By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 2003
Comprised of Nic Conef & Mark Wadsworth, Mettle Music blend house with a variety of musical styles. Using samples as well as live instrumentation, they have an extremely organic sound. And most importantly, the duo has strong songwriting skills to match the skilled production. Their new CD “Moodswings” contains no bad tracks, though the standout has to be the haunting vocal-driven song “Capture.” Nic was one of many people who first became immersed in house music during the ‘summer of love’ in 1988, and this comes as no surprise. Mettle Music possesses the energy and innovation that brought so many people into the scene at the time. And now they are successfully bringing it into the new millennium.
The following is an email interview with Mark.
What musical projects were you both involved with before Mettle Music?
I’d been involved with a project called Yennah with sax/flute player Sam Kynaston . We were signed to Jimpsters Freerange label in 97. We released 3 singles and an album called ‘Red Noise’. It was a mixture of down tempo electronica, Nu Jazz and broken beats. I’d also been playing in various bands in and around the Manchester area as a session drummer and keyboard player for years. Nic has always been a DJ and we met when he came down to my studio to work on some deep house tracks in about 96. We’ve been working together on and off since then.
What type of studio set-up do you use? What do you think the most indispensable piece of gear is?
The studio we use is very basic. A G4 Mac running Logic, a Yamaha O1v Mixing desk, a decent amp and Dynaudio BM5 monitors a little bit of outboard and a hand-full of analogue and vintage synths. Initially everything was done on a trusty Atari running Cubase and all sounds came out of an S3000 sampler. The only thing that’s indispensable is the Mac. It’s opened the door to plug ins, larger sample times and being able to do proper recordings of full performances, sound manipulation and editing is much easier, and the quality of the recordings is top notch. I think the real test is whether you actually notice the technology or not. If it’s getting in the way you need to look at what you’re using it for and why.
Do you try to stay up to date with the latest musical equipment & software?
Not really to be honest. I keep one eye on what’s happening, but by and large there’s nothing I can’t do using my simple set up. I’d say 90% of the producers I know who are in the industry regard gear as a means to an end… I’m always a little weary of people who can reel of lists and names of equipment and say train spottery things like “I find the SM 58 a little brittle around 1K”
With this type of music, it’s often difficult to know what’s coming from live instruments and what is sample-based, especially since the technology allows artists to record live parts and then extensively manipulate them. So …. can you describe your general approach to creating tracks?
On Moodswings we used a mixture of real performances (sax, flute, guitar, bass, strings, percussion and fender Rhodes) and samples. We tend to start building tracks from the bottom up. Drums, bass, chords, melodies and hooks. Then It’s thinking about the type of instrumentation that’s required, booking in the session guys and then do a load of takes. We tend to make sure we record a mass of stuff whilst we’ve got the musicians in, that way we can sit through all the performances and choose the killer lines. We keep an eye on ensuring that the bits that we chop up and stick together actually playable live! However depending on the track we’re working on we might really fuck with sounds, say if we’re doing a dub or a more techy sounding track. For my Square One tracks I use loads of sounds from old vinyl so pretty much everything needs a little tarting up.
When working with vocals, do you tend to have songs fairly complete (musically) when they are recorded? Or do you tend to build things around vocal parts?
A bit of both. On the Moodswings album Capture was a full song when we started on it. However we only had the recorded vocal which we’d had knocking about from an old studio session from about 8 years ago. It was just a matter of reworking all the instrumentation and producing the track around the guide vocal, then we got Virginia in to re record the vocals and to redo all the guitar. However, El mar was completely the other way round. The track was written but we felt it would benefit from a vocal so we handed it over to Susannah Montero from Malena who wrote the Spanish vocals for the track.
What’s the reason for having a part 1 & part 2 of “Capture” the new CD?
It was originally a folky type of track which we’d done a remix of. We felt it would work well in it’s ‘original’ format and as a dubbed up remix.
Do you ever perform (or want to perform) with a full band? The DJ sets w/live instruments sound interesting … can you describe that a bit?
We play live quite a bit. We’ve gigged all over Europe and throughout the UK. The set up is pretty flexible (It really depends on the budget the club, bar or festival has) The best performances have been the full band though. Nic plays stripped down backing tracks (from Numark CD decks) which are mixed into each other to create a DJ style flow to the performance. Then the rest of us play our lines over the top. We usually use Guitar, sax, flute, percussion and a Keyboard player. Sometimes we have vocalists (Virginia for Capture or Susannah Montero from Malena) I play extra samples, keyboards and extra percussion parts on the more Latin sounding stuff.
You both seem to have a lot of different projects … do you tend to keep them all separate? Or do you find yourself coming up with musical ideas and then deciding where they will be used?
Sometimes that happens yes. Mainly we tend to write in blocks. For Instance the Moodswings album was written over the space of about 6 months. During that time we pretty much only worked on that (maybe we did the odd M trax thing as well) Now that the album’s done I’m working on my second Square One album for Freerange records whilst Nic concentrates on the Label and his DJ gigs. It was quite weird trying to switch from Mettle Music mode to Square One mode… It took me about 6 weeks until I was happy with anything I’d done – I found it quite hard switching off from the Mettle music influence. Fortunately I’ve got it out of my system now so I can start to write Square One stuff without it sounding like Mettle Music.
What’s in the immediate future for you?
I’m currently in the process of having my Cellars converted into a proper studio which will be a bit of a novelty after years of using spare bedrooms and lounges!! In the mean time I’m working on my Square One project which is released on Freerange records (www.freerangerecords.co.uk). I’m half way through writing my 2nd album and there’ll be a couple of 12s out as well. I’m also working with Joel Nally on some down tempo tracks and with Dave Tracy (part of the Mettle Music collective) on some of his housier productions. Also I tend to do a lot of one off jobs, production work for DJ’s and mastering for various house and Nu Jazz labels.
Nic’s just set up the new M Trax label. The first release will be out in mid November. It’s a Latin vocal disco track by Malena called “Vida Mia” which features Susannah Montero who sang on El mar on our Moodswings album. It also contains a Faze Action remix, a dub and a Mettle Trax remix. Nic’s also out and about DJing in Europe and the UK.See all interviews →