Home Interviews Ash Mellor & Steve Fokas [Interview]

Ash Mellor & Steve Fokas [Interview]

40 min read

Hailing from the UK, Ash Mellor is perhaps best known for being half of the Sixty Feet Deep artist moniker. Inspired by the likes of such as John Digweed, Hernan Cattaneo, Nick Warren and Sasha, Sixty Feet Deep would make their debut in 2017 with a well-received single via Tears, before going on to release a four-track artist showcase via Brian Cid's Endangered imprint. Meanwhile, Steve Fokas has enjoyed similar success since first emerging in 2020. It was a six-track EP via Endangered which won over progressive and melodic house & techno fans alike, a release which ultimately led to an equally large follow-up via Endangered late last year. Now, combining their extensive forces for the first time, Ash and Steve make their Musique de Lune Noire debut with ''Because Of You', alongside remixes from Vlad Jet and Gersh.

Progressive Astronaut caught up with Ash and Steve to learn more about the release of ‘Because of You’, their studio process, future plans, and more. Enjoy.

Hi Guys, thanks for joining us. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

Ash: My current mood is relaxed, The snow is falling and I am listening to “Cubicolour - Loose Your Senses”

Steve: I would say my current mood is content and I was just listening to "DJ Shadow - Endtroducing" which I've probably listened to hundreds of times over the years.

What are your plans for the coming week? And how has the beginning of the year been for you?

Ash: will be mostly working on some new guest mixes, and tidying up some tracks that I have burning a hole through my to do list. The beginning of the year has been calm for me and I have been working in my garden a lot.

Steve: not a whole lot for the coming week so I'll most likely catch up on some projects I've been putting off. So far this year is flying by but there's a ton of fun stuff planned for the remainder of it so I'm excited to see where the universe takes me

How did growing up in your respective countries (UK and USA) influence your music taste and direction? Or did it at all?

Ash: Growing up in the UK massively influenced my music taste, My mother grew up in Berlin and has been playing all sorts of music in the family home. That was anything from The Beatles, Queen right the way through to Tangerine Dream and Sasha to name a few. When I started DJ’ing at age 12, I was really into drum and bass and garage.

Steve: it definitely had a huge impact on my musical taste. Growing up in the North East of the United States, you are exposed to a diverse array of sounds. I grew up on the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey about an hour away from NYC. I still have quite a bit of family there and will say that New York has had a massive impact on me when it comes to dance music. As a teenager, my cousins introduced me to clubs like Pacha NYC (RIP) and DJs like Boris and Victor Calderone just to name a few. The New York scene has always been and still is very eclectic. It's actually interesting because I've always thought of dance music to be very androgynous whereas globally the scene seems to be compartmentalized into overly specific sub genres. I think if you're DJing for a whole night and playing for a few hours, you can touch so many styles of dance music and really build up the night and morning. I like to think that with dance music I can take elements and aspects of all the other genres that I love and make them danceable. That gives you so much freedom to really take people on a musical journey.

What are your favourite venues to play or attend events at in your respective countries and why?

Ash: My Favourite venues to play and visit in the UK vary based on the music, time of day and season. For example in summer I much prefer the daytime open air terraces like the drumsheds, Studio 338 and night tales. In winter I much prefer the venues like E1, The steel yard and Egg to name a few. these have a much more intimate darker feel which I think suits the seasons perfectly.

Steve: it's been a while since I played a proper show at a venue so some of my favorite places don't exist anymore unfortunately but as far as favorite venues to see a show, I'd have to say currently Brooklyn Mirage, Space Miami, Flash DC (the soundsystem there is incredible) and I have to shout-out Pacha NYC (RIP) which always has a special place in my heart.

When you were first getting started in production did you have someone help you or are you completely self-taught? And what would you recommend new producers do to help with the learning curve of production?

Ash: I was completely self taught with the help of online tutorials at first. I would recommend getting some help if it’s available as some of the smallest tricks within DAW’s can take an eternity to figure out for yourself sometimes.

I found that beginning to learn to play piano was the best thing I decided to do. now I can Jam along and come up with some original riffs for my music.

Steve: I was completely self taught. I actually signed some songs and ghost produced for other artists before I even knew what a compressor was haha. My biggest recommendation is to experiment as much as possible and develop your OWN style and taste. Authenticity and originality are important which is why you have to relentlessly try and drown out the noise, avoid the trends, and tune into yourself.

