The legendary Rick Wade hardly needs any introduction. A stalwart of the Detroit House scene for over 20 years, he pioneered the sound that has become synonymous with Deep and Jazzy house. Here he talks to Jon Reynolds about his new album, Neverending Reflections, his secret love for animation and how he sets about creating his unique sound…
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LinksPre-sale link to the 12"
So tell us about how the album came about, Rick, and the process
behind the tracks. Because I know you're into your animation and
manga world, and they all sound very dimensional – like different
chapters of a book or scenes of a movie.
Well, the whole process started last April when I was asked to do a mix CD to go with an art book project by creative artist Abdul Haqq, who did the artwork for my album. Haqq hooked up with the Story Riders crew in Japan and director Shinichiro Watanabe and screen writer Dai Sato and the project really started rapidly developing from there.
Watanabe is the director of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo and a number of other animations. Sato, too, wrote the original screenplay for classic animations such as - Ghost In The Shell, Stand Alone Complex and Kokyo Shihen Eureka Sebun. The book was a collection of stand-alone pictures and included one that Haqq had done of me and the mix CD was also included inside Haqq’s book.
Normally that would be the end of the project as far as my involvement was concerned.
Using the stand-alone pictures in Haqq’s book, Watanabe and Sato created a story outline, basing the central figure of the story on me - the picture that Haqq had done of me in the book. They then tied all the characters in the book together and called it Requiem For A Machine Soul. It was straight-up pure anime – and once I had seen what they had created, it inspired me to produce more music to fit with their story. Watanabe came up with most of the track titles – and that then became my new album.
I see you’ve delved into vocals on the album…
Yeah, yeah… I've always felt that a lot of the tracks I've done over the years were incomplete – because I felt they really needed a vocalist. Still, I released the tracks anyway. But now that I've gotten into working with actual vocals, it's given me more ideas for creating music.
So do you have a favourite tracks on the new album?
Yeah, one of my favourites is Reflections Of A Space Mack? I especially love the string work on that one and also the vocal mix which has vocals from a local R&B artist in Detroit called Kem Owens.
It's clear that every track on the album has a story behind it. But what about the tracks you included which you were working on prior to Haqq's art project? How do they fit in?
I actually started working on the track, Subconscious Cat, back in 2006 - almost six years ago. But it still fits in well with the rest of the album because it has the same 'animation' feel about it. At that time, I was trying to work on my own animation called Transporters T.R.U. 1 – and this was the track I wrote to fit with the images from my animations.
Where did this love of animation come from? Is it something you studied at college?
No, it's just a naturally creative thing within myself. I went to college at the University of Michigan and graduated with a degree in Communication. The course was specifically geared around Telecommunications for directing TV shows, editing videos and stuff like that. But that was back in 1991 when I came out of college – so my old degree is a bit out-dated now and barely helps me at all with anything today. So everything I am doing now with regards animation is self-taught. But I love all aspects of it – from modeling and texturing the characters to doing the sound effects and music, and then editing it all together. I have always been a traditional artist. I like doing pencil drawings and that sort of thing. Before I started doing music, I wanted to be a comic book artist and work for Marvel Comics creating the next Spiderman or something like that! But my parents were like: 'But you gotta go to college. There's a reason they call them "starving artists"!' And so I went to college. I've always had an interest in music as well – although, before college, I was just a music collector, buying records and listening to mix shows. But then when I got to college, I started DJing, got my first gigs at local clubs and the music just took over and took off. I began making Hip Hop tracks for local rappers and that was the start of it all.
How were you working on your music back then? Was it all through hardware equipment?
Yeah, I had different friends who had little bits of studio. Some of these rapper guys would actually pay for straight-up studio time, and they would bring me with them to come up with ideas for beats to match their lyrics. We would get in the studio and I would bring in some old school Marvin Gaye records to sample and I would just tell the engineer what I wanted because I didn't know how to work any of the gear back then. But he would record the tracks according to my exact specifications. It wasn't until I got out of college that I actually started making house music tracks myself. I wasn't originally from Detroit. I had moved there to go to college – but I fell in love with the place and stayed in the area after I had graduated. And it was around this time that I hooked up with music producers like Mike Huckaby, Claude Young, Dan Bell and a bunch of other cool cats all into the deeper sort of tones and chords. I bought Claude Young's old data tape and Huckaby's old R8 drum machine with the 808 and 909 cards - and I just pieced together this little studio. Dan Bell actually helped me hook it all together because I didn't really know how to do anything. He had to tell me: 'No, this is "Midi In" and this is "Midi out"!' Then I started making Ghetto Tech tracks because that's what I was into in Detroit back then – and that's when I started being known as 'Big Daddy Rick' - it was a Ghetto Tech thing. I can't even remember who first called me that … but the name just kinda stuck. I know there will be a lot of people out there who don't know I used to make Ghetto Tech and Bass records. They only know me for House music. But, over the years, I've been floating through two worlds.
So which do you prefer – Ghetto Tech or House Music?
