Kris Menace's new album features vocal collaborations from Miss Kitten, Robert Owens and many more. As an artist he's known under multiple guises including Black Van and Stars On 33. He runs the labels Compuhonic and Work It Baby and got his big break in 2006 when his crossover collaboration, Discopolis with Lifelike smashed the UK charts.
We caught up with Menace for a quick chat to talk about producing the new album, quitting DJing, buying studio gear and discovered his dream vocal collaboration.
"I wanted to work with Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode, and we were really close to making it happen but at the last minute we just couldn't co-ordinate our schedules."
First up, tell us a bit about the process of creating the new album, Features.
"When I started to work on the album it was clear to me that I needed to be much more open and flexible, and my arrangements needed to be lighter and much simpler to cope with the addition of vocals. I also wanted it to sound more minimalistic, but without losing the thickness of my older productions. I loved this way of working on Features and it's been a magical time for me making it."
How did you decide on the collaborations?
"I do tend to keep names of vocalists I like somewhere in the back of my mind. One day I just went through my contacts list and wrote to everybody. Luckily there were no real rejections, although some of the collaborations didn't make it on to the album in the end."
Was there anyone you really wanted to work with that couldn't happen for whatever reason?
"I really wanted to work with Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode, and we were really close to making it happen but at the last minute we just couldn't co-ordinate our schedules. Other than that I collaborated with a few other artists, but when it came to the point where I had to put together the final album these tracks didn't fit. It was horrible, I had to make some tough decisions and cut some tracks. Of course, to me these tracks are my babies and I love them all, so there were a lot of long conversations…"
"Personally I am not of fan of over-produced music; I think you lose some of the magic."
Who would be your dream vocalist of all time?
"If I could work with anyone, I would love to work with Kate Bush, she is the perfect vocal match for my music. So Kate if you are reading this… Other than the amazing Kate Bush I have been lucky enough to already to work with some of my favourite vocalists on Features already."
Any tips for getting great vocals? You manage to wash quite a lot of reverb and effects on your vocals without them turning mushy, how?
"I think it is about the balance of production and the rawness of the music; you can only get this from feeling the music. Luckily there isn't a balance analyser plug-in yet, so I am still needed! You just have to focus on the music, listen to it, how does it make you feel? Personally I am not of fan of over-produced music; I think you lose some of the magic."
Tell us a bit about the technique for getting that big warm bass sound that is throughout the album.
"With Features, it was a question of selecting the right sounds, I have tried to use organic sounds that fit together and I didn't over use the EQ on the tracks, to keep the warmth. It's tough because this isn't a question of technique, more that I have a lot of experience of listening to sounds and identifying which sounds will make an organic connection with one another."
The top end on the album sounds saturated and really pushed. Tell us about this; was this a mastering process or something done in the mix?
"That's a combination of both mastering and my mix. I tried to keep a certain transparency. The mastering took quite a while as I was so used to my original masters that anything else just didn't sound right to me. I made sure I was at the mastering studio to be part of the process, just to make sure we got it right, something I haven't done for a while."
"I think that if you have two or three great hardware synths you don't need anything else."
Any new plug-ins you can't live without?
"I think that if you have two or three great hardware synths you don't need anything else. If you are good enough you can create any sound with them. I must admit I am a bit over new plug-in releases and have gone back to focusing on the music, how it makes you feel and the art or making a track. Don't get me wrong I am still interested in what's out there and I keep up with it, I just don't see the point of using them for the sake of it.
"I am lucky that I do get to test a lot of gear and I am happy to endorse Waves, Steinberg, Akai and Arturia. However, in reality I don't have the time to be constantly trying out, or swapping over to new programs as I need an up and running system and installing new things is time consuming or can corrupt existing projects! Never change a running system."
I heard that you're not DJing anymore, is that going to change now the album is done? Are you still able to make a living just from producing?
"It's hard to just solely be a producer these days; you do need to have something else. As much as I loved DJing, it came to the point where I had to make a lifestyle change and look for new musical challenges."
"I will still DJ of course, if the right request came in, but to be honest I have already DJ'd all over the world so it would need to be a good reason that I go out again.I felt that technology, the rise of the 'superstar' DJ and some of the bookers and producers ruined it. They took all the fun out of it for me, so I tend not to do it so much anymore."
You were developing a live show last time we saw you, how's that going, any more additional plans?
"I did a live show in Barcelona at the beginning of the year for the release of my instrumental album and it was amazing. I really enjoyed playing my own music and seeing how the visuals Hexstatic created accompanied the music.
"It was more of a gig than a club night. It was a wonderful experience; the combination of the venue and the fans made it a very magical night. The trouble is I don't know if this can be topped now! Having said that, I am now working on an idea around the Features album, but unless it's perfect, I wont go on tour."
What else does the future hold for you and all your aliases and side projects?
"We're going to be working on the new Features album for the next six months or so, we have more singles to come with some fantastic mixes and videos, plus a few surprise treats; I can't wait to reveal them as we develop the project.
"I also have a couple of other things brewing; a new Black Van single called, Inside, something really cool from Stars on 33, plus an album project with one of my collaborators from Features. It's a very challenging and exciting time for me at the moment; I can't wait to share it all with you."