Interview: Joey Negro
This past Saturday night, Joey Negro took to the decks at Fox Hollow and gave Houston a night full of soul, disco, funk, and groove. In exchange, we put our fists in the air, shook our hips, danced our hearts out and left all our sweat on the dance floor. Houston has been looking forward to this show for months, and it showed. The floor was packed thick and everyone was smiling. I am thankful to all the promoters involved for helping bring Joey Negro to Houston. If you missed it, or if you were there, take a peek at what developed from my sit down with Joey Negro at Royal Oak Sunday afternoon.
Lauren Ignited: There was a lot of buzz around your show from the second it was posted. There was even a website dedicated to it, which is the first time I’ve ever seen done. Houston really came out in numbers to see you, but Houston isn’t really built up as an Electronic Music city or what I would call a “House” city; despite a long list of talented Houston DJs and the number of DJs that come through Houston each year. What do you think it takes for a city to become a “House” city?
Joey Negro: I think a lot of it comes down to the promoters, to the people pushing that sound. I think it doesn’t matter how good the DJ is, if he comes to a city and there’s no audience there for what he does, then its gonna be a pretty crap party. I think respect to Jonathan and Esteban who have something here and promoted the party well. As a traveling DJ, you hear a lot of crap excuses about why the place is not busy. It’s about creating excitement about an event and it’s a part that you need to attend. There are only going to be certain people that have heard of you. It’s like I DJ’d in the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Grand Prix there is an event, they think they need to be there. They are interested in saying, I went to the Grand Prix. You have to be realistic. They’re not all there to hear Blaze and DJs spin records. They’re there to have a good time and there are a lot of other criteria going into it.
LI: Do you think you alter your sets based on those type of crowds?
JN: I try to play for the people that come to see me. That’s who I’m playing for. I might try to slip in the odd record which I’d think even someone who’s not into House might know. But, I’m not going to play Rhianna or anything like that. But, I will try to be a quite broad in my appeal at some point in my set, try to make it exciting, try to make it fast moving. The people I try to play to are the people that came to see me. They’re my fans, I don’t want them to walk away being disappointed. So, hopefully I’ve pleased them. But sometimes it’s a bit difficult if you’ve got maybe 3 of them and 500 people who aren’t there to see you. You try to straddle those two audiences. There’s not that much common ground now a days. Commercial Dance and House have never been further apart. You might have the odd record like Dennis Ferrer’s Hey Hey that comes out that can please both crowds, but there’s not enough of those to play for three hours. So, it can be tricky. But you know, you’ve just got to do your best for the night and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
LI: The Grammy’s this year had Deadmaou5, Skrillex and Guetta, among others. I think it’s great that they are moving into that and feeling out the Electronic scene. But, I don’t know that their choices would be the same as the people that we would select to be nominees. How do you see the transition of House into the Grammy’s? Do you see it happening? Do you want it to happen?
JN: I always want people to be successful. But, I think now, I can’t really see the sort of music I really like reaching that mass market. I think we live in a different age. It’s very, very digital. It’s about videos, it’s about marketing. Deadmaou5 and those guys have been very good at that. Good luck to them, I’ve got no problem with it. I think it’s electronic dance music but apart from that, I don’t think they have that much in common with the music I like or the music I play. A lot of that music is coming from a rock perspective harmonically. It’s not soulful music. When I was playing in Vegas and JUSTICE were playing outside my hotel room. And to me, it was electronic rock. And I haven’t got a problem with that. And electronic is one thing, but I suppose I come from a background of jazz, soul, funk, disco. And I actually like some rock music; I’m a broad minded person musically. I like a little bit of a lot of different genre’s. I don’t like many country songs, but I like a few. I suppose I feel the same about Deadmaou5, Swedish House Mafia, really as a genre it’s not my thing. So, I don’t know how relevant that is, to me. It’s music that gets played in clubs, and it’s electronic, but apart from that, I don’t see it as being that similar to what I’m about.
LI: Yeah, and I think that’s a similar stance to the folks that I talked to took. It was great that there was a nod to the Electronic Music culture, but it wasn’t necessarily the folks we would have chosen to represent us.
LI: We know that Chicago is the birth place of House, but also that you are the first DJ to have inserted Disco into House music. So, how do these two things work hand-in-hand?
