Theo Parrish

As anyone who has experienced the work of Theo Parrish, this consummate architect of sound envelopes the listener, and transmits new perspectives on club sonics. Theo's musical expression fuses the rhythmic, disco-based pulse of Chicago house with the modernist motorik soul of Detroit techno; at the same time pointing to a lineage in black music that runs directly from Sun Ra to Sound Signature. “Jazz spawned house music, jazz spawned hip hop, jazz spawned funk and they all reflect back into that,” says Theo. In this talk at the 2005 RBMA in Seattle, Theo explores the raw, soulful roots of house music — So if you want to see the future then you've come to the right teleporter.

Hosted by Gerd Janson Audio Only Version Transcript:

Theo

Parrish

First, I’m going to say that my name’s Theo Parrish. And I’m going to hand it over to Gerd [Janson] and let him do the rest of the questioning.

RBMA

: This is Mr Theo Parrish who lives in Detroit.

(applause)

This man is a DJ and producer extraordinaire. Runs a little – or a big label called Sound Signature Records. And he’s a man of high-tech jazz and the saviour of house music. So give him a warm welcome again, please!

(applause)

Theo

Parrish

Thank you. Thanks. I guess, first I’d like to play, as this song runs out, some music that inspired me as a little, little, little boy. We’re talking four- or five-years-old. My mother used to run this whole album from side to side, to side to side and Stevie Wonder was basically the beginning of my musical education. This is where it started. This song in particular. One thing I noticed as a little boy, was that if lyrics had a certain depth, they always had a particular meaning that you could apply to your experience. My mother told me that Stevie was singing about God, who was singing to man. And saying that always… I’ll going to let him sing.

(music: Stevie Wonder - As up to the bridge part, where Theo stops the record)

All right, I’m going to pause it right there. What I didn’t understand at this point - I don’t know if Stevie Wonder did - when I was four- or five-years-old I didn’t know Stevie was singing a song, if he was playing on it, if all his backgrounds was him, if he was doing the drums. All I knew was that all of this sonic experience was coming from this one guy. And I was able to associate it with this. (holds up record cover) I would look at this and say, ”That’s Stevie Wonder, that’s him right there!” I can see that, I can feel that, I can go in the store and I knew that wherever I went in the world, that if I saw this, that was a likeness of the individual that I associated with that music. And it wasn’t until later, when I got a lot older - not a lot older, maybe 15 or 16 - I went to a party at Hotel Pavilion and I was living in Chicago. I don’t know if many of you know who Lil’ Louis is; Lil’ Louis is an underground Chicago DJ. Some say the father of house music, or one of the godfathers, creators of house music. And I walked in, and I didn’t expect to hear this on a soundsystem with a thousand to two thousand other black kids, and he’s playing this. In the beginning. We’re talking 9 pm, Hotel Pavilion downtown, 1988. And that experience from my youth just touched me directly like, ”Oh my God! I can’t believe that this... I come to hear ’boom-tsh-boom-tsh’,” because the mix shows with Farley [Jackmaster Funk] and all that, they would showcase a lot of the newer music. But I wasn’t really understanding what a party was about. And a party in a lot of senses, at that point in Chicago anyway, was bridging the gap from where you knew safety was at home, to a communal experience. And this song did it. And I never understood the emotion of this song until the bridge came and the vocals came up. That’s why I pause it there. So let me do a little something here, bring it up. It’s right up in here. Right here. (music plays) Now you see where that song just hit the roof. Now, if you amplify that song maybe times ten, an eight foot by eight foot bass bottom, and multiply that times four, then double it. Then put mids on top, highs on top. Then you have something of an idea of how huge the sound was in the place. Lil’ Louis would have sound engineers come in so the sound would totally overwhelm you. The songs took on a life and a size of their own. One side of the Pavilion was all sound, and this was a DJ playing. This wasn’t a rap concert, this wasn’t a rock concert, this wasn’t Pink Floyd, but you had sound like it was. So these songs became these huge musical events. And you’re 15, you walk in and your DNA gets changed instantly, just walking in the spot. You’re like, ”Oh my God, I can’t believe it. This is mom’s song! Mom used to play this on Saturdays cleaning up the house.” And now I’m getting hit in the head, and the imagination takes you places. Then it starts to make sense. Some of the other songs he played in his set. This was probably 9 o’clock in the evening and he’s playing this song. When the vocals came out and it dropped, up until that point I thought I was hearing the whole range of sound that was available with the speakers. He had only the mids in and he dropped the lows when the second part came, when the ‘Oooo’ comes in. Let me shut up and play. (music plays) I’d get memories of when I’d listen to it with my mother and be singing it with her. And I didn’t realize the training I was going through. Now, I’m not a singer, I couldn’t sing. A lot of times you go to school and you try and figure out what the different keys are; how to sing on key. After singing to Stevie over and over and over again, you start to be able to tell when someone is singing out of key or not, depending how good the music is that you’re listening to. That’s having an ear without having to learn. I didn’t know how it was going to apply later. I just knew that whenever a song went on, I could tell where my voice needed to be, to be in tune with the whole thing. And this is just singing to Stevie on Sundays with my mom. Now, later on when I started doing vocals, it started to make sense, ”Wait a minute, I see where it starts to connect.“ I could just tell that’s not the right whatever, I didn’t have the terminology. I still can’t read or write music. But the whole idea was to know it, and for it to become an intimate thing. Now, the other part of the album, that was always the favourite song, ”As.” And I always thought, ”I wonder why it’s called ’As’? When he’s always singing ’always’?” But then I thought, ”The first letter of ’always’ is ’a’ and the last letter of ’always’ is ’s’ so that must be what it is.” But I was just digging on how the hidden meanings of the song and all the different applications you can put on it; what the lyrics meant, and all the different emotions. The states the song goes through. And I really didn’t understand what was happening, at the time, and I dug it. All right, I’m going to leave it, what else you want to talk about?

RBMA

And this is still your first copy of the album?

Theo

Parrish

No, that’s not my first copy. That’s probably my fifth copy of that album that I’ve come across.

RBMA

And you were talking about Lil’ Louis and the Bismarck [Hotel], and you also mentioned Farley. Maybe you could talk a little bit about what it was in Chicago back in the day, what was going on?

Theo

Parrish

Well, a lot of what was happening, at least for me, the first time I heard somebody mix was on the radio. I was probably about 12-years-old. And it was after complaining to my mother that I wanted a radio, and it was Christmas, she got me a radio. It was one of those one set deals, with the radio in it, the tape deck and the plastic turntable all in one hook up, and I was like, "Yeah, this is sweet." I would fool around with the dial. And at the end of the dial I heard this thing come on, “B.M.X!” I was like, ”Who’s BMX?” I was into BMX bikes, I thought, ”That’s strange! All right, that’s a good association, I like bikes.” But that was the call letters for the radio station WBMX. They were playing all these different types of lectures I’d never heard, or couldn’t even conceive of at the time. Because all I knew until that point was what my mother was playing for me and a little bit of what my friends were playing around, and they were off into the breakdance deal, everyone was into Soulsonic Force. That was cool, I was into that a little bit, too, but this was different. This was being played on the radio, and people was calling in, everyone was really excited. You went to school the next day, and people had recorded it, and I was like, ”I got to learn how to record it!” I didn’t know how to record it. So everybody had these mixtapes and were trading them around, it just became this huge movement. I don’t think people really understood how widespread the idea of house music on the radio in Chicago was at that time. Now, me, I’m considered a young guy coming into it. Because there were these other generation guys that were ten years older than me, that were well off into it. But for me it was this whole new world that opened up. I hadn’t even gotten to the idea that there was a place that I could go to hear it and this was before I actually went out and heard this album. You would go to these little high school parties and there’s a couple of your contemporaries and you heard about these Mendel’s parties where you had Farley, Mike Williams, you had tons of DJs, known and unknown, that were playing all around the city. And it was a sweep. I mean, the whole South side of Chicago... But before I go into that part, the thing to mention is that Chicago always was, from my understanding, a very, very segregated town. You had the South side and you had the North side. And at that point you’re talking mid-'80s, there was still a lot of institutionalized racism. Ideas about how the city was going to be run, and where certain people needed to be. And those certain people that I belong to, which is African-American, we needed to be on the South side. We weren’t welcome up North. So a lot of the parties and the whole idea or conception of this music was coming from the South side, from people’s struggles, from people who really were shut out. It’s strange what this music is turning into today, it’s a really interesting dynamic. I think it’s ironic. But we owned that music. That was our language at that time. That was something that we held onto and we were playing our cards. We would go to these parties and it was something we could all be a part of. You knew, at that point in time, that no one else in the city was interested in that part of the radio dial. Just you and your friends, but you never knew how many. And later on you start to find out that some of these songs you were listening to sold over hundreds of thousands of copies within the first week of their release. Talking about the Mr Fingers EP that came out. Matter of fact, I’ll go right to that. This is the original copy I had too. It’s beat up.

RBMA

Yeah, it looks like the original.

Theo

Parrish

Yeah. (laughs) There’s some good marks on that. When this came out, this changed everything. This changed the whole idea of what this music was, where it needed to go, where it had been. Changed it all. And this was all before we started to understand what a deal was. We had no knowledge of the inner workings of the music industry, how records were made, pressed; money for spinning was not even heard of. You played records just to get recognition. And there was a guy on every single block that could play just as well as you. There was no, “I’m going to go open up for Lil’ Louis.” You’d be lucky to even get a good look at the guy. I mean, no, it wasn’t going down. It was for props. If you got lucky, you played some basement party around the corner. If you got good, but you had competition. All right, let me put it to you this way. Chicago’s broken up into North side, South side. And you have a street that divides it. And basically, it goes up to 8700 North, and a hundred and thirty-something South. Basically, from 2200 South, all the way out to 7900, 179, it was all black folks. And in every city block, there was a guy just like you trying to learn how to put records together. So the competition level was high. I liken it to how I imagine hip hop hit New York. That was how house music hit Chicago, and it was that much more competitive. Let me stop there, I’m going to put this record on. But before it really came down to us knowing this stuff was available, we would hear it on the radio. And I remember hearing this on the radio. It blew my mind. Now, the first one that was heard was ”Can U Feel It.” I didn’t know the name, it came into Farley’s live mix on the radio. There wasn’t even CDs available.

(music: Mr Fingers - Can U Feel It)

I had no idea this was available on vinyl, I just knew I was hearing this. So I started to hear from my friends, ”There’s a place called Import Records, you can go buy this.” ”This is out? We need to go get it.” And we were only allowed this much money. I had about $20 a week to get through school, to get out there, eat, and make a bus fare to get home. I spent all of it at the record store. This label Trax specifically, I was like, ”I need this song that goes ‘boomp-boomp ba-doom-boom.” I kept saying it, and this guy, we know him now as Derrick Carter, he was working there and he was like, ”What’s going on? What do you want?” [And I replied:] ”I need that boom-boom ba-doom-boom! It’s on Trax Records.” And he pointed to the back wall, and Trax Records had three releases, but up on the wall there were these blank spots. They were the red record label with the white print. I was going, ”What else it out?” And I looked up and there was this other song, and this other song and this other song. And all I had was ten dollars, and records were $3.99 at the time. And I grabbed up this one, he had that one, and I kept wondering what the rest of ‘em sounded like. I spent money on that one and I spent money on ”Ride The Rhythm,” I spent money on ”House Music Anthem.” That’s that ’da-da-da’, everybody knows that one.

