Filed under: Interview
With major label album’s including Tracey Thorne’s and the Rapture’s under his belt plus an ever lengthening list of A list remix commissions (including Pet Shop Boys, Royksopp, Franz Ferdinand, the Chemicals Brothers), Ewan Pearson is certainly thriving, and with an equally stellar DJ career, he’s an obvious role model for success. Ask him what he thinks of people hoping to become the next Ewan Pearson, however, and his advice is stark (and delivered in a peal of laughter).
Though his words sound tough he’s justifiably known as a friendly, no-nonsense, hyper-intelligent kind of guy and he’s careful to stress that when he says ‘get a life’, he’s thinking primarily about himself.
“The only thing that matters is doing stuff that you care about and you can be proud of,” he clarifies, “Ultimately, if it got to the point where I was either playing records or making records that I hated, I’d stop. I’d never just carry on doing it for the sake of sustaining a career; I’d rather be a postman. The only thing I care about is doing work that I’m proud of and playing records that I love and hanging out with people that I really like and keep body and soul together in the process.”
Arriving in Berlin knowing virtually no-one some thee years ago, he’s now firmly integrated into the German capital’s music fabric (he shares studio space with fellow name producer/ DJs Sasse and DJ Naughty) though aims to follow his own ‘get a life’ advice even more in 2007, he insists.
“I’ve decreased the amount of DJ gigs I’m doing by quite a lot in the past year, partly because I’ve been doing so much more production, I just can’t sustain everything and also partly because I want to spend more time in Berlin,” says Ewan. “I could be out there DJing twice as much and traveling constantly, but I see people pushing it too much and their personal lives suffering because they can’t reign it in.
I completely understand – a lot of it is anxiety, you think ‘I don’t know how long my career is going to last so I will squeeze every drop out of it that I can’. I understand that impulse completely, but at the same time I see people’s personal lives and relationships suffering, there has to be a balance. Work is wonderful but it isn’t enough.”
As well as producing over half of Everything But The Girl singer Tracey Thorn’s new album, Ewan is also one half of Partial Arts, whose new single Trauermusik is currently a huge club track (he’s thoughtfully burned me a CD, recommending Alter Ego’s mix over his own).
Interview & Introduction by Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff) : What was your original vision for making music when you started?
Ewan Pearson : “I initially just wanted to produce and I didn’t ever imagine that I’d be an artist particularly, the whole reason I started was just to learn how to do it. Some people are trained musically or they are in bands, with me I’d just had this idea from childhood that I had to work out how to produce music. And it’s only recently that I have actually realised I’m now doing exactly what I hoped I would be doing, seventeen years ago. I’ve produced eight tracks of Rapture and half of the new Tracey Thorn album and more stuff to come this year. It’s taken a while, but it’s been great.”
Skrufff : Before you became a producer you were a philosophy graduate and university lecturer, how did you balance music with studying when you were growing up in Kiddeminster, in Middle England?
Ewan Pearson: “I was always doing music, but it was a pipe dream, it wasn’t something that I imagined I’d ever be able to make a living from. My dad played guitar and music was a massive part of our family life, but my realist head at the time recognized that so few people get to make a living out of it. When I left college, I finished my BA (degree) and decided I would have a year out and make a single, which I did. I’d always wanted to have a piece of vinyl with my name on it, in a shop, which I achieved, and at that stage, that was the sum total of my ambition. But then when you’ve done that people say ‘that’s great’ so you do it again then before you know it I got offered an album deal by Soma.”
Skrufff : How did you fund yourself in your year out?
Ewan Pearson: “I was doing things like working for a catering company, doing silver service waiting, stuff like that. I did a lot of rubbish service industry jobs. I worked in a burger bar and at the FA Cup Final once. That was a particular low point; Liverpool versus Manchester United. It was all so miserable. You know when you hear (Daily) Telegraph readers complaining that everybody should do a stint in National Service, well I think everybody should do a stint in the service industry, not the army. Everyone should be made to work in a burger van, at least once in their life.”
Skrufff : How did you end up flipping burgers in a van outside a football stadium?
Ewan Pearson: “I was part of some agency and you just went wherever they told you, on that particular occasion it was Wembley. It was character building. If there’s any danger of me getting diva-ish or complaining about a hotel room or being too tired because I’ve travelled a long distance, I remember that I’m incredibly lucky and no longer working in a burger bar. It’s good to have done it. I’m thirty four now and one could say that it’s taken a while to get here, but I think I appreciate it a lot more than if I was ten or twelve years younger. I don’t wander around thinking that it was my natural inheritance or anything like that. You realise that although I worked hard, there was a hell of a lot of luck involved and a lot of it is arbitrary. So I think I’m definitely enjoying it and appreciating it immensely.”
Skrufff: One quote I liked from you from our last interview was ‘I think about the process of making music as opposed to just making music . . .’, what was that about?
