A-Z is a record label run by Al Zanders out of London. It is mainly a platform for his own productions but has also introduced the world to the likes of JVXTA, who he recently teamed up with for their forthcoming record Love Sensations to profess their love of classic Chicago house. This one’s a split EP with the newcomer – who’s proven himself through his EPs on Homage and Distant Hawaii – & Al Zanders under his resurfaced AZ alias. We were lucky to catch up with both of them ahead of the release on Valentine’s Day, February 14th. Check out the interview below, where you can get to learn a lot more about the guys while listening to a love-themed playlist from Al himself! Hope you enjoy!
Hey how is everything going guys? From our perspective, it seems like 2018 was a particularly good year for you both – having come with records that have put the industry on notice of what you’re capable of. As many aspiring producers follow the blog, could you share how you two have been able to make a name for yourselves in such a short amount of time? What were some of the biggest hurdles you’ve had to overcome to get to this point?
We’re good thank you, both busy with different projects this month. In terms of making a name for ourselves, it actually feels quite slow as we’ve been DJing and producing for years, but it was nice to get some more exposure last year with various EPs. Hurdle wise, the hardest thing for us has been finding the right contacts in the industry and who to send tracks to, there are a lot of unwritten dos and don’ts. Further, it can be tricky to do business in such a personal industry where having the right friends counts most.
You two are set to come out with a joint EP titled “Love Sensations” on February 14th. Before we get into discussing the inspiration behind the record, can you tell us how you two began working together in the first place?
JVXTA: Al just messaged me out of the blue on Soundcloud actually. He kindly said he had enjoyed my past two EPs and wondered if I had any unsigned music to send for his label. After a couple pub meetups we realized we had a lot in common (mainly Chicago house and cheese) and found a combination of tracks that seemed to fit together for a varied but consistent record.
What was the primary influence in making “Love Sensations?” What were you hoping to accomplish by putting it out there?
At the time we made these tracks we were both listening to a lot of 90s house records, from some of our favourite producers like Jovonn, Boo Williams and Glenn Underground. The JVXTA tracks were influenced by more of a stripped back sound, whereas the Al Zanders ones were a homage to the disco house of Chicago. By releasing these two different styles together we were hoping to give DJs a few different sounds palettes to choose from.
Since you two both run your own labels, how did you determine who would release your joint record? Did Al win a coin toss?
Alex asked first, early bird gets the worm I guess?
If you had to name any other artists out right now that you have been itching to work with, but haven’t yet, who would they be?
JVXTA: Glenn Underground, Akufen (Horror Inc) and Shinichiro Yokota. They are all pioneers of a truly singular sound and seem to channel so much positivity into their music and performances.
AZ: Boo Williams. Also, some instrumentalists and singers
Al, we noticed that in many of your productions, strings tend to play a significant role in your songs – from “Guidance” to the two latest “The Strings” and “Strings II.” Why do you enjoy working with them in the records you make?
AZ: Strings are a match in heaven with house music, which it’s been done so much I think. With sampling it’s just about trying things out, and I guess for these two tracks the strings worked best. Would be cool if all of us producers tried something a bit different, but there isn’t really much of a market for oboes in house music…
As artists who often utilize samples in the music you make, what guidelines (if any) do you follow when trying to be respectful in the material that you chose to edit? Is there a right or wrong way to go about sampling?
I don’t think either of us have very strict guidelines, but as a general rule it should be respectful to the original culture. Further, both of us agree that it’s best to take a small part of an orignal track and expand on it, especially if it’s not the most obvious or well known part. Sampling can get lazy when extremely well known hits are taken and the best known part of the song is looped with a kick drum. For us, people like Soundstream, Akufen, Dilla and DJ Shadow are people to look up to when it comes to being respectful about taking other’s music and using it as your own.
What are some of your favourite samples you have worked in the past and why?
