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Interview With Roger Shah

Trance Republic had the honour and pleasure of interviewing Mr Magic Island himself, Roger Shah, just prior to his wonderful set at Zouk on the 12th of March and it truly was a spectacle to behold.

Featuring fifteen world premieres, a host of classics and some utterly memorable melodies from his vast catalogue of creations, his set was an epic journey which ensnared the senses of those who were there to experience the magic.

While we were unable to record the interview via video, we were fortunate enough to interview him via audio and this has now been transcribed.

TR: 2016 marks 20 years since you first started in the music industry and in that time you have had more than 500 releases and started Magic Island while playing in illustrious festivals and venues. Was there a particular moment in those two decades when you knew you had made it as a music producer?

RS: That’s a very good question. First of all you always have your ups and downs during such a long time. You will always have some landmarks and I had my first big career moment in 1999-2000 and I was working with some of the big companies in Germany. The whole industry collapsed after that and it was then that I built my own label.

I think one important moment was when I joined Armada and worked with Armin and was a part of the A State Of Trance family while doing some live shows for Armin. It was probably then that I made the jump from the national to the international market. It was the most important time as it was then that you realise that once you make it to that level, you play around the world and have your own shows and you realise that you have established yourself and your own name becomes a brand.

TR: Another Day On The Terrace is one of the seminal albums over the last decade or so from your alter ego, Sunlounger, and it is universally loved by Trance fans around the world and spawned several classic tracks including “White Sand”. Looking back at it now, how has the success of that album influenced your career?

RS: The funny thing is that Another Day On The Terrace is not even a Trance album, but more of a chillout lounge album. Take “White Sand” for example, technically when you analyse the track it is more of a tribal house track with a guitar breakdown. The track created a kind of Balearic sound and I was influenced by tribal house at that time.

I think it is because Armin signed it and pushed it so hard, it became a Trance classic even though it was not a Trance song. It was a big influence for me as White Sand was a big track that year. I think that is why people know more about Sunlounger than Roger Shah (even though it is my alter ego) and we still get booking requests for Sunlounger even though I don’t play under that alias anymore.

It was a big influence and you can’t blend them together as it was a side project that became really big.

TR: Who would you consider to be your biggest inspiration in terms of music so far?

RS: First of all, I have to say that I came from an orchestral background and I studied orchestral music. I accidentally made it into dance music and so my biggest influences and people I look up to are more like the Hollywood composers such as Hans Zimmer.

Then I made it into Trance music and worked with all these big names (Armin, Tiesto, Paul van Dyk etc) and even then it didn’t put me under pressure when meeting and working with these guys. I was a big follower of Tiesto and I have to say that even though now he’s doing different kinds of music, we should not forget what he has done for Trance.

The Trance family is generally very protective about the genre and they tend to forget that from the artist’s point of view, they want to try out different things. I mean, you as fans wouldn’t want to go to the same club or eat the same food everyday and even as artists you are always thinking “I made this, so what’s next?”, so sometimes you might want to go outside the box.

I remember when Armin and I made Going Wrong and we received so much hate mail for it. People were asking what was the point of the best DJ in the world and the master of Balearic Trance collaborating on a rock influenced track and we received so much hate for it back then, even though it became a classic track at the end of the day.

I respect all the Trance guys (Armin, Ferry and especially Fadi, who is one of my very close friends) and so I think people shouldn’t hate so much and just enjoy it.

TR: In your opinion, what has contributed to the sustained success of Balearic Trance?

RS: I think that it has to do with the feeling that Balearic Trance generates when you make it and listen to it and I just labelled it as Balearic Trance as the genre didn’t have a name back then. Whenever I produce a track, I tend to go with what I feel at that particular moment.

I mean, when you release a track on Beatport, you have to label it as part of a genre and sometimes I produce tracks that are between genres. As to why it is called Balearic Trance, it has to do with my music being very Ibiza influenced and that’s where it comes from. But the common misconception among producers is that they think that Balearic Trance has something to do with adding a guitar portion to tracks.

Sometimes, someone sends me a demo and says “Hey Roger, I made a Balearic track and it might be good for your label” and when I listen to it, it tends to be dark, dirty, noisy and almost EDM-esque with a guitar portion added in the breakdown and they think that such a track is Balearic, when it is not.

