THE HISTORY OF THE music industry, from Perry Como to Perry Farrell, might be littered with burned-out artists hyped as the Next Big Thing, but the House music industry doesn’t live by those rules. An ingrained cynicism toward “one hit wonder” means singers and producers are constantly paying their dues through a stream of original productions and remix projects and tours of every town with a nightclub in it until one day – and it seems like it’s “overnight”, but those who have watched the process unfold know better – you’re suddenly a walking, talking, living legend.
Together since 2001 but with more than four decades of experience between them, Evan Landes and Parrish Wintersmith – the LA-based DJ and production duo known collectively as Groove Junkies – can tell you something about the work involved in making an “overnight success”. They’ve toured Europe and North America several times over and remixed and produced dozens of hit records and best-selling mix CDs, but it’s only recently that they’ve graduated to the status of being considered giants in the dance music industry.
You know their sound for sure. Their remix of Frankie Knuckles’ “I’ve Had Enough” (featuring Nicki Richards on vocals) was a club hit – and, in Chicago terms, a rare “crossover” that found favor with both old school and new school DJs. Their original productions such as “Music’s Gotcha Jumpin'” and “Dr. Feelgood” have made their MoreHouse Records label one of the few imprints that distributors, stores and DJs purchase on sight, without hearing a note from a new slab of vinyl. And last summer, Frankie Knuckles (one of the earliest Groove Junkies supporters) included three of their mixes on DubJ’s D’light, an album of Frankie’s classic material remixed and reworked by a handpicked group of elite producers. Their mixes were featured alongside those of Blaze, Eric Kupper, Quentin Harris and others – good company, by any definition.
Ahead of the start of a worldwide tour, a slew of new releases prior of the Winter Music Conference in Miami in March and their second ever trip to Chicago to play at Sonotheque on March 16, 2007, I talked with Parrish and Evan about the long road to their becoming an “overnight” success.
You both live in Los Angeles now, but you’re both transplants, right?
PARRISH WINTERSMITH: I’m originally from Detroit. I moved to LA about twenty years ago, so LA is my home now.
Did you ever get into the early sounds from the Detroit techno movement – Juan Atkins, Carl Craig, etc.?
PARRISH: I really didn’t get into it when I was living in Detroit. I guess I got into Detroit techno later on. I didn’t come to House music until around 1989, through Masters at Work, Todd Terry, Kerri Chandler, Tony Humphries . . . I was totally engrossed in it once I discovered it.
EVAN LANDES: I’m originally from New York City and lived there until I was 19. I made my way across the country and lived in Minneapolis for about eight years. I was actually introduced to the DJing world back in that era. It was an interesting time because that was when the Minneapolis sound started to evolve. I started going to nightclubs in New York in the mid-’70s, but I really caught the bug in Minneapolis in the late-’70s. I was in a record pool with Jimmy Jam before he was with The Time and met Prince back in the early days.
Eventually I came out to Southern California in the mid-’80s, and that was really when I caught the House bug. I’ve been DJing for 27 years, but I caught the House bug in the late 1980s, and really started honing my own songwriting skills from that time through the early ’90s. Slowly but surely, I started to inundate myself with all of the material – playing it in the clubs, living it, eating it, breathing it . . .
So how did you guys first meet?
PARRISH: Evan and I first met at a club we were both DJing at out in Santa Monica back in 1997. Prior to joining forces, we’d already had our own things going on. A friendship grew from there, though we didn’t actually start working on music until 2001. Between the time we met and the time we started working together, we kept in touch and kept an eye on one another until we finally got together at the Winter Music Conference in Miami.
EVAN: We wrote a bunch of tunes 2001, ultimately put up a package together and sent it out to a bunch of labels, one of which was Soulfuric Records. [Label head] Brian Tappert really liked what he heard and was interested in putting out some songs, but at the same time we were interested in starting our own record label. That was when MoreHouse Records was born, basically in 2002. Brian ultimately saw the bigger picture – long story short, MoreHouse wound up becoming Soulfuric’s first distributed label. We’re no longer with them, but we parted company amicably and they’re still our extended family, so to speak. Great people – what can you say about them? They’re certainly one of the leaders in the House music world.
