Chase & Status have had (yet another) big year. After touring the festival circuit, completing a residency at Amnesia, playing for the Olympians in Rio, and releasing two great tracks with George The Poet and Tom Grennan, they're about to end it with a bang by touring the country. Saul Milton (Chase) and Will Kennard (Status) have now been in the game for 13 years, and are about to release their fourth studio album. But, rather than seeming blasé or old-hat about it, they seem on tenterhooks to finally release their brand new material, and cautiously excited about speaking about it. We caught up with Will, who chatted to us about what we can expect from the album and tour, how he felt about Fabric closing down, the rise of grime, and lots more.
Hi Will! You guys have kept really schtum about the upcoming album. What can you tell us about it?
(laughs) Oh God yeah, we’re really bad at this question. We’re really crap at telling people exactly who we’ll be collaborating with, not because we’re trying to be difficult, but because we’ve been burnt in the past, where we’ve talked a lot about an act that we’d worked with, but it hadn’t been contractually finalised or the song hadn’t been mastered, and then suddenly it doesn’t happen, so now we just don’t say who’s on the album until it comes out.
I can tell you that we’ve got a scheduled release date for the very start of next year. It’s pretty much finished, we’ve already got one single out and we’ll probably have another one or two before the album comes out. We really took stock of all the material we’ve released before this, and figured out what worked, what didn’t, what represented us. I feel like this is a really nice mix of stuff that made Chase & Status in the first place, stuff that our oldest fans are gonna get, the drum’n’bass lot. But then there are also the records that feel right for who we are now as an act. It’s been a nice, reflective journey.
We worked with both new and established names, mostly British names. We’re big flag-bearers for British music, and there’s such an abundance of talent here at the moment. We often manage to find young, exciting names who are on the cusp of starting something big, like Tom Grennan.
Of course you've also worked with some really big, established names – how was it working with Nile Rodgers, for example?
Oh my God, it was so good. It was surreal. He just rocked up on his own to the studio, no entourage, just his electric guitars. Nile Rodgers is just the way you think he is, the most awesome, laid back, cool dude, just very, very chilled, and all about the music. He sat down, we talked, and then he just went, Yo, plug me in man, plug me in, but on a beat! And within five minutes of playing a beat, he is jamming, non-stop. And obviously, any time Nile Rodgers strums a guitar, you press record, and so you’re recording and playing, and 20 minutes later, you’re still recording, because he’s just not stopped, he’s just playing. So I’m just looking at Saul, like, should we tell him to stop? Should we press stop? How are we going to get through all of the ideas we’ve got? He’s just like in another world or creativity. We were playing him some mad music we made, all different genres, and he’s so open-minded, such an innovator. He had stories for days, just casually telling us about Bowie or Madonna… he’s so cool.
The biggest people we work with are always the most laid-back about things.
I really saw why he is who he is, he was just such an easy guy to work with, such a purist. All the bullshit, the whole business side of it, to him, it’s just about the music. He’s not precious, he didn’t have an aggressive manager telling us what he wants. He doesn’t care, he’s Nile Rodgers! He trusts that you’ll get a fair deal, and everyone treats each other well. It’s funny: the biggest people we work with are always the most laid-back about things like royalty splits and the deal. Often with young artists, their new managers will be very pushy and it can sour things a little bit. The biggest guys, like Jay Z or Cee-Lo Green, they're cool.
You’ve got your tour coming up at the end of this month – what can we expect?
This tour is huge for us. Ally Pally! Touring is a big reason why we do all of this and it’s kind of where we get our inspiration from, that energy. Having four albums, curating a show is a challenge, because we want to play it all, but it’s also really exciting because we can tailor it so it suits everyone. And we’re bringing round a whole heap of other artists, we always do; MCs, singers, musicians.
The production will be bigger than ever – we’ve become known for big visuals, so we’ve got an established team of people we work with now, creating each different stage show. I think it’ll be our biggest and best yet. We’ve had so much experience playing so many festivals, and while they’re amazing, doing your own shows means you’ve got full control of the whole venue and you can go the extra mile. I think it’ll be a special moment for us, definitely.
You've also come off a 16-week residency at Amnesia In ibiza – how was that?
Ahh, so good! We’ve been doing it for years now and it’s such a privilege. Being part of the whole movement in Ibiza and to have our own night in arguably the best club there is brilliant. We got to know the island and the people really well, and were really humbled by the reaction and the crowd. That island is the home of house and techno, so to play sold out shows with Drum’n’Bass is really amazing.
