INTERVIEW: Music and Cars – SkiddMark meets Chicane
I don’t consider myself to be scared by speed. I’ve been on superbikes, blitzed through tunnels at full chat in Italian supercars, sat on the loud pedal for longer than I should on the Autobahn, but after my recent trip to the continent I’ve just had to recalibrate my sense of what is rapid acceleration.
Wind the clock back a couple of weeks and I’ve just hopped into the back of a discreet Audi B5 RS4 outside Geneva airport. The driver of said vehicle has a manic grin on his face as after no less than two minutes of pottering down Geneva’s high streets, he’s found the slip road to enter the road out of the world’s most neutral country and into the French Alps.
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What happens next is difficult to describe. You see, this particular RS4 has been passionately and lovingly tinkered with in every way imaginable. The headline change however is that this car has now become the ultimate sleeper due to the fact it puts out in excess of 600bhp. Yes, more than six hundred brake horsepower. Yikes.
Flat out in the outside lane is RS4 home territory
Coming off the slip road, our intrepid host holds the car in second, allows the road to slightly straighten then points the nose of the scarlet monster at the gorgeous horizon and stamps on the accelerator. I feel like Nelson Piquet must have when pointing and squirting his 1983 turbo-charged Brabham BMW around tracks of yesteryear.
The power delivery is so savage and brutal that shifting to third isn’t even considered – it’s straight from second into fourth within a blink of an eye, a few more seconds and blurred Swiss scenery later we’re in fifth before shortly snatching sixth. Does my travel insurance cover this? Despite the stiffer suspension and lower ride height, the RS4 is still doing an excellent impression of a cinemagoer craning their neck upwards having sat too close to the front.
Now with the outside lane barrier whisking past me at speeds usually appropriate for commercial planes to take off at, I spot in the side mirror my colleague with the myriad camera equipment in his hands grinning like an idiot. As he points the rolling camera to the driver perhaps expecting a smug quote about the manic performance of his car, instead the man behind the wheel coolly sighs and declares, “Hmm, it’s definitely slower with a couple of people in the car, definitely.” This man is also obviously unfazed by extreme speed.
Nick Bracegirdle [ please click to open]
The man behind Chicane - Nick Bracegirdle
I’m in the car with 39 year old Nick Bracegirdle, the brainchild of the band Chicane, all round petrolhead plus similarly large and cheeky character as Piquet. For those of you who don’t know Nick, you’ll definitely have heard his work. His first major release and hit was Offshore which has now become one of the most memorable songs in modern dance music, having been used by numerous television programmes as tranquil mood setting music.
Nick followed this up in 1999 with Saltwater, another song you’ll instantly remember featuring the sweeping vocals of Clannad’s Moya Brennan, before collaborating shortly afterwards with Bryan Adams on the #1 smash hit Don’t Give Up. As testament to Chicane’s range of quality tracks, the Best Of went Gold to add to the other hundreds of thousands of records Nick’s sold down the years.
Having produced hit after hit for the past fifteen years, Nick’s currently gearing up for the release of his fifth studio album, Giants. Fans of Chicane are excited not just to hear new material, but also because the latest release is rumoured to feature a return to the older Chicane style which set Nick on the path to global recognition in the last century.
Nick invited SkiddMark out to his studio buried in the French Alps a couple of months ago, with our initial plans scuppered by the Icelandic ash saga. Quickly re-scheduled, I’ve now set foot into mainland Europe to catch up with the man so passionate about cars he even formed his own record label after Ferrari’s hometown – Modena Records. The brief was to chat about cars and music, as well as to get a glimpse of the life behind one of the most talented British musicians in recent times.
En Route [ please click to open]
The view most people get of Nick's highly modified RS4
As an individual who hides behind a band moniker rather than dominates the headlines ala Lady Gaga, it’s perhaps appropriate that Nick’s daily driver is an Audi RS4, the ultimate in stealth performance motoring. Outside the RS4 is immaculate but inside it’s a very standard no frills affair, this car has had money spent not on comfort but instead where it matters – going faster. Having left the flat roads of West Switzerland in search of the mountainous climbs of France, our pace is no longer Fangioesque as Nick slows somewhat to narrate us through the glorious scenery laid on by this part of the world.
The surreal nature of the day starts continues as Nick points out landmarks like “Schumacher lives there … Oh, Hamilton’s got a place up around there,” in between violent accelerations to burst past slower cars and bicycle traffic practicing ahead of July’s Tour de France. In just the first few miles with Nick it becomes very clear that he is a true petrolhead and not the sort who just turns up annually at the Silverstone F1 race for a bit of media face time – he amusingly shows the era he grew up in when describing errors in driving as “Getting a bit Nige.”
