House's Hot Prince
Long considered one of the most popular dance artists in the nation, with a Grammy to his credit (he won in 2002 for remixing No Doubt's "Hella Good"), barrel-chested Roger Sanchez is a health nut who likes to decompress in the gym. He's beloved by some Miamians for hosting the 2003 and 2004 editions of the DanceStar USA Awards, making them tolerable via charismatic quips that were actually funny.
"As a producer and a songwriter, I've grown over the years. I constantly change. I constantly try to update myself and try something new," says Sanchez, who is lounging in his "summer home" in Ibiza, Spain, and gearing up for his annual residency at the party island's Pacha superclub. "You've got to challenge yourself to do something new; otherwise you stay in the same cycles that you're used to."
Sanchez's new album is indeed a departure from most of his earlier work. Come with Me, which will be released June 27 on Ultra Records, took him nearly three years to complete. The songs range from the clanging tribal jam "Turn on the Music" and "Take a Chance" to the soaring gospel house of "Free (Headwinds)," and reflect different periods in the currently single Sanchez's life. The disc isn't necessarily uncharacteristic of his prior output Sanchez's production style tends to be melodic and introspective but its tone can get intense, particularly during tracks like "Lost" and "Soledad."
"From the dance floor to my own heart, it's a journey to inward. People are used to seeing me in the club, but they don't see what I'm like personally. So [my personality] is something I wanted to illustrate," he says.
"I think a lot of dance music producers approach artist albums like a compilation. But for me it was a bit different. It had to be a lot more personal. I wanted to write songs that basically tell a bit of a story," says Sanchez. "You've got songs like 'Lost,' which is about broken relationships" and is also the album's current single, he says. "You've got songs like 'Reasons' and 'I'm Yours,' which are very romantic songs. 'Hot 4 U' is a kind of seduction. So there are different things ... and then a song like 'Again,' which is a day-in-the-life song, a little quirky. Those are things that people can relate to." Most of the eleven tracks sound soft and melancholy, and seem more intended for midmorning comedown sessions instead of midnight peak-hour dancing.
A lifelong New Yorker of Dominican descent, the 39-year-old Sanchez stormed the Manhattan house scene in the Eighties, first as a DJ and then as a producer for the Strictly Rhythm imprint, making tracks under aliases like Tribal Infusion ("Sumba-Lumba"), Underground Solution ("Luv Dancin"), and DV8 ("Freedom"). Those productions, characterized by a tough sound and marked by breakbeats and rippling, insistent bass lines, reflected a strong influence from the city's thriving hip-hop scene.
By the mid-Nineties, Sanchez drew remix assignments from the likes of Michael Jackson ("Jam"), M People ("Moving On Up"), Janet Jackson and Luther Vandross ("The Best Things in Life Are Free"), and many others, capably pairing radio hits with a house beat for mainstream club play. Collaborations with Armand Van Helden, Junior Sanchez, and Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter (as the heavily hyped Mongoloids); a number one hit in the UK (2001's "Another Chance," made in the midst of house music's sampling craze); and a full-length album, First Contact, that reached the UK charts made Sanchez one of the American house scene's biggest stars.
First Contact consisted of mostly instrumental dance tracks. In contrast, Come with Me features winsome vocals from Alejandro Sanz ("I'm Yours"), Omar ("Reason"), and others who try to articulate Sanchez's feelings and emotions. "I don't get jaded that often," says Sanchez when asked if touring around the world for most of the year and spending most of his time spinning records for inebriated wastrels makes him cynical of club culture. "I love what I do." Is Come with Me, with its pop-oriented tracks, an attempt to break out of the dance scene? "I wasn't aiming for a specific club audience or a specific pop audience," he says. "I think it's all club-based, because that's where I come from."
Sanchez's concept of personal liberty (and the name of his record label) is Release Yourself. At DJ gigs, he often spins for more than eight hours without repeating any records, especially when he plays at Club Space. "I love those Space gigs," he says. "The crowd flows in and out, but there's a good section of the hardcore [fans] that stays all the way through. It's a journey. It's a vibe." Revelers are advised to take a disco nap before attending.
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