JVXTA: I have seemingly endless libraries of recordings from classic synths and keyboards and have a particular love for the Waldorf wave. I have used many emulations extensively but there is nothing quite like the depth and complexity of those original wavetable pad samples.
AZ: Personally, I’ve enjoyed working with stems from real bands as it gives you more options and is often more of a challenge. My Penya remix from last year was especially fun to work on.
JVXTA you’re quite the mysterious man it seems. There is not much information circulating on the internet about you and your background. We have seen some sites say you are based everywhere from Dubai to London. Do you mind telling us where you’re from and how you got into producing?
Haha yes, I have been moving around quite a lot and I think those are artifacts of my recent locations. I am originally from London and am now based here but I grew up in a variety of places around the world ending up spending most of my childhood on the small island of Bermuda. That is where I first started properly producing.
I had been DJing school parties and small events for a few years and had been yearning for the tools to make my own tunes. My best friends, Damani and Sondai, had just got their hands on their first DAW and after I tried my hand with it, I was hooked. We spent most of our time together listening to garage and breakbeat and were always trying to emulate synths and sound design from our favourite artists. Since then I have spent most of my free time producing and still do today.
Al, can you walk us through your playlist? What are the sort of sounds and artists we’ll be listening to?
I took the theme quite literally and did a mix where every song has the word ‘love’ in it. It ended up being a fun way to go through my records and find music, it makes you string together things you wouldn’t usually do. At 40 minutes, it was intended to be a commuter playlist, something I might like to listen to on the way to work to pass the time.
What do you guys have on the horizon for 2019 after this record comes out? Anything you’d like to notify our readers about?
JVXTA: I have quite a busy release schedule this year with several forthcoming VAs and solo EPs. I am particularly excited about the next record on my label Hardmatter which we have been sitting on for quite some time now. It will be a split EP with co-founder, Zapata, and is filled with jazzy peaktime grooves.
AZ: hopefully some music coming out soon on UTM, and then I need to do some label fishing.
A bunch of my favourite tracks with the word ‘Love’ in it:
DD Sound – Burning Love
An italo classic that I heard first when checking the whosampled page for Bjotn Torske’s ‘Sexy Disco’ – and I’ve loved it ever since!
Sylvia Striplin – Give Me Your Love
A lovely tune from Roy Ayer’s Uno Melodic label, I got into this a few years ago in Sheffield, they used to play this at Bat Makumba parties.
Cela – I’m In Love
I’ve always really liked this track, but only recently discovered it was made by Italians. (The recent reissue on Best Italy says ‘Italian Version’…)
Tiger & Woods – Love In Cambogdia
My girlfriend showed me this one, it’s taken me too long to appreciate the edits genius of Tiger & Woods.
Gong Gang – Gimme Your Love
My friend Ali has gotten me heavily into Italo disco (as you can tell from the rest of this list…) and this one is a new addition. Tony Carrasco is one of my favourite producers of the genre, having been part of Klein + MBO and a host of other aliases.
Disco Dub Band – For The Love Of Money
Just thought I’d throw something a little different from the other love themed songs, this one’s for the love of money!
LTD – Love To The World
There have been multiple attempts to edit this one, but for me the original Mizell Brothers version is still the best. It’s very dramatic but the subtlety of the chords and instrumentation stops it from being cheesy or over the top.
KIC – You Don’t Want My Love
One of my all time favourite disco tracks, that my friend Sam showed me in Sheffield. Sometimes I like to end my sets on it.
Alice Smith – Love Endeavor (Maurice Fulton Remix)
Thanks Stu (of the labels Wolf & South Street) for reissuing this great track. I like the way Maurice Fulton’s remixes often use little of the original and he takes the time to make something completely different. He’s also my favourite DJ.
Brooklyn Express – Love Is The Message
How many drugs were they on when they made this?
Boo Williams – Summer Love
Probably my favourite house producer, this one I found by googling his name then ‘love’ after to see if I could put anything in this list of his. I got lucky!
Interview by Yassin