When the Grammy Award winning group Dirty Vegas was founded, nearly 20 years ago, the mold of electronic fused bands was broken. Far more than just two turntables and a microphone, Dirty Vegas was made up of true musicians. Founded by Paul Harris, Steve Smith and Ben Harris the group became, and remains, one of the most recognisable names in dance music. In 2001 the band’s debut single ‘Days Go By’ appeared in the now-iconic television commercial for Mitsubishi and became a benchmark that set a new model for marketing music in advertising. The single, with its magnetic original video, catapulted Dirty Vegas to Grammy success winning the group Best Dance Recording in 2003, the first year an award was given in that category.
In the roller coaster two years that followed, the band released their eponymous debut album and headlined their own worldwide tour, in addition to supporting like-minded artists such as Moby, Underworld and Groove Armada. Dirty Vegas went on to sell over 1 million albums and was named No.6 in Billboard Magazine’s “Top selling Electronic artists of the 2000’s”. Since then Dirty Vegas has gone on to release two subsequent albums with International chart success. 2004’s ‘One’ had the smash single ‘Walk into the Sun’, which hit No.1 on Billboard’s ‘Dance Club’ Single chart, and 2011’s album ‘Electric Love’ their first without original member Ben Harris, reached No.4 on USA iTunes ‘Dance Album’ chart. Dirty Vegas have also licensed music to a plethora of projects such as HBO hit series Girls, LucasFilm Star Wars Kinect and Microsoft, plus their work has been featured on soundtracks for the likes of The O.C, One Tree Hill and Goal.
When not in the studio, Dirty Vegas tours internationally, from DJing in some of the world’s most famous nightclubs, to playing live shows at prestigious festivals (including Ultra Music, Coachella , Glastonbury and SXSW) the band has fans the world-over. One such fan being HRH Prince William, who recently revealed Dirty Vegas as one of his ‘top three bands’ to listen to while feeding his son Prince George. Though busy schedules often keep Steve and Paul apart, the duo has managed to spend the last year writing and recording material for their upcoming new album.
“With us being in different countries most of the time, of our writing comes together by working remotely,” says Boston-based Steve Smith. “When we meet up for shows, we’re able to dissect what we like/don’t like and bring the best to the new recordings. Electronic music has finally arrived in modern terms and we’re excited by the scope and range of styles out there, we hear new music that inspires us and makes us want to keep pushing ourselves.”
The first of this new material came in 2014 in the shape of their eagerly anticipated EP ‘Let the Night’ (D Vision/Capitol France), their first release on an independent label. The EP reached No.3 on US iTunes ‘Dance Album’ Chart and achieved certified ‘Gold’ Status in Italy. A second single ‘Setting Sun’ followed, along with a remix for Steve Angello, live shows in Italy, France, Ibiza, China, Russia and India, plus they even had the honor of being the first electronic artists to perform at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. “It was a huge honor,” say the duo. “We were the first artists to win the Grammy for the Best Dance Recording category back in 03 so it was fitting to also be the first dance act to perform for them at their museum.” Fast forward to 2015, and all eyes are now on their fourth album, ‘Photograph’ due out later this year, featuring the new single, ‘Do What You Feel’, and last year’s ‘Let The Night’ and ‘Setting Sun’ alongside eight other brand new tracks, including a reworking of Duran Duran’s ‘Save a Prayer.
“We feel like this new album is some of our best work to date,” says Dirty Vegas. “We have always approached electronic music with a classic songwriting perspective, so this is a continuation of that, but this one feels like it’s a journey back to our original club roots.”
Decoded Magazine caught up with the guys recently to chat about the forming album, life back in the spotlight and their unique take on the DJing aesthetic.
Hi guys, great to meet you. Talk us through a typical day for you as Dirty Vegas.
(Steve) – My typical day would be to wake up around 6:30am, check emails as Paul is 5 hrs ahead in London. Then depending on whats going on, I would make breakfast for the kids and get them off to school. Then head to the studio until whatever is going on gets done, usually 6pm ish. I live in a seaside town in Massachusetts so I’d head back and take the family for a walk along the beach and stop for drinks at sunset.
