We sit down with Massive Attack's producer and co-writer, Stew Jackson, to talk about the importance of musical collaboration, and find out why he's signed up to work on Pro7ect's songwriting and production retreat in 2019.
What's a day in the life of Stew Jackson?
[laughs] I work with Grant Marshall from Massive Attack, so I kind of go in the studio most days and potter around, working on a few cool ideas, really... It's not quite as much fun as it sounds..!
But you two are serious collaborators...
Oh yes, definitely – I have been working with him for 12 years now. We work on the Massive Attack stuff, but we have done a few other interesting bits and pieces, including some film work.
How did you find out about Pro7ect, and why did you get involved?
My old manager, Barbara, knows Lisa [Fitz, Pro7ect founder] very well, and Lisa was looking for producers to come in and run a little studio room that they do there. Barbara put me forward for it. It's quite a skill set that they need, and you have to be very fast; everyone does their thing a little differently, but rather than be the programming guy, I am more of a player, a hands-on kind of guy when it comes to music production. The Pro7ect initiative is fun, and a good thing to do; it's the sort of thing I have done when writing with people before, too, but you need some studio chops to get involved.
And now you're going to be part of Pro7ect's main event, the 2019 songwriting and production retreat...
Yes. Writing by committee isn't really the way I work, but the Pro7ect environment shows that it definitely can work. There is a lot of bullshit around songwriting, I find, and it's easy to over intellectualise something after it's happened. But to see something come to fruition in a really short space of time, and learn not to be hyper precious over it is quite important. At Pro7ect, we need to get results, and get them quickly.
I remember when I first got my publishing deal, my publisher was hooking me up with people to write with all the time, so it is quite similar to Pro7ect in that writing music with people is strangely intimate; the fact you have to figure out what people's goals are. And what's always interested me is that many people write music that they don't actually like, and they haven't figured that out yet. Ryan Adams, for instance, he is big into metal but he writes these great songwriter songs. He has made his peace with that, but a lot of people are blind to it – that the music they like is often nothing like the music they write. So it's about figuring out what the collaborators like, and where the areas are where the overlap is, and working out where you should concentrate on. In a military-esque way, it's quite funny, really..!
At Pro7ect, you'll have to build working relationships with the artists right away, I guess?
Definitely! [smiles] I come from a background of being in bands, and writing was something you did on your own, so spending time with strangers making music was quite an odd and weird thing to do for me – but it definitely blows the cobwebs off, and demystifies things a lot, too.
Keeps you in the zone, then?
Absolutely, and working with other people turns you onto music you wouldn't normally be turned on to – it's about not getting too close minded in what you listen to, really. The Pro7ect thing is all about being thrown in at the deep end: for people who are navigating what it is to write with other people, or adding strings to the bow, is a baptism of fire; there is a lot of fast talking, a lot of getting to know each other very, very quickly - which I quite like – and most importantly, it's a fun thing to do. I'm very much looking forward to it.
For more information on Pro7ect, click HERE.