Published Mar 01, 2000It's not often that an artist can tell you exactly how and why they approached an album in a particular way. The seriously sublime Manchester duo of Rae & Christian certainly can. "The general goals for this album were to be more musical, to not have as much East Coast-based rap styling, and to have more male vocalists," says producer/DJ Mark Rae. "And that's what we did."
Following five years of Rae's collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Steve Christian, the two have grown to trust one another's musical instincts. Rae's love of beats and all things hip-hop merged beautifully with Christian's musicianship on their gorgeous 1999 debut, Northern Sulphuric Soul. Their brand new Sleepwalking (Grand Central/K7) sees the boys take a mutual appreciation for soul and emotive singers to the next level. The two producers have outdone themselves in selecting guest vocalists, Bobby Womack, the Congos Cedric Myton, and Tania Maria amongst them.
"It all happened off the cuff really," insists Rae. "You head off in a direction and try to make a number of things happen. Fortunately, most of them did." Their initial direction took Rae to Los Angeles, on a quest to work with leftfield hip-hop storytellers the Pharcyde. "After that," laughs Rae, "things just kind of happened from being in the right place at the right time."
As luck would have it, Mark happened to mention his love of legendary soul vocalist Bobby Womack during an L.A. net radio appearance. Forty-five minutes later, he had a contact number. Soon after, Rae & Christian shipped off a few potential tracks on DAT and a long-distance collaboration was born.
"I'm obviously a bit in awe of him," Rae shares. "He's a very passionate, gravel-voiced, storytelling madman. Sometimes I just wanted to get information like when he was actually going to record the track. I'd speak to him for an hour, put the phone down and still not know if it had happened. That's the wonder of Bobby. The album would perhaps have been totally different if that hadn't happened, but that's what's fun about it. You say stuff, things happen, you respond, and somehow end up with a final result."
An incredibly cohesive one at that. Sleepwalking is a great musical achievement, managing to combine beats, rhymes, soul, string orchestras and the contributions of six stylistically diverse vocalists into one sweet whole. "We wanted to have the songs be a more direct representation of what Steve and I were actually feeling," muses Mark. "We've understood more about what it takes to be artists rather than simply producers in some ways. Perhaps it marks a mental move."