Planning another overtake in beautiful surroundings
To demonstrate this genuine love of cars, Nick not only talks knowledgeably about cars and his long history of various ownership, but in tight corners he’s leaning incredibly hard on the nose of the RS4 and stamping on the accelerator to show me how neutrally balanced the car is and its refusal to neither understeer or oversteer. He’s picked up his talent for driving through a passion for cars for a very young age, but had things refined after a solid month spent at Lotus’ test facility in Hethel learning from some of the best chassis designers and driving instructors how to control a car close to its peak performance. I’d say you probably need that to handle this car.
Before taking us to his home studio, Nick darts us up an incredible set of hairpins, leaving us so high that we people are hand gliding underneath us. You can see why you would build a home around here – great weather, breathtaking scenery and beautiful roads draped across testing undulations.
Nick has modified more than just the engine on his banzai daily driver
Popping out to stretch our legs and catch some shots of Nick’s toy in its favourite environment, he summarises outside of the horsepower increase what exactly has been done to this Audi since he originally picked it up. All work has been done by Chas Lawler at Russell Automotive.
AWE intercoolers with carbon fibre intakes
Bespoke Revo ECU
H&R suspension and roll bars
Hybrid turbos by Turbo Dynamics
K&N Induction kit
RS4 mkII 2 discs/callipers
Tangora short shift
Uprated intake pipes by Samco
Ascent [ please click to open]
Our SkiddMark onboard camera captured all of the action
Now back in the car with the SkiddMark onboard camera mounted to the front to capture lovely Rendezvous style shots, Nick tells us he’s going to take us to the top of the piste so we can get shoot a brief Q&A looking over the world beneath.
When I first got in the car at Geneva Airport, I noticed Nick had a whole stack of iPhones in the centre compartment. They weren’t for show either as every single one of them was relentlessly beeping away, all clamouring the attention of a man who runs not just the band, but also deals with all the management, logistics, graphics and other associated headaches other artists would normally outsource. By his own admission Nick tells us he’s extremely hands on, a situation he’s comfortable with and one of his own design. But more on music later.
Having scorched our way to the top of a beautiful mountain pass in surely single mpg figures, we pull in to chat about what Nick loves most about cars and how his career with Chicane has weaved in and out of his passion for motoring. Having spent the last hour hearing epic tales of 190mph tuned Espirits in the 90s being accidentally half written off on roundabouts and his distaste (to put it mildly) for any Ferrari that rolled out of Maranello between the 355 and 430 (“612 – blimey, what was that about?!”), I know I’m in for some very interesting answers.
Nick took us to the top of the piste to talk of his passion for cars
My first question is to immediately link both Chicane and cars by asking Nick to say which marque Chicane would be if it was a car.
Oh, crikey. Probably Lamborghini – unpredictable, dangerous! I’d like to say Lotus but that stands for Lots.Of.Trouble.Usually.Serious and I know that after owning about six of them. That’s a very, very tricky question, we’ll go for Lamborghini.
Having seen him drive as hard as his hero Nigel Mansell, did Nick ever harbour any ambitions of being a racing driver instead of a musician?
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Well I started off with an XR2 and drove my parents mad with worry and I just love driving. I would’ve liked to have gone into it but I don’t know whether I’d have had the 10th degree of talent to be successful in it and make a living out of it, but we like to dream as kids don’t we?
Having owned Ferraris in the past and named his record label after Ferrari’s hometown, where did this passion and love for Maranello’s most famous company come from?
Well I’m basically from a background of art, design and graphics and classic cars like Ferrari for me are beautiful moving sculptures. Something like the 355 managed to combine beauty and a great engine noise. Now, these are the things that go into making great cars, not just the power, it’s how they look and drive and those things are all encompassing. So for me, it was one of the grittiest Ferraris of all time. It wasn’t as if I followed Ferrari religiously like they could do no wrong as I think they’ve done plenty wrong. It’s just for me a beautiful car.
Like most people, Nick wouldn't say no to a Lamborghini Gallardo on the drive
To get a wider feel for Nick’s tastes I offered him £2,000,000 to spend exclusively on cars – how would he spend it?
£2,000,000? Argh. Well we’ve got to have a Mac F1 don’t we? Again that was for me, even including the Bugatti Veyron, the only car that was built without compromise really. I think it’s a beautiful piece of work, it’s understated and everything about the car is just so special, right up to its three seat layout. I think I’d always love to have one and I always chuckle to myself thinking Rowan Atkinson has one, so we’d have one of them!
