Interview: Haze

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Celebrating 20 years in the music industry come 2011, Haze has been doing us proud. Every track that he’s put out has landed at the top 5 or top 10 position on the charts. Haze cannot be categorized just as a DJ, but an all round musician. From recording to mixing, producing, being a vocalist, composing and playing live DJ sets, this guy has had his hand in every music avenue that you can think of. Having played with Steve Thornton, the live percussionist who’s played alongside Michael Jackson and Miles Davis, the Zouk dancefloor was stomped upon to bits when this super duo got together for an amazing live set. We got to have a little chat with this all rounder and here’s what he had to say…

Hi Haze! Where are you based now?
I’m based out of 2 places, London and Kuala Lumpur. I have studios in both places.

Your set up is pretty interesting, unlike many DJs, you do a live set instead. What’s your setup for that?
It’s kind of basic, it’s a laptop, a MIDI controller, keyboard and a sound module, that’s about it.

What’s are the challenges and advantages of doing a live set instead of just using normal decks?
Predominantly what we’re doing is pretty much the same thing, we’re just using different means to do it, to make music. The whole digital realm has attracted the industry over the last 5 years with cutting edge technology and equipment. With these new types of programs and software available we can really push the envelope on the whole art of mixing or DJing into a more performance based type show.

It’s not very common to play alongside a percussionist. Tell us about playing with Steve Thorton?
Yeah, I’ve known Steve since ’91. He’s a legend, it’s just that Steve is based out of Malaysia and people kind of forget how immense, massive this man’s resume is. It goes on way back to Miles Davis to Michael Jackson. He’s recorded with everybody, from Whitney Houston to anybody you’d care to mention. He’s got credits from these people’s records. Me and Steve go way back, we’ve performed on many, many occasions. I not only play with percussions, I can play with a whole orchestra if I need to, I’ve done that before. I’ve had 15 people on stage, all musicians on tour. It’s not an abnormal occurrence to play with other musicians.

You sing a lot on all your tracks, especially your house releases. Will you ever consider branching off into a singing career?
That’s on the table right now. I think it’s trying to find the right time and the right people, the timing needs to be very right with that. At the moment I’ve got so much going on, I’m thinking somewhere around next year, there’s big plans for next year. That whole solo thing we’ve been working on it for the past 12 months. Next year’s looking like a bright year. I celebrate 20 years in the industry next year. There’s so many things going on, we’re going to be launching a label alongside that, and we’re going to do something that no other DJ or artist in the dance industry have done before, which is to have 20 releases planned out for next year. It’s going to be a really interesting year for me.

What is it that you like about producing house music?
House music just so happens the be the staple diet at the moment, that means I put records out regularly. It’s not just house music, I work on a lot of other stuff, I’m working on a film right now, I’m working on scoring a film which has nothing to do with house music. It’s a classic score, it’s a full feature movie that I’m working on now. I came from a jazz background so house music is one avenue that I’ve been rooted in, putting it out for the past 10 years on various labels. Predominantly, it’s all sorts of brands and genres of music that I get my hands dirty with.

Speaking of which, you used to be an rnb and pop producer-songwriter. Was that an easy transition to becoming a DJ?
I think the DJ part of things is just a natural progression, when you start writing and producing, being involved in that sector or genre, you rub shoulders and speak the same language with a variety of people who are involved in that one type of genre. It kind of becomes second language. That transition to becoming a DJ was a natural progression into making dance music, you know? The way they get it out was to play it, you make it, you create it, you sell it and you need to perform and they only way you perform it is to play it live. From the studio to the stage, you know?

Your tracks with Sandy Rivera are huge hits. What is it about him that you continuously produce, write and make music with him?
The working relationship I’ve had with Sandy in the past that we’ve made have been really successful records, the last record we did was in 2007 which was ‘Freak’. I don’t know what it is, when we get together we seem to strike a good chord. But having said that, by working with a whole scope of other producers, we don’t make #1 hits, but we do make top 10 records. All the time. Every release that I’ve put out has been a top 10 or top 5 record. I try to bring that to the table and keep consistent at that. I have probably reached a stage where I know who I am as a writer, producer and vocalist and I know what my ammunition is, what I have. It could be anybody that I work with, I would bring that same enthusiasm or the same tools that I have when I work on projects.

What draws you to these people that you collaborate with? Do you have some kind of formula when you work with these people and something that tell you that you’ll have a good chemistry with them?
People have come to me, sent me their tracks and I’m very picky with the people I work with. It’s not just the people I work with but also the types of tracks I look for, or the type of alliances I choose. I don’t go to these people, they come to me. So I get to pick and choose out of say 10 demos in a month, I may pick 1. You’ve got to be very careful with the type of collaborations that you do because they can sometimes work against you. Only because I’ve got a very steady track record and I have to be careful that no one tarnishes it. As you may know, the record industry is very unforgiving. You need to make just one wrong decision and you lose your grasp or your hold on everything you’ve worked with.

Is there anyone that you’d particularly like to work with?
There are a couple of people I’m starting to look at for my label next year, they’re not necessarily house producers but they been involved in dance music. People like Kelis, just people that are out of my comfort zone like Bluey Maunick from Incognito, who I really admire and look up to. People like Frankie Knuckles who I met in ’99, he kind of paved the way for me. People like that, all varieties.

What can we expect from your upcoming artist album?
The thing with Haze releases is you never know what to expect, except you know that the quality of the production, I really try to push for that more than anything else. I’m a songwriter first, and I can tell you that every track is a vocal track, not every track is a dance track, there’s a mix of all sorts of styles of music that I bring together. It’s a very varied style album.

You control everything, you compose, produce, write, do the vocals, mix, everything. Would you say you’re a bit of a control freak?
I’m a freak, I don’t know about a control freak. I think most of the producers are, only because it’s more conducive that way. I also know where my strengths are and where my weaknesses are so I will try and balance them out. If I need to mix something down and hire an engineer to do it then I will. I know what I’m trying to get at. That I know. It depends on the record itself, you know? I know what I want, even if other people do it for me, it’s because they’re doing it for me with a plan of execution in front of them.

What’s the best spot that you’ve played at?
I played at an outdoor festival in Yugoslavia, that was pretty radical a few years. I also did another festival called the Emporium Festival on the border of Germany, about 100,000 people came out and there were 2 tents. There was 40,000 people at the house tent. It’s a big tent! (Laughs) I also did another one called Shoot Me, I’m Famous. It’s a house gig in Rotterdam, in a cinema theatre.

What do you think about your home crowd in Malaysia?
I love my home crowd. I don’t really play out in Malaysia, it’s just these last 3 months in a row, I’ve done something at Zouk and I’m really enjoying it. The last time I played last month, I was really taken aback because it was just filled with fans, with followers, I think these people have also been following me since Day 1. They know all my records and for me, it’s a spiritual thing playing for people who have been there from the start. Wherever I am, it could be 2 people or 50,000 people and I still bring the same enthusiasm, the same love and the same energy in all my sets. They’re planned sets, that’s kind of the difference between playing a DJ set, which is randomly picking records and playing a live set, which is kind of planned in a certain way. For me, I look at myself as a musician, as a live artist. I know how every track is planned for a certain type of reaction. So there’s no rooms for any f*ck ups. I don’t want to play a bad record and the reaction speaks for itself. The KL crowd is definitely one of my top crowds.

Do you have any New Year resolutions you’d like to share with us?
I don’t know, to be bigger and better I guess? Get more records out there.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a musician?
I would be an accountant (laughs). Crazy, isn’t it?

We think you’re much better off as a musician, buddy! For more Haze, check out

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