For long time readers of EQ, you know that I’ve always been a fan of Starsmith and have championed him from his humble beginnings as a brilliant remixer to his launch as a solo star with his floor-filler of a new single “Give Me A Break”. A couple weeks ago I caught up with the man himself (Fin Dow-Smith) to gab about life in the fast lane, what’s been going on in his head since the rise of mate Ellie Goulding and what he’s been up to since our first interview in February 2009.
EQ: Hey Fin – I’ve caught you in the UK, you’ve been all over the place lately man!
Starsmith: Yeah, I’m in the UK for quite awhile at the moment. I’m not allowed to use my passport for the next few months – which is lovely. It’s been great and lovely going to all these places, but it’s a bit boring when you go places on your own – you get bored of yourself very easily…
I can relate – so what you’re telling me is that you’re a boy who likes to be at home then…
Pretty much! It’s nice getting back to your own place. Even if you got loads of work to do, it’s just nice to chill on your own, with all your own stuff around you.
You did your first interview with us back in February of 2009 – a lot has happened since then. When I first talked to you, you were remixer on-the-rise and now you’re going the full-on popstar route…
Yeah! It’s amazing to start to make that transition over to artist and go away from just remixing. Being an artist is always something that I wanted to try but didn’t really think to much about it. Now I’m writing for other people too and it’s been a crazy ride so far, busy, but it’s had a lot of great results and I’m just trying to keep up the momentum.
Is being an artist really what you wanted to do or were you content at being the cool, behind the scenes guy?
I’ve always been happy with being the producer/writer guy in the background. It’s something I always see myself doing for the rest of my life no matter what. But the artist thing is something that “I wanted to give a go”. If I can write good songs for other people, then I’m confident I can write good songs for myself. Which hasn’t been the easiest of projects really. It’s a lot harder than it sounds because I’m my own worst critic. I constantly criticize everything in my own songs and I worry if it’s not individual enough. But it is great fun – it’s a massive learning curve. It’s thrown me in a different mindset of how to write tracks and records. Before I was very much about the backing track and the production, I was a bit sheepish with the top line writing and things, but now I’m doing most of it myself and it’s really opened up my eyes and gave me more confidence to throw myself in the deep end.
You’ve had a good pedigree and are really moving along at the right pace. But tell me, what have you learned about the music industry so far…
Everyone always says the music industry is very fickle and obviously some are just in it for the game and not so much about the music, but for me, it’s very much about the music and any money or success that comes along with it is a bonus. It’s not expected. There is a hell of a lot more people behind-the-scenes that I didn’t realize before. Working their asses off – I didn’t realize just how much effort it takes just to get a track from the inside of your head to iTunes…there’s so much more in-between. It’s a hell of a lot of work…I guess all in all, it’s taking the fickle people in stride too.
You’ve got some upcoming shows. I saw you you open up for Frankmusik in the “version 1.0” Starsmith show – how has the show changed since then?
I like how you said that – version 1.0 – actually that show was version 0.1 to me. I look back on those shows and realize the opportunities were brilliant and how much was on my shoulders, but I never should have done them. The tracks weren’t finished, the band was scrabbled together with friends and we struggled to get rehearsal time in. It was a great idea to give it a go back then, but looking back, I shouldn’t have done it. Now I’m not so much focused on a band thing and it’s not just a DJ thing either – it’s somewhere in-between and I’m more excited to go out there and give them a show rather than just sell my songs. When I DJ, I don’t go out there to sell the songs, I play the songs because you know it makes people feel good…and that’s exactly what I want to do with these upcoming shows. That control you get when you DJ – nothing parallels it. That’s exactly what I’m going to incorporate in my new live show.
Have you been keeping in touch with Vince (Frankmusik) – he really was a big reason as to why I started following you.
We do try to. Since Vince is in LA it’s hard to keep up with him and he’s extremely busy with his second album. I saw him when I was out there briefly with Cheryl Cole. We’ve fell out of touch a bit, but it’s not for bad reasons, no malice, it’s just because we both are stupidly busy. I’m waiting for him to come back to the UK so we can get caught up properly.