I don’t think I’d go for a Veyron or something like that, it’s kind of a sledgehammer really. I think a couple of Lamborghinis, a high-spec Gallardo and probably really scary Murcielago – ‘look at you wrong and kill you’ kind of car. And I think I’d be partial to a Ferrari 458, I’m impressed with that as it’s the first really good looking Ferrari in a very long time. I adore Ferraris but I don’t really like where they went after the 355, the 360 and 430 I felt were superb bits of engineering but weren’t very pretty. I think that’s why we’re seeing such a response to the 458 because it’s such a beautiful car and everyone thinks Ferrari is back!
What is it that you most love about driving?
In this part of the world, the driving enthusiast is spoilt for choice of exhilarating roads
I guess it’s a combination of acceleration and your brain going into what I call thinking mode. You disengage all those worries, you get in the car, you go for a blast with the wind in your hair and it feels good. A great performance car on a great road – it’s complete escapism. You disengage your brain, you focus on what you’re doing and while you’re doing that your brain wanders off and it’s thinking about the important things in life!
Do I ever feel an element of fear come into it? Well particularly when I’m in a 355 going backwards down the road which I’ve done a couple of times! In the RS4, it’s very hard to get it wrong, you’ve got to be a real chimp to put this in the ditch. The 355 was quite a handful, rear wheel drive and 400bhp so that car liked to dance on anything other than a bone dry road, so you had ‘fun.’ But that was the fun of it, you took yourself up to the edge, had a little peak over and then thought, er, maybe not!
There’s never been a Chicane music video featuring cars ala Jamiroquai’s Cosmic Girl – why is that?
Not yet, not yet! You never know. I’d dearly love to do a Cosmic Girl video, that would be great. No real reason why we haven’t, it’s just one of those things I haven’t got round to yet. I’d be interested in it, I’ll get on the phone to Mr. Montezemolo and have him lay on a couple of motors for the weekend!
Nick looks down on the world above his studio
So many Chicane songs go well with driving, have you ever composed a song for driving or had driving in mind when you wrote it?
A long time ago I did a song called ‘The Drive Home,’ a really depressing tune actually. But yeah, I love driving along with a great track, but actually, nine times out of ten, if I’m pushing on the stereo goes off and it’s all about the engine and the exhaust.
Descent [ please click to open]
We’ve decide to wrap up the car questions for now as more than anything, we’re all feeling a bit peckish. In an effort to preserve both brake fluid and what’s in our stomachs, we glide down the pass we quickly ascended half an hour before. On the sedate run down towards the studio, Nick tells us how with the RS4, whilst he’s keen to explore the power junkie in himself, he doesn’t want a racing car for the road. Consequently, he’s stuck with the standard comfy seats despite their bulk, claiming “I’m not going down the Recaro route.”
When I put it to him that given all the modifications made to the RS4, it’s already more than half way there, he just shakes his head and instead tells me what he’d really like if he wanted to go down that route, which is unsurprisingly Italian. “I guess I’d love one of those new Lamborghini Gallardos.” I ask if he means the 570-4. Grinning back he agrees, “Yeah, then make it a bit more mad.” As if it wasn’t crazy enough in standard form …
Nick's RS4 is just as capable in the corners as it is in a straight line
For someone who grew up in the sleepy county of Buckinghamshire and is known for producing chill out anthems, it seems amusing that Nick’s car preferences aren’t more closely linked to his music. An early history of cars that included everything from hot hatches to BMW M3s led Nick to purchasing a Ferrari 355 Berlinetta, a car he was extremely fond of simply for the noise it used to make. “You’d come back from a gig at crazy AM and just get in it and go for a blast, and those drives in the dark were always the best. Just you and the road.” With music? “You didn’t need music playing in that car!”
Getting closer to the studio now as we trickle through a quaint ski village, every time we have to come to a stop and then start again there’s a slight grimace on our host’s face – despite going update crazy everywhere else on the RS4, he’s still running the original style clutch. Whilst this keeps launches slightly smoother than if a racing one was fitted, the downside of this in Nick’s words surrounded by laughter is that “It does means I go through clutches every now and again.” Now and again being three clutches a year. Work hard, play hard.
Lunch and The Music Industry [ please click to open]
Nick sits down over lunch to explain his views on the music industry
In order to stave away any nutters and more importantly, reside in a beautiful and secluded area, Nick’s house is set far back away from public viewing. It’s one of those places where you step out and it all immediately makes sense why you’d live here, particularly as someone who looks for inspiration in his daily surroundings. Despite currently going through a slightly messy renovation process, the potential for the house is stunning, with the views afforded difficult to match elsewhere.
What I’m becoming aware of when speaking with Nick about Chicane is how fiercely protective of the brand he is and everything linked to it. His extreme self-confidence in his abilities and the quality of his work also are becoming apparent as the day goes on, a trait that is pre-requisite when doing a lot of the work alone. Having worked with every major record label, Chicane is now run independently giving Nick more freedom but at the same this demands greater responsibility and exposes him more financially. As a result, it gives us some insightful and interesting answers that you wouldn’t get with a conventional artist signed up to a major record label.
