- Words Notion Staff
DJs Annie Mac and Melle Brown have teamed up a blockbuster, summer-ready collaboration, "Feel About You". The pair sit down for Notion to dive into the song's process.
In the music world, Annie Mac’s name carries its own mythology. 17 prestigious years spent at BBC Radio 1 helped establish her as one of the country’s foremost music broadcasters and DJs, with her work uplifting marginalised and undervalued artists making her a crucially influential tastemaker.
She has always possessed a passion for making music, too, and she has finally found the ideal creative partner in London-based DJ star Melle Brown. A Notion favourite for some time, Melle has worked with stars like Tiana Major9 and received a coveted co-sign from Elton John on his radio show for her beguiling and intricately inventive tunes.
Thanks to the facilitation of top producer (and Annie’s husband) Toddla T, Annie Mac and Melle Brown have joined forces for the new tune “Feel About You”, where Annie’s lyrics and vocals are showcased for the very first time alongside Melle’s confident and perfectly complimentary beats. It’s a song for the summer that embodies the spirit of collaboration and fun in which the track was created.
Annie and Melle have forged quite the creative partnership, and we wanted to learn all about it – so we sat down with the duo to listen to them in conversation about making it in the industry and how their paths lead them to one another.
Notion: What have you enjoyed the most about working together, and what have you learned from each other?
Melle: What I’ve enjoyed the most about working with Annie has been how empowered she’s made me feel as an up and coming producer, and really letting me lead the production of the track and how I felt it should feel. I love that a lot of the times if we didn’t feel something was right, we would both agree at the same time. We would really bounce off each other and make sure both parties felt comfortable. I think that’s what’s made this experience so enjoyable, because we’ve respected each other since the first voice note that Annie sent me. I’ve just learned to just go for it, really, taking inspiration from Annie in terms of the incredible career that she’s had, and being so brave to try something new. I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life, because it’s been such an incredible experience.
Annie: My experience so mirrors Melle’s, in that from the very beginning, those excited voice notes on that first day, there’s just been a real synergy, and a genuine mutual excitement, and also a kind of motivation around what the song is. So it’s always been about trying to make the song as true as possible to Melle’s vision on this, because she’s the artist, but also to try and reflect the words through the music. I’ve never done it [sung on a track] before! I’ve sung backing vocals for my brother’s rock band when I was in my twenties and stuff, but I’m just in awe of how you can walk into a studio in the morning and walk out, and there’s a fucking song that did not exist before, this kind of magical creation of music. Just to be on the inside of that, having been on the outside of it and kind of curating it on the inside of it and watching a song through Melle’s vision, which has been so precise and so focused, it’s been such a privilege to be a part of it. I couldn’t really pick out one bit – I’m just relieved because I didn’t know Melle when I recorded vocals, so I didn’t what you were really like as a person! It’s so serendipitous that we actually liked each other and we have this very equal approach to making music, I suppose.
Melle: And off the back of that Annie, was it an odd feeling when you felt the urge to write the lyrics to “Feel About You” when [Annie’s husband] Toddla T came home and played you the beat?
Annie: I look back on that day and think, what was going on? I guess, kind of inherently, I always create stuff. I think I was three months out of radio, In my head, I was getting used to the idea of writing every day, as an exercise, flexing that muscle. So when I heard the beat, it just kind of unlocked something, and I felt like I wanted to write to it. I do that sometimes, like I’ve done that in the past, I’ve heard stuff and I’ve sung lyrics over it. It was only ever for my own enjoyment. But because this was coming so easily and naturally, and I could see that it could have been a song, if I just mentioned it to you in passing, it felt really natural to do. It didn’t feel weird or odd. The whole thing felt very easy and fluid as an exercise. How did you feel when you got the voice note?
Melle: I know it wasn’t April Fool’s or anything. Obviously, I’ve listened to your radio show for years, and your voice is so iconic. So me and T made the beat. I was just gassed that we’ve made such a sick beat. I was just so excited. T and I were talking about top liners, and maybe who we heard to sing over the beat. And then he sent me a voice note the next morning, and it was your voice. I didn’t want to say it out loud, because I just couldn’t believe it! I was like, “is that Annie?”, and he was like, yeah, like, and he sent me a GIF. I just couldn’t believe it. I was actually lost for words and trying to take my mind back there makes me speechless again, because it was just a moment. You know, I just love and respect you so much. To your voice and all the links that you’ve done in the past and introducing people’s tracks one Radio 1 and Hottest Record and everything. It was such a surreal experience, because I was so elated for you.
Annie: When you told me that, I was really moved.
