For those that know Frazer and his tireless work in the deeper end of house and techno and also his more ambient work will know that he is by no means a new name on the block. As is the age-old story in music, especially electronic music that there is seldom anything resembling an overnight success. This candid chat with the bearded and equally talented Frazer from his hardware laden studio in London more than helps to shine a light on Frazer’s star which is certainly currently ascending at an impressive rate.
How does the day start when you are focused on a full studio day?
I am quite particular about this part of the process and I suppose I am quite set in my ways. The very first thing for me is to have a clear mind and try to ensure that any other tasks I had set to do have been completed or have been written down so I don’t forget! My memory is pretty bad so I continually write lists to convince myself I have everything under control! Once this has been done I always clean the studio. I dust all of the equipment with a brush, clean all surfaces, vacuum and make sure that my Jo Malone incense sticks have been flipped over to release the essence of rosewood! I like the surroundings to feel fresh and uncluttered. I find smell a really important ingredient to my mood. Although this may sound a little extreme; I use this time to play records to gain some inspiration and ideas for the session ahead. Even if I have a particular style in mind for the day, I listen deeply to the records and single out elements that interest me as I may try to interpret them in my own way later on. I try to open my mind and only think about what I am hearing and of course making sure that the studio is smelling good!
Do you have a style in mind when you start and if so what’s your initial process?
Since I started my own labels and releasing on them (Elliot Project / Counterfeit Soul) I usually have an objective in mind and a direction I want to take. On occasion, I just see what happens but usually, if I do that then more abstract pieces seem to flow and that’s why I plan to launch a new label later this year called Elliot Project Black. I have a back catalogue of finished projects in the contemporary style so just organizing to launch the label when I get time.
I very rarely start a project with a blank page in Ableton. I tend to go to an older project that holds a multitude of ideas that I saved and set aside. From that, I will re-save the project, keep maybe 5 existing channels that stick out and feel that they have something I connect with. Then I begin to work. The first element is some drums. I get a nice kick running from the 909, add some hats from the same machine and also the 808 but try not to use too many. I recently got a Mode Machines ADX-1 drum machine so I am really drawn towards it at the moment. Drums and percussion can instantly begin to hook you into the session although I try not to spend too much time programming beats at this stage as I feel that this element can really commandeer a track and force you into a particular direction especially the 909. I suppose the way I think about drums/percussion is that they serve 2 purposes in a track that is made from 4 key elements. You have low-end bass, kicks and low toms, musical elements and then percussive hats, claps etc. to sit on the top. Of course, there are many subfolders behind these 4 elements but at this stage, I like to keep it simple so I can calculate my direction later on in the day. From here I now jump onto my Novation Circuit Monostation as I love how hands on it is and fast to knock up an acid-tinged baseline that really starts to inject some bounce. The next stage is probably the trickiest and can sometimes happen quickly or not at all, creating melodies and musical elements. I have all of my synths hooked up, in sync and all have their own dedicated audio channels on the desks so I can reach for any, but my first port of call for this is the Novation SuperNova 2. It has a broad range of presets and its all clearly laid out on the keyboard for quick manipulation. This stage is when it can all go wrong or indeed really start to take off. This is when your inner vibe comes to life, you begin to bare your soul and create sound from a feeling.
You mentioned that you have all of your synths hooked up. Tell us more about this.
In December, last year I finally reconstructed my studio and picked up a bigger desk. I was running with a 24 channel and a 16 channel but was spending so much time connecting and disconnecting cables which really hindered my flow. When you are jamming away, to keep stopping is only going to distract you so I finally decided to bite the bullet and reconfigure the hardware and cabling. So now I have my Soundcraft desk with 32 channels, Allen & Heath 16 channel and a Midas 12 channel, so in total, I have 60 available lines for equipment. It seems extreme but for me having all synths, drum machines and FX units all ready to go makes me feel inspired. I now have more energy in the studio as I am always moving around playing with synths and the whole process has become more enjoyable. I installed patch bays also so I very rarely have to unplug anything which is so good. It took me 4 long days and nights to re-wire the place but well worth the graft!
Have you used up all 60 of the channels?
Hahahaha… I have! Every single one has been used. Of course, some drum machines have separate outputs for the sounds so they can quickly fill up the lines. I am a bit of a hoarder when it comes to hardware as I am frightened to get rid of something as it might just have that vital thing you were looking for, but my space is filling up so I think a few trade-ins will be happening soon.
