Home Interview An interview with Andrew Emil

An interview with Andrew Emil

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Andrew Emil, a prominent artist of Chicago’s third wave of house music artists, has been a respected fixture and a familiar face on the vibrant and diverse music scene for two decades. His sound, eclectic and mature, of classic and contemporary Chicago House elements, infused with the undercurrents of jazz and soul that have accompanied him since his beginnings as a budding musician, keyboardist and sound engineer.
 
S&S Sessions is a demonstration of how well it manages to transport the listener to another dimension. We have had the pleasure of interviewing him about his latest work and his future.

What’s your technical approach to creating music, what gear do you normally use?

Thank You So Much For Those Kind Words and Thank You For Having Me!
It means a lot that high-fidelity recording experiences and general musicianship are still aspirations of aural appreciation for music fans out there these days.

It’s been a very long time/process that I have been making professional recordings and one that has seen me progress from atoms to bits. I am pretty much all in-the-box these days—except for a few outboard pieces—I use for dynamic processing, sparingly.

Items such as tube and transistor preamps (Avalon 737-SP), optical compressors, some large cardioid condenser mics, a couple of Roland and Korg rack modules, my trusty Custom Fender Rhodes Suitcase 73 [Pic Below], and a whole galaxy of high-caliber digital signal processing plugins.

(Fender Rhodes Suitcase 73 By @electricpianoco)
I started as a traditional musician as a child, then sought out the studio world in my late teenage years, and learned about sequencing and sampling. From there for the first ten years or so, I began to made records with just the MPC2000, Roland Juno-106, Fender Rhodes, and my record collection for source material.

Much like when someone showed me a sequencer for the first time—I had no idea at all before the age of 17 that you could program music without having someone be there to play it live—discovering the wide-world of DAWs was the next level in my quest of constant consolidation in pairing gear down to acceptable audio virtualization and mix recall-ability.

I work on a lot of different kinds of music all the time—anywhere from 20-40 projects at any given time are being tailored to, incrementally—so the ability to flip between so many sessions, with everything just the way I left it was the biggest change to my workflow in the last fifteen years.

This is why I began a quest to be able to recreate almost anything I was doing with hardware, virtually. The kind of DSP processing and computation available to us today is “The Future We Were Promised” in regards to having anything that you would want at your fingertips.

However, all of my production techniques come from the school of traditional large format studio production practices. Having cut my teeth in the studios of Chicago—starting with my first studio job, working for Vince Lawrence at Chicago Traxx—things like group and parallel processing, inserts, sends, group bus mixing, etc are all still a part of my workflow. It’s just much easier to do with Logic Pro than track sheets, SMPTE, out-of-sync clocks, etc.

Your “S&S Sessions” is sounding superb. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind it?

Thanks again for the kind words and pleasant feedback!

It’s pretty straight forward, as this is a compilation of all the work I have done over the years for Steve and Shannon. I believe this is the second or third compilation of this type for S&S, where a collection of work from a significant remixer or hometeam artist makes sense to highlight as such.

It was a labor of love with two of the best by my side!

How do you follow an idea through from inspiration – to a fully produced track?

That question meant something different to me at different times in my life. At first, I really didn’t know what “a fully produced track” should be artistically, but I certainly knew what examples of final products that I loved sounded and looked like.
So, I guess the reverse engineering started there I would say… Experimentation and observation, trial and error, and after a good amount of time put in (outside of my education), I just wanted to understand how certain things, musically, made sense emotively. I really dug into this concept of how to capture emotion and meaning in music, compositionally, and I would listen to parts of songs or records that I loved, which made me feel a certain feeling, then, I would get inside of what was making that tick, musically.
Like a certain harmonic progression would always bring up feelings of “Exploration” or “Introspection” or “Spiritual Reprieve”, etc. and I would dissect what was going on there to be used as a tool of craftsmanship (i.e. ii-V-I in a minor key is a cadence to a deeper and darker reality).

These then became the aural building blocks of how to paint with sounds and emotions—external to the theoretical tools of academia—and it was from there that I began to embark on the Change Request project concept:
Writing music that captured my mood at that moment in time, viscerally, capturing the vivid essence, and then emotionally documenting the moment, getting there musically and then diverging. These became the principles of the founding notions of my progessive effort into creating Incidental Dramatic Music.

It was around this same time that I was venturing back into making house music again (2009-2011), and brought these mantras back into my dance musical world. It would start with a checklist of the things I am trying to convey with the piece, and once all of the boxes of things that need to happen are checked off, I knew the track/production/song was done. If you start with the idea of “What Emotion Am I Trying To Make A Listener Feel?” and work your way backwards, you will always inform the best choices for the effectiveness in the composition.

Can you tell us a little bit about your favorite remixes from the collection?