Ewan Pearson: “I have a tendency to over-analyse, which isn’t always good. Also a lot of what I’ve done at school and university was thinking about processes, whether it was doing literature or thinking about how things are made. I always read about other writers I like or film-makers and I’m always fascinated to read interviews with them talking about how they do stuff. Partly because these things are quite solitary activities and you always wonder if what you are doing is in any way akin to what other people are doing. I always find it quite heartening when I read about people talking about how they hate what they do. I remember reading an interview with Paul Auster the novelist – and he hates every book he’s ever written. He loves writing them and he is compelled to write them, but by the time he’s finished them, he thinks they are appalling pieces of trash. I find it heartening, because if you sit there and think something you’ve been working on for ages is rubbish, it’s quite heartening to see that the people you think very highly of experience the same doubts. I suppose it’s the antithesis of that attitude you get in music, especially with guitar bands and indie bands, where every new indie band of a certain type has to proclaim themselves to be God’s gift and the best. There’s this enormous over-riding ego thing going on that in order to make a splash you’ve got to start boasting. The Stone Roses and Oasis were like that, now you’ve got Kasabian or whoever, letting rip about how they are God’s gift. I’m the complete antithesis of that, so it’s nice when you read about people who think the same.”
Skrufff: Do you see the creative process as having some kind of magic?
Ewan Pearson: “I’m fairly squarely rationalist. Serendipity is the word that I like, rather than magic. You have to be working at it, to be there when it happens. I don’t wander around for two weeks and a tune pops into my head. I work and I do stuff and a lot of the time it’s rubbish, then at a certain moment everything clicks. Then it does feel that you have been gifted something, but I have to be working for that to happen. Occasionally you get an idea when you are doing something completely different, but that romantic notion of the artist suddenly having the idea – the lightbulb above the head, doesn’t correspond really with what I do. I go to work and I try and try stuff and then at some point it all clicks. There’s graft involved.”
Skrufff: So when you are given a commission to do a Depeche Mode or a Pet Shop Boys remix, where do you start?
Ewan Pearson: “There’s usually an idea at least for an approach or a particular style or atmosphere, there’s always something there, but it can change radically in the course of doing it and that’s one of the great things about it. You don’t know at the start what you will be at the end, or I don’t, and it’s nice to go with it. I suppose that’s the sense of being tuned in. Maybe that’s the sense that you are not actually fully in control and when it goes, it goes it’s own way, when it’s really happening like that, it’s almost as if you are not doing it. It just sort of does itself, which is a rare and wonderful feeling.”
Skrufff: Do you always know when the right time to stop is?
Ewan Pearson: “Usually when I’m dragged away from it kicking and screaming. No, that’s why I really enjoy remixing, because I have deadlines, which make me stop. When I started making the record with Tracey, I said ‘It’s going to be great, you are going to have a really good time, except until we get right to the end and then you are going to want to batter me to death because I’m not going to want to stop. Last month I went to the EMI Christmas party with Tracey and I met Neil Tennant for the first time. He was telling me about when they were doing their last album with Trevor Horn. He said that right up to the mastering, he was absolutely ready for Trevor Horn to ring up and say ‘You know, I think we should just start again’. I’m always adding and changing things right up to the very, very last minute, until the deadline.”
Skrufff: When you meet these people, do you find anything about them that makes them as unique and as successful as they are?
Ewan Pearson: “I don’t think you can generalize. I obviously have a lot of friends that work in the creative process, but I suppose there is a bit of an obsessive compulsive thing going on. I think you have to have a little bit of that, but I suppose that is a bit anal retentive as well. There are possibly a few people that are just genuises who are so ridiculously gifted they would have managed to do something, but for most of us it involves a lot of work and have that slightly irrational drive. There’s always an element of mania going on somewhere in there.”
Skrufff: It’s three years since you moved to Berlin, what are some of the more unexpected aspects of life here, you’ve discovered?
Ewan Pearson: “The thing that was exciting about coming here was that I really didn’t know Berlin at all, I’d only been here a couple times so I had no idea what was going to happen – what I wanted at the time was to basically shake everything up completely, to step into the unknown. So now, the unexpected thing is that I’m still here and it feels kind of homely. This year I want to get more settled and also to learn the language. I did three months at language school, but I didn’t know anything when I came here, it was just an introduction and I really want to make a concerted effort, as much as work and times allows, to get more fluent. That’s one of things that many people don’t do when they move here, because the quality of spoken English is so high, that you are either lazy or intimidated into not doing it, because you think there’s no way I’m going to get as good at German as they are at English, so it’s a disincentive. But at the same time if you live in a place and are trying to make it your home, and dating and all these things that I’m doing now.”
Skrufff: Being away from England, do you feel any sense of missing anything or being cut off?
Ewan Pearson: “From a production point of view, I suppose in some ways it would be good to be there in the sense that you would be meeting a lot more new people or gigging a lot more and seeing new bands, but at the same time I quite like being away. There’s enough balance to be had from being aware of what’s happening but also to developing and pushing on with what you are doing. I don’t want to be running after whatever the next big thing is. I like being a tiny bit removed. I’m connected enough for it not to be a problem in terms of work. Being in Germany has fed into what I do as well. It’s nice to have a range of influences. I love London and I had an amazing time there, but sometimes people do think it’s the be all and end all. ”
Skrufff: What do you make of today’s mainstream club culture with its top 100 DJ polls?
Ewan Pearson: “Basically, the people that are on my radar are either the people that I’m big fans of because of what they do musically, either as DJs or producers, or people that I have come to know through my career and having come up together or who have been influential. I’m not interested in being top of a poll. The only thing that matters is being out there, playing for people, making stuff, doing the real stuff. It’s not through getting people to vote for you on an internet poll. Doing it and enjoying it is what matters.”
End of the interview
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