GH: “If you make the most amazing track ever and no one hears it, did it even happen?”
It’s rare that you come across a former bodybuilder turned DJ/producer, but then GH is far from your average musician. A native of Detroit, he now lives in Pittsburgh, a city that’s had a pronounced effect on his musical conscience over the years. The vibrancy of the city is reflected in GH’s music too, as is evident on his brilliant debut outing, Audio Democracy. The album is a stunning concoction of ranges and sounds, with everything from classic to tech to deep to progressive house all getting an airing. Much like the title suggests, it truly is an Audio Democracy. Here, we catch up with the main man himself recently to find out more…
I want to start by asking about your debut LP. Can you tell us a bit about it?
The LP is my first full artist album to date. I have several releases across a multitude of labels, but I really wanted to hunker down and direct full attention to project that would be a snapshot of where I am NOW as an artist. I wrote the album sequentially, the entire time focusing on the final composition as a whole, as the intended final project was a DJ mix. I wanted to bridge the gap between the producer side of GH and the DJ side of GH, and thought that this format was best suited to accomplish it. That was the main focus, with a side focus on exploring all the various types of sound that I enjoy producing, while still framing it inside of my target sound.
Where do you influences come from? Was electronic music prominent when you were growing up in Pennsylvania?
So I am actually a transplant to PA, moving here from just south of Detroit, MI in 1998. It’s funny though, as while I grew up I Michigan, I feel like I really grew up here in Pittsburgh. This town was once undersold on its impact and place within the electronic music space, but I truly feel that those days are either over, or are on the way out. Our little city has an extraordinary amount of talent across many disciplines in the electronic music market. I would say the only drawback is that our relatively small population here in Pittsburgh makes it a challenge to have the market size to push electronic music to its fullest extent, but there is an incredible talent pool in this town. I have watched venues like Hot Mass, an afterhours club in the heart of town, take real underground music, and create a place like the city has never seen, bringing international talents in at an astounding pace, constantly growing while maintaining the type of intimacy that really makes a lasting impression.
What else do you listen to in your spare time?
I truly enjoy all forms of music, but I really gravitate towards downtempo type sounds as of late. Lots of chill out and dub techno type music has been hitting my media player for some time now, and has been recently influencing my productions as well.
So tell me about your label, Stem & Leaf. What’s the thinking behind it?
Stem & Leaf is the label that myself and Michael Hanlon started back right at the beginning of 2013. As co-owners, our vision has been to utilize the label as an outlet for us to cultivate a distinct and unique catalog of releases with focus on the deeper side of electronic music. An ongoing theme of the label has been to seamlessly blend mechanical and organic elements together. The shear name “Stem & Leaf” has a place both in organics and statistical mathematics. This is no coincidence, as the type of music we strive to release will ideally have the machine like accuracy meshed with the soul and feeling that only happens with the influence of soul and organics. That to us is the only way for music that essentially comes from computers and hardware manages to emote feelings.
Apart from the content goal previously mentioned, we look at the label as an opportunity to connect our sound around the world. Via this platform, we have been able to branch out and meet people from places we can’t travel, and have been able to connect with artists that operate on the same frequency as the sound we are looking to capture as a record label.
And what’s the idea behind the name, Audio Democracy?
The name actually hit me midway through the writing process on the album. I was searching for the right sound for the first real vocal centric track, and I came across an a cappella from an artist named Mhyst out of the UK. We communicated and ultimately decided to work together on “Golden Ratio”, the 5th song on the album. It was about that time that I took a step back and started to realize that I was knee deep into a project that simply wasn’t possible in the not so distant past. My intentions the entire time were to handle all aspects of the album, from writing the music, through engineering and mastering, artwork, promotional material, the whole lot. Looking at my history in music, and the current state, and perhaps the future to come, it has become clear to me that music, for better or worse, has become democratized. The days of needing a big name, company or large sums of money behind you to put out an album are over. That doesn’t mean that you will succeed, or that the content will resonate with people, but the fact that it’s possible at all means something amazing has happened. Being halfway through the album when I realized this theme, recognizing it actually influenced how I went about the remainder of the writing process, and I specifically tried to cultivate ideas, sounds and themes only possible because of today’s climate, a true ‘Audio Democracy’.
And the artwork is very distinctive, too. Do you think artwork is often overlooked in this day and age?
