It’s been 9 years since J.Sparrow’s seminal debut LP, Circadian, was released on Tectonic. It was, and still is, an outstanding dubstep album packed with original ideas and no compromises. Off the back of its success, J.Sparrow teamed up with Submotion Orchestra’s Ruckspin to form Author – a sensational partnership which took the dubstep community by storm with their debut self-titled LP, and then the even better sophomore, Forward Forever. Following a couple of bag-on-sight singles for Mala’s Deep Medi Musik, an appearance on ZamZam Sounds, and the launch of his own label Navy Cut, J.Sparrow is back with yet another album, this time on Deep Medi, titled #000000365 or Dark 365. The album is a carefully curated body of work, and a real melting pot of ideas showcasing the breadth and depth of Sparrow’s production skills. We caught up with Ryan to discuss his new album, the joys of collaboration, and what’s in store for Navy Cut.
Congratulations on the release and being voted ‘Album of the Month’ by Mixmag earlier in March. I’m sure the initial positive feedback is a wonderful feeling as “we can be our own biggest critics”. What was the concept behind the album name?
Thank you, it was nice to see that it was received well and of course it makes all the sleepless nights of worry worth it. I used to be my own worst critic but I had meetings with some very established producers in the commercial world who write for huge artists, and they put my mind at rest when it came to my worries and creativity. I’m quite private so don’t usually seek counsel from other people that much about my music, but this time I took an alternate approach. The album is related to code for “black/dark” and 365 is the number of days it took to complete.
I’ve listened to the album cover to cover several times now and it is indeed a very different release than what I am used to hearing from you. The album starts off with four heavy dancefloor tracks – ‘Phat Alf’ being a particular favourite of mine – and then starts to shift directions with ‘High Fidelity’, the most spacious track on the album. Can you tell us more about this track?
Well ‘Phat Alf’ is dedicated to my cat Alfie that died last year. He was a big boy and meant a lot to me, he would lay on his back in the studio while I was making music, so that’s for him. ‘High Fidelity’s arrangement is quite weird, it’s not instant gratification – it’s a progressive track. I tried the arrangement many ways but always came back to that mix and style because it just sounded right. I played it at Outlook Festival last year and it was very powerful. I have done another version of the track which is more “conventional” and gets to the point quicker for the clubs.
A few exclusive versions are a surefire way to catch the gun finger soldiers off guard in the dance. Speaking of clubs, as a DJ, how would you best describe your sets. Do you play out music released on, or vibes similar to the Navy Cut catalogue, or do you find yourself reaching for your classics on Tectonic and Deep Medi?
When I play I usually insist on longer sets 1-3 hours or more because I just have that much music across all tempos. I feel an hour is great for smashing up the dance and playing high-energy stuff, however there’s no journey. I usually have a lot of tunes I want to test from the studio and forthcoming music on Navy Cut. I will also fit in my releases that people know from various labels I have worked with and projects I have worked on. There is too much music that fits in my vision outside of dubstep. It would be wrong of me not to include it. People don’t want to know me personally but they want to know where I’m coming from musically, so what’s better than selecting tracks people might not have heard before. You would be surprised what fits in the soundscape of this genre. I take music very seriously.
I’ve always wondered what a J.Sparrow x Silkie tune would sound like. There’s definitely a natural progression on ‘Unity Rock’. A deep start with Silkie’s lush and funky sound reaching peak presence on the second drop. Do you find collaborations challenge you in your creative process?
Silkie is someone I’ve always wanted to work with and enjoyed his music. I sent him the track which was originally dark and completely different, and he switched it up and that’s what I was looking for – a real mesh of creators coming together where you can hear both people. I don’t find collaborations a chore at all, it’s more about finding people you can relate to and get on with and the rest just happens. Working with Ruckspin was total synergy and I cant quite explain it. With Author, we knew the direction without even talking about it and even now we still have it. He can be honest with me and vice versa about music and there’s no hard feelings because he and I know we just want what’s best for the track.
Glad to see a few heart-felt tracks like ‘Ndidi’, that always reminds me of your work under the Author alias. Can you tell us where the origins of the vocal sample come from?
Ndidi translates to “patience” and it started as a footwork track. I slowed it down and built around it. I was really trying to bring in Gqom rhythms too from Africa. I can’t remember where the vocal is from, I have lots of little snippets laying around I use.
The charged vocals of Rider Shafique on ‘Grey Skies’ was a great ending to the album. Rider’s spoken words are very captivating. Can you tell me the emotions or thoughts behind this track?
Well Rider will have his own interpretations on his vocal so I won’t speak for him but for me, it’s a track about the state of the world and trying to do better for ourselves. Being caught in a system and trying to escape and trying to reach a higher level of thinking. I believe people are scared of something good when they can’t control it, when something is pure of heart.
Your record label Navy Cut has released eleven records now (three of them being new or reissues of your own work). How’s the label been doing since it’s inception?
A lot has been happening behind the scenes in the time since the last Author album. Establishing what Navy Cut was about was a massive operation as I wanted the label to have a great mission, look and sound. Thankfully, we have some passionate caring people involved, from the artwork to the mastering. Finishing the album for Deep Medi was also running along side that, which took around a year, so for me, I don’t feel like I’ve been away as the hard work has continued if you get me. This year alone I’ve ramped up my personal output to compensate.
The interview wouldn’t be complete without a little teaser on what’s in store for J.Sparrow and Navy Cut.
I’ll try for another album this year I think. I have too much music right now. I’m always creating and trying to reach my goals as a producer. Navy Cut has some really heavy releases coming over summer and autumn. I have releases coming with labels I haven’t worked with before and a new radio show! I am at my best when I’m working and I can’t sit around.
Favourite classic dubstep track: Benga – B4 The Dual. Highly creative and mashes so many genres together in one track. Favourite ‘bass music’ track currently: Photek – Modus Operandi LP has been on repeat for the last week. Favourite ‘non-bass music’ track: Most played this week is Talking Heads – This Must Be The Place. New artist you recently discovered: Lamina Flo – we will be releasing their debut soon!