Deep Inside Louie Vega's All-Star Album
After two decades at the top of the house music game, it may surprise you to learn that Louie Vega is now dropping his first ever solo album! The aptly named ‘Louie Vega Starring…XXVIII’ features a heavyweight 28 tracks and is a veritable who’s who of quality international artists.
This all-star affair features the likes of George Clinton and Funkadelic, The Winan Brothers, Jocelyn Brown, Adeva, Soul Clap, Caron Wheeler, Vikter Duplaix, Kenny Bobien, The Clark Sisters, Bryon Stingly and many more in a sumptous journey though the musical genres.
We were lucky enough to have an exclusive interview with Louie for an intimate look into how the project was created, his relationship with some of the featured artists and even his favorite hip-hop joints of all-time, as we went deep DEEP Inside Louie Vega’s All-Star Album.
Congratulations on the new solo album. How did you choose the 25 artists that are featured?
It’s funny; we lost count on the artists! Not sure if you count the Winans Brothers as one artist, or the Clark Sisters, or Soul Clap, but everyone on this album is very special to me and all bring their unique qualities. I really let all happen naturally; some artists I had in mind already and some I met on the road travelling. Once we connected, the first thing that came out was “why haven’t we worked together?” and I said, “ we are about to work together now!“ It was all about timing and the vibe was just right.
How and where was the album recorded?
The entire album was recorded at Daddy’s Workshop in New Jersey. If you look at all my recording credits, you will see this studio. This is the lab and the headquarters where all the magic happens. There is definitely something special in the air; the atmosphere is perfect for music making. I have lots of vinyl surrounding the room and a huge DJ set-up. The studio area has lots of keyboards, both new and vintage, plus loads of other equipment. It’s all in the same big room, but not getting in the way of each other. You get a very unique sound from the room and there is an aura there that I can’t explain. The pictures and album covers collection (thousands of vinyl) that I have adds to the feeling in the room. Everyone who works there feels very comfortable and we’ve had historical performances happen at Daddy’s Workshop. The records that have come out of there, you’d think were recorded at the Hit Factory (one of the world’s best studios) back in the day. It starts with just myself and Yas Inoue (my engineer) and then the musicians, singers, songwriters, etc.
How did the George Clinton link up come about?
The link with George Clinton came about because of an old friend of mine Sa’d Ali. Many years ago he worked at Tommy Boy Records, then he managed Mr. Fingers Inc. for a bit. I’ve seen him at functions where I DJed over the years and we always caught up with each other. He came up to me about 4 years ago at an event in Weequahic Park in New Jersey where I was DJing and told me his ‘Uncle George’ had a record coming out. I said “OK cool. George who?” and he said “George Clinton”. I was astonished; after all these years I know Sa’d Ali, I didn’t know he was George Clinton’s nephew! Then I didn’t hear from him for about 2 and a half years, until he reached out to me on Facebook and we connected again. He told me that ‘Uncle George’ had completed his album, wrote a book and wanted to send me over the album so I could hear it. He said it was 33 tracks on the album, one for every year he didn’t release a record! He sent it over and I was listening in my office while working and when number 8 or 9 came on I heard a downtempo mix of ‘Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?’
Immediately, I heard that bass line on my version in my head, so I wrote back to Sa’d and said “I heard the song that I like, can you send parts tonight?” I just happened to have a session that night with Axel Tosca (keyboardist and collaborator) and I dropped a beat, we laid down the bass line and it was instant; we were pumpin’ that groove in the studio! I then asked Kafele (trumpet player) to record on the remix. This was inspired by an event i played in NYC for Anane Vega’s ‘Nulu’ party. Kafele came to the club and was playing his trumpet in the crowd. Anane heard him and brought him into the DJ booth while we were DJing and he jammed. That was the spark for recording him on the Funkadelic track. This was November 2014, when we worked on it because at the same time, Soul Clap and I were hangin’ and they told me they had recorded two or three tracks with Clinton, even spending time in Talahassee at the George Clinton studios. They were releasing a single or two as well on Soul Clap, so it was cool we all coordinated so that the singles would not step on each other. We supported each other all the way to Miami as well for last year’s ‘Funkified’ poolside get down jam; an event Carmel Ophir of ‘Vagabonds at Large’ and I put together last March 2015 for WMC.
We brought down George Clinton and Funkadelic, Bebe Winans and Karen Clark (of the Clark Sisters). This was history, as it was the first time these artists were on the same stage; Funk, Gospel & House coming together. So defining the career, yes this is a sign! George Clinton has been so supportive; he is one of a kind!
Was the original Funkadelic sound a big inspiration to you musically?
Absolutely. Funkadelic, Parliament and lots of music related to George Clinton has been a huge inspiration to me musically over the years. When we worked on “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?” you can hear that bass line and synth parts we added were like if George Clinton was making a house record. It just felt so natural. Some of my favorite tracks include ‘Knee Deep’, ‘Atomic Dog’, ‘One Nation Under a Groove’, ‘Tear the Roof off the Sucka’. The synths on these records were awesome and the musicians were top quality. Bernie Worrell (keyboardist), Fred Wesley (trombone), Bootsy Collins (bass). When I finished the remix, George said how about if he asked Fred Wesley and Pee Wee (sax) to blow on the track! I was in awe; these musical icons played with George Clinton and James Brown!!! Check out my Louie Vega ‘Nu Dub’ instrumental with solos.