Melle: It makes me emotional when I think of it. I’ve never had the opportunity to meet you. I was just always in awe of you from afar. You kind of made the decision to leave Radio 1 and one of my tracks was called “Background Noise” and it landed on the BBC Introducing playlists, track of the week on Radio 1. I remember thinking, this is absolutely incredible, but the one person that I really would love to play one of my tracks is Annie Mac. And then the news broke that you were leaving and I was like, that’s great for her, it’s an amazing like career moment, You’re so iconic and legendary, everything you did at Radio 1, but there was a part of me that was like, damn, I’m never gonna get Annie Mac to play my song! That morning, with the voice note, of your voice, over my bear! I don’t even know how to put that into words like. It’s really special. I think one thing that I’d like to highlight is that, I was almost ready to give up.
Annie: Why were you?
Melle: I released an EP that did really well and it was like, you know, we’ve got support from Elton John, and then the pandemic hit, and I just kind of lost the motivation and love for the music industry, in a way.
Annie: I felt that you didn’t think you could succeed within the music industry.
Melle: Yeah, and succeed the way I wanted to. My level of success wasn’t everything that I had seen within previous campaigns or within the industry. I just wanted to make music that made me feel something. It wasn’t necessarily about streams or anything for me, I wanted to put on new talent, I wanted to collaborate with people I was inspired by, and that’s kind of all that mattered. I didn’t feel like I was able to get that success in my world in terms of in the music industry, so I was just kind of like, you know what, maybe it’s not for me, and then I met my manager Jameela. I’d worked with her actually, at Warner Records. She just kind of encouraged me to keep going. If it wasn’t for her, I might have just released a song every now and then on SoundCloud. But we pulled through, and I got into sessions with up and coming artists who I admired people like fromLondon and Angelina, and then I made “Brown Eyes”, and that kind of ignited something in me and a special conversation I had with my nan by the river in Hackney. She was asking me, what beat would you make from the sparkles on this river, and then we were sitting by the river, and yeah, we were making beats. I decided to record that moment, and it was so special. And so now every time I listen to “Brown Eyes”, it brings tears really, to the surface, because that song changed everything for me. And it led me here.
Annie: That song is the song that I listen to, after T played me the instrumental. I was like, I love this, I’m gonna go and check out Melle Brown, and I listened to that song. I was so bowled over by the quality of it, and just how aligned it was to what I love in music, the soulfulness with the kind of sonic warmth. I was just so unbelievably impressed, which probably made me feel more comfortable and excited about being involved on it, and hopefully wanting you to like it. But also, with regards what you said about being disillusioned with the music industry. I think that’s what aligns us a lot, is that I’ve never really been so wooed by the the power that the music industry afforded me. Obviously I took the responsibility of product very seriously within the realms of what my show was, you know, the remit of my show. But in terms of the power outside of the industry, people always used to say, “oh, my God, you’ve got so much [power]”, but I was never into that, I was quite uncomfortable with that, the idea that someone could be that powerful as an interviewer, or have this kind of gatekeeper role. I think having been 17 years in the game and it’s easy to grow a little cynical after a while, because you see how these things work from the inside, you see how people are hyped up and spat out, you see how trends come and go you see how the system works on every single level, how music is filtered through how people get pushed ahead, because of misogyny because of race, all these things that are intrinsic in the system. So I was really ready to step away from the industry side of my job. Working with you, I think if I had worked with someone who’s really ambitious and kind of enmeshed in the industry side of things, I just don’t think it would have worked. It makes a lot of sense why we work well together, because we have the same aims for the music, which is just to make the music that was the most truthful to us, as opposed to any other commercial agenda.
Melle: That’s actually really incredible to hear you say that. I’m a bit overwhelmed, really! It’s just so special. It really is.
Annie: So what do you hope for with this song?
Melle: I just hope when people hear it, they just have the best time on the dancefloor. They’re saying along to the lyrics, singing along to the beat, chanting with their friends. I just hope it brings people a sense of, obviously joy, but equally, I hope it inspires people to break the boundaries that you sometimes set for yourself, I feel like we all do. This is a boundary I think a lot of people never really saw me achieving. And likewise, I don’t think you ever really saw yourself doing a song. So therefore, I just hope it’s kind of an inspiration track for the summer, , I just hope people know there are no bounds to what you can achieve. And how you feel about the people that you surround yourself wit is maybe what matters and you know, spreading love and supporting each other. That’s really how I would love people to feel about it.
Annie: I hope they connect with the honesty of it, you know? It’s very pure in terms of what that song is and where it came from. It’s very pure as to the initial kind of creative process. It hasn’t been listened to by a lot of people. We’ve kept it very tight and just stayed true to it. I hope you can hear that in it somehow weirdly, unconsciously.
Melle: I think people can connect with honesty. That’s why I think it’s so special, that’s why it kind of gives me chills because it was produced out of such a random moment. We didn’t even really rerecord loads of bits. A lot of the storyline is still from a WhatsApp voice note, because the first time, and we couldn’t replicate it.
