From the classic Happy Mondays album Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches (Elektra, 1989) to his own tracks such as “Starry-Eyed Surprise” (as heard in that bubbly roller-skating Coke commercial), Paul Oakenfold has clocked some hours as a producer. In the '90s, he and his former studio partner Steve Osborne were a highly sought-after remix team, but for much of Oakenfold's nearly 20-year career, he has concentrated on DJing, running his Perfecto record label and putting out mix CDs (sometimes releasing as many as three a year).
For his first full-on artist album, Bunkka (Maverick, 2002) — co-produced by Andy Gray with help from Osborne and Carmen Rizzo — Oakenfold hunkered down in the studio and created a slick production with vocalists Perry Farrell, Nelly Furtado, Ice Cube, Shifty from the band Crazy Town and more. And come this spring, Oakenfold is back with a new studio album (title TBA) on Maverick and a new cast of collaborators. Some are lesser known (rapper/singer Spitfire and a band called the Bad Apples), but a few names have weighed in, including Grandmaster Flash, Pharrell Williams and actress Brittany Murphy.
“A friend of mine had told me that [Murphy is] a really good vocalist,” Oakenfold says. “She'd never been in a recording studio before, and she said to me, ‘I need direction.’ I thought, ‘God, this is strange.’ Usually when you work with singers, you allow them to be in their own space. With her, I felt like it was like directing a film, because every single thing, you had to direct her — the phrasing, the sound.”
And just as Murphy was new to the vocal booth, Oakenfold had never approached a record quite like this one. “[With Bunkka], I spent too much time fiddling around on sounds and polishing them rather than just letting go and being in the moment,” he says. So this time, he stopped thinking about the icing and focused on the cake.
Songs from the upcoming record, such as “Silence” and “Insecurity,” were built up, broken down and built back up again. Oakenfold started with the idea to do a breaks track with guitar. So he programmed a rhythm, played guitar and had a vocalist sing. Then, he stripped away everything but the vocal. “So it's the process of starting with a click and a melodic vocal line, getting a band to do a version, taking the band version, stripping that away and adding the electronic music to it,” Oakenfold says.
So, now, it's process over polish. “On the last record, it was all about the gear,” he says. “But, now, you could be playing on pots and pans, and if you got a sound that I really like, then, well, I fucking like it, and let's use it.”