“We Could Be More” – a phrase that connotes endless possibility, hope, and unity. Appropriately, it is also the title of Manchester producer and DJ Star Slinger’s EP (12/02/2016 via OWSLA), where the artist (born Darren Williams) collaborated with a different artist in all but one song, and which he calls an “interlude” EP, paving the way to his new music. In it, you hear from James Vincent McMorrow’s falsettos, Tunji Ige’s raps, and Dawn’s powerful vocals – a testament to Star Slinger’s versatility and ability to collaborate alongside artists with backgrounds in a variety of genres. If this EP signals what comes next for Star Slinger, there are great things ahead.
Atwood Magazine caught up with Star Slinger to discuss each track on the EP, understand more about what it was like to collaborate with so many artists, and find out where he plans to take his music from here on out.
A CONVERSATION WITH STAR SLINGER
Atwood Magazine: This EP is a departure from what you did with Volume 2, now you feature other artists on most songs and there are more lyrics to your songs - how did this change come about?
Star Slinger: I guess for me, even five years ago when I began Volume 1, I kind of built a career upon chopping up other people’s music and making songs out of that – not in a mashup sense, but in a hip hop sense, I borrowed from hip hop and I borrowed from house music in technique but I’ve always been a bit of a closet songwriter, I guess, but I’ve been to shy to put them out. I think I was typecasting myself at some point, so it feels good to start writing songs. Obviously with this record I wrote all the music and collaborated with other people so they were not even my lyrics on this record, but I’m thinking on the next record I’m gonna go one step further and put my lyrics in there.
You wrote the title track of the EP with Tinashe - what was the songwriting process like?
Star Slinger: I wrote the title track with Tinashe. Basically I made a beat that was totally different, and got a publishing deal with Sony/EMI, and I got to work with her before she blew up really. But she was already in Capitol Records signed to RCA, so for me it was kind of nerve-wracking, it was my first time going into a big studio like Capitol with just my laptop and myself. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I went in, it was a good session – eight hours straight – I didn’t do too much because she got writing to one of my beats, so I was just catching the vibes really. It was really fun, but I definitely think since then I’ve warmed up to the studio more as a place for putting in my ideas, do you get me? That’s something you learn with time, I think.
Did every artist you collaborate with in this EP write their own lyrics, then?
Star Slinger: Yeah. Tinashe actually had someone helping her with melodies, I think she’s always in there with her, I forget her name. But apart from that everyone wrote their own songs and their own lyrics. I think there’s various connections with them as well, I think with James that was kind of my favourite one and we weren’t even together for that one. I feel like we had a good connection even though we weren’t there, do you get me?
I can’t believe you didn’t write it in the same room!
Star Slinger: Yeah, it’s mad! But I think we definitely should do some more work together in the same room. I plan to do the video for “Slow Love” and hopefully I’m gonna go to Dublin and he’s gonna be down to do it them. But just to hang out, really, I need to hang out with him some more.
“We Could Be More”
“We Could Be More” is a very high-tempo opening to the EP. Why did you choose it as the first song?
Star Slinger: I know title tracks are usually kind of hidden in playlists and things, but I thought the message, that “we could be more”, on paper it looks like a message to me. It looks more than just a song, so for me it was anobrainer. It’s allegorical, you can take it two ways – it’s about a relationship, the song, but I’m very much about trying to be better with everything I put out and “we could be more” is kind of just the sentiment. I recently did t-shirts with it and it had nothing to do with the song, it was just the idea of wanting to do more and not feeling bad about it as well.
You wrote the song with Tinashe, how did Dawn end up singing on the track?
Star Slinger: It was kind of a happy accident really. Basically, Tinashe has obviously blown up since then and she’s got some really big songs that have come out, and I think around that roll out she wasn’t doing too many collaborations and I just got put on the back burner. But unbeknownst to me, OWSLA reached out to Dawn and they were like “Do you want to get on a track?” and they kind of surprised me with that, I heard it and said “Wow, this is great”, I thought that it was better than the Tinashe version. I’ve been a fan of her for a while, so it was great to have her on there. I’d like to meet her one day, she’s super inspiring, super independent.
Crazy how you wrote these songs and the people who sang on it weren’t in the same room with you!