RBMA

Marshall Jefferson, right?

Theo

Parrish

Yeah, Marshall Jefferson. Now, I was under the impression that this guy Mr Fingers did all of that. I wasn’t even looking at who was doing what on the record labels, I was just buying them. I got home and I was with my friends, Leron and Spencer, and we sat there and listened to them. Listened and listened. And what I didn’t understand was that there was more than one song on each one of these records, so I grabbed one and I looked and there were these other songs on it, started bouncing through it. And I forgot all about ”Can U Feel It,” because it was mellow, and remember, I’m still 15-years-old. So, I’m hyper. Just got to have some aggression. So this served it. I was out of my mind when this [played], ”Oh my god! This is better than that one.” So I would spend all my time learning how to mix this together with the records that my friends would accumulate, and between all of us we probably had two crates between us at the time. Little kids, we didn’t know where any of this was going to go, even outside our little universe of what this was about. Let me just shut up.

(music: Mr Fingers - Amnesia)

All right, those pauses, in the middle of the track, were innovative as fuck. I’m sorry, can I say ”fuck”?

RBMA

You can.

Theo

Parrish

I can say ”fuck” in here? All right. Really innovative! And to be able to stop in the middle of the track and leave one little note, ’dom-bommmm’. Like that, and have people going crazy when they heard that album. What went along with this was finally a chance to go out. I went out and heard these things, Lil’ Louis playing them, Ron Hardy playing them. I heard all these different guys playing them, and it was just shocking to walk into a spot and see the whole crowd react in call and response to the person playing it back and forth and I was just like, ”Oh, my God! This is amazing.” Now,when I hit the floor, it was because I wanted to dance, because that was what this music was about, it was about movement. And there was no… ah, how do I explain this? If you take away the magazines from dance music, if you can imagine what’s left, if you go back in time, you take away all of the sponsorship, you take away all of the things that make it a commodity. And you break down to a central form. You have nothing but pure experience among individuals. And if you can imagine that and then turn it into a language that’s spoken among you and shared among the youth, something that you own. No one else owns it, no one else is claiming this. No one can put a stamp or a tag on it. If you can dig how much of a fanatic that would make a young person, as they become an adult, then you can understand that. Why you have so many individuals, like on the South side of Chicago now, if you go into an older bar, guys that are 35-, 40-plus. They’re not playing, you know, The Supremes or The Four Tops, they’re playing this stuff. They’re playing older classics. And that’s another thing, that I’m going to get into, that’s the classic stuff. Basically the pieces that these were made off of. The calls and responses. This sort of music was there and was a language before the monikers came. Like acid house, like progressive, like drum & bass, like any of the different sub genres that are utilized to dissect the music and pimp it, more or less. Way before any of that was done, so it was considered all the same thing. We weren’t really even calling it house music. It didn’t have the moniker that it had. That was Europe coming over, seeing it, saw that there was money to be made, taking it back, and that’s when next thing you know you had D-Mob walking around with ”Aciiid!,” smiley faces. There weren’t no smiley faces and LSD was not a part of the equation, at least not with the young kids, not with us. It was never associated. It was something that was a lot more raw, and a lot more visceral. It was part of our language. It was something we were owning. It’s kind of like how you can imagine, all right, there’s these cats in the South with this screw music, they slow stuff down. It’s something that you wouldn’t understand as an outsider. And so the commodification came – this was something I noticed in retrospect. I wasn’t understanding it at the time because I was too busy trying to put two records together. So, as I was putting them together, the biggest aspiration I ever had was, "I want to get my name on one of those posters." Rick [Wilhite] knows what I’m talking about with those posters. It was a methodology. In the back, that’s a teacher right there (points to the back of the lecture room), Rick Wilhite from Detroit. He worked at a store. You can give him a hand.

(applause)

He worked in a place in Detroit, that’s where I met him, a place called Buy Right Music. Buy Right Music was important in ushering in a lot of the music that was coming out of Chicago, other places, and he was one of the main buyers who made sure that happened. When that was happening in Chicago, all I wanted to do was to mix the records, I had no idea this thing was taking off in other places. That there was any interest in what was happening, beyond in my own little back yard. Ah, bla, bla, bla. (laughs) All right? Lead me, man, lead me!

RBMA

You mentioned Ron Hardy, and he was the DJ at a club called Music Box.

Theo

Parrish

Yeah, and a lot of other places too.

RBMA

And he was, maybe together with Frankie Knuckles...

Theo

Parrish

No, he wasn’t together with Frankie Knuckles. Oh no, no, no, see…

RBMA

(laughs) OK, then he was separate from Frankie Knuckles, but who was he and what does he mean to you?

Theo

Parrish

Who was he and what does he mean? Basically, Ron Hardy was I’d say the foremost important selector of the 20th century. Easily, the most important selector of the 20th century. Because not only did he have the skills and the energy, the emotional energy and the connection to every song, but he had the balls to do whatever he wanted to do. And some people call it just insanity or craziness, but it takes guts to have the floor rocking, at peak hour, and all of a sudden he’d just drop whatever the hell he wanted to. No matter what, he’s going to do what he’s going to do. That takes guts. So, to be able to do those things, and also to usher in new sounds every time he played, in a fashion that just hadn’t been seen before, was a pivotal thing. He broke a lot of these tracks that we take for granted. He was the first to play ‘em. In that he wasn’t very radio accessible, he wasn’t putting out any records. He maybe did a couple of mixes on a couple of things, and that was about it. To me, in terms of EQ work, people talk about working the EQ, dropping things, bringing in the highs, bringing in the lows, la la la: the methodology he would employ was something that I haven’t seen since. You try to find people that can listen to a beat, listen to the ’off’ times, the ’on’ times, the rhythms underneath the rhythms and work the EQing, it’s nothing. But to see someone do it with that skill but to do it emotively. There were these posts in the Box, and cats would be climbing the walls, literally straddling the posts. We’re talking two stories up because the Box had a ceiling, and that ceiling was taken out. It went up another story. So we’re talking about it was two stories from the top of the ceiling to the floor. And these posts that ran up it. You had these faithful believers that would go up in there, lose their minds and climb the posts, snap. Just snapping. Because he lit people up like that. There was no light show, no cloud of smoke, none of that. You had a strobe light in the corner, and you had a siren near the DJ booth, that was it. It wasn’t about being seen, it wasn’t about any of that. It was about that sound. It was about the music he was playing. And that sort of raw dedication is what I see as lacking these days.

RBMA

But you’re pretty good with the EQs yourself, right?

Theo

Parrish

I’m no Ron Hardy. Nooo, I’m not Ron Hardy. I’m me. All I can do is take what little I learned, or what I think I’ve learned, from him, and other DJs like him. Because I think I owe more to so many other DJs there than just Ron Hardy. It’s a culmination. A lot of DJs, they never had any kind of recognition. We’re talking about the Mike Williams, the Deon Williams and the Gene Hunt’s, the Terry Hunter's. The list goes on and on and on. All guys that would play alongside these giants that we know of, but a lot of times were either marginalized because of their attitude or whatever, circumstantial, but were really, really solid jocks and a lot of them still play out today. But we don’t give them the time of day because we think, ”Oh, he doesn’t have a ‘name’. Oh, he doesn’t put records out. Oh, he must not be worth that much.” It’s not the case, you know?

RBMA

And how old were you back then, as you were going to the Music Box?

Theo

Parrish

Music Box? I was 15-years-old.

RBMA

So you had to sneak in.

Theo

Parrish

I didn’t have to sneak. You just went up to the door, and if they didn’t think that you would be able to handle going up in there, then they wouldn’t let you in. But sometimes they wouldn’t look at your ID, you’d slide in there. Slide in there. 15, 16.

RBMA

And when did you start to play records then, at clubs, basements?

Theo

Parrish

Clubs? Oh, man.

RBMA

Wherever.

Theo

Parrish

It wasn’t until I was 22. So from 13 to 22 I had no professional work. I was strictly bedroom. Sorry, I had three basement parties; one of them I threw when I was 15. That was it. Like, there was no promise of any chance to do this as a career. That was the furthest thing from my mind. It wasn’t until I went to school in Kansas City that I had a chance to actually spin for a substantial amount of money. The first amount of money I made as a DJ. I started spinning when I was 13, did my first gig when I was 15; and I made $23. And I was happy, so happy. Because at the end of that gig everybody in the block was like, ”Yeah!” It was great. I was known as the guy around the corner who could play the music. That was it. That was as far as it went. My biggest aspiration, as I said, at that point was to get my name on one of these posters like the big guys. I didn't know what any of that meant, I just knew that I wanted my mother to appreciate it. To know that at least, all this bangin’ in her attic upstairs was coming to something, so that’s where that went.

RBMA

And what does your mother think today about it?

Theo

Parrish

Aw, she’s all in my ear now (laughs), telling me what people think about stuff online. Because I don’t follow online. I don’t really watch what the current status is what I’m doing. I don’t really worry too much about it, I can’t. If you’re concerned about what you’re doing, then the next song in your head, the next song you want to play, sometimes all of the information of how you’re being received is a huge distraction. It becomes a hindrance, because then you start to become boxed in by your own movement. You start going, “I did this and people liked that so maybe I should keep doing that.” That’s an issue. But she monitors all that for me.

RBMA

So you don’t give two cents about all that hype surrounding your person?

Theo

Parrish

Ah, not really, no. It doesn’t matter. I mean, it’s appreciated because at the end of the day it allows me to be able to do what I do and not have to work another job. However, it’s really not essential. I mean, when you really get down to the idea of what you’re here to do, what’s your point, you know? Why were you given this life energy to keep on breathing. If your point is to make a song or to play a song, then that is all there needs to be. All the ideas of grandeur and the money and the fame and the ‘bla bla bla’, that’s all misplaced if you can’t do the most simple thing. And that’s to connect individuals to the songs. Like, try to diminish as much of your ego from the process as possible. And people tend to forget that. They think, ”It’s all about me, I brought the records.” No, it’s not! What about the people whose lives are trapped in these pieces of vinyl? What about that? There’s people in there. And they need to talk to the individuals who came and paid to get in. Because when you go to any party, over time, it’s a heavy thing, but if you look at it, that’s somebody’s last night on earth. Think about it. Just by the law of numbers. If you play at a party and there’s a thousand people there, somebody there might not make it the next day. Are you going to be standing in their way, too busy talking to someone out to the side, working the EQ while they’re listening to the last song they’re going to hear? That’s the kind of thing you have to battle against because we’re all challenged with that. But if you have it in your head to try to minimize yourself from the connection between the people that come here and the music that’s being played, then you’re in good shape.

RBMA

So you always try to give your best.

Theo

Parrish

Well, I’m human. I make mistakes all day. And that’s the biggest thing. You can’t be afraid to make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. But you can’t be afraid to make mistakes. I try to do the best that I can under our circumstances. You just try.

RBMA

Some people might also say that there are a few mistakes on your records, right?

Theo

Parrish

Oh, there’s mistakes all over the place. I mean, it’s all a work in process. In progress, all of it. I mean, I got stuff that’s mastered wrong because I tried this guy and he didn’t cut it right, there was no time, it was coming out, you make mistakes.

RBMA

The funny thing is that most of the time people think that it’s all done on purpose, right?

