From the moment those sweet strings, warm horns and dulcet vocals of opening track Last Goodbye sweep into your ears, you just know that Break’s fifth album is a categorical keeper.
Weighing in at a punchy 12 tracks and entitled Another Way, it’s the sound of the respected Bristol-based artist in his absolute element.
From the delicious dub immersion of Conversations (featuring the dynamite OG MC duo of Cleveland Watkiss and Fats) to the shimmering gossamer soul of The Edge Of Time (with longstanding vocal collaborator Kyo) by way of the sinewy graveyard wriggler City Slickers (with kindred detail obsessed producer DLR) Another Way is stacked in all directions: straight up vibe designs, warm tones, cool contrasts, some of the best vocalists and MCs in the game and a healthy dollop of reggae feels.
The sound of an artist chiselling his widest, deepest signature and having fun in the process, we’d go as far as saying that Another Way is Break’s best album to date. As the hurly burly bumps and grunts of Keeping It Raw still pepper ever decent dance across the UK right now, we called him to see how he feels about this….
Let’s start here: Are you an endless tweaker or do you know when to draw the line?
A bit of both, I guess. I definitely am a tweaker and I’m never truly happy. But I’ve got better at accepting deadlines and the fact that most people won’t notice things I’m spending way too much time over. Like something being one decibel too loud. But with this album more than anything I have tried to draw the line a lot more and focus on the songs than just the tiny production details. Most people appreciate the music more than the technical elements. You can tweak away on a drum or snare for days or weeks but it won’t make it a better song.
Totally. I need to ask you about Alpha. The first time I heard that I felt like I’d had an electric shock! Why isn’t that on the album?
I wanted to save a few tracks for exclusives for the vinyl and sampler and keep the dancefloor tunes as singles. Like Hip Punch, I kept Alpha for exclusive singles and it’s nice to keep the album shorter but still release a lot of tracks.
Yeah the album is punchy in that way. No extra fat.
Yeah 12 tracks is my favourite balance; you don’t feel short changed but it’s not too much to digest in one sitting. It’s such a fine line…
You must be pretty adept at the dark art of album science by now?
Yeah I think subconsciously I’ve done it on every album I’ve made so far; keeping that flow of styles and making sure you don’t have too many hard tunes or vocal tunes in a row and things like that. It’s a lot like the dynamic of a DJ set in a way or a journey. It’s quite a fun part of the whole process.
I guess it helps when there’s so much variety in the music. You cover a proper range of styles on Another Way…
That was the plan and theme; the full spectrum of drum & bass flavours. It’s what I do as a DJ and what I do as a drum & bass fan. It’s nice to touch on various vibes.
Reggae vibes are strong on this, too. They tap into the Love So True era. You had a reggae band with Kyo for a bit, right?
Yeah it went through various shapes and forms, we put out a tune a few years ago and it got some great feedback and support but we never turned the band into a full time mission. Reggae is a huge influence for me and D&B and jungle in general. Plus I love echoes and dub techniques so they always find a way into my music anyway.
Having Cleveland and Fats on the track Conversations is a touch. It feels like you were all in the same room but I’m guessing probably not?
Sadly not. Cleveland and Fats might have been, though. But I think Fats laid his vocals down first and sent it to Cleveland who liked it and wanted to get involved. Fats told me that’s how they’ve always worked together; they know what to do and how to complement each other. I didn’t know Cleveland was involved until Fats sent me over the vocals!
Does that happen often? Bonus OG vocalists coming out of nowhere?
No not often at all! Getting good quality vocalists is really hard full stop, so when something like that comes your way you don’t sniff at the opportunity.
The music takes a life of its own at that stage doesn’t it?
Yeah Fats has said that to me before… If the tune grabs him the vibes and ideas will come. It has to come naturally.
The whole album has that natural feel. But all your albums do, looking back. Which album of yours was the hardest?
The first two were probably the hardest. The first one had a lot of my own expectations attached to it and I felt like I had to smash it. So that came with its challenges. And also the second album which came with a few of the classic difficult second album issues but after that, when you hit the third album the pressure has lifted and you get into a natural flow and you know the process. There’s less worry and pressure, so in this way it’s been the easiest album to do. But it’s still hard because the level has gone up across music and you have to push yourself to get it the best you can at the time.
You set a benchmark and you’re your own worse critic aren’t you?
Yeah there’s definitely that, too. I did things a bit differently with this album and didn’t write 30 tracks and pick the ones I wanted for the album. It’s harder to decide which tunes shouldn’t be on the album and you start questioning it all. So I took the approach of setting out to write 12 good tunes and make them as good as I can get them. There were only two that didn’t did make the album.
I was going to ask how efficient you are in terms of what you write and what you release actually….
I’d say it’s about 50/50. But the ones you bail out on are usually stopped within a day or so. I have actually got about 20 odd tunes I’ve slowly been gathering over the years. There’s a lot of unreleased things floating around and I’m thinking of releasing a back catalogue style of dubs at some point. I did use to release every track I wrote so I have become a lot more critical of what I release. I’m much more into the approach now of starting something fresh from scratch if the initial idea isn’t working.
It’s hard to admit to yourself that something you’ve done isn’t working. Like an ego thing, almost.
Definitely. You have to accept that not every tune you write is going to be the best or expect it to be perfect. Once you’ve accepted that you can move on and try something different.
On the flip side, I must have heard Keeping It Raw dropped by DJs about 100 times since the summer at the likes of Sun & Bass, Let It Roll and Hospitality. The last time I heard one of your tracks played across the board so heavily was Slow Down or Love So True. Must be a nice feeling when you hear your tune played so heavily?
I don’t hear it as often as you’d think but it’s wicked to hear a DJ I really like playing my tune. That’ll never lose its buzz and I do get to hear it sometimes standing in the booth. I hear it like a music fan which is a wicked feeling. What I do experience a lot is people, like you’ve just told me, coming up and saying they’ve heard the tune a lot. Either way it’s a great sign and gave me peace of mind that the album might be received well.
Yeah I can imagine. Do you think it’s harder for anthems to develop these days because of proliferation?
Maybe. Dubplates really helped to create anthems. I remember Planet Dust was on dub for a crazy amount of time. I remember it getting seven rewinds in a row at Bar Rumba! Then I remember when it finally came out everyone still bought it. Not having that build up to a release does affect how tunes grow. And yeah there’s just so much more music around. But, as we’ve spoken before, there’s definitely a growing amount of DJs who are keen to swap tunes a few months in advance. We were all worried about things getting leaked for quite I while, I know I was, so it’s a case of trying to work out the best way to get tunes out there and give them the best exposure and chance to grow. There’s only a certain amount of sets a DJ can play every week, so how long do you send the tune out to DJs?
Unless it’s festival season!
It’s definitely a good time to drop a digital dubplate. I think that’s been one reason Keeping It Raw has been played as much as it has.
So the album is out now, how do you celebrate the release of an album? Do you chill for a bit?
There’s been some wicked launch parties that have been a nice celebration of the release. It’s usually a month or so later that you start to feel if you’ve done okay and that’s when I chill a tiny bit.
You’re probably already planned ahead anyway, right?
A little bit. Stuff takes a while to get out, vinyl takes ages to get pressed but there’s a few good projects and stuff in the pipeline, for sure. Jack Boston is working on some great material and we have lots of other demos to go through. I’m just pleased this one’s out now though!