A Star is Born: MuuMuse Interview with Starsmith!

She just couldn’t believe that what we’d ended up completely doing in my bedroom…was going to become what people would say would be the sound of the following year.

If you’ve even been vaguely paying attention to the state of pop music in the U.K. at the moment, chances are you’ve heard of Starsmith.

In just under two year’s time, the 22-year-old producer has gone from crafting homemade remixes in his mother’s house to working on tracks with Diana Vickers and the Princess of Brit-Pop herself, Miss Kylie Minogue.

Starsmith’s brush with musical stardom came shortly after answering a MySpace message from then unknown indie-pop sweetheart Ellie Goulding. After several recording sessions in the producer’s bedroom, Goulding would somehow find herself topping the list of the prime honor for artists on the rise: The BBC’s Sound of 2010 Award.

Needless to say, it was a bit unexpected for the both of them.

Since then, Starsmith has been busy at work crafting tunes for the likes of media darling/ex-Aloud/X-Factor superstar Cheryl Cole, as well as paving the way toward his own solo effort. In fact, Starsmith’s solo venture has just began with the release of his French House-inspired double A-Side debut single, “Give Me A Break / Knuckleduster” on August 29.

With plans to work with both familiar faces (Goulding) and new collaborators (Imogen Heap; Xenomania‘s Miranda Cooper; Alphabeat‘s Stine Bramsen), the young producer’s upcoming debut album (due out in Spring 2011) is gearing up to be a full-on pop smash.

And for once, maybe a boy will get a shot at ruling the pop charts.

Click “Read More!” to see the full MuuMuse interview with Starsmith.

Hey, Fin?

Hey, it’s Brad Stern from MuuMuse! How are you?
I’m very well. How are you?

So, the funny thing is I was preparing for the interview and I was looking through my email, and I remember like, a year ago, you’d sent me a remix of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” and then…
Ahh, yeah! That’d have been like two years ago! Yeah, that would’ve been like the September before. The September/October before, yeah?

Wow, yeah.

And then I got an email from you for Marina & The Diamonds‘ “I’m Not a Robot”–it’s kind of insane how far you’ve come since then.
Yeah, it’s kinda quick.

It’s gone really, really quickly which is great, but it’s a bit stressful at times just ’cause you have to kinda look back on what you’ve done and everything coming up now, [and] what you’ve got to do in the future.

Of course. Does it feel like it’s only been a year though? Since you started doing mixes.

Yeah, it’s been about eighteen months, I think. Well, eighteen months since I met Ellie [Goulding], ’cause that’s when I kind of see myself actually really like, starting off, ’cause that’s when I got my first commissioned remix [for “My Secret Lover”], which was for Private.

And that was the first time I had a label actually offer. You know, “Hey, could you do us a remix rather than stealing one of our parts and doing it?” So that’s when I kind of see the start of my career. Yeah…it doesn’t really seem like that long. I think a year ago I was preparing with Ellie to go on the road with her. Like, this time last year. We were in rehearsals getting ready. Yeah, just to start touring, and we had the Little Boots tour off of that. That was a year ago. It’s absolutely mental.

It’s funny because in the email you said you’re working with a girl called Ellie and I was just like “Oh, okay..” [laughs] I didn’t know anything about her.

I think everyone was a bit like that [Laughs]. It was a bit–there could be so many people that people say “Hey, I’m working with this girl at the moment” and it means nothing to you, and then in a year you kind of look back and like, “Christ, it was that girl. I had no idea.”

Exactly. And all the sudden the Sound of 2010 win from the BBC and all of that. How has all the hype and everything, how has Ellie done with that and you as well? Sort of just bursting onto the scene like that..

Um, I think it caught both of us off guard initially. I think Ellie a lot harder than it caught me, because obviously it was her name on it. I was just the guy in the background.

So I think it hit her quite hard. It was more just like an awe kind of thing. She just couldn’t believe that what we’d ended up doing in my bedroom, a room in my flat–was going to become what people would say would be the sound of the following year. I found it so humbling to think that what I’d been doing at home was going to become that, but then Ellie, I think, started to think of what she was going to have to do with it. Like, she was thinking like “Right, I’m going to have to go on X amount of my own headline tours,” and at that point all she’d done is play like a couple of acoustic gigs here and there.