JN: House music’s roots are in Disco, early drum machines, lots of disco records and when they started making music themselves they just had a drum machine and an early synthesizer. And they were doing it their own way. A lot of those early House records like “Jack Your Body” with disco baseline, disco samples, it was kinda primitive, raw version of disco. I was 16 in the 80s. The music that I initially fell in love with was Glam Rock and then Disco. I liked the Heatwave, the Jackson’s, chart disco and a bit of the obscure disco that didn’t make the charts. But then when I started making music, that’s the music that inspired me. I think the guys that grew up on House music, they war inspired by House, they are making House music that sounds like early House. It’s a constant process of people hearing one thing when they are in their formative musical years and then doing their own twist on that when they start making their own music. I always wanted to sound like Earth, Wind and Fire when I was first making music, but I knew it was impossible because I didn’t have a horn section or a strings section, but now I’m making music with The Sunburst Band and I’m kinda making the Earth, Wind and Fire records I wanted to make. I don’t know how relevant that is. I believe in making the music you love making, if you can do it. And also, trying to be true to what you love. I’m creating a disco sound with The Sunburst Band, I don’t hear much people doing that. I’ve got someone recording live strings for me while I’m away and it’s expensive. But, some people spend their money on expensive holiday, or a sports car, and that’s how I like to indulge myself.
LI: It’s interesting that a person with your credits and talent can walk around a bar like this and go a little bit unnoticed. But, I think of that as a positive because you can have your career and have your anonymity as well. You’ve got the best of both worlds.
JN: Yeah, if George Clooney walked in here, we would know he was here. But I don’t know that if a very successful DJ walked in if we would know it. Personally, I wouldn’t want that. We don’t make as much money, well, maybe some people do, but we’re lucky in lots of ways. If you can’t walk to your local supermarket without sunglasses or a scarf around your head, it must be a quite strange existence.
LI: There was a moment around 1:30ish that it went to a new level, I felt like the sound opened up and the energy in the crowd was contagious. Was it something that changed within you?
JN: Yeah, I wonder what that was? [laughs] For the first 45 minutes, I was wondering, what am I going to play tonight? Cause I didn’t have a preconceived idea of what I was going to play. But, I think around that time, I went to a little bit more energetic music. But, I think a problem you have as a DJ is if you take it new energy level, you’ve got to stay at that energy level. And you go, I don’t want to play big room tracks the whole night, I want to play them some of them that night. It came down an energy level, but I went back to the more soulful, but the energy level stayed at the high octane tracks. I suppose, as a DJ you can’t fire on all cylinders. I know when I start off I sometimes start off with a little bit lower energy so that I’ve got some where to go. I like to go up and down though, I don’t want to stay in 5th gear all night it stops feeling like 5th gear. It gets a bit boring. But there was a time when the energy level seemed to go up. Sometimes it’s just the right wavelength of the crowd and it just works well and other times it doesn’t. It’s funny the randomness of it.
LI: You have incredible work ethic. With your long list of tracks you’ve produced, remixed or mixed; consulting work you’ve done and cities you’ve toured, what values do you think have driven your work ethic to help you reach the level of success that you have?
JN: I don’t know. Hey, I don’t consider myself super successful. I consider myself always at the cusp of just trying to keep myself in there. I don’t rest on my laurels in that sort of sense. And I guess I’m just driven by wanting to make new music, of having ideas and wanting to get them out there. Some of those ideas might be remixing a disco record, completely new songs, collaborations. I’ve normally got at any given time about 30 songs in various stages of completion. Like at the moment, with Sunburst Band album, I’ve got like 20 tracks which are kind of like almost finished or finished. And then maybe I’ve got a couple other things I’ve recorded vocals for but I don’t know what I’m going to do with the top line. I might start the back end track, if I’m happy with the back end but the singer on it doesn’t work, then I’ll try the top line and then I’ll think I’m not really happy with the drums. I try not to finish things just for the sake of finishing it. And I think, it’s ok, but it could be better. And sometimes, I’m wrong, I’m just going in circles. Other times I do make some really good improvements in the last 3% of finishing it, I get it and I’ve got a really good track. I’m a real procrastinator. But also I like to think I get the best out of it that I can. It was a long convoluted road but I think what we got to was the best we could get to without starting again. That’s what drives me. My mum is actually a writer and she is very similar to me in some ways. She is constantly always finishing a book while another one is starting. And in lots of ways I can see a mirror of her in myself. I’m constantly in this point where I’ve got one almost finished, but more than one started, well more than one. If i had 3 or 4 weeks I could finish everything but I feel like I never have that. There’s always something new starting. The fun bit is to finish it, sometimes the bit in-between can be painful and a bit disappointing. There’s nothing more disappointing then when you’ve finished it, you think it’s cool, you play it out and it doesn’t really work really well and you need to rethink it. But, I think it’s good to do that and get it as good as you can.
