Oftentimes interviews seem transactional and a bit impersonal. When you are lucky, there is that connection and vibe that feels like you’re old friends having a chat. That’s the kind of warm vibe you get from Canadian duo Sultan + Shepard. Yes, we talk about productions and songwriting, but they open up about everything from working with David Guetta
and Dillon Francis
to hair care, food, and weed. People are often warned not to meet their favorite musicians because they won’t live up to expectations. Sultan + Ned Shepard are just what you would imagine and even moreso.
RS: I follow you on Instagram and you guys are real foodies. Just judging based on the food what is your favorite place in the world to DJ?
RS: What do you like about the food there? What dishes do you like?
Ned Shepard: I’ll tell you what he likes, he likes chicken tikka and dal makhani. I eat lamb biryani and we do the chicken and lamb vindaloo, and okra and bhindi.
Sultan: We like eating in Peru too, we like ceviche, chifa, alpaca and tartar.
RS: Alpaca wool?
Ned Shepard: Yea exactly, the thing that looks like a llama.
RS: In that direction, if you had to survive on one kind of cuisine for a week what would you choose?
Ned Shepard: Thai
Sultan: I would say Mexican for sure.
Ned Shepard: That’s because your girlfriend is Mexican!
Sultan: Yeah but I was into Mexican food before I met her!
RS: This question is for you, you know who Zendaya the singer is right? She was on the Fashion Police and Giuliana Rancic said regarding her dreadlocks -“she looks like she smells like patchouli.” It was a comment against her that she looked like a weed smoker because she had dreads. I wanted to get your opinion on the situation and that type of stereotyping.
Sultan: That my dreads smell like weed?
RS: Yeah that you have dreads so you must smoke weed.
Sultan: That is a total stereotype, I do smoke weed though. I put all kinds of crazy nice stuff in my hair so it never smells like weed. I think that is what it comes down to, if you take care of your hair then it doesn’t have to be the stereotype.
RS: That makes sense. I am assuming that you are really pro legalization of marijuana?
RS: Can you think of any reason why it shouldn’t be done?
RS: Let’s get into the real controversial part. I saw a plaque that you guys got for the David Guetta and Showtek ft. Vassy “Bad” record. I read through the credits and I didn’t see y’alls name, why did you guys get a plaque for the record?
Sultan: Which credits did you look at?
RS: The single name, it says David Guetta and Showtek ft. Vassy.
Ned Shepard: Oh that is the title. If you look in the actual credits it will say written by David Guetta, Vassy, Showtek, Sultan & Ned Shepard.
RS: So you two wrote the track?
Ned Shepard: We co-wrote the record, it was our idea to start the whole sample.
Sultan: The track started with us and Vassy in our studio in LA, it was just a demo and then David heard it and developed it from there.
RS: Okay, I didn’t understand that. Also in that direction where do you find the best gummy candy?
Ned Shepard: Germany, that is where the gummy bear factory is.
RS: Congratulations on the Rudimental remix for “Lay It All On Me.” Did you have any idea that would be the mix that made the song so big?
Sultan: No, it was funny because we have both been fans of Rudimental for a while and our agent’s buddies manage Rudimental. When we found out that they were playing in town we were like yo Ben lets go check out the show and he was like I got you guys. We all went together and we had the best time of our lives at that show, it was like they were playing in our living room, it was so awesome. We went home and we were both freaking out that we had to do something with those guys. Ned was like why don’t we hit them up and see if we can try and do a remix just for the hell of it just because we loved them so much. We hit up our agent and he hit up their management and they said sure let’s do it. We did it and it just ended up being like that, it was a labor of love and I think that is what made it so special and gave it what it got.
RS: I totally get that. Was the Kreesha Turner track made in the same way?
Ned Shepard: Well that was another story. We met Kreesha because we did remix for a song that she did with Delerium a while ago. She actually got in touch with us on Twitter a year or two after because she wanted to perform our version of the song and she wanted some of the parts. We became friends with her and would hang out and write with her over the years. We decided that we should do something for real and so that was how “Bring Me Back” came about.
RS: I knew that she was Canadian, are y’all Canadian also?
Ned Shepard: I am American, Sultan is Canadian. I do not have a Canadian passport but I am a permanent resident of Canada, so we are technically both Canadian. I can’t vote for president but I am a Canadian resident. We formed, started, and spent most of our career in Canada.
