âbilly12â is the name typed at the bottom of William Orbit’s Zoom square as it appears onscreen from his home in London, England. It’s a modest way for Orbit, who is practically a mythical figure in music, to refer to himself.
The longtime producer and artist has materialized time and time again since the late ’70s. Along the way, he won three Grammy Awards for his work on Madonna’s “Ray of Light,” for Best Pop Vocal Album, best dance recording and best song written for visual media. He has produced albums for Blur and Robbie Williams and songs for U2, Britney Spears and Pink.
The biography section of her site reads like a collection of memoirs from a few different lives, each more engaging and fascinating than the next. Another section of the site features over 100 vignettes of light abstract paintings made by Orbit over a three-year period.
He has since given up his brush and returned to the recording studio to put himself at the forefront of a four-track EP, all just released “Starbeam”, mastered in Dolby Atmos and released on the highly respected independent dance label. , Anjunadeep. The EP was preceded by the single “Starbeam”, released on November 19th. This is Orbit’s first artist release in seven years, and he’s more than ready to talk about it, along with many other aspects of the music and industry, along with Variety.
Has the pandemic been a time of rest and healing for you as it has been for many creative people?
I do that anyway. I call it a happy organized coincidence. There is a tremendous amount of serendipity in what you are doing, but you have to keep it. You owe A&R your own lucky moves. I have always walked down the rabbit hole. For years, I completely disappeared, didn’t do anything sociable, and came back to the other side.
Has the pandemic had an impact on the creation of your âStarbeamâ EP?
My state of mind was not in the right space during the pandemic. It got bad. I’m pretty old, 65, but it’s never too late to have a pivot in your life. Change things up for the better and stay with the new. It all happened at the same time, but it all went well – I’m still here.
Is this change reflected on the EP?
It might be. I am not the person to ask. Musicians, in general, have a hard time explaining what we did musically. We all love that scream when the bass drops, but when it comes to talking about intrinsic music, we’re stumped.
As you get ready to release your EP, how do you find the current ground as a musical artist?
Three months ago, when I realized that my projects were done, I thought to myself: âGreat, I just have to put it on the Internet and everyone will come. But it’s so complicated. It’s worse than before. The algorithms, the game of the system. It’s been so long since I’ve been an artist with a record to release, I have no idea. But I can do it. It’s part of the job of a professional artist, rather than a producer in the background.
How have the changes in the music landscape over the past 25 years affected you as a producer?
Occasionally, I have tried to sound like a particular sound from a particular period, but I can’t. It’s not like I didn’t do it on purpose, I just failed the first day. I start to do different things and move away from the plot. I bless this now because everything I have done has no timestamp.
Have you had any experience of sessions with songwriters groups in a venue working on pop songs?
No thanks. I couldn’t take it all. It would kill me. It would put me off to such an extent that I couldn’t even look in my studio without feeling sick. I did and I lost all confidence in myself. Some people adapt to it. I didn’t like it at all. This is what I don’t do. Forget 18 writers; I prefer to go to a room with 18 speakers and Dolby Atmos.
But, at the same time, you are a very collaborative person.
Music is collaborative. In the late 60s and early 70s, singer-songwriters became essential: Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell. Before that, it was Tin Pan Alley. Teams of people, grafting. You would have 10 songs from a team and you would take your favorite three. Your third favorite would be the verse or middle eight, the second favorite would be the verse, and your favorite would be the chorus. Add it to a great song, and there’d be quite a few names on it. It was very collaborative. But musicians can make an album for less than Â£ 300. Any other form of art, apart from writing, you need to raise finances. We are autonomous in this regard, but it is collaborative.
How does this contrast with the time when Madonna created “Ray of Light”, which gave her so much credibility and brought her to a new level of respect, especially at this point in her career, when his time as a pop star could have been running outside.
We were both 40 years old at the time. She had done “Evita”, which had toned her voice. She went through very rigorous training with Andrew Lloyd Webber. It was extraordinary because âRay of Lightâ was a very intimate album. There was no one in the room. We were tucked away in a studio in Burbank, and that was it. No one from the label had heard it. I don’t know if you could get by now.
What do you think about the fact that the pop charts are filled with women?
It is in accordance with what I feel. I prefer to work with female voices. I remember working with singers and how frustrated they were because they had to do everything by guys. They felt totally locked up because it’s that kind of passive-aggressive guy thing that does all the activation of the sounds, âI’m singing and this guy is the one showing up on the tape. Now you don’t need someone to test your ideas. Logic, Ableton, ProTools, whatever. They can do their business the way they want without intermediaries.
What advice do you have for new artists?
No one realizes that the very factor of youth is so alluring. I remember the first time, everything was so easy. It was partly the youth. You have to be aware that the second time, the third time, it’s much more difficult to come back. Expect to work very hard. Find out what you’re really good at and work your bullshit. Don’t try to do things you’re not good at or don’t like. People can persuade artists to do things that later cause them to look back and think, âI never should have done that. The artistic frustration is very corrosive. Pay attention to your delicate sensitivity. Feed yourself. Don’t engage in tons of debt or obligations.
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