Collette Warren – ‘Hidden Lines’ EP [Interview]

With a career spanning over a decade and collaborations with some of the most respected heads in the game – including Skeptical & Brazilian wizard DJ Marky – it’s almost inconceivable to think that Bristol-based songstress Collette Warren is only just releasing her debut solo EP. 

As the saying goes – ‘good things come to those who wait’ – and this stunning array of vocal prowess is no exception. Out on DJ Marky’s imprint Innerground Records – the 5 track EP drifts between mysterious, emotive rollers, jazz-infused vocals and classic, Calibre breaks. Including collaborations with Random Movement, DJ Marky, Calibre, Quadrant & Iris, The Insiders, Roy Green & Protone, Tyler Daley and myself (Charli Brix) – I met up with Collette to celebrate the release, catch up on her current projects & find out why now was the right time to showcase her unwavering vocal talent…

So, first things first, let’s talk about your EP – when is it due out?

C: It’s due out Friday 16th November (finally!) …Big up Marky!

You’ve been a consistent name in drum and bass for years & this is your first solo EP – why has it taken you so long to do your own thing?

C: I know, I know! It was about finding the right label to release with & also finding someone to believe in you, your style and your creations. Also, someone that will let you go and do what you want rather than being like, ‘this is how you’re going to do it and these are the people you’re gonna work with’. It’s hard as a female vocalist in the scene to get someone to believe in you half the time as it is, so yeah, I’m happy it’s here!

Despite you ‘doing your time’ as a vocalist, so to speak, I guess it can be hard finding producers who are happy to give you the reigns?

C: Exactly. It is hard and I have struggled with this EP. Usually, when you work with someone, the project is for them, so their time is their priority. But when the project is for you and it’s like ‘can u do this for me?’, you’re kind of always at the bottom of the priority pile –  apart from all the people I worked with on this EP, who were all amazing.

Tell us about the producers on the EP – How did you choose who to work with & who made the final cut?

C: So the first track is with Marky and Tyler Daley, of course, Marky had to be involved! The EP was his doing, he approached me and said he wanted to do this with me so naturally, I’m going to do a track with him…

Of course…

C: And I said from the beginning I really wanna do a duet with Tyler Daley because I mean, who wouldn’t? (laughs) He’s amazing and I love his voice. Whenever his songs come on I always harmonise with them and one day I just thought ‘we sound pretty damn good together’ – and so Marky said it had to be him that produced the tune. He went away and did something completely different from anything he’s done before and he smashed it.

C: Then I’ve got a track with Calibre. Working with Calibre has always been a dream of mine. I’ve loved him since he first appeared on the scene and when I knew I wanted to do vocals on drum and bass, he was always the one I wanted to work with – but I never thought it would actually happen! We worked differently on our track, I sent him the vocals first which was a bit of a challenge cos I’m so used to writing to a song, but it was a good challenge. I liked that it was a different process, but it was quite scary because I just thought ‘am I going to be able to come up with something that Calibre likes?’ – and thankfully he did!

How many tracks are there in total?

C: Five. The next one is with Random Movement and a vocalist called Charli Brix, not sure if you know her…. (Laughing)

Yeah, maybe, the name definitely rings a bell…

C: (Laughing) She’s alright you know. That came about because I really love Random Movement,  I think he’s one of the best and he’s just an amazing guy. I really wanted him on there because I love his sound and wanted the EP to feature people I really like, and luckily he was up for it. I told him I wanted something funky and he was really quick, he sent me something within two weeks. Then I thought, I want to do a duet with Charli – we have become good friends, she lives in Bristol and is current and luckily you agreed too!

Yes, I did (laughing) and I really like that track, it’s had some great responses…

C: It has. We wrote it together in your bedroom, didn’t we…

Yeah, I remember, that was actually a really good night…

C: It really was! We wrote it and recorded it in a night, with a bottle of wine (laughs) but I remember it being a bit tough cos it was quite low…

It was, but you went in and smashed the harmonies, as per. That’s something that always resonates in your work, the harmonies…

C: Thank you. You know me, it’s all about the harmonies – that’s why I love doing duets with people because you get the two different voices.

C: The next one is with Quadrant and Iris from America. I felt like I was missing the darker sound and I’m good friends with them. I’d done a track on their album so I thought, you can do one for me now! They were really excited about it and straight away they sent me a tune and that’s how we came up with ‘Betrayal’. I couldn’t have been happier with the end product and its actually Marky’s favourite from the EP – even more than his one! It’s one for the women, it’s about being betrayed by your man and I wanted to get that out there because when it happened to me, it really affected me. That’s one good thing about being a writer, getting out there how you’re feeling –  it’s like therapy!

I agree, not just for the artist but for the listener. Do you often write with the intention of having that connection with your listeners?

C: Yes. I don’t just write about my life, people relate to tracks in whichever way they want and that’s the beauty of songwriting.

C: The final track is with Ben Soundscape, Roy Green & Protone. Ben has been working with them a lot & the three of them work so well together so I asked if they had anything. They sent me this track – it reminded me of an old jazz club but with a drum and bass beat. I feel like my voice can be quite jazzy and I love that vibe so wanted that on the EP. It’s called Rum and Ginger – that’s my favourite drink (laughs) and it’s basically about being in the club with your favourite drink, listening to your favourite tunes. It’s the last track on the EP and I think it ends it nicely.