So having sat down to give my eyeballs a rest from being blown out of their sockets, I’m keen in this more relaxed environment to turn the questions away from about the likes of Italian supercars and more towards Chicane and the music industry in general.
It’s tough. Really, really, tough. I pride myself on that I’m still here, still chipping away at it. It’s very difficult and when you’re an independent like me, getting records cut etc. if it doesn’t work out, then it hits you hard, very, very hard. I’ve been signed to pretty much every major label and I now have my own and do pretty much everything.
It’s high pressure and I wear a lot of hats – it’s why I can’t be on Twitter at 9:30 at night telling everyone I’m taking a shit! I’m a bit of a control freak to be perfectly honest, right from the graphics to, well, everything. So I am wearing all the hats but it’s just necessary now. It’s not easy, but if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!
I then tell Nick that he must have a key set of people around that he can trust as it’s impossible to do everything himself. He agrees and tells me his inner circle is a very tight knit group, but distributing songs to be successful is a black art and never more so than today. After explaining to us how his last two singles were enormous club chart hits, Nick goes on to explain the creative and label points of view he has to consider when constructing a song.
I mean, I think with both hats on. Obviously I do what I want creatively and musically, I just love it. But also in the same breath I have to think ‘We should probably get this person in to sing it as their profile’s working well on the radio and that’s what we need to be looking at.’ It’s no good getting some opera star in who sounds great but has no particular commercial value. You’ve just got to get that balance. My music is a tightrope between being very cool and club friendly, but also having enough commercial edge to warrant it getting onto radio.
Nick cites his ability to 'come again' as why he's still producing big records
To give what he’s saying some context, I ask Nick what the balance was with Saltwater (featuring Irish traditional group Clannad’s Moya Brennan) where the singer was quite unusual. From there he tells us more about the industry, his initial experiences and how he’s still able to put out successful records almost 20 years on from his first successes.
Hmm, 50/50. Yeah, half and half. More of a personal record that than anything and a long time ago! Crikey, two decades. There are a lot of kids knocking about now who don’t know where certain things are from, but that’s life. There’s not many of us left if you look back from when I sort of started … The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and Groove Armada. The real key to the business is being able to come again, because if you get knocked back you’ve got to come back with another record, then another record and another record.
You know, I can remember doing my first record, doing Offshore and thinking ‘Oh, great!’ to myself but the moment we were A-listed on Radio 1 I was already thinking about the next one, doing the next one and just shitting myself thinking ‘God, I’ve got to do it again! All again.’ Back then it was quite a taxing thought to think ‘How am I going to dream one of these up again?’ Now I find I do it with relative ease and it doesn’t bother me. I just go again – and that’s the key. I guess I’m just a better producer, better writer and more experienced now, so I can draw on more things.
James Hockley who I’ve been working with for the last two years, he’s really good. I will talk a language of music with him, ‘It’s got to sound like this and a bit like that,’ and he’ll understand what I’m talking about. But that’s the reason I’m still here, I’m able to come again. I’m convinced in my own abilities, I know what I’m doing, it’s just convincing everyone else … I’m always right! Ha!
Winning X-Factor equals Ferrari time? Not in Nick's eyes ...
Moving things rapidly forward to the era of reality shows such as X-Factor and the emergence of YouTube, I asked Nick how this has affected Chicane and him personally. He’d told me earlier that it’s a demonstration of the “now culture” as people expect things to happen immediately, where as in the past an artist would begin by perhaps scraping into the top 40, then go again later, land a bit higher and build on that. Now Nick tells me how the game’s changed a lot.
I’ve known how this game works from the off, caught a few colds on the way but that’s how it goes. With those shows though, 90% end up being forgotten about despite half of them winning and thinking ‘Great, it’s Ferrari time.’ It isn’t, it really, isn’t. Will Young though, he’s done well and that’s because he’s got some writing talent and is no stooge.
But you’ve got to be the writer, the originator – it’s no good being someone that just sings well. I mean there are exceptions to the rule, like Susan Boyle! I mean she’s made millions singing other people’s records, but that’s unusual. But hey, up she comes from absolutely nowhere and sings really well, so that’s good.
But yeah, the speed of how quickly people want things these days, it’s very difficult. It’s part of the download thing, it’s very difficult to make people wait, everyone thinks ‘I must get it.’ It’s kind of a throwaway culture that we’ve developed and it’s quite hard. I don’t … I try not to subscribe to it, I try to do what I want to do, it’s ready when it’s ready but you are still competing with all that. It’s tough, but that’s the game! I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
Having said all this though, would Nick still agree that when it all comes down to it, good music will always come out on top?
