by Phil Mitchell
Saucy Lady is one of Boston’s rising DJs and performers. Her debut album, “Diversify” released last year, fuses a myriad of different styles from funk to bossa nova. She is also an accomplished DJ and live performer. Funk Music News caught up with Saucy and her producer U-Key at their Newbury Street studio to talk about her new album, the subdivisions of the Boston music scene, and the challenge of finding that perfect sample.
Funk Music News: There are so many different genres and styles on the record. Is it difficult coalescing them into one sound?
U-Key: Not really because, we are DJs. So for me, the arrangement of the music is generated from vinyl. I’m the type of person who samples a lot. Gradually, I mimic the line of the sample into my piano, keyboard, or bass skills, so performing skills for me are based on samples.
Saucy Lady: What you hear in the album is like when I have a DJ set. I’m pretty diverse in what I choose musically; it’s not just one type of genre, it’s a mix of funk and boss nova, afrobeat… a mix of all those funky grooves. The album reflects that.
FMN: Is it difficult to find the right sample and make it work for the song you’re writing?
UK: It can take time to find the right musical material. I can play the samples but sometimes it doesn’t work. We’re experimenting all the time in the studio.
SL: I end up bringing a lot of samples from my iPod or records and then I tell U-Key, “I really love this snare or the hi-hat in this, can we use that?” and from there we actually manipulate it even more to give it a lot of different types of effects. It’s never raw; we always mess it up and make it our own music. We don’t like to loop things too much and we like to really experiment and have fun with it.
UK: You can do so many things with one small sample. Even a small rimshot we can make sound dry or wet. If you can put tons of delay on a rimshot and make it sound like a dub song but tons of reverb gives it more space.
SL: I’m working on a new album and there’s a song that I’m working on with U-Key that has a rimshot that we took from this stool in the studio. I was trying to get the right sound from a sample and it just wasn’t working out. We used Bill Withers and other artists but it just wasn’t right. So I just started to like hit different things in the studio. I hit one of the legs of the stool and was like, “Oh right there, right there!” We gave it a little different texture and it sounded just like a rimshot.
FMN: What does the new record sound like?
SL: The album is a remake of a lot of songs that people have forgotten that are from the 80’s, but giving it our own twist. A lot of slow jams and some other up-tempo stuff. So the new tracks are all 80s kind RB soul tracks, I have a whole list of stuff I wanna work on and they’re all like forgotten tunes or B-sides that people are not familiar with that I wanna really flip and make very original. I’m gonna continue writing my own songs but I wanna pay homage to these great musicians and great records that otherwise people will not remember. I just have so many great songs that I wanna do that I wanna make like mini-albums! I have a shitload of songs on the list so it’s hard to narrow it down.
FMN: Is that a problem because you cover so many different styles that there’s so much stuff that can work?
SL: That’s true, that’s definitely true. There’s just so many songs out there that people don’t know. There’s a couple tracks I wanna redo that are like Japanese 80s disco with female signers. It’s so dope, people don’t even know! So I definitely wanna remake those and they all have a similar Saucy sound to it so it’s perfect.
SL: I’m also trying to do a side business now with a partner of mine, an education program. It’s still getting there but I’m trying to collect a bunch of instructors that can teach music production, programs like Logic, Pro Tools, and Ableton, and also teach them how to use some of the hardware. You buy something like a drum sampler or a drum machine and people don’t always know how to use them but they want to use them and they buy them and it just collects dust. I want people to be creative and learn how to use them so what my partner and I are trying to do is to connect people who wanna learn to people who wanna teach them and then start sort of a tutorial program and then move that into a group session and eventually have a bigger class.
FMN: That kind of technology is almost like a whole different musical vocabulary. It can be intimidating.
