London’s Paul Hardcastle is one of the progenitors of synthesizer based dance and electro-house and can be directly linked to it’s smooth transition into the mainstream musical strata. Inspired by bands like Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, and Black Sabbath, Paul began to commit himself to music and produce some of the earliest crossover electronica hits.The smash hits “19” (an anti-war anthem featuring chopped voiceover from Peter Thomas repeating the titular number) and “Rainforest” (a groovy atmospheric wonder) made Paul a household name in the 1980s and the inspiration for an entire generation for aspiring musicians.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Paul began the ultra-successful Jazzmasters (which segued into the Hardcastle releases) catalogue which has become a staple for those initiated to the long running series. With his electronically tinged, ibiza inspired stylings, Paul has done a commendable job at staying relevant with his super deep and expansive discography (that has also translated into numerous awards and overwhelming critical responses within his respective genre).
Undoubtedly cemented in music history, Paul continues to evolve and expand his musical repertoire.
Prox: Who were some of your musical influences growing up? Were you affected by the synth-wave movement of the late 70s and 80s?
Paul: So when I was growing up my favorite bands were people like Hawkwind, Black Sabbath, and Deep purple. I was a real rock nutcase and I think it was the whole Hawkwind thing that basically got me into synthesizers. They used to use a lot of synths on their albums and listening to them I just thought “wow, i’d love to be able to do that” so I bought my first synthesizer because it made some wind noises and some strange sounds and because that’s what Hawkwind used to use. When I used to make those noises with one finger, I felt like a real rockstar because I could do what Hawkwind was doing.
Prox: “19” and “Rainforest” were both smash Dance hits that effectively helped put Electro-Funk and Techno at the forefront of mainstream music during that time. What was the primary motivation for you to begin producing Jazz tracks after so much success in Dance music?
Paul: So after the dance thing there was obviously D train as well as 19 and Rainforest. I did the D train stuff and I did loads of other stuff then.
I’m not really Jazz. They call it Smooth Jazz but i’m not really a Jazz musician at all. I use a saxophone in a lot of my tracks so people automatically put that into the Jazz type of thing but I just wanted to do something a little bit different. I had sort of done Dance music to death and so I wanted to get a bit more mellow. What you hear on the Jazzmasters is really more chilled out, rainforesty types of grooves really.
Prox: Do you remember the creative process for the first installment in the now legendary "Jazzmasters" series? What were some of your feelings going into it?
Paul: So basically I was making some up-tempo, mellow tracks, and I thought it would be nice to maybe have it be led by a sax instead of vocals or synths and stuff like that. Obviously there's loads of synths and keyboards and different elements in it, but it was basically using the sax to do melodies and it worked out really well! I’m up to Jazzmasters 7 now and it's been very, very successful in America.
Prox: Perceptions of Pacha is rather different from many of your previous outings. What is the significance of the title and this project? Did any special experiences lead to the creation of this release?
Paul: A few years ago Pacha came to me and asked if I would do one of their series called "Perceptions of Pacha" and I was quite vibe to do it actually because that meant I could go back to my Dance roots and do something much more uptempo and not so melodic. I recorded ten tracks for Perceptions of Pacha and they asked me if I could mix them all together so it was one mix (I was easily able to do that because i’ve been doing that for years so it’s nothing new to me) and I did have good fun! I had really good fun doing that and they really liked the album over in Ibiza and stuff. Funny enough, my daughter became the resident DJ in the Pacha club last year so it’s been kept in the family and I really enjoyed the Pacha thing. Going back to my Dance roots was a breath of fresh air for me.
Prox: Quite of few of your tracks have a tribal & ethnic influence (via atmosphere and title), what is about these cultures that inspires you?
Paul: I've used some samples of tribes and things like that and I think that it's good to use ethnic percussion and things like that if you're doing a Dance track or if you’re doing a track that's mainly electronic. If you add real, live instruments, then it takes you into different realms of sorts and it doesn't sound so electronic all the way through.
Some of the titles i’ve looked at you know because it's very dancey and ethnic so it’s easy for me to just name them in that genre really. Like there is one called "Journey of the Lost Tribes" which is a real out there kind of track but in the middle of it is chanting from a tribe. So yeah, there’s nothing strange about it, those are just the kind of titles that influence me really.
Prox: Is it ever difficult to seamlessly incorporate the synthetic sounds of electronica into your brand of Smooth Jazz? What were some of the initial growing pains of this approach?
Paul: Well it's quite easy to incorporate synthetic sounds and electronica into Smooth Jazz really and I've always been the one to try and do that. They don’t do it as much in America and I guess that's why I sound different. I always take different elements and things because one of my favorite bands is Pink Floyd and if you listen to what they do you know that they're always putting strange things into their music and stuff. I think it gives it a little bit of an edge and everyone else (with the Smooth Jazz side of things) tends to play it very safe where as i’ll put different bits and pieces in my tracks and try to make them a little bit more chill as well. I always believed in being different and I think that's what's kept me... I won’t say ahead of everyone else, but at least different from everyone else.
