We speak to Amber Long about Toronto, Mason and Digweed

Amber Long is a name rapidly becoming associated with quality and consistency. 2014 has seen Amber lend her vocal talents to several acclaimed releases including Kastis Torrau’s ‘Menace’, Kassey Voorn’s ‘Before You Fall’, and her own production alongside studio partner Robert Mason titled eggshells. All of these productions have seen huge support from the big names including Hernan Cattaneo, John Digweed and King Unique.

Not merely content with becoming the modern voice of progressive, Amber’s vocals have led to comparisons with established vocalist’s such as Jan Johnson, Kirsty Hawshaw and Jes. Besides her own name, Amber also operates under the production alias OPL that fuses groovy techno rhythms with twisted dark basslines, of which a number of successful productions and remixes are already been generating quite a buzz.

Amber has performed all over North America and most recently at Ministry of Sound in London, UK and The Lab Afterhours in New York City. She plays regularly in Toronto & Montreal (Circus Afterhours) and has also played in Boston, Miami (WMC) and Chicago, throughout her career. She also hosts Tech Support on DanceRadio.ca & Global Mixx Radio, and also has a personal monthly showcase on DNA Concept Radio, broadcasting from Argentina. Decoded magazine caught up with Amber to get the inside story on the hard work behind the success.

Hi Amber it’s a pleasure to speaking to you, and thank you for taking time out to speak to us here at Decoded. How are you, and what have you been up to of late?

Thanks for having me, Ian. It’s a pleasure to chat with you and Decoded.

Lately I’ve been off school for the summer so I’ve been taking every opportunity I have to be creative, make something, build a reel, anything that I may not get the chance to do when September comes and I go back. The past week I have been editing segments of a TV show and doing sound design for a local media company.

You are a based out of Toronto, Canada where electronic music has seen a real upturn in fortunes of the last few months. Could you describe what it is like to be part of it at the moment?

First off, I love Toronto, really! I’ve been able to travel a lot in life and I always come back to Toronto with a smile on my face (Except that one time when I didn’t want to leave Europe).

It’s a metropolis-type city but still has tight knit communities within it. There’s a place for everyone to belong, it seems. I started going out more here about 4 years ago, and at the time, it seemed like the city struggled a bit to find its place. But in the last couple years, somehow it has been really coming to life. Promoters are putting a lot into their shows, venues are upgrading. Toronto is home to many talented, internationally recognised producers, bigger artists are being booked and a diverse roster at that, the crowd even seems to be more ‘into it’ nowadays because people have that sense of ‘knowing’ the Artist before they go see them. I’d like to think most artists from Toronto are proud to be from here. It has a lot of opportunity to offer us all to help us keep making music and living well. For me, right now, I wouldn’t want to call any other place home.

There are a lot of emerging artists from Canada, many of whom you have worked with. Can you recommend any artists in particular that really are doing something special at present?

Many of the Artists from Toronto are being recognised for their work and it is thrilling to watch. For a while, we all started to just get to know each other, or even know of each other.

Who is awesome in Toronto? Obviously, my partner in crime, Mason Bach and his alter-ego, Robert Mason, Tim Penner, Biologik, Navid Mehr, Beat Syndrome, Aerodroemme, Measure Divide, I could go on and on (and probably forgot a bunch) but I know these guys personally and each one is really brilliant, focused and pouring their talents into the world. Recognised labels are snatching their work up, and/or they have big names supporting it. We also have some cool labels coming out of Toronto, meaning there is international music coming in, being chosen selectively by Torontonian-ears, and released to a trusting audience. That too is part of Toronto of being a taste-maker in the music industry.

2014 has been a real breakthrough year for you, working with acclaimed artists such as Kastis Torrau, Blusoul and Kassey Voorn, How did the process of working with these artists come about?

Kassey Voorn was one of the first people I met when I started doing vocals for others. He and Tim Penner were pals and Kassey was the first to play ‘Forgive Me’, airing it on Digweed’s Transitions. He had been looking for a vocalist and we started working together right away. In fact, the first track we made in early 2012 was recently released, ‘Before You Fall’, on Tulipa Recordings. Secretly, we have more in store. Working with Kastis and Blusoul were both introductions by the label owners, again back in 2012. But with these introductions, last summer I was able to go to Greece and meet Blusoul personally and now he is like family to us, a brother. With Kastis, not only did we have the success of Menace, he and Arnas D made the dirtiest remix of Eggshells that is still in the Tech House Top 100.

