Interview: Shaun J. Wright & Alinka are Twirl
“An Attitude. An Energy. A Movement Captures the Groove.” describes the Twirl brand, a creative collaboration between the Chicago-based dynamic house duo of Shaun J. Wright (of Hercules & Love Affair fame) & Alinka. Starting off as a party series a couple of years ago, Twirl became a staple in the Chicago house scene. After building success and recognition of the brand, the two artists decided to expand it and began Twirl Recordings. Their first release, Journey Into the Deep, was received with critical acclaim and provided an excellent foundation for the label to grow upon. Their second release, Wait for Love EP, due out on December 8th, displays the musical variety and appreciation for all genres that Alinka & Shaun have developed throughout their musical careers. A modernized acid house cut, “Wait for Love” is characterized by the vintage acid house sound from a TB-303 bass synth. Paired with crunchy percussion and Shaun’s velvety vocals, the single is primed to make people dance and sing along. Adding an organic element of classical piano, Eli Escobar’s remix makes the song a radio-ready play that appeals to the masses. Rounding out the EP is Newbody’s remix, which employs off-kilter drums, chopped vocals, and a catchy Hammond organ hook to acquire a 90s garage vibe. We jumped at the opportunity to chat with Shaun & Alinka about their newly established label, Chicago’s influence on their sound, how the two met and began collaborating on events & music, the meaning behind the Twirl name, and future plans.
RP: How did living in Chicago and being a part of the dance music scene in the Windy City influence your sound?
Shaun: Some of my earliest & fondest memories include hearing house and techno music on the radio and at parties, not as a novelty, but as an integral thread in the Chicago soundscape. That early education was something that I took for granted until I moved away for undergrad. It was then that I was able to open myself to a wider range of genres while realizing the vastness of Chicago’s influence on both my personal aesthetic and the world at large. I experience new sounds through my Chicago developed lens. Growing up in the culture is ever-present in my work whether I am singing or DJing.
Alinka: It’s been the greatest influence on me as an artist. There are very few cities you can see DJs like Derrick Carter, Heather, Green Velvet, and countless others in any given week and really interact with and learn from them. Chicago house is what made me fall in love with dance music, and watching those DJs taught me everything I know. I have countless memories of skipping school to hang out at Gramaphone records, and how special it felt to have guys like Michael Serafini and Justin Long help me pick out tracks. You can’t really get an education like that on Chicago house anywhere else.
How did you guys hook up and start throwing the Twirl parties?
Shaun: Alinka and I met through Chicago based PR/party promoter Scott Cramer in early 2012. We immediately clicked in the studio during our first session. Soon after we began discussing the type of party we would like to go to in Chicago. We wanted to attend a party that was house focused and welcomed everyone. That quickly turned into a conversation on how we could create “that party.” We thought it would be fun to have a party that championed some of our amazing DJ friends from around the country while also showcasing some of Chicago’s burgeoning talent alongside the tried and true legends. In addition, we thought it would be a great testing ground for some of the material we were working on. The end result was our monthly at Berlin Nightclub that successfully ran for a year and a half.
What made you guys decide to take that next step and say “OK, we’re throwing these awesome Twirl parties, let’s evolve this into a record label!” It’s a lot of work and dedication- what made you want to start your own imprint?
Alinka: The Twirl label really came organically as we continued to finish more music. We always really admired labels like Classic and Cajual. They were so iconic and influential to both of us. Both labels have a massive section in my record shelves dedicated to them, and I knew if the opportunity ever came up that’s something I would love to establish one day in the same fashion. We had established the Twirl brand with the party but we never really wanted to be party promoters. It was just a fun space for us to showcase some of our friends and our favorite DJs. Eventually after shopping more and more of our tracks to other labels we decided it would be great to give our music a home of its own. We love working with other labels, but at the end of the day it’s an amazing feeling to have full creative control over your own music, its release schedule, and to be able to curate the remixers for each track. That’s been a really fun process for us. It’s definitely a lot of work but very much worth it, and we’re very excited for the future of Twirl.
