Recorded completely at home, Jyoti Mishra’s irresistibly catchy hit single ‘Your Woman’ inspired a generation of bedroom producers.
Making release‑ready music at home is now commonplace. But it wasn’t always so. Not until the late 1980s, with the proliferation of affordable samplers and MIDI‑equipped computers, often used in conjunction with cassette multitracks, were a generation of (typically rave‑minded) musicians able to produce finished tracks outside of the traditional studio environment. This in turn gave birth to the concept of the bedroom hit.
In 1997, Derby‑based Jyoti Mishra (aka White Town) took the idea to a whole other level by scoring the first bedroom‑recorded UK number one with ‘Your Woman’ (also a chart‑topper in Iceland, Israel and Spain, as well as a top five hit in Canada and top 30 hit in the States). Based around a 1930s trumpet sample motif, a loping ’70s funk‑turned‑hip‑hop beat and a bouncy synth bass line, all topped by Mishra’s grainy, emotive pop vocal, ‘Your Woman’ was not only a distinctive blend of influences, but also insanely catchy.
“One of the things about ‘Your Woman’ is I designed the production to sound old when you first heard it,” Mishra tells SOS today. “I wanted to have a track that was like a mishmash of time zones... so you weren’t quite sure what year it was.”
Originally championed by DJ Mark Radcliffe on Radio 1, ‘Your Woman’ took Mishra from indie obscurity to pop stardom (and back) with incredible swiftness. But it has since enjoyed a long life as a now‑classic track, being sampled or covered by (or even simply influencing) the likes of Dua Lipa, Tyler James and Naughty Boy, as well as sounding like it might have been the sonic blueprint for Gorillaz.
The experience of having a one‑off chart‑topping hit was also to teach Mishra much about what he liked and didn’t like about fame, making him ultimately realise that he was happiest operating in the indie world.
“I’ve always felt,” he says, “like I’m on the outside looking in on the scene.”
Jyoti Mishra: I would have been home with my girlfriend when we got a call from the EMI people saying, ‘It’s number one this Sunday’. It sold 400,000 copies in just over a week.
As a kid, Jyoti Mishra’s ears were always drawn to any records that featured electronic sounds, whether it be the synth bass on Sailor’s 1975 hit ‘A Glass Of Champagne’, the eerie hooks of Jean‑Michel Jarre’s ‘Oxygène (Part IV)’, or the futuristic pop of French band Space’s ‘Magic Fly’ (both 1977).
Mishra himself began recording at home as a teenager in the early ’80s, messing around with an organ and two cassette recorders to create live‑overdubbing, in‑the‑room recordings. “I was just amazed,” he says. “I can still remember the thrill of putting a bass line to some chords I’d played. I know that sounds so stupid now and anybody under the age of 50 will just be like, ‘What’s he on about?’ But it was a magical moment.”
Having been bitten by the recording bug, by the mid‑’80s he’d progressed to using a Fostex X‑15 cassette four‑track and Roland MC‑202 MicroComposer synthesizer/sequencer.
“The X‑15 was like a quantum jump in sound quality,” he recalls. “I managed to get an MC‑202 off some bloke, who didn’t know what it was, for about 50 quid. And that had FSK sync code. So if I gave up a track of the four‑track, I could run things in sync... I could sync drum machines, and maybe not put them down ’til the final pass to a different cassette.”
At the end of the ’80s, Mishra became more enamoured by indie rock, after seeing a Pixies show at Nottingham’s Rock City in 1988. “I just remember thinking, ‘I love this,’ and the way it feels when your whole body’s vibrating. I was like, ‘I need to do this.’
So I got this guitar from a friend... this acoustic guitar for 15 quid. The action was like the fucking Golden Gate Bridge, it was ridiculous.
“But I basically put on the Wedding Present album, George Best, and tried to play along with it. I just kept playing and playing, and I thought, ‘I need to do a new band now.’”
The new band was White Town, who formed in 1989 and drifted apart the next year, but not before recording a self‑titled three‑track EP, released via 1000 7‑inch singles. The record caught the attention of Illinois‑based indie label Parasol, for whom Mishra as an effective solo artist made a series of releases between 1991 and 1996, along with a debut album, Socialism, Sexism & Sexuality, in ’94.
“I tried to recreate the sounds that I’d been listening to,” he explains, “which was like C86 into American noise rock and a lot of shoegaze. I was trying to do that on my own with a [Roland] TR‑707. Then gradually, after the first album, I just thought, ‘Why do I have to pretend that I’ve got a band to constrain me? Why do I not just record stuff that I could not play live?’”
Mishra’s crucial gear purchase that was to shape the sound of ‘Your Woman’ was an E‑mu Emax II. “That came out in ’89,” he says. “So, I had to wait for the prices to come down quite a lot. I managed to get one that was being sold as new, but it was second‑hand. So I managed to haggle the price down.
“But back then when you first got your first hardware sampler, that was a revelation. You think, ‘Wow, now I can manipulate sound itself in a way I could never have done before.’ That must have been 1994. I recorded ‘Your Woman’ in ’95 and I’d had the Emax for a year or so by then.”
Central to his setup at the time was the MIDI‑friendly Atari ST computer, running the Sequencer One software (designed by Manchester company Gajits) that had been given away free on a floppy disc on the cover of a magazine.
“It was very much an introductory sequencer,” Mishra remembers. “But the best thing about it was you had a rudimentary piano roll, where you didn’t see any notes or anything, you had little hollow squares. And once there was music in them of any kind, they’d go from white inside to blue, or black. So they’d just be like buckets that filled up if there was any information there. It could be a modulation wheel bend, it could be anything. So you couldn’t see any notes. You just knew there was something MIDI happening in there [laughs].
“Basically, you had cut and paste, and you could quantise, but that was about it. So I used to use it like a big tape recorder and just start it going and play something in all the way through. Cutting and pasting wasn’t easy. It was like almost maths.”
By this point, multitrack‑wise, Mishra had moved on from the Fostex X‑15 four‑track to the Tascam...