I think that Balearic Trance is still alive as it is music that you can appreciate for the summery, melodic and warm feel that it conveys and this is one of the reasons why I think my Magic Island albums do rather well around the world and appear on the Top 40 charts.

Even with the last album, I made it to Number 39 in the US and considering that it is an EDM-centric market, I feel that it is a great achievement and it makes me happy to know that there are people over there who really appreciate the style of music that I make.

TR: Lately, there has been a shift in Trance towards the more uplifting and driving styles as well as a rise in the beats per minute or bpm. In your opinion, what effect would this have on the future of Balearic Trance?

RS: I think that it wouldn’t have any effect to be honest. If you look at my current single, it is at 138bpm and I think it all began when Armin started his sub-label Who’s Afraid Of 138?!, which was a cool thing to do at that time when everyone was going towards the EDM direction.

I also realised that Trance producers were rather afraid of keeping with the uplifting sound at that time and so Armin starting the sub-label back then was a good thing for them as it allowed them to keep that uplifting sound.

I don’t think it is affecting the Balearic sound much because it is more of a genre by itself and if you look at the Sunlounger kind of music, it is rather timeless and unique and so it doesn’t really matter. For me, I have always had the Trance stuff and the Balearic stuff and I have never wanted to do just one thing, which is why I have had all these different aliases and styles of production.

I just produce the music that I feel and sometimes you hit the right track at the right moment and it becomes bigger and also sometimes you don’t, which means it is more for the real lovers of that particular style of music that I am producing at that moment.

TR: You have just released an orchestral album called Singularity, which is a collaboration with Hollywood producer Nick Murray and it is also representative of another of your loves, which is the composing of film scores. How did the opportunity to compose film scores come about and what are your thoughts on the album?

RS: The thing is I started off as an orchestral composer and so technically I could create a full orchestral composition and this was basically what I studied before I went into dance music. The good thing is that composing Trance music and orchestral music are similar and the way you build the main themes are somewhat the same.

This is why moving on from orchestral music to dance music also brought me organically to Trance without me thinking that I wanted to be a Trance artist. The way of writing melodies is the same. I have always stayed in touch with my counterparts within the orchestral industry and when I left Armada and had some down time 3 years ago, I went back towards doing more of the orchestral stuff and started working as a composer of film scores for movie trailers for two of the bigger companies in Hollywood.

Nick Murray worked for one of the companies and I had collaborated with him on a few occasions, so we got talking and realised that all these trailer music that we created was behind the scenes and so we didn’t get the credit on the trailer.

So I told him that we put so much work on the music and I love what we have done so much that I want to showcase this to my fans and let them know that I am working on music such as this which is rather different from Trance music. This was why we picked a couple of tracks to showcase what we were doing and this was the basis for the album, and I think the people have liked it so far and we have gotten a nice response for it.

TR: Your latest track with LeiLani, “Love Heals You”, has just been released and you previously mentioned in another interview that it was originally intended to be a part of a movie trailer. What was the thought process behind the creation of the track?

RS: I was working for the company and they were searching for music that would work well for movie trailers such as “Interstellar” and so on and I had been collaborating with LeiLani on some orchestral tracks.

Usually her vocals were used to add more atmospheric elements to the tracks I was working on for movie trailers, but I told her that for this track I would love more of a lyrical element. I didn’t give her any direction whatsoever and she came up with “Love Heals You”. I was really touched with the lyrics and when we had compiled the trailer cue and after it was finished, I felt like there was no way it was ending with this and I had to take it somewhere.

I took the cue, put it in the middle and built a Trance track around it, then sent it to Armin. He was very impressed and told me that he was going to play it as a world premiere and so the response has been exciting to see, especially on Beatport. The track has that old school epic kind of breakdown and no one has been doing much of that these days.

So I want to go back to that and make people put their hands in the air and sing along with the tracks, and that was how Trance was back in the day. This will be the basis for my new album and I will want to have more tracks like this in there with the epic breakdowns as it fits very well with my orchestral background and I just feel that it works.

Trance Republic would like to thank Roger for allowing us to interview him and for taking the time to answer our questions. We look forward to welcoming Mr Magic Island back to Singapore and hope to see him again sometime in the near future.

Author: Brendan Pillai
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