Theo

Parrish

Right, like a lot of people think it’s a conscious decision. Well, it’s a conscious decision but not by me. Some other consciousness pulling my strings, saying, “Do this!” And I’m, “OK, this feels right.” That’s the sort of thing that kind of gets lost too. People get the idea, a lot of the time, when it comes to what they’re listening to, that it has to be crisp and clean, and sterile, and all this stuff. And, yeah, in some senses some things do need to be crisp and clean and sterile. But, if you convey a feeling, and that feeling is getting across to the individuals that come, they can be very forgiving of what’s going on sonically, if something emotive is happening at the same time, and it balances. So you can get away with maybe a clip or two, things maybe a little more blurry than you would like, and get ‘em on the emotive side. It’s give and take.

RBMA

So you take emotions over sound any day?

Theo

Parrish

Not necessarily, it’s such a particular thing. On certain songs, yes. At certain parties, yes. Because, I mean, the first thing you have to realize is that every moment you experience is something that’s particular to its own time and space. Everything. So if I go into a party and I’m feeling that day, and those people are feeling that today, and I play a record that skips and nobody cares, it keeps on going. No problem. Other days I may be too hyper. I may be feeling it, the record skips, the crowd clears the floor, I get embarrassed, I try and play something to appease the crowd, they get dishevelled. They go, ”What are you doing? I thought you were so-and-so.” It can all fall apart. It’s [about being] willing to walk that razorblade. That’s the part I’m concerned about. And what I want to get better at is walking the razorblade and saying, ”OK, this is what I want to continue to do, this is what’s important.” But more than that, it’s important to other people more than it is to me. The relationship between individuals that come and the people that make that [music], that’s the most important part.

RBMA

So what are the places you like the most [for] playing at?

Theo

Parrish

Ohhh, I like Yellow in Japan. (laughs) I like Yellow in Japan. I also like Plastic People.

RBMA

Is that because of the soundsystem?

Theo

Parrish

Yeah, the soundsystem, generally. That’s where it goes. The soundsystem. Also, there’s a couple of places that I love because of the energy of the people. And also, too, it’s not enough to say what places because on any given night you never know who’s going to show up. Every night is a different animal. There’s been places I’ve played where the sound has been just horrible, speakers on a stick, no monitors. But I’ve had a great night there and the people really made me feel at home. So, it doesn’t matter if they get that together or not. Sometimes the emotive part of it is the best part. That’s where you can really connect. But other times the sound will be great but the crowd are just like, “Ah, yeah!” Stand around (scratches chin / sighs). “Ah, have you heard the new Masters At Work yet?”

(laughter) They don’t give a damn if you’re even there, it doesn’t matter. It goes back and forth, so there’s no such thing as a real favorite place to play. It’s more like there have been these high points, the memories where it’s been good. And as I get older they just tend to wash away. (laughs)

RBMA

And speaking of soundsystems, what would be, in your mind, your ideal set-up?

Theo

Parrish

OK, the best soundsystem I ever went to and experienced was this place in New York called Love. They have a Richard Long system in there. I didn’t know anything about a Richard Long system ‘till I went in there and found out really what it was.

RBMA

Richard Long was the guy who set up the system in the Paradise Garage, right?

Theo

Parrish

Exactly. Now, this system was based after his design. Now, I admittedly know little to nothing about that whole deal, so I’m not going to sit up and start lying and say, “Yesss, he plugged this in… and that…” Nah, I don’t know.

(laughter)

I just know when I went in there and I played ”Funky Space Reincarnation,” Marvin Gaye, that was the first time I heard everything in the record. I was like, ”Wow!“ I also noticed, too, I couldn’t back scratch on the turntables because that’s not how the tone arms were set up. Tone arms on each of the 1200's were modified, had pulleys and weights and stuff. It was just amazing sound and it was great. But the downfall of it was the owner of the place didn’t believe in promoting the night. A philosophical stance. He wanted people to come, and be there based on whatever the music was doing, no promotion. So, I dug that, but you know, looking out there and seeing 20 people you’re wondering, ”Are people going to show, or what am I doing wrong?” And he’s reassuring me, saying, ”Everything’s going right, this is how it should be.” Then you realize it’s something specific he’s got in mind. So you let people do their thing. But that was the best place I’ve been where the soundsystem was just retarded.

RBMA

And these days it’s all about promotion and hype to get a party started?

Theo

Parrish

No, it’s not. It’s an alchemy. You got to balance the promotion versus the location, versus your DJ, versus what’s going on in the city, versus how much you’re charging at the door, versus your wait staff, versus your bar staff, versus the weather.

(laughter)

RBMA

So you never want to open a club on your own then, right?

Theo

Parrish

No, I think about it all the time. But all of those things in line at one point make a decent party. It’s magic every time something pops off. It sounds real clichéd and real, you know? (mimes a cheesy grin and thumbs up) It’s magic when a party happens. But it actually really truly is because there’s so many other things that work against you, that once it pops off, and it’s good, and you know it’s good, and you try to ride it for what it is. It’s like seeing a ghost or something, you’re like, ”I’m going to go to the attic again. Maybe I’ll see that ghost one more time.” That’s as elusive as it gets.

RBMA

And speaking of ”Funky Space Reincarnation,” do you have it with you, maybe?

Theo

Parrish

No, but I got something else, though. It’s close. It’s not quite the same, but it’s close. I’m going to dig a little.

RBMA

Because you mentioned a few minutes earlier classics, being a pivotal part of Chicago back in the day.

Theo

Parrish

Yeah, that’s basically you weren’t given any respect in Chicago. And still, you really aren’t among people that matter unless you can play things that weren’t locked up with the sequencer, you know? If you could play those things and make them fit, that’s when you’re given some kind of respect. Nobody cared if you could play the new records over and over again. Nobody cared. Like, ”OK, so what? The tempos can be matched up, they can mix themselves. You set it on they’ll do it themselves. Who cares? But can you tell a story? Can you mess with Kool & the Gang, the drummer’s time at the beginning of the song, can you chase it and can you catch it?” That’s what mattered in Chicago when it came down to it. Because Ron Hardy, he was the guy that could play like that. A lot of other guys, Mike Williams, most of these guys can play classics and you’d be shocked. Derrick Carter. People think he can play ’boom- tsh-boom-tsh’. Nooooo, no, no, no. He can play some of those other things.

RBMA

So he can surf the pitch?

Theo

Parrish

Oh yes, quite well. Oh yes, it’s no joke. (searches in record bag) See, I’m running into stuff that has nothing to do with the topic of conversation and I think I might go there anyway. All right, I’m going to get real basic. James Brown, right? Some people say he was the father of, not only rap, but also house music. And I kind of concur. There was a couple of tunes he did that really speak to what a party song is about. Now, the thrust of this so far has just been party this, party that, play the music, but I want to get into the projection side of things in a minute, and start talking about that transition. Because to me, if you don’t start off as the patron in anything that you do. Like, say, if you play bass, if you don’t go out and hear a lot of bassists play, then you’re starting off on the wrong foot as it is. Then whatever it is that you’re aspiring to do, if you don’t start off as a patron, as a person that is paid money to get up, and hear what it is that you want to do, then you’re off on the wrong track as it starts. You need to study that, know what that is. And study the people that do it well, and do it consistently, and go and find out what the particulars are. Find out what the preparation is.

(music: The JB’s - Doing It To Death)

This is the first time I understood the importance of the mix, and how important mixing is. The track just took on a whole ‘nother meaning as soon as you start to bring that guitar down a little bit, brought the foot up. And then dug out with the flutes. (beatboxes the beat) Oh, wow! So it really started to get in my head when I started making stuff, that this is all a big, I don’t know, circuit, I guess. Because you’ve got this record over here with what this guy’s doing, and this other guy over here, and this other guy and this other guy, and this other girl, and this other girl. You start to plug ‘em all together there’s this collective body of knowledge. It’s about listening, if you’re critical, not just listening to the lyrics or the isolated instrument that you love so much, but the whole arrangement. Everything that’s going on it, and what exactly those things are. And what exactly is making the sounds that you’re hearing, that are really in your head. Like, what is it particularly about it? And it wasn’t until later that I realized it was the relationship of the drum to the bass in that song that really stood out to me, and how that juxtaposed all the highs that were going on with the guitars and the flutes. You’re not realizing until later, a lot of the time. I’m going to play something more contemporary. Very, very good, but it’s really contemporary. And it’s from an artist here from Detroit. She passed. It’s Aaliyah. And you can see some of the similarities. But if you listen, you’re not getting that mixing dynamic that goes along. It’s still very flat, there’s lots of great changes but it’s still really flat. You’re not getting that emotive quality, because music in the past, that’s what I’m kind of interested in. You not only had the different players on it, but you also have someone else arranging those players. So that they look their best. So that they’re presented in the best light possible. And that doesn’t really happen too many times in contemporary music. Except in dance music. It happens in dance music. Doesn’t happen in mainstream music too much, in my opinion.

(music: Aaliyah - Rock The Boat)

Dope arrangement though.

RBMA

What’s the title? ”Rock The Boat,” right?

Theo

Parrish

Aaliyah, ”Rock The Boat.” Now, some people say that this isn’t dance music, that this is r ’n' b. Now, this is the trouble with all those monikers again. That’s this, this is that… No! Doesn’t matter on the dancefloor. That’s the great equalizer. You can move to it, and sing. You got a straight ahead foot, but if you listen to the mix, you can tell it was made on a computer. At X-point, this comes in, at X-point, this comes out. There’s no danger. But it’s still a good song. And you can apply that kind of feel to it with EQing, you know? (tweaks EQ knobs on the mixer) If you work with the EQ, you can get that effect if it’s not in there. Work with it. Isolate as much as you can. Have fun with it, got to keep your ego out of it, though. Everybody’s got a problem with that. Sometimes you EQ a song so much, you cease to let it be itself. (music ends) That’s contemporary r ’n' b by an artist from Detroit that passed. And she was a really important artist, I think. She took chances, you’re not going to hear Sierra do it like that. You’re not, she just won’t. She’s not going to take that kind of risk. And that’s typical of people in the Midwest. If you want to talk about taking risks, this is a risk taker. (picks out a new record) This is brother Herbie.

RBMA

Hancock.

Theo

Parrish

Herbie Hancock, oh yeah, and he took risks. That’s a challenge that people are scared of today, taking risks. Risks, risks, risks, you got to risk it all. You cannot be afraid to put exactly what is inside of yourself. Directly, you know, when you get outside of that idea of ‘I’m making this kind of music’, or ‘I’m making that kind of music’, then all of that changes. You end up with music like this. (laughs)

(music: Herbie Hancock - Sleeping Giant)

Oh, got to cut that out, that’s not house music. That’s not house music, what am I doing? They came out to hear a house lecture, that’s not house music. Fuck house music, man!

(laughter)

Fuck any moniker! Fuck any moniker because they limit it. Any moniker!

(applause)

Now, that has anything that any genre-specific music would want to have. But it just simply defies definition. People call different musical styles other musical styles because there is no other way to name ‘em. There’s no other way to call it something. There has to be some kind of association. I totally think this manner of thinking is bullshit, and it’s dangerous. Because what happens, what are the new forms of music that we have the potential to create out here if we’re always trying to fit into stuff that’s already come along before us? Then we never really have a chance to come up with new music. Everything’s stuck, we’re still stuck in the same old shit. I mean, because basically there would be no house music if people didn’t break out of disco. All these different monikers are very, very dangerous things. You get into rap and hip hop, I mean, that’s going through its own civil war right now. You know, reggae and dub, everything is going to a heavy time right now. This could lead us to our next topic of conversation. (turns to interviewer) You’re just sitting there looking at me. [I’m like] bla, bla, bla.

