Electronic dance music has splintered off into countless genres and sub-genres over the decades, almost to the point of absurdity. But if there's one consensus among most EDM fans, whether they're self-proclaimed house heads, techno heads, or electro heads, it's that Morgan Geist rules the school.
Maybe that's because this virtuosic veteran producer's sound straddles almost every flavor in the popular music spectrum, from disco and R&B to house, synth-pop, and electro -- all infused with a distinct sheen and finesse.
Raised in New Jersey, Geist would grow up soaking in the early sounds of Chicago house and Detroit techno as well as the synth-pop and Eurodisco blowing in from across the pond. By 1997, he had launched his own Environ imprint and released debut long-player The Driving Memoirs, introducing the world to his singular multi-faceted production style. If he didn't release a follow up LP until 2008, with Double Night Time, it's only because he's a notorious perfectionist who toils obsessively over the most meticulous detail of every track.
But perhaps it's as half of beloved production duo Metro Area with Darshan Jesrani that Geist has conquered the most fans. By interweaving Chicago house's raw jack with Detroit techno's futurism and the deep soulfulness of New York/New Jersey garage, Jesrani and Geist nailed a savvy floor-ready formula that appealed to a broad cross-section of listeners. Metro Area's eponymous 2002 album made Rolling Stone's Top 50 Albums of 2002, BBC/Radio 1's Dance Album of the Year, and remains a timeless classic among fans.
Crossfade caught up with Morgan Geist ahead of Metro Area's performance at the Electric Pickle next Tuesday.
Crossfade: How did you first get drawn to electronic music and when did you begin producing?
Morgan Geist: I was fascinated with electronic sounds from an early age and played with tape recorders and recording myself on the piano, layering simple sequences before I know that was even something you would do in a recording studio. I got my first synth at 15 and my first record that I was proud of came out in 1994.
When did you first hook up with Darshan Jesrani and how did Metro Area come about?
Darshan and I first met at the end of college, around 1995 or 1996. Metro Area came about after we had been friends for a while and collaborated on a couple of more house-oriented tracks.
You're known for a very meticulous approach to production, with an emphasis on nuance and textural detail. How do you typically approach a track from inspiration to completion? And how much time do you spend on it on average?
I'm very slow, unfortunately. Both in my solo work and as Metro Area, I don't think a year is out of the question. The actual track itself may come together quickly, but editing and recording and re-editing and re-recording can stretch on forever. It's a combination of perfectionism and fear of permanence. I don't want any regrets.
A lot of your work takes a much more lyrical song-oriented approach than your standard dancefloor fare. How do you typically go about writing the material when it comes to lyrics and vocals?
Lyrics are hard, and I usually am too strict with trying to get a story or feeling across. I've learned many people don't even listen to lyrics (or they imagine their own where they can't follow yours) and that's helped me utilize poetic license a bit more, which helps the flow of the words for singers.
Your sound is informed by an eclectic range of styles, from techno and house, to disco, R&B and pop. What would you say are your primary musical influences and inspirations?
I think you nailed them above. There is a very wide variety, and often the inspirations may not be music. However, disco was huge, especially weird underground stuff like Italo and small-run, low-budget records that were suffused with feeling but not as silky and perfect as, say, Chic or Donna Summer.
We spoke to Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys a while back and he told us about how much you've imparted to him artistically and professionally. And of course you collaborated with him on your last album. What can you tell us about your creative relationship?
I recently mixed a track on the new Junior Boys album, but besides that we haven't worked together in a while. I can say that Jeremy opened my eyes about working with a vocalist, which is that you have to give the vocalist some freedom. Sometimes their initial take or interpretation ends up being the best. He also taught me that there is a point where things just aren't going to get better or be improvable. He'd often say "That's the one, I won't get it better than that." With someone else that might be laziness, but Jeremy (though he denies it) is also a perfectionist, and I think he's just more realistic than I am. Not squeezing the life out a performance with re-takes and edits is vital.
A couple years back you expressed a sense of dissatisfaction with the state of music business and wanting to retire from it. Lucky for us, you're still here. How are you feeling about things these days?
Thanks for saying that. I still am cynical, but I suppose life experience dovetails with my ability to enjoy being creative, and there were a few rough years there. I'm sure that contributed. I'm still depressed about the state of the recorded music industry, since I got involved in this to create music and produce. I'd rather be behind the scenes and have my work speak for me. However, the demand for DJ and live sets remain, and have in fact increased and become more lucrative than making records. I'm not happy about this, but I've adjusted. Also, my latest project Storm Queen had a successful debut, resulting in sales and licensing, so that was a pleasant surprise and made me think that for independent artists, some sales of what we create may still yet be possible. In general, however, I'm bitter and pessimistic about the devaluation of recorded music.
What does the future have in store for Morgan Geist?
Immediately, Storm Queen and my usual mish-mash of remixing and DJing. I hope to do some production of bands or artists, but that's difficult unless you want to put in the work for very little payback. I work so slowly that it's difficult for me to invest a lot of time in others' music, because it just takes precious time away from my own slow-moving projects. I continue to run my record label, Environ.
What can Miami expect during Metro Area's upcoming performance at the Electric Pickle?
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A good time, I hope. Open-minded crowds, music-loving and dancing crowds rather than people who consider club music a disposable soundtrack to nightlife... they seem to appreciate our sets the most. So with hope it'll be a good match. We'll be mixing all of our influences and trying our best to make people sweat!
Metro Area with House of House and Goddollars. Tuesday, June 28. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami
Ave., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.