“International Feel’s newest signing Private Agenda are taking us back to a time when soul first met synthesisers, shoulder pads were as vital as the right Berlin address and Sheffield met the sonic Caribbean playground of Compass Point.”
How can someone resist the temptation of free falling into the unknown world of Private Agenda? The Berlin-based trio is re-inventing Balearic music, fussing contemporary house with retro elements, under a kaleidoscopic view with their excellent production skills, knowledge and immaculate taste. We spoke with them to find out more about their effortlessly feel-good tracks, their story and the world of Private Agenda.
Martin, Sean and Nick. What is the story of your musical trio called Private Agenda? How did you guys meet?
It was a mixture of fate and design. Martin was looking for a place to live with a like-minded musician in Berlin and after a chance encounter moved into Nick’s spare room. They had a jam one evening and things just clicked immediately. As for Sean, he’s been a friend of Martin’s for a long time- they were classmates at school and have made pop music on-and-off for a number of years, so when the early demos began to take shape and it became clear that they just needed somebody obsessed with a chorus to complete the band, it was an opportune moment to get him on board. The rest, as they say, is history.
When did you decide to start working together on a project?
There wasn’t a specific point where we’d sat down and said, right, lets ‘do’ Private Agenda, the concept gathered force organically as we were writing together last summer until eventually we felt that our music had a distinct, personal character to it – by the time it reached that point, the project had a name. Really, that was September of 2014.
You are three people with very different tastes from one another. How do you find it working together?
We have different tastes and favourite records for sure, but there’s loads of overlap too and we’re always curious to discover new tastes and styles. Whilst Nick may be an avid follower of the latest releases in techno, he loves classical and funk in equal measure. Martin played in a psyche rock band for a bit and was brought up with classical music, but loves pop music too and Sean is a bit of a self-confessed ‘crate digger’ – he’s always on top of new releases in both electronic and alternative music. That diversity and curiosity just means there’s always something new and interesting on the stereo. As we’re music lovers in the broadest sense, it’s fun, refreshing and constantly inspiring to unite those interests and tastes.
There’s a fine line between banal revivalism and taking cues from those that have gone before.
Do you have separate roles when it comes to producing your music?
Our roles aren’t that distinct and we all contribute to the writing and production process collectively. Nick is a wizard behind the mixing desk though and that’s really where he can make Private Agenda ‘come to life’. Sean is particularly influential in the songwriting process and has always got a hook or three up his sleeve for when we just need to come up with a killer chorus. He also writes most of the lyrics. Martin is the glue that binds it all together and is involved at every stage in the process from laying down the first chords to putting together the final mix– he’d be the conductor in our mini orchestra.
Listening to your songs, I can only think of exotic islands, sea and sand. I was surprised to find out that you live in Berlin. If you could live anywhere else, where would this ideal place be?
We wanted the songs to take you wherever your imagination lets you, so if it’s to a sunny, peaceful place then that’s awesome. We certainly like to think of places as sets for the music we make and for this release, the beach was certainly a place we had in mind. In ways Private Agenda could have happened anywhere, but Berlin was the place that brought us together for the first time; we all moved here for different reasons. We certainly don’t sound like a Berlin-based act (if there even is such a thing?!), but the wonderful thing about Berlin is the great variety of positive electronic music we find here on a daily basis, the receptiveness of the people who live here to new ideas and sounds and the talent we’re surrounded by. It keeps us humble, driven and it’s really inspiring and has helped our development as a band. Honestly, as far as creativity goes, we feel we’re in the perfect place right now, but if money and geography is no object, then I reckon we’d have different bases to suit our moods at the time – we’d just hop between them when we felt like it. We’d have a party villa in Ibiza and given that two of us are British, a nice little cottage in deepest Devon would be a wonderful retreat to get on with some musical alchemy.
Your music has an early Balearic touch, a feel-good vibe and hints of 80’s nostalgia. Yet, it remains contemporary in an effortless way. How do you manage to do that?
There’s a fine line between banal revivalism and taking cues from those that have gone before. I guess we’ve managed it by listening widely to the variety of sounds that defined the finest 12’’ single releases that defined the early Balearic Beat. We often cite early 80s New York disco and boogie records and the output of the artists that recorded at Compass Point and we attempt to echo the spirit of it, crafting songs to make something ‘single-ready’, rather than developing and pushing a palate of sounds as far as we can. The idea is to try and make something that sounds timeless, not just deeply rooted in a specific time and place. If our sound is stuck in Ibiza in the mid-1980s though, that’s quite alright with us, we’re guessing it was a great place to be. To bring the sound up to date though, we focus a lot on contemporary production values and we listen widely to all kinds of people and labels that are pushing boundaries in electronic music today.
What’s the world of Private Agenda like? Are there any specific values you believe in when producing, and do you share any common values with your label International Feel?
I think everybody who has released on International Feel buys into Mark’s (label boss) core values for contemporary Balearicism. Anything goes. Mix it up, slow it down, speed it up- whatever feels right, but create something that sounds beautiful for a sunny day on the isle. We love that philosophy. It means you aren’t pigeonholed and tied down and it’s given us the freedom to create the music we’ve individually always wanted to make.
Let’s talk a bit on “Déjà vu”, the more contemporary track of your début single. How was this track inspired?
Deja Vu is our ‘party piece’. We wanted to make something that would immediately tell the story of Private Agenda – it’s a great introduction to our world. We read somewhere that 2015 would be the year of death for saxophones in popular music; we’re pouring petrol on that fire.
Above everything else, we wanted the track to sound warm, inviting and timeless but to also have a wistful, darker underbelly. That wasn’t realised until Sean had written the lyrics and recorded the vocal tracks. Those takes were raw with imperfections and the production is minimal, but we thought it just fit really nicely. As a result, the song has a character, a real life of its own and people have really connected emotionally with it too, which is amazing.
Then it’s “Freefalling” which sounds like the other side of the coin. This is – perhaps – the track where I can feel some “old school vibes” and “nostalgia” in your music. Is that correct?
Freefalling started as a sketch Martin had been working on which really came to life through collaboration and trying out different sounds. I think the key moment was when we stumbled upon a couple of old Linda Di Franco records, particularly ‘TV Scene’. There was a bit of a Eureka moment to be honest – we were just struck immediately by the lost-in-time tone of the recording and the instrumental solos that dominated the track. It just felt magical. That was Linda’s call, Freefalling became our response.
What is next in your private agenda?
Well, we’re currently just finishing off some new material which should be ready for release just in time for the heights of Summer when we’ll be playing our first shows too. We’ll let you know about it in due course!