Somewhere close to the core of British music - working far beyond the glitz, the glamour and the fame - is Fraser T Smith.
With a journey that starts as a guitarist, alongside a yet-to-be discovered Craig David, the refined musician has grafted his way to becoming an integral part to some of the UK’s most highly praised projects. Collaboration is at the heart of what Fraser T Smith does, whether that be writing for the likes of Adele, spending time in the studio with Britney Spears, or (hitting perhaps closer to home), taking onboard Stormzy’s album ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ as executive producer.
Yet it's now time for the multi-disciplinarian to release a solo project, one that took form as last year’s Future Utopia venture ‘12 Questions’ - an inquisitive album that invites discussion surrounding themes of conflict, ecology, equality and more. In 2021, we now have ‘12 Questions After Dark’ which re-imagines its predecessor through an electronic lens. Holding a mutual admiration for each-other’s artistry, Swedish powerhouse DJ Seinfeld welcomed Fraser’s calling to take ‘Do We Really Care? Pt.2’ into his own hands, blooming a collaborative relationship between the two.
Clash sat down with Fraser T Smith and DJ Seinfeld to discuss the new project, their creative processes and the emotional
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Clash: Both highly regarded within your own spheres, whether that be through production or DJing, what was it like to come together for a project like ‘12 Questions After Dark’? What does the creative process of making a remix and reimagining one's own work entail?
Fraser T Smith: I have been a big fan of yours, Armand, for a long time. I love the way that you're able to use genres within the electronic realm. I came through when I was in my 20s, working with people like Tim Deluxe, and Darren Emerson. Seeing dance music then, which felt quite amazing, but also quite segregated, the genres felt very strict in terms of DJs playing things in a certain lane. I think that, you are to me, at the forefront of this new wave and have been for a while of DJs that are coming. You have your own sound, but you're also very eclectic.
DJ Seinfeld: Well, I'm not used to these kind of compliments this early during the day! I was obviously extremely honoured when the offer to do the remix came in. My strategy or my team’s strategy has always been to be as unpredictable as possible when it comes to remixes. I felt like the core elements of what I usually base my music around, which is the piano, the harmonies and sometimes even the spoken word, they were there so it allowed me to be quite free, and recontextualize that into my own little style of making remixes. You were also nice when we talked about about the remix and the process for it, you were sort of like giving me a free rein to do what I want. And that always helps.
Fraser T Smith: The basis behind Future Utopia is that is it's a very free kind of project. I know how busy you were at that time making your own record and I think we spoke about that. I remember a time when I was working on the Stormzy record and Damon Albarn called me to help work on a record of his, a Gorillaz record, and I felt like that was the last thing that I could possibly do. But you know, I think it's sometimes quite a nice little diversion, to do something completely different. Did you find that, did it help like coming back to your record or was it just a really annoying distraction?
DJ Seinfeld: I think it really made me think and realise that there's only so much vulnerability in the creative process of writing an extended work. So when I sort of removed myself from the context of working on the album and started working on the remix, I was already in this kind of vulnerable state of mind. I was so insecure about a lot of things but when I allowed myself to be distracted, and actually work on something completely different for a couple of weeks, I then came back to the album project with a renewed attitude.
I realised that most of my music that I write, that I find to be the best, are usually done during a time where I do feel vulnerable. Especially during the end and final stages of an album being written, you're at the most vulnerable stage. You're highly insecure, you're doubting everything about the record. I think that's why that remix came about, because I was so on edge. I think that remix, I owned the ideas, they came flowing very, very fast to me.
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Fraser: That makes me feel good, because I mean, I definitely relate. Having worked on other people's records, ‘12 Questions’ being my first to come out, I really have so much respect now for everyone that releases their own music. When it's not your name on the work you can, you know, cheer on from the sidelines but ultimately, yeah, I think I really relate to what you’re saying in terms of being very vulnerable. And I felt that this record, similarly to you, it took me to some depths of kind of an imposter syndrome because sometimes I slip into like, self loathing at times.
You just feel like why am I doing this? I think it's part of the process, but it's very, very painful at times. It's like a creative birthing. It's interesting that your record, having been made in lockdown, to me has like, and please tell me to shut up or disagree with me, but has this more anthemic, kind of joyous quality. Did you find that creating this in lockdown was different from your previous projects?
DJ Seinfeld: I would say so I mean, I was just sort of determined to…for me it felt like a kind of a make it or break it point where I first signed on to Ninja Tune. I'd been DJing non-stop for a long time, I didn't really have time to sit down and actually work on music for a longer period of time.
So when I first started writing this album, I realised I was so far away from where I imagined myself to be in terms of the skill, the writing ability and technicalities of making a good record. So [I] didn't think about it in terms of being a pandemic album, I was just like, ok, I need to become way better at everything than what I was in the last few years. It took some time but I, again, the things that you mentioned with imposter syndrome, I couldn't relate more to that. It's almost bizarre for me to hear that from somebody so accomplished.
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Clash: Just drawing from what Seinfeld has just said... Fraser, what made you want to take ‘12 Questions’ in a new and different direction?
Fraser T Smith: I think, because 12 Questions initially came about through certain anxieties I had in relation to the wealth gap and AI and that's where the questions came in. I didn't know that this was necessarily going to be a record, I thought it could be a documentary or something cinematic. With this record I had so many years of musical experience and influence that I wanted to put out in this kind of 70s, hip-hop through to electronica and so, it becomes like this sort of cinematic journey which is pretty uncompromising and kind of quite trippy at times. I felt that my love for electronic music just needed to… I felt that the quality of the answers that I got, still could give birth to something new. So I just started experimenting, using the vocals and the spoken words that I had the acapellas over like, traditional songs. How would Idris Elba sound like on a Christian Smith tune and then just going into some Melé stuff and trying like Alysia Nicole Harris on that.
I did a mix, a little mixtape for my manager Phil and I said “look, I'm really excited about about what I'm doing here” And then he said “well, why don't we just take it to the next level and start approaching some of your favourite people to reimagine this” It's about a reimagination, where we can take the initial questions into this other dimension and I feel like we've done that.I’m interested in asking you, I hear the elements of garage, more of a UK sound and I guess that's always been a love of mine, do you draw on any of that stuff? Or is it mainly the US stuff?
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DJ Seinfeld: I think without a doubt, the person that has most influenced my music is Burial. I started with Chicago house and techno when I was 15,16, getting my teeth into like dance music and go to raves. I remember we rented a cabin in the Swedish woods with some high school friends of mine and it was like 2, 3AM and we're listening to Burial, the track ‘Etched Headplate’, which is probably my favourite one of his.
Fraser: That is an amazing visual. 3AM, Burial, he would say that is the that is the goal for his music.
DJ Seinfeld: That just stuck with me and everything that I tend to try and do is usually channelled through what I think he was doing, which was creating these small worlds that only he himself can probably really relate to, but we can all sort of take part of that journey. The UK is just always pushing something, there's always something new happening, and if it's not something new, it's a take on something old, which is just done in a much more interesting and way. So yeah, I'm definitely a nerd when it comes to the UK dance music industry.
Clash: What do you think your next steps lie? Can we anticipate perhaps another collaboration between you two?
Fraser: I would love to collaborate with you from scratch. I feel that my music is now heading towards a more electronic place and I think now that the world’s opening up, to be able to see wherever you are and hang out in the studio for a day or two would be a dream. So let's put that out there.
DJ Seinfeld: I would love that more than anything. Yeah, absolutely. I think just from talking to you and listening to what you have done, I think we would really enjoy that process. So let's do that.
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'12 Questions After Dark' is out now.
Words: Ana Lamond
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