SL: It is intimidating and it can be overwhelming. There’s these abundance of sounds, what are you gonna do with all this bank of music? You need someone who can teach you how to use the tools. There are people who are good at Ableton who can give you all these tips and tidbits to help you move forward quicker and be more musical. And the other thing I want the younger generation of musicians to know is to appreciate the older music and to understand how much work was put into it, not to just take like a nice little midi drum loop and copy and paste. That’s a very mechanical and computerized sound; there’s no groove to it.
FMN: It’s almost like curating as opposed to creating.
SL: And I want people to be more creative because that’s more satisfying. I’d love to see Boston thrive with more musicians and be more musical.
FMN: What do you think about the Boston scene?
SL: I feel like, it’s very segregated. There’s certain types of bands and genres of music and they have their own circle and they hang out with their own people at their own clubs. I don’t think there’s enough people working together. They’re great musicians individually, but they’re not out enough to connect with each other and to network together and work together.
FMN: Why do you think there’s that kind of insularity in Boston music?
SL: I don’t know maybe people are little more shy in Massachusetts (laughs). I feel like Boston has a culture where you get to know people and talk to them and then they open up. But in the beginning they’re very closed. I mean, we’re all very smart, friendly, and intelligent folks. U-Key was around when Boston was a lot more wild. There were a lot more live shows with tons of people in the audience and people lining around the block from The Middle East for a hip-hop show. It’s not like that anymore, like maybe 10 years ago it was like that and hip-hop was huge in Boston.
FMN: Well there is a lot more music being produced now and it’s all readily available. You can discover a band that you like and immediately find tons of other bands that sound similar. People seem less likely to listen to new different styles because each genre has such depth.
SL: That’s true. But that’s why it’s good to have a DJ that has a good amount of variety in their sets so people open their ears to different styles. And then at that point they’re like, “Oh I kind of like this song I think I’ll check out this artist”. So in that way I think DJs can help a lot as long as they’re not playing the same old Top 40 shit. The one thing I want more DJs to be more careful of is to make sure they represent themselves in what they do.
FMN: Instead of just playing for what people want.
SL: Yeah, and then there’s always club owners pressuring them to play the hits.
FMN: Have you ever gotten any pressure like that?
SL: Oh yeah, all the time. Every place is like that. Almost every place. That’s why I’m very selective if I play out. I hate that pressure. I have a fulltime job so I’d rather do something totally freeing when I’m not at work.
FMN: Is that kind of pressure from promoters unique to Boston?
SL: I think other cities are becoming a little more that way. Even in NY there are select places that play funk and disco and stuff at certain nights. If you’re in Manhattan, most of the time they play top 40 which is really sad. I want it to change a little bit but it’s going that way.
Check out the music video for Saucy Lady’s “City Lights”:
FMN: You just recently started performing the vocal tunes live. How have the shows been going?
SL: It’s so fun, I love it! I need to plan more Saucy performances. I just recently did a fun little thing at a hospital with U-Key and his friends, just a little ad-hoc thing. It was so rewarding because you have these patients, doctors, and workers who are trying to get away from all the madness and then they hear this music that’s soothing; we had great feedback. It’s so rewarding to be out there and perform for people. It’s a different feeling than being out DJing.
FMN: How so?
SL: It’s more creative. I love improvising with U-Key.
UK: She loves the show.
SL: Yeah, I love being on stage.
UK: Our favorite part is experimenting. When we’re jamming there’s a certain zone where we can experiment. Put more sound over the top, or pull back a little…
SL: And we make it into a different song from the recorded version. We can turn it into a reggae tune or slow it way down. It’s nice to change the vibe so it’s not so planned out.
UK: It’s good to play with Saucy because when we go on stage we have no pressure experiment. Some singers or artists they have their own specific material to play. I feel pressure sometimes to play just their sounds. It’s very boxy. I’m the type of person who always wants to experiment.
FMN: You’ve done a lot of collaborations recently with Frankensteez, JTronius, and Wasted Talent. What were those like?