She’d never had a band before, so I think it was just a worry, like “I’m gonna have so much to do,” and she’d never experienced it before so, yeah, I think it kind of caught her off guard. But she got used to it so quickly and as I’ve got to go and see her live and stuff over the last 8-9 months. If you’d look at her now you’d have no idea that she was kind of sheepish to say anything to the crowd when she first got on stage–to now, where she comes fully engaged and exudes amazing confidence as well.

I think I’m a bit the same as well. I think I do a lot more confidence in my production and remixes and things and I take a few more risks, which is quite fun, than I did before. Yeah, I think it’s been great for us. That kind of initial shock was scary as hell, but it’s been really good.

Oh, good. Good. Actually–a question just came in related to Ellie: How long it took for you to produce and mix “Starry Eyed” in particular?

“Starry Eyed” is probably the quickest song that we did on the album.


Yeah, it was–I first met Ellie on like January 3rd or 4th or something last year, and it was really soon after her birthday. She contacted me on MySpace I think, on like New Years Eve? No, the day before New Years Eve, and I was at home for that holiday and I just said “Look, come around. I love your voice.” No one had ever contacted me to work with me before. I didn’t even really know what producing was and so I just said, “Come around next week,” so she came around a few days later.

“Starry Eyed” was the very first thing we did together. She sent me a demo on acoustic guitar–she sent me that and within two days we had the song. Um, and then from that track, which was made last January, came out on the album this March. The only things that are really different are like a couple of different vocal takes, a few more synths, just kinda–a lot more clarity, I knew a lot more of what I was doing.

So, it was definitely the quickest song on the album, because I didn’t have to look back at it again from like January of this year. And so we were like “Christ, there’s got to be an album version that’s got to be a little bit different,” so, I mean mixing-wise, that was mixed by [Mark] “Spike” Stent, so that was left up to him, but “Starry Eyed” was one of the first tracks that got mixed because it was the single and it was done.

I mean, the whole thing–out of all the days that was spent on it, it was probably less than a week, which is crazy for a pop song these days.

They always say that the ones that tend to be the smashes are the ones that took the least time.

That does tend to be the way, yeah. Like, “Guns and Horses” and “The Writer” took me so much longer to do because I didn’t, like–I loved the original versions of them, loved them, absolutely loved them. Like, the original “Guns and Horses” was done by John Fortis, and it didn’t sound much different than my version, but I think the label just wanted it to be a bit more coherent with the other sounds on there that I’d done.

And the original version of “The Writer” was just like Ellie on acoustic guitar and a bit of piano, and it was just so beautiful and I found it really hard to work with those tracks that I loved so much originally, whereas for “Starry Eyed”–literally at the start of the guitar, I could immediately hear what I wanted to do with it.

So, yeah, it’s the ones I think you have an immediate connection with that are done quicker. But, I think it really shows in the song, and I think that’s what people like and why they buy it.

Definitely. So, you were writing and recording with Ellie in your bedroom. Is it safe to say that you’ve since taken your production to an actual studio or um, you know, was Kylie [Minogue] singing in your bed?

[Laughing] It’s not in a bedroom anymore. I moved out of my Mom’s house, which we were doing that record in, last December when I signed my record deal to Island Records and I finally got a bit of money and I was able to afford to move out and get a little flat. I moved the studio out of the bedroom. It was still just in another room of mine–in my house, but, um, there was no bed on the other side of the room. Now, I moved again and I mean, I’m in a slightly larger house now as well.

It’s kind of a very open flat, so I’ve got a lot more room to play with. I mean, it’s kinda–my studio takes over the lounge. It’s like a studio with a TV and a sofa in it, so I don’t really use it as a lounge. It’s just a kind of studio for me, innit? And I say “Oh, look! I’ve got a TV in my studio as well.”

Sounds comfortable.