RBMA

No, I like it. Go on.

Theo

Parrish

 Never before in history have we had this amount of technology, and we’re taking things that we’re not necessarily creative with: the technical mind, forcing them into it. For instance... (turns volume up again)

I’m pretty sure Herbie didn’t want this digitally downloaded. I’m pretty sure. He probably didn’t even have it in mind to have it spun somewhere, DJed or pitched up and down. But the idea is when you pitch something up and down the record still remains a record. When you take it out of this form you no longer associate this imagery with that individual, these sounds. Now they become abstract concepts. “Who’s Herbie Hancock? Who gives a fuck, I got that song.” See that’s where it goes, and that’s the danger. It’s convenient, ain’t got to carry around records. Ain’t got to worry about customs. You can bring your whole collection to a party. Your whole collection? I mean, I walk into a party and I know you got access to 50.000 records. Fifty thousand! You know what I’m going to expect out of you? I’m going to want my DNA changed!

(laughter)

You’re going to have to change my DNA because you got 50.000 records and an hour to play. An hour to play? How the fuck are you going to play 50.000 records and an hour to play? All right, OK, change my life! I walk in, my life is not changed. I leave, I’m mad. I’m at the door, I’m starting with the promoter because I’m drunk, and they told me the guy had 50.000 songs to play. "I came in with expectations and I had six gin-tonics, dammit! I want my money back. You better not pay him tonight! Don’t pay that DJ nothing! Next time I come here I want to hear the guy with 20 records in his box, and blows my mind." That’s what I want. That’s what’s necessary, and you can’t compartmentalize that. You can’t see that for a dollar a drink. And that’s the danger of these times, because I think they can co-exist, but the problem is there’s too much convenience. These are dangerous, oh, they’re dangerous. Records are dangerous things ‘cause they’re fragile, they get dirty, scratches on ‘em, and now because everything’s commodified, this is worth, what? 50 dollars on eBay or something, I don’t know. But it’s a piece of plastic, it’s fragile. If it gets cold, it’ll break. If it gets hot, it’ll warp. Your files are not going to warp, your files are not going to break. That’s the argument. It’s more durable, it lasts. Not if they turn the lights off, not if they pull the plug, not if your shit crashes, you lose your whole library. All because some fool spilled a beer on your laptop. Now you ain’t got no more music. What you’re going to do? At least you can wipe these off. (wipes record on his shirt) Can’t wipe your Pentium BXP5 off. Nah, you’re screwed. You’re hoping your boy got it. That’s the other part of it too. That’s the other scary thing, it’ll take you the better part of ten years to collect, in my opinion, the amount of vinyl that’s worthy of being presented to other people. Take you, what? A couple minutes? To download somebody’s whole collection. Now the question is, is it worth the convenience? Maybe. But are you missing out on all of the knowledge that goes into looking for those specific records? Specifically, because you know ‘so-and-so’ played on this record, ‘so-and-so’ played on that record, are you going to take that time and get your knuckles dusty, and go meet another crazy obsessed individual just like yourself? You got to take that time. Oh, you can meet somebody online, their name is James and they got a big dick and big eyes. What is that shit? Motherfucker’s name is Jones, she got 36 double D’s. No! You meet somebody at the record store and they’re picking out records. See, that’s the problem with a lot of things now: the community is going from being something where you go out and have conversations with people and deal with individuals. Now everybody can hide behind these phoney masks. Do whatever they want. You never know what you’re getting. And that’s a whole ‘nother cultural aspect that’s changing and we need to talk about. But more importantly, what I want to focus on is that you can’t replace a record collection with a file collection. There’s no way to replace it, and it’s up to every one of you if you’re interested in playing music out, to decide if you’re going to deal with both types of formats. Realize, they’re two different types of camps, you’re really cutting yourself off from individuals who respect the idea of collection. It’s a family and they will be able to tell if you don’t have those records. And they’re not going to look for you for those records. They’re not going to be interested in replacing an important piece that you might have lost or damaged. If they knew that you went the cheap way, and just downloaded it anyway, that’s the other part of it. Now, there’s ways to make them coexist; I don’t know what they are. I’m not here to tell you that. That’s not my job. I know what I believe in. I see the different technologies people are implementing and I think it’s cool. But I think it’s dangerous because I’m in the business of a record label. I sell records. So, until they develop legislation to make it profitable for me to put my stuff in that format, I’m not going to mess with it. Because basically, (holds up record) let’s say this cost five dollars. If you can get it online for a dollar and then you can give it to eight of your friends, for free, what’s the point of me being in business? I got to eat. I can’t put out something that’s dangerous. I make house music. I got to make a top ten house hit, you know, because otherwise I’m not going to pay my bills. That’s where it has the potential to become dangerous, to eclipse what’s going on, until legislation changes. Making it, not just profitable but at least - damn - instead of giving away my music that you paid a dollar for, can you at least make it so if you give it to five people, just pay five dollars for it? You know, you’re going to give it to five people, at least pay five for it. Get the coding right. I know there’s people working on it now, to get the coding right, so that the artist that makes this music that’s going into digital format can at least eat a little. I mean, I think a dollar’s too low for a download, personally. And then also you get disenfranchised in the process. I mean, let’s say the database gets scrambled. You got Herbie Hancock ”Sleeping Giant” online, in a file. Then you got John Cougar Mellencamp in a file. Shit gets jumbled, you pull up an image of Herbie Hancock, it’s not Herbie Hancock, it’s John Cougar Mellencamp. You put history on that guy, hell, Herbie Hancock becomes John Cougar Mellencamp, John Cougar Mellencamp becomes this beautiful keyboard player. Seminal guy. Then it all changes. Those are the kind of silly mistakes that can happen overtime, and that’s my biggest issue with a lot of it. It’s that we don’t get to give the imagery of who really is doing the music. Who’s doing this? That gets lost. It becomes the machine, you know? But, you know, it’s America, it’s the Western world, we like convenience. We love convenience. It’s convenient. Mmh!! "I’ve got 70.000 records at my disposal! Oh sorry, files at my disposal. It’s convenient.” (laughs) And they wonder why they can’t go see certain people in concert anymore. Because it wasn’t convenient for them to be there. They don’t see the convenience in showing for a concert for a 1.000 dollars when they got signed for 50 million. It’s not convenient. (laughs) It’s just dangerous times. You just got to use this technology responsibly. A little bit of taste. And everybody who plays vinyl or aspires to play vinyl, tack 30% onto your fee. Just ‘cause you’re bringing records. Tack 30% on. A vinyl surcharge, 30%.

(applause)

You know? (laughs) Let everybody else sort it out. “He wants 30% more? ‘So-and-so’? Why?” “He’s bringing vinyl.” “Oh, watch out for these vinyl guys, watch ‘em!” You got to fight! It’s a fight! All right? (pulls out record) Lil’ Louis again, this is ”Why’d You Fall.” This song is one of the first I heard the human voice incorporated into something contemporary in terms of dance music and I was just buzzed out. I remember the first time I heard it, it blew my mind as usual. You go into the spot and he’s playing this weird little vocal thing that goes somewhere totally different. So here it goes. Turn it on this side, make sure I got it.

(music: Lil Louis & The World - I Called U(Why’d U Fall))

Now you can see how he took that ”Why fall” and went into that keyboard part and kept moving with it. And what I thought was interesting was that the track didn’t really take off until the second part (sings melody). And there’s the additive and subtractive part of it that kind of harks back to the kind of thing James Brown was doing, with the engineering on it, you bring certain parts up and back. It changes a lot. And that’s prevalent in dance music. Because you got people moving, but then when you’re able to move these parts, which are huge parts of the arrangement, depending on when you bring them in, when you take them out. You can really bring people’s emotions up. Now, there’s a song I did recently, it’s coming up on my new album, and I really messed with that idea. You layer and you layer and you layer and you take back. And basically it’s based on the same groove over and over. Ah, this part will be edited from the online part, because it’s unreleased, so – please! We can’t have any of my shit out there like that, please.

RBMA

But what was this Lil' Louis track now? Techno, house or acid?

Theo

Parrish

You decide. You guys decide. It’s jazz to me, that’s jazz. I’d get kicked off a jazz station playing that, but those are the issues for me.

RBMA

(smiles) It’s a good answer.

Theo

Parrish

I mean, essentially the reason I say it’s jazz, is that I remember reading somewhere a quote that Miles [Davis] said. He said that all music is jazz, it’s the only definition that defies definition. All of it. You can tell that to Garth Brooks. He’s making jazz, he just don’t know it.

RBMA

When had you saved enough school money to buy equipment to make fine pieces of jazz like this?

Theo

Parrish

(laughs) That's a funny, funny story. When I was 14 my uncle, I was living at my grandmothers house, had a band and they used to practice in the basement. He didn't tell me that it was OK for me to take his keyboarders keyboard up to my room at my grandmothers house, so I procured it and took it upstairs and mazed her. Basically, I stole the keyboard for a while until he found out. And I lied to my grandmother, which is a 'no-no', you don't lie to your grandmother. But I lied to my grandmother and told her that Dexter, my uncle, said that it was OK to take the keyboard upstairs. It was like, "He said it was cool. Yeah, yeah." 'Cause I knew I was trying to finish it before he came back over there. He came home early, needless to say he was not happy. "You lied to my mother." So, it was a big issue, but that was the first piece of equipment I got a hold on. After that, I went to school. I was on a scholarship, I went to Kansas City Art Institute. I went in for painting of all things, ended up in sculpture. Went from sculpture to performance. Performance turned into sound sculpture because I figured at that point that basically you don't give a person a degree to be an artist, you give them a degree to be able to eat being an artist. So, if you're going to school to be an artist, then basically you need to be on your shit. You need to know what it is that you're trying to say. 'Cause chances are that somebody already said what you're trying to say - and better. So, what's your point? And I had instructors like that, that get in your head and really make you think, ”OK, you're a great technical artist. So what the fuck? What? What do you got to say that's different to what people already said better than you anyway? Who are you? Who cares? What's your point?” So you were always in a state of having to, not necessarily to defend your art, but comment on the 'why' of your concepts. Comment on why you feel what your saying is important. And after dealing with someone like that, there was something I was focused on. There was this idea: arrangement versus the traditional idea of music theory. Those strange places in between, noises and notes. And I came to the conclusion that the only thing that differentiates the two is the fact that noises generally have no specific arrangement. And if you simply arrange noise without any kind of key structure fitting into music theory or anything like that, then those things can easily constitute songs. It's arrangement and arrangement meaning that specific placement of initiation of sound. It doesn't have to be in key, it doesn't have to always fit that mould. If what you're doing is truly your direct expression, if it's really what you're trying to say. That's why I went to that school. I basically had no equipment until I got out of school. I came to Detroit because I was broke. I just got out of school, don't know what I was doing with myself, was there on a scholarship, came back home and I was going to working at a factory or something. My mother convinced me to try and get a job teaching art. I worked for one summer. I taught art to pre-schoolers for a summer at Cranberg. They kicked me out of there.

RBMA

Why, you're a great teacher?

