Kyau & Albert Talk Live Vocals & Set Lengths
I had the amazing opportunity to sit down in the green room and chat with Kyau and Albert before their sold-out, explosive set at Foundation Nightclub in Seattle. These two are just as open and personable as they seem behind the DJ decks and were all smiles as we talked about all sorts of topics ranging from ideal set lengths to production styles and performing live vocals. This was my 3rd time seeing them work their magic on stage and it was somehow even better than the last two times I saw them. Ralph and Steven have been in the dance music scene for two decades and have started a legacy in the form of their record label Euphonic Records and their 3 previous studio albums. There is a unique fun and energy that these two work into their stage presence that is one of the best parts of seeing them live. They’ll have you dancing and singing your heart out from the first track to the last.
They premiered their new video for their Moving track ‘The One’ off of ‘Nights Awake‘ for the first time at Seattle and it was a touching experience. In the video we see Steven singing “She was the one chance I had, she was the one to believe in” but his friend Ralph comes to find him when he is alone to support him and hands him a beer. It’s such a real and true display of friendship that we all can relate to.
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So here’s what we got to talk about before they blew us away with their DJ set.
OTB: So Steven, you do all of the vocals on the original tracks that you guys make and I know that a lot of artists are having vocalists sing their tracks live and I wanted to know would you ever consider singing live or do you think that taking the vocalist out of the studio ‘loses the magic’ a little bit?
Steven: Sometimes I did live vocals sometimes when I had a good mood and there was a mic but nothing really planned. We are thinking about it to include this element but also in the studio you can… I’m not a professional singer you know and probably live it might sound not so good like in the studio you know?
OTB: Yeah to me it sounds really different when you have a live singer you know because, like, at Ultra this year they had so many artists, like Armin brought out Trevor to sing on his new track and I think that personally you kind of lose some of the studio ‘magic’ and the song maybe doesn’t sound as great.
Steven: There are two sides you see, there is the live singing aspect but the other side is um, that yeah it still won’t sound the same
Ralph: The problem with a club set up like here or at the big festivals, there is a DJ and a singer singing. When you do real rock shows or pop shows, they have a different setup so they have more experienced guys on the technology.
OTB: Yeah, the sound guys?
Ralph: Yeah the sound guys, and they do it for the band you know. They do a two hour show and they do a proper setup for the singer. This normally never happens, or it’s really rare in a club thing. But we started as a band, we started as an electronic band, we were singing, we were touring in Germany we had our own tracks and a stage crew and fireworks and all the things but in 2001 we started …or 2002? And then we turned into a DJ thing and DJing is much, much more uncomplicated as we do so many shows around the world that the live thing wouldn’t really… and remembering back in the days we were also doing shows in the clubs and some people don’t really care about the live singing. Especially the dance people wanna dance.
OTB: Yeah of course, I mean it’s really cool when it’s really good but to me I feel like there are two separate skills and I was kind of curious if you guys thought the same thing it’s like you can be an amazing singer but when you are singing live every night, it takes a lot out of your voice
Steven: Yeah and you need to train a lot for that.
Ralph: Like what we are doing to bring the vocal element of Steven into it, we are using videos, you will see it tonight on the screen. Our key tracks, key vocal tracks, we bring the original video clip in the background clips and this is not a feature that a lot of artists use.
OTB: If I remember correctly you guys had videos last time you were here when you were singing. But I was just curious since it’s a somewhat new phenomenon and I wanted to know what you guys thought because you are a singer and that’s what interested me a lot. So you guys have really good energy, you know, really great stage presence, and I wanted to know how you keep that every night, you guys get a lot of sleep? Because sometimes you don’t get so much sleep on tour.
Steven: Yeah but for example today we slept the whole day because it was German night time so we had a normal night’s sleep and right now it’s like German morning so at this time we have a lot of energy but sometimes you have 3 shows in a row but stepping on stage you know you have a lot of adrenaline from the crowd.
OTB: So you guys have a new album ‘Nights Awake’ and I feel like a couple of songs like ‘Robotron’ and ‘Euphonia’ are kind of moving a little harder in style, a little more progressive, where do you feel like you’re trying to go, as artists when you’re producing new music? Do you feel like your sound is changing?
Steven: It’s not changing but it’s developing I would say, if we do all the time the same thing, it’s not our thing. Especially with the albums we always try to experiment to have influences from other genres, we slowed down the tempo a lot.
