Mention the name Nightmares On Wax and one name heads the queue of musicians who’ve contributed over the years, the driving force George Evelyn. Contrary to popular misconception Evelyn isn’t a Sheffield boy – the Nightmares are from Leeds. And they’re an outfit that have built up a formidable 15 years’ service to music, electronic and otherwise.
In A Space Outta Sound is the latest opus, and musicOMH wants Evelyn’s opinion on its worth.
He’s a friendly, slightly gregarious man who immediately sounds at ease, talking for minutes without need for intervention. And when he talks about music, and his role in it, there’s no stopping him.So, the new album?
“I just think it’s all about making 20+ tracks and choosing the best of the bunch, and hopefully that leaves a bit of wanting at the end of it, and I try to do that. It’s not an easy thing to do though. I feel like the sound’s matured, and I feel like I’ve found myself more on this album.
“I think the essence has always been there, the elements, and I kind of feel like I’m gonna make music for ever now. I know what my sound is, what my feel is, I know what I’m into. It’s me going deeper into my musical upbringing and trying to exaggerate that. Actually I believe that I just exaggerate all of my musical inspirations.”
The implication is that Evelyn is happy to leave genre aside and just do what comes naturally. “Yeah, because I think trends end, that’s what they do. I just don’t think making music is about that. You realise that when you look at your mentors, they’ve just done their own thing, and it’s the self indulgent types that hit the nail on the head, they create their own bubble and their spirits are unquestioned to themselves, to anything. It’s all about being content with yourself when you’re being creative.”
Deep thoughts indeed. But Evelyn never gives the impression he’s about to vanish into his own private universe. That is abundantly clear when he talks about his recruitment policy for guest vocalists. “We kind of find each other, I never seem to have to look too far. China B worked on the last album, but used to work behind a bar. I didn’t even know she was a singer! She’s a great lyricist, great with melodies too.”
Evelyn clearly has fond memories of a shared experience that inspired the album track Flip Ya Lid, with vocalist Ricky Rankin. “When we were doing festivals and stuff, we just got on. We’d bump into each other a few times that summer in 2005, and in the end he came up to do a chorus on a track for me, and did it so quick that we said ‘oh we’ve got loads of time here, let’s do something else’.
“I’ve had clashes of characters, it’s like fucking hell there’s some egos in the studio!” – Nightmares On Wax’s George Evelyn
“So in between that he wanted to get a bit of weed, and it was pretty late at night, so when we got to the perimeter there were loads of riot police about, and he was a bit freaked out by it, and this van pulled up at the side of my car with all these riot police in it, shining the torch into my car! So it freaked him out a bit -and this was a guy that lived in Brixton! So we jumped back in the car, and started knocking a beat together, and he started freestyling, and it worked – and that whole song is just about people flipping their lid, and they just need to calm down. It was just borne out of that element of what’s round you at the time.”
Warming to his task, he moves on. “And then there’s Moses, who I’ve known for about ten, twelve years, and we were trying to write the track Damn. I could imagine a kind of gospel choir on it, and he’s an ex-church man, so he’s got contacts. He did the production on the gospel choir, and I produced some tracks to his album.”
Are all his collaborations so successful? “Sometimes when you get people into the studio it never comes off, you try and force the issue. I’ve had clashes of characters, it’s like fucking hell there’s some egos in the studio! I think the most important thing about those scenarios is how good a producer are you, and how do you manage that situation? At the end of the day it’s all about what you can get out of that time.”
Nightmares on Wax remain on the Warp label, one of the first to sign to the Sheffield imprint. Evelyn, characteristically, is at ease with their position with the company. “I used to go through years of press and promo where people would say, ‘what’s it feel like being on a techno label and you’re not techno?’ and it’s like a lot of people think we all sleep together or summat! Now I have, ‘what does it feel like being on the label and there’s loads of guitar bands on there?’ It’s just a record label. You’ve got to give them credit, they’ve built themselves up off the genre off the beginning but they’ve expanded that, they’ve had a long vision, the ambition’s there and the hunger’s there. I’m the same when it comes to putting things out.”
Quite a contrast from some of Evelyn’s contemporaries who’ve been harmed by opting for the major label route. “I know so many amazing musicians who’ve done the grandiose thing but now they’re fucked, they don’t even know who they are any more, they can’t recapture that thing that was special about them.”
“I know so many amazing musicians who’ve done the grandiose thing but now they’re fucked…” – Nightmares On Wax’s George Evelyn
Evelyn has successfully toured the album this year. “The best way to represent this album is on a soundsystem, we’ve used probably the best sound system in the country, it represents where Nightmares On Wax come from. It’s not like watching a DJ set, as we’ve got the vocals. Though there’ll be a few rewinds on Flip Ya Lid, I’m sure!”
The new album isn’t the only body of music to benefit. “When you do the back catalogue you realise what gems you’ve got and you imagine them on the soundsystem. With what I’m doing I’ve got a scratch DJ as well, and we’re trying to create a journey, with the DJ box set up in red, loads of smoke all over the place. It’s really enjoyable.”
For the rest of the year, Evelyn’s brief has been to “quietly launch my record label, which is Wax On Records. It’s for people who are doing stuff that just don’t have the opportunity to be heard, and I’ve got a platform, so why not explore that? That’s the reason why the label was launched, so I’m pretty excited about that.
“We’ve also had the three limited edition EPs, just as a special treat for the headstrong, and there’s talk in the pipeline of doing a classic album set. I know that the Smoker’s Delight album traveled through word of mouth all the way over the world, andI’d have to say yes if someone asked me if it was a cult album. It just won’t go away, there’s always something coming up every year with it. But it’s just hard to make that comment about yourself, you know what I mean?”