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Dec 13, 2021

Behind The Album: James Hurr On 'Leyenda'

Today James Hurr joins us for an inside look at 'Leyenda.' The album marks another landmark chapter in the career of the illustrious producer, and is a stunning example of what can happen when the worlds of electronic music meet classical. Read on for an inside look at his work together with internationally renowned concert pianists Worbey & Farrell, their inspiring drive to push the envelope of what’s possible with collaboration, and learn more about the studio work behind the fantastic nine track album.
James, thanks so much for joining us to celebrate your new album! It’s quite an exciting project and a bit of an unexpected combination. Take us back a bit to start – when did you first meet or hear Worbey & Farrell and what was your impression?
We met in an artists’ bar at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe, while Worbey & Farrell were performing their five-star show ‘Concerto without Orchestra.’ We instantly clicked over our love of music and after many pints, I knew we were going to see a lot more of each other in the coming years.
How did you progress from that moment to coming to work together to reinvent a classic with your collaborative “Leyenda” single?
We got on like a house on fire and started hanging out loads. I would often join the guys on tour in different countries and we would work on new ideas, such as an electronic dance version of the Stedman Caters bell ringing method and a deep house reimagining of Widor’s "Toccata."
With every collaboration we wanted to push the envelope even further, so when Worbey & Farrell started playing a classical piece in their show which involved applying pressure to the piano strings to create a plucked guitar sound, I was blown away by the innovation and we began discussing plans to record Albeniz’s "Leyenda."
What was it like working together on that single and when did the idea to produce an album come into play? 
Working on "Leyenda" was lots of fun as I’ll detail later on. Collaborating with such accomplished classical musicians as Worbey & Farrell was a massive departure from the usual loops and samples of the DJ world I’m normally immersed in. It required a totally different way of thinking.
We had already been writing soundtrack music together during the whole 2020 debacle, so when "Leyenda" was complete we decided to use this as the centrepiece of an album using a collection of our collaborative works.
How did you approach creating a flow with the music on the album? What do you feel is the unifying theme musically for the tracks included?
Minimalism is a big component of the album, it’s the point where our musical tastes truly cross over. The styles range from Scandi Noir to 80s Vangelis inspired electronica, but the pieces all tie in with a soundtrack vibe, so there were many similarities between the pieces.
Can you pick out two tracks from the album and tell us about the production process that went into them? How did you go from the idea/sketch to the final version for these tracks?
Working on the "Leyenda" single was so much fun as it took us on location to capture a live performance, then back into the studio for the production. First off I recorded Worbey & Farrell performing their arrangement on a midi keyboard in the studio so I could sketch out a rough backing track and establish the tempo and groove section. Once the initial demo was in place, we went to Iain Gordon’s Steinway piano workshop and mic’d up a Steinway Model B Grand to record the guys playing "Leyenda" to a click track. My preference was to record as much detail of the piano as possible with a couple of piano mics in XY position and a Neumann u87 Vintage as I wanted to hear every noise this beautiful instrument made. We also had filmmaker Marc De Groot document the making of the track.
After recording we went back to the studio to start production. I quantized, edited and processed the piano recordings, applying things like Waves Maserati GTi to give the piano a real punch and panning the two XY mics. I also used Valhalla Vintage Verb and a quirky plugin called PaulStretch, which slows down an audio signal by 1000% to create an eerie reverb bed which I laid under the piano in the breakdown.
Another interesting piece is "Metamorphosis." For me this was the most musically complex track to work on as it involves several very similar guitar parts constantly overlapping. I used the talented guitarist Jason Elvin to record each part separately, which took a whole day as some of the parts were very fast and intricate. The real challenge was editing every guitar audio stem then amping, eq’ing and panning each one with a unique fx chain to give each part its own place in the mix.
Is there any song that is especially meaningful to you or one that you are particularly proud of? 
The three of us have all got personal favourites, but mine has to be the final piece, "Daedalus." It was the first piece we put together in the madness of 2020 and it’s also part of a concerto that the three of us started working on in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean whilst on a cruise ship to New York. It was an experiment that sparked the start of this project and there were genuine tears of happiness the day we made it. I'll never forget that moment.
Can you compare and contrast working with Worbey & Farrell to working with purely electronic music producers? What was the biggest thing you learned as part of your work with Worbey & Farrell that you maybe haven’t experienced otherwise?
The beauty of working with such accomplished musicians is that they can do everything in one take. I’m used to working on music in small sections at a time which can take hours for just 4 bars, then when you’ve got one section perfect you move onto the next, so it was unusual to work with musicians who could deliver the whole song in one performance perfectly every time. My mind was blown by the ability of these guys to deliver a complex piece so fluidly and professionally, I guess that’s what happens when you’ve spent your entire life performing in front of huge crowds.
Earlier this year you were a big part of the work on Mark Knight’s debut album. How would you compare the workflow on that album to this one?
Working on Mark Knight’s album was a very different approach to working with Worbey & Farrell. With Mark, we were both in the room for everything from start to finish, from the initial ideas and songwriting to the recording and mixing. Recording Beverly Knight and the London Community Gospel Choir was definitely the highlight.
For Leyenda we did about half of it remotely, bouncing ideas and midi files back and forth, partly due to Worbey & Farrell living in Edinburgh. The great thing about working with the guys is that we have such different backgrounds in music. They’re able to write very complex classical musical pieces at lightning speed, it’s second nature to them and a level far beyond me, but in the same way I can produce and arrange complex pieces pretty quickly, so we’re a great match of skills.
And as we look ahead to the winter months, what’s keeping you motivated and driven on a daily basis and are there any big dates circled on your calendar?
I’ve literally just come back from working with an incredible team at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Bath. It’s probably the best in the UK, if not the world, and it was an honour to be asked back. I also have a couple of Mark Knight & James Hurr records on the horizon, plus I recently remixed Mariah Carey’s latest track with Khalid and Kirk Franklin as well as working on tracks for Tiesto, ACRAZE and Alok. As for 2022, I’ll be hosting a writing camp in LA in February, so there’s tons going on!
James Hurr x Worbey & Farrell - ‘Leyenda’ is out now on your platform of choice. Download/Stream at https://linktr.ee/_Leyenda
Connect with James Hurr: Spotify | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
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