OTB: Like are you guys around 124 now?
Ralph: Eh well, more like 130 haha
Steven: But we were some of the first to slow down trance in late 2007 and all the fans said “ahhhh what…”
OTB: Well this is right before you guys remixed ‘Out of the Sky’ yeah?
Ralph: Yeah, and we also remixed Cressida’s ‘6am’ which was a huge record, it was on Tiësto, and this record was very slow and people were loving it. And now I sometimes hear… a few weeks ago, someone asked, ‘Can you please play some old-school uplifting trance like ‘6am’?’ and I said it’s not old-school uplifting it was new! But it’s the production thing!
OTB: Yeah but Armin is marketing the ‘Who’s Afraid of 138!?’ brand now and I think maybe people relate some of your older tracks to that because you guys have been making music forever whether or not the BPM matches up.
Steven: But there’s still a following.
Ralph: Yeah I think it’s more marketing the BPM. That’s it. But coming back to the new album, when you asked about styles, it’s not our first studio album.
OTB: Right it’s your third studio album.
Ralph: Right and we’ve almost made 20 years of music. I released my first album 20 years ago in Germany kind of underground and I’d just left school so when we do an album, we just don’t do an album with a lot of dance tracks. We want to bring our listeners on a journey. It’s very different but many people like it and it brings a little spice into the whole album to make it a little more colorful.
OTB: So do you build your sets like that? The album is like a journey, do you also try to build your DJ sets like a journey too?
Steven: A little bit, not exactly like an album but we always start a little more progressive and then bring up the energy during the set. So probably it depends how long we play. When you have more than two hours you can have a longer journey but when it’s a festival and you’ve only got one hour you can really only play the key tracks.
OTB: Do you guys like to play longer sets, usually?
Steven: Um, I like the middle of it not too short not too long.
OTB: I know I really like to see those 3-4 hour sets because we are going to hear all the music that we love, like all the Kyau and Albert music that we love but also we can maybe hear something new or something fresh that you’ve found that you want to share.
Ralph: We play new stuff too.
Steven: Yeah for example when you jump on stage and you are interacting for 4 hours it’s really exhausting.
Ralph: We did a few long sets, I remember a few years ago in San Francisco we did a 4 hour set and by the end we were dropping all the classics and remixes we did and productions and all that in a normal set. People enjoyed it. But for example, when we are here, I don’t think it would really be possible to play 4 hours because you need to close at 1:45?
OTB: Yeah, 1:45.
Ralph: And then we play all the big festivals for example when we play at EDC or Electric Zoo, we only have sometimes 1.5 hours.
OTB: Yeah I know I was at EDC this year and they only ever give artists an hour, an hour and a half at most because that’s just the way it is, they book hundreds of artists and they have to fit them all in.
Ralph: We also have this in UK festivals, in the UK we play only 1 hour and I think it’s too short. I think the perfect time is 2 hours.
Steven: But for the people I think maybe it’s a different experience, they have the chance to see more DJs.
OTB: But on the other hand you know if it’s a DJ set that you really like or someone that you’ve been following for a very long time if you get into that long set, maybe I think to myself, ‘If I get to see Kyau and Albert for 3 hours, then you might reach back into 2008 and bring back something we haven’t heard recently’ and that’s so much fun because maybe it’s something you weren’t expecting. Of course you know we need to hear the songs from ‘Nights Awake’ that we love like ‘All Your Colours’ or ‘A Night Like This’ and that’s what the crowd kind of expects but when you have that long set you guys get to have some fun like ‘Oh maybe you don’t remember this song!’
Steven: Yeah, yeah sometimes that’s really nice!
OTB: So I was curious, you guys are really busy, you run Euphonic Records, you’re on tour, you produce albums, you also have your radio show. How do you guys manage the work?
Steven: Well, for example the radio shows we do on tour.
Ralph: And we only do it once a month. I mean a weekly radio show, a good radio show, where you don’t repeat the tracks you did in the last week it’s quite hard. But on the other hand, you know, we sometimes do breaks and block a weekend. For example last year, we had for the first time, free for New Years in 12 years. You know, New Year’s Eve? So we spent a lot of time with family and it was really cool. So we sometimes do breaks also when we sometimes do final productions of the album but we never get the deadlines you know? Or at least not all the time, that’s how it is.
OTB: That’s music, yeah?
