Get To Know: Will Saul
Will Saul knows his music. Over the last twenty years he’s developed a multi-faceted career around his excellent ear -- first by founding Simple Records and then Aus Music,d through which he’s released records from the likes of Joy Orbison, Pearson Sound, Appleblim, and Leon Vynehall. As if there wasn't already enough on his plate, Will’s also head of A&R at !K7 where he curates the much-revered DJ Kicks mix series.
This month, he's adding yet another string to his bow with the launch of Inside Out, a concept compilation series that blurs the line between album artist and mix. Each album will be handled by a new contributor to whom Will has handed over total creative control. The first edition, curated by Wil himself, will be released on March 30th through Aus Music. It features 100% new music from the likes of Lone, Martyn, Falty DL, Pearson Sound, David Moufrang, Youandewan, Dauwd, and Sei A. We got in touch to find out more about what we can expect from Inside Out.
Hi Will! We’re excited for the release of issue one at the end of the month! What inspired you to launch the series?
The idea came about as a reaction to the feeling that compilations have begun to feel a bit stale. The thing I loved about going clubbing in the 90s was going to see your favourite DJ play music you’d never heard before— you’d go back to see them again because you knew you were going to hear totally new music. Shazam has made it much easier to go out and ID music, so the concept of the compilation album [as a way of discovering new music] has changed significantly. Everyone’s digging in the crates now, so to speak. I wanted to release something that would still be genuinely new by the time it hit the shelves.
Each album will be made up of whatever the curator or selector wants to create. Each contributor can commission new music, spotlighting a particular theme or sound they’re into, or create an album solely of their own music, or any combination of the above. The album that’ll follow mine, for example, is basically a concept album by an artist using all of his own tracks.
How does an Inside Out concept album differ in format from a traditional artist album?
We’re almost reversing the writing process. Each artist has to think ‘okay how am I going to get from point A to point B in terms of vibe,’ and then separate the tracks afterwards. That encourages writing in terms of creating a mix, which for me is the best way to write and to consume electronic music. I don’t think many electronic artist albums work that well to listen to from start to finish. It’s too disjointed having a vocal track at number 3 and so on. That comes with a whole host of problems for the artist. They find it pressured to write in that way -- it’s not particularly natural. The concept for Inside Out is much more fluid.
It makes sense that you say that considering your Simple Records ethos - it's just good music, no matter the genre.
Exactly that. And actually, the range [of artists commissioned for Inside Out] reflects that way of thinking. The third person we have lined up is a UK label owner so he’ll take much more of a curatorial approach. I’m excited about finding the people to do it.
What has that process looked like? Are you going to people you know really well, or are you doing some digging?
A bit of both actually. The response has been wonderful because artists and DJs really like the idea of being given the freedom to go out and approach their favourite artists to write new music, or to write music themselves. I think that’s been inspiring for them.
Having said that, that kind of freedom needs time. They might be producing a whole album’s worth of music which is not without its challenges. I gave myself about a year, just because you have to wait for all the artists to finish their tracks and mix them. I first started talking to the second contributor in August of last year, and that album won’t come out until July this year at the earliest. Ideally, we’ll release between three and give releases per year.
How much have you guided your contributors in terms of tone?
I think I’ve been able to control that a bit on the basis of who I select because I know the kind of artists the DJ or curator surrounds himself with, the kind of music he releases on his record label, the people he’s going to ask for the tracks or, if they’re writing the music themselves, I know their vibe. There’s no pressure to make a dance floor mix - they can feel free to go as left field as they want.
So would it be fair to say that you don’t have any preconceptions about where you’d ideally like the albums to be listened to?
To be honest I would rather they were listened to at home, and could bear multiple repeats. I think mixes are always a bit better when they’re not thrumming for the whole duration to be honest.
What else have you got on your plate aside from Inside Out?
Well, I manage five artists myself - that’s a big part of my working week. As well as heading up A&R at !K7 and running Aus Records, I’ve also been getting back in the studio on my own - I’ve got a lot of solo work coming out at the end of this year. It’s taken a while to get back into it, I’ve got three kids so I don’t have a huge amount of time to myself if any! I’ve had to carve out the odd day here and there, but I’ve loved getting back into it.
Balancing your line of work with your busy family life must be quite intense!
Yeah…I’ve got children aged six, three and one. I’ve done much less touring over the last year since baby number three arrived. It’s been full-on. DJing was pretty good training in terms of how to stay up through the night - though still there’s nothing weirder than setting an alarm for two in the morning and step into the club.
Has that change in pace had an effect on what you’re listening to at home?
Do you know what, I’ve recently really got into using Spotify. Since I started making a playlist on my own page I’ve been finding it an amazing tool in the digging process.
That’s great! The only thing I find now I’ve switched over from mp3s is how few albums I really get to know now. Do you have the same problem?
I still listen to CDs in the car - that’s where I do my album listening. I think the reality is that people consume music in whichever way suits their lives and you can’t fight that. The fact is that Spotify is worth something now (even if it’s not much) so it makes no sense to be puritanical about it.
I guess the ways we’re consuming music has always been evolving over time, and with it the idea what constitutes mainstream music. Electronic music has been really affected by that - how has that manifested at Aus?
Everything goes in cycles in relation to underground genres coming through into pop. It generally cycles between hip-hop, rock and dance music, and the last cycle through was maybe 3-5 years ago. I guess probably it all started peaking with Disclosure really didn’t it. We benefited from it hugely on Aus - particularly in terms of artists like Dusky and George Fitzgerald. But I think it’s already beginning to die down. The kids will grow tired of it and want something that’s not mainstream.
Do you think those artists will modify their sound to make themselves more distinct from the mainstream?
They kind of already have. Joy Orbison is always pushing forward what he’s doing sound wise. Bicep have stuck to their guns in terms of their sound — they’ve become massive simply because they’re really good. Same for Dusky. Arguably they had the biggest potential to go properly pop - if they’d released something earlier with vocals they could potentially have done a Disclosure - but it all comes down to what they wanted for their output I think. It all comes down to keeping things moving, keeping things fresh.