DJ Spen ‘Soulful Storm’ Album Walk Through
Upholding a successful career in the dance music scene for almost 40 years is no mean feat! And Baltimore house music legend, DJ Spen, continues to shine, delivering some of the best soulful music around with an unfaltering flow of productions and remixes on his Quantize and Unquantize labels. Six years after his last album ’Transitions’ was released, DJ Spen is back with a huge collaborative album project, ‘Soulful Storm’, featuring some of the best names in the biz.
We asked Spen to walk us through some of the tracks on the album and how they came about…
1. Soulful Storm
This was one of the last songs we recorded for the album. I wanted an actual song that described the body of work, or at least something that kind of pulled together the theme for the album. The theme was about a storm of soulful music coming together. The foundation for the track came from Jovonn, lead vocals were done by Tasha LaRae (Arrested Development) and I am even doing a little spoken word piece myself. Then Gary Hudgins (formerly of the P-Funk band) added in some keyboards and it all just came together really beautifully.
2. The End Of It All
This is the first time I have ever worked with Monique Bingham and Roland Clark. Monique created these really deep vocals during the middle of the pandemic. At first it was just the hook. From those vocals, Will “Reelsoul” Rodriguez and myself developed a track that we felt really fit the vocals. We were really happy with how it came together. With everything going on in the world, it was a soul stirring song really. After I sat with it for a little bit, I felt some Roland Clark spoken word vocals might be a good fit. The final result blew us away, the sound was phenomenal and the song really spoke to a lot of people in a unique way.
3. Nobody But You
A track that has been a long time in the making. I was trying to figure out the perfect time to release it and felt the album would be a really good fit. Working with the legendary Fonda Rae was a great experience as I have always loved her vocal style and have been a fan for years. Her delivery is so sassy and it was perfect for the song, which translated really well for the album. I worked with Michele Chiavarini to come up with a track that was a little more funk-based and not your ordinary dance track. This definitely has a “feel good” factor.
4. Party People
This one came together quite easily after MicFreak and I sent Crystal Waters a few different tracks for consideration. She picked one and wrote ‘Party People’ to it and we were just blown away! It’s a big song and given the song title and subject matter, we were thinking of holding it and waiting to release it after the pandemic. Obviously, the pandemic lasted a lot longer than we expected, so I am glad we released it when we did. In different times, I think it would have easily been a dance floor anthem. We got lots of love from DJ’s and music lovers on this one. It’s a happy song – one of those where you really can’t help but sing along!
5. I Got The Love
David Morales came up with the original idea for the track for ‘I Got The Love’. I was playing with the track for a little while and loved the sound of it, so I sent it to Tasha LaRae who co-wrote the song. I really thought that Carla Prather’s deep soul and gospel influenced vocals would be a perfect fit.
6. Mr. Melody
Vocalist Sheila Ford and I had worked on other Natalie Cole covers together. We did ‘La Costa’ a few years ago and at that time decided we should try her feel-good classic, ‘Mr. Melody’, at some point, which we knew would not be easy given the orchestration. With the help of Gary Hudgins, we came up with the track using several live musicians and it was perfect for Sheila to tackle the song. With all the instrumentation, this was really the most difficult song on the album to finalise, but the end result was so worth it.
7. You Are My Friend
I worked on this song for a very long time. I actually started it in the late 80s/early 90s when I was working at Basement Boys. I had been hearing the track in my head for several years and even tried recording it a few times. I was always looking for the perfect vocalist to bring my idea to life, until it just never came out the way I envisaged it. What I was hearing in my head was not translating during my attempts to record the song. I met Michelle John through Neil Pierce in London and sent the song to her with a rough demo of me singing the lyrics. When I shared the idea with Michelle it was an instant connection. She literally went into the studio and smashed that song. Michelle just brought it to life and it sounded just as I imagined.
8. Keep Your Head To The Sky
This Earth Wind & Fire classic is one of my favourite songs and I’ve always wanted to do a cover of it. A couple years back I heard Cornell CC Carter singing in Croatia at the Bol Soul festival and immediately knew he was the right vocalist for the job. Michele Chiavarini handled the instruments on the track and we sent it to Cornell during the pandemic and the vocals he sent back were just amazing! It’s truly one of my favourites on the album and the single release was received really well too.
9. Sumthin Sumthin
Gary Hudgins played me cover that he and Brandon Yancey had done of Maxwell’s song. It was a fairly downtempo version but I thought it would be a perfect candidate for the album. We re-recorded it at a faster tempo and had Brandon re-sing it, which he did perfectly. I believe this was actually Brandon’s first dance music record. His voice is really smooth and I am sure we will be hearing a lot from Brandon in the future. This project is special to me, as everyone who worked on it is from Baltimore. Definitely a hometown win on this one!
10. Wish I Didn’t Miss You Anymore
The legendary producer John Morales (M+M) and I were on the road one day talking and we thought doing a cover of this Angie Stone classic would be really special. We got Tasha LaRae to do the vocals and our some of our go-to Quantize live musicians to handle the track. The rest was history. This song really motivated me to start pulling together the entire album project.
11. Perfect Timing
I wanted to have Brandon Yancey on another song and I had the track already from DJ Chujo. I sent the track to Brandon and he came up with the song. With the afro house influences, it added something a little different to the album and I thought it would fit nicely. It was one of the last records to be completed and I am really happy with how it turned out.
12. Going Home (To See My Savior)
Something a little Bluesy here, which was a lot of fun to work on. It just came to my mind one morning and I woke up and started recording. It didn’t take very long to complete. I had Soulfuledge working with me on the track. Once we had that done, the vocal parts were fun to create and we just added the parts until it had the Blues vibe I was looking for. I have actually been surprised by how many people like this song.