Steven: Yeah! haha.
OTB: So, a lot of artists say that it’s really hard to master your own music. When you guys produce your studio albums do you master your own tracks? How do you deal with ear fatigue? A lot of producers have their tracks mastered because they have already heard their own work a thousand times.
Ralph: I think it’s the experience of the set-up. The monitors.
Steven: This could also be an issue because someone else might not do it the way you like it. We have an advantage because we can test the master first on the floor so that’s why we never did one master and ‘that’s it’. It’s mostly changing.
OTB: Oh so it’s like a process?
Ralph: It’s an engineering process so first we start with the idea, the demo, then we try to make the proper track, the vocals and lyrics writing and all the things, and then once we have the track arrangement-wise ready, we adjust it over a couple of weeks to have the perfect mix down.
Steven: I think that both methods work. Every way has its advantages and disadvantages.
OTB: So who writes the lyrics on your tracks? How does song writing work for you two?
Ralph: Well he (Steven) wants to almost write what he wants.
Steven: Well of course we share but most of the time we don’t work together in the studio so everyone brings their own things to the tracks but I need to be alone to do something and same with him.
OTB: So you kind of work separately and then you bring your work back together and make it mesh?
Ralph: Of course we are together in the studio when we want to try things out for example on the new track we are trying out different bass lines and sitting together and asking ‘does it work or not?’
OTB: Do you guys ever play live shows separately if you have to?
Ralph: Only when there is some family holiday or something.
Steven: But we don’t play two times in the same day. Sometimes someone is traveling alone but we don’t double book.
Ralph: Or for example last year I damaged my leg and there were 10 days in the hospital so he did the shows alone.
OTB: I was just curious because, well there are a lot of examples but, for one example Willem from W&W was in the hospital a month in June and they cancelled all their June shows. I thought to myself, well if one of them is sick why doesn’t just one of them play?
Steven: They cancelled their shows?
OTB: Yeah they did, they cancelled their EDC set too, which is a big contract.
Ralph: I think for people and promoters it is better when both guys come but when one can’t come because of some family thing or…
Steven: If it’s a decision between no one comes or one guy comes I think I would choose to have one guy come.
OTB: Yeah I agree, I mean to us, the fans, I think it’s more or less the same. You guys are both DJs it’s not like one guy is doing all the mixing and one guy stands there and does nothing so…
Ralph: Yeah but we only do this two times a year. Not more.
OTB: So how is it on stage then? Do you take turns picking tracks or do you kind of practice your sets beforehand?
Ralph: Well we don’t prepare the track list before but as we do it almost, well not almost every week, many times a week! We are so experienced, that we play tracks we like. We play the tracks that work and then we have incoming tracks from the radio show and we think ‘yeah this might work’ here and so it’s very spontaneous you know?
OTB: What kind of music are you guys listening to right now?
Steven: We hear a lot of promos so sometimes when I go home I just listen to the radio.
Ralph: Yeah I mean our week is full of music, full of music, so basically sometimes when you are at home you don’t really need to. It’s not like we don’t want to listen to music it’s just that when you are at home you don’t say ‘I wanna check out the new album from whoever’ so you listen to music but not the way as someone who is working 10 hours a day in the office and is happy to go home and listen to the Kyau and Albert Euphonic Sessions, you know? We do listen to music but not really selectively. I sometimes do channel crossing on the radio and I end up on some classical channel or listening to Top 40 or some downbeat whatever.
OTB: Do you guys find inspiration in other types of music sometimes?
Steven: I personally like the indie rock sometimes like Coldplay or stuff like this so sometimes they are doing really great songs and it can be an inspiration.
Ralph: We get inspiration from recent club tracks but also from other channels.
OTB: Cool! Do you guys have any new tracks to play tonight?
Steven: Yeah we have some new stuff we are going to try.
Ralph: Yes and it’s also the first club premier of our new video single ‘The One’ it’s on the album. The video is already on YouTube and it’s getting released next week; it’s a priority single from the album. We do a big radio promotion in the UK, in Germany and the US for this but the world club premier for the video is right here. We listen to the fans and they often ask ‘Will you do a promo club mix?’ and we got a very good response on ‘The One’ and then we decided. It was just after ‘Night’s Awake’ was released and we decided we would do ‘The One’ so after we did the collab with Stoneface and Terminal we did the video clip. Armin just played it Thursday on A State of Trance.
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