DJ Skip Feat. Howard Hewett, Carolyn Griffey – Don’t Go (Andrew Emil Clone Dub) – I really loved this record from jump street. I mean, it’s Shalamar! Carolyn added a nice aesthetic to the group and I got to have my good friend, Adam Pickrell, play the Clone D synth solo on this dub.
CeCe Peniston, Steve Silk Hurley – He Loves Me 2 (Andrew Emil No Doubt Dub) – This song is just memorable from the first note CeCe sings. It’s no wonder why this song was directly how Steve got nominated for his fourth GRAMMY Award! I had a nice contemporary soulful house dub idea, which I was happy to find this nice pocket of her vocals to tell this dub story with.
 
Malik Yusef Feat. Kanye West, Common & JV – Wouldn’t You Like Ride (Andrew Emil Dub) – When I heard the acapella and remembered the original track, I immediately had this idea—which I was sort of keeping in the scratch pad for some time—which was to present a house track that felt like a golden-era Hip-Hop sampled style beat, a la Pete Rock, DJ Premiere, etc. This combination of the three very young MCs, would bode well for this idea and this remix came together precisely this way. Start to finish, the vision of the aesthetic was in place.
 
Jamie Principle – Baby Wants To Ride (Broadway & Wilson Vogue Down Remix) – This is a remix that just happened to have cosmically worked out! Right around this time Steve and Shannon were releasing this large “The Chicago LP” and it was the first time I heard the original version of this song that Jamie made famous with Frankie Knuckles. After hearing this, Jamie Principle (Original 1984 Demo) – Baby Wants To Ride version, I had an idea.
 
At the time, I was just beginning this process of developing the Change Request ReVision idea—a format that I would later go on to recreate records that I chose as studies in sound design—and I was working on a rewrite of Hall & Oates “Crime Pays” at the time with my production partner in Broadway & Wilson, Jeff Bloom.
 
I got the acapella from Shannon and clandestinely, it was the same BPM and key! So, I then just tossed it on the remake we were working on and the EXACT arrangement of the vocals from Jamie in 1984 and the musical arrangement of the “Crime Pays” fit perfectly! It was a very zen DJ moment that turned into this version of this song! It still blows my mind today, the coincidence of it al!
Tommye, Jump Chico Slamm – I Need To Go Away (Andrew Emil Dreamix) – This is really one of my more favorite remixe projects I have ever worked on. I have really loved this original for a long time and it’s a total piece of music that I confide in. The subject of the song Tommye wrote is so personal to me and one that I very much have a close relationship with as a person who uses music and art for therapy and an escape. So, I ended up flipping a lot of versions of this song for the boys!
Tommye, Jump Chico Slamm – I Need To Go Away (Change Request Introspection) – Another one of the many remixes of this song that I made as a personal piece of therapeutic art that I can use, return to, and store as a tool of mood shaping when I need it. I was working on this track for another project the same week I was making the house mixes of Tommye, and I noticed as I was working that the phrasing and vibes aligned, but just in half-time, and so I went for it and this is what came out.

Additionally, a gratifying aspect of this version was when I turned it all in and Steve got back to me with this feedback, “This is baby makin’ music and this version will be responsible for the creation of some children Andrew is accountable for, so it has to be on the record!” Whom am I to judge?

What sounds and artists are inspiring you right now?

I am always looking for inspiration in the world around me, and there are certainly some strongholds of artistry that I typically seek, but I also like to set up situations that recreate the UX/experience/probability curve of digging in record bins, but online. Essentially, playing racket ball with the algorithms, recommending systems, and suggestions.

With that said, here’s a short list of artists, and one track from them, that—CONSTANTLY—inspire me, for which I listen, reference, and many times meditate to and with their music—CONSISTENTLY—on a weekly basis (It’s all over the place, just like my head is!):

Dego – Life Can Be Unreal (feat. Sarina Leah)
Kaidi Tatham – It’s A World Before You
The 2000 Black Family – Don’t Stop (Let It Go)
Tatham · Mensah · Lord · Ranks – Mr Pickles (Dance Mix)
Vangelis – Wait For Me
Hiroshima – One Wish
Into It. Over It. – Living Up To Let You Down (Instrumental)
Claude Debussy – La Fille Aux Cheveux De Lin (Here’s an orchestration I did some time ago)
Dustin O’Halloran – Opus 55 (Lumiere)
Ryuichi Sakamoto – A Flower Is Not A Flower (of the many versions, this piano solo is sublime!)
SG Lewis – Yours
Bill Evans – Spartacus Love Theme (Nardis)
Esbjörn Svensson Trio – Seven Days of Falling
Classixx – A Mountain with No Ending
Paul Hardcastle – London Chimes
Far Caspian – Conversations (a longer edit I made for convenience)
Harry Griffiths – Since We’re Here
Black Loops – Malta (Dub Version)
Chris Reece – Overflow
Howard Shore – Happy Birthday, Nicholas
The Weeknd – As You Are
George Crumb – A Haunted Landscape
Brian Eno – From The Same Hill

What other projects are you working on right now?

Always jamming on a large variety of productions, be it solo works and collaborating with folks I love to write with, across many genres, moods, tempos, and emotive content. This whole thing is just all worth it when you can write and create alongside inspiring friends, who’s talent and vision never cease to amaze me with their work.

