A Lively Mind is Paul Oakenfold’s second artist album and his second for Perfecto Records. Of course, every single one of his mix albums and projects have involved a high level of artistry, so perhaps a little explanation is in order…
Paul Oakenfold has long been one of the most important—if not the most important—name in modern club culture. People who don’t know that much about DJ culture or the music itself are familiar with Oakenfold’s name and what he represents. Of course, many people who think they’re unfamiliar with Oakenfold’s music actually may have heard it often, thanks to appearances globally on the radio and TV featured in commercials supporting mega brands such as Coca-Cola ,Toyota, Motorola and Saab – all of which ran throughout 2005, not to mention his contributions to hit films such as Swordfish (which Oakenfold scored), The Matrix Reloaded and Michael Man’s Collateral, and who hasn’t heard the Big Brother theme tune – which he wrote. In fact, when the superstar DJ sold out the Hollywood Bowl a couple of years ago, many pundits viewed the events as definitive proof that dance culture had finally arrived in America—a force as powerful as any other in modern pop music.
Still, when he works as a DJ and/or as a remixer and releases mix CDs, it’s not a total expression of this Grammy nominated artist’s musical creativity. Thus, A Lively Mind features 12 new songs composed and created by Paul Oakenfold. A work of love and passion, it’s been three years in the making. Bunkka, his debut artist album featuring the hits “Ready, Steady, Go” and “Starry Eyed Surprise,” was released in 2002, sold over a million copies worldwide and went Gold.
“I’m an infant in the ‘artist’ world, weaned and ready to blossom,” jokes the composer. “I still primarily believe that songs are the way to move forward in my musical world, which has always been very instrumentally-based. So coming up with great songs takes time. And, naturally, I’d jump from making the record to working on cues for films or doing a couple of remixes and then I’d get inspired and jump back into it. Some of the tracks have been reworked many times over to find a comfortable arena for me.”
“Plus, even though there are 12 tracks on the CD, I’ve recorded quite a few more. It wasn’t a process of seeing what I could come up with and that’s what’s ended up on the album. There was a lot of tooing and froing until I was happy with the record”.
By his own admission, however, Oakenfold is not a singer. Bunkka featured such guest vocalists as Perry Farrell, Ice Cube, Tricky, Nelly Furtado, and—in what would turn out to be his final recorded appearance—Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. A Lively Mind continues the tradition of employing unique vocalists. “Faster Kill Pussycat,” the kickoff track and first single, is perhaps the most unique and somewhat shocking of the album when it comes to guest singers.
The song—which started life as a rock tune and was co written by Kelly Dayton of Sneaker Pimps –but now might best be described as reminiscent of a young Madonna at her very best—features the astounding singing talents of… Brittany Murphy. Yes, that Brittany Murphy…Eminem’s girlfriend in 8 Mile. The femme fatale in Sin City. The actress-turned-diva was recommended to Oakenfold by a mutual friend — Oakenfold claims, by the way, to be totally unfamiliar with Russ Meyer’s cult classic film, Faster, Pussycat, Kill Kill.
“I was looking for a different genre and a different feel and something just original for me,” explains Oakenfold. “I knew I wanted a girl vocalist but also someone who’s not known as a singer. It had to be someone from a completely different world than mine. It ultimately seemed that film was the right place to look because I was venturing more and more into that world. But even more importantly, I needed someone who could sing—who could really, really sing—and Brittany Murphy fit the bill.”
The world of film—or at least of Hollywood—influenced another of the album’s stand out tracks, this one featuring vocals by modern hip-hop great Pharrell Williams. Inspired by the four years the London-Raised Oakenfold has called L.A. “home,” the track is titled “Sex ‘N Money.”
“It was actually an idea I came up for my last record that didn’t make it because it was to hip-hop back then and I already had enough hip-hop songs on that album,” says the writer. “So I shelved it and then later came across it while hunting for some old stuff. I liked the lyrical connotations of sex and money, thinking if anything, it’s more relevant to today.
“It’s a song about how soulless the Hollywood party scene can be. I’ve been in situations where people are introduced to me and then they spot a celebrity, standing nearby, and they disappear, literally mid sentence. So the track is really Hollywood in a nutshell for me—it’s all sex and money. We deconstructed our original track and rewrote it for Pharrell, in a way that’s melodic and hypnotic and just keeps coming back at you in waves.”
Other vocalists include two artists signed to Oakenfold’s long-running Perfecto custom label—Spitfire (who performs on “No Compromise” and “Feed Your Mind”) and Ashley of the rock band Bad Apples (who adds his vocal talents to “Vulnerable”). And then there’s one who can only be described as a true living legend. Grandmaster Flash, the man who gave birth to the whole hip-hop movement in the early ’80s with his classic “The Message,” joins Oakenfold on “Set It Off.”
