BCee photo: Chelone Wolf
Life as we know it has changed dramatically since BCee and Charlotte Haining’s collaborative album first took seed. From a few heavy nights at Sun And Bass came the idea of a project that would embody both musical and emotional exploration. An exploration that not only shares their talents, but their deepest vulnerabilities too.
Charlotte and Spearhead bossman Steve BCee attribute the emotional depths of this album to the power of the brain dump – an outpouring of thoughts and feelings that Charlotte translates into lyrical stories. Accompanied by other bass giants such as Etherwood and DRS, this body of work represents the emotionally raw and sincere side of D&B.
Released this month on Spearhead, BCee’s deep and soulful basslines are the perfect canvas for Charlotte’s liquid gold vocals, and their combined lyrics are laced with heart and passion. We expect nothing less from two artists that have consistently provided us with banger after banger for years. Here’s how the album came to be…
How have you both been?
Charlotte: I’m alright! Lockdown has obviously been a bit weird with no clubs or live shows, which has been a killer, but it has given me a lot of time to write. I’m in my home studio now and this is where I have been spending all day every day writing tunes and finishing off the album. It’s quite nice – we’re quite used to the solitary life apart from on weekends.
What’s the origin of this partnership? We’ve heard projects from the pair of you before, but this album really puts a stamp on your collaboration.
BCee: I had heard of Charlotte and I saw her at Liquicity. I Googled her because I was looking for vocalists and found her cover of Major Lazer’s Lean On. I got in touch with her to see if she wanted to do something and at the time she was looking to move to London to do drum and bass so I sent her a track under my other alias The Vanguard Project with another producer called Villem.
After that I can’t remember the timeline of our other stuff, but I was working a lot with MC Tempza, who is Charlotte’s fiancée now. He came to stay with me for a weekend and then went on his first date with Charlotte! So after that got to know Charlotte because she was with Mike (Tempza). Over the last few years we have written quite a few bits together, maybe eight tracks, before we got to the album.
Charlotte: It’s only really this project that we have really been able to sit in on it properly and go deep with the lyrics and meaning on every tune. Steve will have an idea of what he wants the lyrics to be about within the song, then he’ll send me a mass email that is just like a brain dump of thoughts. Sometimes it will rhyme, sometimes it won’t, and sometimes it will literally just be random words and ideas that he would like to write a song about. That makes my life a lot easier because then I can just take all that information and write a story about it and get the emotion out, as well as making it rhyme in places. Most of the songs on the album have been done this way. There are a few that Steve told me to just do whatever I wanted on, but most of them have been really collaborative on the lyrical side of things, which is why we called it Life As We Know It – it’s about things that are happening in our lives right now.
BCee: I think it became a glimpse into our diaries. The transition from singles to an album has originated from you coming to sing on a couple of my sets. Then over the last couple of years we have been to Sun And Bass together and hung out for the week. It was actually last year at Sun and Bass where I think we said, ‘shall we do a whole EP?’ Then when the lockdown happened, that just developed and developed until it became an album.
So, the jump from doing singles to an album together was quite natural?
BCee: We’d mentioned it before, but I think it was Sun And Bass where we really spoke about doing an EP. We had written a few other things already, but I had a lot of lyric ideas, which we spoke about at the time.
Charlotte: Many a drunken night at Sun And Bass, putting the world to rights! You get on a level don’t you, where you talk from the hat and then just write.
Other than the alcohol, what helped you in the writing process? It’s not too often that you hear of the producer having such an influence on lyrics – is it the power of the word dump?
BCee: We haven’t really done anything like this before and I wanted to try a bit of song writing, but not just for the sake of it. I think sometimes in drum and bass people go one way or the other – really deep, light drums, light melodies or a banging club track. I just liked the idea of using some proper heavy, old school sounding breaks, heavier bass, something that you could get in touch with in a club. I’m over 20 years old now so I’ve been through a lot of crap in my life, so I wanted to try and get some of that on to paper and into some tracks.
Sometimes you want to be the cool kid on the block, especially in drum and bass, but I don’t really care about that – I might have once, but not anymore. When I’ve worked with Charlotte before she’s had a real knack at putting things that I have thought into words that I wanted to say, but better.
