Markus Schulz's debut album is rightly regarded as a trance classic, yet it almost transcended trance when it first dropped. In a genre defined by shiny happy instrumental anthems, Without You Near was kind of an anomaly. "Back then there was nothing but uplifting trance going on," says Schulz. "What really set this album apart was that it was darker and more personal, and there was nothing else out like that back then."
As a producer, and as a person, Schulz has never really been drawn towards the light. A "hard childhood" saw him seek solace in the melancholy of psychedelic rock bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and that deeper, troubled texture shines through in his music. "When I was putting the album together, I went looking for all the tracks of mine with those darker feelings, emotions and sounds in," says Schulz.
Compiling and updating music from his back catalogue, as well as penning new material for the project, Without You Near began to take shape. The icing on the cake was his choice to mix the tracks into one another, letting the album take on a narrative arc.
"At the time I was really inspired by people like BT and Sasha - the way the tracks on their albums melted into each other to tell a story. That inspired me to present this album as a mix, rather than a collection of songs that fade out and the next one starts."
The 13 tracks are rich in feeling - from the emotive melodics to the lyrics. From the first chord you're treated to something that's much more hand on the heart than just hands in the air. Tracks like Sorrow Has No Home and You Won't See Me Cry, from the titles down, certainly had an air of fragility and depth rarely explored by the other trance producers of the time. While haunting tracks like First Time, featuring the stunning Anita Kelsey, and Ballymena with Airwave make no attempt to plaster a smile on.
"It was a personal journey," says Schulz. "My story, made from the music I'd created over many years. It was dark. Sometimes life is dark. I think trance needed to show that at the time."
Here, Markus takes us through Without You Near, track by track.
"This track started after I met this guy online called Elevation. He was 16 at the time and said he played organ in his parents' church. He sent me over this 30-second clip - it was this main melody. I fell in love with it and said I'd love to sign it to my label, but he never got around to finishing it. It was a really special piece of music, but he said he could only write melodies, so I collaborated with him.
"It's based around a bass sound that he played up high, for the plunk, with lots of reverb. In those days you just put a lot of reverb on everything!"
"This is a cool one. It was an experiment for a soundtrack idea that never came off. I love those 'bendy' sounds in the track. I remember when I came up with that bendy lead I thought that it started to fit into this idea of an album I wanted to do.
"Arial wasn't something that was 'traditional Markus Schulz', either. It wasn't something that I ever played in my sets, but it was one of those special tracks where I felt something as the melody was developing."
"The singer on here is Anita Kelsey. She'd done a song with First State, many years ago, so I was a big fan of hers. I was able to contact her through the Armada label. At first I sent her some piano chords, basslines and percussion, and she came up with the idea for First Time. I really liked it, but what really put it over the top was when we went in and started adding all those haunting melodies. At the time there was just too much uplifting, happy music going on. We wanted to go the other way with minor keys and sounds, with the cutoff down, so you could barely hear it, then add reverb and delay. That's just where my head was at, at the time."
Without You Near (Coldharbour Mix)
"I knew Departure, and I was real good friends with Josh Gabriel and Dave Dresden - I'd known Dave about ten years at this point already. We all loved old, alternative music like The Smiths and The Cure, stuff like that. Without You Near had that vibe so I passed it to them to take a listen. They loved it and said they had some ideas they'd like to try out, so I flew to San Francisco to work with them.
"Originally the song was just Departure's vocals. Then Josh just came up with this vocoder line that really added to it. The track needed something else. It was just great, dark, verses up until then."
"This all happened in the same session as the other track Carrie Skipper's on, Never Be The Same. I had a lot of extra vocals lying around from these sessions. Then many years later I went into the studio with Andy Moor and we were searching for some vocal samples and ended up pulling these sessions up.
"There was a lot left over from Once Again and Never Be The Same that we ended up using for our big track, Daydream, which came out on another album. It's almost like those tracks end up telling a part in a story bigger than they had on this album."
