The Conductor & The Cowboy: “It’s Not A Hobby, You Have To Live Trance”

I sit down with the man behind The Conductor & the Cowboy to chat about fate, humility and perseverance, and the upcoming release of Sail Away (featuring Aero).

My first impression of Adam Pracy is one I will remember for a long time to come. As we chat over Zoom from my studio in Florida to his in the UK, our conversation begins as if we’ve known each other for years, even though it’s our first time “meeting,” as it were. It’s something that both of us note right away, and what’s meant to be an interview feels more like two friends catching up; the exchange has a natural feel to it, both of us are at ease and the conversation flows accordingly. Soft spoken and bright, Adam strikes me as positive, genuine and down to earth; I can hear unfeigned excitement and gratitude for what’s to come in his voice as we begin to discuss Trance music, the songwriting process, and life in general.

His story begins more than twenty years ago, and so we begin with a brief step back in time:

Old-school dance heads who look back at the late ‘90’s and early 2000’s era of Trance will recall a scene that was just gaining momentum. It was an era marked by uncharted territory when it came to music; the evolution (and revolution) of electronica, paired to a party scene that is unrivaled even to this day. It was a special time, and those who were lucky enough to experience it share an intimate bond, almost a badge of honor. There are many classic trance anthems that bring us back to that time – Chicane’s Offshore, PVD’s For an Angel, Solarstone’s Seven Cities, for example – and of course, the inimitable Feeling This Way, by The Conductor and the Cowboy.

Courtesy: Serious Records and YouTube

Produced by Adam Pracy, Feeling This Way is undoubtedly a vocal Trance classic. Peaking at the number 5 position on the UK dance charts, “Feeling” as Adam calls it, is the type of song that sticks with you long after the record has finished.

At the time, Feeling This Way saw support from some of the biggest names in Trance: the release on Serious Records saw a remix from none other than Rich Solarstone, and the track was regularly featured by Judge Jules in his sets. As a vocal Trance record, Feeling stood out due to the use of both male and female vocals, which created a moving love ballad that evokes emotion. Adam and his former writing partner Lee Hallett hit the nail on the head with this formula, as this was something that hadn’t been attempted with much success before. Though the two have since parted ways, Adam likens their teamwork at the time to that of the Pet Shop Boys, and intimates that there are no hard feelings.

To call him the Conductor is a two-fold play on words. First, as the lead producer and creative genius behind both Feeling This Way and the forthcoming release Sail Away, Pracy is the Conductor of the Trance act The Conductor and the Cowboy.

Adam has often mentioned that the alias The Conductor & the Cowboy originally derived organically from two unique proclivities: Adam would “conduct” the breakdowns of each song as he and his friends attended raves, while his friend Lee often stood out in the crowd by wearing a cowboy hat as his signature. Thus, “The Conductor and the Cowboy” was a natural choice to name the project they began. Adam chuckles as he recalls those days, and points out that he still conducts the music at shows and parties, when he wants a breather from his studio work and heads out for a night of music. As such, the “Conductor” moniker is most certainly a natural fit.

Two decades after Feeling This Way climbed the dance charts, Pracy is back behind the wheel of The Conductor and the Cowboy, and he is a force to be reckoned with. Speaking about his comeback to the music scene, he says, “It feels long overdue – I felt like I had unfinished business with the way things panned out 20 years ago. There was a lot of anticipation that never got realized, so it’s nice to come back to it all these years later – I feel like a more complete producer now, and the reception has been fantastic.” Ever humble, Adam acknowledges that he has big shoes to fill, despite them being his own: “It’s a difficult one to, twenty years later, follow up what’s now considered a classic – to have that accolade makes that job significantly harder. I felt I had to bring something pretty special, bring my A game. It’s been a journey, one I started five years ago when I built my new studio and began learning modern production techniques – but to play in these world-class waters, you have to be world-class.”

“It’s not a hobby, it can’t just be a hobby – you have to live Trance, you have to be Trance.”

It’s worth noting that Sail Away almost never came to be. The Conductor’s journey has seen its share of bumpy roads, and despite multiple setbacks, Pracy has weathered the proverbial storm and now applies those lessons to his current work. Originally signed to Serious Records, the Conductor and the Cowboy had nearly finished an album as a follow up to their smash hit with Feeling This Way. In a cruel twist of fate, Universal (a subsidiary of Sony) bought the rights to Serious so they could get access to the catalogue of another artist signed to the smaller label, Sonique – and immediately shut down all other existing projects, including the album that Adam and Lee had put so much energy into.

Image may contain: ocean, sky, water and outdoor. The Conductor and the Cowboy.

Adam explains, “It’s quite disheartening, having written so much material back then – ready for an album – and to realize that, in a silly way, it was like what happened to George Michael [at the hands of Sony].” As artists, we put our energy and our soul into our work – and to confront the idea that it may all be for naught is an extremely unpleasant experience: “Basically, everything I had written was owned by Universal for ten years. I was eventually able to negotiate out of it, but I’d had enough of it at that point.” Citing a burn-out from music due to the situation with Universal, Adam says he took a break from making records, choosing instead to pursue other passions in the meantime. Luckily for us, Pracy’s love of music didn’t allow him to stay away. “Slowly over time, I started to think, ‘You know, I can’t not do this,’” Adam reflects, “It was frustrating that I couldn’t do anything with my enthusiasm for music. Eventually, I bought some kit. Thought I’d have a little dabble on the side. But it’s not a hobby, it can’t just be a hobby – you have to live Trance, you have to be Trance.”

