Emmanuel has produced tracks for some of the biggest names in music both Stateside and in the good old UK. But after all these years working behind big names, he’s finally had the chance to release his own album, which features some monumental guest spots and delivers with an outside range of sounds. Abjekt caught up with Emmanuel to quiz him on all things musical:
Can you introduce yourself to the readers of Crossfire briefly, for those that don’t know you too well?
Greetings. My name is Colin Emmanuel aka C.Swing. I am a producer, songwriter, remixer, arranger and musician.
I read that you’ve been producing for 10 years come this November, what were you doing before you got into the music making business?
Originally I was on the road to becoming a professional footballer or at least that was the dream, but I was unfortunately run over a week before my trials for Spurs and lost half of my right foot. That’s when the music thing came to the forefront, but before I went full time I went to Leicester Polytechnic and studied IT. I was also attending the School Of Audio Engineering at weekends and studying Sound Engineering before going on to do a Tonmiester in Production. Had a few jobs here and there, worked on the Credit Card Sales line for Wembley Stadium and was in Pre Sales Technical Support for a computer company before I went full time into music. Exciting stuff eh!!
What made you leave the 9-5 to get into producing?
Well, I’d never really planned to get a nine to five, I was always determined to make it in music. But it’s a struggle and bills have to be paid. I was working with Definition of Sound and we simply ran out of money. They were on the verge of signing a new deal but everything was in limbo, so the only solution was to get a temporary job until their deal came through. Then I could leave and work on the album and and get paid for all the work I’d done etc. So I ended up temping for this computer company as a Sales Operator and was doing the music thing in my spare time. About 3 years later, Definition had their deal and chose to do the album with someone else, and I was now fulltime in the company and had been promoted to Pre Sales Technical Support (Big Ol’ Title).
It just felt like I was dying in there. I got to the stage where I just couldn’t handle going in and I decided that if I didn’t make an effort to leave and go for it I never would. Then a girl who worked in the same company lost her Brother who was quite young after a car accident. And that just triggered me to write my notice and go for it. Life’s to short for regrets, so I quit my nine to five around March of 1996 and signed my publishing deal in November 1996.
Was there any particular record or records that really took you over and made you think that making music was the thing you had to do? My dad is a huge music fan and has a massive library load of vinyl, was this the same with you?
My Dad’s record collection plays a huge part in my musical make up I had one of those Dad’s where as you hit the end of your road on the way home from school on Friday you could hear what he’d bought blaring down the road, and you knew you’d hear it until the following Friday. Earth, Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Queen, Bob James, Burning Spear. Always something different. And he’s still on point now, he’ll tell you about Timbaland being involved with Jodeci. He knows his stuff.
But apart from that, it’s always a moment when you discover something for yourself. So for me it would be the first Mantronix album. The drum programming blew me away, and really got me interested in music technically as well as musically. After that I’d have to say Guy’s first album. It mixed hip hop, R&B and gospel so well that it helped me make sense of what I wanted to do.
I guess there are a few tunes like that, that just make you wanna get in the studio, Jodeci’s Diary Of A Mad Band, D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar, the SOS Band with Just Be Good to Me and a lot of Loose Ends etc.
You’ve worked with big names in the past, Mary J Blige, En Vogue and smaller UK artists such as Yungun, Braintax and Doc Brown – Do you hand pick who you want to work with first? Or do you get these offered to you?
It’s a bit of both really. Thing’s like Mary J and En Vogue you usually find that there are a couple of people in the running and if your lucky enough it’ll be offered to you. I’m lucky in that because I’ve received more critical praise than commercial success I get a lot enquiries usually via management. But it’s also nice to be in a situation where you can approach a Mystro or Rodney P and ask to work with them I’m usually terrified they’ll say no so I don’t ask that often.
But ultimately whether it’s been offered or I approach the decision lies with me. I’d rather work with someone I want to work with then work with them just for the money or quedos.
You’ve always worked with The Beta Band, which isn’t the first group I’d associate with your production work – Do you think its important to be able to vary your sound in your work? Does working on albums like this in between straight hip hop albums keep you on your toes and allow you to evolve your production style?