Melle: Did you ever imagine that you would be featured on a track co-produced by Toddla T?
Annie: No, it’s not something that ever crossed my mind. But thinking about it now, it makes complete sense. I guess it’s the feeling of safety and security involved, that it was you that he worked with. The way it came to me, I think if that had come to me in a board meeting, it would have been completely different, but because it came to me in this very, “just check this out, you might like this”, I was able to have my own space and time to kind of germinate this idea. I think it makes complete sense that it happened that way. I don’t think it could have happened any other way. I’m so happy he’s involved, and I’m so happy that you and him bonded, and that you got so much inspiration out of him in terms of being a producer, because I feel like he in his own very unique way is hugely inspirational to me as a producer and how he handles the commerce side of music. It’s always a tough line to tread, that line of being an artist and selling music. I think it’s something he’s really battled with in terms of how to get it right and continues to battle with, it’s a work in progress, but I find him very inspiring in that world.
Melle: He changed my whole perspective. When I met him, it was a “She Is The Music” course which aims to support up and coming producers, and he came in as a guest one day. We just clicked! I spoke to him about impostor syndrome, and I spoke to him about playing instruments and various different things, and he just was so empowering and just said, do what you want to do. You can make whatever you want to make, you’ve still made it, you know what I mean? I just walked away with so much inspiration and excitement. The first thing I did was literally called Jameela and was like, “please, can you get me in a session with Toddla T, please?” It was life changing, almost. So that’s what happened. And we made two tracks in that day, in the space of like, four hours. And so the inspiration was just there, the buzz was there. And Adrian as well, I have to shout him out. He’s an incredible keys player. I think, because we all were on the same page, and we spoke about our love for house music. I was kind of directing the tone of the session. What I saw, what I envisioned for the track, sonically as well, it was just such a special session. I think you’re right, there’s a truth and honesty in the way it was brought to you, and security in that as well.
Annie: One thing that I’ve been so interested in and continue to be is just your vision as a producer. I do think that it’s been really so impressive, to see just how focused you are, how anal you are about single aspect of the track, you know exactly how you wanted to sound and everything from, you know, every single tiny detail. That’s way beyond my kind of bandwidth in terms of what I know about music., so it’s been so interesting to see. I think it shows just how good you are as an artist, because you have this really clear vision, and you’re quite specific about needing to not compromise on that vision. I think that’s a real strength. Even with the best intentions, I think it’s very easy sometimes to be swayed by other people and think, “if he thinks that, he’s quite powerful, maybe it should be that way”. But you’ve always been very clear. That’s really so important in order to succeed in this industry is to know your vision and to be protective of that.
Melle: I definitely think there are certain elements that I just love with music, like, in terms of synth lines, I love writing synth lines and horn lines, and emotive pads that just touch your soul. If I can’t feel that, then it’s not right. Pretty simple! I mean, yeah, I see myself as quite a perfectionist. And sometimes it can be to my detriment, because I want to keep tweaking and tweaking things.
Annie: Oh no, it’s never to your detriment. I don’t think that’s ever to your detriment. Only a good thing.
Melle: Thank you! I do that sometimes, I kind of counteract. I find it hard sometimes to take compliments. Sometimes I’ll kind of dim down. I haven’t fully stepped into my light. I think this song has enabled me to do that. I’m still kind of like, oh my gosh, like, I’m not too sure, but this song really matters.
Annie: The lead up to this song, you’ve really shown your capabilities as a producer. So, you know, the last track that’s out has been getting loads of radio plays, a nice, consistent kind of ascendancy in terms of popularity of your music. It’s not just like the songs popping out of nowhere, you know what I mean? You’ve really showed your worth as an artist, so you can know, embellish, as opposed to kind of define who you are.
Melle: I’ve got so much love and everything for so many people who’ve supported me from the very beginning from my very first EP, which was ‘Blossom’. That my university dissertation! It’s just such an incredible feeling. I was gonna ask, have your kids heard the track? And do they love it?
Annie: I was playing it last night in the kitchen over and over again because I was trying to find a snippet to put on social media today. And my son was in the room. And I think he’s heard it, but they just have absolutely no interest. T tries to play his tunes so often that I think they’re just [bored]. They haven’t really sat down and like, properly listened. And if they are impressed, they haven’t shown any ounce of that to me. I never know, but that’s what kids are for!
Melle: I was gonna say in your set – we’ve just come back from Lost and Found, the most iconic festival, honestly. One thing I noticed from that festival, you seem to surround yourself with just lovely people, there was not an ounce of negative vibes. Do you know what I mean? Everybody in your circle, everybody you choose to put on shows respect and love for each other. Even backstage and you know, seeing people’s sets, we were all just cheering everyone On, and I’ve never really experienced anything like that on such a mass scale before. And your set, your fans, at the end, they were chanting your name, it was amazing. So I was wondering, have you thought about what track you would love to mix out of “Feel About You”? And I guess where it would fit within your music realm as a DJ?