Oh, yes, it’s comfortable, ’cause I’m the only one that lives there, so it’s comfortable for me. But, um, I think if I had–if I was living with friends or my girlfriend or something, it would definitely be cramped. The setup I’ve got at the moment where it just keeps getting bigger and bigger I think it’d be a little bit cramped, but I’ve only got plans to be here for the next year and try and upgrade a little bit more. I think it’s just gonna be like that for the rest of my life. [Laughing]

[Laughs] Well, that works. That works. So, since then, obviously you’ve moved on to working with artists like Diana Vickers and Kylie. Let’s start maybe with the big one, um, how did you first get in touch with Kylie–or how did she get in touch with you, rather?

Um, [Laughs] Yeah, I didn’t look up her number. She heard “Starry Eyed,” I think, and she’d contacted all her managers who contacted my management because they’d found out I produced it and this was at the time when she was starting work on Aphrodite and that was I think initially what got her and company interested in me. Then we got asked to write for her and, yeah, that was it. It was kinda–I think she luckily heard Ellie, loved the song, loved what I’d done, and then wanted a bit of it on her own album.

Wow, that’s perfect. And then the song you ended up creating [“Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)”] is such an anthem, sort of celebratory song. It fits her so perfectly as far as her vibe and everything she is.

Yeah, no and so did the record. I was so excited when I found out she was working on it, and it’s kind of–I knew it would be one of those albums of the year that I’d buy anyway just because I loved everyone I heard was working on it, and to be on the album myself was absolutely insane. So yeah, I think the whole album is an amazing achievement of hers.

Absolutely. You also did “You’ll Never Get to Heaven” on Diana Vickers’ album.

Yes, yes.

I love that song. How did that track come to be?

That was one of the very first sessions I did writing for other people after I’d been working with Ellie. I did that last summer I think, and, yeah, someone took a risk and was like, “Okay, I’ve heard a couple of demos you did with Ellie.” This was before Ellie was signed, and they’re like “Hey, do you want to come and work on Diana’s stuff?” and Diana absolutely loved it I think, and she had so much fun in the sessions that it gave me a lot more confidence to kind of get out there and start writing for other people.

So that, yeah, it was one of the very first tracks we did together–that before I’d never really done with someone else, I think.

Okay, yeah, I love that one. I think she sounds like a mini-Ellie really, sometimes.

[Laughs] Yeah, a lot of people think that.

I also really enjoyed her album.

Yeah, I loved her album as well, I think there’s some really brilliant people working on it. It was great that it went to number one as well, and she’s had a lot of success really. It’s been such a good year for both her and Ellie, really…and Kylie. They all had pretty great year.

Absolutely. And you’re a part of all of that.

Yeah, which is–I’m very fortunate to be. I just, I’d like it if maybe a guy would get in contact and want me to work on his stuff. [Laughs] I don’t think I’ve actually worked with any guys for their stuff though. I’ve worked with guys on my album, but not off anyone else’s. I don’t know…thinking I can only work with girl pop stars.

Well, maybe it’ll come soon. [Laughs]

Yeah! [Laughs]

So, now you’ve got your own solo career coming. You’ve got the double A-side with “Give Me A Break” and “Knuckleduster.” How would you describe the songs because, you know, I think one premiered on radio the other day but I don’t know that everyone got to hear it.

Yeah, Annie Mac [BBC Radio 1]–we kind of really wanted to give her the exclusive play of “Give Me A Break” and we thought it was perfect for her, and we really wanted to get her on board. Coming from us it was a bit of a risk, because she’s so influential in a radio kind of dance scene at the moment that we weren’t particularly sure she’d be going for the kind of stuff–like very commercial, sample-based dance track.

But, then we found out she got into it and it was amazing, so we gave her “Knuckleduster” as well, and it was just like an exclusive download off her website. But I mean, the tracks are quite different. I mean although they’re both very French-artsy, dancey, pretty gritty–they’re quite different.