I wanted to ask about Frankie Knuckles – you seem to have a really strong working relationship with him. How did that come about?
PARRISH: I met Frankie when he was playing out here in LA at Deep, Marques Wyatt’s residency. The wonderful thing about Frankie is he’s not one of the “superstar DJs” that’s an unapproachable spirit with an unapproachable vibe. He’s the same way with everybody. He took a little time to talk to us, took some music we had. This is before we had any records out and were still in the shopping stages. He was one of the first guys on the ground floor to take notice of what we were doing. It’s been a very, very welcome relationship. Last year, at Pacha in Ibiza, we had the pleasure of opening for him. It was probably the highlight of the year for us.
EVAN: I’ll take it one step further – it was one of the highlights of my career. Working with him – and in that venue, with the energy in that room, the number of people there . . . and Frankie was a more gracious host than you possibly dream of. It was a great experience.
My wife and I are both from New York, and I’m pretty sure she knew Frankie from back in the day before that night at Deep. It was extremely lucky and we’re very blessed to have made that connection with him and make this long-lasting friendship and relationship we have. He’s one of a kind – certainly a true legend within the music community and House music in particular.
The remix you did for “I’ve Had Enough” – it was really strange when I first heard it. It was in a set of classics, from a DJ known for playing classics, and I honestly thought it was an old track I hadn’t heard before. But it was popular everywhere – I’d say just about every flavor of House music DJ found something to really love about that mix.
PARRISH: Really? That’s really cool. It’s good hearing that.
EVAN: It is interesting hearing that because while we do a modicum of travelling and playing out, we sometimes don’t get to see the end result of our labor and how it’s being received. We get feedback, but quite honestly, I had no clue how it was being received. That’s really nice to hear. We’ve heard good things about it and that it was doing well. But we’ve only been to Chicago once prior to this upcoming date in March. We definitely have to get back to the city where House music was born.
PARRISH: Prior to that, we remixed Frankie’s “Matter of Time”. Both that song and “I’ve Had Enough” had the same vocalist, Nicki Richards. When you have a vocal that good, you can go so many different ways musically. That’s part of the fun, I think.
You showed some of your remix skills on DubJ’s D’light, the album of remixes of Frankie’s material that came out last summer. Was that kind of a “seal of approval” for you?
PARRISH: The album was compilation of various tracks from his catalog, all remixed by people that Frankie handpicked. There was us, Blaze, Quentin Harris, Shapeshifters, and so on. Frankie personally selected all of the producer teams to be involved in this project. Again, it was an honor. Out of the eleven tracks on that project, he used all three of the remixes we did for him. Most definitely, it was a wonderful compliment coming from the Godfather of House Music.
DubJ’s D’light was released on Noice!, Frankie’s new label, but was only available as a digital download, to the best of my knowledge. I’m curious of your view of digital distribution – you’ve both been DJing for more than two decades, as well as owning a record label.
EVAN: Well, from the aesthetic point of view, it’s certainly taken some of the sexiness away from the artform. To watch a DJ go into his CD wallet, take a CD out and pop it into a CD player – there’s nothing sexy about that. I think it’s lost a little bit in that way, and also from a purely audio point of view – it doesn’t sound as warm as it used to, digital vs. analog.
PARRISH: For the last three to five years, the digital medium has impacted the industry quite a bit. It’s forced us all to change our business model. People can go online and get anything they want for free. It’s forced us to be more creative. Where do I see it all going? I think there’s really no question things are headed to digital. From distributors to manufacturers to record shops and right on down the line – there are fewer of each. It’s definitely having an impact on the old way of selling music.
EVAN: I think it’s more about society – everyone wants things fast with the latest and greatest technology, and it’s certainly a whole lot more convenient than carrying a crate of records if you’re a travelling DJ, as we are. But I think we’re at a place where it’s become a necessary evil. It’s unfortunate, because I do have a tremendous vinyl collection. We still put vinyl out on MoreHouse, but you have to grow with the times and recognize what the buyers’ tastes are. We still make vinyl available to those that want it, and we hope to have our entire catalog and every mix of every song we’ve ever done available on the digital sites – Traxsource, Beatport, ClickGroove, iTunes (all iPod users can pick up our stuff there), and so on.
