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Classic album: Peshay on Miles From Home
They say travel broadens the mind. If that's true it's a wonder Drum 'n' Bass legend Peshay can find a hat that fits anymore.
We join him here in the mid to late '90s, on the move. He's gained steam and passport stamps through a pioneering string of D'n'B bangers for labels like Metalheadz and Good Looking Records, so his presence in DJ booths across the world is just part and parcel of being so damn hot right now.
Take a trip
A globetrotting existence means that living out of a suitcase is just another day at work for Peshay, so when he signed up to the stylish new indie darling Mo' Wax to make his debut artist album, the title Miles From Home seemed a fitting description of his day to day.
Peshay might have intended the album title to be a tongue-in-cheek nod to his nomadic lifestyle, but if his home was normally the rinse out sweatbox of a thousand Jungle club dancefloors, then an album for this far more eclectic label certainly represented another kind of journey.
"For me an album should be a personal trip through all your influences," says Peshay. "This was a diversion from the Drum 'n' Bass I might have been more known for. I love it to the bone, but for an album it's got to be a personal journey, and if that involves going into different genres and different tempos, then so be it."
Over the course of Miles From Home full Jazz workouts, New York Hip-Hop, Diva-led House, and Trip-Hop flavours all get introduced into Peshay's more militant Drum 'n' Bass palette.
Naturally the album found a home at James Levelle's hip Mo' Wax label. He'd already drafted in Peshay to lace his exemplary Headz compilations with his Jazzy Jungle stylings, so knew he was backing a winner. A deal was signed and a free rein was issued. Peshay set to work.
Feeling an album deserved more organic elements than banging singles he drafted in vocalists and musicians to flesh it out. On downtime from shows he conducted them to play out his rich musical heritage as he sweated over the Akai S3000 sampler.
He touched on his Electro roots with Robotics, his love of Blue Note Jazz with Live At 2:37, and honoured his D'n'B roots with the Photek collaboration, P Vs P.
When the dust cleared, a year had passed and Peshay had written out a musical postcard from his lifelong journeys in beats. Then disaster struck.
Mo' Wax got sucked up into Island Records and Miles From Home's release date got blown off course. Peshay put the finishing touches on it at the end of '97, but merger madness kept the album on the shelf until July '99, when it resurfaced on the Island Blue label.
Peshay took it in his stride, however. "If the album had come out when it was planned it might have sounded a bit fresher," he says. "Luckily the tracks were pretty strong so they lasted the test of time. Miles From Home represented my influences, and the journey in music I'd been on up to that point, and that wasn't going anywhere."
Miles From Home
"Because it was Jazzy and had the title Miles From Home, people ask if it's a tribute to Miles Davis. Actually it wasn't. He's been a massive influence over the years, but this title was a bit more tongue-in-cheek than that. I was travelling all over the world DJing at the time. For years I was living out of a suitcase. It just related to that lifestyle.
"This was a pretty simple production. It was on a 2-Step tip, which a lot of things were at the time. I brought the Jazz influence in. There wasn't a lot of that going on. It was a period where the music was quite deep and dark, but I just wanted to create something that would stand out."
Live at 2:37
"This was all recorded live, with the exception of the drum programming. Everything else, musically, was done in one take with my Rhodes guy, Illington, and some bass players.
"Sometimes with musicians you have to do more than one take and end up cutting stuff up, which can become a bit time-consuming and laborious, but they nailed it.
"Drum 'n' Bass and Jazz just felt like they belonged together. For me, I'm all about the groove. When I started messing around with Jazz double bass sounds it just had that swing and worked for me. If you're going to do a Jazzy Drum 'n' Bass track, and you're going to use a double bass vibe for the bassline and it doesn't have that swing, then it doesn't do it for me."
End Of Story
"This features rapper, J-Live. At the time I was speaking with my management about who we could get in to do guest verses on this track. Then my friend at London Records in New York suggested J-Live. So, we sent him the track and he loved it.
"When he sent back his vocals he'd done exactly what I wanted. It worked out perfectly. I never got to meet him though, but I was really happy with what he did.
"It's great producing for a Hip-Hop vocalist. With this type of beat you feel that it could go into double time at any minute. It does lend itself to that. I think it can only work though when you have that right groove in the bass, though."
"I got Kym Mazelle in to do vocals on this one. She's done stuff with Soul II Soul and Dance tracks going back into the late '80s. I've always been a fan.