I always tell people that I only have 12 notes to play with. And those are the same twelve notes you’ll find on a rock track, or a country track or a jazz track. Every musician has those 12 notes to work with, so I do see why I should them in just area, or be intimidated by using them in other areas.
It’s important for me to do stuff like that because I’m trying to be a “Producer” period!! Not an R&B producer or Hip Hop Producer, just a Producer. I want to be in the running to work with U2, Nora Jones, Braintax and score films but that’s just me.
Aside from that, I can twist a production in any direction because I can pull from the different areas I’ve worked in.
It does keep you on your toes, keeps you humble, and where the Beta Band are concerned it can remind you of how you used to work, how to break the rules etc. I loved doing that. I’d love to do more stuff like that.
When you start working with an artist, do you already have a particular style or beat in mind for their track, or do you work with the artist and make it a mutual thing that comes about only after you’ve met them to get the right sound?
Getting the artist’s personality on to the track is my one golden rule. So when first working I may have a few ideas in my head, but I’ll let them guide the first few sessions and together we’ll find their sound. Once I’ve made that connection and got it right , I’m able to work on idea’s without the artist being there sometimes as I’ve got their profile in my head, so I can tailor make tracks for them.
So tell us about your new album, D’illusions Of Grandeur. When is it out, who is on it, and do you have any favourite tracks on the album?
D’illusions of Grandeur is my debut solo album. I’d got to a stage where I was seriously thinking about calling it a day. Various friends and colleagues convinced me that if I was gonna call it a day then the least I do is put out some of my own material which represented me, and not what I do day to day as a producer for other artists and labels etc. Often you work on a project for a label and a piece of work gets turned down for whatever reason. You start to know what’s worth handing in and what you might as well keep for yourself. Terri Walker’s Flirtin was rejected by Def Jam for her 2nd album when she was with them. Even though Nate James’s Pretend was done for the album, the initial reaction from his camp was that it was too underground and specialist to do anything, so I could do what I wanted with it. So when I sat down and went through some of the material that was turned down for whatever reason or deemed too underground, I realised I had the bulk of the album.
In saying that, I still set about trying to give the album an overall sound that was not Jamelia, or Beta Band or Beverly Knight etc. I wanted to come from an angle that no one was expecting of me and to avoid it being a typical Producers album. So it was more about getting the right songs with the right artists as opposed to getting big feature after big feature.
I wanted to use people that I felt were often overlooked or not being given the recognition they deserve. Most of the people on the album I’ve known for between 5 to 10 years, so it was like a family vibe working it.
So we have appearance’s on the album from Steve Mason (ex Beta Band, King Biscuit Time), KRS1, Nate James, Belle, Celetia Martin (Ladies In Question), Daniel DeBourg, Dyanna Fearon, Michelle Escoffery, Mystro, Braintax, Rodney P, Terri Walker, Sammi Jay and Michelle Escoffery . Not to mention musical contributions from James and Jason Yarde, Chris Jerome and Eric Appapoulay.
It’s definitely more a “black” album rather than “urban”, I suppose I’m trying to pay tribute to the music that influenced me.
How did the hook up with KRS-One come about? Had you always been a fan of his? I’d imagine it must have been pretty special to work with a legend like him.
That hook up was down to my friend Dave Veejay who was working for Kiss FM at the time (he’s now on Choice FM). He calls me up one day and asks if I’d fancy doing a track with KRS1. I was like yeah, whatever, this is a joke right? But he explain KRS was coming over to give some talks and wanted to get in the studio while he was here. So I gave him 2 beats on a cassette as he asked and Dave took it round to his hotel. I’d forgotten about it, convinced it was a wind up until Dave called back saying book a studio for the weekend, he’ll do it on Saturday night. This is all way back in 1997, originally it was on a different backing track, but I updated it for the album. That’s what went down.
I’m a huge fan of KRS so it was an incredible moment. I mean this guy is part of my musical make up. I’ve spent time in my room trying to program BDP teams. My Philosophy is one of my all time favourite tunes, but the guy has so many classics. It changed my life working with the guy. I mean once you work with someone of that stature, and they call out your name for the chorus, and then hang in the studio for hours after just talking but stuff in general; I’ve never had a need to fear anyone I’m working with since then.