Kendrick Lamar also features on the George Clinton track. Are you a big hip-hop fan and what do you think of Kendrick as an artist?
I’m a huge hip-hop fan. To have Kendrick Lamar on the record was the icing on the cake, though I wasn’t expecting it. I saw George Clinton at a Red Bull Music Academy dinner after just landing from playing in Europe. I received a text from him that he was in NYC and he invited me to dinner. When I went to the restaurant, a wonderful group of friends were there including Spinna, Carlon (George’s wife), his daughter, the original artist on the parliament records, Red Bull Music staff and a few others in the Clinton fam. George then whispered in my ear that he had a surprise and then dropped it that Kendrick was going to feature on the record. I could not believe it, as I knew it would be amazing. He is a true artist of today; I respect him as a musician, artist, performer, poet, storyteller with his songs and his bravery in speaking it like it is. We need him today. Check out his performance on the Steve Colbert show and on the Grammys. I’m still blown away by the performances.
Where do you stand on old school hip-hop versus the new wave? Are there any other modern hip-hop artists like Kendrick that you rate?
I’m more an old school hip-hop fan, but when Kendrick came out, he gave a lot of hope to that true sound. He used live instruments, orchestration and storytelling with music as well with his lyrics, expressing his views on life reality. I like Thunder Kat, I really enjoy that artists like him are bringing musicality to pop music; the big cycle is happening finally! When I was a kid, pop soul music was Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, War and many more. As a child listening to this and loving music of this caliber, there’s no reason a young person today can’t be into music made this way and Kendrick Lamar just broke that mold. D’Angelo is another, he’s my favorite!
If you had to name your favorite hip-hop joint of all time, what would it be?
Man, that is hard. Here are a few:
• ‘Set It Off’ by Big Daddy Kane is one!
• ‘So What You Sayin’ by EPMD
• ‘La Di Dadi’ by Dougie Fresh & Slick Rick
• ‘Eric B is President’ by Eric B & Rakim
• ‘Bonita Applebum” by A Tribe Called Quest
• ‘Make Music with Your Mouth Biz by Biz Markie
• ‘Big Poppa’ by Notorious BIG
• ‘Children’s Story’ by Slick Rick
Jocelyn Brown features on the album. After big hits together like ‘Black Gold of the Sun’ and ‘It’s Alright, I Feel It’ for Masters at Work, is there any extra pressure on you guys to make another iconic track?
That was the goal in the first place, to create a floor stomper. When I spoke to Jocelyn, I asked her to join us on the album and she gladly accepted. I was thrilled, so the first thing I did was pull out this piano track I had come up with in a session with Selan Lerner. Now, I had this track for over 6 years, but had saved it for a gospel anthem. The music already had the anthem feel, but I said I know exactly who to go to for the song and lyrics, my long-time collaborator Josh Milan. I reached out to him and said we needed this song real quick as I was at the tail end of the album and was going to London to record soon. When I told him it was for Jocelyn Brown, he was IN! I sent him the track and he instantly reached into his magical pad where he writes lots of hits! He called me and said I have something, what do you think of the title ‘You Are Everything’? I loved it!
I then drove 2 hours to his studio in Pennsylvania. Once he laid down the demo and I heard the song in its entirety, you could tell it being a big one. I then asked him to lay down a Wurlitzer comp track and solo, as Josh is not only a great singer and songwriter, but also a very accomplished jazz keyboardist and plays more than one instrument. Then came the backgrounds; if this is Jocelyn, I need to have the game on with the backgrounds. I called Cindy Mizelle and told her we needed the ultimate background crew! We went over the names of many singers together and she put together the ‘dream team’. It was another magical session at Daddy’s Workshop in New Jersey featuring James ‘D Train’ Williams, Sharon Bryant (of Atlantic Starr), Paulette McWilliams (who sang for many years with Luther Vandross), and Cindy Mizelle. I then had to fly to London to record Jocelyn; we did the recording in two sessions / visits to London. The first time she was horse from doing a lot of shows, but she managed to lay down the song so she could hear her voice on the track. Jocelyn felt she could do a lot better and is a true professional, so I agreed to come back to London again to record and it was so worth it. She nailed the song and also sang a background part to add to the ‘Dream Team’ of vocalists. So, when you hear “I wanna say it” that’s Jocelyn on backgrounds. I have to thank Oli & Tony Momrelle of Reel People, plus Tony and Clinton for the studio in London; the energy was just right! I’m confident this song and track stands with the rest of the classics we’ve recorded with Jocelyn. After we finished, we were feelin’ good, especially when I tested it out at Roots NYC, Dance Ritual and some other gigs; it had an instant reaction. When David Morales heard it he loved it and delivered a sure fire club smash remix!
Caron Wheeler features on ‘A New Day’. Were you a big fan of the legendary British group Soul II Soul who she sang with?