(Paul) – Normally up around 8, go through all emails of anything over night from Steve or the US, very strong coffee, and then it’s off to the studio I go! As well as Dirty Vegas, I also write for a lot of different artists, so I’ll be in the studio till I’m finished ! Sometimes that can be 5pm, sometimes 5am ! Hopefully more like 7/8 pm, then its home, dinner, Game Of Thrones (or what ever is the newest boxset), bed and repeat…. Still love what I do, so this routine works nicely… Get to travel a lot with the studio stuff so it works out just fine!
Photograph marks your return after a 6 year break from the scene. No doubt there have been some massive changes in that time, with the evolution of social media and sites like Soundcloud and Youtube beaming artists music far and wide. Although you’re not exactly starting from scratch, whats been the biggest learning curve for you this time around?
(Steve) – In fact we released an EP in 2013 ‘Let the Night’ that reached Gold status in Italy and an album ‘Electric Love’ in 2011 that reached No.3 on Dance Album on US itunes, so we’ve been doing quite a bit. But the way that music is released and heard has changed so much since we first released music in 2001. When we started, we were signed to Parlophone Records in the UK, and everything had more timing and strategy with releases. Now, it feels like some artists finish a song in the studio and post it that night! It can be great to have that spontaneity but I fear it can limit the shelf life of a record. Singles and and albums had time to breathe and not having instant access helped the passion for searching/wanting a song. I’m not clicking Youtube etc and having music on tap helps? Its like having free fine dining, eventually you become numb to all the flavours.
With social media paramount to the ongoing success for artists now, was it difficult to get into the mindset of the new generation of consumers, who seem to share every aspect of their lives on the internet?
(Steve) – I think where we are now is great for the consumer, but its created a whole bag of extra things to do for artists. We don’t mind taking photos in the studio, airport etc as we love interaction with fans.
Lets briefly touch on your past success with the award winning debut release “Days Go By”. Of course, following its appeal in the pop charts, you landed a pretty hefty advertising deal with Mitsubishi. But the deal was not without animosity from the dance community. Can you explain what happened at the time?
(Steve) – As crazy as it sounds, you only have to go back to 2001 to see that letting your music be used for a commercial was frowned upon, especially in Electronic music. We licensed our song ‘Days Go By’ to the Mitsubishi ad and the song became a hit in the US. Before we know it, we had gone from playing small clubs in the UK to performing on the Jay Leno show and rolling out on a full US tour with Moby. Funny enough, it was that tour with Moby that helped us, as Moby himself had licensed every single tracks from his album ‘Play’ and told us he had some crap from the dance community….How things have changed eh!
We featured the video on the site a little while back as one of 10 influence videos in dance music history. How important is getting the whole package right for the success of a big single release? What would you say are some of the pitfalls less well versed producers fall foul of?
(Steve) – WOW! Thank you for that, it is a very special video for sure. The release around that song was a triple winner, the song came first, then the video, then the artwork. It took along time to get them all right and it was still around the time that all that mattered. We have always pressed vinyl of our releases, so the artwork looked amazing for us. The video was just beautiful to watch being made outside that diner in LA. The budget for that video was around £90k, it was shot on 35mm film so it it has that classic look. I don’t think a label would allow that kind of budget for a first time video these days, but technology has changed so much that videos don’t need to cost that much anymore. Just a decent slice of imagination and camera skill and things can be done great.
When you started writing ‘Photograph’ had you an album concept in mind, or has the album taken on a life of its own?
(Steve) – We released the EP ‘Let the Night’ on D Vision records (Italy) and we’re very surprised by its success. So we jumped on that inspiration and started to record more songs. We have been releasing music for 15 years, so we wanted to reflect a lot of whats we’ve experienced and seen through that time. We’ve definitely seen music come full circle from the time we first started playing in clubs. Musical styles from the early 90’s can be heard in so much of todays music, bands like Disclosure and Disciples have taken those sounds and given them their own twist. We always want to push our sound forward, not by making a minimal experimental album (although that sounds fun) but by listening to the upcoming producer of today and crafting our sound along those lines. DJ/Producers like George Fitzgerald blow me away with the beautiful simplicity of his album.
