For his all-important second album, which turned ten this year, famed vocalist and producer Ben Westbeech really needed to make the full transition into the world of dance music.
He’d jumped ship from Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings label to house HQ, Strictly Rhythm. Assembling a crack team of producers along the way, to help provide the backdrop for his lyrics, which were increasingly about the highs and lows of his nefarious nightclubbing ways.
“I was going through a big change, at the time,” says Westbeech. “Just living a debaucherous lifestyle. I was just partying, making music all the time. I was just looking for some meaning to what my life was about. The album is a reflection on that period.”
For him, the tricky part was taking his song arrangement approach to these topics, and finding the perfect way to translate them into a more stripped back, house style, without losing soul.
“I’d come from making dance records for years,” explains Westbeech, who was also working on his Breach moniker at the time. “But, I’m essentially a singer/songwriter, so it was getting the balance of working out how to arrange these songs in a housier style.
“It was quite tough. House tracks tend to be quite long and sample-based. So, you can normally take a coupla riffs, and get away with it. But, this was more about writing songs, and working out how to do that with these electronic producers. I had to go to a few places to get that done.”
He would ping-pong between his own studio in London’s Truman Brewery, and vastly different locations across Europe, run by album collaborators, and learning new tricks as he went.
“It was like a series of masterclasses, essentially,” says Westbeech. “I’d go from place to place, picking up new techniques.
“This was my first foray into trying to make a house music-based album like that. I just really wanted to come up with a record that was song-based and that made sense as an album, rather than a bunch of 12”s.
“And with everyone’s help, I think we managed that.”
“It’s a nice intro to the album. It was more of a new sound, for me. So, it sets up the record for where it’s gonna go, next.
“At the time I was really into Erlend Øye and The Whitest Boy Alive. That was an influence on this. I’ve always dug that German funk/boogie sound. And there’s a lot of great players in Berlin.
“I worked on this with a guy called Georg Levin, who is a great Berlin producer. He’d remixed Hang Around off my first album with Dixon, under the moniker, Wahoo. I just loved what he’d done, so I reached out to him.
“We recorded in a real underground little bunker in Berlin. It was pretty grim down there [laughs]. You could really feel the music coming off the padded walls as you walked in.”
Something For The Weekend
“At the time I was living quite a debaucherous lifestyle. And I wrote this record about a crazy summer in London. I’d just moved into a studio in the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, which would become my studio for the next seven years. I ended up writing most of my record there.
“I worked on this with Danny J Lewis, who is a renowned UK garage producer, general audiophile, and ‘head’. He sent the instrumental over, and I wrote the vocal over the top.
“He was working at Point Blank at the time. I can remember, to get the horns, I went to do a talk to the students at Point Blank, on making records. And in return they gave me and Danny the studio time to record the wonderful horns arranger, Scott Bayliss, for this track.”
“This was produced by Lovebirds [aka Sebastian Döring]. I’d heard this record that he did with Stee Downes called Want You In My Soul. I was quite enamoured with that, and I really wanted to have a bit of his vibe on the record.
“So, I flew to his Hamburg studio. But, it had been flooded the week before [laughs]. We were wading through puddles and hoping not to get electrocuted!
“He had an SSL E Series, at the time, which was nice. And he also used this Harrison Mixbus software – it’s a kind of a different DAW, which is more analogue-orientated. That was used on the record.
“He had a Prophet-5 in there, which we recorded the synth lines on. And we did vocals in there, and back in London. He had quite a nice studio, really.”
“I flew to Amsterdam to work with Chocolate Puma on this one. It was a really fun session.
“They work more in-the-box, as producers. They had some pretty insane chains going on, on their master buses. I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone use that many plugins!
“It opened up my approach to seeing what was possible, in-the-box. They were using Logic. I’m a Cubase person. It was interesting to see how you can push the bus sound, and really make that work for you.
“Also, René [ter Horst]’s house is haunted by an old doctor who died there. He put me up in this room, and I just couldn’t sleep there. I’m really susceptible to all that kinda stuff. So, I ended up sleeping in the studio [laughs]. I was eating valium, trying to go to sleep!”
“This was written with Motor City Drum Ensemble. Danilo [Plessow] is obviously a mysterious character, to this day. He recorded the track in Stuttgart, I think. Then he sent it to me to record on, in Brick Lane.
“At the time I was living in Stoke Newington. You’d see some pretty mad stuff, in the streets. I was listening to a lot of Gil Scott-Heron, at the time. And I wanted to write a tune about all the homelessness, and poverty, and all of the lost souls roaming around.
