England’s Steve Miller has been heralded as one of the top downtempo producers in the world after releasing a string of top-tier albums since the inception of his Afterlife project. Once a staple in the Ibiza DJing scene, Steve has coupled his love for balearic textures and soundscapes with silky smooth synth-work to secure outstanding collaborations with artists, young and old.
His latest album “Ten Thousand Things” showcases (in full effect) the directions that Steve can take with his productions and introduces a new and refreshing project into an already illustrious catalog.
I spoke with him about his latest release as well as his inspirations and interests.
Prox: Who were some of your greatest musical influences growing up?
Steve: Herbie Hancock, Thelonius Monk, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, J.S.Bach, Airto Moreira,Quincy Jones, Jan Gabarek, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, John Coltrane, anything on the CTI label, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, The Beachboys in their acid period i.e the Surf’s Up album, Velvet Underground, Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Kate Bush, Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Talking Heads, Fela Kuti, Santana, Pat Metheny, Todd Terry, Roger Sanchez, Frankie Knuckles, Freddy Fresh, Prince, Ravi Shankar, Astrud Gilberto, Gilberto Gil, Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes, Les McCann and Eddie Harris, John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane in no particular order.
Prox: Like so many other artists in your genre, Cafe del Mar has played an important role in your career. Could you detail your beginnings there and how much it has impacted your life and work?
Steve: Jose Padilla asked me to write something for Vol 3 which became the track Blue Bar, named after the place I had just spent a lot of time at whilst on holiday in Formentera. It’s still one of the coolest places in the balearic isles. Then he picked another track for Vol 4 and also Vol 6. In 2000 when Hed Kandi signed the Simplicity album, I headlined the Café del Mar 20th Anniversary during the Ibiza mini tour. I have Jose Padilla to thank for picking up on the music I had made for years in my spare time, whilst working with K-Klass on remix work. Jose created the market, Café del Mar was just the vehicle. When Jose stopped compiling that series it changed dramatically in essence.
Prox: You have remained as one of top Downtempo producers out there after all these years. How have you managed to put out so many quality releases? Is this the result of meticulous planning or something else?
Steve: I primarily design my records for private listening on a good hifi or a music festival rig. I’m very careful to have avoided the trend over the last 15 years of hypercompression during mastering commonly known as The Loudness War which is tiring on the ears, loses so much dynamic range, and just doesn’t sound as good either on a Function 1 sound rig or a private hifi.
I delete around 50% of material I start writing. A new day with fresh ears shows up weaknesses in a track, sometimes they are fundamental and need deletion, but that’s fine because I like to push the boundaries by playful craziness, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I don’t really plan anything except to make music that I really like. The acid test is when I wake up in the morning. If I can’t wait to dive into the studio to carry on working on a track because I’m excited by it then that’s a good sign.
Prox: Your work features many other artists. Do you thoroughly enjoy collaborations? What is it about working with others that enhances and nurtures your creative energies?
Steve: I love collaborating with other like minded artists. Bouncing ideas around is healthy and exciting, and looking for fresh approaches to making music is one of the great joys of life to me.
Playing a new instrument has a similar effect. A good example is working with Pete Gooding as No Logo quite recently. He came to the studio in January to work on a track that we had been preparing on and off for the last year, we fired it up and hit play to see what was already there. Then we looked at each other and simultaneously agreed that this was not where we were now and felt rather weak. I deleted the whole file and then we started working in the now and came up with a couple of corkers.
Prox: What were some of the key elements in developing your sound? How would you describe your own flavor?
Steve: I am fascinated by the process of making a record. There are limitless possibilities not just with melody and beats but psychoacoustics also play a large part in what sort of emotional reaction the listener experiences. I have no idea what my flavour is, I like to keep evolving, learning new instruments and recording techniques.
Prox: Which of your release(s) is your favorite? What is the significance of these particular project(s)?
Steve: My remixes of “At Night” by Shakedown and “Banda Sonora” by Guitarra G both for Defected are my favourite remixes. My new album right now is my favourite project but I guess every artist says that and for good reason. Artists evolve and their albums are reflection of how they feel in the present which is always the most exciting time in which to live.
It’s called Ten Thousand Things and will be released on CD 1st July and digital 29th July. It’s significant because I feel it’s quite a departure from my previous works.
Prox: What are some things we can expect from the new album? Does it harken back to your older releases like Speck of Gold?
Steve: Absolutely not. I think it’s a big mistake to cover old ground. The best you can hope for is a pastiche, trying to recall the influences at the time and reflect how you felt in the past isn’t really living in the now, which is where I like to be. It features only 2 vocal tracks. One featuring the incredibly talented and fresh sounding Coppe, a Japanese electronic artist and songwriter who I first met last year whilst producing the DF Tram album, and the other track features Joel Edwards (half of Deepest Blue). The rest are instrumentals I have written in the last 6 months since I bought a Moog, TR8 drum machine, and the new Prophet 6. I turned on the computer, sent midi clock to them all to lock in sync and then turned the computer monitor off for the writing process which was really liberating. I think it’s all too easy to be guided by the grid on a computer screen and all too cumbersome using a mouse to access control surfaces. Flipping through multiple sub menus to tweak a sound blocks the creative process or at least slows it down at precisely the wrong time i.e. when you have a vision in your head and just want to get it out of your head and recorded.
Prox: Aside from the new album, is there any more information you can give us on some upcoming projects or endeavors?
Steve: Balearic, the new label responsible for the first and very beautiful Balearic compilation in 2015 are releasing “The Lost Tapes” – Afterlife & Lenny Ibizarre on 20th May.
3 tracks that we made at his place in Ibiza in 2003 that never saw the light of day due to tour and remix commitments, moving house, and studio twice. I was unpacking archived CDs in January when I found the tracks and just freaked. Jim Breese and Chris Coco thought they sounded as fresh but with that special balearic twist which works so well for their label. Lenny and I are pretty chuffed. I love the minimalist artwork.
Also Secret Life will be releasing the new No Logo single called Tangerine Scream sometime in June, it’s very different too, more electronic.
Prox: Who are some favorite contemporary artists?
Steve: Tennyson stands out above the crowd for me this year. Fearless, playful, willful but incredibly musically mature. I can’t stop playing it.
Coppe has a new album out called 20RPM in red and white vinyl, again pushing musical boundaries. Last year my favourite artist had to be DF Tram, that’s why I wanted to produce the album.
Prox: Favorite hobbies?
Steve: No hobbies as such but I love sailing, preferably single handed, it’s a perfect meditation. There’s no time to think about anything else but what is happening at that moment and it’s so peaceful. I have had the privilege of helming an old Scillonian pilot cutter called Agnes along the Cornish coastline occasionally and that is just heaven.
Prox: Tips for aspiring producers?
Steve: Learn how to listen to music really thoroughly and also play at least one instrument, it’s vital that you understand how a musician feels and how music is created on different instruments. There are a couple of modern instruments for electronic artists that are really interesting and my favourite looks like being the Linnstrument. For laptop enthusiasts, it’s very good too as it’s powered by USB and will control any soft synths as well as hardware.
Get the best monitors you can afford and live with sonically. I love my 10 year old Mackie HR824s and still cannot find a monitor to better the performance for the size, accurate detail, little coloration and really tight and accurate bass response.
Prox: Final thoughts?
Steve: Currently I’m reading How Music Works by David Byrne and can highly recommend it to anyone in the business of making music.
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