Interview Charles Webster

WHO: Charles Webster
WHEN: 9th May 2008
INTERVIEWED BY: Toni | Defected

The Interview Charles Webster

I would like you to explain to the readers, who you are and what you do?
I'm Charles Webster; my primary role is a Producer, DJ and Musician. I'm a bit of an all round electronic music kind of guy. I spend about 50% of my time remixing or producing for other people, the rest of the time I spend writing and recording my own material and Djing practically every weekend.

Why do you think it's so great to live in the Midlands?
Well, I don't think it's that great! (Laughs). I treat it as a base really. I grew up in Derbyshire, in the peak district; I lived in Nottingham in the Midlands also. I've lived between here and America all my life. It's an easy place to live but I would much rather live in Tokyo or Los Angeles.

You spent a lot of time in the USA?
Yes, San Francisco. I lived there for a few years and I go back quite often.

What did you get from your experience there?
I think more freedom. Working in Britain at the time, it was much more hectic. Everyone was on your case about music sounding the same, why are you doing this it this way? Etc. There was much more freedom in San Francisco because no one knew who we were! There wasn't really a scene when we went there, that's why we chose it. We made the decision to move to America because that's where the whole house scene seemed to be centred in the early nineties. Instead of going to New York, Chicago or Detroit, where they already had defined their sound, we went to San Francisco.

So Did San Francisco influence your sound a lot?
Yes, I think every one has a city or a climate that suits them. San Francisco suited my attitude. Sunny, very laid back, pretty, creative, free thinking. It's a big city, but it feels small, unlike LA which is quite big and intimidating.

What about Japan? Do visit there very often? Do you have many links there?
Yes, I have many friends there. It's my favourite place. If I had to pick one place it would be Japan. I love the society there. The people are so warm, educated and open-minded. It's the most futuristic but most historic place.
Their values for other people are ancient values, they respect one another.

How does your music get digested in Japan?
They seem so knowledgeable and passionate about it. They really dance all night, they are seriously funky people.

Champagne, Jet's and the superstar DJ lifestyle. A lot of DJ's do three gigs a night, has this ever been you?
It has, yes. I wouldn't say superstar, well, maybe superstar in certain areas but if the gigs are there and I want to do them then I'll do them. I've done 4 gigs in one day once. I remember, the last gig of the four was at a festival in Holland, so after I had done the gigs in London I went to Heathrow at 8 in the morning to go Holland. I walked on the stage at Pink Pop, a huge festival in Holland, everything was ready for me and it was just like living a rock and roll dream.

I must have looked like a wreck, though after three gigs in England! Once it was all over I slept for 24 hours, straight. I was so exhausted, but it was an amazing experience.

I know it's difficult for artists to do this but, how would you best describe your sound?
I think it's a personal sound, emotional. I like to call it electronic soul. It's very detailed music, fuzzy round the edges, quite complex but yet sounds quite simple. I hope it doesn't sound overblown or pompous. It's mostly vocal based music that I do, not overtly soulful, its intimate soul music.

For me, it's what I do, so I don't pre conceive it, I just do it. It's personal and I think if you put honesty and personality in your music people can tell you're doing it for the right reasons. So my music, it's modern, acoustic, electric, soul, funk, house...

Which artists do you really like and which artists do you not really care to listen to?
The list of who I wouldn't want to listen to is endless, so that'll be a waste of time, because we'll be here forever. But, there are many artists that I really love from every genre. The most influential artist for me as a youngster was Craftwork.

The albums, Man Machine and Computer world, were in my opinion, some of the most fantastic albums ever made. I love David Bowie. I grew up with acoustic music like Van Morrison and I like some new acoustic stuff for example Natalie Merchant but a big passion was obviously Detroit house music.

Who were your big icons from Detroit that shaped your sound?
All the usual suspects really. My real favourite is Kenny Dixon Junior. I love his attitude. It's pure deep house. He's the master of the genre. But I like all types of music.

What would people best know you for?
Being tall and wearing glasses! But musically, I suppose, most people would know me for the Presence album, with the Shara Nelson tracks. But many people don't know I was Presence because it's not under my name.