LI: For people that focus on music for their careers, they tend to have that focus early on in their lives. What were you doing at 5 years old, in terms of music?
JN: When I was 5? Let me have a think. I always loved music. I suppose as a boy, I always loved Glam Rock, but I didn’t really feel like I was encouraged by my parents on a musical level. I will definitely do that with my children. I was sort of in bands when I was 14; I had a guitar and I would sing. I remember thinking back then that it was just fun, I didn’t think I’d make a living out of it. Making a living out of it didn’t seem like a possible dream.
Houston’s first visit from Joey Negro was a successful one. Meeting Joey (or Dave Lee) was really wonderful. He is a comical, easy-going, friendly chap and I’m thankful to have been able to spend some time with him while he was here in Houston. Shows like this always serve as a bit of a House Head reunion. I saw many friendly faces on the dance floor and grooved down with new friends too. The night was electric to say the least, but you don’t have to take my word from it. Here are a few things fans had to say:
“Party of the year! And I party a lot, so that’s a bold statement.” – Lila
“It was amazing. All my friends were there and everyone I saw was having a bad ass time.” – Katie
“Joey vindicated a lot of feelings I have for what it is to be a DJ. About owning yourself and changing. As a DJ, my ear is constantly changing. Things I played in 2005, I can’t play anymore. When people ask me what I play, I say good music. The nature of people is that their ear is always changing. By the nature of listening to a track, you are already changing.” – James Reed on his conversation with Joey
And during a chat with promoter, Jonathan Sewell, we caught his perspective as well.
LI: We know that bringing Joey to Houston has been 10 years in the making. Did he live up to your expectations?
JS: Oh yes, in fact he exceeded them in every way. Dave is a true professional and someone who’s pure love for music shines through in everything he does. There’s not many DJs who have as much experience and tenacity when it comes to working a room. On a personal level, perhaps my biggest fear was that we wouldn’t get along for whatever reason…of course I was proved entirely wrong and the time Esteban and I spent with him was very special indeed.
LI: If you could describe the show in three words, which would you chose?
JS: HEART-BURSTING, AMAZING, PERFECTION
LI: Tell us more about your philosophy for promotion.
JS: When Esteban and I came up with the idea, we knew that we had our work cut out and needed to promote the show very carefully. Events like this don’t happen overnight. This one took well over a year of networking, negotiation and planning. Joey Negro is well known amoung the ‘House heads’ and DJ community, but not a household name in the U.S. like in the UK and Europe. We needed to do a bit of education with folks, hence why I created the apriltwenty8.com website. Also, although everyone involved has very strong promoting credentials, we didn’t have a single promotional brand to stand behind. We needed to create something tangible, so people knew that this was a professional operation. A lot of hard work, thought and love went into it…the result was more than worth it and extremely satisfying for everyone.
LI: What are some of the reactions you heard to Joey’s show?
JS: The comments on Facebook have been overwhelming. Everything from “best show ever in Houston” to “I’ve been chasing this party since 1991.” That’s what drives me to do this and always has done. When it’s 3am, the lights are on in the club and the dance floor is still packed with everyone’s arms raised, I know that I’ve done my job. Those nights are very rare and very special.
LI: What’s next? Lauren Ignited readers are eagerly awaiting for another amazing event like Joey Negro!
JS: Gosh, Dave asked me the same question on the way to the airport!! Who knows…this one will be very hard to beat, but it has definitely inspired me in many ways. I have a very busy career outside of music, but I’m sure Esteban and I shall come up with something special soon. There’s a lot of good stuff going on in Houston right now, so I find that very exciting. Watch this space I guess.