How did you guys meet?
Sultan: When we were living in Montreal, I was DJ’ing and had just started releasing records. Ned had just come to Montreal for college and gave me a demo of some music that he was working on at one of my shows. I liked it right away and gave him a call the next day and we became friends, at first just giving each other feedback on our songs, but then eventually working on things together.
Who influences you musically?
Ned: I was really influenced by growing up in New York City, so that meant a wide range of artists from Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, Brian Eno, U2, Blondie, Madonna, but also Wu-Tang Clan, Biggy, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and the Beastie Boys. When I was sixteen i lived in France and discovered electronic music and it was Underworld, Faithless, Moby, The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, Paul Okenfold, BT, Sasha + Digweed and so on.
Sultan: Growing up in the middle east, I had access to a different spectrum of music and I listened to a lot of pop muisc early on like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and Maxi Priest, but I got really heavy into grunge and metal in high school and college, so- Pearl Jam, Metallica, Guns n Roses, Soundgarden, Tool and bands like that. When I started DJ’ing Deep Dish was a huge influence as were Sasha + Digweed and Danny Tenaglia.
You guys are both classically trained musicians. What’s the reason you made the transformation over to house and dance?
Ned: It’s hard to really say. I think that around the late 90’s and early 2000’s dance music was having a mini boom in North America and the first wave of European DJ’s were coming over and there were a lot of really great underground clubs and raves in Canada and the US. It was still small and niche, but it was exciting and felt like new territory. It was also a true alternative scene and it felt special and I think that was a big appeal. Rock, Hip-hop, and all those forms of music had already become commercial- they were on MTV and the radio, but dance music felt really new and underground. Like it was from the future.
When did you first realise you could make a career as a DJs?
Sultan: When I started releasing records, there was a demand for me to go and tour and that was really the beginning of me thinking this would be a career. That was around 2002, which is also when I met Ned. We didn’t start touring together for a few more years but we were already working on music together. I had just finished college and I was able to survive off making music and it was very exciting.
Ned: I mean, to be honest as soon as people started paying us to remix songs or release songs and then go and play shows, it really felt like something was starting. When you are first starting it doesn’t feel like a career because you’re just so excited to go and play, but it really was the foundation for what we’re doing today. It wasn’t until we were a little older that we realized that we were no longer trying to become DJ’s but we were actually real DJ’s. I think that was sort of a funny realization, like waking up one day and being like , “oh, yeah so that’s my job. Cool!”
What’s the best part of being international DJs?
Sultan: Getting to travel and meet so many people and having friends all over the world is amazing. We’re lucky that we get to do that every week or so! Also, performing music that you’ve made is a truly special experience because you spend so many months working on the songs and then when it goes out into the world, you don’t really get to see the reactions of people.
Ned: You can see numbers and sales and stats and stuff, but it’s not until you play a song live and see someone singing the words to your song, and look at the expression on their faces, that you really experience that and it’s incredible.
How did you feel when you heard the news you’d been nominated for a Grammy for you remix of Bruno Mars’ ‘Locked Out Of Heaven’?
Ned: I remember that night really well. We were playing a show in Atlantic City, and around midnight, right before we started, my phone started blowing up. First it was people from the label, then it was friends and everyone was like congratulations! So I knew right away and was so excited. We announced it when we played the song and everyone went crazy.
Sultan: The club sent us a huge bottle of champagne to celebrate. I think there’s a picture of that floating around our instagram somewhere…
You’ve also co-wrote with David Guetta. How was that for an experience?
Ned: David is a great person to collaborate with because he has so much enthusiasm for the music. He also doesn’t stop until the song feels right. There were a lot of different versions of “Bad” and we were like that song is done, it’s awesome and he kept sending us new versions that kept getting better.
Sultan: It was really inspiring to release a record that got that much attention- it has almost 400 million streams and we hear it at sports events and everywhere so it was a special one for us.
