The Rurals, House Music From the English Countryside
An interview with the Rurals Andy Compton
BY J.C. Tripp
If fresh country air and deeply funky house music seem antithetical then you haven’t heard the Rurals. The Devon, England-based group, headed Andy Compton and vocalist Marie “Tweek”, have channeled their country life-style into a music that is as soothing and relaxing as a green meadow on a sunny day. It’s also a delight to dance to and the Rurals sound has long been a staple of deep house DJs and heads worldwide.
Since forming nearly 10 years ago the Rurals have consistently released recordings of the highest quality with a total of 7 full-lengths to date, including their latest “Messages”. In addition they run their in-house label, Peng, which has released all Rurals recordings as well as artists like Richard Gow and John Plays Special.The group began with Andy Compton and Pete Morris, borrowing their name from Andy’s club promotions outfit and first record label, “Rural Promotions”. After a few releases as Green Belt and Rainbow Garden on the Idea label (with Matt Cundy and Dean Westcott) the duo settled on the name the Rurals and began producing their distinctive brand of live house music.
It wasn’t until the summer of 1998 that the Rurals had a vocalist. The addition of Marie was fortuitous: a local record shop gave Andy’s number to Marie Tweek. She called him up, and The Rurals soon had a vocalist and ultimately she and Andy married. The additional of Marie’s vocals took the Rurals in a new, more soulful direction. Tweek brought with her a bass player, Pete “Gurner” Middleton, who has been on Peng releases since the label’s birth.
Other Rurals members include Charlie Hearnshaw, a saxophonist, who was in a band with Gurner and producer/mixer Bazil, one of southwest England’s most renowned DJs. Together the group form one happy family of house music and spend a lot of time together jamming, which is the foundation of their music.
Mundovibes caught up with Andy Compton via e-mail to discuss the Rural’s 10 years of delivering delicious deep house and modern soul.
Mundovibes: Firstly, congratulations on “A Rural Life”, your latest full-length. It’s a gorgeous recording and gives some hints of new directions for the Rurals. It is definitely more on the mellow side of things and shows some branching out into slower and more varied tempos.
Andy Compton: Well, our stuff has always been mellow! We sometimes team up with DJ Bazil, who programs solid dancefloor beats, but most of our stuff is for a more chilling environment. I think it’s important to have many different vibes on a cd; if it was all banging house I don’t think so many people would be feeling it — we’re trying to make timeless music that’ll cross over.
MV: The band’s name is interesting since so many people attribute house music to the city. You live in Devon, which is the English country-side. How does house music fit into a life in the country?
AC: Ha ha, I don’t think it does! The nearest decent house music nightclub is over 80 miles away and the scene in our local town Exeter is on a full-on hard house trip. So we have to travel to get a house rush. On the other side there’s nothing better than seeing the green fields of Devon and feeling the laid back tranquil vibes of the country after a hectic tour — home sweet home! it’s a great place to be writing music.
MV: Do you ever feel like you are missing out on the “pulse of the city” by living a rural life?
AC: For sure! I think if we lived in London we would have got somewhere a lot quicker. City folk don’t really take us seriously down here. It’s hard, but to be honest our priority in life is clean living. I want our kids to grow up in a loving more relaxed place, and I now know that family is more important than anything. We’re not asking for to much, as long as we can make a living out of our music we’re happy, a life of fame is not for us.
MV: What are some of the influences that have shaped the Rurals sound?
AC: Mainly soul/jazz and funk, musically it’s our major love! we try and fuse these styles into a more modern sounding music.
MV: The Rurals have been around since the early ’90s and seem stronger than ever. What do you attribute your longevity too?
AC: When I started to learn the guitar at 13 years old I knew this was going to be my course in life, i was obsessed with music. The reason we’re still here is because of pure hard work; we used to jam everyday, our mission was to write a song daily and not to go home until it was on DAT. All this practice made us what we are now. When I hooked up with Marie that took us to a different level as well. It was no longer just druggy deep house, we went in a soul direction, thus exposing us to a greater crowd.
MV: What were your first impressions of house music when you heard it?
AC: I first heard house music when i was at school, things like ‘pump up the volume’, I hated it all! i was into metal at the time so as you can imagine I wasn’t feeling it at all. It wasn’t until I got a job at hmv (in Exeter) when I was 17 that I started feeling dance music. Before I thought it was all really cheesey but when I heard the UK hardcore stuff it was like metal in dance and I was hooked. I slowly started to mellow out.
MV: You released music under Greenbelt and Rainbow Garden. What was this music like and what made you form the Rurals?
AC: I still release under the name “Greenbelt”, it’s more tracky off the wall stuff, it’s like a release of deep house tension — more sample based stuff. We would have been the Rurals before but some people thought the name was a bit dodgy!
MV: How does the Rurals music comes together — through jamming or improvisation? How has it changed or evolved over the years?
AC: It’s always been the same technique, jammin! we just love to jam! if we get a vibe we get it down on tape, if we don’t we just keep on jammin!
MV: The Rurals is very much an independent band, with its own label, Peng, that you run. What brought you to form Peng?
AC: We started peng so we could have full control over our A&R and music rights. You can’t really make a living releasing on other labels in a small scene like this, we got fed up of waiting for labels to get back to us, and had so much music to release.
MV: How important is it to have the control that Peng gives you over your music and its marketing?
AC: It’s very important, if things go wrong I’ve only got myself to blame. It means we’re always in contact with magazines and distributors/shops etc. so we can get direct feedback.