All the Furry Phreaks singles with Terra and a lot of remixes. When you remix tracks for artists you instantly get associated with them and kind of hang on to their coat tails even though you were not responsible for the original track. It varies from territory to territory. People remember you for different things.

You do a lot of work in Ireland?
Southern Ireland, that's my favourite place to play. I play in Cork, Waterford, Limerick, the main spots. The Fish Go Deep guys have a club in Cork called Go Deep; it's the best club in the world. The crowd are cool, amazing sound and great attitude.

Recently you were given an accolade from your fans in Ireland, tell us about that?
It's a collective in Dublin called Bodytonic, they have been running nights for 5 years and I played at their anniversary. They have a really good website with blogs, forums and guest mixes and the like. They had a thread on the website asking 'Who is the best House Producer of all time?' and they chose me. I couldn't believe it.

Who did they say you were better than?
Everybody! In the top five was Moodyman, it was unbelievable to beat my idol, Kerri chandler, MAW amongst others. It was the greatest honour I ever had.

Do you ever pay attention to the reviewers and the critics?
No, not really. I read them if they are there but I don't really read much music press. I am interested in reading what people say, it makes your head bigger for 10 minutes. Some reviews get your music to a wider audience but generally if people like your music they'll buy it.

How hard have you had to work to get where you are now?
Physically not very hard, it's more mental. You have to persevere and stick to what you believe in. Musical integrity is important to me. I've had loads of people say 'why don't you make something cheesy and make loads of money?' Well, I could do that but personally that's not why I'm a musician. Music is about expressing yourself. There's nothing wrong with making money as long as it's on your terms.

Within your career can you tell me about the struggles and the peak moments you've had?
It's easier to look at the peak moments and one of the first was getting a record released on Submerge, Underground Resistance. They were some my heroes from Detroit, UR and Mad Mike. He was so influential for what I did. One day he phoned me up, we chatted and then I did a record on that label. That was my first real high, and actually it's still going on 15 years later.

Presence, the first album was another. It was great to be received so well by the public and the press. Working with Tracy Thorn from Everything but the Girl was remarkable. I grew up listening to her on radio, so to produce for her was incredible. Shara Nelson, who's on the first album, I love working with her. Tracy and Shara are two of the most iconic and fantastic British singers, and for them to say 'I want to work with you' is the ultimate respect.

How many albums do you think you've sold over the years?
I reckon at least 150,000 albums.

Ok, so what about your singles?
I really have no ideas how many singles. Including remixes, I've made way over 200 releases.

Graeme Park was a big inspiration to you. What was it like to go and check him out in the early days and can you compare the Nottingham scene to the rest of the scene in the UK at the time?
I didn't really know about any of the scenes as much as Nottingham, since that's where I lived. I'd been going to the Cool Cat Club, which was later called the Garage, from my school days as I played in a band there. I was working there when Graeme used to play, I didn't know him but he used to play anything you could dance to.
Back then it was Indie and all kinds of stuff, he started playing electro and then he started playing acid tracks and we did not know what it was. That was about 1984- 85. Graeme was like the God of Nottingham back then.

(I did my first release in 84, an electro record because I used to make music for a break-dance crew. I was the only one with an 808 drum machine, they asked me to make some music for them and it all went from there. I still work with them to this day.)

The first place I went to in London was the Brain, which was quite similar and we used to go to Sheffield, early Hacienda times. I think the Nottingham scene was pretty amazing back then. And of course after the Garage, Venus appeared which I think is the best club I've ever been to in Britain. It was the energy and DJ's they chose. Everyone has a dream, peak moment of going out when they are young and the Garage in Nottingham was definitely that.

Tell me about some of your early projects?
The first house record I did was signed by Brainaic records, the people who owned the club the Brain; they had some other releases by some of the early UK acid house producers.

Megaton was my first underground success and was almost made as a joke, but the tune blew up out of all proportion. I loved the Megaton and Signed stuff.

The great thing about the Signed records is I'm still licensing them to this day. I licensed one recently to Global Underground. It's another honour that people are still listening to it 17 years later.

