Chase & Status on America and EDM: "It's Exciting to See That You All Get It Now"
If you've haven't heard of Chase & Status (AKA Saul Milton and Will Kennard), don't fret.
For 10 years, the British duo has been making music together, 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, and quickly change the public perception of her from Chris Brown's beating victim to a strong independent woman. 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 managed to survive as a duo for 10 years, 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.
UPDATE Unfortunately, Chase & Status have canceled their Mansion Miami show. "Chase & Status are unable to perform in Miami this Friday," the club tells us, "but are working on rescheduling for a future date. Refunds available via wantickets.com."
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Crossfade: It's been 10 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.
What happens when you don't see eye to eye?
Like marriage or friendship, we don't always agree. But when it comes to music, that's the one thing we don't like to compromise on. When you release a song, it will be there until the end of time, so you have to be happy with the product. If I do something and Will hates it, we're not going to use it, and vice versa. But that doesn't really happen, because we don't hate stuff we do. That's why we've been working together for over ten years. After a lot of time of understanding each other, you just get into the groove of what works.
You've played in Miami before, at Ultra and nightclubs. What do you enjoy about our city?
It's a legendary city. You go to Miami and you often think to yourself, I should go to the gym a bit more. [Laughs] There's a great vibe during [Winter Music Conference], and Ultra is always great one to do. Especially what's being going on lately with dance music. Or as they call it in the States, EDM. With the explosion, you are seeing all these new faces and kids getting into it. It's incredible to see how much this music has taken off in America and how much you guys love it. It's inspiring and exciting for us to go somewhere where people really get it now. A few years ago, the American market wasn't anything like it is now. It's changed so much and it's such an exciting place to be now. We can't wait to get back.
Funny that you should mention EDM, because as Chase & Status, you guys were really the pioneers of DJs working with pop acts like Rihanna and Tinie Tempah. Have you enjoyed working with mainstream artists?
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.
Does producing music for yourself and producing music for someone else fulfill a different part of you creatively?
Completely. If I'm making music for you, you tell me the vibe. That might not suit my record or what I want to do, but I'm still able to express that with you and your project. But when it comes down to my personal project with Chase & Status, we do what we want. It's also a good discipline, because you tell them what you think they should do, and usually, the artist goes along with it. But it's a different skill set.
Is producing music for someone else based on trust? The artist could say easily say, "Hand over the music to me and I'm going to do what I want to do."
It comes to a stage that if there is something in a song that they love and I don't love it, so be it. It's not mine and it's not for me. But when it comes to decision making, it's in somebody else's hands, because it's not your record.
What we don't do is write a beat for someone else, finish it, and let someone else change it. We don't want someone else going in and saying, "I changed the bass line. I change these notes." We would never do that.
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 States react 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 ghettoblaster. 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.
The album is called Brand New Machine. What can we expect? Will it be classic Chase & Status?
You've got some new stuff that we've been doing ourselves for a long time, but we just finally got around to putting on a record. You've got all different types of music on there, really. It's a real nod to the '90s. It shows our inspiration. There is a nostalgia for what inspired us to make records -- hardcore, early rave, early jungle, that early-'90s phase in Bristol where people like Portishead and Massive Attack were doing certain things. All that is on our album -- the inspiration of where we're from. You've also got the tracky elements, you've got East Coast '90s hip-hop influences, back to dub. You've got everything in there, really, but it's just us doing us. We aren't paying attention to what other people are doing, we are just basically trying to do our own thing and what we are into right now. I would say there is something for everyone on there.
Chase & Status. Friday, August 30. Mansion, 1235 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The show starts at 11 p.m. and tickets cost $25 to $30 via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-695-8411 or visit mansionmiami.com.
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