In conversation with Roger Shah on Sunlounger’s new album, Balearic Beauty
For one of our occasional In Conversation With... sessions, SPPR recently had a sitdown-and-pow-wow with Mr. Roger Shah. The aim was to get more insight into his fourth album 'Balearic Beauty'; Sunlounger as a whole and how, these days, it fits into the whole 'Shah system'.
Roger, we’re here to talk about the new Sunlounger album. Now that it’s fully released what are your general feelings about the album and its reception?
Roger Shah: I'm really pleased with not only the response from the fans but also its results in the charts. It's my first album on my Magic Island label after my time with Armada and we partnered up with Black Hole Recordings for the release. As a result we achieved top 50 in most iTunes charts around the world and in some countries its gone top 10. So I very happy that people have not only responded favourably, but also gone out and picked it up for their collections.
The first of your two main artist projects to release a fourth album, clearly Sunlounger has long been integral to what you do and is. Is it ever a concern that it might one day overtake Roger Shah in terms of stature?
Roger Shah: Oh, I think it overtook it already. It's funny to see that everybody who knows Roger Shah is equally as aware that I do Sunlounger as well. I just love to focus on those two different projects with two different remits. Under my real name I don't limit myself to any genre and produce a wide range of sounds without any borders. I keep Sunlounger 100% unique to my beloved trademark Balearic sound. I think that's the reason why people really like and support the Sunlounger music and albums. It stands far apart from the other music I produce and perform.
One question that always seems to intrigue people is how long an album takes to produce. Not so much in terms of studio hours, but over what period of time. In that respect, what did ‘Balearic Beauty’ log in at?
Roger Shah: it's very hard for me to count exactly. The mind plays tricks! I started to work on the first tracks and composed some tunes while I’m on tour, and whenever I get some inspirations. So I'd say the composing process took place over approximately one and a half years.
Over that time what percentage of the tracks you worked on make the album’s final cut?
Roger Shah: All of them! I'm not a fan of producing a lot of tracks and then editing. When I work on an album I have a full vision of the whole journey and then I start to compose and try to take the people with that ride with me. If a track’s not working, I know very early in the day. To put that further into perspective, I even produced the tracks in the exact order of tracklist - always keeping in mind how they would fit to each other. I even did the arrangement of the album mixes (the second disc on the release) in a way that they would fit perfect for the nonstop mix on the physical cd release.
Balearic Beauty makes much use of live and live sounding instruments. So fans can get an idea of how and where they fit in, talk to us about key points where they feature?
Roger Shah: A lot of guitars are played live by Inger Hansen, but also Jörg Stenzel did an amazing job again. I think the key of the sound for a Sunlounger track is that even I program everything within my Logic 9 sequencer. I always use very organic sounds with that live type of feel. I always think how it would sound when a couple of friends would make some music together on the beach. So I use very much handmade and organic drums and I try to play them in real time without too much quantizing.
I also like to incorporate parts of my orchestral skills or other instruments like flutes as I used for my collab with Suzie del Vecchio. Largely down to the fact she is huge in Mexico, I tied some Mexican vibes in with guitars and flutes. For my collaboration with Alexandra Badoi from Romania I used guitars and instruments from the more Eastern Europe regions, like the Mandoline and the Bouzouki.
It’s clear you have a real passion for including them. Could you ever foresee a time when you might one day make a live instrument-only album?
Roger Shah: That would be amazing but then I would need the help of many more musicians and the whole production would (sadly) become too expensive. It's also astonishing how virtual instruments sound nowadays. I think I’ll keep with producing the albums the way they are now, but I rather think about how to play my albums 100% live one day.
Vocals and songs are a vital part of the Sunlounger make-up. You have some vocalists returning from previous albums. What is it in particular has brought you back to them?
Roger Shah: I always use talents like Inger Hansen, because not only is he a great singer/song writer and an amazing guitar player, but we’ve also become good friends over the years. He has the complete skill set for Sunlounger! I always like to work with the same pool of singers and with most of them I’ve worked since many years, so we have a good musical understanding of each other. That’s something money can’t buy!
The release also of course features newer singers, both to you and to the scene at large. To focus on a cross-section of three, tell us a little about, and what it was that had you choosing to work with:
Yoav: I'm a big fan of Yoav's original music. I think some people might know his number one hit ‘Beautiful Lie’. He is amazing and unique on stage, using just his guitar to make a full-sounding track. It was a pleasure for me to meet him in person and also to secure the collaboration with him on ‘Balearic Beauty’.
