Album Of The Week: Tali – Future Dwellers (Reign Recordings)

 “I remember writing lyric on my lip with Roni. I was right by his side through the whole process and wanted to learn as much as I could. He didn’t really have the time for that, he just wanted to get the tune done, but I was so eager to be involved in any way I could be. I remember  saying, ‘This needs some piano.’ He agreed and said he’d try to find a sample but I was like, ‘Nah bro, I can play it.’

Even back then I knew I wanted to be in the big chair in front of the screen. It’s taken me 15 years to get there but that’s a testament to timing being everything. And timing for me was during the pandemic. We went into three lockdowns and I saw them all as enforced studio time. I just had to go into the studio and write.

It was a great opportunity to try new things and write what I’ve always wanted to write but never had the time to get up to speed on technically. I’ve been in the studio all these years and was a whizz at things like Pro Tools but I needed to get up to speed on Logic. The first lockdown was about learning as much as I could – calling up friends like Jeremy Upbeats or Sam from Shapeshifter. Having friends who care about me and who I could ask questions of was much more helpful than any tutorial – so I learnt a bit from them and from my own experimentation and started making some really interesting downtempo things.

Then I found this beautiful string sample and I knew it had to be in a drum & bass track. And everything changed…

“During all these years I’d never attempted to make a D&B track on my own. I never thought it was my place. I thought as an MC and vocalist I should stay in my lane or I’ll set myself up for a whole load of criticism and shit I didn’t want to deal with. Even with my last album Love & Migration I was working with a plethora of artists, and while at times I could call the shots and artistically direct (and I produced all my own vocals on the album) – I was still at the mercy of other producers. At the mercy of men. 

I had to get over these initial fears that it wasn’t my place or I wouldn’t be good enough. Last year I started composing for film and television and was being presented some amazing opportunities in that field, so I thought – Why am I doubting myself in making drum & bass?

So I started playing around. My first couple of goes were pretty tame. But then things started to kick off when my husband Chiccoreli came downstairs and said ‘What’s this track? Is this you?’ I shyly said ‘Yeah’ and he said, ‘This is awesome! I’d play it.’ That’s when I knew I wanted to self produce an EP or album – something that was all me.

It was the best time to do it. The whole idea of Future Dwellers is based on the situation we all experienced during the pandemic. We were all trying to find ways to be productive, but at the same time there was a lot of advice about mental health and how we should set small goals for ourselves and live in the present moment. That was all good and well, but when I was talking to my friends I found that we were all constantly thinking about the future. I usually encourage mindfulness and staying present, but during lockdown we needed things to look forward to. Imagine what it’ll be like when we’re out again! We’d say. Oh 2021 will be completely different!

We were in this state of hope, living in the future. That’s where the title Future Dwellers comes from. We were existing in this bubble but we could help but anticipate what was going to happen in the future.

And I guess I was also thinking about a much longer term future and where I’m heading career-wise and how I can evolve and progress. Do I want to be on stage jumping around when I’m in my 50s? Maybe, I don’t know, but I know I want to do more as an artist, as a composer and producer. So this is the next step in that transition. Almost like an interim, taking me from being known predominantly as a vocalist and MC to being known as much more than that.

That’s why I only sing on a few of the songs. I’ve been in this industry for over 20 years, this is my eighth album, I’ve done hundreds of collabs, people know what I sound like. I don’t need to sing all over this album. I want to show something else I can do and give a platform to other singers who I admire, am inspired by and want to shine a light on.

I’ve learnt so much during this process. There were moments where I had to rein things in a bit. It’s very easy to be self-indulgent when you’re producing. I love cinematic music and lots of strings and drama and tension. But I had to consider the DJs who might play the songs. My husband reminded me I’m always teaching people about the importance of structure and arrangement when Im mentoring – and he was right. I was like, ‘Yeah I need to roll out don’t I? I need a drop don’t I?’ So I stripped it back and learnt how to be creative within a formula and structure. I loved that – it stopped me going too off-piste.

“I have to thank so many friends who were part of this album. Of course all the collaborators who smashed it – Luca George, Jaz Paterson, Elipsa, Pharaoh Swami, INF, Ruth Royall. But also friends who I played the album to when they came over on tour. Tonn Piper, Dynamite, Harry Bryson, Monrroe..  They all shared ideas and gave great feedback. No one was super imposing and the advice was encouraging and supportive. It gave me a lot of confidence.

Brendan Futurebound was especially helpful when he put his A&R hat on. He’s such a fucking don. He advised on track order and so many different things. Then of course Tiki Taane who did the mix down. He’s a very dear friend of mine and such a talent. We sat in the studio three days in a row, talked about what we wanted the album to do sonically and he basically taught me so many things while I sat with him. Watching him work, hearing it all through the speakers – It was amazing. I learnt so much – it was such a beautiful feeling to take my album to someone who knows me and understands me so well. And to have Ben Horton master it, was the icing on the cake.

There’s so much more I could tell you about the album and how personal the songs are to me –  But that’s a snapshot of where Future Dwellers comes from, where I’m coming from and where I see myself… In that big chair, in front of the screen and in control. It’s where I’ve always wanted to be.

Tali is a polymath. In the numerous interviews we’ve done in recent years, this has been a key point in our conversations. Catch her on any given day and she wears a different cap; an MC, a singer, a teacher and mentor, a business woman, an author, a documentary maker. The list goes on.

But even knowing these many creative roles and disciplines, nothing can prepare you for Future Dwellers, an album that completely flips everything she is known for musically.

It’s evident from the opening track Mansion. A dramatic halftime percussive salvo that draws you in with every rim shot. Part cinematic, loaded with tension and fully instrumental, it’s a powerful way of introducing the album and setting the message: this is a very different Tali at the controls and she’s sculpting a much deeper sound than anything we’ve ever heard on her past seven albums.

Of course context is everything; written during the weird years we’ve all been subjected to, there’s a depth and emotional weight to the sonics and a strong sense of poignancy running throughout. But you get the vibe that this is the sound she’s had bubbling up inside for a long time. The result of years of working in other people’s studios, compromising with other producer’s ideas, battling that feeling of having to stay in her lane; in many ways this is a unique second chance to write a debut album. Her first sole-produced album, it’s a chance for Tali to showcase her influences and inspirations in a different way.

While previous Tali releases have showcased her thoughts, feelings, passions and emotions vocally, here we’re able to hear how she does this instrumentally and as a producer working with other vocals. Not just over drum & bass, too. Joining the dots with other genres she’s been involved in over the years, moments such as the 90s Bristol feels of Firecircle, the gentle jazzy two-step garage swing of Back To Before and trappist swagger of Cause & Effect help to add depth and pace to Future Dwellers, creating a consistency and dynamic that really brings the album to life, gives it a narrative and creates space for the big drum & bass moments like Lions Den, Crystal Clear and Elements to really shine.

Bringing everything to a peak with the feel good belt-it-out finale My Remedy with Ruth Royall, Tali reminds us that she’s still got lyrics on her lip… But now there are beats at her fingertips, too. This is a pivotal body of work for Tali personally but also the drum & bass scene as a watershed moment for MCs and female artists. The future’s bright.

Tali – Future Dwellers is out now

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