After a tough start, Al Zanders’ year seems to be getting better. Having recently relocated from Sheffield to his hometown of London, the producer, DJ and edit extraordinaire – real name Alex Buchan – is readjusting to life in the capital, its pace, the noise, a new job.
One reason he has to be cheerful is, of course, the feat of having just become the first artist to be signed to Roy Davis Jr’s legendary Undaground Therapy label is 16 years. His newly released ‘Guidance’ EP marks a joyous return for the touchstone house imprint and finds him fusing all the facets that have made his productions so enticing in the past number of years on tracks like the luxurious ‘Endcliffe Park’, 'I Don't Want You To Judge' and ‘Long Gone’. There’s soulful, organic house heft and choppy, playful sampling. There’s lush breakdowns and emotive melodies nestled between dancefloor grooves. There’s heart bursting from the club-drawn seams on each of its four tracks, ‘Martha’s Revenge’, ‘Television’, ‘Likes For Cash’ and the title track.
But how did the EP come about in the first place?
“I was sending tracks to Roy back and forth,” he says. “Some he liked, some he didn't as much. I knew he was into something when he responded with lots of exclamation marks, and after four times of that happening we got the EP. When I got the confirmation I was overjoyed!”
As for the ins and outs of his production style, Zanders’ methodology is modest but effective, a testament to his compositional skill and masterful sampling work.
“I use Ableton then mangle with old samples till they're unrecognizable and add synthesizers to them,” he explains. “I don't have the space nor the budget for 'classic' synths so I go for sound modules, such as the JU-06 and Bolsa Bass. They've been really great and a new addition to my music.”
This EP is also for the first time he has worked with session musicians or live vocals.
“I was lucky to have met a singer named Sheyi through a mutual friend,” he explains. “[I] asked her to do some vocals for the track ‘Martha’s Revenge’. I'm really excited to be working with her some more this year.”
With a recent relocation from Sheffield to London, he is the first to admit that living in the capital leads to a tricky balancing act between work life, family life and creative pursuits compared to his former northern home, a city says he owes “pretty much everything” to.
“Those first nights I played with my friends at the Harley and the 'Little Mesters' room at Hope Works taught me the ropes of DJing,” he says. “The city has a great history with dance music, with Warp Records, Jive Turkey, Swag etc. but it was really producers like Boo Williams and Roy who caught my attention and made me want to make house music early on.”
“I think a place is only as important as the people in terms of making music,” he adds. “If I'd met different people and had different opportunities in Sheffield I might have ended up in a band, or something very different to dance music. I'm in London for the time being, but would like to move somewhere cheaper where I can work less, get up later and make more music.”
All that being said, Al Zanders has some exciting plans up his sleeve for the rest of the year…
“An EP on my own label, A-Z, it's a venture into an entirely different genre, “ he says. “With Sheyi providing vocals on all the tracks. Got some great artwork done by my girlfriend too, first 'proper sleeve' on A-Z. I really like the feeling of working with people close to me with my own label, makes it feel extra special. Look out for that end of summer!”
In the meantime, he has delivered a sweet power hour mix for our Podcast series, which you can check out below.
“It's a homage to the classic deep house sound that inspired this EP, and much of my music in general,” he explains. “I made it whilst going through a rough patch, hopefully the soul and emotion that went into it will resonate with anyone listening.”
We reckon it does.
Grab your copy of 'Guidance' on Undaground Therapy here.