In his brand new Action Saxxon guise, Norfolk native Saxxon is taking us on a jungle odyssey...
Meet Gareth Greenway, a mild-mannered junglist hailing from the unlikely D&B hotbed that is Norfolk. Back in the late 2000s most people knew him as one half of Savage Rehab, a duo who broke through with big, rough soul cuts on Bryan Gee's iconic V imprint. But since 2013 he's been known as Saxxon, a subgenre-smelting solo artist whose discography flexes from dusty jazzy steppers to swampy jungle slap-sessions on labels such as Liquid V, Natty Dub, Soul Trader, Weapons Of Choice and Liondub.
These days, however, you can also call him Action Saxxon: a not so mild-mannered junglist from outer space who's got vibe muscles the size of your fridge and "collects inspirations and otherworldly sonics from the known and unknown multiverse, combining them into pleasing musical adventures for the people of Earth."
Confused? You won't be for long.
Emerging from a year of near silence, Saxxon has returned with a conceptual-debut-album bang: Action Saxxon: Jungle Odyssey. Less of an alias, more of a spirit animal, Action Saxxon is the essence of everything Greenway has been inspired by in music over the years and everything he wants to represent, as both a DJ and a provider of wholesome home listening drum & bass entertainment. It's the essence felt throughout Jungle Odyssey, a remarkable 21-track album that covers the full spectrum of sounds he's been known for, galvanising them with strong gully undertones and bringing the album together with a selection of skits and cheeky narrative Easter eggs.
Featuring the likes of AK1200, DJ Limited, Jaxx, MCs such as Navigator, Blackout JA, Coppa and Mr Multiplex and fellow Norfolk roller royalty T>I, the album not only captures where Saxxon is at, but is also a powerful summary of drum & bass's rude state of health generally. The boundaries are down, subgenres aren't so static and more acts than ever are making "pleasing musical combinations for the people of Earth".
Intrigued? You should be. We spoke to Saxxon to find out more…
This is your debut album - and you don't get a chance to make another one. What were the most important things you wanted the album to do or say?
"Oh, you said it! It needed to have everything that's me in there. I don't do one style so I wanted this album to reflect that. I also wanted it to flex what I love about drum & bass and jungle, and be an album you could play out and listen to at home. Musical feels, but having the grunt and impact. Saturday night-worthy, but also Monday afternoon-worthy."
Job done! But that's no easy challenge, right?
"Ha! I realised how much work I'd undertaken as it progressed. The main challenge came about through the fact there are a lot of tunes on there, so I had to make sure they all still worked one after the other.
"A few years ago, I stopped writing from the drop and started writing from the intro. That was a bit of a game-changer for me: I found that when you turn the page, the rest unfolds. I know what type of drop or contrast it needs as the answer to the intro question. I'm pretty sure I'd worked this out a while before, in theory, but didn't have the production chops to actually create the drops I heard in my head."
Starting with the drop seems like a really odd way to start a tune...
"I did it for years, and I know many people swear by it. But to not do that means the musical elements set the scene and create the story, which really helped with the narrative and concept that runs through the odyssey."
Odyssey is a great word. What was the last odyssey you went on?
"Ha! Every time I open my DAW and start writing a new tune! I guess physically the next odyssey will be when I go to Columbia, which I'll have returned from by the time this is published. I'm really excited. I've played North America a lot but never even been to South America."
You've just returned from the States, right?
"Yeah, when I finished this project I went over there and did a few promo shows. I did Respect in LA, TorqueDNB in Orlando and 2KDeep in Brooklyn, but most the time I hung out with friends, wrote tunes and played golf badly with Dave AK1200."
He's something of a D&B legend in the US, isn't he?
"He is! He did the first syndicated FM tune in the United States with a remix of a track called Drowning. It's a pleasure working with him. We connected after I did my US debut in Orlando and realised we both loved the same things about drum & bass and wanted to contribute similar things. At the time it felt like the genre was getting a little too electronic and soulless. We wanted to bring more soulful ideas with more dirt and grunt. We work well together and have a lot of respect for each other.
"We've got a couple of tunes on this album. We've got some more bits coming on other labels and have a larger project we're developing. It could be another concept-style release like the album. Action Saxxon Meets AK12,000,000 or something. It'll definitely be a concept of some description. Who knows?!"
Bring us up to speed on the Action Saxxon concept…
"Because it was such a gap between releases, I wanted to come with something different. And I like the idea of the artist stepping back and putting a new character forward to help with the concept LP narrative."
