I recently had the opportunity to interview esteemed music producer Saul Simon MacWilliams, a man who thrives on the indie music scene, but doesn’t box himself into it. “Is there really a difference [between indie and pop], besides how well people know it?” he asked me. They’re separated by degrees of recognition, not style. Saul shared that and many other insights during the interview—you can read the full article (in FLL#26), but here is an online exclusive look at one of Saul’s latest projects, one that happens to be especially relevant in Lancaster County.
The project is Joy Ike’s newest album, the sweet and soulful All or Nothing (reviewed in FLL #25). The Pittsburgh-based performer is a frequent visitor to our area, where her music is always received with open arms. Saul says the challenge of recording Joy’s album was bridging the distance between Pittsburgh and New York, where his recording studio was located at the time. Whenever they could arrange to be in the same place, they would hole themselves up in the studio for four or five days and lay down tracks like crazy. From there, it was all pretty fluid.
“I love good vocalists and I love artists with a really good vision about what they want to be. She knew the direction she wanted to go from the start,” he says of Joy. He explains how she would arrive at the studio with a song idea, tell him the kind of vibe it should have and the emotions it should evoke, and then “she would just play it and it would be so organic, and so spiritual, and so free.”
For his part, Saul pushed the music to break expectations and genres, to transcend its folk-soul roots and explore exciting tangents. In any project, he aims to circumvent the obvious choices in favor of the unconventional and the unique. The role of a great producer, as Saul defines it, is to work within the artist’s vision and, every so often, reach outside of it for something more.
Later, I had a chance to ask Joy what it was like to work with Saul. “I’ve worked with a handful of producers in the past, but Saul was the first person who spoke the same language as I did,” she said. “When I described what I wanted to hear, or the feeling I wanted people to experience while listening to a certain part of a song, he knew exactly how to translate that into a sound. He was wholehearted invested in making the album as good as it could be.”
Personally, I’d say they nailed it.