03.25.20

In the studio with Degs

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Music has always been in Degs’ blood, an accomplished pianist, guitarist and singer with militant flow and a golden voice, spanning eclectic tastes moulded by a musical family. 

Drawing upon an a broad set of lyrical forms, fusing fast sprays with harmonious singing, he is inspired by the likes of Fats, Eksman and Dynamite. Debut single Poveglia (feat De:Tune) was a hit in clubs across the globe, becoming one of the D&B anthems of summer 2018.

Just after the release of his debut album ‘Letters From Ndegwa’ on Hospital Records, we had a chat with Degs about life in the studio - check out the interview below.

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What can we find in your studio set up at the moment?

My home studio needs a bit of love! Was hoping to upgrade some bits but the Covid-19 outbreak has destroyed my income for now. Currently you’ll find a Mac Mini used primarily for Reason and Logic, a pair of Tapco S5 monitors, an 88-key M-Audio keyboard, a couple guitars, a Pioneer XDJ-RR controller and this cool little Boss RE-20 Space Echo pedal.

Have you ever had a specific routine for working on your music? What is your current creative process? 

I know it sounds cliche but no, not really! I try not to plan too much, I find it easier to write with a completely blank canvas, whether it’s vocals, production or instrumentation.

Can you tell us a bit about your musical education?

My mum took me to piano lessons when I was 5 - I went up to grade 2 before I got bored of what I was being taught! I picked up the guitar at 12/13 and after that just taught myself how to play it alongside other instruments like drums and bass guitar. 

What does songwriting mean for you? 

It’s my favourite way to express myself and my thoughts. I can write words and music and put them together in a way that represents what I believe in. I feel we have a more emotional connection to music than any other artform or knowledge base.

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Your album Letters From Ndegwa is released in March, how was the process of making this for you? Can you tell us about the collaborations on the album, what was it like to work on Poveglia with De:Tune for instance?

This album basically encapsulates the last 2 years of my life with Hospital Records. I’ve never made a drum and bass album before, it was a totally new thing for me and a very exciting project to work on. Working with some of the scene’s heavyweights including S.P.Y, Logistics, Pola and Bryson, Unglued and more was amazing - it’s great how much you can learn from fellow musicians. The icing on the cake was having my little bro Matt feature on one of the tracks though! We’re tight.  

Poveglia was my first single with my friend Dave De:Tune. We wrote that on a summer’s day in 2017, but had no idea that it would have the impact it did! 

What was the last piece of equipment you bought, and where and why did you buy it?

I bought a Pioneer XDJ-RR controller from Gear4Music so I can do more mixes and podcasts. It’s a really good piece of kit and not too far off CDJs. It records cleanly and is easy to use.

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Which piece of studio gear could you not live without and why?

My piano/keyboard. It’s where most of my melodies are written, both vocally and instrumentally. 

And which piece of gear would you consider an indulgence?

I don’t think I have one! Everything in my setup I use regularly.

Have you ever sold something and regretted it?

Yeah - an Ibanez JS1000 guitar that I won in a BBC songwriting competition when I was 14. Sold it a few years ago and have regretted it ever since, haven’t found a fretboard so smooth and ergonomic to play on since!

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What do you think about the crossover between songwriting and producing?

They go hand in hand. In the context of drum and bass, it’s great being able to produce cleanly but if you can’t write melodies or songs then it’s almost a wasted talent. Same the other way around - I spent time watching YouTube tutorials and getting advice from other producers before I started submitting my own productions to Hospital. 

What is the collaborative process when making a track with a producer? 

It can completely depend. Sometimes I’ll write to an instrumental remotely that I’ve been sent, and other times we’ll sit down in the studio. I loved sitting down with Pola and Bryson for Sleepless, they had a sketch that we developed and all wrote together. They were great with their input vocally too, really talented guys.

When you are in the studio, how much is improvised and how much is pre-planned?

95% improvised, 5% doing stuff I probably should be doing anyway!

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Which DAW do you prefer to use, what are the benefits for you?

Reason. I just love the workflow, I love the rack as it gives it an analog feel. Plus you can use VSTs now and it still doesn’t kill your CPU like I’ve found other DAWs to.

Who are your greatest musical influences? Who are your greatest non-musical influences and why?

I love 90s hip hop, Slum Village and A Tribe Called Quest are probably my biggest influences from that era. Drum and Bass-wise probably Calibre, Fats, Dynamite...there’s just too many to mention!

Non-musical influences - Christopher Hitchens, Martin Luther King, Alan Shearer, Faustino Asprilla and Ronaldinho. Bit of a random mix I know but I’m a huge Newcastle fan, a fan of Hitchens’ debates and literature and Ronaldinho for me is the best player to ever play the game. 

Can you tell us about your Kikuyu Soul project? 

Started that project in 2017 with my little bro Matt. It was actually what motivated me to make more music. We released our debut album ‘Asprilla LP’ on Soundcloud and Bandcamp in July 2017. It’s mostly hip hop and R&B so takes in more influences from the music we listened to growing up.

If you could work with any 1 person in the studio who would it be, what would they bring to your music?

Kanye. He’s crazy and I love that! He’s got such unique energy and approach to music, I don’t agree with everything he says or does but I’d love to sit down with him for a day, I reckon he’d bring mad spontaneity to my music.

How did your relationship with Hospital Records begin?

Started at the back end of 2017. Whilst I was making music with my brother for the Kikuyu Soul project, I was beginning to upload a series of Facebook sprayout over drum and bass instrumentals that I liked. One was called Fine Arts and it was over Lenzman and Redeyes’ We Were Kings. Chris Blu Mar Ten from Clinic Talent spotted it, invited me to Hospitality in the Park and I met a bunch of my heroes! It was a surreal experience. A couple of months later I’d signed a recording contract with Hospital and with Clinic as an agency. It all happened out of the blue and so quickly - just shows you should never give in!

Do you have advice to young producers looking to get signed to a record label?

Be self-critical, you need to have a product that stands out. Don’t be afraid to pick apart your work, find areas you can improve, learn new skills. The time you spend doing all the boring stuff will be worth it. 

Has the amount of preparation you’ve done before live sets or studio sessions changed throughout your career? 

Definitely yeah. There’s a lot more thought that goes into what I do musically these days. I try and focus on quality control as much as I can.

How do you see the future of music production going?

More boundaries being pushed and more often. What people are capable of nowadays is crazy, in drum & bass the level of production is ridiculous. The tools available will only get better, it’s incredible what you can put together with just a laptop and 4GB of RAM these days. Not that I’d recommend that of course!

What are your thoughts on Music AI? Have you ever used AI in your work?

I don’t know enough to really have a decent opinion but I can say that automation is the future in pretty much every context! 

Hospital Records logo

‘Letters From Ndegwa’ is out now via Hospital Records.

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