As for how I go about things, over the past few years, I’ve had to refine how I work and this is always a learning process. Independent Artists show how invested they are instantly when you work on a one on one basis with them. It’s easy to know fairly quickly who you want to work with by the dedication they display. Label owners have pretty good ears and great connections, it’s important to work with the right ones for your goals and the result is delightful.

You have gathered support from some of the industries ‘A’ list. How did you feel when you were informed that both mixes of ‘Menace’ were played back to back by John Digweed, in what many are claiming to have been one of his best sets at Gorilla, Manchester?

Haha, I remember it so vividly. Mason and I were working late on the couch, probably eating take out, and I checked Facebook on my phone and saw the post. I think I played it 3 times to be sure it really was ‘Menace’. I even asked Mason and he concurred that it was indeed, ‘Menace’. At the time, I didn’t know he played both versions back to back, I thought it was King Unique’s remix but I was instantly vibrating with excitement. It’s so hard to describe what it feels like to see that video posted from moments earlier, on the other side of the world, and it was all happening ‘now’. I wished the world was flat and I could get there by folding a map and/ or wished teleportation existed so I could be part of it all. Strap an iPad to a Segway and Skype me in to the party, please?? I ended up going to see Digweed’s set at Movement in Detroit a couple weeks later and said thank you in my head as he played.

You recently had King Unique play in your country, what was it like catching up with him?

Firstly I would like to say big ups to Toika Lounge for bringing King Unique to Toronto. Again, another indication that Toronto knows what’s hot! Catching up with King Unique was like catching up with Hugh Grant meets a bit of Tasmanian Devil. Great fella, played a dirty set full of UK Garage and grimy beats, stuff we don’t hear very often, and people really dug it. He kept it really fresh. And then after having a wee visit with him, he is just an all-around likable guy. I always really hold a lot of value in meeting the people I work with and this was a total treat to have him here, in Toronto!

What else can we expect from you in the coming months regarding the Amber Long project?

There are also a couple upcoming releases that I’m very excited about. All I can say is that they are both with local Toronto Producers. Some older productions are trickling out as their masters come in. The details of these I don’t have yet.

As of late, I’m keeping a lot of my vocals to be included in personal works and those of Mason and myself. Working for others, I’m recording in a real studio setting and rather than just push the vocal stems out as if on a conveyer belt, I’m working more as a collaborator with the producer in doing the arrangement and treatment of the vocals as well. Quality over quantity is the key.

You don’t wish to be pigeonholed as purely being a singer. You have your own production alias, ‘OPL’ that has seen you remix for the likes of Balkan Connection and included releases on Agara Music. Can you tell us a little more about this project, why you decided to do it, and what does the future have in store for this alias?

It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle bustle of getting things done, and sometimes we forget to take the time to explore our own creativity. As a vocalist, I work to be a compliment to the Producer’s track. I try and hear what their track is saying, and then I add to it. Being able to work on OPL stuff is very ‘Alice in Wonderland’ for me. OPL allows, and forces, me to do my own thing. To explore my own resources and see what I can do. There are no rules. It’s one thing to use language to convey emotion, like I do with vocals, but to dig down deep into what sounds work together and then twisting something together to convey a message without words; it’s a completely different head-space. OPL has a couple signed remixes and a collaboration coming out with an original almost done.

You host a number of Radio shows that are syndicated to a number of stations, Tech Support has recently aired its 100th episode. Can you tell us a bit more about Tech support?

Literally, a couple years ago I got a message on Facebook from DanceRadio.ca asking if I wanted a show. Having a background in radio, of course I said yes. Over the past couple years; I’ve been able to showcase talented Producers and DJs on a weekly basis. Recently, I started working with Global Mixx Radio out of NYC and DNA Concept Radio out of Argentina. Tech Support has been syndicated by these stations as well as both stations also showcasing my monthly (I try) sets. At first I was doing voice overs for all of them but I’ve just had to knuckle down and be sure everyone gets their show in time now. Each one of these stations is so patient with me and have been wonderful to work with.

