What do you get when you combine a genius DJ/producer with a gifted vocalist & lyricist? What happens when they take their 7 piece band into the studio? I caught up with the lads on the sunny steps of the Cluny, to find out just what it takes to make that all important third album. It was here that I learned Smoove & Turrell isn’t just a band name, it’s a method.
DJ / producer Smoove is no stranger to beats, loops and arrangement while Turrell is something of a vocal legend in his own right. Broken Toys is a shining example of what this extraordinary partnership can achieve, an album full of experimentation and contributions from the other band members. Steven (Smoove) Moove tells me “This one means more to the band as an outfit, the full band. Ones that work the best are with everyone contributing.”
Having proved themselves with their previous two albums, their label quite rightly allowed ample time for Smoove & Turrell to craft their art this time around, although incredibly, most of the recording for ‘Broken Toys’ was tracked at Newcastle’s Loft Studios in no less than two days! This kind of rapid-fire production comes naturally to S&T, who penned one of their most popular hits ‘Higher’ in a hotel room playing loops through a laptop, drinking the mini-bar dry and “throwing some lyrics around.”
“You can compare an album to a DJ set, it must have it’s ups & downs, it needs it’s fun moments and it’s serious moments,” Smoove explains. It’s a statement that rings true throughout their third album, dazzling early with a pleasing succession of funky floor-fillers. ‘Have Love’ sets the tone with a groove that’s impossible to sit still to, with irresistible brass stabs, strings and jazzy flute.
You can compare an album to a DJ set, it must have it’s ups & downs, it needs it’s fun moments and it’s serious moments
‘Will You Be Mine’ adds digital elements (with help from synth collector friend Mike Porter) to a soulful sound, hinting that there may be more of a push towards the electronic / futuristic sound in releases to come. John Turrell hints at this with his aside “Not always retro retro retro.”
The album takes an unexpected turn with what S&T refer to as, dare we say…a ballad. The most beautiful song “Always” almost didn’t make it to the album. At the end of their second day recording session, bassist (& band MD) Andy offered up a groove idea which they quickly recorded and revisited after Smoove found inspiration listening to Prince. Turrell wrote the lyrics within minutes. It is this organic flow of creativity plays a large part in S&Ts success. Steven is gushing in his praise for his fellow collaborator; “What gives John his lyrical edge is that he’s a deep thinker. John absorbs from life. Things logde in his head. It comes naturally.”
Title song ‘Broken Toys’ is a hard hitting track featuring lyrics such as “Jack draped neatly across a wooden chest”, referring to fallen heroes returning from war.
This track is S&Ts proudest moment in terms of both production and lyrics. From first listen this was the immediate stand out track for me, over seven minutes long but never tiring as there are so many parts to appreciate and keep attention. A stunning track. Steven recalls the immensity of the recording effort “it was like doing Star Wars, with massive strings section and brass, it’s really orchestral.” John adds “the last flute bit is like an exclamation mark on the record.”
The album concludes with ‘Now Or Never’ a lovable, folky sing-along song with a cheeky sense of humour –
“Your face it stood out like a bombed out house on the terrace. This song epitomises the S&T ethos – it’s about having fun, like the time they treated a pub full of unsuspecting punters in Brighton to a spontaneous acoustic performance (for free beer). This song also really demonstrates S&Ts diversity, unwilling to be pigeon-holed, continually developing their sound.
The album has received critical acclaim but the boys aren’t resting on their laurels. With a busy tour underway they remain dedicated and humble. Acutely aware perhaps that the good times don’t always last forever, or as Steven notes “you’re never always flying.”
You can catch Smoove & Turrell across the region this summer. They are appearing at Stockton Weekender and SPLIT FESTIVAL (win tickets via NE:MM) . There’s also rumour of a Newcastle gig in late Summer, perhaps at Hoochie Coochie.
The album, Broken Toys, is available now on Jalapeno Records.
Interviewer: James Clarke