Monday, July 19th, 2010 | Sounds
Last month Larry Heard came to San Francisco. Initially, we had planned on doing an interview for the KUSF radio show, The Friday Night Session but, summer in SF means fog which in turn means delayed flights. Because Larry couldn’t make it to the show in time, he was kind enough to reach out and agreed to do an interview via email. Larry Heard’s legacy is undeniable, helping to shape the house music genre as well as influencing many producers with a wealth of soulful, forward thinking music that sounds as relevant today as it did 25 years ago.
Q. You’ve been producing for over 25 years and yourself and along with a handful of other producers in Chicago were pretty much responsible for shaping the acid and deep house genres. In those early years did you get a sense from how people in Chicago reacted, that your music was going to go on to be so globally recognized and important?
A. I don’t recall even thinking very far ahead at that time. I don’t think any of the people who were around making music and doing releases did. I think everyone was just enjoying people paying attention to what they were doing at the time.
Q. I recall reading somewhere that the early house music producers were trying to emulate disco (and italo) but using drum machines and synths. Who were some of the artists that you were trying to emulate and who are your musical influences past and present?
A. Yes, disco and italo-disco were the styles that were being played at the clubs and on radio at the time, so they served as the blueprints since you wanted what you were doing to fit into the settings where the music was played. I didn’t have any “specific” artists or producers that I was trying to emulate, it was more the “flow” and beat-patterns that were what everyone was learning to fit into the beat-mixed settings.
A. Yes, quite a few but I’d say definitely some of the first few that I did, like “Mystery Of Love”, “Washing Machine” and “Can You Feel It” were my transition from playing drums in bands and my musical ideas being ignored. I guess it wasn’t very customary for drummers to have “music” ideas, just “rhythm” ideas. Then projects like the “Another Side” (Fingers, Inc.-1988) and “On Top Of The World” (The It-1989) albums were an opportunity to stretch out a bit with full-length projects as opposed to singles and ep’s. The two volumes of “Sceneries Not Songs” (Larry Heard-1994/1995) and the “Alien” (Larry Heard-1996) albums were all special and very therapeutic for me personally. The recording process on “Alien” was also unique and hard to explain but it was a challenge for me at the time.
Q. In recent years there has been a resurgence of rawer sounding music with producers like Chicago’s Jamal Moss and Tevo Howard continuing the lineage of the original house sound. What do you think it is that has made your music (and other early Chicago cuts) so enduring?
A. I’m not exactly sure but glad that it has stood the test of time. I have done many musical experiments, but for the most part, I just tried to make good music with good melodies. You know a good song sounds good no matter when you hear it, so they tend to have a timeless quality, if you’re able to get it right.
Q. A lot of your releases have space themed titles. Did you feel like you was making spacey, futuristic music when you first got your hands on equipment? and do you think that some of the charm of making music has been lost on computer based set-ups?
A. At the beginning, of course, I had no clue what I was doing. I was just happy and excited to have my hands on synthesizers after admiring and being curious about them in different bands I was in from the late 70’s through maybe around ‘83. I was just having fun for the most part. The “spacey” titles are actually inspired by the musical pieces themselves. Usually, I listen to tracks to get ideas for titles (and sometimes I’ve let friends hear music and they have come up with titles based on what the music made them think of). As far as computer based set-ups, the set-up doesn’t really do anything until a person sits in front of it and inputs information, so if that person is able to do something interesting and that people enjoy listening to, I don’t think the average person even cares how it was created. I know when I hear some music that I like a lot, I don’t really start to ponder whether it was done on a computer-based set-up or by other means. If it comes up, I guess it’s interesting to know but not something I specifically think about.
Q. Your label, Alleviated Records, has been around for 25 years; you’ve recently been re-issuing some of your harder to find tracks. What’s your stance on the re-issues of house classics? Do you think that some things are better left alone or does file sharing mean that it’s better for artists and labels to release everything?
A. I think it’s pretty much up to the individual labels. There are people out there who still enjoy getting physical records and those that collect them, so if labels and artists are able to do that, then I’m all for it. When you think about it, if anyone is going to make money off of the old records that people still enjoy and want to buy, it may as well be the official artists and labels than some bootlegger that shows up and does it. The patrons also get something that’s from an official source. Usually official releases grow in value over time if it’s a good release - I don’t know if it’s the same with bootleg releases.
Q. What else do you have coming up for Alleviated, any other tracks from the archives being released? And, are there any new projects that you’re working on, a new album hopefully?
A. We’re always throwing ideas around and I try to review the archives and see if anything jumps out at me. I’d like for people who have been following the music to get to check out some of the things that weren’t released. There are no specific details at the moment. We’re just doing it as we get ideas and as we’re able to.
Q. And finally, what keeps you inspired?
A. Usually, it’s “sounds” that inspire me. I always get asked about how I put ideas together but for me the sounds themselves spark the ideas. I just browse through sounds on my synths and keyboards and listen for the ones that grab my attention or are just fun to fool around with and go for it. Listening to music by other people helps a lot too. I’ve been buying since around 1970, so I have a pretty big collection of music. I also try to keep up with as much new music as I can. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems like it’s coming so fast that it’s hard to do sometimes, but I try my best.
Buy Alleviated Records at Beatport