Annie: So I guess it depends on the type of set I’m playing. First of all, just the idea of me playing a song with me on it makes me cringe so much, because I feel, what does that look like? The idea of that makes me a bit – ugh! I would have to get over that personally, I’d have to be like right, this is a song you love. So when I do that, I think it could work really well before midnight for instance. I think it could work really gorgeously like probably early on in a set. It’s got this real warmth and it’s one of those songs that I think a lot of people would just feel compelled to go to the dance floor. It’s got that melody, that hook that kind of puts people in. In terms of mixing out of it, there’s a song that I’m loving the moment, Honey Dijon’s “Work” that is incredible and it’s also got these big kind of like minor jazz chords that really define it, so I think that would sit nicely with the chords on “Feel About You”, but I’ll have to try it out. You’ll know, because you’ve played out of it.
Melle: Yeah, I’ve mixed it into “Get Involved” by Frankie Knuckles and Eric Kupper. I just love the way that the baseline comes in on that song and the drums from “Feel About You” at the end mix really lovely into that song. It’s just so fun because my sets are, I always try and highlight sounds that are like more deep and soulful house, and sounds like I grew up listening to. It’s really interesting where it sits in because it brings a certain kind of energy that I can kind of hype stuff up to the next level. It fits within the middle and gets the people, like you say, It’s infectious. You want to move to it, you can’t not move to it.
Annie: Obviously, the first time I heard that out, as opposed to just in my headphones, was when you played it a lot to the band. I was backstage, and I heard it, and I was like, oh, my God, I stood there next to the bass, just listening. And it sounded amazing, but it also sounded completely different, you know, in that context. My friend Grimmy was on holiday on a yacht with his mates. I sent it to him. And he just played it on repeat. And he sent me this video of him and all his friends on a yacht just like having a good time in the sunshine. And that was a real moment, like, oh my god, this is real. I guess we’re going to have to get used to it a lot more. It’s going to take a bit of adjustment, I think hearing in that context.
Melle: You have always supported up and coming producers, who are women, and you’ve always pushed for equality between sexes across your career in the music industry. How does it feel to be doing it again, in such an iconic way?
Annie: It just feels totally natural. It’s what I gravitate towards. It’s not thought, it’s not considered. It just makes sense for me to work with you. I’ve always been into new artists. The fact that you’re a young woman in the game, you know, I’m biased, I would want to support you anyway. It’s just a lovely fucking bonus that it has that it’s kind of worked out in this way. But I genuinely think that that’s what I naturally gravitate towards and thrive off. So maybe it’s my own journey, maybe it’s feeling underrepresented my entire career feeling like a bit of an underdog and just wanting to you know, uplift people who are on the margins and deserve to be in the spotlight. I’m just happy it’s happening. It was never like, you know, a box ticking thing. It was always way more than that.
Melle: You’ve got such a way of always supporting up and coming artists and fight on finding new talent. And I just, I don’t think you ever envisioned that you would be doing it again, in this way.
Annie: It just makes total sense. Like, T and I were talking about it, and he was just like, of course, that’s what you do if you’re going to do a song, because it matches and aligns completely with what I want. Your vision and my vision are the same in terms of what we want out of music, you’re still completely and we’ll always be probably tainted by that idea of industry and hype and the idea of winning and the idea of success, I suppose I’ve got to a point in my life where I’ve completely redefined what I feel like success is to me. Success is about the process. It’s about the joy of creating something and how that makes you feel for me, and I know it is for you too. So I’m excited to watch you do that in your way and I know about how you run your business how you approach ethically everything you do in that world. And I’m so impressed by that. And it took me a lot longer to realise all of these things that you have already realised at the age of 25. Like when I was 25, I would have got my radio show a year later. And I would have been working really hard and really ambitious, but very vulnerable, you know? It’s easily influenced, not really having any mentors in the game, not having anyone that I could really ask advice to, feeling very alone in the world of dance music. Just kind of going with what I thought was the right thing to do and what I was told, and the only power that I had then. I’m really glad you mentioned it was choosing the people to be around me. So choosing the representation, choosing my agent, choosing my manager. And that took a while to get right. But it ended up with me having a full female team for the entirety of my career. Every management agent will be female. It’s not me being, I want a female team. It’s just what I knew that I needed instinctively. And it just happens that way. I think that it’s kind of knowing yourself, and knowing what you need in yourself. I’m 43 now, so I knew immediately when I got to know you, and when I heard your music, and when I understood your approach that it was just right.
Melle: Thank you! That means so much. Oh my gosh!