You work with the talent known as Terra Diva. How did you meet her and what were your first impressions.
I met her when I lived in San Francisco, in the early 90's. She was this very confident 16 year old teenager who had tracked us down. She literally just turned up on our doorstep after hearing some my music through a friend. She said I'm a singer, I like what you do, can I sing?

What was her history?
Remarkably, she was a Mickey Mouse club actor and singer and dancer. I had actually seen her on the TV. She came into our little studio and blew us away. It was around the time En Vogue were really popular and this teenager was like all of them put together. We did a couple of records straight away and that was it.

As she was so young did you have to seek any approval?
I had to meet her mum, grandmother and sisters. We went to San Jose and had dinner and chatted, it was lovely. It was almost like asking for her hand in marriage. They just wanted to make sure their relative was going to be safe. But they are lovely people and the rest is history. Terra has done so many projects all over the world, but we always come back together and do our thing, every few years. We're friends more than collaborators.

Who are the Furry Phreaks?
Essentially, it started as me. The second track on my 'Love from San Francisco' label is as Furry Phreaks. And soon after that I met Terra, and since then it's been me and her.

What singles have you done together?
The first was 'Want me like water' and her delivery and lyrics were just amazing. Then we did 'Soothe' which is probably myself and Terra's most well known track together. 'Ready', which was a more down tempo track ,was really popular and used a lot on Chill out CD's and adverts. Then we've got the single on Defected 'All over the World'.

Tell me about 'All over the world'?
It's like a celebration of what Terra and I have done together really and the power of music to make people smile.

The vocal delivery just makes people smile because it sounds like she smiling when she's singing it. It's just a feel good tune.

What's your expectation for the single?
I hope, global domination and to build a studio on the moon with the proceeds. We'll see. It's deep house not a banging trance anthem, but I'm sure that people who know will love it.

How many compilations have you done before?
The Defected compilation is the first real compilation I've done. I've been offered before but I really wanted to do it like this. Defected basically gave me free reign to do what I wanted to do.

Tell me about the mix?
It's a three CD set. CD 1 is a house mix, its got a lot of my favourite house tracks from other artists, like Kings Of Tomorrow, Warren Harris and Moodyman are on there. The rest are my productions some exclusive new tracks or updated versions of some of my favourite tracks I've done over the years.

CD 2 is in the style of the back to mine series, my favourite records that aren't dance records. It's more the people I've grown up listening to like Kate Bush, Patti Smith, Brian Eno all kinds of stuff.

CD 3 is almost like a new artist album. It's 60% new tracks that I produced specifically for this album, 40% are of my old tracks revisited. Some old favourites that are hard to get on vinyl or ones I felt never reached as much people as it should. So CD3 is the most interesting to me because it was almost like making a new album.

How many exclusives are on there?
Almost all of CD 3 is exclusive I think only one track on there is unchanged, the one I did for Submerge, which was a really rare record. But it's all pretty much exclusive from CD's 1 - 3. The Tracey Thorn track is unavailable elsewhere and a lot of the tracks on there were not available in a digital form previously.

Aside from your own tracks, which are the stand-out tracks for you?
Moodyman is on there, which was an honour, but all of the tracks are a high point for me. The low point was the tracks I really wanted but couldn't get on the compilation. That's life though.

Are the CD's an accurate representation of how you perform live?
CD1 in an ideal situation, is a reasonable account of what I do. It's pretty chilled.

CD2 is definitely what you'd get if you came round mines for a few glasses of wine.

What are you're forthcoming projects?
Aside from the Defected compilation and the new single with Terra, a new Megaton single, this has taken 15 years to do. I'm working on a new jazz project with a guy called Peter Raight, a new solo album, many singles, some new material with Shara Nelson, a track with Robert Owens for his album and a single with him for my label. A Dennis Ferrer mix, some stuff for Sonar Collective, a project called Version and lots more.

Are you going to take this album on tour?
Yes, definitely. We're going to do a DJ tour with guest singers like Terra. We're going everywhere.

Where will we be able to see you this year?
Everywhere, hopefully. We'll be kicking off in Europe, Paris, Berlin Spain then Japan, South Africa, Australia then a full USA trip.

So you're going to be really busy?
Yes, won't have time for anything else!

Interview by Toni | Defected

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