Attack meets the Dutch house duo to discuss their eclectic approach to music production and how to deal with life after an international hit single.
Iason Chronis and Coen Berrier are probably still best known for their 2007 hit single ‘Perfect (Exceeder)’ with Princess Superstar, but to fans with their eyes and ears on the clubs rather than the charts Mason are known for a lot more than just great crossover pop records. The duo have developed an eclectic sound which draws on a wide range of influences and embraces guest vocals.
Although Iason takes care of DJ duties on his own, the pair work together in the studio and for live performances. Following the release of their debut album, They Are Among Us, last year, Mason are now touring with an elaborate stage show.
We caught up with the Iason and Coen to chat about their philosophy on artist albums, Dutch hip hop and Coen’s relentless quest to build the ultimate modular synth.
Attack: So, what have you been up to recently?
Coen: Working ridiculous hours in the studio and touring in between. We’re playing mainly live at the minute, more than doing DJ sets. With the live show it’s the two of us on stage, playing our own tracks with a whole bunch of gear and instruments, as well as a synchronised light and video system we created. It’s quite different from the DJing that Iason does by himself, as we’re touring with shitloads of equipment and programming all the venue lights to get it synced up. With the live show we can’t just walk in with a CD case ten minutes before the show. It takes hours of preparations, especially for our tech guys, but the show makes it worth the extra effort.
Apart from that we’re busy running our Animal Language label too, which is heading for its 25th release.
Do you still get to have a good time when you play live or is it a lot more stressful?
Iason: It’s always a kick to play your own music and get a good reaction from the crowd. Playing live is a lot more difficult than DJing, to be honest, so we make sure we start drinking and partying after the shows, not during. There’s just too much that can go wrong, so we need to stay sharp. But yeah – work hard, play hard!
What kind of setup are you working with in the studio?
Iason: We like to combine the best of both worlds, so we mix in Logic and use shitloads of plugins like everybody else but we also work with lots of vintage synths and analogue effects. Our main interface is the Apogee Ensemble and our favourite compressor is the Manley VariMu. Coen’s always busy with his never-ending wall of modular synths, which can just do about anything. These days working hybrid is much easier, so we can just route any audio through any of the analogue synths or effects and nothing needs to be replugged. We also love the Expert Sleepers Silent Way software which lets you send CV signals via your audio interface, so you can use a software plugin to control your ancient CV gear. That’s insane!
‘Perfect (Exceeder)’ was such a huge success. Did it open a lot of doors for you or was there a downside to having a big crossover hit like that?
Iason: It opened up many doors, and from that moment on our life became a few hundred times more hectic with touring and remixing. It was mainly great to finally have a good window of people listening to your music, which is kinda what you want as a musician. Obviously we had labels breathing down our neck to make 3,412 new ‘Exceeder’-sounding ripoffs, but we didn’t really dig doing that, so we just went our own way, trying to keep stuff original. Luckily we still have a good fan base, who appreciate that choice, which we’re grateful for.
Why did you decide to wait so long before releasing your first artist album?
Coen: We could have collected ten dancefloor tracks and called it an album much earlier, but we wanted to do something different, and make a more pop-influenced album. We got the chance to work with some of our vocalist heroes and they all have crazy schedules so it took some time to nail these these tracks down. On the side we were still releasing all kinds of club tracks, but it was nice to balance that out with more pop stuff, as we’re both big collectors of present and past pop music. It’s also a bit boring to only make club stuff 24/7.
Do you think it’s important for dance musicians to make albums which can be listened to as a whole? The kind of album you’d put on at home, rather than just, as you say, a collection of tracks?
Iason: A random collection of Beatport tracks doesn’t feel like an album to us. An album is meant to be listened to from beginning to end, and should tell some kind of story. If you’re listening to an album like that you don’t want to have boring one minute DJ intros and outros.
It’s too bad the market’s moving away from an album mentality. Without sounding like grandpas, there used to be a time when it was all about albums but iTunes kind of changed that. People listen to music in a different way these days.
How did some of the collaborations on the album come about?
Iason: We basically made a wish list of artists we’d love to work with and started to send stuff out. People like Róisín Murphy, Aqualung and Sway were up for it, then we did the collaborations in every possible way: flying people to Amsterdam, flying ourselves to various places and renting local studios, working remotely, sending vocal takes over email…
Creatively, the best thing is always to sit in the same room with a vocalist and throw ideas back and forth. This way you can work together on melody and lyrics, and pass ideas back and forth. All these people are amazing musicians in their own field, so there’s so much to learn from them, and it just makes you want to work even harder.
With Róisín, for example, we had a personal studio session with her in London, which was great. We’d already done the backing track with a verse/chorus/middle eight structure, and she came up with the lyrics and vocal melody.