RS: What attracted you to the Donna Hightower record cover that
you sampled for "Hands Free"?
Sonny J: There's a black girl on the front and basically I got most of my records from Spain because there were all these European and quite exotic records. Someone from England was going over to Spain and picking all these records. There were generally German Top of The Pops records and all these kind of white teutonic covers of famous music and it was OK. You can get lots of acoustic guitar samples but actually vocal samples are quite rare. The cover of the Donna Hightower record was basically a black girl and I love black music. So I took it home, put it on and it was awful. I flipped the record over and felt like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory looking for a Wonka ticket. The little ticket come up – the first track, side two, it was like that jinna-jinna, hello, here we go. Then it kicked in and didn't sound like a black girl at all, it sounded like Dolly Parton and the black girl sounded country. I thought what a poetic fusion of a black girl sounding like country but with the currents of a kind of soulful voice.
RS: How did it go from the song to the video?
Sonny J: I thought trailer trash for that video and that's what I thought. Basically we got in touch with the director, all I said was trailer trash and they took it on from there and they found the actors.
RS: So the blonde girl in the video had nothing to do with the song itself?
Sonny J: No, and people have been giving me a little bit of hassle for that. I'm aware of all that kind of stuff that's going on because there's a black girl and there's a white girl in the video, all that kind of thing. You can take from that what you want. You can say 'oh well, they're being racist and all that kind of thing,' but I can see that kind of thing going on but that's a really cynical view to take. Basically it was a girl miming a Donna Hightower song and that's the way it went. Actually I thought, the girl who did the part, whatever her color, did a classic basically iconic song which had a theme to it and that's why it was good. Going back to the point actually – there's a little bit of racism – I've seen one person saying all that, but at the end of the day Donna Hightower - I'm paying her money to use her record, she's getting paid for that, and also I have her recognition on my MySpace and stuff.
RS: Have you had any contact with any people you've sampled, like
Sonny J: I'd love to. I had contact with a guy called Jack Jones. He's a crooner that I sampled for one of my tracks. My manager got in contact with his manager to sample him and he said no because we sped him up. We were like this is basically a tribute to these people who aren't really in the charts these days. We thought it was a classic, you could have these people return to the record shops. To be honest I'd love to meet Donna Hightower because I've heard she's still alive these days, only via the internet but it's true enough. I've sampled Shirley Bassey and I've never met any of them. I'd love to say "you're a legend, you're on my album and I love your music." Just to sit down with them, it would be brilliant, wouldn't it? Just to get their opinion on it all, and they'd say it's crap, and say, OK, I love your music.
RS: Was there anyone or anything you wanted to sample that you
couldn't get cleared?
Sonny J: Yes, of course. Going back to Jack Jones, I sampled him on this track called "Cabaret," the fourth track on the album. He said "oh God, how much I love you." It's from an awful album, like Jack Jones Live at Las Vegas. I remember when I put it on my girlfriend was there and said what are you doing, turn it off. I said no, no, no, listen, there's a hook that we can use. So we sampled it, got in touch with them and then they all thought we were taking the piss out of him. His manager said Jack's not happy about this. So we had to basically do it with someone else. There's also a string line on the same track from a French record by Juliet Greco. I sampled this amazing track, and no one knows who these people are. This one string line comes in and it happens once and it's so deep and lovely 60s kind of loop. The people who did it said they wanted €50,000 to use it. We had to lose the string loops, and the track sounds terrible now without the strings.
We had a few problems with that but when you're making this kind of music and you haven't got a record deal, you don't think you're ever going to get a record deal in the first place so you don't worry about the legal issues. Then all of a sudden I got a record deal and all of a sudden I've got my record company on my back going have you got these samples legitimately? They're just samples but you've got to clear them. OK, so let's clear them. So all my money that I got from my record company went for sample clearances. I wanted to retain the character of my original demo, so yes, I suffered my heart as it were.