Charlotte: Most of the lyrics on the album have been this sort of brain dump setup, but a lot of the stuff that Steve has given me I can relate to in my own life as well. The ones that I have written without the brain dump have come from Steve’s music speaking to me. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s so soulful and I could write to it all day. Steve often sends just a little idea, even just a piano loop, and sometimes I just hear the words immediately. It brings out the emotion, so I know exactly what the song needs to say. Sometimes when Steve does his brain dumps, it makes my life easier!
Life As We Know It – the title speaks for itself. Some of the issues you discuss on this album are very real, such as mental health and personal loss. What do you think the challenges are of tackling these issues in drum and bass, a typically up-beat genre?
Charlotte: I think it is even more important to sing about these kinds of things within drum and bass as there is a lot of this stuff going on. There’s a lot of people struggling with mental health issues and the loss of loved ones, so for people to hear that in the music they are listening to, hopefully that will be of some comfort. That is what we do it for. I’ve had so many messages and people come up to me to say that a certain song is amazing, and it spoke to them, even saved their life. It’s amazing to know that your music comes across like that.
BCee: I think for me it comes a bit two-fold. One side of it is wanting your punters to listen to your music in a club and hopefully feel like it is okay to talk about certain things. I had a couple contact me from over in America who told me that one of my tracks saved their marriage because they were going to split up. One of my tracks from years ago with Robert Owens called Keep The Faith came on and that really spoke to them ,so they felt like they had to give their marriage one more shot. They are still together! I ended up going out to Atlanta for something and I met up with them and played a set for them. It’s that kind of weird connection that makes up half of it.
What I also think is really important is making time for people. I can’t make time for every single person who sends a message or comes to the DJ booth for a chat, but what I can do is make time for my peers in the scene. It’s a scene where we have a lot of flippant conversations with each other. You can see people in a club in Belgium or on tour in Australia more than you would in day to day life, because you’re at work together. That’s where you can change it from getting hammered in a club to genuinely making yourself available to people, opening up your home. We have peers who have the same struggles as us that find it difficult to talk as producers or DJs – we live quite solitary lives throughout the week. I’ve made it a bit of a mission over the last few years to make time for these people. It sounds like rubbish, but I don’t treat my label like a business, I treat it like a family. You will never get into an argument with me over a contract – I couldn’t give a shit about a contract; I care about whether people are happy or not!
This is more than just music. As much as it is for self-expression, do we need more artists opening up and spreading these messages through music?
Charlotte: Potentially, but only if they feel they need to or are ready to do that. I don’t think it’s about writing about mental health because it’s a hot topic – that would come across as really disingenuous. With our stuff, not to blow our own trumpets, we have really felt these things and felt a real urge to write about them. For example, Almost There is about when I felt really lost in my career and didn’t really know what I was doing. I moved to London and was trying to do song-writing, be a vocalist and pay my bills. It’s really not easy, and there a lot of doors that get slammed in your face constantly. When Steve sent the idea through with the piano for Almost There, I didn’t even need a brain dump, I just had to roll with it and get it all out. When I sent it back to Steve he loved it. That’s why this album is like a diary entry as it’s not me trying to be anything, it’s just me saying this is how I feel.
BCee: Authenticity is important. There are topics that come up all the time that are crucially important but are devalued when people think ‘oh I’ll do a tune about that’, for the sake of it. You can lose the power that the message should have if you are the wrong person saying it at the wrong time. I do think it is important to use your voice at the right time and support initiatives. For me this album doesn’t feel forced, in a way I don’t care if people don’t like it as it has acted as a sort of therapy.
I ended up having a two-hour phone call with somebody about adoption because I adopted both of my daughters. There’s a track on the album called Home For Good and the lyrics of that are intended to be along the lines of ‘you are not my flesh and blood, but you are more my kids than anybody else could be – you are absolutely a part of me.’ I doubt there are any other drum and bass tracks about adoption and I quite like that! That for me is the magic of the music.