Star Slinger: Yeah, I think the first time I heard that happening it was like the postal service, or email when you could attach large files to emails. I think we write our best music when we’re on our own, that’s the reality. Unless you have a very strong connection with the person and then that becomes your Michael Jackson-Quincy Jones type arrangement, and I hope to have that one day, but at the minute it’s just good working with people any way I can.
James Vincent McMorrow is one of my favourite artists, and I was really excited to see him on the EP. How did the collaboration with him come about?
Star Slinger: Amazing, wow! I kind of reached out to him because I’d done a remix for him for his song “If I Had a Boat” a few years ago, I think he was on Epitaph at the time in the US which is like a punk label there, or it was, but it said Epitaph when I got the request and I thought “Oh, that’s strange, I used to be into punk” and I checked it out, and it was really folky. But I just loved his tones, it was super nice falsetto, and I thought I’d remix it. I did kind of an R&B spin on it, and I didn’t know that’s where he was going after his record until we kept in touch and he sent me an advance listen to his second album and I was like “Oh shit this is amazing I need to do more work with you if possible”. And he did the track, I think he was on tour in America when he recorded the vocals, it was after “Cavalier” and everything and I think he was touring that. He had a mic with him on tour and I think he used it to record, and got his engineer to mix the vocals because he wanted it to sound like the album he’d just done, and from there I got the vocals and someone else mixed my music after that as well. That’s the first time I’ve done that, but this one I wanted to be a bit more polished, for real.
“Slow Love”, appropriately, takes things a little slower in the EP, which I thought was wonderful since you really got to play around with and explore McMorrow’s voice. What was the feeling/intention behind the song?
Star Slinger: Actually I think I wrote the music with Miguel in mind because Miguel had been in touch with me years before, and I do occasionally send him a beat of mine to see if he’ll use it – hasn’t yet (laughs). But I like to stay in touch with people regardless of how many years it has been, I just don’t give up really. At the time Miguel expressed that he liked the beat, but nothing happened, and then I thought I’d send it to James because his voice would sound even better, and he smashed it. And he was very careful about the lyrics, I think he made two or three versions until he was like “This is the perfect song”.
What’s the story behind “Losing Sleep”?
Star Slinger: So Sam, obviously I’d been familiar with him since 2007 when he had a huge hit with “Black and Gold” and I remember hearing it everywhere when I was in university. Through the publishing deal I heard that he was interested in working with me, and I was in LA so I went to his house and we recorded the song at his house. We wrote and recorded it in, oh my god it was so quick, we wrote the song in half an hour I’m not even kidding. The bare bones of the song were done and he wrote the lyrics on paper, got in the booth, did first takes and the song was written so quick. And basically he had suffered with insomnia for the past week or something and it was pretty self-explanatory, he wanted to keep it simple, I think I added one lyric to this song because he was struggling with one bit – so actually that was the one lyric I wrote on the album (laughs). It was really fun, and he was super nice and completely how I’d imagined him to be – it’s strange meeting someone who you’d heard on the radio seven years ago.
Yeah, and working with him! It’s like the dream: listen to him on the radio and fast forward a few years you’re writing a song with him!
Star Slinger: Exactly! It’s just so strange how these things happen and how many degrees of separation there are amongst people, you know.
I’m still amazed that it was written in 30 minutes.
Star Slinger: Well I may be bragging too much, maybe 45 (laughs) but it was super quick. People will be like “It’s too easy man, you should be spending a week on it at least!” but some songs just write themselves.
“Look In To Be Seen”
One of my favourite things about this track is the word play - you can either hear it as “look in to be seen”, which is sentimental and seems to be referring to two people’s relationship, or “looking to be seen”, which to me reflects a little about our society nowadays and how we seem to be looking for attention all the time, especially through social media. Was this intentional?
Star Slinger: It’s totally intentional, that’s right. Sara, who wrote the song, is super spiritual in a way and definitely thinks about things more than anyone I’ve ever met – she’s just super thoughtful. And I guess with that song, I think she wrote it really quick as well. Like you said, that sentence is perfect, it’s allegorical, and when I first heard the song I thought it said “looking” and I left it five months and thought it was kind of a desperate thing, you know? And then I asked her and she said “No, it’s about looking inside yourself and being honest with yourself because your reality is not what’s on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside”.