Is there a theme to the EP or is it more like a collection of tracks that you think work well together?

C: I just wanted to have something for everyone on there. I wanted it to have all my favourite styles of drum and bass on there from the artists I love.

It makes sense because as an artist, you’re very versatile – you’ve done everything from dark rollers to jazzy summer jams. What’s your favourite style to work with?

C: Probably the darker, Skeppy kind of vibe, I mean they’re the best aren’t they? Those are the songs that put me on the map. I just love a really sweet vocal as then a fucking dutty drop, ya know? (laughs)

Don’t we all! You mentioned it took you a little longer than expected to complete this project, but it’s not just the EP you’ve been working on. Tell us about your band…

C: I’ve always wanted to have my own live band. I used to be a backing singer for MC Tali’s band years ago and I just loved the concept of performing live music. I love drum and bass but you can’t beat performing with a live band. So when I moved to Bristol, I thought yes, this is the place for it. I started with Hugh Hardie – he’s the pianist. Then I’ve got Lurch on guitar, and Octo Pi on drums  – it’s kind of a dnb supergroup (laughs). Then I have Ben Soundscape on the synth and then my amazing bass player Joe. The idea is to perform my drum and bass songs live but we’ve also written songs together as a band – that’s on the jazzier soulful tip. We do a couple of covers as well and its been going really well. We’ve had gigs in London, Bristol & played at Nozstock festival too – that was amazing.

C: So yeah. Do a tune with Calibre – dream come true – tick. Start a live band –  tick. I’m really, really happy. And now an EP! I really want an album eventually but thought I’ll start with this and see how it goes.

So you’ve got the EP, you’ve got a live band….would you ever take it further and do a tour?

C: Oh my gosh yes, definitely. My plan is to get the band working on the rest of the tracks –  we already have a few of them in the set – and then take them on tour. Once the EP is out I’d love to go and do some PAs. I did one at SUNANDBASS for Marky’s night where I performed all the tracks from the EP. I love performing with DJs of course, but when you get to do a PA and showcase all of you – that’s what it’s all about, and that’s what I was reminded of when I sang my own tunes at S&B.

I can see that, you can sometimes lose your identity as a featured artist, so when you get to showcase your solo stuff it’s more about you not just you being an addition to the DJ…

C: Totally! But so many promoters out there are so scared to just do PA’s – they’re like ‘we need you with a DJ’ and I’m like ‘do you not think I can hold it down, performing my own songs?’ It’s hard to get the promoter on side, and you know this, but we’ll get there.

It’s definitely progressing, there are way more women in drum and bass, vocalists on sets and women in the industry overall…

C: Speaking of which, now would probably be a good time to mention KCDC. That was a great night! As you know, I’m involved in a collective called KCDC. It came about of the back of an event that Exposure and Shotgun Barbers hosted, and we thought, ‘why can’t we do this?’. So on top of you and myself, we had a think and involved Kyrist and Enada – both fantastic artists in their own rights – and decided to create a platform run by women, to encourage more women onto the stage, behind the decks and on the mic.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not aimed solely at women, we love the guys in the industry – they’re amazing, but I can count on one hand the number of female promoters I know so it’s just nice to see some more women getting out there and closing that gap. We want to help bring artists through that we support, not just women, and also create a platform for us to perform on and showcase our talents as a collective and so far, the support has been outstanding! We also host a radio show on 10Twenty on the first Sunday of every month, alternating between drum and bass and dubstep – it’s just really great working with such great friends.

Sounds like you have lots of exciting projects in motion! What are your plans for 2019?

C: I need to learn to drive (laughs)…. it’s about time! And maybe get on the housing ladder (oh god) but at the same time, that’s fucking terrifying! Music wise I just want to do a tour for the EP and do more PAs, but at the same time, I’m still happy to perform with DJs.

What was the most difficult part of the process when making the EP?  

Probably trying to get tracks from the producers! (laughs).  I ended up with five tracks that I absolutely adore but obviously, I started with a few more people in mind. It’s hard because people are busy and I get that, but I’m absolutely 100% buzzing with the people I have on the record and am honoured they were a part of it.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to make the leap from a featured artist and create their own body of work?

C: There were a couple of occasions where I would record my part and the producer would send it back and they would have changed the track a bit – and I was like ‘nope, change it back!’ When you’re doing a track for a producer, as you know, you can’t really boss them about – this time it was my EP and I wanted to stay true to what I wanted.

Well, I guess that’s because you’re taking on more of a producer role with this project…

C: Exactly! Like for the collab with Tyler, I wanted our vocals to be equal, little changes like that. It’s just about sticking to your guns – it’s your project and if they’re not happy then they don’t have to do it! (laughs). Luckily they were all fine with it! I’ve got no regrets at all.

I’ve spoken with producers before when they’ve put out an EP and they’ve said ‘I only like two of the tracks’ and I’m like ‘why the hell did you put it out then?’ I love them all and am so, so pleased with it and can’t wait for everyone to hear it!

Big up Collette, thanks for the chat!

You can grab a copy of the ‘Hidden Lines’ EP here, and keep up to date with Collette’s work via her Facebook & Soundcloud.