I’ve been spinning “Give Me A Break” quite a lot when I DJ, it’s just got that total feel-good factor to it. I was a bit surprised though when I heard it for the first time. It wasn’t what I was expecting from you…
I think a lot of people were surprised. In my eyes, it was never what I wanted to first release. When I took the tracks in to my label, I took in “Give Me A Break”, “Knucleduster” and two other tracks. The two other tracks were what I wanted to first put out with me being the singer. I didn’t feel I could put out a track with a sample as the very first single because then people will think he’s just some producer kind of guy just taking samples and making tracks out of them. That really worried me. In the end, though I sort of saw the label’s logic behind it and you have to remember to pace yourself and it’s a very small release for us. Any attention the single gets is beyond our expectations. We just wanted to get it out as something with my name on it so people can enjoy it. Next year is when you’ll see the much rounder picture as to what will go on my album. I think people have been surprised – they just need to wait some more…it’s early days. The album isn’t out until April, so there is a good six or seven more months of build up…It’s weird though with “Give Me A Break”. I don’t play it out much. I find it hard to play my own tracks. 99% of DJs test out their material that way, but I’ve not been like that. My remixes aren’t really ready for the club. I’d rather people enjoyed them at home in the background, I don’t want it to be blaring down their face. I’ve never seen my tracks as being relevant for the clubs.
I like the video treatment – how did the concept come about for that one…you have a penchant for pink in that one…
Well we met a director named Lacy – she’s a photographer and she has an amazing portfolio. A lot of the stuff she does is bringing 2D into 3D. It’s quite hard to explain. Like if she’s doing an advert for a shoe, she’ll take the shoe apart in all it’s parts that make it up…it’s so hard to explain, but it’s very 2D to 3D and she wanted to do the stop motion with cutouts of me. You know a 2D version of me in a 3D environment. It was shot in New York and we were both out there anyways – I was just really inspired by her ideas. I did a lot of the photography of me in London and sent it to her. I don’t know how many hours she spent making the cut outs and placing them all about, but it’s a great result!
I have to hear it in your own words – how proud are you of Ellie Goulding?
Insanely proud! It’s very hard to put it into words because I’m not sort of a gushing person. I’m not reserveed either. I’m just so extremely proud of her. It all comes to mind when I go and see her live and see how far she’s come. I was playing with her on the Little Bootstour and the little tour before that and I know what it was like spending 30 days on the road with her and seeing how nervous she was when no one knew who she was to now selling out Hammersmith Apollo. It’s hard to describe, I’m extrmely happy to have been a part of that. She’s an amazing performer and person and musician.
In my opinion, Ellie did blow up overnight – it was just incredible. It all seemed really really fast – did you think it happened too fast?
Um, well when we got Jools Holland, that was really soon. We had only played eight or nine shows together as a band and the producer of Jools Holland came out to one of our rehearsals. It was a very strict procedure to get on Jools Holland, so when we heard she was coming to see us, we were quite astonished and never thought we’d get on the show. That performance did really make it for Ellie overnight – there was never any slowing down at that point. The album got brought forward then by a couple of months. I was the last person in the pile to get told a lot of things…it was an extremely stressful time because no one was expecting it to take that quick speed after Jools Holland. But we just got on with it – we kept control of it.
All the big pop ladies like Cheryl Cole and Kylie want to work with you. What’s it like being the guy all the pop ladies want on their pop tracks?
It’s amazing! If you would have told me 18 months ago when we first did the interview that I would be working with those ladies, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s an amazing achievement and they are all lovely ladies, but it’s ALL ladies it seems! [laughs] No guys! Maybe all the guys just love doing it on their own like me – maybe it’s just like that!
What was your reaction when you got told “Put Your Hands Up” made the cut for the Kylie album?
I think we’d been in a halfway house for like a week after we delivered it. They all loved it, but they weren’t sure what the final track-listing was going to be. But when we got told, I was expecting for it to be a much more euphoric moment because we had been waiting so long and it so much time had passed from writing and recording it – it was more of a relief than anything else. Still amazing none the less – amazing feeling…