After knowing what she meant with the phrase, did that change anything you did to the song?
Star Slinger: I didn’t go ahead and change the music or anything, but it made me feel a bit better about the song. I was worried it was kind of desperate, and I didn’t want my name attached to something sounding desperate (laughs) so I was actually really happy when she said it was internal. And looking back I don’t know why I would’ve second guessed it because, I’m just not as smart as Sara I guess (laughs). You know, you see things on a surface level sometimes and you don’t think twice. I met her after we made that one, so that’s another song we didn’t do together, and I’ve met her about three times since then and we’re like best friends now. It’s just really great to hang out with people, you work together but you want to know them.
“If It Shall Come”
“If It Shall Come” is your only solo track on the EP. Why did you choose this one to be the solo one?
Star Slinger: I love the fact that it sounds existential – “If it shall come” sounded very bleak to me, but we all know death is around the corner no matter how far. It was very somber and I liked the melody, I chopped up some old piano sounds and kind of screwed them down, and I made a 4-4 beat, and I just wanted to make something that was slow motion house music and I put a little piano on top. It just wrote itself that song. And like I said, I like that it sounds existential.
I’m curious - this being your only solo track on the EP, why is it not the title track?
Star Slinger: I guess the sentiment, “if it shall come”, is a bit too bleak to represent about the EP. I felt like “we could be more” is the sentiment I wanted to give, especially given the artwork.
I actually wanted to ask you about that!
Star Slinger: Basically, I’m living in Slovenia now, where my girlfriend’s from, and I think maybe like the third time I came here I went to a gallery – a year into our relationship – and it was Metka Krasovec’s exhibition and I was blown away and found out she was like one of the biggest painters but enver broke out of Slovenia. That often happens and you can get some great artists. She did it with acrylic paint and it looks kind of digital, everything’s so perfect and kind of symmetrical. I had to ask her, but I didn’t know a way to get to her, she’s like 70 years old, but my girlfriend knows a film producer from Slovenia who produced the film “No Man’s Land” and we went for coffee with her, asked her if she knew Metka, and she knew someone who did, so I got on the phone with her. I arranged it with her that we could use the rights, paid her, and that’s probably my favourite thing about the EP (laughs) the fact that I got the artwork.
“Pardon” is very different to all other tracks on the EP. It’s built upon the piano part, which I loved, and it looks to me like the rap and lyrics drive the melody, and not the other way around. How did this song come about?
Star Slinger: It’s crazy you should say that – I think that’s testament to Tunji. It was the piano that came first, a chopped up piano sound, and he just kind of followed the piano but like you say in a way it fits together perfectly. For some people it’s their favourite song, I didn’t expect people to like it as much as they did. It started as an instrumental and we got Tunji on it, I was a really big fan of his song “On My Grind” and again OWSLA surprised me and asked if I wanted Tunji to rap on it. OWSLA’s been good on that respect, they have so many connections and a vision for the songs, you know? And I did as well and they met the vision, they really did.
I wanted to inspire people, but I feel like I have so much more to give.
Why did you choose it as the last one on the EP?
Star Slinger: I don’t know, it’s kind of poetic that it’s such a short song, and works as a nice segue into whatever comes next. Lyrically it’s totally Tunji and everything, but I thought that the piano and melody is quite open and it was always meant like an interlude sort of thing. It just closes the EP off nicely and leaves people guessing what’s next. It definitely leaves it open, the EP was very explorative and it’s left me in a good place.
It is really nice because the songs on it are very different, and the artists you collaborated with are very different, but there’s cohesiveness to it which is your fingerprint. It’s a nice display of what you can do and the different types of music you can touch upon, it closes no doors, you know what I mean?
Star Slinger: Yeah, I get what you mean and I kind of did it that way. I wanted to inspire people, but I feel like I have so much more to give. You can only inspire somebody so much from your angle with just your music. But I definitely feel what you mean, I’m really happy with how cohesive it is, but I feel like there’s more to me after this as well, I discovered a lot about myself in the past couple years and it’s still coming out.
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cover: Star Slinger © Michaela Selmani