I’ve always loved Soul II Soul and with Caron there’s an interesting story. I was playing out in Hong Kong at ‘Dragon I’ and was on the same bill as Soul II Soul (Jazzie B and Caron). It all happened at the sound check, we were catching up, talking and having such a good time. Back in the day, we remixed ‘Back To Life’ as Masters at Work and did really well with it in the UK. When I saw Caron and Jazzie B, it felt like yesterday and Caron asked why we hadn’t worked together since and I said “I’m ready to work now!” We connected again back in New York and I sent her a track. She liked the track but wanted more music. When working with artists who also write their lyrics, I thought it was best to give her the track with a hot groove but plenty of room to write. Caron was different, as she liked more going on, so I went back in and added more music and melody. When she heard the updated version, she loved the track so began writing the lyrics. I waited a few months and tracked her down again; we set up time in the studio and when she came in it was a session to remember. What a singer! The cool thing now is Jazzie B and I just collaborated on a spoken word, which I may have a special release on Part Three of the vinyl album set with Caron and Jazzie. Look out for Soul II Soul; they will be working on a new project with a Vega/Jazzie B collaboration coming later this year!
Viktor Duplaix is an interesting addition to the album. How do you rate him as a male vocalist?
Viktor Duplaix is a very talented artist; he brings the sexiness to dance music when he records on house tracks. He is today’s soul man and has a sound that is his own; he can record downtempo or uptempo, plus anything in between. He is very aware of what is going on today and always on top of his game. Of course I rate him as a male vocalist, he’s never let me down. Check out our past history: ‘Messages’, ‘In The Real World’ and now we have ‘Gimme Some Love’. When we worked on this song, since he lives in LA, I sent him 3 tracks. He heard things I didn’t hear, as he told me the track reminded him of 808 State, which is a classic house track. Once he sent the song, which he nailed, I asked Anane to sing backgrounds because I could really hear her voice on the record with him. I felt for the background part on the hook of the song they would sound sultry and sexy together, and wala! It’s a very sexy track and song.
You seem to have a tight relationship with Soul Clap. How did that working relationship come about and do you see them as kindred spirits musically?
Those boys are good guys, I love hangin’ and creating with them. They have that energy that I had many years ago when I was starting out, so they remind me of those times. They really compliment each other and know where they each stand when in their space. Nick Monaco has skills too; he can write, sing, play, DJ; he’s got the full package. I met Soul Clap in Ibiza at ‘Ibiza Sonica Radio’; Anane and I had our Sunset Ritual Radio Show all summer a few years ago and we played live and spoke on air at the station. When we went in to do our show, we heard Stevie Wonder ‘Another Star’ playing, we said ‘who is that DJing?’ and we heard it was Soul Clap. I then told Moises (our tech) to introduce us and we immediately hit it off. They ended up playing at our event for the closing of Sunset Ritual in Ibiza that summer, which was on the same day we were at the station. We saw the passion in them, after that we became friends, talked music, hung out and they introduced me to Nick Monaco. I then picked up a single from Nick entitled ‘Sample Your Soul” on Vega Records. I did a remix and Nick’s original mixes together in the package and it made some noise!
There was some cross-pollination happening, as we worked we also introduced our music to our crowd respective crowds. The rest is history. We just had the listening party for the ‘Louie Vega Starring…XXVII’ album at their club Black Flamingo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn a few weeks ago. It was the whole crew together – Soul Clap, Anane, Josh Milan and myself all jammed out after I played the entire album for 250 friends, tastemakers and family. I do see them as kindred spirits musically and see us working lots more in the future. ‘See Some Light’ came about when I connected with Charlie from Soul Clap whilst he was touring with Nick Monaco in Asia. We spoke about the album and he said they’d love to collaborate on a track for my album. He reached out to Eli and we worked it all out creatively. Soul Clap (Charlie and Eli) and Nick had a few ideas where we could start. Nick and Soul Clap added to the album something that I didn’t have, so it all worked out perfectly.
As your first solo album, do you see this as a career defining release?
I have to say, I really thought it was time to record lots of great songs; our scene needs it. I was also hoping it would inspire other producers in our genre to record songs. I wanted to get artists outside of the house genre, to record songs on a house tip with our style, and now I see there is some inerest. House is coming to the forefront. Look today how Kanye has sampled ‘Deep Inside’ by Hardrive featuring Barbara Tucker, ‘I Get Lifted’ by Barbara Tucker and ‘Mysteries of Love’ by Fingers Inc. This is on his new album. I feel even if hooks, sounds, chords, bass lines are sampled and it is instilled in the mainstream’s heads, I see it as a good thing. Terry Hunter produced a house song for Pop/R&B artist Jennifer Hudson and I worked with George Clinton/ Funkadelic and the 3 Winans Brothers and the Clark Sisters, they haven’t recorded music like this for our genre. I’m really honored that they all believed in me and let me do what I do without hesitation; they trusted me. Singers and musicians like this, you just don’t get every day working on house music projects. They have the same passion, which is why they are all still here, the true ultimate professionals. So for it being a career defining release, I would say yes!