Behind The Beat | Alex MORPH Interview

I recently had the awesome opportunity to sit down with  DJ and Producer Alex MORPH and talk about his music, the trance scene, and a bit about how DJing in the music industry has changed. He came out last weekend to Foundation Nightclub in Seattle and swept us all away with a set full of beautiful and uplifting trance music. But before Alex got on the decks, I had the opportunity to ask him some questions I’ve had about his previous albums and collaborations, giving me the chance to learn more about the music I’ve loved for years.

It was clear to me during the interview that he’s an artist with a great sense of humor and a lot of passion for music.  He also has a wealth of knowledge to share about making music and playing music.  Then I watched the show and by looking at how much fun he was having on stage you could really see that love for what he does come alive during moments like when he’s looking out over the crowd and singing every word from “The One” by Simon Patterson with us.

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So here’s what we got to talk about before I went to the dance floor to smile, sing, and dance to some great music.

OTB: I was really curious, you’ve done a lot of work in the past with vocalists like Ana Criado. How does that work for you when you work with a vocalist, do they write the vocal melody and lyrics?

Alex: Well mostly so far with my tracks the melody is from my side first (some melody or some idea) and I’d send it to the vocalists and they write the top line.  It’s very rare that the vocalist sends something and then I do something on top. It can work in both ways though.  The thing with vocalists is you have to work with everyone in different ways because for example with Ana Criado I think I was the first one who was doing a dance record with her, she was still a folk singer and she was not into electronic music at all so I had to provide a backing without any beats.

OTB: So Just the chords?

Alex: It was just the melody, the chords and everything, you know, the strings and piano and I think it was a little slower than the original record was in the end but um that was how it was with Ana.

OTB: Is that kinda how it worked for Sunset Boulevard?

Alex: Yea that was more of the thing for Sunset Boulevard. For some, they request the beat so it really depends, some just say ‘Hey, give me the ground keys and I will do something around it and then they put something on top’ so it depends who it is.

OTB: So you’ve got a new track out with Jerome Isma-ae called “Bang!

Alex: Yeah

OTB: That’s really exciting, I think it’s really different from your old sound.

Alex: Yes it’s completely different! That was the aim because I’d left it for one and a half years on my harddrive and I was never really happy with it because it was supposed to really be something different.  At first it was kind of a track for my Prime Mover album but in the end it didn’t make it but I still had it left. I was not sure what to do with it you know?  But I still believed in it because I really liked the basic notes and stuff in it. I think it came up because I was asking Jerome for a remix and we talked a bit further and he said he had an idea for it. I said “let me hear your thoughts” and he was listening to it and I thought “Hey, we should do it together” so he added his stuff on top (his Jerome Isma-ae style on top) and then “Bang!” was finished.

OTB: Yeah because his style is much more that progressive sound

Alex: Yes, exactly.

OTB: And you have more of the traditional trance style.

Alex: Yeah the thing is the trance world is really hard to get out of. Its really hard to get something running on the side or different

OTB: Well the genre is changing a lot now too.

Alex: It’s always changing but the people don’t get it. They still talk about the old. The trance-heads worry too much, they think too much.

OTB: I know, I love trance but I like a lot of the new movements within it too.

Alex: You have to like it because it has to evolve. In the end there are always fusions and new ways, but they think too much about everything “yeah the high-end on this…” (haha) There is no other crowd who is thinking more about music than these guys and on one side it’s not bad but too much… I got very very big reactions for Bang! as well. I got many good comments but many bad comments as well but I’m fine with it because when I do something with another guy who is known for another style I want to do something which is different from my normal stuff. Why should I team up with another guy but have it still sound the same, like just me? There must be something there which says “Oh hey, these guys did something together and it sounds fresh“. Even if you like it or not, you can leave it to the customer whether to buy it or not nobody’s forced to take it. If you don’t like it, just wait for the next one but there’s no reason to be thinking about “Oh he’s a sell-out”.

OTB: So back in 2011 you did a collaboration with Armin and Ana Criado called Triple-A. I’m curious, are you guys thinking about putting out new tracks? Because “Winter Stayed“is such a great song.

