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Interview: AtalaiA

33 min read

AtalaiA has crafted an 8 track debut album entitled 'Moving Through Shards' for Soulful Techno Records. Hailing from North East England, DJ and producer Daniel O'Sullivan a.k.a AtalaiA has carved out a unique reputation by playing in excess of a whopping 1000 sunsets in Ibiza. Now he has translated his knowledge as a selector into an audible trademark. "I had a strong urge to reach out and collaborate with other artists and capture this special point in time. The album is hugely influenced by the 15 years I've spent in Ibiza. It's a place that has shaped myself and my sound. Critically, it's a new bridge between myself and anyone who has crossed paths with me, and hopefully a lot of new listeners, as we all begin again. I really want to thank everyone who has been on the musical journey with me - from sunsets to ten hour sets". The album contains tracks 'Moving Through Shards' and 'There You Go', that are designed to deliver in a club, while 'Solar Tones', will resonate in the sunshine at Café Mambo. Others were made for contemplative home listening like 'Cha+NllZ' - written for friends at their apartment on the island. We had a chance to catch up with Daniel for an exclusive chat just prior to the release of 'Moving Through Shards'. Enjoy!

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

A pleasure. I’m feeling motivated while organizing music for gigs this month. I’m also preparing to be best man at my best friend’s wedding and he’s asked me to DJ for an hour on a sunset boat! I just listened to Octave One ‘Black Water’.

What are your plans for the coming week?

I’m working on a number of ongoing projects in radio production which has become my day job. DJ gigs have now opened back up so I’m starting to play regularly around London too. I’ve been devoting a lot of time to summer weddings as well. My diary is bursting but I love it!

Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you discover electronic music and what led you down the path of wanting to be a producer?

I really discovered electronic music and production after my first year playing in Ibiza. Before that point I’d been a DJ for about 5 years playing mixed genres and enjoying the learning curve but I had the urge to explore. I was immersed in a new world when I discovered the Ibiza scene. I was hit by a thunderbolt of inspiration and I went on to become a resident DJ at many venues around the island for the next 14 years. It was at this time that I started producing seriously and teaching myself everything possible about Cubase (SX3).

What music from your youth had the biggest effect on where you are today? Are there certain tracks or albums which profoundly influenced you?

It was very mixed and I think that’s why I produce and DJ happily across the genres. My mother was a folk musician who was classically trained to the highest grade. My father would sometimes play piano and have 60s and 70s cassettes of Bob Dylan or Marc Bolan on in the car and my Grandmother would attempt to classically train us all in piano but we weren’t committed to it then. There wasn’t a specific album but I was certainly interested in whatever came my way until I chose to follow my own musical desires. I am still very wide ranging in my selections as a DJ and don’t feel limited to a style. I’m more interested in satisfying my ear and the listeners or dancers than being ‘known’ for a sound as a brand name DJ.

How did growing up in the UK shape the music you make and your career path so to speak?

The UK scene is very diverse. Sometimes it follows American trends but it often leads the way - particularly in electronic music. I don’t think being in the UK specifically encouraged my musical direction any more than it encouraged anything else though.

And once you relocated to Ibiza did your creative vision shift with the change of scenery?

My first long stay in Ibiza was definitely pivotal - mainly because there is a more specific and unique scene. There was a distinct difference in me before and after my first season in Ibiza. My own musical outlook changed a lot due to the encounters with many types of people from around the world. It is a special feeling to be in the paradise of Ibiza and that coloured my creativity permanently.

You have the distinction of playing more than 1000 sunsets in Ibiza which is an astonishing stat. Are there any which have stood out and why?

As a resident DJ in Ibiza you can end up playing 7 days a week, and sometimes even 2 or 3 gigs a day, so that’s how I ended up with all the experience! Every sunset has been very enjoyable and special. There are often marriage proposals at sundown and there is always a good response when the track finishes as the sun disappears to Pink Floyd, Brian Eno, The Doors or Hans Zimmer. There was one superb evening where I got the huge drum moment from ‘In The Air Tonight’ exactly in time with the sun disappearing. Eric Prydz was among the terrace crowd and they all went wild. Please come and find out yourselves at Mambo!

What has the last year and a half been like for you? Have you focused more time on making music? And has the pandemic affected your creative spirit in any way?

In early 2020 I had less of a workload in my radio career so that’s when I wrote and finished off nearly all of the album. Since the start of 2021 my radio and production jobs have taken over and I’ve taken a long break from music for the first time in 14 years. I’m a little more concerned about financial security these days but I know the creativity will return when I make a clear window in the schedule. There is definitely a time and place to push creatively and it need not always be forced.

Your debut album ‘Moving Through Shards’ was recently released on Gabriel Ananda’s Soulful Techno Records, you must be quite excited. Tell us how it began to take shape? Was there an initial goal of writing an album from the beginning or did this happen organically in a way?

There was no initial plan to make an album but I began to feel the desire to capture a point in time as I realized I had a lot of tracks that were coming close to the ‘finish line’ at once. It then started to feel like they fitted together in a cohesive way while, at the same time, having their own personalities. Gabriel seemed to agree when I put the suggestion to him and it grew gradually from there into a solid project. I’m very happy it did!

You collaborated with a few different artists over the creative process. How difficult was it finding the right people to work with to bring your ideas to life?

