As a DJ and producer he’d been turning out bangers, and turning up to play them, since the early ’90s. His UK garage smash RipGroove catapulted him into the limelight. Then the club classic, It Just Won’t Do, scored him summers’ long residencies in Ibiza. But, the relentless treadmill of dance music had started to take its toll on Tim Deluxe.
“I hit a burnout,” he says. “And I started to fall out of love with it all. I’d been at this non-stop since I left school, and it started to feel like I had nothing left to say.”
Jaded and dejected, he decided to learn the piano in a bid to reconnect with music again at the simplest level. “That completely reinvigorated me, creatively,” he says. “Getting back to basics and playing for the joy of it. That’s what I needed. The whole DJing thing was such a hamster wheel.”
Falling in love with jazz, soul, and classical again, he decided to make new music, touching on those styles, rather than the banging dance sound that was dominating the scene at the time.
“I just wanted to let it groove,” he says. “To make it more human, with that looser style. This was at the height of EDM, which was as stiff as a board. I wanted to make an album based on the musicality and harmony of jazz, and the things that influenced me.”
Through stars of the live circuit like Ben Hazleton, Tim recruited more players to form a crack team of musicians around him. “It was Ben on bass. Enzo Zirilli and Rod Youngs on drums. John Donaldson on organs. The legend Jim Mullen on guitar. And Jay Phelps and Pete Wareham brought the brass.
“I didn’t want everything to be perfectly on-the-beat. Before, I’d loop, repeat, and quantise. But, what you realise is, we’re not computers, we’re human. And in that ‘search for perfection’ we’ve completely imperfected music, on a mainstream level, because we have that power to fix and tune everything. This album was going against all of that.”
“My studio was at the Gin Factory, run by MJ Cole and his wife, on St. John Street, not far from where I lived in Clerkenwell. I had the basement studio and I sketched all the riffs that came out of my piano lessons there.
“I had all analogue. So, a Midas 320 Venice desk, a Moog, a Korg and a borrowed Rhodes.
“Then we took everything to my good friend Fraser T Smith’s famous studio complex in West London. We laid down Rhodes, drums, bass guitar, and double bass. Then all the baritone and tenor sax, and trumpet.
“Everything went through my trusty Moogerfooger 104 effects unit, which I still have. It has this drive on it, and feedback, which was really nice. I would just be doing passes on that, over the top of tracks. I was using Cubase, and we then recorded on Pro Tools over at Fraser’s. Everything went to two-inch tape – you know, proper old school. And then he had really beautiful mics and things like that.”
Track by track with Tim Deluxe
“This felt like an opener. I started with these raw musical sketches, but they needed vocals. I didn’t really want to go down the sort of top-line route and get singers in, so I just dug for acapellas and I came across this one from Barbara Ann Teer [Black Theater]. Mood II Swing had sampled it years ago. And Mark Farina used it in his DJ sets.
“It came from a recording that’s a half hour sit-down interview, and I literally just sat there in my studio and played it from start to finish. I’d only ever heard little snippets, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing’.
“What she said resonated with what I was trying to say. The sentiment of it. I didn’t want to be one dimensional. She was saying that for me. Then we jammed a sort of free jazz thing over it, like soundtracking movie dialogue.”
“This one has my friend Ben Onono doing an impression of Nina Simone on it. He’s a diva [laughs] and Nina is his favourite musician.
“I actually got him to sing it in a different key and then pitch it down and stuff. So we had a little play around with techniques on that one just in order to get it to fit nicely. We got him to sing it in like a third or a major third, out-of-key completely. And then pitched him down into the key of E flat.
“Then the instrumental vibe on that was just based around the [Dave Brubeck] Take Five piano shuffle, and those piano chops. Then I got Jay [Phelps] and Pete [Wareham] to play beautiful horns on top in the studio.”
“This was an exploration of fourths. I was just obsessed with those at that time on the piano. I wanted to do that with the synthesiser, like how the techno and electro guys would open up the filter to make it all blurred, and then bring it back into this super tight groove. That was my kind of jazz version – going full sustain pedal. But, on the piano, you know?
“That kind of technique, from the dance side of things, works so well when you’re in a club. Taking out the kick and the bass, and everything just swelling open and then coming back in. It’s always a real dancefloor moment. So, it’s quite nice to do that acoustically, with real musicians.
“The vocal sample is from a guy talking about working on a paddle steamer in the Mississippi River, essentially just looking forward to payday. That just fitted really nicely on that track, too.”