This is my typical rotation on any given month these days, and I am really happy with these projects on this list below, as many of them are products of realizations of intentional changes to my creative practice and compositional process:
Theoretical Certainty LP & New Videos – These are newly created videos for songs from my last full-length album—[AUDIO]: Change Request | Theoretical Certainty LP—which is a 2×12” record of musical abstraction and lucid songs.

Released last October, I did a full album breakdown for Attack Mag’s Track By Track series—Change Request – Theoretical Certainty LP Track By Track—recently to support its release, and these videos are just now being released:

 
 
 
 
 
New Originals & Features – Some recently released or upcoming scheduled records featuring original works, or original works created in collaboration with other artists. This list also includes previews of the next Change Request full-length—All We Have Is Time, The Self-Titled Single & LP for Dallas label, New Math Records:
 
 
 
Change Request | Disdånce Pøetry
Change Request | Dance Odyssey EP
 
Change Request | All We Have Is Time LP
 
New Remixes & ReVisions – Some recently released or upcoming scheduled remixes of a few artists that I love and many are great friends, as well as folks I have worked with for long periods, including William Kurk, Elbert Phillips, Andre Espeut, and Gavin Hardkiss as Hawke.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Antonio Trinchera | Joy Drops (Elbert Phillips Remixes)
 
 
New Collective & Media Project – A recently formed creative collective I have founded with three others as of the middle of last year. It’s a multimedia collation with objectives to create musical moments with sound and film to tell unique stories about the human experience. More To Come, but for now, a title track theme:
 
New Chicago DJ Residency – As the world reopens, one of my fav spots, not only in Chicago but anywhere—Primary Nightclub Chicago—is finally reopening for business after a few arduous years of being held down by the city for code violations not caused by them.
 
They used that time and this downtime to regroup and rebuild to come back better than ever. I truly love the two partners, Derek Specs & Pedro Cervantes, who truly run the club from their passion for house music.
 
I have been asked to be one of the new resident DJs on the new team, alongside Chicago legends and mainstays, such as Paul Johnson, K Alexi, Hyperactive, Blu 9, and more. It’s gonna be a fun one!
 
 

I feel like the underground scene will continue to persist. Do you think we can go back to “normal” events and festivals?

This is an interesting question as I know the world is trying to convince itself that there is such a thing as “going back” to anything. Time only moves one direction, you don’t know how much you have, you can’t buy more of it, and it gets more expensive the older you get.

That said, there is only going to be what nightlife, be it underground, above ground, pop tart fests, lawn chair house music, or any other variety of large public human interaction looks like by way of consensus. I think the biggest issue that—of course, was known—came to light, yet again, during all of this, is a quintessentially American-styled form of perceived exceptionalism.

How people acted, or didn’t act, during this time of global distress, by virtue of compassion and empathy, or apathy and indifference. These types of life situations, where your up against it, perhaps running out of resources or never had any, and in clear need of help and support, truly reveals in your circle who is in your corner.
I just hope that we all learned many lessons during this “Big Pause”, and learned to never take anything for granted, be it person, place or thing. Additionally, this classic AA lesson is being driven home to a larger audience than it usually gets at your local “Friends Of Bill” session: Learning how to accept life on life’s terms.

Both of these two are key aspects of aspiring to awaken, always present, and confidently self-aware. All tenants of a quality human being, indeed.

In these troubled times, what is keeping you happy?

Great Question!—this has changed over the course of the last twelve months—as you can imagine, it’s been just one big giant evolving process of personal growth through uncertainty and adversity.
What kept me happy before was the idea of looking forward further into the future for hope, such as a planned trip, or previously societal normative behavior.
Now, it’s the complete appreciation of the smallest things in life—which many took for granted before, and I am also guilty of this, we all are—and the practice of an attitude of gratitude.

From just meeting a friend in a park or just seeing the sunset on the brow of a child or the unwavering unconditional love of a dog when it sees it’s human!

These are the types of things keeping me going these days.

Do you have any final words of wisdom?

I have two things that I always like to state when asked a general-purpose inquiry of insight. These are two things that I have kept with me and can benefit anyone looking to participate in the creative arts over the long-haul:
Whenever a file leaves your studio/house/computer/ to be sent to anyone, always be in the habit of labeling the file with this, or a similar format: “Artist – Track Name (Mix Name)”.
EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.—without question—just make it a habit from now on. I promise you will thank me later for this slight change in habit down the road.
With all the noise in the world, sometimes, it’s difficult to hear the signal through it. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that you are setting expectations for yourself, your art, and the purpose of your intent.
A very grounding ethical framework that has guided much of the many years of my audio excursions is this one simple mantra: “The Reward For Creating Is The Creation.” This concisely pragmatic approach seeks to always ensure that you are creating for the right reasons.

Music is a sacred art that connects our species across lands, languages, time, and space. The magic in the math of music and its residual spirituality are powerful forces of human evolution and wonderment.

Keeping an innocent, exploratory, and practical approach to the creative process, along with incrementally expansive expectations, will ensure that the transformative capabilities of this sacred art are leveraged with emotion and meaning.

S&S Records Inc: bit.ly/30B4QHR
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Soundcloud: bit.ly/2vDI30h
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