Although it can seem silly to outsiders (and insiders), the byzantine world of hardcore dance music aficionados is full of weird genre-based in-fighting. And some of the most ferociously discerning fans come from the word of soulful house. Not to say that, as a scene, the people of deep grooves are assholes. Quite the opposite -- the whole organic deep-house thing has a slightly crunchy feeling in general, with lots of talk of good vibes and a serious love of the trumpet. But real house heads also are fiercely protective of their scene, so if you come up in it, and somehow defy it, they will usually voice their displeasure, quickly and loudly.
So if you haven't checked in with Caldwell outside of his Om oeuvre, his new album, Obsession, will come as a huge surprise. The producer ditched San Francisco a few years back, spending some time in Barcelona and eventually winding up in L.A. And along his travels, he got fed up with deep house. Obsession is markedly darker and more robotic, from the get-go of searing opening track "Black Diamond Sky," which features vocals from Storm Lee. Guests feature prominently throughout the rest of the 11 tracks, each bringing the songs' unabashedly big-room sounds to thumping conclusions. Out is the jazzy noodling, in is the electronic funk.
New Times spoke with Caldwell by phone recently to chat about Obsessions and his gig in South Beach this Saturday at Set. After the jump read the full Q&A, and get the download link for his new single, "It's Guud," featuring Mr. V.
Andy Caldwell. Friday, September 25. Set, 320 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach. Doors open at 11 p.m., tickets cost $30 in advance from wantickets.com. Ages 21+ with ID. 305-531-5535; setmiami.com
New Times: You're so closely associated with your work for Om Records, which has a sort of crunchy reputation. And then the first thing that you notice when you put in this album, from the first track, is that all that expected soulful stuff is gone, and it's kind of harder and darker. Was that your plan for the record from the get-go, or did it just happen that way as you wrote the tracks?
Andy Caldwell: It just happened that way. I was just expressing myself and working with other artists expressing what they wanted to do. I just kind of needed a break from soulful, deep house. It was tiring me out, and I wans't into it any more.
How was it tiring you out?
I just get bored with things. I was looking for a little more dimension and depth -- something you could listen to in the car, but also play it in a club in the main room. So I wanted it to be versatile. That was the one objective I had when I set out to do this. With soulful house I was bored with everything, from the beats to the structure, musically -- there's a lot of expected piano, certain chords.... I feel like I had already been there and done that, and wanted to do something new. I was tired of working in that construct.
You've said you were really going for a European sound. That's interesting because obviously you've been playing in Europe already for quite some time. When did that finally start to affect what you were playing?
Probably the summer of 2004. I moved to Barcelona for six months, and that's when I started getting into a more electronic sound. But I didn't really fully commit to it until a year and a half, two years ago.
What took you to Barcelona?
I had been to Barcelona quite a few times, and really like dthe eneryg of the city and had friends there, and the weather was mild. I speak Spanish -- I lived in Mexico for five years as a kid. So it was kind of a perfect fit. But then after living there for a few months, I realized I was basically starting over. It was difficult to create that network of people that you grow accustomed to relying upon in your career. I was never really established out there. Although I was working with some good European record labels at the time, I didn't feel like I fit in, in the long run. So I decided to go back to the West Coast.
What was the reaction, in San Francisco, to the change in your sound? What you hear about coming from San Francisco is basically Om, Om, Om....
It's funny. I actually moved three years ago to L.A. And before I left, I didn't really play in San Francisco very often. So the reaction there wasn't really a problem, you know? It turned out the biggest obstacle I had was L.A., because I had a really big following in L.A. that knew me for that funky house sound.
So I started to change that up, and probably lost at least half of my fans. But I was being true to myself, and couldn't really get up in front of a crowd and fake it any more. I wanted to really feel like I was behind the music, that I supported what I was playing and was more excited about what I was doing. Then I could actually perform better. San Francisco was no problem - they're actually very open-minded, but since I've adopted a whole new sound, I've actually found a lot of growth and acceptance in that dance community there.
The label talk reminds me, this album is being released through your label, Uno Recordings, which you've relaunched, and Tommy Boy. Why did you decide to re-launch your label now, when so many are struggling to stay afloat?
Well, that's exactly why, because there are so many labels that are struggling. I didn't want to put the music out through some other label, and have them own everything, and then only sell a couple thousand copies. So I figured if I could at least sell a few thousand copies on my own, I figured I would stand to make a lot more money, and own my masters, and have more control over the copyrights and publishing.. A record label doesn't really serve my purpose.