You’ve recently collaborated with Red Rosamond for your new track ‘Damn’. What made you choose her for the vocals?
Ned: “Damn” was actually written by Red with Xandy Berry and Wally Gagel who are both super talented writers and producers. They sent us the accapella and were like you guys can mess with this if you like it. We’d known Red for a while, and loved her voice and so we were really ready to do something with her. We created a whole piece of music around the vocal and it really just clicked quickly and so we sent it back and they loved it!
If you could collaborate with one other artist in the world, past or present, who would it be?
Sultan: Eddie Vedder
Which one of you is the work horse and who’s the joker?
Ned: We’re both kind of the work horse to be honest.
Sultan: Ned is like a turtle, he’s a little slow and more thought out. I like to get things done efficiently, while Ned is more philosophical. But it’s a nice balance because if something doesn’t feel right Ned makes a lot of faces and moans and groans until I make him go in and fix what’s bothering him.
Where’s the most memorable venue you’ve ever played?
There’s been a lot. On the beach in Goa on New Year’s eve, in Warung on a protected surfer beach in Brazil, at a medieval castle in Serbia…too many!
What is the most memorable DJ set you’ve ever seen?
Ned: The first time I saw Danny Tenaglia at Vinyl in New York. He played ten hours and just played the most diverse amazing set of music I had ever seen. It was like a masterclass on how to really do it.
Sultan: Deep Dish for 8 hours in Warung beach. It was when they had just started playing a lot of techno and it really influenced our sound at the time.
You’ve guys are currently playing at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. Do you have any plans to play at any music festivals or events this year?
Honestly, playing at the Wynn feels like a constant music festival. There are nights where there are six or seven thousand people there so it’s a pretty amazing experience.
Are you going on a lad’s holiday this year? If so, where?
Ned: We actually just came back from a vacation but we weren’t together (which is rare!) Sultan was in Bali with his girlfriend, and I was in Japan with one of my oldest friends. But we met up in the Tokyo airport and had sushi:)
What’s your holiday outfit of choice?
Sultan: Shorts and sandals.
Ned: A hat always feels right on a holiday.
What does a typical day in the life of Sultan + Shepard look like when you’re not creating music?
Sultan: I wake up and go play basketball every morning for a couple hours. It’s like my meditation. Then if I’m not in the studio then I’m usually out eating and hanging with my friends or hanging out around my house, in my garden or surfing the web for art. I’m currently very obsessed with succulents and have been planting them around my house.
Ned: I wake up and meditate in a little meditation room I’ve created in my house. I love going to Amoeba and buying records and then coming home and listening to them and cooking dinner. I’m also very into plants at the moment: it’s really fun to put things in the ground and watch them grow.
Drink of choice on a night out?
Sultan: I go through various alcohol phases. Right now, I’m at the tail end of a beer phase- I’m really into IPA’s. Before that it was champagne and before that it was Jameson.
Ned: Tequila. My one and only drink.
Sultan: The Fifth Element.
Describe each other in three words?
Ned: Sultan is generous, ridiculous, talented.
Sultan: Ned is slow, thoughtful, honest.
Describe your style? (Fashion not music)
Sultan: My style is probably closest to Bohmian Chic. My hair dictates so much, so I like long sweaters and jackets and low top sneakers. Big fan of Y-3!
Ned: I take a lot of influence from European Soccer players. I’ve actually started wearing a lot of cool older 90‘s jersey’s recently. Also, varsity jackets and anything camouflage.
Do you have any advice for anyone aspiring to be a DJ?
Ned: Make sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons. DJ’ing is a lot of hard work if you’re in it for the long haul, so you have be passionate and love it. If you do that, it’s the best job in the world- if you’re in it for the fame or the money, it will wear you ragged.
Sultan: Be unique, don’t try to copy other people because you think they’re cool. Find something that’s unique to you and become the best at that.
Cheers Sultan + Shepard
Check out the music video for their new track ‘Damn’ below: