Out today via the magnificent Jalapeño Records is Stratos Bleu, the new album from Newcastle’s finest electro-jazz/soul pioneers Smoove & Turrell, essentially producer Smoove and lyricist / singer John Turrell. At the helm of a formidable funk machine, Smoove & Turrell are capable of throwing out funk / soul / house mash-ups or quite as easily hone in on one, and produce tracks such as the brilliant Fade Away, which attracted out attention earlier in the year and provided a sighter of what was to come in this, their sixth album.
Easy to review (in a sentence, It’s dancefloor gold with Summery vibes that traverse funk music of all kinds, and leave you breathless and, essentially, happy. And not many records can do that) we decided to dig deeper, and so we got Smoove to give us a detailed rundown of all the tracks on the album.
So turn the lights down (or close the curtains), pour yourself a drink and get dressed up. Then play out the album (loud, preferably) and read the stories behind each track as you go.
This song was originally inspired by our DJ PA sound-sytems, as a scratch DJ, I suggested to John, that we do a scratch call and response kind of song and the phrase “Do It” just popped up. We both loved this instant upbeat vibe but we didn’t find the right music until we had a recording session with our Guitarist Lloyd Wright who found the crucial synth pad sound that formed the basis for the song. Neil Harland suggested laying down some slap bass and gave me 2/3 versions, and in the end I used the busiest take, which seemed to fit best. Lyrically we wanted something uplifting and bit cheeky a sort of call to arms for all the procrastinators of the world, ourselves included, just DO IT!!
It Ain’t Workin’
This one is inspired by early Detroit House music which has always been a big influence in our DJ sets. The idea was to create something very stripped back and simple so it was an interesting challenge as I am used to stacking many layers in my production. Lloyd Wright had bought a loads of weird guitar FX pedals and was busy experimenting with them, when he wrote the guitar riff that actually sounds like a synth. This sound became the main hook and the pads and synth bass fell into place pretty quick. The cherry on the cake was when John decided to shout OY!The song is about how tough the music industry actually is, you make an album and you think yes this is the one we are definitely going to break through with this and low and behold you just miss out. The OY part is a sort of cry, “Hey look we are here and we are creating great music”.
Our infamous lunatic friend Mike Porter originally sparked this idea off with his keyboard riff and chords. I remember struggling with the drum programming as I couldn’t get the groove to work right, but in the end the mighty cowbell came out and saved the day! We had been working with a Gospel Choir from Newcastle called Voices Of Virtue so the idea was to collaborate at some point on one of our S&T recordings so this song seemed perfect for that occasion! Memories feature heavily in any writing session and I had an idea about writing a whole song about one glorious day in my childhood. The Elgin towers were two 1950s blocks which had lost their glory pretty much the day they had been built. I was there the day they blew them up with my two best mates and my uncle. The scene reminded me of a famous painting of the Blaydon Races, all the characters a carnival of the weird and wonderful, all together to watch the destruction. We met Jimmy Forsyth a famous photographer and we insisted on taking his picture. I think it was the first time anyone had ever turned his lens round on him.
I was with John and Mike when we created the bones of this song in one afternoon but didn’t realise its potential until we listened to it back until a few weeks later. The synth and piano parts are totally harking back to our old school rave days in the late 80’s early 90’s. the original baseline wasn’t grooving at all and I was really struggling to find the right groove but after numerous failed attempts, Neil Harland came to the rescue again with his pumping, punk-funk baseline which instantly sprang the tune to life. At the time we were going through an election and I just wanted us write a song that nailed what everyone was feeling. Unfortunately it didn’t go the way I wanted but there’s always next time. If we can get it right this time, we gotta!
Never Wanted You More
This one has Ibiza written all over due to the Balearic feel in the production but John & Neil started this one off from a mutual love of Jan Hammer. I have a great unit around me, my family are a constant source of love that grounds me even on my most diva of days. My wife is an amazing artist and her paints and inks are always lying around her studio. I wanted to write her a song that didn’t directly say I love you so I used the colours of her paints to describe what I felt.
Still Don’t Know
This is actually a remake of an old S&T song called You Don’t Know that we had remixed by Dutch producers Kraak & Smaak. We loved the remix so much, we decided to replicate the remix in to our live sets, which went down so well we thought it would be a great idea to record it for our new album.
This was allot of fun in the studio with Mike & John we were literally jumping around the studio when this came together.The bass sound came from a new bass peddle called Zeus, which crudely gated the bass notes. Neil was actually demonstrating this peddle at band rehearsals (rare) and I absolutely loved the crazy punk funk sound that had loads of grit so suggested we make a track with this sound. I wanted to write a track that harked back to that feeling I got attending my fist rave. That wonderful feeling that we are all in this together here in this building for one night. The only way I could describe what I felt was pure emotional pleasure so it seemed an ideal hook. The rest of the track really speaks for itself.
Another early Detroit House inspired track that actually started from a string sample from an obscure record. John sang the long drawn out phrase “its you” and I processed his voice to sound like a sample, also adding vinyl static beneath his vocal. The vibe was jazzy and mellow which was just what the album needed so we invited Graham Hardy to record some beautiful trumpet that really set the song off.People live their lives digitally now constantly on Facebook projecting a self that’s not real. In the mean time they aren’t doing the things that bring real joy. Life is not about a digital like it’s about actual love of other humans from meeting up and spending time together. Something I think this imposed lockdown will have taught us all.
Talk About Nothing
I had been wanting to write something downbeat for months with a minimal kind of production after I had tried a few things but nothing seemed to work. I played loads of these ideas to John one day when we stumbled on an idea I had made using filtered pads and a heavy Hip Hop drum sound. Suddenly something connected between myself and John as he put pen to paper to write lyrics about personal family issues. we jigged a few chords around stripped back the drums and sequenced the song up in one afternoon. The following day Neil Harland played double bass and bowed bass which was al the track needed- the song was literally finished on that day!Talking one to one has become so difficult in an age that lets you rant on line and get the typical “It’s gonna be ok hun” kind of response. I know from personal experience, close friends committing suicide feeling unable to talk and share their darkest fears. Add to this being a teenager in a world of the perfect online stars its hard to know how they fit into this false air brushed world. I wanted to let my little humans know I’m there for them at all times even if they want to talk about nothing.
Our Bassist, Neil Harland sparked this one off when he sent a sketch of the song in an email. I loved the vibe straight away so I set about programming a broken beat type of drum which sounded a bit robotic but groovy at the same time. John wanted to try singing with lazy approach, so we turned up the mic and he got really close up to catch that sleazy vibe. Again a song that really tries to encapsulate the emptiness that living your life wanting to be constantly admired at every turn can bring nothing but loneliness. “Is it enough to get noticed enough to carry on, I can see the reason that you’ve been feeling so down so long”.