The house music artist album is always a tricky project to pull off. Many’s the producer who has had a superb run of singles only to then release a disappointing album, as though sustaining the quality over 12 tracks was just too challenging.
A house music album is difficult to do well, perhaps because the genre has so many conventions – house is supposed to have a near-constant beat, has to be 4/4, a certain tempo and so on – and creating an album within those confines that holds the listener’s interest is a hurdle many artists have fallen at.
For the producer, there are two basic approaches to this. One is to produce what is essentially a collection of singles. The other is to take the sonic language of house and techno and apply it to different tempos and genres. This second approach, perhaps more risky but with the potential to yield more satisfying results, is the one taken by Fred Everything (real name Frederic Blais) on his fourth artist album Long Way Home, released in June on his Lazy Days imprint.
photo by Brian DeSimone Photography
“If I look back at my first album, Under The Sun (20:20 Vision, 2000), there was a lot of variety with beats and tempos,” Fred says. “So in a way, it’s a return to the source. The whole concept of Long Way Home is that I was going back home (after a “detour” in San Francisco for eight years), back to the LP format and back to a more open musical format.”
Everything has been releasing house music since the late ’90s and has steadily put out a quality catalogue of precisely engineered deep house originals and remixes. His last full-length project, 2008’s Lost Together on Om Records was a straight-up 4/4 affair, as was 2004’s Light Of Day (20:20 Vision). Long Way Home features 12 tracks, taking in some of Everything’s favorite old school bass and drum sounds, his signature carefully layered synths and counter melodies, and those minor chord progressions he’s so fond of. In terms of influences, at times Long Way Home references ’80s boogie, blissed-out Balearic, film scores, ambient and electronica as well as his usual deep house.
“I still get that ‘feeling’ when I hear a good house track. It could be the simplest thing. And in fact, it usually is.
“The album was a way for me to get out of my comfort zone to find another one,” he says. “By wanting to get away from just doing club tracks, I found myself rediscovering the joy of making different styles of music. I remember how fun it was to slow down the tempo on a few of these tracks or deciding to go with broken beat patterns instead of regular 4/4 on others. I also wanted to use my own honest voice and be free from any expectations from myself and others, and just create. I could’ve written ten instrumental deep house tracks in a fraction of the time it took me to work on this album, but it wouldn’t have been satisfying.”
It’s an approach that has worked well, producing a varied but cohesive album. It sounds as though Everything has stretched out a little on this project, filling his tracks with more ideas, more music and atmosphere, and on some tracks also downplaying the beats a little and instead emphasizing the musicality.
“I never start writing with beats,” he says. “Instead, I start with chord progressions, melodies, textures… In fact, a lot of the tracks on my album started as ambient pieces. I have had a deep love of ambient music for many years. I probably have three unfinished ambient albums sleeping in my computer.”
The album definitely has an air of experimentation and freedom – opening track “Cinema Paradiso” has lightweight broken beats, a simple key/synth melody, lots of reverb and a filmic quality to it. “Spacetime” recalls Gat Decor’s “Passion,” while “Same Old Sound” is a lush slice of slo-mo disco-thunk. At times, some of the stacked synths and pads sound like a funkier Ulrich Schnauss, at other times, on tracks like “Barbarella” or “Wherever You Go,” it all sounds very Fred Everything indeed.
“I like each of the tracks separately but I prefer them as a whole, as it tells a story,” he says. “If I had to choose one favorite, it would be the closing track, ‘Something.’ I like that it sounds like nothing I know or nothing I’ve ever heard. I always knew this would be the last track on the album.”
One of the strongest songs, “By Day,” features the crystal clear vocals of South African singer Sio and is a beguiling combination of meandering synth bass, clicking percussion, keys and seventies strings.
“I wrote this one especially for her, changing things from the usual 4/4 beat into more broken beat territory. Her rough demo idea (recorded on her iPhone) was just perfect. She re-recorded it of course but I knew this would be an anchor track for an album.”
Long Way Home has two other vocal tracks, the ’80s robot-funk of “One In A Million” featuring Franky Selector and the dub-houser “Silver Light” featuring Jinadu.
“Franky Selector is an old friend of mine from Montreal. We used to play in a live house band in the early 2000s. Our ties strengthened when I came back to Montreal. The first thing I did when I came back was remix a track of his latest album (“Windswept Sand Dunes”) on my laptop in the kitchen while my studio equipment was still in transit. When I wrote “One In A Million” I could instantly hear him on the Vocoder, similar to the track I had remixed for him. The vocals were recorded in his studio in Montreal.
As for Jinadu: “He and I have kept in touch since we did ‘Searching’ together in 2015. I always wanted to do something else with him, but again, I didn’t want to do the same thing we had already done. He had a vocal ready that inspired me to do a Dub track. A few weeks before sending the album to mastering, I decided to change the vibe of the track and doubled the tempo into a house track, keeping all the dub treatment I had done intact.”
So now Long Way Home has been released and getting played, is Everything happy with how it turned out?
“I’m happy it turned out at all! I had been battling with the concept of a new album since my last one in 2008 on Om (Lost Together). I was constantly writing material for a future album but ended up giving up halfway and releasing the tracks as singles and EPs. Even last year’s Les Jours Paresseux (eight tracks over a two part EP) was another failed attempt to make an album. I’m not one to ever be fully satisfied, but this was my honest voice and the best album I could come up with at this time.”
It’s unsurprising to hear that Fred is something of a perfectionist when it comes to his productions. You can hear it in the depth and detail of his music and we wondered what production processes lead to such pristine sounding music – what’s the secret?
“The secret is that I struggle to get my sound right and I never think I really get there. There’s no one button fix all situation. I work really hard on my mixes, sometimes too hard. It’s about learning your craft and training/tuning your ears to be able to know how to achieve your vision.
“Most of my sources are analog synths, which are essential to not only my sound but my workflow. Desert island pieces would probably be a good mono synth like Minimoog Model D and a great modern poly synth like the Sequential Prophet 6… What I hear might not be what you hear. There’s something very defined in my production and there’s also something a little abstract… I’m definitely drawn to interesting sonic textures but it has to have a concrete anchor to hold it together.”
After all these years, what does he feel about house music?
“Without sounding cliched, I still get that ‘feeling’ when I hear a good house track. It could be the simplest thing. And in fact, it usually is. That naivety that brings back memories. I am so grateful for this music and this movement. My life would have definitely not been as interesting without it.”
Longevity in this industry is a rare thing and for every old player still in the game, a hundred have fallen. Fred Everything has a simple explanation for this high turnover:
“The music. Good music stays, and the disposable gets forgotten.”
Long Way Home is available now on Lazy Days Recordings.