Filed under: Interview
New Yorker-in-London Tom Stephan recently finished his debut artist album Wowie Zowie and chatted to Skrufff this week about the record and some of his star collaborators. As well as disco icon Celeda and his old friend Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys, the record features the vocals of one time page three icon turned evangelical Christian (and gay icon) Samantha Fox, not that that’s why he chose her, he insists.
“Her page three past is more of a British thing and concerning her religion, I didn’t know this,” he admits, “She didn’t come across as a born-again Christian when she did the vocals either.” She did come across, however, as a consummate professional, singing on the album’s standout track Sugar.
“From the start I thought she was perfect,” Tom continues, “She came into the studio and she was a real pro. She knew exactly what to do and she did it, no fussing about.”
She also indirectly led to Neil Tennant getting involved on the record’s oddest track Tranquilizer.
“I was telling Neil how excited I was in having Samantha Fox singing on my track and he said: ‘Oh, aren’t you going to ask me?’ and I thought, ‘absolutely’,” he explains.
“As soon as we started working on the track I suggested he should do a spoken rap thing and sent him the track and right away he said he knew what to do with it. We then got together in the studio but then he threw me (surprised me- slang Ed.) completely because he came up with something completely different to what I had in mind, which, however, ended up being the best of the two options. At the same time, I don’t think it sounds anything like the Pet Shop Boys, it really feels like a collaboration and I’m really happy with it.”
The album itself is a hybrid of the tough tribal house sound he’s generally known for, coupled with dashes of electro, melodies and accessible vocals. Released under his usual brand name Superchumbo, the record comes out on Danny Tenaglia’s label Twisted; ‘he’s a huge influence’, Tom admits.
Interview & Introduction : Benedetta Skrufff (Skrufff.com)
Skrufff (Benedetta Skrufff) : Wowie Zowie’s your first artist album, where did you start?
Tom Stephan : Well, it all started because I had a lot more ideas than time to make records, so I thought this would be one way of putting together a lot more music at once. I also felt I wanted to expand on a particular sound and making an album was a more logical way to go about it.
Skrufff : How much time do you spend in New York these days: has your focus shifted from London and the UK significantly?
Tom : I live in London, and I think the club scene in Europe is much stronger than anywhere in the US. Of course, I still feel particularly attached to New York simply because that’s where I first discovered house music and clubbing, so it will always be my first spiritual house ‘home’. Having said that, talhough the scene in New York is picking up, it certainly isn’t where it was when I lived there, longer than ten years ago. But I have been DJing long enough to see that this seems to be the way it works; different countries, different cities and different clubs suddenly seem to take off and you get a really big buzz going. To me, Italy is where the biggest and best parties are right now.
Skrufff : What makes you say that?
Tom : The clubs there are just blowing my mind and I’ve felt like this in the last year. I’m out in Italy playing at least once a month at the moment and I have a residency this summer at Cocorico, my favourite club in the world right now. I think clubs in Naples are also amazing, I’ve played recently in Milan, not in Rome yet, but good clubs are scattered pretty much all over, in places like in Bergamo, for example. They’re are full of energy and so fashionable. No matter what I wear over there, I always feel under dressed.
Skrufff : Is there a plan to perform these songs live?
Tom : It’s something I thought I was going to concentrate more on with this album, but I’m still on a learning process and I prefer to let my instincts guide me rather than forcing issues, and it doesn’t seem to have developed into that just yet. Probably the main reason is that I’ve had so many guests on the album which makes it impossible to have them all on stage. I’ll be quite happy to find someone to work with, on the same wavelength as me, to take the album on the road, but I haven’t found that person just yet.
Skrufff : On the biog you say “Wowiezowie!” It’s that thing you wantcthat thing you envy. I’m fascinated by the feeling of desperation and obsession”. What do you want the album to bring you?
