James Ash

One of Australia’s most successful DJs/Producers and an original member of The Rogue Traders, James Ash has released his version of the iconic 90s dance hit Right in the Night. “Pulling it right back to let the whole thing breathe” the track has a fresh new contemporary feel just what we needed in 2020. Ash spoke to the Hi-Fi Way about the new single, DJing and more music in the future.

Right in the Night is a classic dance song so what made you choose such an iconic hit?
I know! It’s a bit like drawing the moustache on the Mona Lisa. You have to be careful (laughs). The truth is, as it was for many people, a special song for me. When I became a DJ in the early 90s it was the biggest track in the world so it combines a lot of special memories for me. It was a track I always wanted to revisit and it’s a song that has been remixed a lot over the years.

This wasn’t my first attempt (as I come clean), I probably tried it four or five times over the years to get it right. I just couldn’t really nail it and in the end the thing that really allowed me to finally breathe new life into the song was to get rid of the flamenco guitar. That is such a signature sound and it was kind of sacrilege but it’s what I needed to do and once I did that, I was left with the raw song which is so beautiful. Like any great song it works as lyrics and melodies. Once I did that it was then a case of breathing life into it in a modern style. When I finally agreed to get rid of the guitar it started to crystalize.

Your version is more moody and very subtle. I can picture myself on an island in Ibiza or Greece just really soaking in the vibes. Considering you attempted it a few times is that the kind of vibe you were going for?
Its lovely to hear where you’re imagining placing yourself when listening to it but what I was trying to do was keep the mystery and the melancholy of the song as well as the European-ness. So, I’m delighted to hear you say what you did. The original song is very mysterious and the whole emotion of Right In The Night, the lyric “That if you want to fall in love, you fall in love” conjures up that mystery and magic. I wanted to preserve that part of it but the original track is very high energy; 140 beats per minute whereas my version is only 118. I wanted to pull it right back and let the whole thing breathe.

This is one of the strange things about COVID-19 times, as a producer now you don’t have to make records that rock the dancefloor as your primary purpose. That’s almost that way it’s been, to try to make a record to create as much excitement as possible but the interesting thing about COVID-19 is that the primary purpose is to make music that’s really enjoyable and resonant. So that’s what I was trying to do. Obviously, it still works as a dancefloor record and that’s my hope but primarily I was trying to do something a little bit more creative.

At the moment there are no dancefloors so it’s a bit hard to dance! When we used dance to the original version obviously it was a lot more punchier.
Yeah it’s a high energy track but having said that I did a House set online and it slotted in really well but yeah I wasn’t trying to repeat the energy of the original. I was trying to make something predominately that makes you ‘feel’ something first. House music is the delivery system but its not what the end product is, I hope.

You spoke about how it was one of the songs you played early in your DJ career, does that song bring up any good or fun memories?
It brings up great memories. It brings out that sense of anything is possible because I literally blagged my way into my first DJ gig and I can remember playing this record for the first time thinking “Wow how am I getting away with this?” So, there was an enormous sense of possibility around that time for me and that song definitely carries that feeling through to me now.

I think one of the things when you do a cover you want to have a new angle on it. You don’t just want to remake the song because why? The original is always going to be the one so you have to try to find a new angle on it and for me it was really trying to make this song relevant today. Not that the original is irrelevant but I wanted to make a contemporary feeling record.

How has DJing changed since you started?
It’s changed enormously like most things around technology it’s been democratised and opened up. It can only be a good thing but the reality of DJing in the early 90s was that you went everywhere with crates of records/ vinyl and it was heavy. You had to really prepare your set and be very selective on what you brought along. You couldn’t bring your entire collection like on a USB as we do now. You had to be selective and there was scarcity around music.

When a new song came out you had to hope you had a good relationship with your local record shop so they would let you have access to the new shipment that was coming in. So, in that sense you would have songs that no one or only a few people had and eventually it would become a big hit. I could remember when a DJ friend of mine had one of the first copies of JX’s Son of a Gun. It took about a month before the next shipment came in and it was only him and a few others playing it in Melbourne. It was destroying the dancefloor and everyone wanted it but they couldn’t get a copy! (laughs)

Now the only way to have anything exclusive is to make it yourself but DJing technically was a lot harder. There’s a lot more skill involved with mixing vinyl. Having said all that, I don’t think the changes are bad at all. I’m not looking back on it fondly and saying “oh those were the years!” It’s great to rock up to a DJ gig and plug my keyring in and have access to 25,000 songs. I mean that’s a good thing. I certainly don’t miss doing interstate gigs and your records go to Perth while you arrive in Adelaide! That stuff happened! (laughs)

Do you think the profile of a DJ is more prominent now than it was years go? Do people look up to a DJ more now that in the past?
I think people look up to DJs too much anyway because they are the people that play the records and some of them are treated like Gods. That’s not appropriate although they are artists and they can be very creative. I’m not taking that away from them. I think it’s more aspirational to be a DJ now than it probably was back then.

If someone says they want to be a DJ I expect they’re imagining Calvin Harris or someone of that kind of status. Like saying I want to be an actor and I’m going to be Robert DeNiro. The reality is that DJs are hardworking people who work 3, 4 or 5 times a week, really long late hours and don’t earn much at all. That was certainly my reality for a very long time and that’s fine. I think it’s more aspirational now and certainly at the top level there’s a lot more money than you could ever imagine.

With the restrictions due to COVID-19 how do you think this will impact the future of the dance music scene? I mean dance music will always be around. No one wants to stop dancing!
That’s a really good question. I know initially a lot of producers were just going “Well bugger this we’re just going to save our music!” I mean I thought about doing that too and wait until the other side of this whenever that may be and release everything then. I know some DJs still are but I think it’s a wasted opportunity. Ok the revenues aren’t what they were but there’s still enormous opportunity to be had. People are listening to music probably more than ever and there’s always an opportunity at any given moment. You just have to accept it and try to embrace it. For me it was like “You know what? Its fine. Let’s make a record that isn’t about the dancefloor necessarily first and see if people are interested.” That’s what I’ve done!

Are the plans to release more solo singles or can we see a return of the Rogue Traders?
The Rogue Traders were active pretty much up until lockdown. We’ve been touring heaps and we do try and write new music. I think we were very fortunate to enjoy so much success so when you come out with something else it better be really really good! Also, there’s always the question of how much people want that you know? Was it Regurgitator that said “We like your old stuff better than your new stuff!” That’s so true because what people really want is when they come to one of your shows is songs that they heard back then. But yes! We have been working on new music and we have been for a while. If we get something that we feel really great about we will definitely share it with the world.

As for me, I have lots more to come. It’s fantastic to be back at Vicious Vinyl because it’s one of the labels I started with many years ago. I have lots of music in the pipeline so it’s an exciting time to be an artist. That’s the way you have to look at it and for me I’m not looking for pop stardom or anything else other than just an outlet to be creative and hopefully surprise people a little!

Interview by Anastasia Lambis

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