Myself, Sandra Escoffery, Dave Veejay, James Yarde and KRS1 sitting in a studio just chatting. That’s a memory I will hold forever.
What are your links with Lowlife Records? You worked on Braintax’s Biro Funk and you’ve got Brains and Mystro up on the album, are you close to those guys?
I ghost write all of the raps for Brains, Mystro, Jehst etc. I’m just too shy to be a rapper!! JOKE!! No, I’ve worked in the same building as Low Life for years, and when we had to move business they found me a space across the hall from them. So bottom line is that there like family. We have a laugh, argue, help out on each others tracks, all that kind of stuff really. I do a lot of radio edits and mastering for them.
I’ve known Brains for years and he is a really good friend. I’ve got nothing but love and respect for the guy, he has a brutal honesty that keeps you in check and he’s one of the people who convinced me to do an album. I owe the guy a lot.
Mystro, well that’s my Brotha from anotha Mutha. Simple as that. I met him through Brains. Love working with the guy, I think he’s one of the best MC’s in the UK period. Most sessions are usually just jokes.
So yes, we’re all close, but that’s the whole reason why the album has the features it does, it’s all about my musical family.
Linked to this, do you think that its important for you to keep working within the UK scene, considering the big US names you’ve worked with? Is the scene stronger now than ever before?
It’s a flattering question, but I don’t think it makes a blind bit of difference to the UK whether I stay working here or not. I know that if I spend the rest of my life working here I’ll die with nothing, so at some point I’m going to have to make a step to another territory, not necessarily the States (I think people tend to overplay the importance of the States in the overall scheme of things).
I work in the UK because there are people in the UK I want to work with and people who want to work with me. It’s certainly not the industry that keeps me here because I hate to burst a bubble, but we don’t have one… Well not one worth shouting about at the moment anyway.
Creatively, this country has always been strong, and the advances made in multimedia with the internet etc has seen us develop better platforms to be heard and seen from.
The scene is quite strong at the moment but I don’t know if it’s at it’s strongest. The next stage in my mind for the UK is who wants to address the UK. What I mean by that is that we’re now just starting to grasp what the rock and indie bands do which is to work on generating fan bases outside of their area. That’s how you add value to your product, when you have customers for it across the country and in different territories. And once you can make money without a major, a major will want a piece of that.
Is there anyone you’d like to work with in the future?
Stateside I’d love to work with Dwele, Jill Scott, NAS, Joe Budden, The Foo Fighters and De La Soul amongst others.
In the UK I’d love to link with Ty, Baby Blue, Fundamental, Mews, Lemar, Kylie and a few others. UK wise I can pretty much get to who I’m interested in. But ultimately I’d love to hook up with a film director because I’d really love to score a film.
What are the plans for C-Swing in 2006?
Well it’s looking like quite a busy year ahead. I’ve already remixed Beverley Knight’s single Another Piece Of My Heart and made an appearance in the video for it, and I’ve also just finished remixing Terri Walker’s first single from her album I Am which should be out at some point this year.
On the schedule at the moment are tracks for albums coming from Mystro, Michelle Escoffery, Belle, Satomi, Doc Brown and Rodney P. I’m doing a complete album for Braintax and producing most of the Ladies in Question album which is Celetia Martin’s group. I’ll also be doing some side projects with Steve Mason (ex Beta Band now King Biscuit Time).
But you can also expect a few more tracks from Emmanuel, a new EP later in the year called BLACK EINSTEIN and work should begin on album two before the end of the year.
And finally, do you have any message for the Crossfire readers?
I’d like to say thanks for all your support. I hope you enjoy the album (if you haven’t got a copy why not?). If you like it my name is Colin Emmanuel and if you don’t then I’m Robbie Williams. Peace.
Peace to you, I really enjoyed the album, it’s top notch.
Emmanuel’s D’Illusions Of Grandeur is out now, through Little League Productions.