I mean, obviously one’s got a big sample on it and the other one hasn’t, but “Knuckleduster” is really fun, and I had so much fun writing that track. I haven’t had that much fun kind of writing and listening back to a track as that. It doesn’t mean it’s my favorite, but it’s quite hard to top it in like, the amount of fun you can have in your own in a studio pretty much. But “Give Me A Break” was–it was born an accident. It was just one of these things like one night: Let’s just find a great sample and try and incorporate it in a track and in a couple of days I had “Give Me A Break,” and it didn’t really sound too much different–like “Starry Eyed” from what had ended up coming out to now.

So, yeah, they’re quite different, but I think they both appeal to the same audience, but they don’t necessarily give a direct example of what the whole album is gonna be like. I think there’s gonna be no more samples on the album. There will be a couple more instrumental tracks but it’s primarily–the album structure’s kind of changed. It’s really turned into something now where I’m primarily going to be singing on it–on most of the tracks and a few features on the rest of it.

Oh, really?

Yeah, I mean, it was originally going to be a featuring based album with instrumentals and then a few of me singing, but at the moment I’ve got like six or seven with me singing on it and then I think not much space for other things.

Oh, okay. Did you always have the intention to sort of, you know, go down the solo path?

No, no. Not at all.

What sort of inspired it?

Um, I was, I think–I thought I was able to kind of craft songs for other people, so I kind of wondered what it would be like if I did it for myself; what my own album would be like. It was more kind of an inquisitive thing rather than I always wanted to do it. I was quite happy staying a producer and a writer for the rest of my life–and I still am–but I really want to give the solo artist thing a go, and I think that my own tracks will allow me to show a different side–the side that likes to take a few more risks. Obviously with tracks you write for certain people, the labels want certain things from you. That’s why they come to you. They don’t just come to you randomly because you’ve got another hit.

They actually care about what you do these days, and also because they know what they want for their artist as well, so they’ll give you kind of a spec list as kind of a thing–the kind of sound they’re looking for. So for me there’s no holds barred. It’s like I’m not restricted at all. I can do whatever I want, which is great fun. It’s the first time I’ve felt like I’m gonna have a massive house piano track, or I’m just going to have this dirty sort of French housey track, or something like that. It’s really good fun.

That’s awesome. Who have you been working with on the record?

Um, well writing-wise I’ve been working with Miranda Cooper from Xenomania on a couple of tracks and that’s been awesome. I’ve really got a great bond with her, and I think we really get each other musically and that’s been a lot of fun. I’ve done stuff with Wayne Hector as well, but the majority of the album–like 75% or so–has been written by me.

I’ve found the tracks I’m most comfortable with are the ones I’ve had the main role in just kind of doing it all; just having complete control over it. I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to tracks. I’m always open to other people’s opinions, but I like to kind of get the ground work done by myself.

But there’s features on there as well: I’ve got Ellie in to do a track in a couple of weeks. There’s a guy called Dailey who’s signed to–I think it’s Polydor [Records] over here, same as Ellie, and I’m due to be in with Imogen Heap too, I’ve had Stine [Bramsen] from Alphabeat. I think that will be the features for the album…so those four.

Oh, wow! Imogen!

Yeah, that’s also yet to happen because we were due to be in…in July, and she’s heavily rooted commitments. She’s doing amazing. She’s scoring songs for an orchestra, writing for film–all of it, so obviously she’s got these much higher priorities. It’s completely understandable, so it’s just quite hard to find a time which she’s actually got like a day or two to kind of squeeze in.

Yeah, she’s incredible.

Yeah, she’s been someone I’ve always had on my list to work with, and we know each other quite well and we’re both really up for it, but yeah, just finding the time..

Of course. So, producing and remixing-wise, which other artists would you love to work with, sort of moving forward?

Um, I would love to get in the studio with Robyn. I think that would be a lot of fun.

Well, your remix was incredible with “Hang With Me.”

Thank you very much. Yeah, that seems to have gone down really well. I loved that track when I first heard it. I’d love to get in with her. I’m trying to think who else…Yeah, I’m extended to guys as well because I feel that I’m going down this continuous route of working with girl pop stars. Maybe that’s just what people are buying at the moment, I don’t know [Laughing].

I think so. I can’t think of too many male pop stars right now on the charts.

