It is no exaggeration to say that Nightmares on Wax’s work is synonymous with a place in time. It is a place individual to those who have savoured his popular brand of sun-drenched dubbed out soul, where fragments of hazy memories, halcyon days and past snapshots encapsulate a generation’s sofa sojourning.
For George Eveyln, the man behind Nightmares on Wax, did indeed create some defining moments in the 90’s. Firstly there was his involvement in writing two of the U.K.’s early rave classics Dexterous and Aftermath (with then writing partner Kevin Harper from the Nightmares A Word of Science album). George then went alone and in ’95 bought us Smoker’s Delight, a downbeat opus and the archetype 90’s stoner album (not surprisingly, he was a one time high judge of the Cannibus Cup in Amsterdam). The effect of Smokers Delight was palpable as it is considered one of the main catalysts in the explosion of the chill out / down tempo genre today.
Quincy Jones has had such a massive influence on my life. I’d obviously been a fan, listening to his music and other projects he’s been involved in without knowing him for quite a time through my teenage years. But in either ‘87 or ‘88, I came across his instrumental adaptation of “Summer in the City,” and even though I knew Quincy’s music, that caught my ear and just made me want to dig even deeper.
In my early teens when I was digging for old music, for cuts and scratches to DJ with, Quincy opened up my world to all this other music: James Brown, Kool and the Gang, Curtis Mayfield. All of that started from hearing samples from hip-hop records and needing to find out where they were coming from. I was chasing this musical trail through sampling, and it just blew my horizons wide open about all this older music.
When I got into sampling, I literally was 17 or something. I had a Casio keyboard that had a 1.6 second sample time on it. So what that meant was, anything that I wanted to sample and loop up, I’d have to play the record at full speed to try and capture that one or two bars in that 1.6 second sampling time and then play it lower down the scale on the keyboard to slow it back down. With “Summer in the City,” I could never get the full two bars. I even tried to do it by just spinning the record by hand. I used to keep the record on the shelf above my turntables, and it was there all the time, and I said, “One day when I can afford to get a sampler, I’m going to sample this record.” I had found this amazing loop, but I couldn’t touch it, I’d have to wait. It wasn’t until 1990, when I made a little bit of money from my first record, that I could manage to buy an Akai S-950 sampler, which could add minutes.
At the same time, I got the opportunity to write my first album with Warp Records. We got the album deal when we were 19, which was ‘89. I got the sampler in 1990, and then it was like, “Well, what are we going to do?” My musical partner, Kevin Harper, and I said, “Let’s just make everything that’s ever influenced us, let’s experiment.” That’s why the album is called, A Word of Science: The First and Final Chapter. And the first thing that I went to: “Summer in the City.” I knew I had to make a tune out of it. So those chopped up parts became our song “Nights Interlude.” And anybody that knows the Nightmares on Wax story knows that over the next couple of albums, we did different renditions of that, and then finally did it with a full string orchestra.
I remember watching the Netflix doc, Quincy; I laughed and I cried. I think it’s like with any craft, when you live your craft to the fullest you have to make sacrifices, and to the outside world everything looks amazing. I don’t think that you can put your whole heart into something without making some form of sacrifice. I think that’s kind of the story of the human spirit. I look at the sacrifices, and I do wonder, Would I do that? Would I made that kind of sacrifice? I have definitely made sacrifices to do what I do. I know that I’ve taken myself out certain social equations to do what I do. It would be great to be out there having a laugh and partying all the time, but that’s not how I’m going to get forward. That’s not how I’m going to evolve in my music. You could see in Quincy’s story that his life was just this. I admire it, but I also pick up on a sadness in it as well.
As a creative, you go into some weird psychological zones with yourself because you’re constantly questioning everything. And though I do find inspiration, sometimes you can question things to a point where you get lost as well. That makes me look at people like Quincy and think, Wow, what headspace have you been in? To the point you’re so inspired, and all you want to do is make this music, but there’s life going on then as well.
One of the reasons why he’s my mentor is the fact that it didn’t matter what was going on around him. He knew what he was into and that meant he was going to stick to his guns, even if it meant he had to go play in an underground club. I think that for any up-and-coming producers, you don’t need to be in the forefront all the time, and you don’t need to be competing to be there either. The most valuable place is the investment in yourself and in your craft. That’s where a lot of my inspiration has come from through Quincy. He taught me to invest in my craft more than anything. It’s never too late to learn something new. If anything, that’s what these last couple of years that we’ve been locked down and stuff have taught me. All I’ve been doing is just learning, not just new ways of writing music, but new pieces of equipment, even picking up a guitar. It’s never too late to learn something new.
Take Thriller, which Quincy produced. I felt so privileged to be young and to experience that kind of excitement about a record coming out. It was a global phenomenon. When I listen to that album I immediately think: What was it like in the studio? Like, not only are you writing this album, you’re setting the precedent of what this album is going to be. You have one of the most talented singers young at the time as well at your disposal, and you’ve decided that sonically we’re going to change the face of music.
Obviously I’m coming from a place of my production knowledge of making music, but it’s not just that it was a massive feat, it’s what was achieved out of it. When you leave the studio after each day, how the fuck are you going to sleep and just turn it off? I think this is important to get the back story behind the creative process, the intention and approach to making the album. And then to see what was achieved. The fact it was a phenomenon, the fact that it was flawless. I don’t know how you come down from that.
The way Quincy shifted the paradigm of music into something that was his intention in the first place on such a high level. It’s like there are many lifetimes in his car log. Many lifetimes. Even if you were to count, one decade is a lifetime. The amount of music in there is mind blowing. And it’s not only the quantity, but the depth and the level… it’s some superhero shit.
Everything about his journey not only inspires me, but also makes me feel I’ve got so much to do. It’s not about what you achieve, it’s about what you create. This is what’s really, really special about a mentor — a mentor doesn’t tell you what to do. A mentor inspires you to do things.
As told to Keenan Kush.
Shout Out! To Freedom… by Nightmares on Wax was released on October 29, 2021 on Warp Records.
(Photo Credit: Viktor Sloth)