In time with Richard Earnshaw

On eclectic tastes and musical freedom

Pianist, producer, soulful house pioneer Richard Earnshaw

I’m a sucker for music with a groove, and I’ve been buying Richard Earnshaw releases on autopilot for years because his tracks come with grooves guaranteed.

One glimmer of hope during the COVID pandemic has been that he’s in as prolific production form as ever and helped keep us soulful house people going whilst we await happier times.

The really good news is that when I made contact he was more than happy to talk music one spring afternoon. It seems an odd thing to say about music but the striking thing about his work is the richness of its musicality, and when we caught up I discovered the reasons run deep…

So it’s been a weird year or so for all of us, how have you been?

Yeah it’s been interesting. Obviously I’m desperately missing the performance aspect of my job, but I think that with regard to the making of music I think it’s been quite nice not to have the distraction of the performance aspect. It’s very easy to get caught up in the “will this track work on the dancefloor” kind of mentality because often that is the primary function for it, but without that there and without knowing when the next time [will be] that you’ll be able to perform it to a dance floor or a crowd, you’re kind of refocusing on the whole music-making and songwriting aspect of the thing which has actually been really nice. It’s been reminiscent of how I started off as a young teenager making music. I wasn’t performing I wasn’t doing it out there I was just making music for the sheer hell of the enjoyment of the creative process. It feels a lot more like that now because when things are pretty rubbish, which they have been for a lot of people, I think “what’s the positive in all this, what can I do to use this as a positive experience?” so when it does eventually draw to a conclusion I don’t look back at it and go “well that was just a total waste of a year!” For me as a creative it is the whole process of making music now in a way that I haven’t done for a very long time which can only be a good thing.

You’re a reflex purchase for me because of that funky, musical flavour – where does that come from?

My musical background was very much cemented in the classical end of the spectrum as a pianist and I always had this fascination with music technology and making sounds and music with these crazy bits of equipment that were knocking around sort of mid-eighties, late-eighties. My dad was also a very gifted musician but more particularly on the jazz end of the spectrum as a jazz guitarist primarily. I remember as a child I used to hear him improvising on the piano and used to think [sighs] “I want to do that, I don’t want to read these silly black notes that are on this piece of paper anymore because that paper is telling me what I should be doing whereas I want to explore what I want to do musically.” It was kind of an amalgamation of my nerdy need to make beats and playing this predominantly jazz-inspired music. It was only years later when it was like, “Ah have you heard of Masters at Work?” I had no idea, and I became aware that there was a whole industry of music that was being made by people exactly like I was making it. I was like “Wow, so I could literally have a career doing this?” I mean I was going to have a career in music whatever, that was my focus. I was interested in all sorts of different types of music but this was like an accidental “Ah, this is pretty cool, I’ll do some of this then!” It just came so naturally to me just to play what I loved playing, and using a lot of musicians in the process of making the music like live bass, live guitar, strings, horns, vocalists, all this kind of thing as opposed to the Kraftwork side of things.

Who has inspired you?

My inspirations are hugely diverse. I was brought up in a house where up until the pandemic my mum was an operatic soprano and my dad was a sound engineer at the BBC and a very talented musician. There’s a lineage of musicians at all different levels and I was listening to their influences and gathering my own as I went along. I was listening to early Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre and all the ambient stuff that was going on, then would switch it up and listen to some of the early Shamen and Black Dog, crazy stuff. In between that I was listening to George Benson, I was listening to Kenny Burrell and the usual influences, your Dave Brubeck, your Miles Davis, John Coltrane, all these guys. On top of that, I was listening to, or even playing, Preludes and Fugues by Bach, I was playing Rachmaninoff concertos, I was playing Liszt, I was playing Debussy. I could never say one artist inspired me because I took so much from so many different areas.

When you’re weighing up partners to work with, what do you look for?

Obviously there has to be a connection musically and in personality. We have to be on the same page because you can throw yourself in a room, jump on the instruments and really cool stuff happens. When I was doing the touring dates when the In Time album came out, that band was essentially the guys I’ve worked with since the beginning, and the singers, we’ve all known each other for so long and worked together in various different capacities whether it’s directly collaborated on original material or I’ve remixed something that they’ve done before, so there’s already a fairly safe bet that we’re going to get on creatively. Once you’ve got that sorted, we all rely on each other to push each other’s buttons, push each others boundaries, take people out of their comfort zones a bit. It’s very easy to be so safe with what we do which is often down to the fact that when you get to a certain level of popularity, there is an expectation that you’re going to do X, Y and Z. In order to get to the point where you can experiment more you have to gain people’s trust which is what, for the first few years as a music producer, I had to do but now there’s some things where I just think “this is just going to annoy some people!” I’m not sure now whether I feel that people will appreciate my right to explore more musical layers or whether I’m just old enough not to care what they think!

Simon Dunmore recently caused a stir when he bemoaned the lack of new material in the genre – what’s your view?

Well, I totally get where he’s coming from with what he’s saying. We do need to create more space for new and emerging artists or even established artists being able to lay down their original work and for songwriters to feel like there’s a really exciting place for them to write music. Defected has a massive catalogue of music and they’re twenty two years down the road, there’s a whole new generation of DJs out there, there’s a whole new generation of music consumers. A lot of them now, these young, twenty-something DJs getting into DJing, have been caught by the behemoth brand that is Defected and probably haven’t heard a lot of the music they started releasing back in 1999 and 2000. When have all this incredibly rich and diverse content that you can reformulate, you can refresh, you can remix, you can re-release then why not? There’s a lot of these people that haven’t heard it before.

Reasons to be cheerful then, what can we look forward to from you?

I’m finishing off a lot of stuff that is of an interesting, less-house nature at the moment but I’ve got some original Innerspirit things that I’m working on, I’ve got a new single with Mike City that we’ve been working on for ages, like three or four years, that’s now ready to be dished out. I’m working on two albums of my own, one of them is a more conventional Earnshaw album which will be out next year and the other one which will be later this year is kind of an extended EP of seven tracks and it’s quite experimental. I’m just going to put it out there and let everyone either get down to it or not get down to it, so to speak! There’s a lot going on!

I really appreciate chatting you, thanks for your time!

Thank you very much for having me!

Published by Martin

Geek, DJ, runner, family man.