DeeperSoul Interview - Pirahnahead
"A gig can make me create a track depending on how good it was. The whole experience of the Tokyo Crossover Jazz Festival of 2006 inspired my remix of Shuya Okino’s “Shine” (with Diviniti). I was so touched by all the love for the music and the unity of everyone there, that when Shuya asked me to remix the track I tried to recreate the mixture of the live and the electronic."
Hmmm, that’s a loaded question because it happened in many ways. As a child I was always playing records. I would crawl over to the big console unit, you know the big thing with speakers on either side and a record player and radio in the middle, pull myself up on the thing to watch the record go round and round, and I think by way of something larger I learned that it was where the sound was coming from, so I started actually putting the needle on the actual 7” inch or album that was on at any given time. My sisters would take notice of my love for records, and make requests and I would actually fill their requests. I also gathered a lot of the information of liner notes, and things of that matter. It crazy because that was also what helped my reading skills in grade school. I’d read the parliament comic books, and the obscure stories inside the Funkadelic albums, and the various publishing and copyright info, and personnel on others, which became this type of family joke (they still call me to find out what year a record was made, who the producer was, etc). I’d notice which record was which by the scratches on the wax, or the label, etc. It’s Quite funny actually because I still do that. We had a piano, which my mother would play after she’d put me down for a nap or something and I’d always get up and go bother her, reach up and bang they keys out of curiosity, and she tried to teach me a note or two on the keys hoping I’d get bored with it, but I enjoyed the complexity of the sound that came from that instrument. At the age five I got into playing guitar after seeing a p-funk concert which was almost like an epiphany of sorts, because later I got a chance to actually work with some of the same people I admired at that point. Maggot Brain introduced me to Band Of Gypsys, in a way. So really, music has been my life. I’ve done visual art as well, like painting and sketches but music was something more solid which I figured could give the feelings a voice to speak through.
What music did you grow up with and what music has influenced you?
Growing up in a neighborhood on the east side of Detroit in the 1970’s into the 1980’s, it was weird. Basically because I was into everything I heard. My mom was into stuff like the spinners at the time, but she would rest to elevator music – the kind that gets annoying to most people, but I dug it. Perry Como and Frank Sinatra covers, etc. My Father Liked Jazz and blues, he was on that vibration. My sisters and brother were just into the music of that era, Parliament-Funkadelic, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Rufus & Chaka Khan, etc. Some of my siblings were into the Carpenters, and Joni Mitchell. My cousin Bruce really dug the Isley Brothers, my brother was into the commodores, George Benson, and Peabo Bryson, but I was into shit like Jimi Hendrix, and KISS, as well as all of the R&B soul stuff like Motown. Also, Some friends and neighbors were into Mahavishnu Orchestra, Frank Zappa, and Weather Report. So, I figure I was I bit shocking to the rest of everyone around me because I was really into ALL of it, and being a P-Funk FANATIC I noticed all of that was molded into one Unit with George Clinton’s thing so it was really intense to me. Also, I was totally influenced by the way the electrifying mojo would play p-funk, Kraftwerk, and a Mozart concerto, all in the same set and would break new records by prince, and the bus boys. It was quite a stretch from what the normal radio DJ would do. I ended up learning a lot from that strange time I was into Mountain, and Cream, but also Sly (Stone), Prince and Michael Jackson (whom I really adored in the 80’s) so it’s all one thing to me – It (Music) has no genre.
How important is the dj to you? What does a good dj entail? Would you consider yourself as one of those?