Yes pretty much, but with a bit of luck too. You’ve got to work it correctly, generate everything you need to make it work, work all the angles. Luck … ah, I know there’s no such thing as luck, you make your own and you’ve got go out and make it happen. If you’re on your own, work with all the equipment you have and get your track out there, it’s difficult. Nothing easy about it at all.
Wow, I make it sound so doom and gloom! Don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful moments and I’m lucky to do what I do. I’ve been doing this 15 odd years now and I look at it sometimes and think ‘Wow, really?’ We have this restrictive sort of egg timer process and we have all this music trying to get through this little gap. When it works, it’s beautiful and it’s great and the doors open a little bit more for the next one.
"Certain melodies and chords over certain things evoke certain emotions and it’s about being able to capture those moments in the right template ... then piecing it altogether, that’s a good record. "
Before we enter the room where it all happens, my final question is did Nick believe when he released Offshore that it would be a big hit? I half expected to hear a response saying along the lines of “One never knows until you do it,” but the answer I got was very different and all the more interesting for it.
You have to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Did I think it’d be such a big record? Yes. Because if I didn’t think that in the first place, I wouldn’t have done it, would I? I wasn’t just scurrying about, floundering around doing it for the sake of it. Of course I thought it was going to be a big record, I’d hoped it was going to be a big record, that’s my job! You’ve got to feel it, believe it, just like in any industry otherwise you’re not doing your job properly. You don’t think about going to the moon and shoot yourself half way, you’ve got go all the way and that’s how it works mentally. You have to believe, 100%, this is a huge record. It’s always for me, but I’m fortunate because what I like and do has a commercial slant to it.
You have to understand why certain songs make you feel about things, just learn what it’s all about. Certain melodies and chords over certain things evoke certain emotions and it’s about being able to capture those moments in the right template … then piecing it altogether, that’s a good record. But you have to understand, feel and know why certain records make people go ‘I love this record.’ And that’s so key. So I think that’s why Chicane works, I know how it works in my head … it’s very hard to explain why that is. You have to find the right sounds, a lot of it’s to do with that and just … it’s very complicated and yet very simple at the same time. You just have to believe in everything that you do.
In the Studio [ please click to open]
Technophobes look away now - it's gadget city in the studio
As a non-musician, it was fascinating to hear Nick talk so openly about how the music industry works from someone who’s seen it from so many angles as a writer, producer, label owner and artist on a big label. What I was most interested to see all day from a musical stand point though was his studio set up to get a feel for where music that is sold around the world is born from.
Walking from outside into the house I find myself in Modena Record’s French air-cooled studio, with a whole sea of gadgets and other electronic wizardry set out before me. It’s also a room that would make Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs very proud as two large Mac monitors dominate the centre of the studio, flanked on both sides by a couple of Macbooks.
A webcam sits slightly to the left of the centre chair where Chicane co-producer James Hockley can work remotely with Nick on projects via video – a very modern set up all round. Elsewhere there’s what you’d expect in a musical room – keyboards left, right and centre in both full length and short configurations, electric guitars and of course, samplers and synthesisers to help produce those trademark Chicane sounds.
What strikes me about the studio though was how small it was against my expectations. I’m not quite sure what I expected, certainly not a room fit to house the full Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, but it was interesting to see how technology has allowed even world famous artists to condense everything into what is effectively a small room. Having said that, the room has been designed especially for studio use with no expense spared, with Nick pointing out the back wall is subtly curved and all the walls are floating, so it’s full of little crucial touches that are invisible to the untrained eye.
If you’ve watched the trailer for this interview you will have seen that speaking with Nick isn’t like a normal interview, we seemed to spend half of the day laughing and then saying, “Okay, seriously now.” Hopefully that fun, relaxed and crazy nature comes through in this section as we delve into life in the studio.
In the interests of kicking off with a good tempo and laughter, I asked Nick to recall the most crazy memory in his journey as the man behind Chicane.
Haha! Probably in Manila doing a show back in 2005 or something. I played practically in a chicken shed, it was a cockfighting arena, it held like 3,000 people, so they crammed in 6,000. It was just an unbelievable place and I walked in there for a sound check and there was a sign on the door that said ‘Please leave your handguns in your car.’ So that gave you an idea of the sort of gig that we were doing. That was a bit of a worry!
I remember very little of the show actually. I can remember myself and my percussionist getting to our dressing room and there was nothing to drink, so we decided to sort of break into a room upstairs and we kind of stole one of those big water canister things you see in offices. Except it wasn’t water, it was this sort of blue stuff which we can only describe later on as being possibly absinthe. So I’d probably had half a pint of absinthe before I went on stage, which is not a good thing! I was apparently running around the stage throwing things at people and generally making a nuisance of myself.