Theo

Parrish

Well, it doesn't matter 'cause I had students painting red floors in there. I was just turning 'em loose with finger paint. "Yeah, paint! Create! Show me your masterpiece at the end of an hour." You know, kids five-years-old just pouring shit out, it was great, I loved it until the end when I had to clean up. There was a big stain on the floor and that was the most pristine art room I've ever seen. And it was this huge pink stain, like three feet square. The supervisor came in, "What are you doing?" "I'm teaching the kids how to paint." They were just like, "What's that stain on the floor?" I was like, "Oh, the stain? Don't worry about the stain. You should have seen what these kids painting, it's amazing." "The stain, Mr. Parrish, that's not good. We just laid that floor." I was like, "But the kids were painting. What's wrong with you? I'm an artist." They're like, "Fuck you! You fucked up the floor. You're fired." And that was the end to that. So I was out of there, came back home and said, "Mum, I tried to teach art. I keep going down to the record store, I'm cracked down on records. OK, I'm living in the basement and I'm trying to get a job at the factory." I wanted something that I could let go of because at that point I knew I wasn't cut off on any teaching, at least not then, at least not there. There were too many things that were tugging on me. And one of the biggest things that was tugging on me was spending the last four and a half years pretending to be in college and just barely skating through. But I really played music every weekend that I could down in Kansas City trying to break something, just collecting all these tunes. They were all these great record stores there, you can find cuts that I see online now for 100/200 dollars, they were there for 25 cents or 79 cents. I was just going up there all the time. "Give me that. Yes, I'm not going to class today. No, I'm listening to songs." So, that's what was happening. But then, to answer our question, it wasn't until I started working at the Cranberg place and I got in contact with a couple of people in dance music and started to work for them. You had Dan Bell, he has DBX, maybe a few of you know who he is.

RBMA

7th City distribution.

Theo

Parrish

7th City distribution. He had me putting in floors at 7th City. He didn't know anything about my productions or DJing, any of that. I was just putting in floors 'cause I lied and told him I knew how to put in floors. I didn't know, I just wanted a job. I didn't give a damn. "Yeah, I can put in floors. How hard can it be? I used to weld steel, I'll be all right." I didn't know how to put in floors, but he ended up hiring me. But before that I was working for Ron Trent at Prescription at KMS, which is in the basement. And I was over there looking after the studio whenever Ron Trent showed and they hired me over there to clean up. So I go over there and make tracks. That was the exchange, I could use the studio. So I really didn't had equipment for a long, long time. And then finally, I started working at 7th City distribution once it got up and running and somebody else that you might know, Claude Young was getting rid of a piece of equipment. This was common practice, I always borrowed. When you get tired of a piece of equipment, look around, find a youth, give it to them. Give it to them if you're done with it 'cause they're going to turn it into something and don't go back to the store, where they give it to somebody. Make sure that they're going to use it, that they don't give it back 'cause that's what happened with me. Claude Young gave me his old SP-12. That was the beginning. He said, "Here." I said, "How much?" He said, "500$." "Yeah, no problem." It was a problem, I had a little money, but I wasn't paying full rent at my mother's basement. So, I leaned on her for a while, I got some money from the job I was working and bought it from him. Once I got that, it was great. I just made track after track after track. He then sold me a Juno 106, which was broken. I didn't care, still used it in this broken state. Made tracks with the SP-12 and these little tricks you use because the SP-12 had how many sample seconds? Like 2.5 seconds or something crazy like that? When I wanted to get a snare because I had no outboard gear, put it in there, got it to 45 plus 8 on that thing. And when you got it into the SP-12, tune it down, it had a grainy sound on it, like a lot of like Wu- Tang or Pete Rock stuff sounded like. Premier, too. Madlib, too. It had that weird tone on it, but we didn't care 'cause it made you go. Fuck it. And then, eventually, it was a real gradual process, got the SP-1200, bought that off somebody, traded up some stuff, got a hold of an Alesis MMT-8 sequencer. Got a hold on that, started using it with the Juno. So I was blessed to have a real gradual introduction to every single piece that I was using. And I had to use them for so long that I got to know them pretty intimately. So each change-up was different. The first piece that I actually went out and bought from a store was the MPC 2000 XL. That piece changed it all for me 'cause that was the first piece I had that was able to deal with the way I make music. 'Cause that's a big part of it, knowing what pieces of equipment are going to be important for your methodology. Like, what's your method? And there's no such thing as the new shit is the great shit. No, if it fits your methodology, use it. If that what gets your thing out, then do it. Don't get held up by the methodology. That's where it kind of shifted for me 'cause I went in there and I bought this MPC, and I was like, "Wow! I got to learn this thing now." And so, I still use it to this day. I mean, I'm still learning the MPC. Damn ProTools, I can't use ProTools. Because I'm still not convinced I got everything out of this piece of machinery that I know. And that's just my methodology. I like to learn something until there are no more capabilities. And if I can't do that, then I will continue to and that's how I kept shifting. So at the time I was doing a lot of sample-based stuff, so an MPC would suit me just fine. It wasn't really about a whole lot of arrangement, it wasn't about a lot of key playing. It's about finding tones and arranging them and mixing them in a method that they're really strong 'cause I simply just didn't have the capability. And if I wanted layers and complex lush things like that, I had to make it work with the MMT-8 and the Juno 106. That shortly changed. I put out a release, things got good, I got excited, quit my job. I was working at that time at a liquor packing plant, it's called General Wine & Liquor. So if you can imagine, all day hanging around with a bunch of drunks, putting in bottles of Jack Daniels in boxes for 13 hours a day and you get a call from BMG France, saying: "Hey, we like your tracks. We're gonna give you a $1.500 advance." I'm like, "Yes!" I went in, quit my job, I just thought that I hit the big time. After I quit my job, my mum was, "Are you sure? They only gave you $1.500. Are you sure you want to quit your job?" I was like, "Yeah, that's what I want to do, mum. That's the beginning of something." She was like, "OK, get out!"

(laughter)

"What do you mean 'get out'?" "Well, you're doing your thing, it's time for you to go." So I was like, "Well, got to step out. Step into tomorrow." So I ended up going back to General Wine & Liquor and asked for my job back. Got it back and moved out. Once I moved out, I knew it was on 'cause at that point I had started my label.

RBMA

Sound Signature.

Theo

Parrish

Yeah, Sound Signature. Shameless promotion (points to his Sound Signature T-shirt). Once I started that, that's when it all kind of changed. I was, "All right, I got to hustle. I got to make sure that I got stuff coming out." But the beauty of it was, I'm not going to go out of the box. I'm not trying to do what I've heard, I'm trying to do what I feel, if it feels right. So I ended up putting out what I felt, trading off with a couple of buddies of mine that were in it already and tried to help them out as much as I could and they helped me out as much as they could. And trying to get some music out and it did work. Just taking a step, a leap of faith and knowing that it's all on me now. Every concept I have in my head and how I want to manifest it, is totally on me now from beginning to end. From the time it wakes me up out of my bed till the first 30 day return after the distributor is getting a hold of it. And everything in between, label design, mastering. You have to learn all these different things to be able to do it and I ended up learning. Some of it I was good at, some of it I wasn't. But the one thing I knew that at least I had some kind of experience making a track 'cause it wasn't really about me making something to be made for consumption anyway 'cause I been doing this since I was 13. So I said, "Hell, just keep the same ethics." I just want people to go off at a party. So, stay right with that shit and that's what happened.

RBMA

And you tried to stay in control of everything, right?

Theo

Parrish

Not anymore, it changes a lot.

RBMA

But you were very aware of that in the beginning?

Theo

Parrish

You have to be 'cause it's something you build from the ground up, so every aspect of it you have to wear a different hat to deal with that and still create. And still be intuitive, and still possibly have a social life 'cause we don't realize how much what we do socially effects what comes out creatively. I mean, it means a world of difference. Like my uncle told me, "How much time do you spend on a track?" I said, "11 hours." He was like, "11 hours? After four hours, take a break, go outside, go live. You're dead now." I'm like, "What do you mean, I'm dead?" "You're dead." I didn't understand what he was talking about. He was saying, "If you don't live life, you have nothing to draw experiences from. If you don't go through up's and down's and pains, you're basically just masturbating for people." "Look how well I can jack off."

(laughter)

"I jack off so well. I can jack off in this flavor and that flavor." No, are you living? Are you really talking about something? Are you really going through life? Are you dealing with something somebody can handle?" That's what a lot of it is: reflection, human experiences, that's what people hear underneath the notes and can relate to. Somebody on the other side going through something that they maybe be going through and that's the place you try to be in. Many people can make great tracks, but you can always point them out. "That sounds like a so-and-so track." I used to get scared of that with people identify with what I'm doing. "That's a 'so-and-so' sound. Why do you make things like this?" "I don't know. It's coming out that way." It's like asking somebody to define identification. Like, "Why is your dookie green?" "Because of what I been in-taking. (laughs) You know, that's what I've been going through." Those are the sort of things we forget about that it really is just an extreme visceral experience. Crying 'cause you were hit. Laughing 'cause it made you feel good.

RBMA

Inspiration and ingestion.

Theo

Parrish

All of it.

RBMA

And what was the first track you put out?

Theo

Parrish

The first one I put out? That would have been on KDJ #15, it was ”Lake Shore Drive,” the name of the track.

RBMA

Do you happen to have that with you?

Theo

Parrish

You know what? I'm going to check and see. I might not have not with me.

RBMA

And who is this KDJ fellow?

Theo

Parrish

I don't know, you got to talk to him about that.

(laughter)

No, our brother Kenny [Dixon Jr.]. He's been doing his thing a little bit longer than us.

RBMA

He's also known as the mysterious Moodymann.

Theo

Parrish

Yeah, he is known as the mysterious Moodymann, that's very true. He actually let me put a track of mine on his fifth release, KDJ #5, and that's ”Lake Shore Drive.” Let me see if I can locate that for you guys (flips through CD case). If not, then I have to grab something I did in '87, some real stinky business. Let me see if I can find it. Oh no, I might not have brought it, man.

RBMA

What a shame.

Theo

Parrish

Yeah, man. It is a shame. It's actually not the greatest shame 'cause I don't like the track anymore.

(laughter)

RBMA

Why is that?

Theo

Parrish

Because it's all sample-based. If someone can explain their song to you, it's generally something they don't like. It's a damn Mass Production sample with some 909 under it. There you have it.

RBMA

I still like it.

Theo

Parrish

It's all right, it does its thing. But as you start making things over the years, you realize how limiting the bigger samples you take are. If you're really trying to put your mark, your fingerprint, you're really having based around somebody else's imprint. It's a difficult thing to do.

RBMA

You also started to work with some 'real musicians' in the last few years, right?

Theo

Parrish

Right.

RBMA

The Rotating Assembly, as it is called.

