In The Studio with Faze Action
Faze Action were named Traxsource’s number one Nu Disco artist of 2014 and it was Robin and Simon Lee’s unique knack for taking timeless sounds and reinventing them for future generations that makes Faze Action what it is today. Their unique mixture of musical elements, from disco to Latin and jazz with proper house music sensibilities, is what keeps the forward-thinking brothers ahead of the curve. Whether the London based duo are in the studio or playing sets to festival crowds, their devotion to delivering music with both depth and accessibility has earned the respect of loyal and new fans around the world.
With their latest label offering climbing the Traxsource Nu-Disco/Indie Dance Top 10, we decided to get an in-depth tour and exclusive interview In The Studio with Faze Action about their favourite tools of the trade and much more.
1) What equipment do you have in your studio?.
Faze Action HQ is a deceptively simple studio.
Adam A8X’s. I must have tried every pair monitors on the market and eventually I knew I had to have them.
• Mac Pro (2009)
• OSX Yosemite
• Logic X
• Ableton Live 9
• Ouch 2009 Mac. We are definitely due an upgrade soon! ha
• Fender Rhodes Mark II Stage 73 Piano
• Sequential Circuits 6 Trak Analogue Synth
• Yamaha SY55 Digital Synth
• Nord Stage EX Digital Stage Piano
• M-Audio Axiom 61 Keyboard Controller
• Alesis HR16 Drum Machine
We’ve never gone crazy on needing the latest synth or toy. We’ve always made do with what we had around us and we’ve been lucky enough to acquire a few simple instruments over the course of our journey. It’s funny how you go away from some instruments only to come back to them years later with a different appreciation; that is how I feel about the old Yamaha SY55. It sounds like 1990 but it’s not a Korg M1. The Rhodes is our pride and joy. It’s been on the road with us in a huge flight case all the way to Vietnam, Malaysia and a few places in between. I got it for a few hundred pounds in my second year at university. That was a very long time ago! ha
• Fender Jazz Bass (Vintage Reissue 1995)
• Lakland Skyline 55-01 5 string bass (Natural Wood Finish)
• Squier Stratocaster Guitar (Vintage Modified 70’s)
• Hohner Nylon Strung Acoustic Guitar
• Ian & David White hand crafted ‘cello
The Cello is a very special instrument to me as it was really my first love. Playing it is really comfortable because it is like a huge hug and this particular Cello saw me through my music degree days. It was actually hand crafted by Ian White (principle violinist for the BBC symphony orchestra back in the 1980’s) and his son, the talented viola player and guitarist, David White (who was actually the guitarist for 1980’s boy band Brother Beyond!). Equally, I have a great love for the Fender Jazz Bass that I bought in Japan in 1995, whilst living in Osaka. It’s seen plenty of Faze Action live er… action and has been around the world several times. It’s also featured on the most amount of Faze Action records including our last album (Body Of One) and it even made it’s way on to a few sessions as well, including Phil Mison’s remix of “Echoes Of Your Mind” out now on Traxsource.
• Rhode NT2
We’ve used it on literally everything since 2002 and it is pretty beat up.
NOTE: Click the images for large versions
2) What is your favourite piece of equipment to use in the studio and why?
My favourite piece of equipment changes all the time, but over the last few years I have come to love the old Sequential Circuits 6 Trak. It was given to me by Copyright Productions maestro Gavin Mills whilst we were making our fourth studio album ‘Stratus Energy’. It’s actually one of the first analogue synths to have MIDI I/O and even though it’s controls are very cut down, it kind of lives and breathes. Everything that comes out of it seems to cut through the mix like a hot knife through butter.
3) Give us some insight into your production process. How do you typically begin constructing a track?
