In the early 1990's, the music scene was marked by the dominance of New Jack Swing and hip-hop music. A group from the United Kingdom had supplanted their influence on the industry since 1984, but they were on the verge of creating an album for the ages. Their fourth album placed them in esteemed company. Sade’s Love Deluxe would be the only album the collective would record during the decade of the 1990s. They became known for their distinctive, hypnotic sound that mesmerized even the most casual listener. This week marks the 20th anniversary of the album’s release. Love Deluxe went on to sell more than four million copies in the US and achieved platinum status in four countries.
EBONY recently sat down with musical director and band member Stuart Matthewman to discuss the intricacies behind making a classic album twenty years later.
EBONY: This was the fourth album that you were constructing as a group. What were you trying to do different from the other albums or did you want to keep the same formula?
Stuart Matthewman: We have a very diverse taste in music. We like reggae, R&B, jazz and all different kinds of music. We’ve never sat down and tried to copy anything. We’ve never done jazz per se, we’ve never done R&B and we’ve never done pop sounding records. We kind of have our own vibe. When we’re in the studio, we never sit down and say, ‘OK. We need to do a mid-tempo R&B type of song.’ We just write whatever we feel like at the time and hopefully it becomes an album. We don’t have any rules. We have a sound that only the four of us make. Part of the sound is not overplaying; it’s sort of minimalistic. There aren’t a bunch of big fancy solos or big chord changes. We like to keep things simple so it resonates.
So when we went into the studio to write Love Deluxe, it wasn’t any different from the other records. It was just the way we were feeling at the time. There wasn’t a plan to do that. On Love Deluxe, we only had nine songs including an instrumental. It wasn’t because we had fifteen songs and we chose nine; it was because those are the ones we managed to finish before the deadline. If we only have nine songs on the album, normally it means we only have nine songs. However long we have, at the end of the album it’s always going to be a marathon of trying to finish the songs and mixing them and doing overdubs. We always do those at the last minute. We always lose a few assistant engineers due to the amount of stress and lack of sleep.
EBONY: What was the process like in making some of the songs that were released from the album?
SM: With “No Ordinary Love,” I had a whole backing track that I recorded and she sang on top of it, then Andrew added his flavor to it. It’s always a different process. On this album, for some reason, there were a lot of good, happy accidents that happened. When we recorded “Cherish the Day,” we had the backing track and Sade sung some vocals on it. I wanted to do some guitar parts and I didn’t know what I wanted to add. I kind of just played along and normally you’ll find something and then you can cut and paste ideas. So I plugged in my guitar and started playing a few notes to see if the engineer was getting my guitar into the tape machine. I was literally playing anything so he could get a level on my guitar. I hit a few notes high up on the guitar. I said, ‘OK, I’m ready to try something.’ And Sade said, ‘No, that was it.’ I said, ‘What do you mean that was it?’ She said, ‘What you were playing was great.’ I said, ‘I wasn’t playing anything I was getting a level for the engineer.’ She said to the engineer, ‘Play it back.’ And it sounded great. It kind of just happened. “Kiss of Life” came about from the band playing altogether. We had a little vibe going in the studio and it was a nice band collaboration.
EBONY: Can you take me into the studio atmosphere that existed when the band was working on this album?
SM: We’re really organic in the studio. We don’t follow any rules. On that album in particular, we didn’t use any live drums. It was all programmed. We normally add percussion by getting someone to play percussion to make it sound more live, but it was all done with programming in the studio. We were using Cubase at that time. Sade would record her lead vocals in a separate vocal booth with a really amazing sound microphone. Sade often likes to be in the control room holding a regular 57 inch microphone that you use for live gigs. She’ll hold that and she would sit at a desk and sing from there, which is normally a nightmare for other engineers because you get the bleeding of the song from the speakers coming into the microphone. We would work around that. Many of the early takes that she did while she was writing a song we ended up using those for the album. We have our guy, Mike Pela, who is our engineer and co-producer. He is like the fifth Beatle. He is there all the time. We can be very volatile. Sade and I can be arguing or hysterically laughing and Mike is the anchor. He is always calm. He is always making notes. He has amazing patience. No other engineer could put up with our ridiculousness in the studio.
EBONY: Why do you think this record is considered a classic after twenty years?
SM: I think one of the reasons we’ve been successful at what we do is that we’re all decent musicians, but we’re not great musicians. I think we all play really well together. We all individually have a really good sound. Paul has the most amazing bass sound and he plays very simply. Sade has the most amazing voice on the planet. She has such depth to her voice. It’s just her vocal chords. She has a deep voice naturally, but she has a lot of resonance in her voice that most singers don’t have. She doesn’t do all of the R&B riffing. She didn’t start singing in the church. She wasn’t a session singer. She does her own thing. Technically, she’s not the most amazing singer, but she has the most amazing voice. Andrew comes up with the tastiest chords and lines. He’s not the most amazing jazz player, but he fits just right with us. The same thing with me I get a nice sound on the sax or guitar, but I’m not an amazing player. But it’s because of that there aren’t any egos with showing off technique. It’s just about sounding good together, which is kind of unusual in the jazz and R&B world. Everyone wants to show off their chops so it’s kind of unusual. If we had been twenty percent better, it would’ve been horrible. It would’ve been everything we don’t like about smooth jazz. Obviously, it’s amazing the respect we’ve gotten from the smooth jazz community, but it’s not really what we do.
Chris Williams is an internationally published writer. You can follow him on Twitter @CWmsWrites.