The DJ is the vessel for the music to the people. The DJ is the speaker and the source (talent) is on the record.People find out what record is what from what the DJ does through his or her selections. So the DJ is a very important part of the whole spectrum. A Good DJ gets out of the way and lets the record do the talking. Such as guys like Larry Levan Theo Parrish, or Danny Krivit. See, those cats can give a message through the music. They are totally out of the way of the music. They know how to put it together so that you can feel what the record initially meant for you to feel. I consider myself to be a good DJ, but I’m always learning something new about what the music translates into. I recently found myself being a bit in awe of the laptop situation, because I am not really in support of that, unless its used as a tool, with turntablists and such. Just because someone can beat-mix does not make them a good DJ particularly, but a good DJ knows his records, and can tell you what’s under the label on the record, and why they will select what they select. I get bumpy about the digital age, and I’ve been spinning records for a long time, but that means nothing. I know one thing about it. THE MUSIC on the RECORD is the MOST important thing.
How do you prepare for a dj - set?
Prayer. I actually pray to the source of all things that the people listening get something from the music I play and that I get something from the music I play, and that we all become one and enjoy listening to the artist’ expressions. I actually had a really heavy out-of-body experience once while playing at ESCUELA (with Raven Fox) in St. Louis, because of that. Man, that scared me to tears. No drugs were involved, cause that’s not my scene. But it was something else…whew.
What do you listen to nowadays? Is it the same music that you play when you are dj-ing? And to what extent does other kinds of music influence your work?
Wow. Uh... My IPod has about everything you can imagine. So I may listen to Gino Vanelli one minute and Shuggie Otis the next. Right now, I’ve actually been reflecting on cats like J-Dilla, because I miss him. I listen to a lot of raw Jazz, so I’m really into the stuff I get from Japan. (Quasimode. SleepWalker, Kyoto Jazz Massive). There the musician scene is alive and appreciated. I listen to various things between moments of creation, like king tubby’s dub plates and Beady Belle’s Stuff (I’m a huge fan of hers). I always check for tastemakers choices, so I know what’s next because music is always growing. I don’t know what I’m gonna play sometimes. I select and prepare house music before I spin or while I’m spinning, but as I said before I want to make sure that it’s not about me. Some of it ends up being music that I listen to, but sometimes not. Music that I listen to really influences my experiences, and that really influences my work. On certain songs I feel it’s obvious. Someone in Switzerland had mentioned to me that they heard influences of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, and Gino Vanelli’s ‘Storm At Sunup’ in my remix of ISOUL8’s ‘Give it Up’. It was funny that that’s all I was listening to for a month.
How do you think house music will sound in ten years due the different trends we see emerging and due to the commercialization of the genre?
Immensely. There is nothing else more that matters to me. I love people in general, and that is why I do this music thing. People need to share stories and that’s really all music is when you really look at it fully. Anyone who knows me knows I love to talk and share, and laugh. So I try to do that through the music as well as in everyday life. At the basic core of it all we’re a family so there it’s really important that the music is something that people are able to relate to. It’s like dinner with your best friends. I recently re-learned that while crying to some of john legend’s songs. It made me feel like a bit of a wimp, but the fact that he reaches through lyrics and melody is amazing.
You’re producer, musician and a dj; what have these different experiences gained you? What would you say has affected you most musically?
Oh yes. BIG difference. When you’re in a room with some other cats and everyone’s got their thing, you know,
And a groove takes hold of everyone, man – it can really be outtasight. That moment can really never be caught by anything other than the energy that’s there, unless its on tape or somethin’ dig? But a sequence can only go as far as you let it because the only mind there is the creators of that sequence or pattern. The sampler changed it kinda, but there is nothing like live, human people, playing instruments. That’s the reason why I always use a live string orchestra if I can. Because no matter how good the string patch is on a keyboard or sampler is, there are hearts beating behind those violins which are being played by humans, and they are thinking, and they have emotions, and everything. That’s really important. That’s why now everyone always samples to try and get back to that energy of some cats in a room groovin’ together, and an engineer catching that on an audio-camera. Certain things came out of sampling that can work, but it took skill. Like jungle, and anything J-Dilla did. I mean, He changed the face of R & B even with the way he programmed drums, so now every drummer plays like he programmed to an extent. The old school element is what’s really missing from today’s music I think, the soul of it, and the actual reality. For Instance, in ‘Freddy’s Dead’ (Curtis Mayfield, Superfly Soundtrack 1972) during the 8 bar break there are these hi violins that stays on a high note while the bass, congas and hi-hat are going, then it slides downward and crescendos at the same time. Instantly the sound is that of a plane crashing, and you can feel what’s going on in the actual story. Those instrumentalists were all on the same wavelength that day, and when you hear that the only thing you can think is, ‘Freddy’s Dead’!
