Having already firmly established himself as a DJ and producer, Christopher Lawrence has now unleashed his first artist album, “All Or Nothing.” With the disc, Lawrence stays true to his roots in underground electronic dance music, while at the same time presenting it in a way that works outside the clubs. In a telephone interview, Lawrence told us about the album, his views on musical technology, and more.
What made you decide that the time was right for an album of your own music?
“I’ve been doing singles. I’ve done that since like 1996. But those were marketed directly to the dance floor. Because they were just disposable material used by other DJs and myself. Along the way, actually about 5 years ago, while in the studio I started working on music that wasn’t strictly for the dance floor. It was at that time I thought that maybe, just maybe, I would try to work on the material for a full-length artist album. But it took five years to make that artist album! Because I was touring a lot, and producing for the dance floor and the artist album was not something that was urgently imperative to do. It was something that evolved over time.”
Did it take 5 years to get around to making it, or was it done in pieces over that time?
“It’s more of a culmination. There’s a couple of tracks on there that are maybe three years old or four years old that are just classics of mine. I deliberated putting them on the album, but because they meant much to me at the time I made them, and they represent a period of time and music I enjoyed at lot, I decided to put them on. Particularly ‘Rush Hour,” which was the biggest single that I’ve ever done and it’s the track that I chose to close the album with. For me, it’s a very special track and I think for most people who have been following me, it wasn’t easily accessible because it was only available as vinyl for DJs. So it’s available to everyone now.”
Had you immediately focused on finishing it, how do you thing the results would have been different?
“If I had just gone with what I had four years ago, it would have really been crap! As a musician I’ve matured. As a DJ I’ve matured. My taste in music has matured over that time. In fact, the album was originally set to be released a year and a half ago. It was going to come out on Hook Recordings, based in the UK. But just as the album was being prepared for release, they went under. Which is unfortunate. But the fortunate thing was that all of the rights reverted back to me and it gave me the opportunity to go back to the studio. At the time, I thought it was done, but as soon as I’d chosen the track listing and said ‘ok, this is my album’ I suddenly wanted it to be different. But at the time it was kind of etched in store. Then it became un-etched in stone! And the fantastic thing is that now I’m really happy with the album. With no time constraints, I was able to make the album that I’d always wanted to make. I went into the studio and added six new tracks, so I ultimately had 22 tracks to choose from. So I’m really happy with it now. It wouldn’t have been the same.”
How big of an impact did the intended listening environment have? The fact that it wouldn’t just be heard by people in clubs.
“It’s greatly affected it. Because I wasn’t sitting down trying to make music for the dance floor only, to use as a DJ tool, it gave me the opportunity to be a lot more creative and to explore influences outside of electronic music. From classical music to Rolling Stones and New Order influences. That was the greatest thing. As far as the final track listing, instead of just taking what I thought where the 11 or 12 best tracks, I sat down with everything and started going through the process of …. I guess in the same way that I’d put a set together to DJ live, I took that same perspective but thinking that it would be somebody listening to it at home, or in a car. There’s tracks that I thought were fantastic dance floor tracks, but I didn’t put them on the album because as a whole, they didn’t fit. It’s like putting together a story … there’s certain chapters that fit, and certain that don’t. To make this story as tight and cohesive as possible, there were tracks that were eliminated. I think overall, the way I programmed it, not just putting the best tracks up front, was with an ebb and flow. After a certain period momentum, tracks are strategically placed to bring things back down again.”
What kind of set-up do you use to create your music?
“It’s mostly software synths now. Most of the songs were done in Pro-tools. A couple were done with a producer who uses Logic, so I also had to learn Logic. Both Pro-Tools and Logic utilize Softsyths. Softsynths I used to hate, and I only liked to use outboard gear, but they have come a long way. And the beauty of it now is that instead of just trying to emulate synthesizers, I think that people making the softsynths are realizing that they have the opportunity to create unique NEW sounds. We don’t have to model after previous things. And that’s what I think was stimulating to me about a lot of the new softsynths.”
Are there any ways that you find them limiting? Any ways you’d like to see them improve and evolve?
“No, but that’s the beauty of going into the studio and working on stuff, continually finding new ways to manipulate the sounds. When I listen to other people’s music, I listen to it a lot differently now since I’ve been spending a lot of time in the studio. It’s amazing what other people are doing. That’s where you get ideas as well.”
How did you get into electronic dance music in the first place?
