Retrofitted: Jay Shepheard
Retrofit boss Jay Shepheard has been steadily forging a name as a secure set of hands when it comes to crisp, groovy house and disco. After a run of strong EPs on his own imprint, and the occasional appearance on the Compost, Buzzin’ Fly and Dirt Crew, his debut album Home and Garden has just dropped on Retrofit records. Home & Garden shows Shepheard stretching his sound across a taut hour, a record designed more for headphones than the club but which nonetheless is crammed with enough earworms and rump-shimmying grooves to satisfy dance floors as much as home listeners. We caught up with him to discuss the challenge of the extended format, the challenges of balancing production and running and label and his nomadic lifestyle.
Your first album just dropped, what inspired you to step up to the long-player?
When I first got into electronic music I listened to a lot of albums by people like Orbital, but when I got more into DJing and collecting 12”s, I kind of forgot about that side of things. So I’ve been keen to make a long player for a while. It gives a bit more space to explore stuff you wouldn’t go into on a 12” or single.
I know it’s something you started talking about more than a year ago. So how long’s it been in gestation?
It’s been going on for quite a while. I didn’t sit down and try to write the album in one stint, rather I’d be working on various bits on and off between touring, running the label, producing 12”s and singles and remixing. So it’s taken a while.
I find that quite surprising, that it was done in chunks, because it’s got a real cohesion rather than just feeling like a bunch of dance floor singles.
Well a lot of my more disco releases have been from 105 to 120 BPM, so I’ve been comfortable working at these tempos since the beginning really. I was conscious that the album should sound its best when listened all the way through, so made sure to keep track lengths right and avoid starting tracks just with beats as I would for club stuff. I worked a lot on trying to get the order right too, so that it flowed kind of like a DJ set does. So I put some of my favourite tracks towards the end, a bit of a leap of faith in this era when people flick through tracks online and often stick to the first few. But I didn’t want the integrity of the album to suffer because of that.
That disco influence is definitely there; a kind of retroism that flows through a lot of the tracks, like the 80s production on ‘Orbis Tertius’ and that real 70s NY sound on ‘Zippin’’. Were you deliberately trying to reference those sounds when you were writing?
Yeah, there’s a lot of reference in the album. I wanted to try and represent various genres and eras of music I’ve been into over the years, while still maintaining an overall theme for the ‘sound’ of the album. So certain elements – like the heavy swung 909 in ‘Type One A’, for example – instantly capture an era and give the album as a whole a bit of heritage.
As well as your own debut LP, this is also Retrofit’s first foray into the format. What’s lined up on your imprint this year, and does the album signal a change for Retrofit towards more extensive releases?
Yean for sure. The first 10 releases on the label were all 12”s simply named #1, #2′ etc. And always with black and white artwork themed around the number of the release. Number 11 is the album and we’ve gone for full colour art to signal the change, and rom here on we’ll be switching to EP titles too. We’re also looking at doing a retrospective remix compilation, maybe some limited downtempo stuff on 10” or 7”. Plus got some hot club bits coming after the album from some of my favourite artists, like Session Victim and Greymatter.
What inspired you to set the label up in the first place?
It’s something I always wanted to do, since I was very first collecting records. When the time came that I felt I had enough profile to make it work I just went for it.
You turn up pretty regularly on the Retrofit catalogue. Were you deliberately trying not to just be ‘back office’ kind of label owner?
I was keen to do that to set the theme of the label at first, but now the we’re getting a bit more known I also want to focus on releasing some originals on other labels and get new people onto Retrofit. But I’ll still be turning up quite a bit I imagine.
How does the A&R and label management of Retrofit work?
We have a great artwork team, and distribution, but apart from that do I pretty much everything basically. Hence the fact we have a relatively slow output. Maybe I’ll look at changing that this year [laughs].
How did you first get into this music then?
In my early teens me and all my mates were into metal, then mainstream dance bands like the Prodigy and Chemical Brothers were kind of a crossover for us. My sister’s a few years older and was also going to raves and recording hardcore and early jungle from the radio, so from that I got into drum & bass for a long time; the first 12” I bought was by Moving Shadow. Then I was finding garage playing in the D&B clubs in the smaller rooms, and from there I got into house music. I guess that was about ’99 and haven’t looked back.
And then you went and worked for Juno, didn’t you? That kind of record shop apprenticeship for DJs seems to have disappeared largely these days. Do you think it was important for your development?
Indeed, working at Juno was great. Later on I was dong office stuff, but for quite a while I was in the stock room and also recording sound clips from the vinyls, which was cool as it exposed me to all different genres. We had a system where we each took an hour on the office turntable to put records on while working, that way got to hear loads that we’d normally have looked over. And I met some of my closest friends while working there too. It was a great time.
You’re quite multinational – you’ve lived in Berlin and Poland as well as back here, and seem to be moving between here and Germany pretty regularly. Do you find you get disconnected from local scenes, or that there’s something different that each place offers?
Well, it’s nice to move around a bit when you have a job that lets you work from anywhere. But I can’t really say that I feel I produce differently in different places. I also travel most weekends for gigs so I guess I’m absorbing influence from all over really. The whole scene is becoming very international anyway, so especially within Europe I don’t notice such a difference between Berlin and London in what’s happening right now.
And how does that work with collaborations? You’ve teamed up before with people like the sadly-missed Martin Dawson, but the album’s kind of noticeable for just being you without any vocalists or the like. What was the thinking behind that?
Collaborations are good, and I really enjoyed working with Martin Dawson in particular – an experience which is now all the more special. But on this album it was more of a personal venture. Maybe on a future album I’d go down that route. I did want to get a ‘human element’ in each track, but I also wanted to avoid bussing in a stream of featured vocalists because I think it can sometimes lead to a disjointed feel on albums.
And you’re doing some live shows in support of the record?
Yeah, I’m doing touring off the back of the album, both live and DJing. I’ll be working bits from the album in for sure, but as the name suggests it was always meant to be an album for home listening rather than the club, so I’ll also be using the tours and new live sets to showcase some more dance floor productions that will come out in the wake of the album.
Check out a teaser of the new album below