to master the album myself and that takes time to be objective about what you’re doing. In the end I was really happy I did that because I learned so much and all the effort I put into it made me much more confident about it. From the layouts to the writing and mixing and even the mastering, I did it all myself.
That sounds really challenging. Do you have a lot of producer’s burnout now?
It was hard work but I learned so much and I’m actually not burned out, I would say I’m energized. I don’t have any post-album depression, I’m still hyped! I don’t feel empty, my bucket is still half full and I’m still writing. I feel like I can keep on going.
It’s really rare and different that you did your own mastering, and it also explains a lot about why the finished product has a different sort of polish on it. What were the challenges there and what did you learn?
(Laughs) Well, the devil is in the details, especially in mastering. I didn’t want to compromise on the sound of the album, so I did take my time to learn how to translate it to all different kinds of media. I learned a lot in terms of how I listen to music now and the things I notice, especially in terms of distortion and low end. My music generally is mixed a little more upfront and a little louder than some other music. For this album I especially wanted to avoid uncontrolled distortion though. I wanted it all to be more controlled and next level. You have to be careful though; if you try to control everything you can easily start to sound too plastic or too synthetic. To me it’s important to keep the balance between a raw or untamed character but also to make sure it sounds state of the art and futuristic.
How did you arrive at the album art and how it represents that theme of transition?
One of my close friends is an Art Director and we always jam on ideas together, so when I was working on this album and it was about half done, I had the name and the concept in my head by then and asked him to work with me on visual ideas which were about something in between two situations. So we started brainstorming and came up with the idea of merging two independent puzzles to one. So it was like two situations being pieced together. It’s not one image and it’s not the other, but it’s something in between. I think it is a really nice symbol for the album.
What shows are coming up for you where you’ll be playing the tracks from the album?
I’m just starting to tour the album, like I had those shows in the United States (Bassrush Massive and a New York date in July) and I might be coming back to the States either in the start or middle of next year depending on how other stuff lines up. I think I’m going to go to Australia and New Zealand in the winter too. Right now I’m focusing on Europe obviously so I’ll be touring heavily around the EU until the end of the year.
Of course you’re probably quite focused on the album release at the moment, but do you have any other releases in the works that you can discuss?
I am working on new things already, nothing is fully finalized at the moment but I do have collaboration with Noisia that will be coming out after summer. So first I’m focusing on the album and then I’m going to sit down and we’re going to make some plans for the next releases on both Neosignal and NËU.
Between is out tomorrow, September 5 on Neosignal. Click here for pre-order on multiple platforms. With this release Phace is doing a limited edition deluxe bundle which includes a limited edition vinyl, CD and stickers on addition to the digital download, so click the Neosignal link here to see those options. Also keep an eye on the Neosignal website and Phace’s Facebook page for upcoming tour dates.