Where's the line between Saxxon and Action Saxxon? What can he do that you can't?
"Action Saxxon can travel across multiple dimensions, he can collect inspirations and otherworldly noises from the multiverse and can combine them into pleasing musical adventures for the people of earth. Whereas Saxxon likes travelling to restaurants and beating you at Mario Kart."
Sounds like a keeper. We've mentioned AK1200 but tell me about the other collaborations. You seem like a collab-happy guy...
"I am from time to time! I've got a ton of collaborations that have yet to come out and are still waiting for stories to be built around them. But the ones on the album were all made specifically for the album. People I really wanted to do something with because it would fit the story really well."
"Actually that's a bit different! We're good buddies and have got around 18 tracks finished together. Having him on the album was really important to set those tracks off."
He's a monster...
"He is! He's such fun to work with as well. We might sit and chat shit for hours but a tune always comes out every time we have a session."
Setting the vibe!
"Absolutely. Someone once told me the best way to start work is to play. Especially creative work. It brings good energy for the music. It takes the pressure off before you lock yourselves away in a small room to create a vibe out of nothing."
Yeah, when you put collaborations like that, they're kind of strange set-ups really. Especially when you don't know each other too well!
"Definitely. I always chat to anyone I'm going to collaborate with on the phone. I have to have that personal connection and know we're going to gel. Your instincts tell you if you can work with each other or not. So it amazes me that people like Kanye and Jay Z can agree on enough to make an album... let alone a second!"
Ha! Speaking of rappers, let's big up the MCs. There are a lot of them on the album, and it's a great time for MCs right now...
"Yeah, massive up all MCs appearing on the LP. And it is a great time! Any MCs that know me, know how hard to please I am in this department. You can have the best bars and best flow, but if your voice isn't good to listen to you're going to have problems. You need tone, flow and lyrical style."
And personality, too…
"Yes! That's key, too. I want an 80s rap block party vibe on any show I do. I want full inclusive vibes. I don't want any lyrics making people feel uncomfortable or have a bad one, the best MCs make people feel comfortable and rock together.
"All the MCs I've got on the album have those inclusive vibes, they're essential. Once you've got the MC right, you can get really filthy in the dance because they're holding the vibe down. The right person controlling the mic is essential."
Musically, drum & bass seems to going back to the party vibes, too…
"Definitely. Drum & bass isn't so tribal any more; it doesn't feel like people are sticking to their pockets. People are going back to that time when there wasn't really the subgenres, just big tunes that created really exciting contrasts in sets. It's not like football where you have to pick teams, you can love it all."
When you look at people like Andy C, Hype, Marky… they've never play just one sound.
"I think it's a bit short-sighted, and a bit boring, for you as a producer or as a DJ or for people listening to you. Someone asked me why I did so many styles the other day. I said, ‘I don't do styles, I do me!'. Subgenres are only there so you can talk about the music, pigeonholes to explain what you're talking about. Labels are handy, but don't misuse them - they're there as descriptive devices."
Amen. So give me a high - a moment where the experience was really fulfilling…
"When I sent it all off! There were so many little details to fine-tune and get right. Like the skits and bits like my nephew Sam right at the end. I recorded him a McDonalds drive-thru saying ‘That's your lot' in his distinctive Norfolk tones."
Nice. Any more family members on the album?
"Yeah, my other nieces and nephews are on it, trying to teach their dad how to say ‘Wa g'wan?'. There's also a voice note from Barrington where he can't say Action Saxxon right. So all those little bits, the story bits, the Mikey Blitz skit... I felt they brought it together."
Now give me a low - a moment when you felt like quitting and becoming a bus driver….
"Ha! I think about driving a bus every goddamn day of my life. Nah, I've never thought about quitting. Even for a minute. But no, once the album was really devised from an EP I was quite happy. I had moments of despair, especially when I mastered it, but you have to step back and remember only you can do you in your own way. I just have to keep on being me."
Words: Dave Jenkins
Action Saxxon: Jungle Oydssey is out now on Liondub. Buy/stream it here.
Tags: Saxxon, Action Saxxon, Liondub, T>I, Dave AK1200, jungle, drum & bass, drum n' bass, D&B, DJ Limited, Jaxx, Navigator, Blackout JA, Coppa, Mr Multiplex, Savage Rehab, Liquid V, Natty Dub, Soul Trader, Weapons Of Choice, Gareth Greenway