EXCLUSIVE! Interview with 'House Legend' Eric Kupper
New York resident Eric Kupper got his start over two decades ago working as a keyboardist, guitarist, and songwriter for such producer/remixers as David Morales, Frankie Knuckles, Arthur Baker, Mark Kamins, Justin Strauss, Peter Rauhofer and Richie Jones to name a few. His work in the mid-to-late 1980s/early 1990s, especially his work with Def Mix Productions, is considered to be part of the foundation for house music as it exists today.
The remix work is astounding. Major label artists that have taken the Kupper treatment include Garbage, Usher, Alicia Keyes, BT, Marianne Faithful, Goldfrapp, Cher, Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, Sheryl Crow, Lenny Kravitz, Kylie Minogue, Korn, Moloko, Smash Mouth, New Order, Yoko Ono, Dido, Brandy, Curtis Mayfield, Brand New Heavies, Robert Palmer, Afrika Bambaata & Soulsonic Force, Kate Bush, 808 State, Jessica Simpson, Anastacia, Donna Summer, and PM Dawn. He has worked on literally dozens of Billboard number 1 dance records and has mixed two records that have received the “Dance Record of the Year” Grammy award. The is no question that Eric is a living legend in house music.
1) Mr. Kupper, It’s a honour to have you sit down with us for a few, let’s jump right in – we are here today to talk about your “House Legends” compilation out now on King Street Classic. Tell us a little bit in your own words about what this represents to your legendary 25 years of producing incredible house music…
It is quite an honour to be among the amazing talent who have been a part of the “House Legends” series. I have done a lot of work with King Street over the years; Hisa Ishioka (Owner of King Street) has always been a great supporter of my music, and of real house music in general. This compilation is comprised of much of the material I have done with King Street throughout the years, as well as a few other things licensed in.
2) What are some of your personal favourite selections from this compilation and can you shed some light on the history behind one or two of them?
Tough question. “Stargazer” is a favourite, as I thought it was a neat little techy track, but I had no idea how much it would catch on with deeper soulful house DJ’s like Louie Vega. I loved the song “Kiss Kiss Kiss” by Ananda Project (I’m a big Chris Brann fan), and it was such a pleasure to remix. The vocal on “What Do I Gotta Do” was really heartfelt and emotional, and I really tried to bring that out in the remix. “Beautiful” is just that…a really beautiful song written by Peyton and ATFC some years back, but never completed production wise. I always wanted to do something with it, and when Frankie Knuckles heard it, he loved it so much; we just went in and rocked it, Director’s Cut style. Amazing vocal performance by Peyton.
3) What prompted this project & how did you approach choosing what would make the cut to final release/re-release?
Hisa presented the tracks to me, and I just said…great selection…!
4) Was it difficult to compile your own selected works spanning over a large part of your career?
See question 3, haha.
5) Our condolences regarding Frankie Knuckles. We know he was a personal friend of yours, I know it may be hard to talk about, but we hoped you could tell us in your own words about his amazing journey – what he meant to you and to this music he and all of us love so much…
It’s been a tough time…Frankie meant so much to me on so many levels. He was family; a friend, brother, mentor, and musical partner for 25 years. I learned so much about house music from just watching him play, let alone the early days of us working in the studio together. His flow and sense of melody and orchestration were unparalleled. He was a true pioneer; I started making house music in 1986, and he had been there well before me. The first record I did with Def Mix Productions was David Morales’ remix of “Tears”, by Frankie Knuckles presents Satoshi Tomiie featuring Robert Owens. Then Frankie started bringing me in on sessions as a keyboardist. We just clicked right away and got really busy. There were so many records; Alison Limerick, “Where Love Lives”, Inner City “Whatcha Gonna Do”, Michael Jackson “Rock With You”, and of course, “The Whistle Song”… He was also one of the sweetest people to have ever roamed the earth. The world misses him…I miss him so much.
6) Tell us all about how ‘Director’s Cut’ all began?
