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INTERVIEW: 99 Souls talk about their upcoming album, favourite gigs & festivals and mixing Beyonce & Brandy

Having conquered the charts with The Girl Is Mine, 99 Souls are looking ahead to their upcoming album and a summer of gigs and festivals. We talked to Soul and Jo, who make up the duo, about the madness of their 2015 and what we can expect from them this year.

Congratulations on The Girl Is Mine making it into the Top 5. For those of us who don’t know, can you tell us a bit about 99 Souls?

Jo: We’re a house act from the UK that’s been going for about one and a half years. We met through a hip hop producer and started working together around 4 or 5 years ago. My background’s jazz and Soul grew up on hip hop so it’s an interesting combination.
Soul: Most people know us from our single The Girl Is Mine with Destiny’s Child and Brandy but we’ve done a bunch of remixes as well for Snakehips, Martin Solveig, Blonde, Sigma and more. We have plenty of new music coming soon as well.

You recently tweeted that you now understand why teachers hate Wikipedia so much, because the information on The Girl Is Mine page is all wrong. What would you most like people to know about the track and 99 Souls?

Soul: [laughs] That was nothing serious really, just false ‘facts’ or people referring to articles that were about something else. But, as far as what we want people to know, I guess that we’re here for the long-term and our focus is to make an amazing album. The Girl Is Mine was a promo track but the album’s gonna be a real cohesive record, real soulful with loads of live stuff that we want to stand up with all the classics.
Jo: Yeah, we love the house scene right now but our album’s a bit different to what’s out there. We’re trying to fuse together all the music that we love from jazz to gospel to soul and beyond.

The Girl Is Mine reveals your love for 90’s R&B. What did you grow up listening to and what do you draw inspiration from now?

Soul: I grew up on everything but I was so obsessed with Hip-Hop – I had a bit of tunnel vision for it. My parents weren’t too deep into music but my mum listened to a bit of reggae and soul. A lot of my friends were massive garage heads so I’d have their tape packs. I listened to all of the chart house but nothing really beyond the mainstream stuff. But Hip-Hop was my main love. Roc-A-Fella was my golden age and then Kanye, Just Blaze, Bink and all those guys led me into digging for old soul records. I’d rave to Drum & Bass from when I was about 16. Then I started to get into other dance music, starting with main room electro house before digging into deeper stuff. The R&B went side-by-side with hip hop – people like Aaliyah, Teedra Moses, Amerie. In fact, Rich Harrison is just my guy. Funnily enough these days when something inspires me it’s usually trap but there’s probably no other genre with more bad stuff [laughs].

Jo: I grew up listening to so many styles. I guess playing the guitar really influenced who my early influences were if you know what I mean. Hendrix, Slash, Clapton, Led Zep and the other great blues and rock guitarists grabbed me. Then I got into jazz and it was everything from Louis Armstrong to John Coltrane and more. At the same time, I was taking in all the more hit type stuff that was out there, from classic soul to R&B to Hip-Hop. These days I’m influenced by all kinds of stuff. Kanye and Diplo definitely set the bar high from a production perspective.

Soul: Man, Diplo really had two of the best records of last year. And yeah, Kanye’s definitely a big inspiration

Mashing Destiny’s Child and Brandy & Monica worked so well for you, what led you to choosing Girl and The Boy Is Mine?

Soul: I guess the sampling thing came because we don’t want to put anything out that we don’t love. At the same time we wanted to make sure that our song was heard. When you’re a new act with no fan base and no label even if you write an amazing song it can fall on deaf ears. Sampling allows us release good music we’re proud of making and save our own songs until we’re ready to release them. It started with The Boy Is Mine, which was a song we both grew up on and love. We didn’t want to just take one song and stick a beat on it like everyone else was doing. We wanted to switch it up a bit and use another vocal to create a whole new story. So we were looking for another vocal to combine it with and would fit the vibe and Girl was like the eureka moment.

Did you anticipate the response that the track has received?

Jo: We thought the track would do well on the radio – we worked really hard on it. I actually checked recently and we had around 60 different Logic sessions of the track saved! But I can honestly say I was blown away at how big it got. I remember waking up, the day after I found out around 40 labels wanted to sign us, thinking it didn’t seem real.

Soul: We kind of designed the track for maximum impact and, like Jo said, we kept tweaking it until it was perfect. We went hard on the promo and got our Ari Gold on once we blew it up. I guess the thing that surprised me was the level of excitement from the labels. It was pretty much every label in the country and then a bunch in Europe and the US.

Brandy and Monica wrote The Boy Is Mine as a female answer to the Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney song about competing over a girl. By combining it with Destiny’s Child, your track is more of a solidarity anthem between friends. Was that intentional?

Jo: I love how people can interpret the same song differently. The truth is, as we were putting this vocal together, I was actually thinking of my other half and tried to build a love song from me to her. That wasn’t too easy as one of the songs was basically about domestic abuse and the other two women arguing over a guy so it took some creative chopping!

Soul: When we first came up with the idea I thought it was gonna be an LGBT anthem! For me it was more about changing “The Boy Is Mine” to girl, making something that made sense and then leaving it open to people’s own interpretation.

Brandy rerecorded her vocals for you. Do you think you’ll work with her again in the future?

Soul: We hope so! She was mad cool and we’re big fans of hers. She followed us on Insta and Twitter recently so we obviously left a good impression [laughs].
Jo: Yeah, working with her was an amazing experience. We had to fly out to LA at the last minute. You never know how it’s going to be working with someone you’ve listened to since you were a kid, but she was amazing in the studio.

Beyonce has said she loves the track. How influential has it been to have her support?

