Just Her, or Claire Spooner to her friends, is a UK based house producer teetering on the edge of greatness. She’s already had a taste of where success can take her as the other member of Him_Self_Her who have spent the last few years flirting with the Beatport top 100 and gaining favour with industry big wigs like Pete Tong and Damian Lazarus, who signed their first track Gone Too Long after its initial release on Cream Couture records in 2012 to his amazing Crosstown Rebels imprint. Tours and more records followed before the inception of her solo project Just Her, marking the start of a new chapter in Claire’s life. 15 years in and she’s still living the dream, and still as determined as ever to succeed. Given her attention to detail as an engineer and songwriter, and her unnerving quest for perfection in everything she does, we thought it about time we asked Claire to join the ranks of our Future Leaders. A&R Man Simon caught up with her in-between demanding studio sessions to have a little chat.
Hi Claire, and welcome to Decoded Magazine. I’m so pleased you’ve become one of our Future Leaders, we’ve had our eye on you a while, and we’re stoked you’re still around. How has it been focusing back on the solo project?
Wow, thank you for the kind words and generous introduction! It’s really exciting to be able to start working solo again, as well as being part of Him_Self_Her. It is going to be a very busy year, but that’s just how I like it.
You’ve been in the business for a number of years now slowly building a career. 15 I believe! Was this always as an artist?
Yes I started DJing 15 years ago (am I really that old?!), spinning vinyl in Loughborough, in the middle of the UK, where I had studied at University. It’s only quite a small market town, but it had some decent nightlife as a result of a heavy student population. I soon gained a residency at a night called ‘Junk’ that was dominating the Midlands scene, and I played the opening slot at all their events, warming up for some big names at the time, like Mark Knight, Kate Lawler and Funkagenda. Back then I was solely a DJ playing other people’s records as there wasn’t as much of an emphasis on producing, but I soon felt that shift happening and I knew I needed to start making music. So 9 years ago I bought a dodgy old laptop and a copy of Reason, and it just grew from there. Sounds easy, but it has been an incredibly difficult and tiring journey, lots of sacrifices and times when I almost gave up. It has all definitely been worth it in the end though.
Leicester, your hometown, isn’t somewhere I’d call a clubbing mecca, so how has the scene developed there, and who do you think are the main players; the nights to go to?
This is a really tricky one, as there have been some amazing nights over the years – Emporium in Coalville (on the outskirts of Leicester) for example was world renowned for it’s Trance events – but it has now sadly closed down. We also had brands like Shivoo and Junk attracting big crowds and regularly winning awards in Mixmag. However I do think it has tailed off in recent years. There are still a few underground brands bubbling under the surface, the main one being City Fly, who have been consistently throwing cool underground parties in Leicester for a while now. But it definitely isn’t the same as it used to be, which is a shame. I guess I was lucky to do my clubbing years in Leicester when the nightlife was buzzing and that is definitely what got me into this industry.
With your success in HSH under your belt, has that been helpful to your solo project or not? Would you have preferred to start from zero again?
Obviously Him_Self_Her has been an amazing experience so far and I wouldn’t change any of it. It has also given me a fantastic platform and a wealth of contacts on which to build my other projects – my solo project ‘Just Her’ and also my Record Label, ‘Constant Circles’, which is launching later this year. And with these being separate from Him_Self_Her and focusing on my individual sound and style, it does feel like I am actually starting from zero in some ways, which makes it even more cool.
We understand you’d love to do a collaboration with Maya Jane Coles. Any news on that? What is it about her that intrigues you?
Haha!! I wish there was news on it. Maybe one day! I think really it’s just the quality and versatility of her productions and the amount of feeling and emotion in all her tracks that I am inspired by.
Just Her is a project focusing on your deeper, more melodic side whereas HSH was more techno influenced. Will you miss that side of things or is the deeper side of house more comfortable for you? Could we see more side projects in the future?
Yes absolutely – the whole idea of Just Her is to allow me to be a bit more experimental and go a little deeper and more melodic with the music I make. The latest Him_Self_Her stuff is definitely going down a darker more Techno route, which is the result of working with someone else in the studio and compromising on sound and style to meet at something you are both happy with. As you may have noticed from tracks like ‘Gone Too Long’ and ‘Don’t Fail Me Now’, which I wrote the vocals for, I really enjoy songwriting and trying to develop a connection with the listener through lyrical themes and emotive melodies. I’m hoping Just Her will really give me the chance to focus on this, plus I am singing one or two of the vocals myself, which is a huge step for me.
As for side projects, I am a serial multi-tasker and not happy unless I only have time for 4 hours sleep a night, so I’m sure there will be more in the future! But for now I am trying really hard to limit myself and focus only on current projects, particularly getting the record label up and running.
How do you approach a new track? Be it an original or remix, do you have a set workflow?