“Clubbing since I was 16 years old in San Francisco. Originally, the music that I was into was bands like New Order and Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Sisters Of Mercy. Those types of bands. In there the late 80’s there were parties that were not unlike the raves we have today, the club scene that we have today. They were one-off parties that would rotate to different venues. That was the kind of music that I was listening to. I guess in 1989 and 1990, a friend of mine was like ‘I’ve found this amazing type of music that is unlike anything you’ve ever heard. It’s like this, but to the next level.’ And that was acid house. And he said ‘You’ve got to come check out these parties.’ At that time, the techno and acid parties were really small. But I went to my first party and I never turned back … I left everything else behind. I was blown away by the music and started collecting the vinyl. Shortly thereafter I started a pirate radio station in SF that I did on Sunday nights. I was just passionate the music and one thing led to another. I was invited to play in clubs and it grew from there.”
How do you feel about the music crossing into the mainstream?
“It’s had a good and bad effect. Mainstream music has absorbed a lot of it. When you listen to Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic,’ it’s directly influenced by underground electronic music. And what that does is it brings it to a wider audience. The good thing about it is that all of us came to this music from somewhere else. No one was just born into it. It would be a bit unfair to say ‘look, this is our sound, this is our music, no one else new is allowed.’ So if other artists are incorporating it, like Madonna did a few years ago on ‘Music,’ it opens it up to a wide audience. However, it also means that a lot of people producing electronic music for the underground and DJs who were DJing for the underground have begun kind of catering to the mainstream in hopes of reaching a broader audience. That I don’t agree with. If I can continue to do what I do best, what I’m passionate about, and if along the way a greater fanbase is reached, then that is fantastic. But I am not going to compromise myself in any way in hopes that maybe I’ll get a Britney Spears fan to come listen to me. It’s just not going to happen. I’m going to do what I want to do. If that means that my fanbase grows because of the influence electronic music has, great. If it means that people who come to check me out say ‘wait a minute, I can’t get into this, this is just way to underground for me’ then so be it. That is just who I am, and I am going to continue that way.”
Besides DJing, do you have any interest in performing your music live?
“No. I love DJing and I love being able to open up my record to create and look at all the best music that’s being produced at this time, and having that choice to play from. I couldn’t imagine just standing on stage having only my own music to play.”
Do you think you’d like to work with vocalists more in the future?
“Previously, I never worked with vocalists. It wasn’t until this album. Now, the human element is extremely important. When I was putting the album together, deciding on the track listing, that became really important to me and I was so happy that I had vocals. Without them, it would have felt so empty. Yes, I am much more interested in working with vocals. Definitely.”
In terms of working with vocalists, what was that process like? Was the music complete when the vocal parts were put in? Did you record vocals and then create tracks around them?
“It’s a combination. The tracks were originally works in progress. Particularly on ‘Freefall.’ It was probably 75% done when I was looking for a melody line or a new sound to add in. The idea of adding a vocal in there arose and it just seemed like a great idea. So Camille Kramer, the vocalist who is on it, came in and laid down some vocals and then I went back in to adapt the track to her vocals. So the track was pretty much done when I decided that I wanted the vocals, and then I went back and tailored it for them.”
What will happen to the songs you finished but chose not to include on this album?
“I don’t know. Just because they didn’t work out for this album doesn’t mean that they will never have their chance. For the time being, they are hanging out on the shelf.”
What are your thoughts about the internet?
“The internet has accelerated things incredibly. I don’t think that we’d have the global phenomenon that we do with electronic music … I probably wouldn’t be playing in the countries that I am right now if it wasn’t for the internet. The internet makes the music accessible to everybody, everywhere. As far as distribution, in the past DJs would always play vinyl. Vinyl is wonderful, it’s tactile, but it’s also a luxury. As far as natural resources, it’s very wasteful. As far as distribution of the music, it’s extremely inefficient. Music may end up in one country and not another, and it doesn’t give equal accessibility. I think that digital downloading of music is the future. It just offers so much more. It levels the playing field. If you have sites that sell downloads, a DJ in Alaska, a DJ in Brazil, and a DJ in LA all have the opportunity to access that music right now. And there’s no waste in distribution.”
Some DJs prefer to use records and don’t like digital formats. Do you have any problem playing things that are not on vinyl?
“Half of my set is on CD now, and that is because I have a lot of friends producing music that is not even out in vinyl. I have the opportunity to ftp a file so I can just download it, burn it to a cd, and play it that night. I just find that cdsare lighter for traveling, and if it gets damaged you just burn another one. So I have no qualms about putting my vinyl to rest.” th really. Thinking about the next album, I have quite a clear idea in my mind of how I would like things to sound, and affect me emotionally and hopefully other people as well. I do have some sounds and ideas that are already there. But I’m also very open when I sit down and try to create those sounds. If something else pops up that sounds wonderful, I’ll go with that as well.”