SL: They’re all my friends. I tend to collaborate with people I know and who I’ve heard. Mr. Jason had his Frankensteez Project out for a little while and I know a lot of the rappers and MCs in it so he just was like, “Can you just do something? Add a little something?” so I gave it my saucy flavor. JT I’ve known for years, he actually was the first one who taught me about songwriting. And then Wasted Talent are like my family. They’re so fun live and unfortunately they’re not really preforming anymore.
FMN: What happened?
SL: The organizer is just kinda giving up on it because there’s just so much work involved to get people together and coordinate shows and he has other projects he wants to build on. But there are a lot of Wasted Talent fans believe it or not. The live performances are crazy. There’s this teen ape thing where there’s this person dressed as an ape that just dances around and is the mascot for Wasted Talent. It’s just a crazy circus basically, but the music’s not bad and it’s actually like a lot of energy. The MCS are really good so you can’t get your eyes off the stage. And then there’s Saucy on the side doing her thing.
FMN: But it’s hard to compete with a dancing ape.
SL: Yeah it’s crazy, they’ll even throw stuff at us. We’ll actually encourage people to throw stuff on stage. We give them objects to throw.
FMN: What’s the craziest thing someone’s thrown on stage?
SL: Well not necessarily throwing things, but one of the craziest parts of the show is we buy a piece of plywood from like Home Depot and then build a little table on the day of the show. Then we’d simulate a fight scene. One of the MCs is dressed as a wrestler and they do a little fight scene and then we break into the table and it breaks in half. It’s very orchestrated. So I learned a lot with Wasted Talent but the only thing that’s different is it’s not very musical; it’s prerecorded music and then we rhyme or sing over it rather than a band. A band performing and improvising is a whole nother musicality. To me it’s a little more rewarding. It’s little more pressure, in some ways, but more creative.
FMN: So you mentioned your songwriting earlier, what’s your artistic process?
SL: I usually like to have the beat first because I need to get that mood in my head to write. Once in a while, if I’m in the mood to write, I’ll just write whatever. “Oh I’m happy or I’m sad, I’m just gonna write all these feelings,” and then I have that material stored. And then I have the beats we make together and then I’ll go home and craft it from there.
It’s not too easy for me. Some people I think are more wordy. I’m bicultural and I speak two languages. Even though both Japanese and English are my native languages, I find it a challenge for me to write really well, so it’s always a lot of work for me.
FMN: You have a background as a classically trained pianist and you’re a DJ, have you ever thought of producing your own or other people’s tracks?
SL: Yeah! I did some in college and I loved it. So I’m thinking that maybe once this teaching thing works out I wanna be taught more. The thing is that U-Key is great at most of it so it saves a lot of time. I say, “I want this sound, could you just sample it,” and he knows exactly what I’m talking about. And plus he can play keys really well and knows all the good chords. But down the road I could see myself doing more of that.
FMN: There was talk about possibly rereleasing “Diversify” with new songs and remixes. What’s the news on that?
SL: Actually yes, I have a 12” coming out at the beginning of next month. That’s being released by a label in Amsterdam, remixed by this DJ named DJ Rahaan. He’s kind of an underground disco-house DJ out in Chicago. He heard my music through a friend of mine when he was DJing in Cambridge a few months ago. He shopped it to a label in Europe that he was connected with and they decided to release a 12” with his remix, like a dub version. And I let them have the original so they could have that on the record too. That’s “Touch It”, the second song on the album.
FMN: You seem like a laid-back, down-to-earth person yet the Saucy Lady tracks are all wild, sensual, and high-energy. What do you tap into when you perform?
SL: Saucy Lady is a different side of me, the alter ego. I’m highly impressed and influenced by artists like Rick James and Grace Jones, those people who have a lot of presence on stage who have that swagger but it’s outrageous and hilarious how they dress, and just a little crazy. But really, you can’t get your eyes off the stage. Those are the people, I feed off of.
U-Key and Saucy Lady were kind enough to let FMN check out their studio set-up. Here are a few pictures of their fortress of funk.
You can find Saucy Lady on her website http://saucyladymusic.com/
or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Saucy-Lady/112236505548122