Yeah, that’s true. There’s a lot of rappers–it’s a lot of rappers, I think. That’s what kind of covers the male side of things. Yeah, bands as well.

I think the next main project I do for someone else–I think I want to do a band thing and there’s a couple of people–a couple of things I have my eye on as well, which I’m looking for, maybe start early next year once my album comes out. But I’m open to all options really–not for the next few months–but I’m open to thinking what’s next.

Yeah, Now are you confirmed working with Cheryl Cole?

I am. Yeah, I was in LA with her a couple of weeks ago.

Okay. Are you doing a track for the new album, I think it’s coming out?

Yeah, it’s just the one track, yeah. No idea about singles or anything like that. I think it’s maybe early days for that. Yeah, I wrote that track with Wayne Hector and I was out there just recording the vocals with her. Began editing it last week, actually. That was amazing fun. We worked together earlier this year as well on like really quite early sessions for her, but that track didn’t really go anywhere, so we got asked to write another one for the album.

How is it working with her?

She’s so professional. She’s insanely professional. She’s so quick as well. She knows exactly what she wants to get out of her vocal performance and she comes up with brilliant ideas as well. I think it’s just been from years and years of being in Girls Aloud where that was quite–not dictated, what they do–I think in the later years it was more hands on, but obviously to begin with, it was probably quite like “We needed to do this, we needed to do this,” so she’s got an amazing work ethic. Really great, and as far as I know she’s just been solid working on the album out there, which is great.

That’s amazing. Yeah, I imagine it must be tough–she’s such a fixture in the tabloids and everything, it’s probably tough to sort of forge her own voice right now and face sort of–

Yeah, I think she’s going to take some more risks on this record as well. I mean I haven’t heard any other tracks, but from what I’ve heard from meetings and stuff–getting ideas and things–it looked like they were ready to kind of push the boat out a little bit more and do something a little bit different, which is brilliant.

But obviously, for someone with such a loyal fan base as a girl group and also being such a huge face, especially in the U.K., for like, for X-Factor, for different brands, I mean…it’s tough. You’ve got like a certain audience that you have to please before anyone else, so now she’s kind of done that album, and now I think she’s going to take some more risks, which is cool.

Oh, that’s very cool. I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, so I’ll just maybe leave off with music of the moment: What’s inspiring you right now? Either on the radio or just some tracks you’ve been listening to as far as influencing your sound and all of that.

Um, what’s inspiring me at the moment? Oh, Christ. Um…not necessarily new stuff. Hall & Oates–I’ve been listening to a lot. There’s a band in the U.K. called Everything Everything that I’m obsessed with. Another band in the U.K. called Fenech Soler as well, who are brilliant. I’ve been listening to their stuff–very infectious. Um, yeah, a lot of older house things, like a lot of the old Thomas Bangalter releases and things off Roulé, his label, kind of random little French House kind of tracks that never really got huge commercial release, but just massive kind of credit to them. So, I’ve just been kind of going back to things like that, and just trying to get a lot more authentic inspiration rather than what’s out at the moment.

Yeah, no that’s probably the best way to go.

Yeah. [laughs]

Alright, that sounds amazing. I’m very excited to hear tracks off the album and your work with everyone, really. You’ve got so much coming ahead.

Yeah, I know. I can’t wait for it all to be out there, especially my own stuff. I really can’t wait for that to kind of see the light of day. I was um–I’ve been mixing my next single tomorrow which will be out in January, I think? Yeah, January. The album is due to drop out in April, so they’ll be a couple more things about before the album so people really get a clear idea of what exactly is about to come and yeah, I love–it’s really exciting.

That’s awesome. Alright, well thank you so much for talking with me. It’s great speaking with you. You’re an amazing producer and I really look forward to hearing new things.

Yeah, and thank you for supporting me up until now and everything. It’s been wonderful. Your support has been brilliant. So, yeah, thank you so much.

I’ll talk to you soon. Bye, bye.

Alright. Cheers, bye.

Many thanks to RJ Kozain for providing the transcription of this interview.

Be sure to check out Starsmith’s officialMySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

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