PARRISH: And on the positive side, it does have a lot of people listening to the music again. There are a lot of listeners with a discerning ear out there. They’re kind of tired being forced to listen to whatever the mainstream media is forcing down their throats. The digital world is giving them choices and options. There are thousands, hundreds of thousands of folks – I would even say millions – that really love dance music. Corporate bigshots, their attention comes and goes, but they’re finding that there’s a really big market out there. The digital world will help to level the playing field. XM Radio, MusicChoice, AOL Radio – you have hundreds of thousands of people checking this music out. Once the dust settles – we’re still in the wild wild west right now – I think it’s going to be an overwhelmingly positive thing for our genre.
Okay, let’s talk about your production styles. How does it work when you have a partner? I’m used to thinking of the producer as just one guy at a huge recording console.
PARRISH: We’re both present at the same time. We both have a great respect for the other’s ear and trust for the other’s instincts. We have a lot in common, and lot of the same musical influences.
Evan is a little more hands-on with the computer than I am. I actually come from a musical background, being a musician – I’ve been playing drums since I was six years old, so I bring that perception to the table. And we were both DJs for a long time, into the same type of music. It all comes into play when we come together.
There’s no one set way we start a project out. You can start with a lyric, you can start with a bassline, you can start with a melody. There’s no set way to start.
EVAN: We’ve both been learning from each other over the years. I’ve learned a lot from him regarding musicality – the way certain keys are better for certain singers, chord structure, chord progressions. And he’s learned things from me about crafting songs. S0 we kind of pool our talents and play off of each others’ strengths. And I think the key is that we also recognize our weaknesses so it’s not about being able to do more than what you’re capable of doing. We bring in other musicians – we have a tight aggregate of musicians that we reach out to who are seasoned players.
With remixes, usually Parrish takes the wheel in coming up with the initial vibe. I’m pretty much there for engineering and adding color – he’s usually the one that sets the tone and gets the ball rolling when it comes to getting the original groove. As it develops, on a case-by-case basis, we start bringing in the troops. We might come up with an original bassline on the keyboard but we’re just laying down an idea for our bassplayer to put it down on a live bass. In virtually all cases, I’m the one that sits behind the computer, but we collaborate on everything from the arrangement, the mix, the direction of any given mix. It’s a good marriage – we each do our own thing and try to draw on each other’s strengths.
How about when you’re DJing? Do you stick to two turntables and collaborate on everything or do you go in shifts?
PARRISH: We do a set from anywhere to two to four hours, depending on the gig. I do a half-hour, then Evan does a half-hour, and so on. I like the approach. Evan and I work together nicely. When one is keeping the flow, the other is making sure the sound is right. The sound is very important to us, but it’s hard to do that when it’s just you. And a lot of times, what you hear in the booth isn’t what you hear on the dancefloor. While one of us is spinning, the other will walk out on the floor, seeing how it sounds, making adjustments.
EVAN: That’s the advantage – you can make sure the levels are tight, observe a little closer how the crowd is responding and reacting. While one guy’s looking for a record, the other guy can be playing with the EQ or crossover or effects. We both enjoy the togetherness and magic and the energy that we’re able to create by working together. Having said that, we’re both fully capable of going at it alone, but we prefer DJing together.
Let’s talk about some of the original productions, remixes and other stuff you have coming up.
PARRISH: I was right in the middle of indexing our next CD when you called. It’s called Late Night with Groove Junkies, a compilation on Swank Recordings that will be coming out on March 20th, the first day of the Winter Music Conference. Along with that CD, we’ll have a single also coming out on Swank, “Get Deep, Go Underground” featuring Robert Max. I’ll let Evan talk about the MoreHouse releases.