Do you have plans to release music by other artists on your label, or is it just going to be an outlet for your own projects?
There's a singer on my album named Storm Lee, and he has a track off his album that I'm gonna release as a single on Uno. I've also done, in the past, I released a couple Yoshimoto singles that sold well over 50,000 copies. Behrouz is on there, Wolfgang Gartner did a remix of one of my tracks, and Trentemoller..., We've had pretty eclectic names come through, and I don't want it to be just about my own projects.
Going back a little, the coolest thing about your biography is that you trained classically in piano and brass instruments. How did you first get into actually making dance music from there?
When I was 19, I started taking classes at my university, Sonoma State University in electronic music. I was actually studying economics, and it was an elective. I was really into music. I started going to raves when I was like 18, and got turned onto that whole sound and the DJ culture. I wanted to make the kind of music you'd hear when you partied. So I took these one hour a week kind of classes, and I was just really, really interested in it. So I gradually took a whole bunch more classes and ended up getting a minor in music production and composition. That was definitely the point where I really branched out and learned a lot about what I know now.
Who were your biggest influences as a producer when you first started out?
There was this DJ in San Francisco named Yano, and he still plays all the time, but only in San Francisco. He was hugely influential to me as a dance music producer. I had no idea what the records he was playign were, but I had these mixtapes of his and I'd listen to them over and over. It turns out it was artists like Todd Terry, Bizarre Inc., Masters at Work, Leftfield, Jam & Spoon -- I could probably go on and on. But there were a lot of those early-'90s productions -- '91, '92, '93, those years were hugely influential to me.
These days, how does your classical training influence your writing process for dance music?
I don't think it really influences it at all. I think what was more influential was, I studied jazz improv piano for a number of years as an adult, and that really shaped my chord structure when I was doing a lot more of the deep house stuff. I think people, when they listen to an Andy Caldwell track, they associate my music with a deep and lush jazz kind of background.
But in this new record, I abandoned that whole structure, and maybe that's how the classical strucutre has come back. I abandoned the jazz structures, and went much more traditional.
How did you decide on the different guests on the album? Did you write most of the material before they came on board, or was there some more back and forth?
Some of the tracks that I collaborated on, I actually wrote the majority of the lyrics and the melody, and then just had the person sing it. Other tracks, like "Black Diamond Sky," I wrote just the music, but not even the melody. For a lot of the tracks, it was a very collaborative process where I would sketch out an idea, and then develop it with the songwriter in the studio.
What's your process like, in general, when you're writing an original track?
I'll just get like a basic groove going, with some real basic progression. And then certain times in my life I feel really inspired to create, and you have to make sure that you block out enough time to allow those thoughts to become compositions that actually finish. I did this whole album in about - with the exception of one or two tracks - I did it in like three or four months. I just went in the studio and banged it all out, and did much of it as I could at once. All in all, I'd say the whole stand was about 9 months from when I started working on it.
Since you've had this stylistic metamorphosis, what other some other current artists with whom you think you hold the most in common? Or is there anything else new that is influencing you now?
Morgan Page and Kaskade are probably two of my contemporaries that I think are most similar. I've worked with Kaskade on some of his projects, and Morgan and I are talking about working on some stuff. We all have a similar sort of sound. But outside of dance music, I'm really digging MGMT, I think they're awesome. A lot of the Astralwerks stuff that has come out in the last year I'm really digging. I have some guilty pleasures, too, that I hear on like, the mix shows and stuff that I'm not gonna admit. I listen to the radio, too, and I like dumb, mindless pop music, too.
You mentioned Kaskade, and he's blown up so much in the mainstream lately. Since you've worked with him several times, has that helped your career, by association, at all?
I'm sure it has. I mean, any time you're collaborating with someone who's had a lot of success, it's probably going to filter down. - I guess I could have milked it quite a bit, but I was very low key about it. But yeah, I'm sure it's helped.
So what about your set in Miami this weekend? If someone hasn't heard you spin in a while, are they going to be really surprised?
Yeah, if someone hasn't heard me play in five years, they're probably gonna be like, Whoa. But I play in Miami a couple times a year, and my sound has been morphing over the past four or five years. I still play vocals, and I still play funky beats -- they're just tougher and bigger and more main-room kind of beats. And I'll play some of the remixes from this album, for sure, and I'll probably play a couple of the originals as well. "It's Guud" is kind of the signature of my set.