Louie Vega: Both Then and Now
With the launch of Louie Vega’s first ever solo album, ‘Louie Vega Starring…XXVIII’ out on Friday 26th February 2016, we decided to have an in-depth, exclusive chat with the man with the plan about all things house music. After all, if you really want to get to the bare bones of the scene, both today and back in the day, is there anyone better to ask than the one of house music’s premier pioneers?
Having been heavily influenced by Louie myself over the past 20 years, it gave me the opportunity to ask a few questions that I never thought I’d have the answers to. How did he and Kenny create the drums and atmospherics for The Nervous Track? Who has produced Louie’s favorite remix of his own work? How did the Nuyorican Soul album come about? What are his thoughts on the scene today compared to yesteryear?
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only house head on the planet who would love to know the answers to these questions and now we can share them with you in this Traxsource exclusive interview, as we get the real inside scoop from Louie Vega: Both Then and Now.
At the Amsterdam Dance Event in 2015, we saw you rock out a classics night to a 3,000 capacity with Kenny and Todd. Were you surprised at the enormity of the gig and why do you think it was so popular?
That party during ADE was spectacular. I was surprised at the enormity of the event, they did say there would be a few thousand people but I thought it was all hype from promoters to get us excited, which can happen from time to time. When we walked in, we were totally blown away by the turnout and the reaction to our music. For us to be together, with our good brother Todd Terry, was so much fun. I think people want to hear the roots of where this all came from and who better than three pioneers of house music from NYC; Masters at Work and Todd Terry.
Do you think there’s been an attitude change by the younger house audience towards embracing the more vocal house sound?
Well, I think the youth of today are certainly more interested as maybe they’ve heard enough tracks with the same build-ups and want something more. They want to hear melody and sing-along sometimes. Even if it’s a short hook, whether vocal or musical, it’s hearing melody and that is key in my book. You can still have a hot track, but if they can’t find anything to remember it by, whether vocal or musical hook, then how will they be able to get their hands on it? Lots of music is now made with the house influence from back in the day, we all fall right in that pocket and are grateful that we can help with the new creations. It’s exactly what we did before; inspiring the youth with our sounds and now it’s happening again.
Were there any stand out tracks that you played that you think helped flick the switch?
There are many Masters at Work tracks that helped flick the switch. It’s very flattering that our music have affected so many genres and generations, even hip-hop. In regards to tracks that we played at ADE, there were many. Our own Masters at Work stuff, releases from Strictly Rhythm and Nervous Records, tracks by Todd Terry, Roger Sanchez, Armand Van Helden and Kerri Chandler. The crowd that night in Amsterdam responded to lots of the music.
With musical styles always coming around in circles, did you ever envisage that the 90s influenced sound would become as hugely popular as it is today?
Yes, I knew it would be as popular again. The way I see it is, when we were making music back in the early 90s, we listened and got inspiration from 70s and 80s music. Now we are in 2016, where are the kids going to check? The Nineties!
What are your thoughts on the current house music scene?
It’s in a much better place than it has been over the last few years, since now the house sound has cycled to the youth of today. The gigs and turn outs at the events has really brought together a mix of all ages. You have the super fans, purists, dancers, house heads and people from other genres of dance wanting to experience it, so this mixture brings together some real musical bliss. We have been doing Roots NYC at Cielo every Wednesday now for 12 years; that tells you something. The music and scene is definitely here to stay.
Have your production techniques changed over the years due to technology?
They are pretty close or same as before, but the equipment now leaves you with so much to experiment with. If I get a new plug-in, analog synth, drum machine, sampler or new sounds, it can inspire a lot of music.
The 4 Hero remix of ‘Black Gold of the Sun’ is one of my favorites of all time. Who’s remix work of your music have you been impressed with and do you personally choose who remixes your work?
That remix is definitely one of my favorites! We personally choose who we want to remix our work, or if it’s on Vega Records, I choose the remixer as well as I am very close to everything released. I am the A&R for Vega Records; we are 161 singles in and are always looking for the next young master!
Are there any current producers that you would love to remix any of your new album tracks?
I would like a few to remix a track on album, including:
• Ron Trent
• Joe Claussell
• Black Coffee
• Dego/4 Hero
• Josh Milan
• Theo Parrish
• Heavy D
• David Morales
• Harry Romero
• Soul Clap
• Glenn Underground
• Phil Asher
• Black Motion
• Joey Negro
• Neil Pierce & Ziggy
There are so many on my mind. Some of the guys above are already remixing for Louie Vega Starring…XXVIII!
As I mentioned in my previous article ‘Discovering the Masters at the Ministry in 93’, The Nervous Track was a huge influence on me personally. Could you explain a little on how the track came about and its recording?