Where does the name Twirl come from? Any significance?
Shaun: There is so much positive energy and vitality contained in that one syllable. Pronouncing the word almost forces you to smile. When one is on the dance floor spinning and twirling, you know they have reached an exciting level of ecstasy and freedom. We wanted the party (and subsequently our label) to be liberating and uplifting so we chose a word that denotes such action.
Tell us a little bit about the studio dynamics between the two of you. And how does that compare and contrast with previous collaborative experiences and recording solo?
Shaun: We are both very sharing in the studio. There’s a lot of give and take between the two of us. Many times I’m unable to garner that kind of exchange with other producers because of distance. Being physically present with Alinka while crafting the large majority of our music makes the process feel more intertwined. I think that type of exchange creates a different level of trust, which then opens up the possibilities of spontaneity and on-the-spot, organic exploration.
Alinka: Working with Shaun has been more freeing and inspiring for me than with anyone I’ve ever worked with. He’s by far the most talented person I know. At first I just didn’t want to let him down because I respected him so much as an artist, and it really challenged me to become a better producer. He’s given me the confidence to really evolve and create the music I’ve always wanted to make. Our process has been different from track to track. We’re always growing and trying new things. He’s gotten me to do vocals, which I never thought would happen though I still resist most of the time. Haha! And he’s definitely becoming very versed in studio gear so he may not even need me pretty soon.
It’s not often that a first effort track gets played on radio, much less Annie Mac’s renowned BBC Radio 1 Show! What was it like to have your very first single receive such critical acclaim?
Shaun: Exhilarating! It’s a great sign that we are on to something that is connecting with an audience possibly broader than the one we imagined. There is so much music being released daily and to have influential DJs like Annie Mac and Heidi on BBC Radio 1 or Sinden and Tough Love from Kiss FM, among others, play our work is reason to be grateful. We truly appreciate the support.
Alinka: I cried. Haha! Between the radio support, DJ feedback, and the DJ Mag review, it was a collection of really emotional moments for me. It’s been really amazing to have that kind of support from artists we admire. It justified all the sacrifice and relentless years of hard work and definitely made me want to work harder to bring more music to life.
Your upcoming EP, Wait for Love, is receiving support from the likes of Anja Schneider, Kate Simko, Luke Solomon, KiNK, and Lee Foss to name a few…what was the musical/lyrical concept behind “Wait for Love”?
Shaun: We’re both fans of acid house and love the dichotomy it can create when vocals are added. The rough squelching sound juxtaposed against the human voice is very interesting to us. The outcome can be quite dynamic. The lyrics came from our personal experiences exploring romantic possibilities. We hoped to share some of what we learned without sounding too preachy or cynical.
We read that you guys have an album’s worth of material already! Any plans for an album on the horizon?
Alinka: We do have a lot of material in the works, but no plans for an album right now. We’re just going to be releasing singles and EPs with remixes from our favorite artists on Twirl Recordings and some of our other favorite labels. However, it’s a definite possibility in the future!
Any upcoming tour dates/ releases our readers should know about?
Shaun: This weekend I’m spinning at Manhole in Chicago on the 22nd. I’ll be playing Smart Bar on the 26th of November at the Queen vs. Men’s Room pre-Thanksgiving bash. I’m currently completing my solo EP so hopefully that will see the light in 2015.
Alinka: I’m playing with Jackmaster and Jasper James at Smart Bar this Saturday the 22nd, and Beast at Dalston Superstore in London December 6th. I’m currently finishing up another remix for Get Up Recordings, which should be out very soon, and just wrapped up a remix for Iz for his label Vizual Records! Our next Twirl release Wait For Love will be out December 8th, and we also have the Twirl Volume 2 EP coming out on Classic Music Company early next year that we’re really excited about!