April 2002
By Steven M. Housman

Here’s A Tip - Bet On Dirty Vegas

Only a few months ago, people were saying “dirty who?” Now, with their smash top 10 single ‘Days Go By’ and a Mitsubishi advertisement, Dirty Vegas is receiving more exposure then they ever would have bet on. The trio that makes up Dirty Vegas has rocketed out of the UK circling the stratosphere and has landed firmly on the ground in over a dozen countries around the globe. They are without a doubt one of the best and brightest new bands to come along in a very long time.

Dirty Vegas are Paul Harris, Ben Harris (no relation) and Steve Smith.

Paul Harris (keyboards/ production), has crammed a lot into his 27 years. Born in Blackheath, South London, Paul first started getting into dance music at age 15 by tagging along to clubs with his older brother. He bought his first decks at 16 and was regularly playing The Ministry Of Sound by the time he was 17. By his late teens Paul was one of the resident DJ’s at legendary promoter Nicky Holoway’s seminal London club The Milk Bar. He was in esteemed company, the Milk Bar DJ alumni reads like a who’s who of dance music’s most influential people: Pete Tong, Dave Dorrell, Danny Rampling, Darren Emerson, and Paul Oakenfold. Paul soon also had a residency at Venus in Nottingham and regularly played all over the country at Golden, Cream, Vague, Ministry Of Sound, Billion Dollar Babes etc. By the late nineties he had semi-retired from DJing to concentrate on making and remixing records, although he continued to DJ at events around London organized by his friends Meg Matthews and Fran Cutler.

Steve Smith (vocals, guitar, percussion), born 28 years ago in New Eltham in South London, got into music at a very early age through his older brother and sister. His brother’s going out routine consisted of dolling himself up while listening to Marvin Gaye, so Steve knew all of ‘Let’s Get It On’ by heart by the time he was 10. By secondary school Steve was desperate to learn to play the drums, but his school only had one drum-kit which was hogged by fellow pupil Alan White, now of Oasis. So Steve turned to other areas of percussion and began to play the bongos. After finishing school Steve went to college but found that he was making so much money playing percussion in clubs that he gave up college to do it full-time. The job took him all around the world, and he also had a lucrative sideline doing studio session work.

In the mid-nineties Steve was percussionist in the band Higher Ground, but after founder member and singer Andy Nichols left Steve reluctantly took on vocal duties when no one else in the band would step into the breach. To his astonishment Steve discovered he had a great voice. Higher Ground started to become a formidable live force (they played at Paul Weller’s ‘Day At The Races’ gig at Crystal Palace in ’97) but their promise was never fully realized and in 1999 the band broke up. A rather disillusioned Steve took off to Ibiza to sort himself out.

Ben Harris (guitarist, production), 28, from Bromley, Kent, started playing guitar at 13 and was in a band at school, and when he left his first job was as a Tape Op in a studio in Camden. His band Fluid were on the verge of being signed but this time Ben had gotten heavily into club culture and music. He decided to give up the indie life and together with his brother Sam he opened a specialist dance record shop, Casa Records, in Bromley. Ben ad Sam were also producing successful house music as Bullitt and after two years they decided they’d rather concentrate on making records rather than selling them so they gave up the shop, using the money they had made to set up a studio of their own. Ben had known Paul Harris for years, they moved in the same social circles and Paul used to shop at Casa Records. They had always talked about working together but nothing ever came of it until early 2000.

Around the same time Paul and Steve, who had also known each other for years through the club scene, were booked for the same gig in Switzerland, Paul as DJ and Steve as live percussionist. They had such a great night they vowed they’d do some music together soon. Steve was living back in London and a regular on the acoustic circuit, showcasing some amazing songs he’d written on his hiatus in Ibiza. Paul and Ben were finally working together under moniker Hydrogen Rockers, and Paul took Ben to one of Steve’s gigs at sufficiently impressed to ask Steve to come to the studio to record with them. One of the songs Steve brought to the studio was ‘Days Go By’.