Prox: How much has the landscape of Jazz/Smooth Jazz changed since you initially got into production up until today? What are some pros and cons of these changes?
Paul: Well I wouldn't say the landscape of Jazz has changed really. I'm not really into Jazz, Smooth Jazz is what i'm into and that's nothing like straight ahead Jazz but this music has stayed the same since it's inception really which was around I would say the mid-80s. I think the reason it was so easy it for me to get into that format is because of the track Rainforest which was a mega hit in America and some of the people in America know that more than they do 19 so it's not changed very much I think. To be honest with you though, I've tried to change it and kinda mixed chill, Ibiza type of music in with the smooth jazz element and it's worked very well for me. As I say, it's made me sound different from the American sound that you get in L.A and stuff. So I'm happy to keep doing that as well and keeping the British flag flying. Especially because I won Billboard's Smooth Jazz Artist of the Year about five years back now and I also won Best British Smooth Jazz Artist the year before so yeah i've done ok with it.
Prox: With such a prolific and storied catalogue, can you pick a favorite release? Which album do you felt best describes what you’re trying to say with your work?
Paul: Well I think I've got two favorite albums in this stuff I'm doing now. I would say "Hardcastle 5" which is where I really changed and sort of started doing really chill, Ibiza type of stuff and that was a really good one for me so that was one I won an award for. Also "Hardcastle 7" which is the latest Hardcastle album and that's more chill and Dance so I guess it's less of the Smooth Jazz stuff. I think them two albums really sum up what I've sort of been trying to sort of get to say. Also, if you look on something like Amazon (the American Amazon) and you look at the critics, I think there is something like 200 reviews and I think 185 of have all been five stars so I guess the people think that as well!
Prox: What would you say is the key to staying relevant and consistent in such a competitive field?
Paul: I think the key to staying relevant and consistent is the fact that I do change from album to album and I always bring lots of different elements into my music. I've used saxophone, trumpet, guitar (I play the guitar myself so I use that) and I have done lots of vocal tracks. I've even had my daughter singing and my son Paul Junior plays sax as well so it's been a bit of a family affair on certain albums. Now though, I just change my sound and do totally different things. There isn't much I wouldn't put a record.
Prox: You’ve influenced an entire generation of musicians, with many Lounge, Jazz, and Dance producers citing you as having a direct impact on their sound. How does it feel to know that you’ve left your mark on music history?
Paul: When people say to me that I was responsible for them either getting into music or influenced them or made them want to start off, that's a great thing for me. It's quite an honor to have people actually admit they've followed you for a long time. There are a few people though (I won't mention names) but they do sound very much like me, maybe a little bit too much sometimes but hey you know "imitation is the highest form of flattery". It's a great vibe for people to say that I helped start their careers off and you know it's great! What more can I say about that. It's brilliant.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite contemporary artists that you would recommend to the readers?
Paul: I must be honest with you and say that I don't really listen to too much dance music anymore because I just find that a lot of it is very similar. One problem is that you've got so many sample CDs. I know I'm to blame for a little bit of that as well because I think I had one of the very first sample CDs (back in 1988 I think), it was called "The Wizard" from the Top of the Pops thing I did and so I don't listen to too much dance music because I just think everyone uses the same CD samples and stuff.
In the Smooth Jazz type of stuff there's Paul Taylor, he's really good but I still listen to old sorts of music. There is this Isley Brothers track called "Go for Your Guns" things like that. I mean I still listen to Pink Floyd, but I don't tend to listen to too much new stuff if I'm being honest with you. I sort of have so much music in my head after i'm in the studio for a long time so I tend not to listen to music too much.
Prox: Favorite hobbies?
Paul: I like cycling, driving motorbikes, rebuilding motorbikes, and I got a few cars that I like to do up and things like that. So yeah, things that don't really involve music although I have done TV themes and film music so I still enjoy that as well. Mainly, I enjoy doing stuff outside. I like going to football still, I'm a Chelsea supporter also, not that we can brag about that this year.
Prox: Information on upcoming projects and endeavors?
Paul: I'm working on a new album called "Hardcastle History" it's going to be a four CD set and i'm recording new stuff for that. I'm also going to do an hour mix of the chill stuff I've done and we're going to do a whole album of the vocal tracks, and maybe one of the more up-tempo stuff and more dancey stuff. That's going to come out around Christmas so I'm looking forward to doing that.
Prox: Tips for aspiring artists?
Paul: I think if you're an artist my advice to you is really stick to your guns and don't make records for anyone else. If you sign to a record label they always want to change you and you don't really need in a label that much anymore unless you're a real Pop band where they have to spend a lot of money on you.
I say have fun doing it and don't go into it or make records thinking "I'm gonna make a lot of money". You have to love it and then hopefully you do well and the rewards can are really good. But it's harder in the music business now, in fact it's very hard so you must be careful.
Prox: Final thoughts?
Paul: Well I just hope the people enjoy reading this and for you guys out there trying to make music, I hope it goes well for you and hopefully you can listen to my stuff as well. Thanks a lot, cheers. Take care.