Anyway, the show came to the end and I’d grabbed the microphone off the singer, told everyone we’re off for a beer then we’re going to do it all again and that is not the thing to say. Very, very bad. So I went back to the dressing room and there’s this full scale party going on and I started to feel a bit peculiar, went into the toilets and was very ill. I had all this blue puke coming down my face and all over my clothes. I then dislocated my left shoulder, but if you can imagine there’s a party going on, I’ve got blue puke on me and my arm’s hanging out of my socket, anyway! I got put back together and sent back to bed, so that’s the last I remember of that.
So yes kids, don’t go breaking into rooms drinking drinks okay?! Learn by your mistakes. There have been worse things that have happened but that’s probably the worst one I can talk about!
To try and show that Nick isn’t always about getting paralytic at gigs and that there’s a serious artist in there and has been since a very young age, I asked Nick if he could tell us how he first got into music.
I was about 9 or 10 when I was doing the whole school thing of being put through guitar and piano lessons with my brothers, we all did that kind of thing. I wasn’t into music per se, it was a chore. I remember having violin lessons at my middle school and just being shocking, it wasn’t my thing. Then I discovered things like Jean Michel Jarre and music became something incredible, particularly electronic music and one thing led to another.
I did my first record under the name Disco Citizens and that went into the top 40 and it was my single most defining point in music because it signalled my ability to go from bedroom composer to actually being a commercial success, so that was the turning point in my life.
Simply stepping outside can be a source of inspiration
Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Well I grew up on a diet of all sorts of things, like big West End Andrew Lloyd Webber sort of things to classical stuff, just a real broad sweep of music. But I guess I’m influenced by a few different people, I still waffle on about soundtrack composers like Eric Serra. I wasn’t ever really sort of confined to one artist, I liked pieces of music that moved me for one reason or another, be it because of nice melody or fantastic synth stuff, could be a Vince Clarke record, Depeche Mode, U2. I don’t have one artist, I just think ‘That’s a great song.’ I love this and that so as you go on you’re like a musical sponge and you soak anything and everything up.
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So what has Nick’s sponge absorbed to define the eventual Chicane sound?
The Chicane sound is pretty much a widescreen approach to house or electronic based music. I like to think of it as genre leaping because for me it’s an approach to melody and atmosphere, it’s where the mood goes and sonically how it grabs you which is more important than it being a dance record. Hence Chicane’s known for doing quite a few things as I was originally known for doing those down-tempo, chilled out things, but also the fun, grand and epic house numbers. You can always tell a Chicane song, it has a certain sound and an atmosphere.
We did an album recently called Somersault which was still very much me, but I got bored with dance music and I was wanting to go back to my song writing roots but I guess it didn’t connect with certain people because they couldn’t understand me leaping genres. For me though it’s obvious and you don’t want to do the same thing all the time, it’s nice to do something different. So anyway I’ve come back, refreshed and I’m excited about the new stuff which is very dance based.
Nick at work in his studio
What have been the defining moments in the history of Chicane?
There’s been a lot I guess in what you would call ‘The Chicane Calendar.’ I’ve been doing it for fifteen years so of course the Saltwaters and Don’t Give Ups are exciting, having #1 records that’s quite something but you have to understand your career is nice when you’re up and kind of cack you’re down. But that’s how it goes, you do an album and have a hit record, hopefully do well and then you’ll do some touring and then come back down and think about it, and think you’ll have to dream it all up again. You get used to that but I’ve really enjoyed recently doing the Best Of, the Poppihollas and just had a lot of fun with music lately. I’m really excited about what’s to come!
My favourite Chicane song? As a producer you always think your latest one is the best! It’s very hard, I don’t spend a lot of time listening to my own stuff. I find the Don’t Give Ups difficult to play live and you have to understand I’ve heard it so many times, more than you can possibly imagine. I’m probably more of a fan of the intro pieces, tracks like Early, some with the very washy feel. Obviously the Offshores hold a special place in my heart, but I can’t particularly pick one from having had too much beer in my head from last night!
With the Best Of album recently put out featuring a whole range of songs, I asked Nick how he came to the decision of what was and wasn’t included in the final cut.
Oh, very difficult. Very, very difficult. One minute it was a double CD with all the full length tracks on it, then it was a single CD where we had to edit everything to fit on it. Even now I umm and ah about it, so I like to think of it as a Best Of Part 1. It’s nice because it kind of draws a line under everything we’ve done so far and now we can plough on and do the next lot.
In the last year it’s been fun, we did Poppiholla which was huge, I’ve been working on the new album, have been building the new studio here, building a new one in Scotland and spent a lot of last year touring, so a lot of stuff.
