Friday, July 22, 2011

FOTP Exclusive Interview with Starsmith

Interview by Fantini Blake 

In an incredibly short space of time superstar producer Starsmith's career rocketed from his bedroom to the dizzying heights of Britain's Pop music A-list. Having been instrumental in the crafting of Ellie Goulding's hugely successful debut album "Lights" and produced the original version of Marina And The Diamonds breakthrough hit "Hollywood",  he's gone on to work with the likes of Kylie Minogue, Cheryl Cole and Diana Vickers. Additionally he's signed his own deal, worked on his own music and done remix work for Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Timbaland, Robyn, N.E.R.D., and many others. 

This week I had the opportunity to ask him some questions and he was kind enough to take time out from his busy busy schedule to respond. Check out his answers after the jump.

Hello Fin! What's up?

Hello! I'm currently having a Gin and Tonic, listening to a track I've just finished on repeat, thinking about how much I have to sort out tomorrow as I'm moving studio in a couple of days! 

Your real name is Finlay Dow-Smith, but you're best known as Starsmith. Is that just your artist moniker/brand-type thing or do you actually answer by Starsmith now?

I ONLY answer to Starsmith now. No, I jest. I always find it a bit weird when friends refer to me as Starsmith, it makes me feel a bit awkward. I guess a lot more people know me as Starsmith than by my real name so I should start getting used to it. 

Is there any special inspiration behind the name "Starsmith" or is it just a case of you always knowing you'd be a big "star"? 

I see what you did there! I remember sitting in my little dorm room at uni, writing different names on post it notes and sticking them above my computer. There were about 8 or 10 of them, and over a week or so I gradually took them down one by one as I started to hate them. The one that was left was Starsmith; I wish I had a better story than that, but it's true! 

Real name, artist name... what would your stripper name be?

Starsmith is a bit of an all round name, I think I could use it for most professions.

What's the biggest diva that you've met so far? What's the most diva-tastic thing you've done yourself?

One person I worked with turned up 3 hours late to a session, and I couldn't get through to them for the whole time. When they turned up they said they had to stop off to get Chinese takeaway. The first thing they did wrong was not pick me up any prawn crackers, and secondly they didn't apologise. It was downhill from there on. I thought that was quite rude.

When I was playing live shows before Christmas, I had a very normal rider, and the only extra thing I'd added was a 6 pack of Orange Lucozade Energy. Every venue for the first 5 shows got it wrong and either got me no Lucozade, lucozade normal, or in the case of the 6th show, Orange Lucozade Sport. I was in need of my daily Lucozade fix and told (asked) the promoter to get me some orange lucozade energy. That's seriously as diva as it gets. To this day, I feel bad about it too.

If you could make any Pop diva Prime Minister, who'd you go for and why?

Cher. I think we all want to see the auto-tuned version of Prime Minister's Questions.

Your career took off in a very huge and very rapid way thanks to your production and writing work with the fabulous Ellie Goulding on her debut album. "Lights" spawned a number of big consecutive hits and an even bigger number of album sales. In fact, it's still selling in a big way with Ellie touring and performing all over in America. But going back to the very beginning, did that whole whirlwind moment ever scare you or just befuddle you how amazingly fast things were taking off?

I don't think I was ever scared by it all; as you said, it was very rapid, and because there was so much going on early last year, worrying was the last thing on my mind. It's been an amazing experience so far. I was definitely astonished, and still continue to be. It may sound very contrived, but I really didn't expect any of this and I am seriously having an awesome time. I still see this as very early days, and I hope people will stick with me to see what else I've got up my sleeve.

You'd only done eight or nine gigs together when the producer from Jools Holland came to see, resulting in Ellie performing on the show. What was the first big thing resulting from the ensuring success to happen that really changed or impacted you/your life/career?

When Ellie was signed, I was given an advance to produce the album, and that was a life changing moment. It meant I could move out and set up my own studio, live on my own, and work full time on what I loved doing. For someone who had only graduated from uni 6 months previous, that was as big a gift as you could imagine.

Was it hard balancing the insanity of "blowing up" in the music industry and becoming known as THE Starsmith with the insanity of university living, endless deadlines and essays ad infinitum? Did people suddenly start treating you differently or assuming you were now a multimillionaire?

When Ellie and I started working together whilst I was still at uni, we were just doing it for fun and there was no monetary benefit. I had a few remixes here and there but they were very very low amount of money, most of the time free, and whatever I did get would go straight back into buying new gear for my 'studio'. Saying that though, the last 4 months of my degree were the most stressful time of my life so far. Balancing remix deadlines/writing new songs, and final essays worth large chunks of your degree together is not something I would recommend!

How did you first start out with producing and remixing music? What were the first songs you ever properly produced and the first you properly remixed?

At the beginning of my final year at Uni I started to panic about what I would do after graduating, and so I started to experiment with remixing. It was only about 2 months after that when I met Ellie, and the first song I ever produced was "Starry Eyed". 