MV: Peng has grown into a sizable enterprise. How does having a band and running a label work?
AC: It’s hard work and I’d much rather be in the studio full time but, I also enjoy communicating with others in the scene. I have to try and manage my time well, otherwise I never make it into the studio!
MV: House music seems to thrive at the underground level but loses its soul when it goes major. What are your feelings on this?
AC: Perhaps majors only pick up things that are more cheesy and less soulful. Or maybe underground heads go off music when they hear it in every shop in town — there must be a middle ground.
MV: For a while there was a great buzz on deep, lush and jazzy house mainly with Naked music. Do you feel like you were over-looked and do you feel you are under-recognized now?
AC: The thing is with naked they came in with fantastic marketing and great music! They made the sound and sleeves a fashion accsesory. After naked music came around people always said we sounded very “naked” and we were always being compared to them. We never had the budget for massive artwork projects or even for full colour sleeves, we just wrote groovy music! I’m sure the naked buzz helped steer a few people towards our sound as well. Under recognized, yes perhaps.
MV: The Rurals sound is very warm and inviting. How much of this is because of the equipment you use, which sounds very analogue?
AC: There’s alot of air in our sound, plenty of old analogue gear and mainly real instruments; this is where our sound comes from.
MV: Your meeting vocalist Marie “Tweek” when the band was first formed was very fortuitous since her voice is a key element to the Rurals. How do you feel about her voice and how it compliments the music?
AC: Meeting Marie was a blessing! I’d been dreaming of meeting a vocalist that would fit in with our sound and push us in a new direction — my dreams came true! Marie is a fantastic natural untrained vocalist/lyricist. She sings with soul from within and does it with minimal effort. It was the icing on the cake for the rurals sound!
MV: The lyrical element to your music is very important. Much of their content is about relationships and personal issues. Who is responsible for the lyrics and how do they fit with the music?
AC: It’s totally marie’s department! I just get the music sorted out, then it’s over to her! She sings about all types of issues, things that have effected her, friends, the world etc.
MV: There’s a certain sweetness and mellowness to your sound. Where do you feel that vibe comes from?
AC: The sounds and vibe comes from deep inside. I sometimes listen back to our music and think did we really write that? I don’t know how it happens, it just does — it’s like magic.
MV: What is the overall mood you wish to create with the music?
AC: Good vibrations, love and good messages! If we can make people feel good then that’s our job done.
MV: Do you every play out live and what are your shows like?
AC: When we play live our shows have a great energy and there’s no drug to compare the feeling to. When everyone’s singing along it’s like we’re in a different world, or even heaven!
MV: How do other members of the Rurals contribute? Are the roles clearly defined?
AC: There’s no rules, we all do a bit of everything! But, if there’s sax needed then Charlie Hearnshaws the man. If we need fat clubby beats then bazil’s over in a flash. And for jamming, pete mo’s my brother. We’re telepathically linked and of course Marie does the singing.
MV: How do you go about recording? Do you have a studio set-up?
AC: The studio’s right next to the office. We just get in there, jam, and see what happens!
MV: Since you career spans so many years, what are your feelings about how house music has changed over the years? Do you feel it has grown and matured?
AC: Yes, I think it has, but to be honest what with having a family and stuff I really haven’t got time anymore to be checking everything out.the stuff I get sent from friends producers in the scene always sound great. In a way it’s good not to hear everything or perhaps with not knowing it we’d sound like everything else?!
MV: Your music was featured on HBO’s “Six Feet Under”. How did this come about? Will there be more like this?
AC: That was really lucky, so was getting the parts for Mavin and Tammi’s “Ain’t nothing like the Real Thing” from Motown — a dream come true. The music supervisor for “Six Feet Under” really likes the Rurals sound, that helps. I hope there’s more to come.
MV: Peng recently released the compilations “Leko The Lazybeat Lion – The Peng Fables Vol.2” and “My Twilight Blues”, which feature a number of unreleased Rurals tracks. Tell us about these releases.
AC: The compilations are a great way of exposing other artists on peng. We get loads of great demo’s, I feel if we’re releasing new music not only do we help unknown artists start a career but we also keep the peng sound fresh. Most of the Rurals songs on the CD’s have been released on vinyl, but not everyone buys the vinyl, it’s good to have our non DJ fans able to have our music on a easily accessible format.
MV: You have an international fanbase that is very dedicated. What would you like to say to them?
AC: We love you! Without our fans buying our music we wouldn’t be able to fund the job we love. In my local post office they can’t believe how many people in crazy places buy our stuff. I love our online shop, it puts us in touch with a lot of these people, who give us direct feedback.
MV: How important are visuals for the group? Do you pay close attention to this and do you have videos?
AC: We have a designer in London called nima (nmo design) who does a great job with our web sites, logo’s and artwork, it’s totally his dept. we’re thinking about videos…if they’ll help promote us then we’re up for it.
MV: What do you think you would be producing if house music never came along?
AC: Really tricky question, perhaps hip hop?
MV: Where can we expect the Rurals in 2005 and beyond?
AC: We just hope to grow musically and our fanbase! Perhaps get the band on the road again — we get lots of requests but now Marie and I have little Rico (2 years old) and another little one on the way. We want to make a stable life for our kids; I don’t want them growing up not knowing
where there home is. It’d be great to do more music for tv/films as well, those kind of deals suit me well as I love being in the studio working on special projects.