Drawn back to the scene by an unquenchable love for Trance music, Adam decided to remix a classic by Mr and Mrs Smith – Gotta Get Loose. The Conductor and the Cowboy ReWork of Gotta Get Loose immediately saw support from Rich Solarstone, who gave it a world premier on PureTrance Radio Show, along with the accolade of being the big #OhYeah of that episode. The remix also was played at several large Trance festivals, including Luminosity – and was extremely well received both by the crowd and Adam’s peers. This encouragement led Pracy to decide to give it all another go, and he decided to once again breath new life into The Conductor and the Cowboy. This time, he has teamed up with two old friends: songwriter Rob Howlett and singer Aero.

The Conductor & The Cowboy
Pracy (l) Aero (c) Howlett (r)

I ask Adam what it’s like to work with multiple people at once, and he tells me that he’s learned to avoid the frustrations he encountered back in the early 2000’s. He states that Rob and Aero’s involvement in the project came about organically, and puts an emphasis on respect and comfort: “With Rob and with Aero, we all bring something to the package and we all know what we are bringing. We let the other do the things that each is good at. Rob is a brilliant songwriter and pianist; Aero, obviously, amazing vocals – and me, with my production and Trance knowledge. It’s just… comfortable. They defer to my knowledge of the industry, and it’s a great working relationship. It’s very easy to work with Rob and Aero.” The Conductor also acknowledges that he plans to work with more artists outside of his core group, noting that both Rob and Aero have their own projects as well and that there will be releases as The Conductor and the Cowboy that they are not as heavily involved in. I comment that mutual respect goes a long way in the music world, and he assures that each of them agree that this is the best way, adding, “For the Conductor and the Cowboy, the common denominator will always be me.”

Though the Conductor and the Cowboy v2.0 features a different lineup than it did in 2000, the sound that was created by Pracy and his colleagues has both been preserved, and updated to suit the current Trance scene. Firstly, his approach is different. In previous interviews, Pracy has spoken about how the total production time for Feeling This Way was just under two weeks from soup to nuts. In 2020, he tells me, “It was a much longer process for Sail Away. Having taken the amount of time that I have to bring this idea back to the fans, I wasn’t in a particular rush to do it, I wanted to get it right. I don’t rush tracks,” he reiterates, continuing, “Sail Away took about a year from concept of idea, to various arrangements of it, to what will be released next week.” Artists who take their time with their productions are actually pretty common, and the Trance scene is no different. As Adam points out: “I know Suzanne Chesterton (one half of Siskin) works this way too, typically what you’ll hear coming from her was written a year ago.“ This approach to writing music has its advantages, particularly for producers who like to pay attention to every detail.

Another marked difference between the Conductor’s efforts from 2000 and his upcoming release lies with the equipment he uses. The sleek studio he works from now is a far cry from the boxy grey machines he first began working with, and he is particularly happy about the advances in technology that we’ve seen of late. I ask him if there’s one piece of tech that wasn’t available in 2000 that he absolutely can’t live without for his productions and his answer echoes that sentiment: “I suppose it would have to be the sheer performance that we see from today’s CPUs, that we have multi-core CPUs. As a music producer, as a video producer, it’s just the single best thing that’s happened since sliced bread,” referring to the availability of high performance machines at affordable prices. Adam continues, “Twenty years ago we were running single-core CPUs, Pentium 4 running at 1.8gHz, screaming its nuts off just to get Logic going on it. I love that the performance available today doesn’t get in the way of the creative process, no more long waits to render files. The technology has finally gotten out of the way.” He tells me that he does still have some of his old synths laying around the studio, but they’re not wired in – all of his work is currently “entirely in the box.” He’s impressed with the way that modern emulation of synths is so accurate, and points out the irony in the fact that now the struggle is to make that clean, digital sound, sound analog and warm again.

The Conductor & The Cowboy
Pracy (l) Aero (c) Howlett (r)

Modern technology has helped Adam relaunch the Conductor and the Cowboy in other ways, too. Social media, particularly platforms like Facebook and Youtube, have allowed him to connect with other artists he might not otherwise interact with. It is also a way for him to connect with fans of Feeling This Way and Sunshine, too. As fate would have it, during ADE this past year Adam gave a video interview with Twan van Loon, which was posted to Youtube. A comment made on the video led to a conversation between The Conductor and Marco Svarda, who is the label boss of Premier League Recordings. Eventually, Adam decided to sign his comeback release – Sail Away – with Marco. Svarda’s imprint is young, but that was part of the appeal, according to Adam: “I had been courted by several labels – after all, I still have a great relationship with Serious – and I looked around at some of the deals. I felt that what Marco is trying to do appealed to me more than perhaps just ‘Insert Big Label Name’ here. I felt he’d have more of a personal touch, and the deal with Marco also came with a certain degree of creative input from myself, which was also important to me. Marco and I have what I’d describe as more than an artist-label relationship; we’ve become good friends, and I see that relationship growing over the years to come.”

A recurring theme in our conversation is one of “gratitude.” Pracy isn’t shy about how grateful he is to be back on the Trance scene – grateful to the fans who remember Feeling This Way and Sunshine, grateful for the opportunities he’s had and the support from some of the biggest names in the industry, and grateful for the chance to bring his sound to a new generation of ravers and dance fans. He’s been increasingly encouraged by the feedback he’s received, both from his peers and the dance community at large. When asked if he has any words of wisdom for the producers and musicians who are starting to come up, he points to his past and says,

“Determination and persistence are key. Those are the two driving factors: You will get knocked back multiple times, you’ll hit brick walls. Believe in yourself; persistence and determination will move mountains. And I am an example of that.”

This man’s love of music knows no bounds, and his ability to translate that passion into sound will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on the electronic scene. It’s not often that a simple conversation gives this impression, and above all, it is Pracy’s infectious enthusiasm for music and for his craft that leaves me Feeling This Way.

The Conductor & The Cowboy – Sail Away (Premier League Recordings) is available now for purchase.

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Dave Brookes

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