Artist Interviews

Q&A: Nitin Sawhney

By | Published on Thursday 4 April 2013

Nitin Sawhney

This Saturday Nitin Sawhney, his nine-piece band and the engineers of Metropolis Studios will all take part in the One Zero project, a very rare ‘direct-to-disc’ recording, in which the music Sawhney et al play – a retrospective of the musician, producer and composer’s oeuvre – will be cut straight onto acetate disc (or directly onto lacquer, as a sound engineer would put it), ready to be pressed onto vinyl with no meddling or mastering in-between.

The bold venture, which will take place in front of a small number of his fans, comes ahead of the recording later this year of Sawhney’s tenth studio album ‘Dystopian Dream’, some previews of which will appear during the One Zero recording. A box set featuring Saturday’s live direct-to-disc session will also be released in June via Cherry Red Records. He will also perform live at The Roundhouse in London on 27 June to mark the release.

Ahead of Saturday’s recording, CMU’s Chris Cooke spoke to Nitin about the motivation for the project, and that tenth studio album.

CC: Let’s start with the basics, what is a direct-to-disc recording?
NS: Direct-to-disc recording is when an artist performs live whilst the performance is simultaneously cut and captured directly onto lacquer in preparation for a vinyl release. It’s a very technical process involving a great deal of concentration from all of those involved.

CC: Am I right in saying this is a very rare process? When was it last done?
NS: It is indeed a very rare process! It was last done 35 years ago by Thelma Huston.

CC: So when did you decide to take the plunge and stage the One Zero project with Metropolis Studios?
NS: The idea for One Zero came from a conversation I had with Metropolis head Ian Brenchley, and we cooked up the project over a coffee. It occurred to me that I’ll be recording my tenth studio album later this year, and have been touring the world for what sometimes seems like thousands of years now, and yet I’ve never done a live or ‘best of’ record. Ian and I discussed how we might do something extra special instead of the customary live album. And the idea of staging a performance from my band at Metropolis Studios and cutting it live to vinyl for a special boxset felt like an appropriate way to mark the upcoming ten album milestone.

CC: What tracks will you perform during the One Zero recording? How did you pick them?
NS: I won’t list them all just now, but the idea is that this recording comprises a sort of “past, present and future unplugged” concept. So I’ll be playing music from across all my albums, including a preview from the forthcoming one. The intention is to capture a performance most representative of my album career to date.

CC: Presumably there’ll be a lot of pressure in undertaking this project, how do you, your band and the Metropolis engineers plan to prepare?
NS: The pressure is what makes it special and the preparation is all about rehearsal and focus.

CC: You mentioned the new studio album coming later this year, which is called ‘Dystopian Dream’. Tell us a little about that. How close is it to completion?
NS: ‘Dystopian Dream’ is about the fact that we seem to be living in this Orwellian world of political, religious and economic turmoil where dreams are the only way to look forward. I’m still playing with the musical and lyrical content.

CC: The music industry has changed a lot since you released your first album in 1994. Do those changes affect you as an artist?
NS: I’m certainly more open to different ways of working than just thinking about traditional album releases.

CC: But when it comes to the process of making a new record, how has that changed? Is it easier or harder now?
NS: Ha, it’s changed enormously! Retail for music has been decimated and largely moved online, and it seems that piracy is now the norm. So making and releasing a record is more about being creative in your thinking than ever before, if you want people to hear your work. So yes, it’s tougher. But tougher is good.

CC: One Zero is quite a bold project. What other projects have you got in the pipeline, and are there any other ambitions you’d like to fulfil?
NS: Loads… I have a BBC Radio 2 show all of my own now called ‘Nitin Sawhney Spins The Globe’ and we’ll be recording another series of that later this year. I’m also writing and directing my own play for The Barbican at the moment and I’ve got several film scores, a Roundhouse gig, a tour of America and a top secret musical all in the pipeline. Ultimately, though, I’m not particularly ambitious… I just love doing what I do.