Music Interviews

Freemasons: “Record labels do have a problem putting away dance albums” – Interview

It’s safe to assume Freemasons don’t have a dodgy handshake, for the duo of James Wiltshire and Russell Small got their name from the Brighton pub they frequent. As a reward the landlord promised them a lifetime of free drinks should they top the charts, and he’d better start worrying as the single Love On My Mind, a huge track at dance music’s Miami Winter Conference, is now primed as a high level release.

We cornered Russell Small on the phone from his Brighton abode, firstly to get some truth on the rumour that the Freemasons singer Amanda Wilson was discovered in a karaoke bar…

“Well she was, but not by us! It was the producers Mauve, who used her on a couple of their tracks, and we found her through them. She’s got a hell of a voice, and can sing in loads of different styles. Mariah Carey would suit her actually, and she’d be really good for recreating samples of American divas.”

For now her only appearance is on the sultry summer house of Love On My Mind, which Russell explains “was due to be released in March, but we weren’t getting any radio play except for Capital. Radio 1 were still playing dance records from the summer before, and we had to pull the single because of that.” It seems commercial dance music is on the up again, hence the current favourable climate for the single.

“Yeah, I think so, but I can’t understand why,” he says. “Rock music’s going into that thing where dance music was, there’s so much of it around. I don’t know why it’s changed, but I think the bar’s been raised a little in terms of production. There’s thousands of house records out there, but there’s not many stand out these days. Take the second Uniting Nations single for instance, that has to be the worst house record ever! We got asked to remix it, but it sounds like an almost exact copy of the Freeloaders‘ So Much Love To Give it’s not true!”

Russell is more than happy with his own coverage though, expressing mild surprise that the BBC’s flagship have listed their tune. In terms of sales, his expectations are clear. “I’ll be happy with a Top 20 to be honest, and ecstatic with Top 5.” And what of the Freemasons’ landlord? “He’s shitting himself! We struck the deal last October, we couldn’t think of a name, so he agreed to let us use the name of his pub. It’s a difficult week though, as The White Stripes, Kaiser Chiefs and Girls Aloud have all got singles out, so it would be a big surprise. I’ve never had a Number 1 though, so it would be amazing! We got to Number 2 before.”

“I’ll be happy with a Top 20 to be honest” – Russell Small

The “we” Russell refers to is Phats & Small, the song in question Turn Around, heard at many a disco ever since. Small wasn’t quite expecting the success. “Absolutely, we were always chasing our tails a little, and we’d never thought of making any more records after it really. We ended up making an album for Multiply (the oh so witty Now Phats What I Small Music!) in two weeks, it was an absolute joke! Our management were pretty new to the whole thing as well, so we were in the studio from 9 to 5 – that’s 5am! – and we were totally fucked, it wasn’t fun at all to be honest with you.” So who was responsible for the album’s title? “That was both of us! If the album had done as well as the title I’d be a millionaire now!”

What about the possibility of a Freemasons album? “I’d love to, but it depends on the next record we put out I suppose. I think we’ve got a good album in us, and I’d love to do a Freemasons compilation, with our tracks and remixes and stuff, that’d be great. Record labels do have a problem putting away dance albums though, dance bods aren’t as consistent as the likes of Coldplay.”

Maybe not, although one thing dance producers have in their favour is that other cash cow, the remix. “We spend double the time on remixes than we used to, maybe as much as eight days. Things aren’t as easy to remix now, either, but the results are rewarding and we’re getting stuff through. The Faith Evans remix (of Mesmerized) was our best ever; her voice was outstanding to work with. James does really food stuff with vocals as well, so we make a good remix team. We’ve just got a Jamiroquai remix too, which is a dream come true for me.”

“We make a good remix team” – Russell Small

The duo has been to Ibiza a couple of times this summer, but the biggest dates are still to come, with Dave Pearce at Caf Mambo and at Moneypennys on September 9th. However Russell confesses to just wanting to get the single out of the way. “We gave it to Skint over a year ago, so we want to move on now as we’ve got other stuff to put out, loads of new material. I’m still working with Jason on the Phats & Small stuff too, still putting my finger in.”

One of the reasons for Phats & Small’s lightning success was the popular video for Turn Around, featuring an instantly recognisable and famously eccentric Brighton boxer. “Chris Eubank was great!” enthuses Russell, “he did it for nothing, it was like, ‘as long as I can have my truck in it!’ I saw him quite recently, he’s got a Hummer now. He was standing there talking away into his mobile phone and looking really important, then suddenly his phone rang! Turns out he was talking to no-one – what a poser.”

And with that Small returns to his domestics. Keep an eye on that chart position though – if it is a Number 1, the drinks will be flowing at the Freemasons.

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Freemasons: “Record labels do have a problem putting away dance albums” – Interview