It was simple and natural. I only tend to do these things when they present themselves and feel right. Sped Spedding is an incredible guitarist who has toured extensively. We happened to meet through BBC Radio production training and became friends with shared interests. The song we made is up there with my best tracks because we were so engrossed in it during lockdown.

LKP and I have exchanged a few ideas across the years and this one happened to be a fit. He sent me a vocal that happened to work beautifully with a track I was developing.

I’d love to collaborate with more artists and attend writing camps in future as I feel this is really where the magic happens.

There’s a very timeless feel to the album, from a compositional perspective but also design wise. What are your go to tools in the studio and what featured heavily on this album?

I appreciate you saying that as I try to put maximum effort into creating a moment that may be looked back on as art - something of quality, with soul and integrity. I’ve always used Cubase as a DAW in the studio and most production is done in the box. I have a couple of quality keyboards and usually write any electronic lines in one take on my Nord Lead. It really gives the tracks authenticity and brings a grit and depth to them. I have also recorded my own voice and my Grandmother’s vintage piano a lot with my Rode mics. If it’s original and sounds great I’ll do it. Monitoring is very important to good mixing which I feel is my strong point. I use Adam A8X and produce and mix a lot of tracks entirely in headphones. Beyer Dynamic DT 1990 Pro are my latest. Aside from that I keep it simple!

Soulful Techno has been one of your primary homes since you first appeared in 2018, what makes the label such a great landing spot for your music and in particular the album?

I initially discovered the label through Gabriel Ananda’s wonderful podcast series which I receive in my work with Mambo Radio. I contacted him just to say how much I appreciated his music and his attitude when he presents it. I then started sending him music and he liked it so I remixed his track. He is a pleasure to work with and his outlook toward music is so pure. There are other good artists of similar styles on the label and the overall output is of high quality.

How much of an effect do other genres of music outside of the electronic realm have on your own productions? And in particular the album.

A considerable effect. I’d like to be much more diverse and musical. I’m always open to collaboration with classical or acoustic music. Most music excites me and I love hopping between the genres and finding new arrangements, ideas and sounds! I think for my next album I’ll be very experimental!

I would guess the writing of ‘Moving Through Shards’ was a long process, now that it’s done and out what are your thoughts reflecting back on it?

My music production is an ongoing process. I’m mainly reflecting back on areas that can be improved upon and ways that I can be more creative and interesting through my music. How can I really take things to another level next year? I do feel like I’ve finished that chapter of my musical life now and I’m having a clear break. It feels right. I will design a fresh approach this winter and start again. I’m already excited to do that.

How would you feel about these tracks being remixed? And are there plans for this?

I’d be open to suggestions. Chapter and Verse was already given a superb remix by OHMYBOY and released in advance of the album. All of the tracks have their own character and we will see how each one is received in it’s own right and go from there.

Do you think the digital era has changed the way we perceive artist albums? Do they still carry the weight they once did or should? Is this something that perhaps depends on who (record label) is releasing it as well?

The album format has always survived, digital or otherwise, but it’s less prevalent in electronic music. It is still here and I think it’s a really good way to deliver a snapshot in your creative timeline to the world. I’ve always wanted to write a book but you could say this is a music producer’s answer to that. At least it feels something like that to me. I try to support artist albums from my favourite labels and I appreciate when they are creative with other styles, reprises, intros, outros and beatless or ambient versions. Maybe the market is less saturated with albums so that in itself is an opportunity to look at your output as a producer and consider releasing a larger body of work. It can also really help with goal setting and finishing tracks if you aim to finish the album by a certain date and have tracks ready periodically. I already plan to release another one.

I think for a lot of artists music allows you to write a sketch of your own personal universe in a way; your travels, life experiences etc. Is this something which is true of yourself? Where does inspiration come from? And could you point to something which inspired the album?

I agree entirely and that’s a nice way to put it. It does ring true with my release as each of the tracks has a story. Some were written in Ibiza like ‘Cha+Nllz’ in my friend’s place in the port. ‘Solar Tones’ was back and forth over the web on the dark winter nights with Sped and I learned a lot about him and our friendship during the process. None of the tracks were started with an album in mind. They blossomed along the way as I travelled and played in Ibiza and Dubai and then moved to London and found my way around. In the end the album was inspired as I looked back across a couple of years and decided that much of what I’d created could come together cohesively and be stronger than the sum of its parts.

What’s a book you’ve read or film you watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

I’ve read a lot of books this year and I’d recommend ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari which is a comprehensive look at our human history. I also highly recommend ‘How Music Works’ by David Byrne as a very diverse and interesting insight into music at the top level. I watched ‘The Social Network’ most recently and was impressed with how that came across. I don’t watch loads of TV but will look forward to a long overdue cinema visit soon!

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Sunny days. Other people. Socializing and enjoying company. I exercise every day, sometimes twice. I do muay thai several times a week and have done on and off since 2005/6. It leaves me feeling at my sharpest and fittest and the people are super nice as well as being interesting and like-minded types.

What does the remainder of 2021 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

Starting to take more gigs while seeing places on my travel wish list. I’m really hoping to tour bigger and better stages on the back of this album, and as AtalaiA begins to bloom. More success in all of my projects while attempting to make the world a better place however I can.

'Moving Through Shards' is available now via Soulful Techno Records: https://bit.ly/3ACSa51

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