I guess over the years I have developed a sort of workflow, but I do try to approach each track differently wherever possible. I tend to start with drums, get a decent groove going and then either work on a hook, chord progression or bass line depending which direction the sounds are taking me. If it’s a vocal track I usually write the vocal very early on in the project and develop the backing track as minimally as possible, as this can often change dramatically later once the vocal is recorded and produced, especially when using other vocalists, as often they can add their own style to the performance that can change the vibe of the track. With my own vocals it has been a little easier to develop the track as a whole at the same time as the vocal has evolved.
How different is it working on music without Leon. Do you have particular roles within the HSH dynamic?
We work on tracks together in my studio and I do the main technical (I guess you would call it engineering) role, but Leon has a creative input in terms of sounds and structure. In some ways it is more challenging working on music alone as you don’t have that sounding board or second opinion; it all comes down to your own ideas and judgment on each sound and tiny detail. At the same time, that is also really exciting and it means I don’t have to compromise and can go in different directions than we would when working together. Plus I don’t have to put up with his terrible jokes and bodily functions, which is a definite bonus!
Okay, so lets talk technology! You built your own studio we understand, so whats in the command centre? Do you have any favourite toys, or tools you couldn’t work without?
I’ve built quite a big studio over the years, especially my DJ set up that still includes my original Technics 1210s and massive vinyl collection. Of course it now also incorporates CDJs and Traktor Scratch with an X1 controller. Production wise the foundation of the studio is an iMac with Logic Pro and an Akai Max49 controller, plus a Rode Microphone and Focusrite Interface for recording vocals and sounds. I do use a lot of the built in Logic instruments but also a huge range of different external plug ins depending on the project, including Massive, FM8, some different Izotope ones for vocals and creative stuff, and then WAVES for compressors, limiters and so on. Sylenth 1 is probably my go-to plug in, as I’ve got so used to it that I can pretty much make any sound with it now and I love the built in Arpeggiator. At the moment my studio is mainly software based but I do have a Korg Volca Bass Analogue Synth, which is great fun and am currently developing the hardware side of the studio, with a Moog Sub Phatty in the basket ready to order. Someone take my credit card away quickly..!
Can you remember the first bit of kit you bought? Do you still use it?
I started on literally just a laptop with Reason and some dodgy headphones, so no I most definitely don’t use any of it anymore! As soon as I switched to Logic Pro I knew I would never go back to Reason, although I do use a bit of Ableton Live now and again.
You were musical in your youth weren’t you. Grade 3 in Cornet is quiet the achievement! Do you think it was the catalyst for a life in music, or did that come later?
Haha, I wish I could say that learning the cornet has been useful in my music career but it definitely hasn’t! To be honest I feel a slight disappointment at my school for not pushing me musically. I was only ever interested in music and sport (as all the cool people are!), but the PE department were so amazing and encouraging that I got directed into further study in that area and ended up doing a Degree in Sport Science, playing Badminton for England, and Football for Aston Villa (sorry!) along the way. Music was always a hobby, but once I started DJing properly, I knew it was my calling and so I risked everything, went back to University and did a second Degree in Creative Music Production (serial multi-tasker… see?!) and then ended up Lecturing in Music Technology. It was the best decision I ever made and I would encourage everyone to do the same if you feel it in your heart – go for it, it’s never too late.
How healthy do you think the UK music scene is now. What changes have you witnessed over the last 15 years good or bad and have these made the scene stronger or weaker in your opinion?
There is always some kind of debate happening about how the scene is changing and there are usually a lot of negative opinions on it. The biggest one recently has been this rise of ‘deep house’ and its crossover into the mainstream. For me, music will always be evolving and if it didn’t, we wouldn’t have new styles emerge and the underground would be stagnant. I would rather things changed so that it pushes and challenges me to adapt to it through my own growth and development as an artist. I don’t think the scene in general is stronger or weaker than it was in the past, it’s just different, and we should all embrace that change.
Ghost producing seems to be a recurrent theme of internet debates lately. What’s your take on it?
There are so many angles to this that I’m not sure I have space on the page to say it all! I have done a fair bit of engineering work for other artists who are struggling to make music to the standard they want. In these cases the people are skilled DJs and they are in the studio with me, having an input into the tracks. The reality of the industry today is that you have to be making quality music to be booked as a DJ and learning to produce takes a long time and involves a lot of expensive kit, so I don’t see why they shouldn’t use help from others to try and get there. On the other hand, buying a track from a ghost producer that you have had no input into, to try and get a lucky break is not the way to make a career. At the end of the day this is just another aspect of the industry that is evolving and we just need to roll with it. If you are good at what you do and you work hard then this will always shine through in the end.
Another contentious topic is Soundcloud. We’ve run several articles on it now. Beatport seem to be looking at cashing in on their success with an extension to their already successful artist page framework. It’s in Beta at the moment, but we wondered if you’ve been invited to test it, or whether you think some competition might be a good thing?