Soul: There were two roadblocks in clearing the track. One was the Brandy and Monica master, which is why we did a re-record. The second was on the Destiny’s Child side. Mathew Knowles’ approval was not easy to get! But yeah it’s amazing to have Beyonce’s blessing. It would be really cool to perform it on SNL with her! Sadly we had another gig for the Super Bowl performance [laughs].

What have you got lined up to follow The Girl Is Mine?

Jo: We have a whole bunch of backing tracks that we’ve been working on for the last year. Recently we’ve been focused on getting songs on the beats and that’s going really well. We’ve been in the studio with Marsha Ambrosious from Floetry and Bryn Christopher who’s on Sigala’s “Sweet Loving”… Next week we’re in with Craig David, can’t wait for that. We’ll have our next single out in the next few months, and maybe a remix as well.

In another of your tweets, after your song was on Celebrity Big Brother, you voiced your hope that that’s the closest you’ll get to being on the show. You seem to shy away from the limelight, why is that?

Soul: [laughs] It was tongue in cheek. That was maybe a little shot at reality TV and not wanting to be in a position where we need to go on it! [laughs] But shout out to them for playing us, it was just a friendly joke. As far as shying away from the limelight goes, it’d get a bit too intrusive with the level we want to take our music to. In this day and age you can’t take a break in another country because, if you get properly famous, they know you there. And everyone’s got camera phones! Where we want to go, it’d get a bit too much.

Jo: We want to reach as far as we can with our music and message, but we don’t want to have the hassle of fame. That wouldn’t be an issue now, but if we get as big as we hope, then normal life becomes impossible. I guess we always want to be able to go into Tesco in our underpants without getting papped [laughs].

You were very busy in 2015 and played all over the place. What were your highlights?

Soul: It was after our New Years Eve gig – so this year really – but I had the most banging cheesecake ever at the hotel… Two in fact, I was gonna go for three but my new year resolution was to stop eating so much sugar.

Jo: Recording Brandy was a massive highlight. I also headlined quite a few jazz festivals including Antibes in the south of France which was incredible.

Soul: Managing to get the record out was pretty amazing to be honest. That’s a story for another day but there were a lot of people working against it and even though everyone was trying to get us to give in we stood our ground. It was a serious David and Goliath story and we managed to keep our integrity and still have a hit.

Where is the best place you have played?

Jo: For me that’s the Albert Hall. I played there last year in a jazz quartet to a full house

Soul: In terms of the crowd, I’d have to say Reading Festival. They were absolutely nuts – it was mosh pit after mosh pit! We’ve got Snowboxx and Miami coming up. I love skiing and I’ve always wanted to go to Miami so hopefully they’ll be the best for location.

What makes a live performance special for you?

Soul: The crowd to be honest. If they’re on it, it’ll be sick. If not, we’re gonna try and get them on it but it’s not the same as when you’re feeding off their energy.

Jo: Playing live is the greatest feeling. DJing to a crowd that’s really going for it has an energy all of its own. As a musician, I can’t wait to take the album live. I’m lucky to be friends with a lot of amazing musicians and I can’t wait to take them on tour. We want to bring backing singers, strings, horns and full rhythm section!

You pride yourselves on actually DJing when you play live. What’s your opinion on the press-play culture that can infiltrate EDM?

Soul: I grew up on hip hop so grew up watching turntablists who are on a different level skill-wise to most DJs including us but it’s not just about skills. The only thing that matters to me is can you rock a party? Are your tunes sick? At the end of the day people are paying for a good time. If I go to a club all I wanna do is either vibe out or go nuts but I’m not checking people’s skills, I just want to hear massive tunes. As long as you’re not dropping any clangers and you keep the vibe going it’s all good if your selection’s amazing. But yeah, if by “press play” you mean playing pre-recorded sets, that’s kind of wack.

What are your plans for 2016?

Soul: More remixes, more singles, more collabs, more gigs, more festivals and finishing off the album!

Jo: Finishing the album is top priority. We’re going to be arranging strings and horns and going for a huge sound, so that’s gonna take a lot of attention.

Are there any acts you’re excited to see or would recommend people to catch on tour?

Soul: I was kind of heartbroken when I missed the Red Bull Culture Clash! And then Rebel Sound did Reading and Leeds and Creamfields which we did as well but never on the same day! It felt like when I missed the London Olympics to be honest. They haven’t announced the lineup yet but this year’s Culture Clash sounds big going off the team that I know… But then Red Bull changed the date so they had to pull out [laughs] But if the other teams are on this level it could be even bigger than last year so that’s something I’m definitely looking forward to.

Jo: I can’t wait to see everything from great hip hop like Kanye and Kendrick, to great jazz fusion like Snarky Puppy or just great stadium stuff like Coldplay . I hate to admit it but the last three Bieber tracks have been pretty sick. Wouldn’t mind checking his gig as well, if you can even hear him over the screaming. Dance wise I’d love to see Daft Punk.

At Gig Pic we receive amazing uploads from gigs all over the world. What are your top 3 favourite Gig Pics you have taken?

Creamfields 2015

Soul: This was our first ever festival booking. Shout out to the big homie Mista Jam! To be honest the screens just looked sick!

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Albert Hall, London

Jo: It’s just so iconic as a venue and you really feel like you’ve arrived when you play there.

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Lovebox 2015

Soul: I guess this was one of our first big crowds. Plus, it was dope how it went from maybe 100 people to however many thousands 30 minutes into our set!

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It’s obvious from our conversation with them; 99 Souls are really connected to what makes a live show great. Be sure to catch the house duo on the festival circuit this summer where they will be playing shows at the likes of Parklife and Creamfields.