It started as a conscious effort on our part to change things up a bit, about 6-7 years ago. Try to bring tempos down a bit from the 128-130 thing that was the norm at the time, a major focus on vocals, keeping it soulful, but also playable in larger rooms. Soulful with a big room sensibility. We also wanted to fuse the sound of more soulful lush things we did together in the 90’s with the earlier 80’s Frankie Knuckles sound, which was more electronic (“Your Love”, “Baby Wants To Ride”, etc.) and then give it a modern approach. One can say the first unofficial Director’s Cut record was “Blind” by Hercules and Love Affair. After that, Frankie very graciously offered to make a me an equal partner under the name Director’s Cut, rather than being a hired gun. We did a really cool mix for Depeche Mode for their track “Wrong”, then moved on to Whitney Houston’s “Million Dollar Bill.” After that, we never looked back, and created a body of work together that I am quite proud of. I am keeping the Director’s Cut tradition going, with his guidance from above; carrying that torch, so to speak. It was important to him; I know he wants me to.
7) I’m sure there is so many you can mention but, what was one of your favourite productions/remixes that you worked together with Frankie on?
The Whistle Song comes to mind for many reasons. I remember hearing Frankie play at the Red Zone Def Mix party in 1990…the next day I went home and wrote “The Whistle Song.” I was truly inspired by his set the previous night. That was the moment his music really got inside my soul. I gave him a rough demo on cassette. He transferred it to reel-to-reel and played it at the Sound Factory. People came up to him and asked him, “what is that whistle song you’ve been playing?” Thus, that became the title for the song. Until then it was untitled. Then we went into Quad Recording with co-producer John Poppo and we produced the final album version with live flute, etc. We also recreated the original version in my home studio and mixed it down to DAT; that became the “Sound Factory Mix”. It was a real turning point in my career; I was suddenly looked at as not only a keyboardist, but also a producer and composer.
8) You’ve done a lot of work “undercover” (Studio work, Jingles, soundtracks, etc..) What are a few things many people may not realise you worked on?
Well, for one thing, The Whistle Song was used in Nestea commercials for a couple of years, haha. We re-recorded it for that purpose; it was a different version. During that experience I met a cool producer who worked for the ad agency (McCann-Erickson). He left the agency and set up his own production company focusing on commercials. He then called me on occasion to co-produce the music for a few commercials. One of note was the Fanta commercial “The Fantanas”. Yes, the “wanna Fanta, dontcha wanna” thing. We had a lot of fun doing that one. And, it was even parodied on “Family Guy”. That is one of the greatest honours ever, haha!! I also worked on a great deal of pop music with Richie Jones. Jennifer Lopez “Waiting For Tonight” was one of those records…Jessica Simpson, Celine Dion, so many more. From the same guys that also did “Degrees of Motion”. Funny. We both loved and lived underground house music, but also appreciated good pop as well. I’ve also produced alt-folk, hard rock, indie rock, pop, even a New Orleans brass meets hip hop band (Coolbone), recorded in a studio in an old victorian house in New Orleans. I’m lucky to have produced records for such amazing artists; John Wesley Harding, PM Dawn, Julee Cruise…it’s been a great musical journey so far.
9) After so many years in the business, what keeps you motivated?
Interesting question. Making music is just what I do. It just flows naturally. It is cool to know that the music I make brings joy to people; as a music lover myself, I know that joy, and the fact that I can give that to someone else is pretty amazing to me.
10) Any new releases coming up on your label Hysteria? Now’s the time to plug!
Many things in the works; a collaboration with Vanessa Daou, some self made underground tracks, a really cool re-work of Gusto’s “Disco Revenge” by Saeed Younan come immediately to mind.
11) Any advice for aspiring house music producers or musicians in general that are trying to make it in today’s game?
Stay true to yourself as an artist, but don’t be afraid to step outside the box a little, as long as it makes you happy. And, be prepared to work hard. As the old saying goes, “there is no free lunch…”
12) Where does a music media store like Traxsource fit into your musical agenda?
Besides being an amazing portal to distribute my music, it is the main source from which I obtain my music for my DJ sets. I find it easy to navigate and logically and elegantly set up. It is great to be able to be in a hotel room on the other side of the world, log in, and find a cool track to play just before set time…!
13) Curve ball, describe last nice meal you had…
Last night, ate some great Cuban food in Spanish Harlem with my Honey. The pork was soooo tender; the most flavourful Picadillo I’ve ever had…! A great latin jazz band topped it off perfectly.