Kenny and I were in the studio working on a remix one day back in 92-93. When we did lots of remixing together, I’d usually be on keyboards, Kenny on the drum machines and we would come up with multiple grooves and beats for just one remix. In one night you could have one remix, but four tracks made in the process, with one or two chosen for the remix. Whichever we thought fitted best. I was playing chords with a pad sound that I found on a module. As I played a progression, the mood on the chords were so hypnotic and catchy, it just caught your ear in seconds. At the same time, Kenny was sampling away on the SP1200, he was on some jazz / drum session / albums (I will leave that privacy to him) and the beat he came up with was like three jazz drummers playing at the same time, but perfectly in sync and complimenting each other. It was genius! After I laid the chords down, the synth bass, organ line and horn hits just came to me instantly. We added some live percussion played by our friend Tony and live sax by Paul Shapiro. The track felt like a hit and that night we could not get it off our minds. At that time, I used to call my good friends Michael Weiss (owner of Nervous Records) and Gladys Pizarro (A&R executive at Strictly Rhythm) at the wee hours of the morning. Even if I worked all night and got something at 4am, I’d call one of them and this time it was Michael’s turn. He loved the track and picked it up straight away! Hence the birth of Nuyorican Soul, one of our prize possession projects!
In regards to house music related albums, you guys threw a real curve ball with the Nuyorican Soul LP. How did that come about and how was it recorded, as it featured a lot of live musicians?
Nuyorican Soul came about because of the success of the ‘Nervous Track’, as we saw it hit different genres all at once; house, hip hop, drum & bass, jazz. So many DJs were reaching out about the track and were playing it heavily in clubs, on radio shows and at music festivals. There was one particular festival we loved and went to called the Southport Weekender in England. By that time, as Masters at Work, we were recording a mile a minute, so inspiration came from all over, one being Southport. There were these smaller rooms with the Dingwalls vibe with DJs like Kevin Beadle, Gilles Peterson and more UK legends. The vibe just injected all this cool energy into us and we were excited by that movement that had been going on for years in London. Gilles was friends with us and reached out and said we should do an album with the Nuyorican Soul sound. Interestingly, we already had plans to do one, so the timing was perfect! We went into the studio with lots of artists who we were already working with; Jocelyn Brown, Roy Ayers, India, Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri. From there, we just kept recording and the ideas kept flowing; we were in the high state of mind creatively. How it was recorded is another interview, as next year is the 20th anniversary of Nuyorican Soul!
Will we be seeing another MAW or Nuyorican Soul album?
You’ve worked with almost every big name in the music industry. Is there anyone that has slipped though the Vega talent pool net?
There are plenty that I’d love to work with, here’s a small list:
• Stevie Wonder
• Herbie Hancock
• Chaka Khan
• Thunder Kat
• Jill Scott
• J. Cole
• Eryka Badu
Which MAW record gave you the most pleasure to create?
So many, but one is ‘It’s Alright, I Feel It” by Nuyorican Soul. A lot of the sessions were really fun in the creative process on that track.
Is there anyone left that you would love to remix?
I like producing more, which on remixes I can do that anyway, but it can be from an upcoming artist to an iconic performer. I just finished remixing something for Amp Fiddler and Moodyman/Mahogani Records.
Which new DJs, record labels and producers do you rate? Is there anyone we think we should be looking out for?
Nulu & Nulu Electronic have such fresh, new sounds with tracks carefully chosen by CEO Anane Vega. Black Motion from South Africa who also release on Nulu and their own label Spirit in Motion. Plus, Black Coffee, Chymamusique, Nick Monaco, Nastee Nev, Josh Milan, King Bruce, Tony V, DJ Shimza, Heavy D, Anane Vega, Ron Trent, Theo Parrish, Moodyman, Ge-ology, Joe Claussell.
Did you honestly ever imagine you’d still be at the top of the house music scene after all these years?
Thank you for the compliment. I just make music that I feel connects with people in a deep way. I think if it’s made that way, the audience can sense the truth in it.
With still such a hectic schedule, do you ever plan to slow down or retire?
There will be an additional canvas to a part of my professional life. A new musical world of exploration. There is no age limit to this; you strive to get better as you get older.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
I have more visions to achieve; some are coming soon! I see myself in high places. :)
Is there anything you’d like to achieve away from music?
Yes, putting our son through college and being there to see him live his dreams.
Finally, now I know how they made those drums on The Nervous Track! Thank you Louie! This isn’t the end of our exclusive series of interviews with the this Nuyorican Soul though, as we will be going deep, DEEP inside his forthcoming solo album ‘Louie Vega Starring…XXVIII’ which launches on Friday 26th February 2016.
The album is a truly all-star affair and features internationally recognised artists such as George Clinton and Funkadelic, The Winan Brothers, Jocelyn Brown, Adeva, Soul Clap, Caron Wheeler, Vikter Duplaix, Kenny Bobien, The Clark Sisters, Bryon Stingily and many more. Louie gives us an exclusive and intimate journey into the musical creation of the project and how he managed to bring together such a diverse range of artists to work on his first ever solo album. One not to be missed.