What's your songwriting process like? Do you sit down 9-5 and force yourself to write, or do you have to be inspired, or..?

I sit at the computer every day and try and accomplish something, even if it's only 2 hours of work. At the moment I work at home so I can't escape the work element. But I'm moving my studio to a separate space so that I can have more of a routine and hopefully be more productive. I'd definitely say that my best stuff happens when I've had a week of disappointing work days and suddenly everything fits together.

In a relatively short time you've amassed a long list of very high profile, A-list songwriting & production and remix credits. What are you working on at the moment and who's next on the horizon?

I took an 8 or 9 month break from working on my album due to some difficulties that arised at the end of last year. I started working on new tracks for myself about 2 weeks ago and it feels amazing! I've been working with quite a diverse group of people on their projects over the last few months, and although I can't really say who, I feel like I've been finding my 'sound' a lot more over all these different sessions.

What do you wish people knew about you that they don't?

Hmmm, tough question. I'll come back to you on that one. 

What's the funniest or most embarrassing thing to ever happen to you?

Again, a tough question! I did have a pretty stupid moment earlier this week actually. I went to the shop specifically to buy Hash Browns, and I paid for them but then left without them, put my headphones back in and walked home. Needless to say they found it very funny when I went back 5 minutes later to pick them up.

Do you have any pet peeves?

Retweeting compliments, people who blag every day of their lives, when you get to the end of a lucozade and it's flat. 

Any small/weird things that warm your heart or just make you oddly happy?

When you're DJ'ing and you see someone in the crowd having what looks like the best time of their life - that feels pretty great.

You spent much of last year working on your debut album - you even took time off from your songwriting and production for other people. You had about 15 songs finished, were going to support Example on tour, and then your label had a huge U-turn about the whole project...Things went awry and you decided to walk away. What was all that like and where are you at now with your solo music?  

In all honesty, it was pretty shit. It really knocked the wind out of me. I didn't write anything for about a month, and that's not because I was being emo about it, I was just trying and I couldn't. I felt like I'd let people down and that what I had put everything into, wasn't good enough. 

I went into my Publishers office a few days after New year and he basically turned round my whole outlook for the next year and in a round about way, just told me to man up a bit. It really did a lot, but I didn't want to work on anything of my own. So I just focused on working with other people again, and I've been having to play catch-up as I took about 7 months out last year to work solely on my own album.

Any prevision of when we get to hear new solo music from you, music videos, an EP, anything?

Well, as luck would have it, one song I wrote during the album sessions is called "Lesson One", and I made it with Alan Braxe. It's being released on his label on August 22nd; that's the most immediate thing you'll be able to hear that I've made. After that I'm planning to keep releasing stuff, and gradually build back up to an album or whatever it may be. 

Which work offers turned down during that working-on-my-own-music period do you regret?

I don't think there are any artists I turned down that I regret, there are definitely a few remixes that I would love to have done though. 

As a producer and remixer, you’ve become this big go-to guy for the Pop ladies. What’s your take on male-driven Pop right now – why are there so few male Pop acts out now and which ones (if any) would you like to work with? 

A lot of male acts like to do everything themselves, as in songwriting and producing. Most male acts at the moment are boybands or rappers, theres nothing wrong with that though. It would have been incredible to work with Freddie Mercury. Just wow. I'm actually working with a male popstar next week!

What’s your take on the current state of Pop and the music industry now? What do you predict the next big trend or sound to be?

American Euro Dance. I wish it would end. The trashy trance synths and the cheap drum loops will be the end of pop music. It's odd because the industry fails to see that some of the biggest selling albums of the last 12 months have been the ones that haven't followed this 'dance' trend. Look at Adele or Take That. Millions of records within months.

With your own music, who’s your target demographic? Is it hard resisting label pressure to compromise your own vision and chase current trends?

I really don't know about 'my demographic', I think maybe it will become more apparent when I write more songs. For now I'd be happy with anyone listening to them! I've definitely had a couple of instances where labels have desperately chased the euro dance trend at the moment, and I've turned around on the project. Making a load of money really quickly but being hated for what you've created isn't my plan.

What unknown artists out right now would you feature in a "Next Big Thing" or "Names To Watch Out For in 2011" type list?

Charli XCX is great, Hannah Yadi too. Even though she's known, Yasmin will be doing great things before the year is up. 

Any final words for the fans?


Mega thanks to Starsmith and Polly for making the above happen. FOTP will naturally continue to report on Starsmith's career as it progresses from strength to strength.

Starsmith's new solo single is called "Lesson One" and is out on Vulture August 22nd in a digital bundle which includs an extended edit, a song called "Champion" and a radio edit of that too. Below you'll find the music video for "Lesson One", a old but cute little video of Starsmith and Ellie Goulding looking young & cute and a box allowing you to listen to all the songs on Starsmith's Soundcloud. Watch and listen to everything; you'll be better off for it. 

"The Writer (snippet)" 


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