RS: To me that song is the perfect pop song that belongs on every radio station. It kind of confused me because it came out on Armada and that should have been on like Sony or RCA, was that the goal when you made the song? What was the story with that?
Sultan: I think that the goal was to make a dance record, I don’t think that we were going for something so poppy. We looked at it as a dance record, we never really thought that it would be a cross over record but it has that potential. We signed it to Armada who we are working with a lot now. These are the kind of records that if they eventually do crossover they will get licensed or upstreamed to the bigger labels and they will go from there.
RS: What I also like about you guys is that you don’t have just one sound, you have a really commercial sound but you can also work with the Futuristic Polar Bears on a track like “Manila” and make a really big banger. When you go into the studio do you have in your mind what kind of track you want to do or what is your creative process like?
Sultan: That is a good question. We are interested in making a lot of different kinds of music so it really just depends on what we are feeling like. Sometimes when we collaborate with different people we sort of go with their vibe or we start an idea. Like with “Bad” it was sort of like we were just in the studio with Vassy and we had a concept for something and didn’t really know what to do with it and then it turned into something else when other people got involved. It is kind of an organic process for us and so we don’t try to set our agendas too strong as far as that goes.
Ned Shepard: I think our focus more than anything else especially nowadays is to write full songs.
RS: I am going to give you an agenda right now. I know that you are signed to Armada but let’s pretend that you were signed to Spinnin’ and you were forced to put out a future house remix of a ‘90s record, which one would that be?
Sultan: We actually did do a future house remix of Whitney Houston’s “It Not Right But It’s Okay” but it didn’t come out on Spinnin’.
RS: Is it out?
Sultan: We put it out on our SoundCloud and we are actually trying to clear it because we love Whitney and we wanted to do her justice.
Ned Shepard: We do have a ‘90s record coming out, not on Spinnin’ and not future house though.
RS: One thing that totally confused me is you guys have a certain vibe and Dillon Francis has a really goof ball vibe and somehow when you guys all worked together the song was so somber and so serious, how did that happen?
Sultan: Once again we did the vocal with Kim so we started the project in our studio and we brought it over to Dillon so maybe that was why.
Ned Shepard: But the sessions with Dillon were not somber. They were very funny, literally ever minute that we spent with Dillon was all ridiculous. We last saw him at a festival in Phoenix last year and something came up about spooning or something and about when we were younger and he was like “don’t you remember the song we made? Pshh god!” Basically I don’t think I have ever had a serious conversation with Dillon which is why we love him, he is hilarious. He has such a good vibe. The song did come out a little bit moodier than you would expect. I think the thing about Dillon that people don’t really realize is that even though his personality is really silly he is very serious about music and a lot of his music is really good and not silly. Some of it is silly but some is really moody and melodic and he gets really into it so it’s cool that he has that side.
RS: Let’s say they are going to make a movie about you, which actor would play you?
Ned Shepard: I think the actor that would play me is Sacha Baron Cohen.
RS: I totally see that! Yes!
Ned Shepard: I think Lenny Kravitz would play Sultan.
RS: Lenny Kravitz 20 years ago.
Sultan: Look you are stereotyping me.
Ned Shepard: No, I’m not, you have an affinity with Lenny Kravitz.
RS: And if he is not available then you are going to get Zendaya.
Sultan: No, I am going to get Slash.
RS: You have done a lot of interviews over your career, what is the strangest question that you have ever been asked in an interview?
Sultan: How do they put your extensions in?
RS: Are those extensions?
RS: I was going to say! How often do you have to get it redone at the roots?
Sultan: Every three months. I don’t have to though, I could let it be but I like to be nice and fashionable.
RS: What is coming next from you guys?
Sultan: We have a collaboration with Showtek coming out next month which is going to be a big one. We also have a string of releases, we have been working really hard in the studio so there is a lot of good stuff coming our way.
RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
Ned Shepard: Anyone who considers themselves a fan of Sultan & Shepard we really like you, we think that is pretty rad. Sometimes you don’t hear or see all of your fans so it is nice when people tweet us or send us messages and let us know that they are into what we are doing, it is really appreciated.
Interview conducted March 2016 during Winter Music Conference.