Do you use plugin’s as well as the hardware? If so which ones?
For sure! VST’s are incredible and even faster to scroll through. I actually enjoy using them and sometimes they might be all I use for musical elements if I can’t find what I am looking for on the synths. Drums and percussion are 90 per cent hardware on my tracks as I love using them, love recording live and the tactile element is so much fun. In terms of plugins, my favourite is Rob Papens Predator. I love it. So many sounds and especially sounds that I really dig. I have recently started using Absynth again and this too is super powerful and indeed a classic soft synth.
When making a particular track do you sometimes go in a very different direction, how do you deal with that?
Gosh! Non-stop… This happens all of the time. This actually used to really get me down. I would be focused on sorting a track of a particular vibe and then a multitude of directions would hit me. The way I deal it with now, if the new direction I am going in is exciting me, then I will steer that way even though it’s not what I wanted to do. When you are feeling pumped up about something then its best to go with it as it will pull out the creative juices. Always save what you were doing and resave the new project and go with the flow. It can be a challenge if you have created 2 vibes or even 2 good directions of the same vibe. Sit back and think for a little while. Rushing into this scenario I don’t advise. Go and have a 10-minute break, make a cuppa tea and take stock. Then head back in and see which direction you are feeling most confident with. Trust your gut. To make myself feel more confident I sometimes switch back every hour or so to see what the project sounded like when I left it behind… if it sounds good then don’t pressure yourself. Work on one thing at a time. If you return to projects and they ignite the feeling you had before then you are onto a winner!
Do you always go back to them?
Yeah, I do. Sometimes they can be tricky to find as I am terrible at naming projects. This is something I need to sort out this year! Have a system and make a note of project names. Good housekeeping really. Organization is key in most walks of life and music production is no different!
We have spoken about having many good ideas but what about if you have a total block? How do you deal with that? Do you force it or leave it for another day?
This is a super common issue that so many people have especially when they dedicate studio time in advance. It feels demoralizing to have time set aside and nothing happens. This issue is quite a personal thing. Many say not to force anything which I totally understand but some of my favourite tracks I have made on days where everything was going wrong and sounded terrible and just as I was about to give up a little twinkle of magic happens. These days have turned into nights as I like to get a good portion of the track done when the fire is burning. I often spend 16 hours straight on a session.
I pressure myself a lot so I always want to come out of there with something decent. I am not necessarily saying that you should keep pushing but for me, it has worked sometimes.
On days where I really don’t feel like making music I tend not to bother. I need to be fired up to hit the machines and relaxed as I mentioned before. Everyone is different. There is no point exhausting yourself or adding too much pressure as it will ultimately cloud what you re doing. Positivity will always get the job done.
Do you ever find being in the studio you begin to run out of ideas?
Definitely. I am lucky at the moment as I am super pumped up and seem to be connecting to the studio in a more fruitful way since the remodelling. There have been some super dry times especially after I completed my album. I couldn’t do anything for months as I felt totally empty. I can’t really say that I had run out of ideas but had drained all of the creative juice and couldn’t face sitting in the studio. At the time, it really upset me but once I got the energy back I was hooked again. In general, if I have the energy and focus then the ideas will happen. The right frame of mind is the key ignition.
What truly inspires you in the studio on an off day?
If the day is going bad I might have a mix for a while or just sit back and listen to some records and evaluate what I like about them. This sounds easy but it’s quite difficult to put your finger on the precise reason for loving something …it’s a vibe that’s created and that’s what hooks you. I also have a flick through other artists mixes especially on YouTube and this can really change my mindset quickly. For example, I was struggling to finish ‘Don’t Leave Me Honey D’ coming out on the next Counterfeit Soul. The track was 90 per cent there but it needed something to reconnect me. The track really reminds me of Honey Dijon and I loved watching her tear up a boiler room set where she drops a Stevie Wonder vocal. I sat back in the chair and played it loud, from that the inspiration hit me hard and within a few hours I finally nailed the 10 per cent that was missing from the track. This is why I called it ‘Don’t Leave Me Honey D’ … true story!
How do you know when you have finished a track?