Can you tell us a little about your live project Beauty & The Breakdown with Mason Bach?
Beauty & The Breakdown is our moniker for our duo when we play deeper sounds. We make all genres of music. Typically we both play Techno as individual DJs but when we come together, like the mental picture of the name would suggest it’s a sugar and spice dynamic. The sounds are deeper, round sounds, including vocal tracks, for a more lounge like appeal. We get dressed up pretty and go b2b. It’s a lot of fun. We produce under the same name, or lately it has been coined more so as Amber Long & Robert Mason. Beauty & The Breakdown is a place where we put our proverbial ‘love songs’.

Your production Partner Mason Bach is vastly experienced in the studio. Does this help or hinder you regarding your approach to making music?

You’re right! Mason Bach IS vastly experienced. Someone recently called him a wizard and I wouldn’t stray far from that. For years, I’ve watched him produce and turn out amazing track after amazing track. It seems to come so naturally! I’d have to say it’s helped me immensely in a couple of ways. First, it definitely raises the bar as far as my standards of how my productions should be. He is good at what he does, he’s also busy, and so I can’t bring him tripe to hear. Secondly, by the time I think I’ve ‘put in the time’ enough to show him something, he usually has really sage advice on how to fix things up easily that I would have never thought of. Through our collaborations and Mix & Master sessions, he’s taught me so much. In fact, he was even the one who taught me how to DJ. Mason, along with others I work closely with, have been great mentors. It’s important to have people you can trust to give you honest feedback and tips, not just a pile of yay-sayers and yes men.

What tips would you give any aspiring singer/producer/DJ who is trying to make serious inroads into the music industry?

Ask yourself first, why are you doing this? Listen to the first answer that comes to mind. It will probably be something like – ‘I want to be famous’ or ‘I can’t help myself’. If you fall into the latter category, it is instinctual nature to keep making music, to keep creating. Over time, you just get better and better in whatever you’re putting your heart and soul into. How can you not? But it’s not a fly-by-night operation and sometimes tracks take months to finish and years to release. I can’t comment on the ‘I want to be famous’ part but I can say that if someone offers you something ‘too good to be true’, it probably is.

Never give up what you want in the long run for what you may want today. Again, have mentors you can trust. Not only people to share your new productions with but those you can talk ‘real life’ things with too. There are ups and downs that come in putting yourself out into the world artistically and it’s comforting to know you’re not alone.

Such is the diversity of your projects where do you see yourself in the next few years?

It’s so hard to say. Everything changes really fast nowadays. I know I’ll still be making music in some way, shape or form, preferably on a beach. Maybe I’ll own a cat (and in a perfect world, Mason and I will be able to go back to Europe to play some gigs next summer when I graduate from school).

Finally, What tracks are really working for you right now?

In preparing the set for you guys, I came across – Adwer – Kolibri (Quivvers Q Code Mix). Seriously, how sick is that track?

James Harcourt released his latest album in May and I’ve had that on repeat since I got it. The Promise and Starlight are my favourites. I also have sets from Gaga – Welcome To The Darkside (Dark Face Recordings), Modern Agenda (Mason Bach) and Guyvr on my phone.

Track list

01. James Harcourt – The Promise (Original Mix)
02. Amber Long & Robert Mason – Eggshells (Kastis Torrau & Arnas D Remix)
03. Adwer – Kolibri (Quivvers Q Code Mix)
04. Jelly For The Babies – Wrong Side of the Wall (Original Mix)
05. Gaga – Fever (Original Mix)
06. Koer – Renegade (Alan Banjo & Forexample Remix)
07. Alberto Ruiz – Delta (Original Mix)
08. Pierre Deutschmann – Sweet Nothing (Tom Hades Remix)
09. Raul Mezcolanza – How To Make (Original Mix)
10. Refraction – The Red Planet (Alberto Ruiz & Hugo Bianco Remix)
11. Matador (IE) – Divas (Original Mix)
12. Aiho, Lucent – Nobody Freaks Like Us (Original Mix)


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