Charlotte: It’s also equally really scary to write about such raw and honest things. Even though we are writing about them in a way that someone can interpret them as if they were about a relationship or something, the fact that you are putting these raw emotions in to a song makes you vulnerable. All of a sudden, you’ll be talking to somebody about a song that is so personal, and it can be heart-breaking, but in turn it’s good talk about. It’s quite scary that I can write it here in the safety of my own four walls at home with all my raw emotions, and then it’s played out in a club and somebody can ask questions.
You do get the feeling it was made out of love first and then you’ll worry about the success later.
BCee: We have a track called First Love on the album that was remixed by Logistics and the words in that are from something that my father-in-law always says – find something that you love, do it, then get somebody to pay you for it. I think I’m pretty good now with pushing the stats to Spotify, getting the streams and working those angles. That’s the sweet side!
Sweet! You’ve also got the likes of DRS, Tempza, Emba and Etherwood. Were these collaborators in mind before making the tunes or were they additions along the way?
BCee: Etherwood came down to my house for a couple of days and we just wrote some ideas, one of which was the instrumental of Little Bit Lighter. He left that with me, so when me and Charlotte started talking about ideas, I thought that track would work with Charlotte’s vocals. With Emba, me and Charlotte had already written the vocals and I thought it would be nice to get him involved as a newer artist to the label. DRS was fun – I sent him all the lyrics and told him the same ideas I had given Charlotte and he just went and did his thing. About two days later he sent it back all recorded – I hadn’t even told Charlotte!
Charlotte: DRS is a legend in the scene and it’s a privilege to be on the same track as such as well-renowned vocalist.
BCee: Mike Tempza’s collab was written at mine. He wanted to go full MC, but I really wanted him to go spoken word. Charlotte was outside the studio writing other lyrics whilst I was convincing him to trust me and I tried to coach him on how to perform it! He listened to the spoken word and he didn’t think it sounded right ,but I think he was just nervous as he likes it more now. We unleashed a monster there as he’s now recorded a track with Emba where he is fully singing and playing the violin!
Your house sounds like a breeding ground for all sorts of weird and wonderful projects! In terms of the wonderful, what are both of your favourite tracks from the album?
BCee: I will say Endlessly Unlimited because it’s inspired by my friend who lost her baby. I was on tour and they sent me a picture of the baby and I felt so excited. Then I got a message that it had all gone wrong and I had never felt emotion like it for someone else – I was absolutely devastated for them. My way of dealing with it was getting my phone out and I made loads of notes and dumped out how I was feeling. You can’t explain why something like that happens, so I just threw all my words down as self-therapy. I chucked some chords into the computer and then Charlotte came back with the lyrics and I loved it.
Charlotte: I think my favourite today is Little Bit Lighter with Etherwood. I’ve never worked with Etherwood before so that was amazing. The other songs are all so deep but this one is just about being in love and feeling that your life is better because of the people around you.
BCee: We’ve got to give a special mention to In The Moment. We wrote it back in February when I had this idea of not worrying about things and I took a bible verse about not worrying. As nutty as it sounds now, it felt like there was a doom and gloom on the horizon and we needed to chill out and not worry about the unexpected. A week later I went on tour to Australia and by the time I came back it was like the world was ending!
Life as we know it has definitely changed since then! But what can we expect from you both going forward?
Charlotte: I am releasing my third solo single which will be out at the end of October, and I am filming a music video for it as well. There may or may not be some remixes of that to come as well! I’m working on a lot of cool projects. I’m a song-writer for pop music outside of drum and bass as well, so there is a lot of stuff bubbling away in that world as well. I’m extremely busy but that’s the way I like to do life.
BCee: I don’t know what I’m going to release next yet, but next year in 2021 it will be 20 years since I first released music as BCee. I’ve had in mind that I need to do something a bit out of the ordinary for that, or at least something decent. I’ve just had a track out on UKF, I’ve got about 30 new tracks and remixes that I’ve been collecting throughout lockdown. We’ve got some more album remixes from the likes of Monrroe and S.P.Y. I’ve finished another track with DRS, and I’ve got a new bit with The Vanguard Project coming out. I’ll keep you posted.
BCee & Charlotte Haining – Life As We Know It is out now on Spearhead
Follow BCee: Facebook / Soundcloud / Twitter
Follow Charlotte Haining: Facebook / Soundcloud / Twitter