DJ Shadow's The Private Press Ready For The Public

15 months in the making, the follow-up to Endtroducing marks an evolution.

DJ Shadow said he was recently described as a "gateway artist," someone whose work encourages people to delve into other types of music, and recalled it as one of the biggest compliments he'd ever received. All ego boosts aside, it is an apt description.

15 months in the making, The Private Press is Shadow's long-awaited proper follow-up to 1996's Endtroducing, the seminal record combining lush ambient and hip-hop elements that earned Shadow's music the "trip-hop" label other sonically complex, non-conformist acts such as Portishead and Esthero are also saddled with.

The entirely sampled The Private Press isn't just Endtroducing part two. "I was trying to make music that, for me, was a progression," he said on a brief break from soundcheck. "I was trying to not repeat myself. I thought, 'You can respect your fans and you can treasure your fans, but you can't cater to them.' As much as I knew a lot of people thought they wanted to hear another Endtroducing, I had to give them enough credit to know that they actually don't want that."

"I'm a fan of a thousand bands or artists or DJs," Shadow continued, "and sometimes I think to myself, 'Damn, I wish Public Enemy would just do another album like It Takes a Nation of Millions [to Hold Us Back],' but then if they ever do something like that, you realize, 'Hmm, why isn't it hitting me the same way?' And what you're actually looking for, as a fan and as somebody who invests in an artist, is for them to continue to develop and evolve. So I was just trying to, in my own way and on my own terms, evolve musically."

The first step in his musical evolution was to go back and listen to music. Not a very surprising move, but the way in which he absorbed and understood the sounds was different than he'd ever known. "In the first few months of working on the record, I made a pretty big leap personally in my musical evolution. Just in taking in a lot of influence, stuff I hadn't heard before. I felt like I started to understand certain genres of music the way I never had before and I started to understand why certain artists did what they did.

"To understand what the artist was thinking about and what he or she was protesting against or why they were creating that music then, to me is very fascinating," Shadow continued. "It just gives you a deeper appreciation for the music when you understand the cultural context. That's why it frustrates me when people that aren't involved in hip-hop or didn't grow up listening to it or have not made any real effort to understand hip-hop just use the surface sounds, like sampling a rap tune and not really understanding anything about what made that music so powerful at the time."

In 2000, armed with this new understanding and insight, DJ Shadow set about recording The Private Press. To share what he had learned, he decided not only to sample the sounds of the music, but also capture the spirit of it.

The title The Private Press is a reference to the vanity labels on which the album's obscure recordings would traditionally be released. In an effort to maintain the integrity of the original songs though they are changed beyond recognition — the DJ's specialty — Shadow gives a nod to their roots.

Some of the work on The Private Press wasn't so calculated. While very few of the songs have actual lyrics, the album and its titles follow a visceral progression that gives the LP a sense of continuity and completeness. "Sometimes the titles come almost immediately before there's even a structure to the song," DJ Shadow said. "Case in point would be 'Fixed Income.' That title leapt into my brain when it was just that throbbing bass sound and the drums. I don't know why that title popped into my head, but I always knew that it fit and it helped me finish the song."

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case with "You Can't Go Home Again."

"I've never been happy with that title. I struggled on a title for that song forever because I fell in love with the demo. The initial basis of the song came about in a couple of hours and I really liked it and it was so interesting to me structurally. I always tried to think of titles that could measure up to how I felt about the demo and how the song came out because I'm really happy with it, and I never really could. So I had to just come up with a title that could put somewhat of a nice neat bow on the end of the album.

"I can live with it now," he said, with a laugh. "It usually takes me four months to start slowly forgetting all the things I was lamenting, so I'm kind of starting that process now."