Yes, I quite often read your articles on these topics, they are one of the main ways I keep up to date with things. I haven’t been invited to the Beatport Beta yet, as Him_Self_Her or Just Her – I’m obviously not famous enough! But looking from the outside in, it seems like an obvious development, so I guess we are back to the same point of things evolving. I definitely think that a bit more competition would be a good thing in terms of where you can buy music as a DJ, however a lot of labels release exclusively on Beatport in the first instance, so at the moment it is still really the only place to go if you want to pick up tracks as soon as they are out.
You recently joined bloop with your new show called Constant Circles. What’s the vision for this show, and how did the opportunity come around?
Yes I am super excited to be starting my monthly show from 3rd March (5-7pm GMT) on Bloop, which is a really cool station based in London. As soon as the idea for my record label was born, I knew that a radio show would work perfectly with it and Bloop was my first choice station, so I was really grateful that they gave me the opportunity. It will be the perfect chance to showcase new music from the label, with interviews and guest mixes from the artists too. On the first show I’ll be chatting to my agency buddy Raxon, who is remixing on the label.
You’ve put together a great mix for us. What’s the story behind it?
I love putting guest mixes together as it’s a great creative process and a chance to be more experimental and tell a bit of a story. This mix is a journey through different genres, from deeper house through to techno towards the end, plus it’s a nice opportunity to try out some of your own brand new material! There are two of my own exclusive and unsigned tracks in the mix, plus my latest remix coming out on Serkal Music in March. I really hope everyone enjoys it.
We’re really impressed by the selections you’ve made. How do you source your records? Do you still have an opportunity to crate dig?
Thank you! I spend a lot of time looking for great music. I guess I picked up the crate digging habit from my vinyl days, where I used to spend every Saturday in BPM, which was the main record store in Leicester. In some ways it was easier back then as the selection was a little more limited – there is so much music out there digitally now that you could lose days or even weeks searching for tunes. Luckily I am on a few label promo lists now, so I’m sent quite a lot of new tracks before they are released, plus with setting up my label I am also being sent some really cool unsigned music too.
Like me you started out making mixtapes as a child. When did you first begin to learn to DJ? How did you find those first few months of practice?
As a kid I was music obsessed and I used to DJ at home by ‘mixing’ from 7-inch vinyl into cassette and back again on our home stereo, and record my own radio shows (fortunately all copies of these have been lost!). It really happened when I finished Uni and got a seasonal job at an Outdoor Activity Centre in Shropshire. There wasn’t much to do at night, so I decided to buy myself some vinyl decks and basically locked myself away every evening for the year to learn and practice. All the instructors lived together in an accommodation block and we ended up having parties pretty much every weekend with me as the DJ, it was crazy, but a great way to start out. During my time as a Lecturer I could see how frustrating it was for the students trying to learn to DJ from scratch. It takes a long time and can all seem a little overwhelming at first but if you stick it out, you will have that ‘click’ moment where it all suddenly makes sense. I also think its really important to learn on actual decks, so you can beat-match by ear and not rely on software.
Well it’s been wonderful to chat Claire. I suppose we should wrap things up by finding out about what you have planned for the rest of the year, we understand you’re gigging again later in the year as Him_Self_Her….
Thanks so much for chatting to me, and testing me with some very interesting questions!
Yes I am preparing myself for probably my busiest year yet. With Him_Self_Her gigs are coming up in the UK, South Africa, Egypt, Berlin and a few summer festivals. On top of this I have a lot of solo stuff lined up, with remixes on Serkal, Save Us Records and Chapter 24 coming soon, and some original EPs and gigs to be confirmed shortly. You can find all the info on my releases and so on at www.justhermusic.com.
Plus of course the launch of my label in a couple of months time, which you can keep updated on at www.constantcircles.com. And even though it’s a long way off, I’ve already booked my ticket for ADE, after last year’s whirlwind I decided to be more organised, so hopefully I will see you guys there!
01// Robbie Akbal ft Cari Golden – I’m Just Watching (Fabio Giannelli Remix ) [Akbal]
02// Adriatique – Midnight Walking [Culprit]
03// Few Nolder – Twin [Connaisseur]
04// Just Her – These Dreams (Unsigned)
05// Alex Niggemann – Bee [Poker Flat]
06// Just Her – Safe Out There (Unsigned)
07// Ramon Tapia & BP – Moogy [Plattenbank]
08// Mind Against & Locked Groove – Elysium [Hotflush]
09// Thomas Gandey – Delirium (Raxon Remix) [Audio Tonic]
10// Patrice Baumel & Rodnonsonjon – The Tower [My Favorite Robot]
11// Eskuche & Nu Sky – Final Call (Just Her Remix) [Serkal]