You Won't See Me Cry 2005
"I originally released this on Plastik Records in 1999. It was never on an album, bar Armin van Buuren's Boundaries Of Imagination compilation, which was his first ever. We became good friends after that. It was only appropriate that we include this on my album to acknowledge that moment. To update it, I just took it in a completely different direction, almost treating it like a remix. At the time I'd done a remix of Breathe by Telepop Musik. It was huge here in the USA on the radio. I'd stuck a breakbeat in and added some trancey synths. It really caught on here. I just replicated the Breathe remix. I even took the kick and snare from that track. I didn't use much from the original You Won't See Me Cry."
Never Be The Same
"This was the special one that came from the Carrie Skipper sessions. Again, it went on to play a bigger part in the evolution of my career than we first imagined. She was great to work with, and really made this a full listening experience.
"We liked to stretch these songs out. Look at the time of this one - it's six minutes long. Some other tracks are over eight minutes. It's like, 'wow!'. The times of these tracks are mad. We just told stories back then - if it needed a third chorus, then why not? If it needed an extra 16 bars for a counter melody, why not?"
Red Eye To Miami
"I'd started travelling a lot at the time. I remember I was flying from Los Angeles to Miami on a red eye flight. You'd leave at midnight, fly through the night, then because of the time delay, get in at seven in the morning, all bleary-eyed. I wrote this track on that flight. These were the days when planes didn't have power sockets in the seats, so I just worked on this until my battery died on my laptop. It's based around a simple breakbeat sample, because I didn't have time to reconstruct a whole percussion kit for my drums."
"This features Airwave. At the time he was making some very special and dark trance. He was one of the few guys out there making darker sounds. We collaborated on two tracks, one of which was Ballymena.
"I went to Belgium and worked on this with him. He's great to work with. You just can't get him to play anything uplifting [laughs]. He just goes right for all the dark notes and everything, so we really clicked.
"After we made it we were stuck for a name. There's this boat that used to be docked in the harbour in Miami called the Ballymena. Everyone was shouting at me to come up with a name as we needed to put it out. I drove past the ship and said, 'Ballymena'."
Peaches And Cream
"Talking of names, Interstate, aka Mike Burns, came up with the idea for this track because he met this girl who I'd nicknamed Peaches and Cream. This is the story of their first night together. He ended up marrying her. I had signed some Interstate tracks to my label and we'd always wanted to work together, so when it was time for my album, we jumped at the chance. It's his lyrics, and his story, with his future wife. Then I added all my darker basslines and melodies on top."
"I did this on a little laptop that was so bad that it couldn't even handle this one synth that's in it. Listen to it now - it's got all these glitches and you hear the buffering! I couldn't believe that I actually let that track
"People, to this day, still message me and say that it's still one of their most special tracks [laughs]. How did you guys not hear the buffering on the synths on this?!
"I did this track on a train going from Birmingham to London, I think. Like I said, the laptops in those days just didn't have the power. It did end up sounding cool, but there are so many glitches in there. Well, we used it anyway [laughs]."
Sorrow Has No Home
"This was one of the first tracks that I worked on with Raz Nitzan. Alexandra Scholten sang on this one, too.
"We actually wrote this on top of a track by Peter Martin that I signed to my label called Perfect Wave. I wrote this top line that he didn't like, so we just had this beautiful vocal, 'Sorrow has no home', so I just made a new track for it.
"If you actually take the acapella and stick it on top of Perfect Wave, which is a big classic from back in the day, you'd have an amazing track [laughs]."
Without You Near (Reprise)
"We put the Coldharbour Mix earlier on in the album, and we had this beautiful version that me and Josh Gabriel and Dave Dresden had done in San Francisco that I really wanted to be heard as well. This version just felt so appropriate to close the album out with.
"When you listen from track one, Clear Blue, all the way to the end, it really is a journey. There really is some thought that went into everything from the opening, all the way down to the closing. It's not just a collection of songs. This album really was a lot of fun, and a time of innocence."
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