EVAN: Well, the current single is called “I Believe in Dreams” by Groove Junkies and Andy Caldwell and featuring a vocalist named Alexander Sky [see review, p. 34 -Ed.] Alexander is an unbelievably gifted artist. This kid’s like a quadruple threat. He’s a singer, he’s a composer, he’s a sculptor, he’s an actor. He’s got a whole other side of him musically that we’ll be eventually be helping him bring out. I don’t even know how to describe it – on the one hand, he’ll give you some shades of Jamiroquai, kind of that white boy soulful funky thing —
He’s a white boy? When I first heard the first few bars of that song, I actually thought it was a female vocalist.
EVAN: You know, you’re the second person to have said that, and I don’t get it at all. A guy from MN2S said that to me and I said “Oh, no way.” But go to our website [morehouserecords.com] and you’ll see him – very cool kid, with that bohemian artist mentality. He’s got different shades – at times he sounds a little Sting-ish, at other times like Bono, a little Jamiroquai, a little George Michael. And he’s got his own thing that’s uniquely Alexander.
As far as other releases – in February, when this interview comes out, MoreHouse will be releasing “Free Your Mind”, a single by Groove Junkies featuring TC Moses. And also during the Winter Music Conference in March or shortly thereafter, we’ll be releasing Groove Junkies feat. Indeya’s “Music’s Got You Jumpin’ 2007” with two new mixes from Jay-J and Liquid People, and probably a Groove Junkies mix as well.
PARRISH: As far as the remixes go, we have a remix of Leela James’ “Good Time”. Actually, I noticed you reviewed it in your January issue but the label info was incorrect. West End did release mix by I think Jihad Mohammed, but our mixes were actually released on Warner Bros. Records, not West End.
Wow, that must have slipped by me. I guess that’s one of the downsides of digital music we were talking about earlier?
PARRISH: Maybe not even – just record companies not making sure people are getting the right info. We try to be more careful with MoreHouse. With our genre not being a mainstream genre, it’s hard enough for folks to know where to go and buy this music.
Was that your first major label project?
PARRISH: No no no, we’ve done them before – like the Pussycat Dolls “StickWitU” on A&M. We’re actually working on something in that direction right now – I don’t want to get into details yet, but there are some major label projects in the pipe.
And you’re starting a tour pretty soon and will be coming to Chicago so people can check you out in person, right?
PARRISH: Yeah, March 16th at Sonotheque. I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve played once before in Chicago. Shani Hebert of The Groove Temple has really been a strong supporter of ours – we’ve been on her radio show a couple of times. We’d only communicated long-distance prior to coming to Chicago last time, but when you make face-to-face contact, it’s like meeting with old friends. One of the cool things about travelling is being able to meet face-to-face with a lot of people we only know through the internet.
And what about Miami? Will you be performing during WMC?
EVAN: We’ll be at “Bobby & Steve Presents Soul On The Beach” at the Clevelander on March 20th, the first day of WMC.
PARRISH: It’s a daytime event. Last year the line was wrapped around the block by 4pm! We’ll also be headlining the Swank party on Friday, March 23rd at the Shelborne.
EVAN: People can get in contact with us before Miami at either firstname.lastname@example.org or on myspace.com/morehouserecords – hook up, have a drink, whatever the case may be.
Well, the WMC will make it six years that you’ve been together. Was there a milestone you passed when you knew this was no longer a “side project” but your full-time occupation?
PARRISH: I wouldn’t say there was a milestone as such. First of all, we love what we do, and it’s a dream to make a living doing it. For me, personally, I’ve been involved in music all my life, so I can’t see myself doing anything else. I’ve had other jobs, of course. At those times in my life, I felt very unfulfilled. I personally feel like I was brought to Earth to be involved in music in some kind of way.
EVAN: I’m just leaving it all to the man upstairs, you know? I think he’s got the master plan. It’s important for anyone that wants to be in the music business to understand they have to be in it for the longhaul. It’s a process and lots of things have to be in place from a business standpoint and from a spiritual standpoint. When all the ducks are in a row and when the stars are aligned properly, it happens, but you just can’t predict when that time will be. Just enjoy the process and enjoy the ride.