“So, I wrote the song as a testament to those lost ones, who’d either lost themselves, or got lost in the system. It’s about my time in London, at that point. It was a mad place. This is the 7am walk home, seeing the early drinkers coming out.”
“This was my first collaboration with Harry [Agius aka Midland]. He was living in Leeds with Pearson Sound in a place called Midland Road.
“It was a student house, so it was such a different vibe. We drank some tea, and they were playing some Playstation [laughs].
“Then we went up to his bedroom, and there were all these pictures of his family on the walls, and some rave flyers. I think he was like 20 then.
“We went through the song together and wrote the basics of it. Then he moved it forward and sent me the near finished instrumental.
“It was quite a deep cut, which I loved. Harry has always had a certain sound, which came through on this.”
“This was my first track with Henrik Schwarz, who I’ve done many projects with since, including working with the Metropole Orchestra in Holland. We got to work pretty quickly on this. He had a beautiful home studio in Berlin, on this rooftop.
“I think I was quite influenced by a sort of Tracy Chapman-esque vibe, too. It turned into a really nice record.
“He had the guitar loop already going. But, he doesn’t play guitar. It sounded like someone had played a Spanish guitar, but it was actually him, just hitting an open chord with the guitar and then Melodyne-ing the notes. Which was quite a fresh approach, at the time.
“All Henrik’s stuff is about restraint. No big buildups. Everything is over a very simple kick and hi-hat. His art is in the music of it all.”
“I worked with Hugh Pescod on this one, aka Clipz or Redlight. All the jungle and house heads will know him. He’s someone I shared a studio with in Bristol for many years.
“He’d worked on my first album, Welcome To The Best Years Of Your Life, too. So it was nice to return to him when we both moved to London.
“This was mostly live, with Rhodes and drums. He had these SSL Logic channel strips, which we smashed everything through.
“The vocal, with a U 47 FET, was going through a 1176 Blackface. And then he also loved smashing the top’s EQs on the SSLs, in order to get the cream on them.
“He uses a lot of compression, going in. Which I learnt a lot from. We were copying a lot of what Justin Timberlake was doing on his pop vocals. There’s an art involved in getting that sound.
“In my older days I’m less on that tip. But, at the time, it got a sound. I learnt a lot off Hugh over the years.”
Let Your Feelings Go
“Georg Levin on production. It’s kind of a German boogie sound, with a nod to Pharrell [Williams] on the harmonies, on the vocals.
“We recorded this live in Berlin. Georg played bass and keys on this. I can remember that the booth was incredibly hot. I think I had to record it in my pants or something [laughs]. It was like 40 degrees! Proper Berlin humidity summer. No air-con.
“I think it’s my favourite cut on the record, actually. It’s sort of stood the test of time. And it was a great experience with Georg, too.”
“This was me and Rasmus Faber. We did it in Sweden. We went from the total humidity of Berlin to fucking freezing in Stockholm in deep winter.
“Rasmus had a piano in his flat, and we got a bunch of beers and started writing there. Then we went to his studio, which was about a half hour out of town and in the middle of nature, and he had this beautiful piano in there.
“We recorded for two days. We got some jazz musicians in. A bassist. And a drummer.
“I just remember being fucking cold, making this one. We jumped in a lot of snow and drank a lot of booze.
“And then we recorded the horns for that with Danny Lewis, at that same session at Point Blank.”
“Again, I did this with Rasmus Faber in Stockholm. This was something he played on piano in one of the sessions we did.
“I was just mesmerised by it. I was like, ‘All we need for this is a kick drum’. I think we used a Juno for the little noise – the little plop. It was really simple – a kick drum, one synth, and a piano. And then there’s just my vocals.
“It was the end of an album. But, looking back on it, it was probably talking about the continuum of life. And how everything is on this cycle that we’re all on... and to not worry [bursts out laughing]!”
In the studio with Ben Westbeech
“I’d just moved into a studio in the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane. I used a really beautiful old gun metal Neumann U 47 FET that I bought for £1250 about 17 years ago from someone in America on eBay [laughs]. That mic was pretty much used on every song.
“I was mostly going through a 1073, in my studio. And then, depending on who I was working with, other stuff. Henrik Schwarz had a little API 512 box. Then various others would put an 1176 on it. Pretty standard recording chains for the vocals. But, a pretty consistent one, so there was nothing particularly colorant on the recordings, you know? I knew that would cause problems, down the line.
“Sebastian Döring had an SSL desk, Mixbus software, and a Prophet-5. Chocolate Puma used Logic. I used Cubase. Henrik [Schwarz] used Ableton, and some Max for Live plugins he’d made.
“We recorded horns at Point Blank, and used them on Butterflies and Something For The Weekend. The album definitely did come together in a few places.”