Our method for constructing our productions has changed enormously over the years. When we first started we did what everybody else does, which is to work a track from the ground up. Start with the drums and percussion, work a bass line and then build it up part by part. But recently we have started doing it the other way around. By that I mean that we will write the top line first. Doing it that way, we have found, opens up way more possibilities in terms of production. After all, if you are in dance music then doing drums is going to come naturally to you but coming up with a song with lyrics and a hooky chorus or an evocative synth line is going to be a bit more of a challenge. We’ve never shirked from the responsibilities of writing the material ourselves. In a lot of ways, we are writers first and producers second because you can’t produce thin air; you have to have some musical ideas to start with.
4) What piece of studio equipment or production process defines your sound?
I’ve always thought of Faze Action as being very diverse so it is quite hard to pinpoint a piece of equipment or a process that actually defines us. A lot of people would probably say that the Cello is the key sound that defines us because of the success of tracks such as “In The Trees”. In terms of production processes, then it would probably be our use of triple tracking. All the Cello’s and vocals on our records tend to be triple tracked and the reason for that is that we have always been drawn to very solid sounding ideas and when you triple track you really have to nail what those ideas are. They take on an unworldly gravitas and in some ways it feels that when we do that, it really means that we truly believe what it is that we are creating.
5) What piece of hardware/software elevated your production to a higher level & how?
When you work for long periods of time, your ears start to play tricks on you. We are always told to trust our ears but when you get tired, things can start to go wrong. I found that the Waves PAZ Frequency helped me focus on shaping the balance of sounds in our productions. Most EQ plug ins these days have some kind of frequency analysis but before all of that happened, this helped a lot. The second great plug in that I’ve come to really enjoy is FXpansions BFD Eco. It’s a virtual drum studio with multiple outputs that allows you to really mould something that sounds a lot like a live drum performance. Being huge disco fans, it is almost the holy grail of disco production to be able to create live sounding drums that are big enough to play next huge sounding house records, whilst still retaining that live magic.
6) What fresh equipment have you recently added to the lab?
The latest addition to the studio is the Squier Stratocaster electric guitar. We used to borrow guitars from friends and as such I never really got any good at actually playing the thing, so we thought it was about time that we got one of our own.
7) Your essential studio supplies are?
When it comes to studio supplies, Simon is a coffee drinker but I am much more of a tea drinker. We used to chain smoke cigarettes all day long but we saw the light and managed to quit.
8) What list of artists have influenced your sound?
The list of artists that have influenced us over the years is immense. Larry Levan, Mizell Brothers, Rinder & Lewis, Earth, Wind & Fire, Roy Ayres, Steely Dan, Sergio Mendes, Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius, Francois Kervorkian, Frankie Knuckles, Walter Gibbons, Brahms, Chopin, Debbusy. The list goes on…
9) Give us 3 of your favourite personal productions.
Of the music that we have produced, perhaps the one that seems to capture peoples imagination the most is “In The Trees”. There has been such a lot of music over the years though, that it is difficult to choose just three. Personally, I’ve always been proud of “I Wanna Dancer” that features the vocals of Mary Moore. On the last album “Stuck” is a real departure for us with it’s acoustic and hypnotic atmosphere and we are also really pleased with “Magic Touch” which features on our latest EP called Remixes #1.
• ‘In The Trees’
• ‘I Wanna Dancer’
10) Any handy studio tips you would like to pass onto producers out there?
If I had one tip to pass on to a producer, it would be this; write the music first and then produce it. If it doesn’t capture your imagination being hummed or strummed then it will probably become a really long and tiring process.
11) What new production should your fans be on the lookout for at Traxsource soon?
We really hope that people check out our latest EP on Traxsource entitled Remixes #1. It features remixes of “Magic Touch” by ourselves and the amazing Dicky Trisco who has turned out a fantastic dub rework. On the flip side is Phil Mison’s remix of “Echoes Of Your Mind” featuring the vocals of Faze Action mainstay Zeke Manyika. Phil is one of our favourite DJs. In fact he is probably the most underrated DJ on the planet and he plays a mean guitar too. Finally, there is the enigmatic “Floating World” mixed by Chuggy; that manages to bring all of the mystery of the original to the fore.