How would you describe your music?
Yes. Very much so. A gig can make me create a track depending on how good it was. The whole experience of the Tokyo Crossover Jazz Festival of 2006 inspired my remix of Shuya Okino’s “Shine” (with Diviniti). I was so touched by all the love for the music and the unity of everyone there, that when Shuya asked me to remix the track I tried to recreate the mixture of the live and the electronic. So I was really inspired by a gig that way.
What were your first experiences of producing music?
Long Story. I studied engineering with Bob Dennis at the Recording Institute of Detroit and the Disc Recording Studios. I mean actual analog recording, grease marking the tape editing, and warmth. Just Pure. Warmth, tape and human minds. Now the Musical studies came from everywhere. I learned by ear first, there was some basics taught but other than guitar mentors teaching me how to execute what I learned and so forth – it was records that I would imitate. But as far as actual music theory goes, it was Bernie Worrell and Joe Heyden In NYC before an Enemy Squad gig, and I was trying to decipher the cycle of fifths, and Bernie taught me what it really meant. (How to add colors to chords, how spiritual and vibratory it is in the universal realm) and Joe Heyden kept on schooling me for the rest of that tour. So when I started going to college again, a Cellist, and violinist whom I was working with (that I actually did a house track with that is still unreleased) urged me to quit my liberal arts curriculum, and take some serious theory courses. I did, and got into ear training and all of that. Sight singing solfege. Weird stuff. But I got into the jazz department by way of effort and ended up taking some jazz theory workshops with Dr. Matt Michaels, who is an amazing arranger. And I decided for myself that arranging string orchestras and horn sections was the next step in creation for my work. Actually, let me be REALLY Honest. I was trying to figure out HOW Clare Fischer (the guy who does strings for Prince and Celine Dion, etc.) got me to cry with those beautiful voicings.
As mentioned, you’ve done a lot of different things within your musical career, what drives you to try out new things? Where do you find this inspiration?
Well, definitely VINYL! I’m gonna try and help keep the RECORD PLAYING INDUSTRY ALIVE!!!! Not facsimiles of records, actual records. My second release on my label is actually entitled music. It’s almost auto biographical. Its up on my myspace page now I think, and on my website. www.pirahnahead.com. Also there is a new Diviniti song called ‘Can’t Explain’ – which was really an interesting piece, cause I almost threw it out and started from scratch. Shuya Okino and I have a new project coming soon. Diviniti has a cover of ‘Harvest For The World’ and ‘Spread Love’ (The Isley Brothers & Al Hudson). Which I produced because our corner of the universe is in PAIN right now and needs LOVE!!!! There is also a Napihedz track being released on a new UK label called Prime Numbers which is kind of interesting because Reggie Dokes and I do a fusion between house and dub reggae, and there are some new projects in the works with Les Nubians, Kenny Bobien and a duet with Clara Hill. And Others upcoming after those, and others featuring them, etc. Also, I just began a weekly radio show on pushfm.com, so I don’t know what’s next, but it will be next.
1. Stevie Wonder – AS
2. Diviniti – Can’t Explain
3. Pirahnahead – Music
4. Marcellus Pittman – Something’s out there
5. Theo Parrish – Synthetic Flemm
6. Donny Hathaway – The Ghetto (Live Version)
7. Shuya Okino – If It Is Love
8. Prince – All The Critics love you In NEW YORK
9. L’Renee – I wanna Fall In Love
10. The It – Donnie