Theo

Parrish

Yes, that's a unit I more or less formed to have when it came to do live things 'cause somebody was like, "You should do a live thing." And I said, "Well, I can't imagine me standing behind an MPC being that interesting for a couple of hours or something. But if I would get some individuals that I like to be playing with, some people that want to come with me, then I might be kind of interested." So I talked to a lot of musicians I was cutting with it at that time, and this is over the course of several years, I didn't really start working with musicians until my 11th release. And these were musicians out of jazz head, a group, I would go see them 'cause they were the only ones I heard in the city playing the kind of stuff that I liked to hear in terms of a jazz band really getting down. And they really just blew my mind. They would go into Brazilian stuff, they would go into the Herbie Hancock stuff. They had this - oh, I can play that - they would do a cover of this song that just blew my mind. Once I heard them do this, that's when I knew I had to... (holds up cover of Herbie Hancock Headhunters) People familiar with this album? Think then you all know what I'm going to play off here. ”Watermelon Man” really did it. I said, "I got to cut with these guys." So they hit me with this attitude, they were like, "Why do we need this DJ motherfucker? Who is this DJ motherfucker, we don't need him?" I slowly broke them down, 'cause they actually heard me play and I ended up residenting at this spot called Alvin's in Detroit where they would play. So I opened for them a couple of times and we ended up knocking heads, kicking it for a minute and it ended up going all right and we worked on a lot of stuff, so I got some of their stuff with me too. So I play the Herbie Hancock first before the Herbie Hancock. I will play some early work and you all can check out the progression. This is a track, when I was in my grandmother's basement and stole my uncle's keyboard. This track is called ”Insane Asylum” and it was made in 1987 and I put it out much later 'cause I didn't really believe in this at all 'cause I didn't think it needed to come out. I was like, "Man, this is far too wild. It needs to stay where it's at." But a good buddy of mine talked me into putting it out. He works for me now with me at the label, his name is Howard Thomas, he said, "Put that out, that's sweet." I said, "No man, it's garbage." But he said, "No, it's sweet. It shows something." "What?" He said, "It shows that you been somewhere." "I don't know what that means, I put it out if you say so." So I put it out. I got to find where it is [on the CD]. This is it. 1987 y'all.

(music: Theo Parrish - Insane Asylum)

Funny thing about this song: I remember making this and it's the last thing before my uncle tripped out on me. It's sad. Got to stop lying to my grandma. It was made with a Kawai beat machine.

(applause)

Thank you. It's crazy, if you notice there are no hi-hats or anything else in the track and the low keyboard line, what's funny was is that necessity is the mother of invention, that's a perfect example of it. I had this Kawai beat machine that I had midi-ed to this Casio keyboard and I programmed everything up in the Kawai and it registered everything that was going on in the Casio, but the drums didn't fit at all. The drums were crazy as hell, so I ended up turning the drums down on the Kawai, the only thing of the drums that was there, was the foot. So I left that in and I noticed there was a pitch bender on the side of the Casio, so that's how I would go up and down like that. Now the pauses, I just ended up stopping the Kawai on the fly and then I hit it again. There was also parts where it gets really crunchy sounding. How the hell did I that do? I had no filters. The RCA on the back of the keyboard...

(laughter)

...had a short in it and it was plugged in to the back of the mixer where I was recording it on cassette. And I would jiggle the chord and it would make that sound, it was bugged out and then, when I didn't like it again, I would hit it again and it would straighten out the signal.

(laughter)

Necessity is the mother of invention. You're not going to get this kind of thing with Cakewalk or anything like that. You're not going to get that kind of hands-on. That's just my methodology, I like to touch things as they go. Some people don't like it, I have no problem with that. But that's how I get down. But that was a real interesting time 'cause I didn't even know anything about mixing down or seperating instruments or any of that stuff. I had no idea. So that's where that went.

RBMA

So you can see yourself being a software guy in the near or far future?

Theo

Parrish

It just doesn't have the same hands-on thing for me. For me, I like to know that there's knobs and levers for me to push and take things out and know that when I go like that, that does something. That's where it makes sense for me. Knowing that I got a point and click and that's how I'm turning it down? No, can't get with it. That's not my thing. I know that there's artist that like technology, this is where I get upset, this is where I check out. Drum programming is one of the most difficult and easiest part of making music that exists, or any kind of music for that matter. It's easy and difficult at the same time. It's easy to get interesting patterns going, it's difficult to get basic patterns that are interesting going. That's hard because you have everything lined up, you got a click track. How do you make this songs that have a rhythm pattern that's really doing something and really getting with people and yet still not be a bunch of mud, it's just clicking and clacking all over the place? It's a difficult thing. So, I guess, I get upset when I hear a track and I can tell that they just looped somebody else's drums and just pieced something together. It irritates me, which is interesting, 'cause I'm guilty of the same crime. 'Cause I went in and got somebody's two-bar hook, do some drums over it and called it my own. A part of it is ignorance, other part of that is what am I going to do with that? So, my music making changed. You have to follow your instincts of what you're supposed to be doing musically too. Because if I hadn't done it, I wouldn't be where I am. One of the main things was, somebody was tugging on me, saying, "Yeah, you loop somebody's stuff and you put drums on it and came on with a new track and it made me think about the two-bar bit of the song." That's true, but if I continue to do that, am I really going to grow? So it went from sampling somebody to playing over that sample, learning where they're at and growing from that. And after that, it started from taking that sample out. So, it's like having training wheels on your bike and taking one off at a time and eventually you are riding on your own. That's kind of where it went 'cause this (points to the turntable) was actually before the sampling thing, the track we just heard. That was way before when it was all about midi and it wasn't really about sampling. Now it's come full circle. Went to sampling, then went to playing with the sampling. Then went to never mind the sampling, having musicians come in. Now, I take beef with people that have nine guys come in and play a song and then they put their name on it and give them no credit. You may be a bit of a producer, but your still not giving credits to the people that put their energy on it. That's a big problem in my thinking that in dance music you got a lot of guys going around saying, "I'm 'so-and- so'," and they're really riding off of a band's backing. Name those people, that's all I ask, on your record. If your name is 'so-and-so', then name the other guys who played on that. Never mind if you wrote it, that's fine, credit it properly. It's real simple, there's a lot of shady business going on like that. And that's something I didn't want to have happen with the Rotating Assembly. I produced every track on this album, we did an album the Rotating Assembly called Natural Aspirations. I'm all over the place right now, I just got caught by seven different thoughts and I try to touch on each one. OK, Herbie Hancock, Headhunters (holds up record sleeve). Herbie Hancock, OK, but who are these guys? They're all named on here. If it's the Rotating Assembly, it needs to say every person that's on there. And that's where I got off on that. OK, I'm at Alvin's, I met these guys and they played this song, a cover of this, and I knew I wanted to work with them, so here we go.

(music: Herbie Hancock - Chameleon)

But when I walked in, they weren't playing this beginning part, they were already at the drums, which is the sick part, which is going to come up.

(music continues)

A few people sampled that, quite a few. That's when I walked in and, "Oh, wow! These guys are bad." So after warming up to the idea of them having someone that's approaching music from a different angle working with them, they were able to get down with me and I've been working with them ever since. I play some of the stuff that we've been working on, stuff that's due out on the next Rotating Assembly album. I went in a lot of different directions with them. I really had a kinship with the guitarist, just one of the most amazing guitarist I've heard. I dare say in the heart of Seattle that he is the 21st century Jimi Hendrix. I dare say it. I say it nevertheless, he is bad. I was under the assumption that guys in a band would make tons of cash. And because they're so talented, they're almost go on autopilot and do their thing. Just a bunch of solos all night. I had this real weird concept of what live music is all about, didn't really understand the kind of chemistry a band has to have to really hit, to really do something. And in the studio, the clarity and the openness that you really need have to have to get into the pocket with people is something else too. I mean, I previously had nothing to do with. I had no problem getting on-time with the beat, but getting in the pocket with people is a different kind of thing. And then, getting the musicians, who are not necessarily used to play on a structured beat like that to do that, too, is that strange relationship we had to negotiate. That was an interesting part, that's a part of what I learned there. Now, the track that I played earlier, I call that ”Synthetic Flemm.” I really don't do that much in terms of sampling and sequencing anymore, I'm a lot more interested in playing all the way through a song. The first track that I played for you guys, that was all more or less me playing keys live over everything. I'd record the track down and play keys all the way through it. Layers, layers and then mix it. It doesn't sound that way. I don't care, that's exactly what feels good to me right now and that's where I'm at. One of the ones that popped up that inspired me recently to get up and do was; I am recently married. My wife, we were going through this whole 'love nest' thing and I was feeling very romantic in the morning and on the radio it's Al Green ”Love And Happiness.” I was like, "Love – yeah!" I just got out of bed, and usually my wife doesn't like me to get out of bed before she does, but I was like, "I'm going downstairs." She's like, "What's going on? Are you all right?" I'm like, "Yes." So I go down there and about five minutes later my wife is right behind me and I'm trying to work out the melody to ”Love And Happiness,” trying to get that... (scats melody) Couldn't quite get it. And then she helped me out, "Do it like this." "No, it's the wrong key, I just don't know what it is." She's like, "Why don't you just sample?" I'm like, "No, no samples. We're not be sampling in this house."

(laughter)

So, I finally figured it out and I play what I came up with. I know it's kind of crazy, I don't know if I brought it. (flips through CD case) If I brought it, then I'm in good shape. But if I didn't bring it, then you all can just pretend that I did it. Let me see. I'm actually going to be disappointed if I didn't bring it 'cause I really want to hear it now. Oh, oh, maybe I didn't bring it. Let me look a little bit further 'cause I really want to play it now. Why is it that whenever you want something really bad you can't have it? Where is it at? Oh, that sucks, man.

RBMA

So you have to describe what it sounds like.

Theo

Parrish

Y'all know what that sounds like, everybody knows that song. So I play some real fucked up shit that I did instead. Just some fucked up shit, some stuff that just fell out of my head recently. It has no rhyme or reason and that's precisely the point. That's the other lesson: the more that you try to make it, it eludes. At this point, I'd like to open up if anyone has any questions about the production process or anything like that, you can ask me anything. Nobody has anything to say?

RBMA

They're scared of you.

Theo

Parrish

No, they're not.

RBMA

But to give them a few minutes to think about their questions, how is Detroit these days? You know, there is all this myth about Detroit, the abandoned city.

Theo

Parrish

It's cold, it's snowing a little bit.

(laughter)

RBMA

I meant in regards to the music scene.

Theo

Parrish

It's pretty much how it's been the past 20, 30 years. And it's a chunk full of the most talented people you will ever meet when it comes to music and that's a consistent thing. It's consistent with a region and that's Ohio, Chicago. I call it the 'rust in the water syndrome'. That area in the States seems like the core of music as we know it today originated out of there and I think it's remarkable. I mean, I really do think it's because of the high iron content in the lakes, the Great Lakes. All that rust, all that steel, back and forth, all that stuff. It goes all the way down to St. Louis, we got everybody from Miles Davis to Quincy Jones, all these greats that spent significant time there. The Jacksons and not even getting into all the Motown, the obvious stuff. But just to answer your question, I think Detroit specifically is the home of contemporary music making and production today. And that's coming from someone from Chicago. I think the original ideas that come out of the people there are just totally and completely amazing. Most of the time, when I hear music from other places, it usually sounds like something I've heard. Maybe I'm biased, that's a possibility, that's a likelihood actually, but just listening out there and seeing it, it seems like a lot of stuff is coming, is not necessarily an echo from there, but you hear Jay Dee and then you hear the Sa- Ra guys, you see the call and answer. Like, "Wait a minute, that's gonna come back around." I just know it, see it go out and come back. You see Juan Atkins and you see the Burial Mix, back and forth all the time. In terms of the community, it's pretty much everybody knows everybody else. Everybody knows everybody else in some way, shape, form or fashion. Or one of the many students of arts that go along there 'cause there's the funk root, that's everybody and anybody that played along with the P-funk guys and everybody that's coming out of that ilk. From Brainstorm down to Amp Fiddler, down to... do we need a pause? Then you got all the people coming from the hip hop side of things, all the different cats coming out of there, Jay Dee most likely, and all the guys that are put in a strange 'other' category. There's so many different angles to talk about Detroit, it's almost impossible. 'Cause really there's more qualified people when you talk about Detroit. (addresses Rick Wilhite in the audience) Rick, do you want to talk about Detroit? (laughs)

RBMA

He's hiding.