"This track started as just the instrumental. I really wanted to create that thing of a House vibe within Drum 'n' Bass. Then we contacted Kym and got her to come into a studio to record her vocals in Fulham, I think. It was nice to meet her. She's a cool cat.
"There are some nice key changes in this track. That's the thing - especially with Drum 'n' Bass, you need good key changes. That's what I wanted to achieve with this track. I wanted it to have a good song arrangement."
"This takes it down a bit in tempo and mood. For me a good album should be a real personal journey of what an artist is feeling and experiencing around that time. I've got to make my albums as varied as possible.
"I'm not trying to show off. It's just about expressing yourself. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I'm just one of those people that has to try. I don't want to be the person that says in ten years time, 'I wonder what would have happened if...?'
"People approach albums differently, especially with Drum 'n' Bass. They might do an album full of bangers or dancefloor smashers. When I do an album I like to showcase everything I'm into, not just Drum 'n' Bass."
"This was released as a single when I signed to Island. They did a video for this and one for Truly. The video for Switch... Well, it got played on MTV, but I'm not being funny... that video... I'm really sorry.
"I wasn't involved in the creative process because I was touring for the album, so it was impossible to be in it as well. I was in Japan, I think.
"I was happy the video got all that airplay for the promotion, but listening to that track and then seeing the video... It was about a guy in a kitchen making a bacon sandwich. I'm not really sure about that...
"The video for Truly was better because it had the band in, but Switch was... err... next question [laughs]."
Summer in the City
"My manager had been telling me about Valerie Etienne and saying how she'd be perfect for one of my tracks. As soon as I heard her voice I knew he was right.
"We got her in the studio and she nailed exactly what I was going for with this track. All it was meant to be was a laid back vibe. It was the Summer in the City, which is a bit of a clichéd name, but what she did on the track was what I was looking for.
"There are some nice rim shot snares on it to give it that mellow touch. It was meant to be more Easy Listening, especially after tracks like Switch. It was good to go against that grain."
P Vs P
"This was me versus Photek. He's one of my all-time favourite D'n'B producers, no question - He's the beat master. The technicalities of what he did back then were amazing.
"This track came together one day when we were hanging out and talking about collaborating. He played some beats to me and we went back and forth, and before we knew it we were six minutes into the arrangement.
"The track is a perfect blend of me and him - it's got his ninja beats and then my Jazzy samples, stabs, and little Funk bits.
"It came together really quickly. Sometimes when you produce it goes like that. It's funny - the biggest tracks are always the ones that come together the easiest. Miles From Home was done in a day."
"This was my take on Electro and Techno. I like such a wide variety of music. Sometimes I have to rein myself in because you get a little off the beaten track. I just like experimenting with different things.
"Basically I wanted to showcase the more Electro side of things because that music was such a big part of my journey to where I am now.
"It's a bit like Dirty on my new album Generation. That's got a more electronic edge to it too, but more of a nod to the '80s with some modern bassline sounds thrown in there. I've always been a fan of stuff like that."
"With an album I wouldn't want every single thing on it sounding the same - it would be a boring experience. Vegas represented a direction Drum 'n' Bass was going in at that time, but with my own twist on it.
"I would road-test a lot of material at the Metalheadz night at the Blue Note in London and places like Blue Mountain in Bristol.
"I remember playing tracks from the album one night and being blown away by the response. Loads of people were coming up to me and asking for the name of the tunes. It made me think, 'God. This could be big'. To make a personal track and get an unexpected dancefloor response? That's the biggest thing you can do as a producer."
"Retro was a mix of Jazz and Drum 'n' Bass - It had a little keyboard solo in the beginning, then like a groovy double bass drop that comes later on. I just wanted to create something with a bit of a longer intro than normal before it kicked off.
"The snare is nice and sharp. My secret to getting a good hit is to layer it up. Every snare has a different sound - you just have to pick complementary ones. I'd normally pick out the ones that naturally had a big snap on them, then spend a lot of time mixing it to get the midrange in the snare just right to cut through on the track, and have that crack I needed."
"I'm a person that loves film music. I wanted to create something here that was like a theme for a program or movie.
"I love soundtrack stuff. I try and make all my music quite visual, so it fits hand in hand with what I'm doing. It was a great track to finish the journey of the album on too.
"On the whole the album was very well received. It got Album of the Month in quite a few magazines like Muzik, for example. It always made it into the general album reviews section, rather than just cropping up in the Drum 'n' Bass pages, which was very pleasing for me. When you make something this personal and everyone likes it? Job done for me."