Way Out West ‘The Gift’

Way Out West’s Jody Wisternoff and Nick Warren talk through the making of their 1996 attention-grabbing single, ‘The Gift’

JODY: “We first met in Nick’s record shop. I was a little hip hop kiddie. I remember skulking around looking at breaks and beats compilations. Nick caught me trying to steal once, my first memory of him is getting the evil eye – in a nice shopkeeper kind of way!”

NICK: “Jody used to come in wearing his Kangol hat back-to-front. He was in an act called Tru Funk Posse and he played Universe raves around the south west and I’d toured with Massive Attack as their DJ. We both loved the uplifting E culture, and somehow we merged the basslines of Bristol music with something more euphoric. Our age difference helped: he was 10 years younger so he was open to trying new things… although we were asked to do some work for Electronic, Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr’s outfit, and Jody had never heard of Bernard Sumner. He didn’t think he could sing.”

JODY: “To begin with, we went under the name Echo, and Way Out West was originally our remix project. I fancied slowing down the BPMs, while Nick wanted to speed them up. We had a Casio CZ-1000, a Juno-106, an 808 and an Atari ST running Cubase. It was pretty rudimentary stuff. The mixes sounded rough, but they had a lot of character. I was really into the LTJ Bukem sound – on ‘The Gift’ you can hear those dreamy extended chords that Bukem was pushing. It was back when Spotify didn’t exist, so tracks could be over four minutes in those days!”

NICK: “‘The Gift’ was a Bukem-style track, with an open hi-hat, which drum ’n’ bass didn’t normally do. When we started, we knew it was going to be a breakbeat track with a sub bass, and we wanted to include samples. We brought in a Rhodes piano player from Bristol. He went off on one, all jazzy, it was fucking awful. We took one four-bar loop and ditched the rest. I had 50,000 albums or something stupid like that and in my stacks of old records, I found a little a cappella snippet of Joanna Law’s ‘First Time Ever’. Our Akai had limited sampling time, so I trimmed that loop to ‘the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave’ and that was the track done. For the next track ‘Domination’, we nicked three words from three different JFK speeches to get ‘madness, power, domination’. We spent hours and hours looking for these things.”

JODY: “The ‘moon and the stars’ sample came pretty much near the end. We didn’t have any audio editing facilities so the final mix was done on the fly, in one go. We threw in a lot of dub echoes, volume manipulation and panning – the mix-down was a performance in itself.”

NICK: “At the time, James Barton, who owned Cream nightclub, was head of A&R at Deconstruction and he signed us. He asked us to change ‘The Gift’ two or three times before he was happy with it. He turned down our second single ‘Ajare’ nine times until he accepted it. Even though we hated him at the time, he was spot on. We went straight to Number One in the hype charts.”

JODY: “We were in good company, Deconstruction had signed Kylie, and as a label it a had brand loyalty like R&S Records. It was a challenge to get tracks accepted back then – it was proper hardcore A&R, but at least you knew when you broke through you’d sell a few copies. Although, I seem to remember Nick was turned down for a mortgage the week a bank used ‘The Gift’ in an advert. That always cracks me up. Once we were established, we caned the fuck out of remixes for about five years. We still put all our love and effort into every single one though.”

NICK: “When we went on ‘Top Of The Pops’ with ‘The Gift’, it was the most disappointing experience of my life. The dressing room had a sofa with enough semen soaked into it to birth a whole nation. Peter Andre was in the next dressing room and every time I walked past the door, he was stood in front of the mirror, shirtless, rubbing oil all over himself. When Dennis Pennis introduced us, he said, ‘The reason why it’s called “The Gift” is because nobody would dream of buying it!’. Ha ha! Our vocalist struggled, I had a stand-off with the producer, and the record company wanted me to wear a velvet jacket and bow tie. Fuck that. I’m not sorry we only did it once: I don’t think ‘Top Of The Pops’ had a huge impact on us.”

JODY: “‘Top Of The Pops’ was a bit cheesy, but I was having a great time. I was buzzing off seeing the casts of Grange Hill and EastEnders in the cafeteria.”

NICK: “After our first album, Simon Fuller moved back to BMG and got rid of Deconstruction. He got a list of artists and just put a big black marker through pretty much all of them. No one likes being dropped, but our second album was already finished so we went straight to Distinct’ive Records. We preferred being on an independent label run by people we knew. And we’ve still got everything in the studio. We’ve been collecting analogue synthesisers for about 18 years and we’ve not got rid of anything, not even our Yamaha DX7. We’ve got a TB-303, but I think the box is worth more than the 303. Our best piece of equipment is our feather duster that we use all the time to keep our gear nice and dust free!”

JODY: “We’ve remade ‘The Gift’ many times. I still look back on its release with fondness. I get a buzz when I think about what we went through and the changes in our career since. The day-to-day process of making music is still highly addictive. I don’t have any hobbies – this is what I do.”

For more visit wayoutwestmusic.co.uk

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