Nick admits to being very hands on with the general image and feel of Chicane
Having confessed earlier to being a bit of a control freak, I’m interested to know given Nick’s graphic design background if he is also controlling of Chicane’s general artwork. Continuing this trend of being hands on, I also ask Nick to follow up why exactly he founded and runs Modena Records over being with a label.
I’m a pain in the arse basically! Every piece of artwork I get involved with and design with various people. It’s terribly important that I’m hands on with all the videos, it’s all part and parcel of the process, it’s not just me, it’s a multimedia environment that the music sits in.
As for Modena Records, it originally started in 1996 as a vehicle to get myself noticed, I didn’t use it specifically as a record company as you would know it today. So it was a record company, press 1,000 records, put them out on Modena Records and from then leaped onto a record company. Since then, I’ve been signed to every record company I could think of and decided it was best to do it on my own now. I have much more control and freedoms, but with that come restrictions. You know, finding the money to pay for videos, promotions and so forth are difficult but as I am the artist and the record company, when I get it right, it’s great for me. Things can happen to you in a record company, you’re one fish in a very big pool! So I control everything now and control my own destiny.
Nick's worked some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Sir Tom Jones on the hit 'Stoned in Love'
Having worked with some of the world’s biggest names from Sir Tom Jones and Bryan Adams to younger artists like Lemar and Keane, I ask Nick if he could tell me the best and worst things about working with heavy hitters in the industry.
Well, working with Tom Jones was great, he was so much fun. I can remember doing The Jonathan Ross Show, warming up with my band and Tom comes out and says “Let’s play something.” And we started doing a lot of James Brown stuff and it was so funny because you’ve got the crowd there watching while you do it, mucking about, jamming with Tom and it was really cool.
There haven’t really been too many low points to be honest. I did fly out to LA to spend three days recording some songs at Cher’s house … which was interesting, I won’t say anymore on that! Working with big names is like working with anyone else really, your pre-conceptions go out of the window pretty quickly and you find out they’re a pretty run of the mill person just like yourself. It’s just perception, like most things.
I want to follow this up with a more technical yet open question that’s bugged me before about song writing and production in general. I’d read before that Nick’s said that once your music’s out there, that’s it and you can’t take it back, so does this apply to any of Chicane’s songs where he’d wanted to fiddle with something, even after it’s been released?
Yeah, there is always a kind of want to pull it back. To be honest, I don’t ever really finish a piece of music, it just gets taken away from me! These things, I’m always fiddling and muddling about with it. So yes I’ll always listen to stuff and think “Ah, I wish every 3rd high-hat was X,” etc. not in an anal way, but yes, always.
Despite having sold hundreds of thousands of records and worked with so many huge artists, “Nick Bracegirdle” is pretty much unknown in the public eye both in name and recognisability. Is this Nick’s decision by design, or just the nature of not being a front man who sings the songs?
Isn’t that a shame?! Haha, no I’ve never had any aspirations to be the front line singer, whatever, the highlight of the thing and I guess to a certain extent maybe sometimes we’ve suffered in terms of people have always known the music but been unable to put a face to the name. For example if you think of Faithless you think of Maxi Jazz who’s a very iconic looking guy and you know what that means. With Chicane, it’s different. I guess, quite deliberate in my own way because it’s just not my thing. I remember starting out and being very nervous even playing live, being uncomfortable with that whole thing. I’ve gradually got mildly better at that thing … I think!
Chicane is one of the few dance artists to play with a full live band
Unlike most dance musicians, Chicane plays using a live band rather than on playback. What’s the motivation behind this?
I guess it’s kind of a knee-jerk reaction to the whole DJ sort of thing, there’s a huge amount of people that still think I’m a DJ. I don’t DJ, obviously it’s a big backbone of what I do, but it’s never how Chicane’s been, I’ve always been a band as such. But then again I chop and change the players regularly, so it is quite faceless, nobody really gets to know the whole thing. But that’s part and parcel of the whole Chicane thing, it’s a very nomadic outfit. I work with such and such, do a track with them and then change it up … I’m an amoeba!
Yeah, I can’t really talk about it right now but hopefully something’s about to happen there. It’s very much where I want to be in the not too distant future. I’m hoping some projects will come my way, it’s one of those things where you’ve got to get involved with something to get the ball rolling, your name about it. Just because I write stuff that sounds like it could be in a movie, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be in a movie or that I’ll be perfect at doing it.
There’s a whole art form to scoring which I really want to get our teeth into, so the new studio in Scotland will be pretty much dedicated towards that. It’s quite a difficult thing to start because a score is almost the equivalent of doing an album, it’s a big chunk of your year if not more. So moving forward it has to reflect things like financially that time spent, so it’s not easy, I’m not sure how or where but I’m hoping something of it will appear soon.