At its most primitive form all you're really doing is making noise that is pleasing to the ears and in our case fun to dance to, so listen to your gut and don't overthink it.

How did you initially meet? And how did the friendship eventually lead to collaborating on music together?

We initially met during covid, this was because we both had released on Endangered. We bounced some ideas to one another for feedback and then this led to us collaborating on because of you.

You have a new single ‘Because Of You’ out this week on Musique de Lune Noire, tell us about the release and how do these tracks showcase your current sound?

It showcases the progressive side of our production and really shows off more of our songwriting abilities. We both love the heavy synthesiser parts and this really elaborates on that.

A successful partnership is generally based around balance and compromise; how do you manage these things within your production dynamic?

There isn’t much compromise between us to be honest. It was a very smooth process where I sent the stems over and Steve basically added in the parts which I was extremely happy with.

Do you have different roles in the production process? And if so elaborate please.

Not Specifically, its a very free and creative process where we end up doing what natural feels and sounds good to us.

What does your set-up look like? Do you favor physical gear over digital? And what studio tools featured heavily in the writing of Because of You?

Ash: I definitely favour physical gear over software, The main hardware to be featured in this track were the Roland JX3P, Moog Subsequent 37, Behringer Deepmind and Strymon Big Sky. The vocal has been heavily modified using Soundtoys plug ins.

Steve: Very basic. I have my macbook pro, apollo interface, a Prophet rev2, my MPC, and my JBL Monitors... I love analog gear. I'll take any chance I get to feel more present with the music and less attached to my computer but for my home studio, it's always been very bare bones mostly because of my budget. Luckily I've had the privilege of working on some awesome gear in the past so I have saved lots of sounds from legendary drum machines and synthesizers so that helps me get by. With that being said, 90% of my synth work gets done with my Prophet. I love that thing. It can do everything if you know how to use it properly!

Lets talk about production for a moment, where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play? And was there anything that inspired Because of You?

Ash: For me most of my impulses start from me playing piano in my lounge, Once I find a set of chords I like I then head to the studio and start sending midi to all of my hardware. I normally Jam it out for a while and get everything balanced enough to start the arrangement process.

Steve: I can't remember who the quote is from, but it goes something like "ideas are not created, they are received." I've always loved to create things and if given the opportunity I would spend every day of my life creating all types of art but the ideas and the creation are totally different things. I find myself receiving an idea in my head the way we receive an email and then you do your best to transpose that idea into something tangible you can share with others. I think Disney did a great job in how they portrayed this in the movie "Soul" where they depict the soul of a person leaving their body when they are fully immersed in something they love.

For me I like to think of it as feelings rather than physical things. Art, Relationships, Politics.. These things trigger feelings and emotions so for me it's never the thing itself so much as it is a certain feeling that gives me inspiration. I have no background in music theory and I truly was never interested in it because in my opinion, if you can sonically evoke the emotion and feeling you are trying to convey, then it doesn't matter how you did it or what made you want to do it. so I guess to directly answer the question, all of those things could definitely influence my music but in a more indirect way if that makes sense.

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practice? And who is someone you share your new music with first for feedback?

Ash: I think this part is pretty important from my behalf, I often need to give my ears a good break from the melodic elements as they can start to sound repetitive after hours and hours of listening.

When it comes to process and refinement we normally have a small group of honest fellow producer friends who all have different monitor and room arrangements. We take their feedback and begin to make adjustments until we are happy with the final result.

Steve: You can work on a project forever so there's no definitive way to say something is "done" but I've developed some habits that have helped me become extremely efficient. I always complete a full arrangement when I sit down and start writing and then give it a quick mix/master to give it some loudness and make sure my levels balanced enough and I can test them out DJing for a while making tiny tweaks here and there and once I've been able to play it confidently in a mix next to other tracks that really love, then I say it's finished. But with that being said, I've released tracks recently that I "completed" 6-7 years ago but revisited and edited before actually releasing it so I'll say it's truly finished until you sign the dotted line on the contract and submit your masters.