Walk us through your studio. What hardware do you have these days, whats your favourite piece of kit and are there any tools you use in every production?
(Paul) – I have a Studio in Chelsea (UK), and have a whole host of analog keyboards, Moogs, Junos, Wasp, Roland Drum Machines, so it’s pretty cool. Problem is with always working on different songs, always seem to stick with plug ins. I also have an Apogee Apollo sound card, I use both Logic (Still using 9 , but have X !) and Ableton, my go to plug in at the moment is probably Spire, and the Kung Fu patch, it’s such a old school sound, but I love it…
Tell us about the LA scene. We understand you regard it as the mecca of the US scene right now. Who is really hot?
(Paul) – I might have said that a few years ago, but for sure without a doubt its where a lot of the business gets done, lot’s of DJ’s and labels are now out there. It’s for sure where a lot of creative people are together, and work together… And you can certainly get ‘Work’ done in LA… As far as whose hot , I always work with Carl Ryden out there, so I’d have to say him!
Most of us know LA as the centre of the American film industry, and possibly have a rather blinkered view of the city. Where’s good to grab a drink or have a great meal?
(Steve) – Oh yes, the place can be a real drain if you let it. But we have some great friends in LA, so we always like to pop in for a pint at the Village Idiot on Melrose Ave. And for the best sushi that wont kill your credit card head to Itsikaya on 3rd Ave.
Lets get back to the music, and that great new single. ‘Do What You Feel’ has Ibiza Anthem written all over it. What was the vision for the track in its early stages?
(Steve) – We love that people hear the ‘Ibiza/Balearic’ feel to the track, as we have both spent many years on the Island. We feel like we’re lucky enough to be in Ibiza in the early explosion of the late 80’s/early 90’s and now have been every year since then. The remixes from Timo Jahns, Zwette and Paul Vinx keep that spirit and our original is about feeling free and taking chances in life.
Who plays the guitar in the track?
(Steve) – The acoustic guitars are played by myself and our friend, producer and writer Carl Ryden.
Talk us through the video. Any interesting stories?
(Paul) – Not as such. We sent out the song to a few of our friends and production companies, and 76 & Yann came back with the idea you see. I went down to the set for a day, and as you can see from watching it, this is all actual toys, there’s no CGI! There were a lot of issues getting the toys to actually do what they were told I know that for a fact… They had a lot of patience filming the clip.
Along with the new album comes the touring. We understand you have a slightly different stage show now when you DJ..
(Steve) – We play various different set ups and it depends on the event. We have our DJ/Percussion set up as percussion has always been such a huge part of Dance music. We are getting alot of offers to play acoustic sets now, which is cool. The we are just about to book a US Tour that will be fully live with guitars, keyboards and drummer.
You mention in previous interviews how lightening fast the new music industry has become. You can write a track, post it on YouTube and bam, its a live product. With artists now struggling to make a living from their art, do you think more time and resources should be allocated to solve the issues of monetisation? Should the days of the freemium model be numbered?
(Steve) – Oh boy! thats a very hard and long subject to answer but yes, more legal protection should be allocated for artists and writers. We are just on the cusp of a tidal change with Apple Music, as we all know what itunes did after Napster. Lets pick this back up in 5 years!!
Well guys, its been real! We wish you the best of luck with the new album. I guess that just leaves me to ask if there’s anything else you’d like to add?
(Paul) – We’re currently in the process for putting a tour together, so we’re see you all soon! All details will be on our socials.
01// Dirty Vegas – Do What You Feel (Timo Jahns Remix)
02// Sade – Pearls (Timo Jahns Remix)
03// AudioTape – I Got Love (Sharam Jay Edit)
04// Unknown – Collide
05// Eelke Klein – In My Head (Dub)
06// Dantiez Saunderson, KPD & LaRae Starr – Place Called Home
07// Doorly – Boogaloo
08// Hayden James – Something About You (Ben Pearce Mix)
09// Dirty Vegas – Save a Prayer (Andrey Exx & Troitski Remix)
10// Gregory Porter – Liquid Spirit (Claptone Remix)
11// Dirty Vegas – Do What You Feel (Paul Vinx Remix)