Chase: Chase came to my attention when I signed a track to my label from Kim Svard, which is featured him on vocals. I met him at one of my shows in L.A. and invited him to work on a track with me. We went through a couple of his original acoustic tracks and when I heard ‘Surrender’ I fell in love with it instantly. So I suggested that he should give me the vocals and his original guitars and I build the whole production and additional music around it.
Sason La Parry: I met Sason in Miami on a recommendation from another singer on my album, Suzie del Vecchio. Sason has a very interesting musical background and he was involved in many different projects and different music styles. I personally like his voice and songwriting, so I invited him to work on a track with me as well.
‘I’ll Be Fine’ is the first single to come off the album, and one I’ve found particularly hard to get out of my head. What prompted you to have this lead the album out?
Roger Shah: I think the people prompted me… Weeks ahead of the release date I started to select one track every week to tease my audience with songs taken from the album. When ‘I'll Be fine’ came around I received a lot of responses, so I thought it could be a great track as a first single. I think as a second single we will release the track with Suzie del Vecchio, ‘If You Were Here’. It's already gone to number 1 on the playlist of the biggest radio station in Mexico, which is a wonderful start for it.
Alexandra Badoi is the singer, and also something of a celebrity in her homeland of Romania. How did you come across her and what did she bring to the track to your mind?
Roger Shah: To be honest she found me. She wrote to me a couple of times and – my bad – it took me a little while to get back to her. I think she’s forgiven me now! She sent me a couple of her song ideas and told me that she would love to collaborate.
I promised her to come back to her as soon I start working on a new album, and when I did ‘I’ll Be Fine’ came about.
Obviously Sunlounger’s musical intentions are very chilled. The Roger Shah Rework of ‘I’ll Be Fine’ is the first to really field a mainstream club-floor angle. Are there plans for more or are you generally happy to let Sunlounger (largely) exist away from the clubs?
Roger Shah: When I produce a Sunlounger album I think about pure listening pleasure and don't focus on whether it will work in a club. A lot of people who are fans of Sunlounger or buying the albums are not into EDM at all. When I want to tour and also play my new songs in clubs and current live/DJ shows I need them more into that direction. So that’s when I start creating Roger Shah reworks. I already finished 6 reworks and will be trying to do them for each track. This way I can also release a remix, or ‘club’ edition album next year.
Like the last Sunlounger album, which explored some themes less regularly seen in electronic music (World Music and others), ‘Balearic’ Beauty features some very eclectic stylistic touches. What elements did you hear coming though when you were making it?
Roger Shah: I think some of the styles are naturally lent by the co-artists I picked to work with for this album. For example when I worked with Kingseyes, who has a Reggaeton background, I wanted to have some influences from his genre. So I had the idea to use different brass instruments for the melody and played also some genre-typical off beat strokes. On ‘Surrender’, Chase brings a strong acoustic folk song touch. I always tried to create a musical atmosphere that features a little bit the musical background of the person I worked with.
In terms of the future for Sunlounger, are there any other styles you’ve not yet touched on and would like to? Or have you now covered all bases!?
Roger Shah: I think for now I covered almost all but who knows what will inspire me when I work on another album.
So to the future then - what else do you have on the horizon? We read somewhere that you’re working on motion picture soundtracks?
Roger Shah: I have a lot of projects in hand at the moment. I worked on some things for Disney and I'm represented by a company in Hollywood, who work on pitching music for movies. We have a couple of commitments for some big projects for next year, so I'm already composing some themes for those. For now though I'm focusing on my Sunlounger album; the single releases to come off it and all the reworks!
I also have my Magic Island label back on full force and I have a lot of new Roger Shah singles ready. Just finished my new single which is a collab with Russia’s DJ Feel and Zara Taylor, and I also work on a big project starting very soon where I want to invite everybody from around the world to sing along to a new song, record and send it to me to build a huge choir. More info about this will follow very soon.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Roger Shah: I want to thank everybody for the support, all the feedback and messages coming in everyday. To keep update to date with what I’m up to you can of course follow me through www.facebook.com/rogershahartist, www.twitter.com/roger_shah and www.rogershah.net.