It's complicated. I've made tracks in 2 hours that were "perfect" and I've never had to revisit them and then there are other tracks that I've made 20 different mixes of and submitted at the last second before a release. At the end of the day it's always a bit chaotic and unpredictable but you do your best to surround yourself with people who give genuine feedback and support. There are few super talented artists in my circle from my family at Endangered and my new family here at Musique De Lune and we constantly send each other new music we're working on or exclusive private tracks we've made. I love listening to new stuff so I always welcome people to send me their demos. New music is like an addiction for me haha

What is the task you enjoy the most when producing and what would you prefer someone else to do?

Ash: I don’t think there is a definitive answer to this question as it completely varies based on the Idea/record you are working on. Sometimes I will love to write melodies more than drum patterns. some times its the little transitional intricacies that really stand out and give you goosebumps.

Steve: I love writing and composing. Laying down drums and grooves or creating melodies and harmonies is like therapy for me. I love experimenting and jamming. The one thing I would love to outsource (and occasionally do) is mastering. It's hard for me to remove myself from the music and it often becomes a painfully obsessive process.

What would be a musical extravagance for your studio you would pay for, if you were very wealthy?

Ash: A Moog Modular System

Steve: lots of instruments to play with haha. I've always wanted a big room full of different drums, guitars, basses, keyboards, etc. where I can play as loud as I want whenever I want. Any other equipment is just icing on the cake because if you really know how to use your tools, you can do anything you want with even just Ableton stock plug-ins alone.

Can you tell me a bit about how your work as a DJ has influenced your view of music, your way of listening to tracks and perhaps also, your work as a producer?

Ash: I like to categorize my music based on how it makes me feel emotionally, I always have an Idea of what kind of sound I am going to play, but most of the time I will not have a track to track playlist that I strictly play.

It has definitely affected the way I listen to music as I now try to pinpoint certain elements in the track and find out how those sounds were made.

 Steve: DJing was something I fell into. I've always played music in bands and always listen to music. I was in highschool when MP3 players and music downloading became a thing so I always surfed the internet for new and interesting music. In college I started going out a lot and having already loved dance music, I met a lot of the local house and techno DJs in Philly so I started making beats and working with other DJs and eventually got to play some gigs around the Philly/New Jersey area. Then when I moved to New York, I stopped DJing completely and was just making music for fun until I met my good friend Brian Cid while working at a studio in the East Village. After showing me all the stuff he was working on I came out to some of his shows and he rekindled my love for making dance music.Then after a long night in Ibiza after an extended Hot Since 82 set I remembered what I loved about DJing. He played everything that night from classic disco tracks to melodic techno and everything in between. It was so eclectic but it all worked and it was beautiful. Extended sets are my favorite. I love to dive deep into the record collection and find unique tracks and I love to touch a lot of different genres so I like to be able to really build up a night and really take people on a journey with lots of unexpected twists and surprises along the way.

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

Ash: Sasha, Joris Voorn, Guy J, Brian Cid, Khen

I would leave the set times up to the artists to decide.

Steve: That's tough. I love too many artists and too many different styles. I feel like I could create 100 different lists like this depending on my mood.

Whats a book youve read or film you watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

Ash: Fantastic Fungi, I have been obsessed with mycology and mycelium since watching this. Mushrooms are just awesome.

Steve: The Alchemist comes to mind. I read this book years ago at a time where I was struggling with finding my purpose and deciding what to do with my life. It's easy to get wrapped up in numbers and measurements. It's easy to become frustrated or bored if you are chasing something like a trophy or dollar amount because what happens once you get it? The thing you should always work for is to always work on finding new ways to improve. You'll never be perfect but if your goal is to always improve, then you learn to live in the present and enjoy all the little wins along your journey.

What is one superpower you would like to have and how would you use it?

Ash: To Fly, I would use it to escape the winter like most of the birds in the UK do every year.

Steve: It's generic but I'd love to be able to fly. It would be awesome to be able to pick up and fly anywhere I want whenever I wanted.

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Ash: Spending time in nature next to water. This is where I truly find my calm

Steve: Spending time with friends and family. Growing up in a Greek Immigrant family, we love to make sure everyone has had plenty to eat and drink.

What does the remainder of 2023 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

Ash: Working on more releases, I have a couple of shows in the UK and Croatia coming up this year.

Steve: Lots of new music on the way which is all I can say for now!

'Because Of You' is available now via Musique de Lune Noire: https://bit.ly/3ywRJKM

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