“Flash and I have long talked about making a track together he’s the godfather! So it was truly an honor to work with him. I don’t think there’s another DJ I would actually make a record with but I really liked the idea of the guy who arguably started the whole DJ thing being on my record. And I liked the idea of our worlds colliding and our sounds clashing. That’s why the track is a little more electronic than some of the others. It’s a perfect blend of both our elements.”
A perfect blend could also be the perfect phrase to describe the cohesiveness of A Lively Mind – a title which means “an active person,” says its creator. Balance was the key on this one, and the artist believes that this album may strike with a larger audience than Bunkka, an album that tended to alienate a small portion of his large audience.
“What I set out to do on my last record was probably one step ahead of the game,” he says in retrospect. “The dance world or electronic world was expecting more of a DJ record and I wanted to make a record that was more out there. Direction is hugely important to me—to have a balance. And I felt like maybe I’d lost a bit of balance on Bunkka. So this record is a lot more up-tempo, a lot more focused, and a lot more comfortable in the electronic world than the last record was and yet it still has a variety of flavors.”
In fact, some of the titles and themes on the album have a direct correlation to that electronic and dance world, both lyrically and title-wise. “Save The Last Trance For Me” is, of course, a play on words from the Drifters’ classic “Save The Last Dance For Me.” His critics get their comeuppance in “No Compromise.” And the instrumental “Amsterdam” pays tribute to a city that plays host to the biggest dance scene in Europe.
Of course, on some levels, it seems almost absurd to think of Paul Oakenfold needing to get “more comfortable” in anything involving the electronic world. After all, the guy helped invent that world. His mark can be seen and heard in everything from the early rise of hip-hop to the birth of the “Madchester” scene.
Oakenfold’s career began in London, when he began DJing in small clubs around the West End. His rising reputation led to a job as an A&R rep at the UK-based Champion label, where his first signing was Will Smith (still part of Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince). His second? Salt N’ Peppa. Not bad for a novice record exec. After stints at Profile and Def Jam (where he perfected the talent scouting skills that would eventually lead him to start his own Perfecto label in 1991), he returned to DJing.
Oakenfold changed European youth culture throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s. He was one of the first DJ’s to have a residency on the Island of Ibiza, leading to both a new sound and a yearly festival. He also started regular “Balearic” club nights in London, attracting a crossover audience and remixed legendary bands such as The Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays (whose Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches album was produced by Oakenfold and his production partner Steve Osborne, becoming the biggest album of the band’s career).
His pivotal role in the Manchester scene was Oakenfold’s visa into the rock world. Over the next several years, he, along with Osborne, remixed tracks by legendary bands New Order, The Cure and Massive Attack. In 1991, he first worked with U2 remixing “Even Better Than the Real Thing” and “Mysterious Ways” from their Achtung Baby album. It was the start of a long partnership with that band. He was the DJ on their historic ZOO TV tour and later remixed the band’s “Beautiful Day,” a number one hit for U2 on the U.S. and U.K. dance charts.
Over the years, he’s remixed tracks for everyone from Madonna to Elvis Presley to Justin Timberlake to Moby to Snoop Doggy Dog. He’s the first electronic artist ever to be in the Guinness Book of World Records—for being the biggest DJ in the world. He’s the only DJ to have a display case in the Hard Rock Cafe’s Rock & Roll Museum. 2003 saw Paul embark on the Heineken Music Thirst tour – a global talent search combined with an incredible show, which Paul’s co-created with Heineken and enabled his DJ set to take on a unique live element – in 2003 to 2005 over two thousand five hundred DJ’s from 35 countries competed with 60 DJ’s being crowned by the judging panel in their country. 2003 also saw Paul perform a concert on the Great Wall of China. That same year, not only was he honored with the UK’s “Pioneer of Dance Music” award, which was presented by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the “Pioneers of the Nation” celebration,” shortly after Oakenfold had played the Nelson Mandela-organized South African AIDS benefit concert alongside Bono, Peter Gabriel and Beyonce Knowles. Oakenfold’s mix compilation Another World (Perfecto) sold over 500,000 in the U.S. alone making it the biggest selling DJ compilation. He’s also one helluva cook, having graduated from culinary school before beginning his journey in the music world.
Now comes A Lively Mind, a totally new and fresh venture and perspective, musically speaking, for the artist. The album is just the beginning of an amazing 2006 that will find Oakenfold working on the scores of at least three new films—as well as remixing a number of singles including Madonna’s new record Confessions of a Dance Floor and a track from the legendary Burning Spear. At the same time, the Perfecto label is releasing debut albums by the aforementioned Spitfire (who Oakenfold compares to a young Anthony Kiedis) and the London-by-way-of-Los Angeles Bad Apples. Then there’s the U.S. and European tour that will follow the new album’s release.
So 2006 sees Oakenfold continue with the hectic schedule he never preserves as work – he comments, “I never thought I’d see the world through a box of records and I’m still loving every minute!”
The first single Fast Kill Pussycat will be launched in March 2006 with the album A Lively Mind out April 2006; both will be released on Perfecto Records.