Theo

Parrish

He's not hiding, that guy can't hide.

RBMA

What would say about all this talk Detroit being an economically-abandoned place, does it feed creativity?

Theo

Parrish

I'd say that's an accurate description. To say it's economically deprived is a big deal, but I think that has a lot to do with the whole 'do or die' attitude of the place. It's like, you get to be what you're about or you get to faking it. Usually, if you fake it, you never make it, so it's real simple. You do the best you can and what you got and you try your best to be as honest as possible.

RBMA

Realism?

Theo

Parrish

Realism, yes, realism, it's no joke. You see, it's a strange question when you go, "What's that place like?" 'cause you almost do a disservice by putting it into words. (addresses audience) Come to the Detroit Electronic Music weekend, I'm not going to say 'festival', 'cause we never know whether there's going to be a festival 'till the day before. So, come to the weekend, there's something going to be on. Come to Detroit first-hand, there's rumor out there, there's word out there, "It's this and it's that," put it like this: everybody who is doing stuff, doing a performance there, you're going to get the best performance you ever see from them. 'Cause they know it's one of the few times out of the year that we get some kind of attention, besides the music we get out to you via other channels. We know that people don't come to Detroit, we want that to change. We need people to come and realize, that it's a beautiful hot bed of talent and it's there. We need it and that's a big part of it. Once you come through there, you'll see guys you never heard of play the best sets you ever heard, play the best songs you've ever heard. You get the performance of peoples' lives out of them during that week 'cause they know it's time to put up a show during that time.

RBMA

And you get to see Theo Parrish too.

Theo

Parrish

Oh no, you don't get to see me. I'm going to stay out at the side like everybody else and watch. I tend to pull back from it these days. Originally, when the first one went off, I did. But these days I'm much more interested in independent parties because there's plenty of people to play on the stages or the festival, there's not a lot of parties that make the kind of meat and potatoes of like, say, after the performance is done, "OK, let's go over there, catch a step somewhere." I'm much more interested in participating in that aspect and those sort of things develop, but that's the place to come. Everybody, please, come.

RBMA

It's in May, right?

Theo

Parrish

Yes, Memorial Day weekend. Everybody knows when Memorial Day is here in the States. For those of you not from here, Memorial Day, what is the celebration of Memorial Day? What is it about? Is that just a miscellaneous holiday in the States? Does anybody know where that came from, Memorial Day? It's like dead veterans day?

Audience

_ _Speaker: member

(inaudible comment)

Theo

Parrish

That's what it's about? My whole life I've never known what the hell that's about. But, yeah, (laughs) Memorial Day weekend, come to Detroit. There you go, come through.

RBMA

Any questions?

Participant

I wanted to ask about signature sounds because when you hear a Theo Parrish record, you can tell pretty quickly that it's a Theo Parrish record, in my opinion. Whether that's Rotating Assembly or the older stuff that you did with a SP-1200 and I guess the question is, did you ever had a kind of list in your head going, "OK, this is how I want to make this record. This is what I'm going to leave in, this is what I'm going to leave out"? And how did you translate that sound to the live band as well.

Theo

Parrish

A lot of that comes down to the mix, a large part of it. It's far more intuitive than any plan or concept I could write down and come up with. It's basically the idea recording a bunch of sounds, isolating those sounds and being able to work the sounds in between them. I really deal with the relationships between sounds, sonic conversations. So, if you got a drum and that drum has a lot of mid in it, and you got a snare, and then you got a hi- hat on top of it, what's going to be the best balance with those three elements and what are they going to carry over to the song, depending on the song? I don't know if you're familiar with Sound Signature number#4, where the timing flip-flops. I had no idea that I was going to have it flip-flop like that, it just ended up being a glitch that happened in the mix. This track that I'm talking about, Sound Signature number #4, everything is played on the off-time, so you got the foot and everything else comes off (demonstrates off beat). Now, there's a break in the middle where it goes (demonstrates straight beat) and you lose sense of where your timing is at that point. Happy accident, you know? And those sort of things, that kind of intuitive idea, I leave it alone, I don't try to mess with. I try to keep my mixes as fluid as possible. Now, since that song there have been a lot of different changes in the studio. I've come across this wonderful piece made by Roland called the VS-880. I love that machine, I'm addicted. They made other incarnations of it, the 1880 and the 2480. I've upgraded to 2480, that's when the band became really easy to work with 'cause I could isolate everybody. And once I got the main recording, I got that intuitive feel in the mix and that's what I think you are talking about: the drop-out's, the isolation and the change of the sonic relationships.

Participant

I'm wondering how you go about [mixing down], especially the early stuff like ”Moonlight” or something like that, where it's kind of like a dub thing where you got the channels running out of the sampler going directly into the mixing desk and you bring them in and out and it's a one-drop kind of thing? Do you see what I'm getting at? I don't know if it's too difficult to explain.

Theo

Parrish

No, I understand what you're talking about. Yeah, it's very much like that, where you have everything isolated running into a main board and then the main board is running it down to something that you record on a master. Simply, I mix it until I get it right. If it takes 12 times until I like the way it goes, it takes 12 times. If it's the first take, which usually it is, the first mix is usually the one, I will put that one out. But yeah, it's usually each channel isolated and track starts, if I like the beginning and I just follow the song as it goes. Does that answer your question?

Participant

: It does.

Participant

Mr. Parrish, you mentioned at the beginning that you knew several DJs in the early days of house that you considered to be very good DJs and yet they didn't make a name for themselves. How would you describe the difference between the ones that did make it and the ones that did not and what advice what you give to us?

Theo

Parrish

Some of it is luck, plain luck. The rest of it is hard work, diligence and dedication. You can never go wrong having hard work, diligence and dedication in your ethic. Lazyness is probably one of the most common human traits worldwide, second only to fear. And if you can challenge those two things with what you do, then I can't see how you couldn't be successful no matter what as long as you stay on what you're doing and remain true to your decisions. That's another big part. You see these guys and you've known them to be out there, if you talk about the selection process. Some guys are only interested in DJing and the point that they are making is, "Why would I want to put a record out if all I'm interested in doing is playing records?" Not making them, playing them. Because right now it's such a move for career advancement, if you're DJing, then: "Hey! I'm gonna make a track." You can be pretty much sure that people are going to pay more attention to you. I would suggest: keep it solid, keep it pure. Which one is tugging you the most? If you're a DJ/producer, which one are you really interested in? Not which one you're good at. Fuck what you're good at! I mean, really, fuck what you're good at! Because what you're good at will come to you again. You don't have to worry about what you're good at, you're always going to go back to what you're good at. What are you being tugged at to do? That's what you need to hone 'cause you can get good at anything. All of it is time, dedication and diligence once again. So, if you say, "I want to be a producer," that's great. Are you good at it? Yes, OK. Hone it, great. What makes you live? What would you die for? Ask yourself that question. Would you die for a handful of records? And if you can't answer that question honestly with a yes, then you need to think about the company you're keeping when you're around individuals that have answered that question for themselves already. That's the sort of thing. I know a lot of guys in Chicago right now that have been playing longer than most of the name DJs we know and would tear them a new asshole in a battle. But the point is, they stayed true to what it was they wanted to do. They knew that all they wanted to do was to play at those parties and they continued to do that. They might have dabbled in production but it was never anything that tugged them in another direction. So, they kept on living, they have families, they got regular jobs, but they keep doing it. So, it is really a personal choice. Being organized helps a lot. Making sure that you're not only a good selector but you're a proficient purveyor of sound. It's one thing to say, "I play all these great songs." Who cares? Do you do those songs justice? Are you quick to give a person who asked you about the song the album cover, so they can read it, see what it looks like? Are you one of these guys that covers up the record so nobody can see it? That's a difference. Do you want people to hear it and share that or are you all about keeping it for yourself? And that's the double-edged bag again 'cause in the most times that's a transition. You go from one to the other. You start off as a guy that marks off all his records with a marker so nobody can read it because you got your ego involved, but then over the years you start realizing it really doesn't help anyone but yourself. And who gives a damn if that night you didn't play that record well? At least this way (holds up record sleeve) they know who to look for, they have an idea, they might have seen it before. At least they'll remember the name or something. You ain't got to stop your set to have some guy who's been trainspotting you all night and give them the proper nod, you ain't got to do that. But, if you've got a minute, give them the album jacket and keep on stepping if they want to know the song. I mean, I've had guys taking pictures of the damn records that I played. "Come on man, give me a minute." But the argument would be: why don't you want him to know? It's a little invasive, he can just ask me after I play. But again, to answer your question, diligence, hard work, dedication, all with the promise of no money. Deal with that. Take five records and mix those records for a whole CD long. Just those five records, so that you know those records in's and out's. 'Cause you know them under any circumstances, pitched up, pitched down, you will know it and knowledge of your tunes is more important if you're talking about the combination of a doing a really good jock. It's not about being able to play what's hot now in a decent fashion or being able to mix two records seamless. Who gives a fuck? You can train a monkey to mix two records, but can you tell a story? Can you tell a story and give enough monkey talent there to make it palatable to people? That's the other part of it is making it listenable so people aren't just running out. Because you still have to make converts of people who may show up. They're used to hearing somebody go just 'tck, tck, tck', (same beat) all night. Robot. And they come in and they're having a birthday party and they come to your party and you got a couple of stumbling transitions, they're ready to leave. But if they hang around longer, they might just get something from it. So you don't want to make it too rough for them. Other times you may just go, "Fuck you! I'm getting down. Who cares? Not mixing nothing tonight." So, double-edged again, but diligence, hard work and practice, practice, practice makes everything. Mix stuff that you're not supposed to mix, learn how to mix. It's not just about the beat, it's about where sounds start and end in the apex of their frequency and where they're going. All that type of shit you learn in mixing over and over again. Now, making the transition into production, I think that's a personal choice. I think that you've really got to be called to do it and do it well because eventually one of the two is going to be yanking and walking that line is even more difficult 'cause the pressure has changed. Go to Amsterdam for a weekend and have a 'never-been' being American. We're not used to that kind of freedom, so we're not even talking about all the different things that can assault you. You're sitting there, you got all these things coming at you from different directions and you never have been exposed and you still have this talent you are working on as a work in progress. You really have to hunker down and really have to know what you're doing in terms of the visceral part of it knowing these records. Know your records. Know 'em. And I say records, not songs, know them. It's all based around that. I hope that answers your question. Thank you.

Participant

I want to go back to your DJ style. I know that you like to tweak the EQs, and as a dancer usually 90% of the DJs messing with EQs, I just want to tell them to leave the record alone. How do you make [EQ] tweaking sound good?