Looking to close up the music questions for the day, I asked Nick what advice he’d impart on anyone who wants to get into the music industry with a view to making a success of themselves in it.
Wow, well. I don’t know really, all I know is for me there was quite a lot of personal sacrifice. There’s nothing easy about it, although saying that it’s punctuated with wonderful moments and you can get the opportunity to make a great living out of something you enjoy and that’s tremendous. But to make a proper and decent living out of it is very difficult and you’ve got to have all your senses about you really.
These days getting into the industry is all about making as much noise about yourself as possible. We’ve all seen the kind of successes of the Sandi Thoms and the Lilly Allens who’ve made a success out of MySpace/Facebook, they’ve manipulated those internet sites to the tenth degree and done well out of it. So for me back in the day it was all about pressing records, sending them out and getting onto the right mailing lists, to the DJs that counted.
Now the goalposts have moved, so it’s important to get your music online and get people to notice you and I’d say it’s still just as hard to get noticed. But it’s easier now I’d say to do it than say back when I started, you have more marketing tools available to you.
We finished our chat with Nick by hearing some of the new tracks from 'Giants'
Where will Chicane be in 10 years time?
I’ll probably be in some studio in LA doing a film soundtrack, tearing my f***ing hair out, wondering why am I here?! Why?! How did I get here?!
No, no, seriously. Ten years, who knows, such a long time. I’d like to think the music will evolve but I really do want to make inwards into the film area because in ten years I’ll be pushing 50 and that’s really scary! There are only so many times you can tour around the world. I’ve got responsibilities now, I’m a father, so I have to be sensible and get rid of those sports cars, buy a Skoda or something … that is of course it not what’s going to happen, we’re going to buy a Lambo and we’re going to rip it up!
Once we’ve all calmed down from that last answer, in my final question I want to tie everything up into one neat summary. I put it to Nick that he’s got the money, the fame (at which point Nick laughs and says ‘Had the money, had the fame!’), you’ve made and done what you’ve always wanted to do. What else is there out there that Nick Bracegirdle wants in life?
What else do I want in life? I’m very happy if honest, lots of things I still want to do, I’m content but not to the point of having no enthusiasm for what I do. So many cars to drive and I’m still desperate to do a certain song that’s so not the right time for it at the minute – of course it’d be such a huge hit! You know, I’m reminded of the guy who recorded an album of silence, then another guy came along who did another album of silence and the original guy sued him for it, mad! So I’d say I’d like to not go mad!
Wrapping Up [ please click to open]
To the delight of oncoming traffic, the RS4 was rested for our return journey
It’s now early evening and the whole day has flown by from this morning when a mean looking scarlet RS4 came barrelling down the airport slip road, crashing its chin into every speed bump designed to deter cars like this out of existence.
This time we’re in Nick’s Range Rover Sport which whilst it’s a less confident performer in the corners (despite Nick’s enthusiastic encouragement and provocation to be otherwise), it’s probably for the best after a very long day, I’m not sure my spine could take 600bhp again. On the journey back Nick takes us through some incredible bits of scenery with breathtaking drops – every other corner is a case of “Yes, you don’t want to go off there. Nasty.”
+ Click on the image above to launch the video player
As we weave our way down back towards Switzerland, Nick re-affirms his love for the RS4, believing he will never sell it as for him it’s the ultimate car that can do everything. When pushed on whether he likes any other German cars like Porsche, it’s a shake of the head as he declares that whilst he appreciates the engineering brilliance of the Stuttgart marque, you can’t beat Italian passion.
In the future, Nick tells me he’d love to do a song with Björk who he’s a huge fan of, particularly her incredible vocal range and talent. I’d have to say, to hear those two combine would definitely provide interesting results. It’s a point Nick extends on when he says he’d love to also collaborate with the Brian Enos and Trevor Horns of this world, declaring that collaborations from different fields can generate ideas and melodies neither would previously have thought of.
Created and produced under the French Alps skyline, the new album Giants is available now
One of my favourite lines by Nick during the whole day was about making it in both the music industry and life generally. “I think luck is a combination of someone who’s worked extremely hard and an opportunity has arisen. Few people who are constantly successful are lucky.” Having spent a day in the life of Chicane, I’d have no grounds to doubt those words – Nick’s an extremely hard working man, but it’s allowed him to develop and live both an amazing life and career.
Just keep an eye on your mirrors if you live in the French alps – there’s a rapid RS4 out there piloted by a man enjoying the fruits of two decades of relentlessly hard work.
New Album: Giants
The album Giants is now available in all good record shops and online at both iTunes and Amazon.