By marrying Steve’s soulful voice and percussive know-how to Ben and Paul’s ace production skills the three hit upon a rich formula and Dirty Vegas was born. There is chemistry at work here, chemistry that tweaked ‘Days Go By’ into a huge house anthem and turned it into one of the best songs of 2002 so far. Chemistry resulting in a band that works on many levels. There aren’t many dance artists that can strip their songs down to just a voice and an acoustic guitar and still sound fantastic. This is just one reason why Dirty Vegas are so special. Add their musical ability to their combined knowledge of the dance scene and you begin to get some ideas of their potential and understand why Dirty Vegas are worth getting so excited about.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Steve Smith to discuss the sudden success of Dirty Vegas. I asked him about their imaginative sound, and we spoke frankly about the band’s thoughts on having a very large gay following.

What I discovered is a man with a maturity and sensitivity that reaches far beyond his 28 years. It gave me an even greater respect for their artistry. But you don’t take my word for it, read the interview and draw your own conclusions.

This being your first album, how are you enjoying the promotional process?

We’re enjoying it very much. We’re immensely proud of the album we’ve made and the promotion is just part of the deal.

Do you have any touring plans right now?

We’re coming over to the States in July and August when the album arrives so there will be tour dates for that period. I just don’t know which cities and dates are scheduled at the moment.

Days Go By is now very identifiable with the Mitsubishi advertisements. Was it always your intention to have that as your kick-off single?

Days was one of the first tracks we wrote as a band, and basically for us it was the first single we had out in the UK along with Europe and Australia and South Africa. It wasn’t going to be released in the States until the rest of the album was finished. It already started a life in “clubland” so there was an urgency to put it out as the first single. Also at the time of the release in Europe, we only had half the album done, so we proceeded with the video all because there was such a strong vibe we were getting from the track. It’s a pivotal part of the album for us.

Most of the disc has a club-driven beat. Was it intentional to display a bit of diversity with the songs that are a bit darker such as Burning The Candles, All Or Nothing and Simple Things?

What we were trying to do with the album is just stuff we were into, whether it was Neil Young or Deep Dish or John Digweed. Nothing was intentional, we went with whatever sound moved us at the time.

You mentioned John Digweed, Neil Young and Deep Dish - did any other artists inspire you when you went to make this album?

The studio where we recorded was just filled with CD’s and we listened to everything. Some was classical and some was very dark. We got to a point where we said “Oh God, we don’t want to hear another house beat, let’s do something down-tempo. So we started writing that way and that’s what shaped the album.

When you were growing up, who inspired you?

Me personally, it was definitely Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones who’s records were played in my house by my brother and sister. They played them in the house constantly. They were older so when they went out, I was left in the house with these amazing records. Then I remember disco coming around and hearing the sound of Giorgio Moroder and I just loved it.

When you listen to music, whom do you listen to?

I just introduced the band to a couple of Neil Young albums, and they turned to me and said “Oh my God this is amazing.” They just listened to Harvest and just 10 minutes ago they heard the track Old Man, and it’s such a fantastic song, we were just discussing that.

Do you write all your material?

It all depends. For example Paul might come in after he’s been to a club in London like Fabric and say I want to make something really deep and dirty. There’s a track we have called The Brazilian and it ended up like a gritty underground house track. We tried to add a vocal to it and then decided no, it is what it is, we’re really proud of it. There’s another track called Throwing Shapes and it sounds like a Prince kind of funky guitar thing. We always enter the studio with different emotions, whether it be arguments with lovers, or it could be something positive. We just express those feelings in our songwriting. Sometimes I’ll come in when I’ve been sitting up late at night with my acoustic guitar and I’ll say “boys, listen to this, I’ve got this wicked chord in this verse.” All these songs come from all different areas and they’re all very personal to us as the three members of the band. Every single song is some kind of emotion we’ve all been through.

So all the songs are credited to all three members - correct?

Yes, absolutely.

I know a lot of gay people are really turned on by your sound. Being a “straight” act, how do you and your two mates feel about your large gay following?

We have no prejudice and have no tolerance for it. Our first exposure to the world was Days Go By and it’s even a great instrumental club track. It also has a universal theme and lyric. It affects all of us, no matter who one loves. It could be a guy to a guy, a girl to a girl. It says Days Go By all I think of you. It’s about missing someone. When it comes down to it, we are all human with human emotions. We embrace the entire audience. Why does there have to be any walls? My girlfriend said it very nice, she said “ If people like this music then they like it, there shouldn’t be any pigeon holes.” I agree, no more brackets, no more walls and no more wars.

Nicely said

Hey man, we’re all in this together.

© 2003 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.