Theo

Parrish

Again, it's a razorblade sort of thing. You're walking it, you play a song and you also know that tweaking a little bit of the EQ, you can change the energy of the song. The danger of it is to EQ every song all the time for ever and ever. Sorry, but you're just not going to be that interesting all the time. And another thing, too, is to tune into the song. Do you know that song well enough to have it send chills up and down your spine while you're playing it and have it so that the audience doesn't even know that you're EQing it or that they don't notice that much? It's really a balance 'cause sometimes you play out and you be EQing too much and then you stop EQing and the crowd doesn't care anymore. At that point you start being a selector, now you're being an entertainer. Now people want to see you hop around and that's not what it's about. It's not about putting on a show, it's about communion, it's about sharing. Some people argue that it is about a show, that's fine, that's their philosophical take on that. Mine is not that, mine is: let me share this with you. Now, if in the process of what I'm doing is good to look at, makes you excited, great. But I could give a fuck. I'm more interested in people turning around as opposed to facing the DJ booth, head towards the speaker or find somebody to dance with. 'Cause there's a whole thing that goes on now where you're going to see somebody DJ and you think that you're going to a concert. You're not going to a concert, you're going to hear some records. So, go look at the speaker. Turn the lights off and dig on that. That's when that becomes the communion part. Now, once you start adding, bring the high's and the low's into it and changing the sound dynamic, you can totally play songs that were meant for other settings into something else just by mere juxtaposition. Juxtaposition is the meat and potatoes of EQing. There's no sense to EQ everything that comes on if everything is linear. Let's say I'm playing a standard house set and everything is 'boom-tss, boom-tss, boom-tss' all night. If I EQ all the songs all the time and they're all similar songs, what is the fucking difference? No one is going to care, no one is really going to get excited about that. But if I pick my points and there's a foot and I know the foot's been going on for a while now and I'm feeling that, now some people want to count all the time, "Oh, the beat's going to drop. One, two, three, four, boom. One, two, three, four, boom." No. That's fine, if that's where you're at, but if essentially you want to get some kind of an emotive thing going, you're going need to know that song, this is going to touch you, right there at the spot and that simply just won't do if people come up with all types of stuff while you're spinning. You got to be in that moment, you got to cut everybody out, you got to turn people away, you need to put that drink down, put that cigarette out and get to work. And really get to communion and make sure that those energies run through you. And that was the importance of what I as saying about that Stevie Wonder song ”As.” When Lil' Louis played it, I always associated it with mellow Sunday's at home with my mum. When now it's this banger. I'm like, "Wow! How did he do that?" It's through juxtaposition, it's what he played before, after and how he worked that song. What are the songs before and after what you're doing is another part of EQing, it's not so much the technical part of dropping the low's, bringing the high's, which EQ to use. Personally, there was a mixer made by Numark. Hey Rick, is that the PPD with the 7-band? Alright, PPD 7-band Numark mixer, you have seven bands of EQs across. It wasn't like a crossover where you have mid, high's and low's and you could just drop those, you had sub's, mid-low's, low's, low-mid's, mid-mid's, hi-mid's, mid-hi's, hi-high's and then high's, all these different levels you can mess with. The idea of just the bass and just the mid's and just the high's, that's more or less to me a new concept. When you work with a 7-band you have all these frequencies you can mess with and you can totally could tweak somebody out and it's a lot more complex than the regular type of thing. So, when I would go out and I would hear these guys drop the EQs real simple, I'd be like, "What is he doing? That's boring, I'm asleep." Over time you start realizing, if I incorporate these two methods, then it changes everything. So keeping in mind that the selecting process, the spinning process is a work in progress, you're going to grow, you're going to change. It's never going to stay the same, as long as you grow, as long as you're into it. It's never going to stay the same. The competitive part of it, you go through that the first seven years in my opinion. You're worrying about everybody else's transitions, their selection and the EQ work. You want to be better than all of them, but after a while you start to realise it has absolutely nothing to do with you and your competitive streak in your ego. Nothing. That's more to do with these individuals. Now that happens when you get to autopilot. Autopilot is when you start picking out records without even knowing what the fuck they are. Where you got a record, it's wonderful and then somebody says, "Play the next song." You're grabbing that song and you end up playing it right at the right time that the record's over and you have just enough time to bring it in and everything is just moving in a great line. That's called being 'in line'. Being in line is beautiful. If you can get to that point, you're in a really good shape, but those are very rare places. That type of selection makes EQing very, very easy because then all you're doing is in a moment, in a flow, nothing is being held up. You're mind isn't stopping the process and that's very, very difficult. Especially, if you got Serato or some shit.

Participant

(inaudible question)

Theo

Parrish

Well, the point was initially I was hearing these edits when I was younger... Oh, you know (flicks through his records), I got some of these edits with me.

RBMA

So we can listen to them?

Theo

Parrish

Yeah, we're going to hear a couple of these edits. I'm going to play a couple of these (holds up CD). I heard these edits when I was younger and they just weren't around anymore. The closest I heard were a few on R&S, but nothing really amazing. I mean, R&S Records, the repress, the old school one. I think what Danny Krivit did a lot is melodies, mainline stuff. Those were seminal, really serious pieces that Ron Hardy, Frankie Knuckles, all these old Chicago jocks would play a lot. You realize that this whole edit culture was something that's underground in Chicago going from tape to tape to tape, all the time. Everybody was trading edits with everybody else. They'd never come out on vinyl. Now me, I would come across a song and I knew that, "Damn! I miss those edits. Fuck it, I'll make one." And I basically made them for me and my friends to play. I just put them out, small numbers, no big deal. And I figured that I got this one coming up and there's another one, too, and I got this remix I did of Jill Scott. I said, "Well, let me put it on it. Maybe they'll pick it up, I don't know." I was flirting with majors, thinking I would get some kind of response from them 'cause I did that remix with out any separated parts or anything, it was all done off of stuff on the album. I was like, "Well, they'll pay attention to that and if not, they'll be just an edit for the other side. We'll just roll from there and just do a thousand copies and call it a day."

Participant

Does she know about it?

Theo

Parrish

Yeah, she knows about it 'cause I sent it to her. Well, I hope she knows about it, I really don't know if she knows about it. But I sent it to her manager.

RBMA

She didn't call?

Theo

Parrish

She did call, but that was having to do with me going to a concert. I went to a Jill Scott concert in Detroit and I threw a package on stage after the show. It went over the little barrier where they keep people away, landed on the stage. The manager grabbed it and threw it back at me. And then she started talking to the manager, "What as that all about?" And I threw it back up there again. The manager came over and grabbed it, started to throw it back, she stopped him and grabbed it, grabbed the music. And the music, it was real simple. It was the Sound Signature sampler and a couple of things I was working on that time on a CD, the remix wasn't on there or anything like that. And so, she gets the package, I guess, she says 'bye', I just walk away and I go home. About a month later, I go to my answering machine and it's some message from Jill Scott saying, "I got your music. I appreciate it, bla, bla. Thank you, never mind my manager Bill, he's just trying to look out, bla, bla, bla. He's very concerned about my safety. I'll call you when I get to LA, that's the next place I'm going, bla, bla, bla." So I was like 'oh'. I got this ”Slowly, Surely” and I heard that Hidden Beach was looking for remixes on it. And so I said, "Well, I do a remix." Did the remix, sent it to her, got a call back but they weren't interested. But I thought it was funny later on that Jazzy Jeff had a remix and his got to listen to. That's alright, Philly holds it down for Philly, that's cool. But they said they weren't interested, so I said, "Well, I'm a start a little shit, I put it out and if it does something, maybe that'll make them to give it a second listen and give me a call or something." So I put it on the other side of the edit. I never thought they would do anything, I never thought the edit thing would go anywhere. It was basically for me and my friends and just putting out a couple of tunes that we knew needed an edit, they weren't around anymore and they were classics. It was the equivalent to any other Salsoul joint that you would hear or something like that. And I said, "Shit! I just edit up some stuff." Did it, people liked it and I charged an exorbitant amount because I knew the potential of them was A1, I didn't want to rape the original people too much. A2, also I knew that I had generate enough if they did come calling me to give them something. A3, I didn't want everyone to have it. I didn't want everyone to really go for. I wanted it to be something that if you really wanted it, you pay what you had to pay to get it. Because nine times out of ten you'd say, "Yeah, man! I remember that, let me get that." Or, "Damn! That's sweet, I want that." And then your friends go like, "Man, that's expensive." "Yeah, but I don't think these are be coming out anymore." Little did I know there were monster waiting in the wing to boot[leg] my shit. So they're booting my unauthorized edits of these pieces. That was a big problem and it really pissed me off. This whole idea of doing these was to put some kind of fun into this again 'cause at the time everything that was coming out was boring, everything was the same. I think at that point this whole (hums walking bassline) was taken over. I don't know where the hell it came from, but it took over, everything sounded the same. I was like, "All right, that's enough. I had enough of this. We need some raw shit out here, we got to do something. I got to have fun. I'm missing the fun. Where are the little pieces where you go to the store and you know you're the only one around who has this?" You know, the ego kind of took over. "I want that, just for me." And that's the other part of it, you can't get away from too much of your ego and at the same time you've got to keep it in check. It's a balance, everything in moderation. So that coming out, it was just basically, if people dig it, dig it. It wasn't meant for everybody and I wanted to make something rare. 'Cause once I knew I do 1.500 copies of each one, it was cut, discontinued, you can't get them no more. That was it. These fools come and boot me. Now, there selling 2.000 copies on top of the little 1.500 I was doing. Now it's raped, everybody's got them, they got fake covers and jackets made up on them. My point was, I wasn't even going to put a stencil on it. It would be just these white labels that came out and they just be what they just be. People grab them and that's that. But it wasn't when people started booting that's when I got to differentiate. So that's when I started to use these stencils. I would get the records done, hand draw Ugly Edits #6 / #7. I got a couple of them hanging out here. And I would write on them. I would write on a piece of cardboard and then cut it out and then spraypaint and put a stencil on each record, so you know the original Ugly Edit if you got paint and stencil. It's only on one side, it has never any printing and I just spraypainted each one. Handmade in Detroit. People started to boot them and I could complain, but I couldn't do anything about it. So you got a couple of these little unreleased joints, stuff that I thought was interesting. Maybe not an original production, just stuff that I thought needed a little bit of light. You play it and it's not just your standard version of it or an extended disco mix. It does a little something, it changes the arrangement, but it still be identifiable as ”Slick” by Willie Hutch. And it's a little b-side cut on one side of an album called The Mack. But that's the whole point behind it, I did ten. I got more edits than ten, but there's one I will play later on that's going to send everybody on a christmas vibe. That was supposed to be Ugly Edit #10, but I changed it because I wanted one for myself. That would be just for me, that nobody could boot, nobody be charging another ten dollars. It'd be sweet if they booted it and they cut my price or something, but they go for the same. It was just a 'mack' move, somebody just tried to get me. Every time you turn around somebody's chopping up an edit, puts the song out, man, don't buy those, buy them only if they mean something to you. Don't waste your time or your energy on them if it's just a retake of what happened and how it worked. You see that a lot in this overwhelmed technical field of dance music. Everybody's quick to bite the next guy that does something original and turn it around and say they did it first. That's the scariest thing about all this technology, it's becoming more increasingly difficult to become and remain original. Anyone can come and bite your shit and have it plugged up and hooked up and selling it as their own. That's the problem and on top of it you got downloads. The copy of a copy of a copy. Yo, pay for the downloads. Pay for the records, more importantly. Get the records, invest in this. If you're doing this, invest in this, it's an investment. If you're not willing to make the investment, don't fuck with it. There's plenty of other ways to make money in music, we have no shortage of that. But if it's something that means something to you, and you're interested in able to do this independently, and keep the creativity that comes along with that, watch that shit. Fine, if that's the way the world is going, I know that, but you got to have a balance to make sense of that shit. Anymore questions from you? 'Cause I got one more edit.

RBMA

Let's hear it.

Theo

Parrish

All right, this is the last one. Any other questions about production or anything like that from anyone out there? If there are no more questions, I play the last one and pack up my shit and I'll take it easy. That's it? OK, thank you very much for listening to me rave for a minute.

RBMA

Thank you very much for being here.

Theo

Parrish

Thank you very much.

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