Alex: Yeah, thank you! Well for sure there’s a try for the future to make a new one but there’s not really a deadline because Armin has his thing and I have my thing.  For sure I’m already busy and he’s always on tour or working on his show or playing a special for the new King in Holland there’s always something going on for him so it’s not like we ever sit down for the whole day and think “yeah we should really do something” it’s always about the time frame. When somebody has a good idea for sure we will do something but it could be you know half a year it could be 3 months it depends you know?  Sometimes it comes quick and sometimes it takes two years.

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OTB: Kind of like “it takes as long as it takes?” 🙂

Alex: Yes, it takes as long as it takes! And I don’t want to rush it because the last time people really liked it so we want to make something nice not like we’re rushing for a follow-up. We want something special.

OTB: I was just curious because I just liked that collaboration between your style, Armin’s style, and of course Ana Criado is a very talented vocalist.

Alex: Yeah it was a great one and I’m pretty sure there will be something coming up.

OTB: I’ve heard some artists say a kind of interesting comment along the lines of “More new tracks get written in the airport than in studios now because of the life of a touring artist” Do you have to do a lot of work on your laptop while you’re touring now or do you still get time to sit down in the studio?

Alex: You know these days of course you have more possibilities to work on the road because mobile computers are always getting more and more power. You can do more and more and use more plug-ins on the road. A few years ago maybe you could run Logic and put two synthesizers on and some effects but at some point that was it. You couldn’t really finalize a sound or something for a hook and these days of course you can do much much more on the road but it’s still weird not to do some things at home. You have way more, how shall I say it, you have way more possibilities to work on the road or maybe in the hotel room between gigs but not really on the plane because there’s not much space and you have people sitting all around you kind of like “What is he doing?” with your headphones on.  For sure, there are some guys who probably do everything on the road now but me, I need my speakers.  Headphones are not too bad but they still don’t have the power and the clarity of hi fidelity speakers in the studio.

OTB: So I’m curious, DJing and Producing are pretty separate skills, I’d say they’re definitely related but separate. Just because you have good production doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good DJ. So when you started out, did you start out producing music or did you start out DJing?

Alex: Well when I was starting, I was 13, and when I was 13, there was no chance to do some music without knowing a guy who has a studio because in those days there were no plug-ins. You needed the hardware and it costs a lot of money. You needed all this stuff to tune the sound after: racks and racks of equipment, everything was DC so you have that DC buzz so you needed tools to edit that out and then you need other tools to get high-fidelity. So when I was 13 there was no possibility at all to do it and DJing, well, A DJ was nothing in that age I was a ‘bad guy’ in school, I was a black sheep, because they think “There is something wrong with this guy, he’s spending all his money on a collection of records” but you know now I get to travel the world instead of sitting at home on the couch at the end of the day. If someone would have told me at 13 that a DJ would fill stadiums I would have though “Yeah, right, OK”.

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OTB: So with the new technology, what do you think is really important for new artists? Where do you think they should start, production or working their way up through the nightclubs and DJing?

Alex: The problem is, you can be best the DJ right now and you’re up-and-coming but if you have no productions nobody books you. In the past, maybe you have connections with a guy who runs a nightclub and you can do opening spots, or play while the headliner is in the toilet, that’s how you did it before the focus on production started and that was the way to get in. You had to send in demo-tapes and guys wanted to hear your skills and the music you played. These days, it’s the other way around, you could play with 5 decks but if you don’t have the productions, especially as a new guy, it’s really really hard to come up in this world. There are some really great technicians and fast mixers out there. It is a bit sad, though, because you do sometimes get these young producers who haven’t had time to get DJ skills and they get lucky and produce a huge hit. They get booked because the promoters say “Hey the people are requesting that guy and they want to see him” and maybe their technically totally unable to beat match and they have no skills for how to build up the night. There are so many things you have to look at as a DJ. I was playing in a commercial club and having to read the dance floor and that’s how you get the skills but these new guys don’t even care about the dance floor half the time because they have people behind them saying, “Hey YOU are the man, you do your thing, don’t worry about the people”. It’s possible to keep your style and still play a great show.

 

Tony Apfelbeck
I grew up listening to BT, Armin Van Buuren, Paul Oakenfold, Paul Van Dyk and Tiësto. Trance and House music are my religion and I've got church every Friday and Saturday night.
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