This is another nightmare! I don’t think anyone knows! Help! Trusting your gut once again is the key. When I think I have finished it I spend a week afterwards listening. In the car, at home and in the studio. You have to listen to your music on different systems to gather an overall view. The car especially is important to me because the sound is dressed in a different way and you are in a small bubble. Your concentration is different too so for me its very important as this is where I hear issues. For those that don’t drive then listen to it as much as you can in different environments and speakers.
How many times would you test a track in a club before it made it to the final mixing stages?
Sometimes never! I usually get the track mastered myself even if it’s not for one of my labels. I am always hesitant to play unmastered pieces on a system as I feel they can lack that power. Don’t get me wrong, a good mix down will work but because I play in a very energetic way I need to be sure that I don’t lose any excitement on the floor due to a track lacking that sparkle. I am more confident now with my mixdowns as I know my studio well. It’s still a learning curve but understanding your space is so important. My studio is very bass heavy so I need to be careful to not overcook the low end. I don’t always get it right but definitely feeling more confident with the process. Because the studio is quite club sounding I kind of know when it’s right…. I think!
Who do you use for mastering and Vinyl cuts, tell us a little more about it.
I use Paul Mac from Hardgroove Mastering to do my digital masters and vinyl pre-masters. Electric Mastering (Peacefrog Records) do all of my Vinyl Cuts and final tweaks. The engineer that does the cut is Guy Davie. These guys are incredible at what they do. Paul Mac is, of course, a legendary DJ/producer as well as a complete engineering wizard. He obviously knows the music being a house/techno producer so its always in perfect hands. Guy Davie again is highly respected having worked with labels such as XL, Underground Vibe, Phuture Wax, Mosaic, Soma, Ferox and so many more. Check him out on Discogs to see the huge range of material he has mastered. It’s good to work with people you know and trust. Their input is so important as you really need other opinions to help steer you in the right direction. Big thanks to these guys for the work they do. Key people in the background as well as my distributers, Juno and Off The Grid in Berlin.
What was your first passion? DJing or production?
DJing for sure! I have DJ’d since I was 18 with a few years out in the early 2000’s. I am a DJ first and foremost but making music is now a key part in my life for sure. They have an important yet different connection. Both play fundamental parts to my existence. Would you ever be able to choose between the two?
That’s quite a difficult question. I really need to do both now. Two different paths I love to walk. But if my life depended on it the DJing would be the choice. The first love always makes the biggest impression. Something that you will never forget. The feeling of watching people dancing and thinking only about the vibe you are creating is simply incredible. Nothing can beat that vision. It sounds cheesy but House is a feeling.
When it comes to your live set what are the core pieces that you use, or do you use a scaled down version of your studio?
For my live sets the core pieces are the Elektron RYTM, 808 Boutique, and the laptop. I do use more hardware but these would be the key bits of kit. The 909 is too big to take with me which is a shame as this is the master of all drum machines. The great grandfather of rhythm and groove. My thoughts towards the live equipment is always changing especially as I fall in love with other machines which happens too much!
You have several record labels, a live set, killer productions and a wicked ear for DJing. Is this what it takes to be successful or is it possible to make it by just excelling at one of the above?
Thank you! For sure you can be successful concentrating on one element. It depends on how you want to arrive at your destination. Many DJs make music to gain credibility to excel their DJing and there is nothing wrong with this. Having a broader knowledge of any subject is advantageous in any walk of life. Understanding how to make music will only improve your DJing as you gain knowledge on the layout of tracks as well as training your ears to be more musical. For me, I am in love with it all. I always say that I am addicted to house and techno music and it’s true. This is why I do it and take it so seriously. It’s my life. It means everything to me. You can be successful if you work hard, keep alert and do everything from your heart. People see this, maybe not at first but the transparency they thought, will begin to fade and your true colours will shine.
What does the future hold for Frazer Campbell and your many musical outlets?
Just going to keep grafting away and doing what I love. Continue to grow as a producer and build my confidence with making music. I have lots of music coming out over the year and making more with every spare second I have. I have more collaborations coming out with the chief, Steve O’Sullivan and also John Osborn. A few remixes coming out in the near future as well as Counterfeit Soul releases and Elliot Project. Elliot Project has been resting for a while but I have some new pieces to come as well as new artists joining the label. I hope to keep DJing as much as possible and travelling to more countries to spread the bearded vibes! I have recently been taken on by Mensch Booking in Berlin who are now representing me for Europe and beyond. In general I will be looking forward and never backward!