You know, I love them both - but if I had to pick a favourite, it would have to be House Music…because I grew up on Disco, I grew up on House. I can still remember, as a kid, enjoying late night Friday nights with my Dad watching shows on TV like Quincy or Starsky & Hutch…and loving the music that was playing during a lot of those car chase scenes. And the truth is, other than Cosmic Cars and Plant Rock, I had never even heard of Ghetto Tech until I moved to the Detroit area. But when I was hearing those tracks for the first time, mashed up with Hip Hop, I kind of fell in love with them. Still House music is where my roots are at, you know: House, Disco, traditional Soul, Funk. In my downtime, you won't find me listening to Ghetto Tech. I go on Youtube and start digging for classic stuff like the KPM library records and mine out any gems I can dig up from the old Soul or Disco realm. When I go to a record store, it's the same thing: I gravitate to the Disco and Funk section.
So who are your favourite Disco, Soul or Funk artists?
Now that's always a tough question because it depends what mood I am in. But I really like the Australian producer, Sven Libaek and his album Solar Flares especially springs to mind. Also a track called The Bridge Of Love by a group called Lost Weekend. Yeah, it's super-sweet, man! It's a slower ballad tempo but it's the way he sings that melody! I really like the 1973-76 period of time in New York and Chicago which gave us Soul and really good dancing music.
You seem to use the same sort of music elements in quite a lot of your own tracks. I'm especially thinking of your use of violins…
Where others might like to put in a high hat or some sort of shuffle snare, I like to add that extra little dynamic with these high pitch string or harp noises which remind me of the old style tracks I love so much. Those high pitch sounds just fit so well with the overall spirit of my tracks. They may not be necessary but I think they still add a much needed sweetener which compliments everything else. I create the string sounds I use in a lot of my tracks on my Korg T3, which is an old-school keyboard that first appeared back in 1990 when I was still in college. It's the one piece of equipment/software I couldn't live without.
It's got a lot of weird synth type sounds - but there's also a lot of traditional instruments like organs and strings. And I gotta have my string sounds! I get my trademark sound by mixing a combination of violin patches with an abstract, spacey-sounding harp patch called 'Cosmic' from the T3.
What programme do you use as your main sequencer?
Yes, I use a program called Magix, which I've been using since 2004. I paid just 32 bucks for it at a local electronics store! It's an excellent sequencing programme and that's what I use it for - but in my opinion the default sounds that come in it are only really good for Dubstep or Dutch House. So, unless you have your own sounds as I do, I wouldn't recommend anyone getting it to make Deep House or House with.
And are your beats all made through your Rowland R8?
Well, it's a combination of beats from the R8 and stuff that I find online where you can download free House Music drum loops. I found most on a website called Prime Sounds. I don't know if it's even still around anymore - but they had lots of free stuff. I would spend hours on that site just going through and downloading the different samples I thought sounded cool. Other times, I'll go online and find a Deep House drum kit for only 20 bucks. Most of the time, out of 100 drum loops, only five of will be useable. But I'll take those five, delete the rest and start picking out the sounds – a snare here and a high hat there. But I owe credit to Mike Huckaby for most of the deep sounds I've become known for using recently. He has been making these Deep House music CD tools for people – and every time he creates a cool chord sound, he asks me to check it out and tell him exactly what I think about each one. And, if I like it, you know, I'll just make a track out of it. I just pitch it up or down, turn the dial and play the sound where I think it should be played at.
Your music really speaks for itself. And, certainly in London, your sound has been going strong for a long time now. Did you ever study music production or do you play any instruments?
Thank you. It's all self-taught. I don't know how to read notes or play piano or anything like that. But I know enough when I hit the keys to know which keys sound appropriate together. I can sit down and play by ear - but I've never had orchestra or band class or anything like that. My kids, on the other hand, know all about orchestra and reading music. My oldest boy Ricky, who turns 13 this month (January), plays the viola in the school orchestra and my other so Xavier, 11, plays the cello. But I also get them playing music in my lab – and they use the same music programme that I use to put down tracks. The only thing is that most of their stuff is either Hip Hop-orientated or some sort of a Dubstep sound. You know, I don't know where they get their Dubstep thing from!
You've treated us to a mixture of fine House and Angry Disco for a number of years now. Where do you see yourself in the forthcoming years?
I'll continue to create House and Angry Disco tracks until I can't create any more. It's in my blood! But I do also want to expand and get into creating more cinematic style music for soundtracks and maybe get back into producing Hip Hop beats again too. I'm really into the J Dilla, Madlib and Fat Jon style of tracks.
And, lastly, who would you pick out as names to watch for the future?
I know that Wbeeza has some real heat over there in the UK and I'm really digging a lot of Tom Trago's stuff too.
It’s a pleasure catching up with you, Rick!
No the pleasure is all mine.
• Neverending Reflections by Rick Wade (Harmonie Park) is out now on limited edition CD and soon will be availible on limited 12". So watch out, as they wilL move fast!
We at Hot Plastic highly recommend buying it.