Having worked with some of the most revered and influential artists to emerge from the UK over the past 10 years, Fraser T Smith has firmly established himself as one of the most sought after producers in the industry.
In November, he picked up the the Best Producer award at the 2018 Pro Sound Awards - presented to him by Stormzy - adding to a glittering array of honours amassed over the past 12 months. At the beginning of the year, Stormzy’s No.1 debut album Gang Signs & Prayer picked up the Best Album Award at the BRITs, while his work with rising UK star Dave on his Question Time record earned him an Ivor Novello Award.
Throughout his career, he has worked with a plethora of stars on some of their most celebrated works, including the aforementioned Stormzy and Dave, as well as Adele, Florence and the Machine, Gorillaz and many more. Here, he reflects on what has been a phenomenal 2018, while also offering some insights into what he has planned for the year ahead...
How did it feel to win the 2018 Pro Sound Awards Best Producer award?
It was a massive honour to receive the award, especially being the first Best Producer award. Over the past year, I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with some incredible visionaries, such as Stormzy and Dave - we’ve made music together which hasn’t been censored or patrolled commercially or sonically - so the fact that this music has been recognised in such a positive way means a great deal. And to win the Best Producer award, which reflects the pure sonics of what we’re doing, is incredible, as this is something we take very seriously in the studio.
2018 has been a big year, what with Stormzy’s GSAP winning multiple awards and the critical acclaim of Dave’s Game Over EP. What have been some of your highlights from the past 12 months?
Stormzy’s performance at the Brits and winning Best Album was a unforgettable moment. Nobody had heard his rap before the performance except me, my engineer Manon Grandjean and Stormzy’s friend Flipz. He hadn’t even performed it in rehearsals for fear of it being censored - so to hear it booming around the O2 and addressing so many relevant topics was amazing. He used his platform for the greater good that night, in front of a stunning stage, created by the great Es Devlin, and to a beat that we’d created two days before. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life. Winning an Ivor Novello award with Dave for Question Time was also a standout moment of the year. I’ve written songs before which have been more traditional and been nominated for Ivor Novello awards, but I’ve never won one. Dave and I have been working together for two years now since his first 6 Paths EP, and we’ve grown very close musically and as friends. So to win this award with him with him, was very emotional - to see how far he’d progressed as an artist, rapper and lyricist. To be a part of his journey has been amazing, and we just saw his first No.1 with Funky Friday.
What else have you been working on this year, besides the Stormzy and Dave records?
Besides Stormzy and Dave, I’ve been working with a great new band called Easy Life. It’s brilliant to be working with a band again, as it’s such a contrast to working with rappers, but they share the same energy and vision. They’re from Leicester and we’re working towards their debut album. Their sound’s hard to describe in that they draw from old school hip hop as much as more modern sounds. It’s very fresh. I’ve also produced some tracks with Nina Nesbitt, which has been great fun and Mabel who is also fantastic to work with.
Are there any producers you’ve been particularly excited by this year? Any records that have caught your ear?
I’ve been working closely with Tyrell 169 who’s a young producer from South London - we started working on some of the Dave stuff together and he’s very exciting. He’s got some incredible music coming through. I’m a huge MGMT fan and think that their latest record Little Dark Age is a real return to form. I love the stuff that Dave Fridmann produces of theirs. I’m also a huge Kevin Parker (Tame Impala) fan, and I love what he did with Travis Scott on Astroworld, and that album in general. I also love what Kanye did with Nas this year on Nasir and Kanye’s collaborations with Party Next Door.
Have there been any new pieces of studio kit that have caught your attention this year? Or do you have a tried and tested studio setup?
I’m a huge Undertone Audio fan. Eric Valentine has become a great friend, and we designed my UTA 32 channel desk together. The sound is like nothing I’ve ever heard. This year we’ve been using his MPEQ-1 preamp on vocals, and it’s sounding great. We also did some blind tests on various external clocks and found that the Grimm CC1 added depth and clarity to everything we track. Ableton Live 10 has some great new improvements and we continue to track everything into ProTools 12, which remains the centrepiece of our recording setup. I bought a Mellotron M4000D which I love - it’s very inspiring to have such great sounds there on tap. And I’ve just bought two of the Yamaha Reface keyboards for travelling - the CS80 and the YC Organ... great fun!
What’s been your favourite album and single release of 2018?
My favourite album of 2018 is Little Dark Age - MGMT, I love the quirkiness of their songwriting and their choice of sounds and structure/arrangement. This feels like their best album since Oracular Spectacular. My favourite single is Leave A Light On by Tom Walker - I love the way that Tom and Steve Mac have crafted a perfect pop song using classic and super modern influences. It’s a great blend of old and new.
What are you working on at the moment? Anything you can tell us about?
We’re working on the Dave album at the minute - it’s our sole focus.