You guys tweeted about Fabric being shut down recently, appealing to Sadiq Khan to get the verdict overturned.
Yeah, we were absolutely gutted. Like so many others, our experiences of going there were a big part of why we do what we do, it really shaped our inspiration for dance music. There was no better club in London. It shutting was devastating, and we were involved in the protests a bit. It closing down says so many things about London. It’s a crying shame that the impact it has had on culture isn’t really recognised enough by the establishment and the people that made the decision. I think money is involved, I think there were other agendas at hand.
Fabric closing down says so many things about London.
Things do change, and amazing clubs do shut, but no new amazing ones are opening. So right now there’s a real lack of places to play. Fabric was the Amnesia of London, really. It’s just absolutely gutting. I know they’re going to appeal it and something might come from that, but either way, they just don’t do those kind of clubs anymore, and I think that’s a really sad thing.
Let's speak about something more uplifting then – you guys have always been big supporters of grime, having worked with Roll Deep, Kano, Novelist, Bonkaz, Skepta, Giggs and loads more. How do you feel about the amount of recognition the genre is getting at the moment?
I think it’s a great thing. I think grime now has become the modern-day punk music. Music’s quite safe now, acts are very aware of their social status and their social media presence. No one really wants to speak out and everyone just wants to carefully play the game. If you compare that to the music industry of the 80s and 90s, it was so much more rock'n'roll. Acts would say what they thought, and it was raw and real. And through that came this exciting music, whether it was the punk music of the 80s or the Britpop era of the 90s. There was authentic emotion going on, and I think that’s lacking a little bit. That’s partly why we called our second album No More Idols, because we felt like there were no people who were willing to stand up and say what they thought, and not give a damn about selling records.
Grime has become the modern-day punk music.
The way the grime scene has come forward, it’s very independent. These guys aren’t really signing the typical deals you'd expect them to, they’re just doing things in a completely non-traditional way. They don’t necessarily have the perfect marketing or typical roll-outs, they just do things the way they want to do them. The music is no-holds-barred, they’re not watering it down to sell records or to get on the radio. They don’t care about radio – radio is coming to them. It’s refreshing, and I love that.
The first wave of Grime, ten years ago, got caught up in that world of trying to suddenly make money, and getting on the radio, and adding a dance beat, and adding a chorus, and all this and that. That sort of killed it off eventually because it got watered down. Now, these guys are just saying they’re going to stick to their roots, they’re young heroes of the people, so it feels like modern day punk – Skepta, Kano, whoever, the energy at their shows is incredible, the crowd are going absolutely nuts. That rawness is what we feed off and why we’ve always loved working with grime artists.
Your videos are always stands-outs. Have you ever considered doing a visual album?
Oh wow, we would love to do a visual album. It’s funny, these days it feels like, when you release a song, any song, it feels like it has to have a visual with it. I know a lot of artists won’t upload a song online unless there’s a video. We never really considered doing a visual album, but I think we’ll get to that point, maybe even with this record, where pretty much every song has a visual to go with it, which would be amazing. It’s incredibly hard to do, because you have to have the record finished well in advance so you know what you’re doing. We have a tendency to keep working on songs until the very last minute, until our manager rips it from our hands, so it’d be difficult.
In terms of directors we'd like to work with on future videos, there’s one called Colin Tilley who did something very special with Kendrick Lamar recently, and there was talk about us working with him soon. I really hope that happens, because he’s a super powerful director and just visually ridiculous and amazing.
What else do you find exciting about the industry at the moment?
We have our own record label, which keeps our eyes on the ground, it forces us to discover new music. I think that’s really important, because the minute you start only listening to old music, you get out of the loop and you become a bit old and set in your ways. Some of the young electronic producers right now are making sounds that are just absolutely bonkers. And even that is transcending into pop music, like Skrillex with Justin Bieber.
There were times when we felt like the music industry didn’t know how to market our records.
It’s been fascinating to watch the music industry go through this generational shift of owning copyrights and the content, to now the stream world, where people don’t care anymore about buying stuff, they just want access to it and they don’t care where from. Seeing the music industry freak out and not know how to deal with that has been quite mad. There were times when it was affecting us; you felt like the industry didn’t know how to market your record, or whether they should do more physical sales or more on iTunes or Spotify. For a long time, no one had a clue what was going on, an it created this interesting gap for people like Skepta to come and sell a huge album without a bloody record deal. But now I think it’s been pulled back and is settling down, I think people are seeing the streaming process working. I heard reports that there is more money than ever now coming back into the industry. The evolution of the music industry and being part of it is amazing.