“I heard the sample I used on this track on a tape, and we eventually cleared it [Fenton Robinson’s You Don’t Know What Love Is]. What’s quite interesting about this is that it doesn’t ever go to five chords. So, in the blues obviously, the five chords thing is a huge part of it. It was catching the players out. I remember Pete [Wareham] playing and then going to the five, and designing his line around that.
“The other thing in that track is that Jay – who plays the muted horn that starts it off – didn’t play that over that track. It was from another solo, from another tune we did. I literally just dragged it over, and didn’t even change the BPM or anything. And it just started to work. I don’t even think Jay knows that [laughs].
“And then I put the organ on myself, when I got back to the studio. I was unsure about it. I thought John [Donaldson] could play it better. I sent it to him and he was like, ‘sounds fine to me’. Yeah. It was that sort of imposter syndrome and self doubt and lack of confidence. But it worked out…”
“This has a Maya Angelou vocal on it. That had a real vibe to it. Then I asked Enzo [Zirilli] to add some drums and Ben [Hazleton] played bass, just really locking in on that super cool groove.
“Then I just mapped the chords and stuff, and then got John to just expand upon it on the organ. And then Jim [Mullen], legend that he is, did his guitar playing in one take. It was crazy. He just blew my head off. There’s only two musicians I’ve ever worked with who could do that. Jim Mullen and Katherine Tinker, a classical pianist I work with now.
“It’s a privilege to get to work with people like that because, up to that point, I’d become so disillusioned with making dance music.”
“This is like a weird hybrid and a musical mix of stuff. I wasn’t really sure what I was trying to do or say on this track. But, I had The Helicopter Tune beat, you know the drum break famously used in drum & bass by Deep Blue. I thought it could use a reggae feel bassline. And I was like, ‘Yeah, let me see if I can just mash up something here’. I didn’t really know what I was doing.
“Also, what’s interesting, talking about jazz as well, is when fusing that style across 4/4, you’ve got stuff swinging in triplets. Then, if you take a riff, you have this really nice interplay of things coming around in a six-beat cycle over a 4/4, which is really nice.
“It obviously feels like it’s slowing down because of the triplets, but it’s not. The pulse is still there. That’s something they don’t explore enough in dance music. That was another way I was getting away from that EDM thing, you know?”
“Jim Mullen played amazingly on this Miles Davis cover. I had to do no edits. He literally just came in and played it through. He said, ‘I’ll be honest with you. I could probably play this all day and it wouldn’t work out better than that’. That’s the beauty of these players.
“I also just really wanted to emphasise that vibe of switching between programmed 4/4 kicks and the real live drum solos. That back and forth. In jazz they call it trading.”
Tryin' To Find A Way
“This started from one chord. Which is like a rootless elevens voicing. I was really into that approach that jazz musicians like Bill Evans had. There’s something about not playing the root on the chords. I’ve got this fetish about certain chord voicings that I love, and I’ll try to trace them back through French impressionism and people like Ravel and Debussy. It was like an onion, just peeling it back to reveal more and more layers. You end up seeing where people were drawing inspiration from.
“I just kept playing that chord and thinking about vocals for this track, and I found another spoken word section from that half hour recording that leapt out. It was the writer Charlie L. Russell taking about coming to America and losing his identity and blackness in order to be accepted by white society. And also his own personal struggle he has within himself, I guess. This track was just more reflective and that little bit deeper.”
“This has that Indian influence. I just loved those Coltrane records where that style was explored. I’ve always been a fan, even on my first album I had a track called Mundaya that was a nod towards Indian music. I even went off and did a whole Indian jazz project for Tru Thoughts called Uniting Of Opposites.
“Shanti also felt like a great way to end the album, with John [Donaldson] doing those pentatonic sweeps at the end, so Coltrane. It just helped it end on this this whole message of just peace, really.”
Spirals Pt 1+2
“This was a hidden track on the CD. The riff is just a left-hand piano training exercise. It’s a cheap way of sounding ‘jazz’.
“Part 2 sort of goes into this kind of jazzy, mad, cosmic world. I recorded the musicians, going for it. You could’t play Part 2 in the club – far too noodle-y [laughs].
“They had a drum room at the main studio we were using in West London. And then they had another live room. And so we put Ben [Hazleton] in-between the two rooms, playing bass. He was sort of in the corridor [laughs]. And then John [Donaldson] was in the other room with the piano, and then Rod [Youngs] is playing drums in the drum room, just going for it. And it’s kind of just everyone jamming out.
“And then I picked the best take of all that playing, and overdubbed some electronics. I jumped on the Moog and went for it with the Voyager. I did passes, which I didn’t really do back then. And then just repeated it and repeated it, in a typical sort of house style. It came out great!”