Tom :What I meant was to describe that feeling of anticipation when you’re on the dance-floor, like I used to get it when I first went clubbing in New York, listening to Junior Vasquez. I don’t really do it as much as he used to because if you’re a DJ who travels around, you don’t get the chance to tease the crowd as much as if you are a resident. He used to play tiny snippets of a record for hours and hours, so you’d be waiting all night and you’d start hating him for not playing that record. Then finally when he did play that record, the whole place would go beserk. That’s for a lot of DJs what it’s about, giving and taking, not giving and so on. It wasn’t until I stepped back and looked at my album that I realised that there’s a lot of that going on in it too. Some of the songs are about people, about love, in the same way they’re about anything else. like sugar is a drug as much as the sugar you put into your coffee. I find that kind of ambiguity fascinating.
Skrufff : Do you feel the same sense of hunger as when you started?
Tom : I have to be honest that it’s changed for me since I’m on the other side of the dance floor. I don’t go out clubbing as much as I used to. Maybe because if you’re DJing more than two nights a week you need to recuperate your energy. If I come back from a two weeks holiday though, I’m desperate to play. Music is my drive.
Skrufff : How much are you driven for success?
Tom :I think I’m more driven to find out what is it that I do best amongst the things that I do. I made records for a long time before ‘Revolution’, which was a kind of turning point for me because that was the first record that really took off for me and changed the whole course of my career. I never would have guessed that record would have done that and I don’t think there’s much point in me guessing what is going to happen now with this record. I just have to go with the music that inspires me, put it out and see what happens. I could drive myself crazy thinking about what people’s reactions are going to be.
Skrufff : When you’re Djjing these days: have you ditched vinyl?
Tom Stephan : I wish I could ditch my vinyl, I just wish I could let go of it, but it has become a sort of security blanket for me. Sometimes I see how many CD’s I play, but I don’t feel right if don’t have a box of records behind me. I prefer the sound of vinyl, but I cannot deny how easy it is for me to just finish a track and email it to someone. It would make my life so much easier to rely completely on new technology, if only I could let go of the old vinyl. It’s sound is so much warmer, though CD’s have come a long way and now they sound just as loud as vinyl.
Skrufff : How much advance preparation goes into your sets generally?
Tom : Usually I have a vague idea of where I want to take it. I have reference points like a map, places where I want to go, but you must remain pretty fluid because you need to be there and respond to the crowd’s reactions. Sometimes I plan to play a certain record and when I’m there I never get to do it.
Skrufff : How many new tracks are you bringing into your set on a typical week (month)?
Tom : It depends on how many good new records come out that week. Definitely the core of my set stays the same from week to week and then I add five to ten, probably not even that many, new records as they come along. I call the really special ones ‘gems’, those are the ones that I never hear anyone else play, or they haven’t broken as big tunes for whatever reason, but work- those ones can stay in my box for ages. Since I have a radio show here in London on Wednesdays, I spend all day Wednesday going through the new tracks since I need to prepare for the show, which is really good to keep myself updated.
Skrufff : Sam Fox appears on your album singing on Sugar, how aware were you of her page 3 past and place in British popular culture?
Tom : Her page three past is more of a British thing. Actually, the whole idea came from a restaurant in Miami, I ordered something and the waitress answered: ‘Anything for you, sugar’. I thought ‘genius, I’d love to make a record using those words’, then I did the track and kept on hunting for the perfect voice, someone sexy of course. Then through my publisher I heard that a friend of his was working for Samantha Fox’s management, and that she was looking for people to write with. From the start I thought she was perfect. She came into the studio and she was a real pro. She knew exactly what to do and she did it, no fussing about.
Skrufff : When we interviewed you 4 years ago now you talked about quitting Ketamine. Four years on, how much is there a temptation to become judgemental?
Tom :I actually find that I’m less judgemental nowadays. Probably in the past I had to be more judgemental for my own sake, because I’d made that decision and needed to stick to it, whereas now I feel more relaxed around drugs because I feel more confident with myself, given that it’s five years since I’ve taken any drugs. I feel I can be around my friends without feeling left out. When I gave up I was thinking then I’d be crazy to be a DJ thinking that people shouldn’t be taking drugs, whereas these days I think drugs aren’t essential though do play a big part in the club scene. In a way it’s great for me to be in the DJ booth; I get to experience the whole nightclub without getting messy. It works for me anyway.
End of the interview
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