We sat down with Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan and talked about their song with rising hip-hop star Yelawolf, their collaboration with Motown backing band the Funk Brothers and soul legend Martha Reeves, and their thoughts on electronic music's recent surge in popularity.
How did you guys link up with Martha Reeves?
Jordan: They're making a film called 'Re:Generation' with the Grammys, and there's five electronic artists that are working with five legends in different genres of music. We got R&B and Soul, and we got to go to Detroit and meet Martha Reeves. She took us around town. She used to be a city council person, just recently. We recorded all day with some of the legendary Motown musicians [Funk Brothers], then Martha sang the track. We had been working on the track for a while in our studio in L.A., and we're really excited about it.
What was collaborating with her like?
Kirkland: She's a really special woman. She has more energy than a lot of people I know, including myself. She's so full of life. And she's such a great person to talk about the history of Motown and the city. Just her story alone, how she was discovered and went down to Hitsville [Motown's first HQ], and all the things that happened after that. It's a really great backstory, to tell where she came form, and all the different artists that she's worked with, and the songwriters an people she's met. In one story she tells us how she opened up for Redd Foxx at the Hilton in one room, Elvis was playing in the other room. She was there the first day Stevie Wonder came in to Hitsville. The stories that she's able to tell just really helped spring the whole project forward, and gave us a lot of inspiration for what we do.
How did you prepare a track for her to sing on?
Jordan: Well, we didn't want to copy the Motown sound or anything. We wanted it to sound like a Crystal Method track but also add some elements of R&B and soul, which we kind of do anyway, and give her a track that she can sing over well. There are some elements of Motown in the track, but it definitely sounds like a Crystal Method track. She loved it. She thought it was really funky, and could sing well over it.
You guys have worked with lots of rockers and rappers in the past. How is it different working with an old soul legend?
Kirkland: It's not really too different. We've been very fortunate to work with some amazing people, and you find that the ones that are successful and the ones that had longevity are the ones that know what they like, want to protect their brand and don't want to get too far off from where they were. We wanted her to sing where she was comfortable and we want Tom Morello to throw down his guitar parts and not sound like a sample. She really was awesome. You wouldn't know that someone who has been in the industry for 40 years and has had the hits that she has, and the longevity that she has -- you don't know if there's going to be a diva-esque element to the working environment or the relationship. There wasn't anything. We had a great day. She showed us around the town. We ended that day having oysters and Guinness at a local oyster bar where the head manager came out of the back and said, "Martha, I don't know if you remember me, but I played keyboard with you back in 1987 or '92 or whatever it was." It was quite a treat. Everywhere we went there was someone who recognized her and appreciated her. She's very gracious. She loves being an ambassador for the city and she loves being an ambassador for Motown, the whole soul and R&B genre. It was the perfect fit for us.
What was the role of the Funk Brothers in this?
Kirkland: Well, there are very few of the original Funk Brothers that are still with us, unfortunately. We had Ernie Wells, who played some horns for us, Denis Coffey who released a lot of really influential heavy guitar, wah wah tracks, 'Scorpio' and a lot of others back in the day. We had a great bass player whose nickname was Peanut. Darryl Smith, who completely understood what were we doing, great drummer. It was just a great project to work on. The fact that we were able to create something that everybody could play on and feel comfortable on and move forward creatively, we're proud of it. I think everyone is going to be blown away when they hear it.
The Funk Brothers are known for using non-traditional instruments, like having tire irons for 'Dancing in the Streets.' Did you record with anything weird?
Kirkland: We worked in the studio that was around in the '70s and all the places that a lot of tracks were recorded, like Hitsville, are no longer there. Watching that documentary 'Standing in the Shadows of Motown,' you see how it would have been incredibly special to go back to that environment, where there was a dirt hardwood floor and the big room with instruments everywhere. They had something so special back then: The creativity flowing on a daily basis, and the artists that were going through the Motown scene, and through that, the soul, R&B and funk of those days. We've been diving into it. We've always had an appreciation for funk and R&B and soul, but this project has helped us get a lot closer to it. It's been a lot of fun to us.
What about the new stuff you've been working on? Has it been more influenced by soul and funk as a consequence?
Jordan: Well, I think those will always remain influences for us, as well as rock and hip-hop, and all our electronic heroes. We were working on that. That's going to come out a little bit later. We have a new single, 'Play for Real,' and we have a video.
Kirkland: This track, 'Play for Real' we did a while back with this band Heavy. The timing of these two projects is kind of perfect, because this track has a lot of the same influences that we brought to Martha Reeves' record. The 'Play for Real' track's really soulful falsetto, soulful, vocals and horns.
Jordan: There's a few remixes of that. We did a track with Yelawolf ['Make Some Noise (Put 'Em Up)'. He delivers really intense vocals that a lot of people will be surprised to hear. We've been busy this year. We've got a lot of things going on.
You guys have been involved in electronic music for so long. How have things changed? What do you think of electronic music now?
Jordan: Well, it's really strong now. Even though there are a couple of issues with different events overall, those Electric Daisy Carnivals are enormously successful, all those events are really big. They did their first one in Vegas and it was totally sold out. 300,000 people or something crazy like that. I think it's in a really good state right now. This Identity festival will really help get electronic music out, get the festivals out to places that don't really get it.
It's crazy how huge it's become.
Kirkland: Yeah, it's funny, you know? Back when we released 'Vegas' and Prodigy was on the cover of Rolling Stone and there was a lot of hype in Time and Newsweek about "the next big thing," a lot of people asked us what we thought about that. Even at the time we could see that there was no way it was going to be the next rap or something of that nature, but we always said it was going to continue to influence music and just become part of the culture. In a way, that's what's happened. You have bands using a lot of electronic elements. You heard it for years, with stuff like Timbaland's production. There's a lot of sounds that were definitely influenced by electronic music, and now it's permeated the entire landscape of pop culture and people's lives, where they can listen to rap, hip-hop and the more popular music, but also have a great appreciation for electronic music and dance.