If you've haven't heard of Chase & Status (AKA Saul Milton and Will Kennard), don't fret.
For ten years, the British duo has been making music, spanning everything from classic UK garage to dubstep and drum 'n' bass. But around 2009, pop star Rihanna came calling, looking for a sound that would show a new side of her. The result was her wildly successful Rated R album, featuring three tracks produced by Chase & Status. The pair would also produce cuts for her albums Talk That Talk and Unapologetic.
But as artists in their own right, Milton and Kennard have released two albums, with a third, Brand New Machine, on the way. We spoke to Milton about how he and Kennard have survived as a duo for a decade, how America's new EDM craze has changed his expectations, and what it's like producing music for the world's most famous pop stars.
New Times: It's been ten years of you and Will making music together as Chase & Status. Why do you think your partnership works so well?
Saul Milton: We've been friends for a long time, a lot longer than we've been releasing music. It's like a marriage — I'm actually married in real life — but our relationship is like a marriage in that there are a lot of ups and downs and you spend so much time with someone. I've seen him at least five days a week for the last 12 or 13 years. When you see someone so much, you understand what they are about. Certainly, there are some things we don't see eye to eye, but when it comes to music, that's the one thing we can agree on. A lot of the music throughout our lives has kept us in tune.
You guys were really the pioneers of DJs working with pop acts, like Rihanna and Tinie Tempah. Have you enjoyed working with mainstream artists?
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If someone is cool and has a nice vibe, I don't care if you are mainstream or underground, I'm happy to work with you. Obviously, if you're a dickhead, then I don't want to work with you. For instance, Rihanna started early in 2009. We released our first album in October 2008, and she heard it and loved it. She told us: "I want you to bring that stuff to what I do — that kind of flavor and aggression." And for someone so huge like her to say, "Let's just do you," was incredible. It was a great feeling. Never did we feel we had to compromise what we do, because we were never going to do that. People like her, Jay Brown, and Roc Nation are really forward-thinking and brave. They were the first mainstream people to tap into what we were doing, and we wrote a lot of the album Rated R. It was a great entrance into that world for us. I'm interested in making music for mainstream artists as a separate thing from what I'm doing with Chase & Status. We got two careers we can do: We can do it for ourselves, and we can do it for other people. That just opens a whole other world of inspiration. I do stuff for Rihanna that I wouldn't do for myself.
In the UK, you've had a lot of success. You are signed to a major label, Mercury. Your last record was released in 2011, on the cusp of America's EDM craze. Are you excited to see how the U.S. reacts to a new Chase & Status album now that everyone is a fan of the genre?
Yes, of course. It's exciting to see that you all get it now. When we were coming out there in 2006, it wasn't a big deal. It's exciting that this record might get more attention and get into people's ears. On the flip side, we don't write music for success; we write music because we like writing music. Thankfully, it's done well for us and it's been successful.
Our last album was basically the most British album you could ever get. We had one American feature, and that was Cee Lo, and he was talking about an area called Brixton in London, talking about the Brixton briefcase, which is slang for a ghetto blaster. It was an Anglophile album. But this new album has more international features. We've got a big track we're excited about with Pusha T called "Machine Gun" — that might appeal more to Americans than previous records of ours. It's a great feeling to know that this music might travel more, but by no means am I expecting to be on the Billboard Hot 100, radio stations, and flying around like we are superstars.