I do. It’s definitely one of those things that can be shuffled to the side, or become an afterthought. What’s hot in album art is a moving target, as themes modulate over time, and quickly it seems.
In this instance, the artwork was very much a product of several decisions. That photograph itself is my favorite color pallet. I find that time of day captivating, especially in the summer, as it’s like a free spectacle of art from mother nature, so much like everything else on this project, it has a personal reason for being what it is. Branding and split second recognition is so important in the “now, now, now” world we live in. I wanted the GH logo and album title prominently displayed upfront, and a simple enough theme for it to be fairly timeless.
What modern DJs and producers do you look up to? Who or what influnces your sound the most?
My roots to electronic music started in the progressive house era of the early 2000s, so you will hear sounds that are definitely influenced by the likes of Digweed, Hernan Cattaneo, Nick Warren, Sasha and others from that era. As of late I have really been into artists like Kevin Yost, Helly Larson and Nadja Lind. I have been gradually getting into more down tempo, deep and dub techno type sounds, and some of these have been frequent flyers in my playlists recently, which has an effect on my production output.
Is there anyone you aspire to be like in that regard?
I have never really aspired to be anyone other than the best me I can be if that makes sense. Seeing the success of so many artists, the only thing that their back stories seem to share is a genuine “doing what I love” mentality. I honestly feel that the only what anyone ever gets to a level of greatness is by first having real passion in the first place.
That being said, one artist(s) I have been following and watch progress is Doomwork. I love their sound, love their remixes and they seem to be killing the game doing only what they want to do. If there is a target at all, it would be that.
Cool. What’s your ultimate ambition with the LP and with the label?
My hopes for the LP are that throughout the process of setting out to create this album, that the final results and reception will be as positive as the experience I had making it. I learned tremendous amounts of things and feel like I grew greatly from the beginning through to the finish of the project. I wanted to put out an intriguing set of songs that would not only represent the different genres and areas of sound that I explore, but also show some of my depth as a producer.
As for the label, our goal is just to keep pushing our comfort zone, keep discovering new talented artist and make the Stem & Leaf name synonymous with forward thinking, intelligent music in the deep end of electronic music.
Can you tell me a bit about how the tracks were constructed? What did you use?
The entire album was a completely new approach for me production wise. The tracks were written one at a time to completion, but with a full length DJ mix in mind for the final product. So basically after completion of “Entropy” I loaded the last 1-2 minutes of it into a blank project, and begin to write track 2 (Fractals) around it. This continued all the way through the end of the album, with the only other goals to make sure that there was variety across each track, but for each tune to flow nicely with its neighboring track.
As for the tools utilised, I am on the short list of producers who use Sony Acid as my main DAW. I typically write all my main percussion using an MPC Studio Slimline drum machine, but also utilized the Korg Volca Beats on several tracks for an analogue thickness on the drums otherwise difficult to replicate. Lots of the lighter percussive elements such as shakers, rims, table and wood blocks are love recorded from real instruments in my studio, then rearranged during sequencing if needed. I also used the Roland Handsonic 10 extensively to record live conga/bongos on some of the more organic tunes such as the title track ‘Audio Democracy’
There were some field recording utilised on the final track, ‘Species with Amnesia” which also features a few minutes of spoken word from Graham Hancock, an investigative author who studies lost civilisations. I felt this section of audio lent itself well to the theme of the album as a whole, and was a great sample to use for the closing track.
What track was the most challenging to put together then?
Honestly, this album really came together without incident. The project as a whole was a challenge, as while I have several releases across many labels, I had never done a full length album. If I had to choose one track though, I would say ‘Persistence’, solely because I was after a big, open sounding track that had nostalgic, progressive house feel. Not the EDM fueled progressive house of today, but the progressive that first grabbed me back in the early 2000’s. Creating that vibe isn’t all that difficult, but the challenge was that I wanted to capture those attributes while maintaining a sound that aligns with the tastes of today as well. I was very happy with the result overall, but we will have to see if the world feels the same way or not.
And how are you finding running a label in general? What’s been the biggest surprise in that regard?
My label partner and I have a tiger by the tale so to speak. Running a label while also pushing your own artistic endeavors can make for a pretty challenging schedule, but I do find that it’s best to remain challenged. Nothing great comes from a place of comfort, and I can say without a doubt that we have our hands full. Much like this album, which I spearheaded independently, we run the label with virtually no outside assistance. Perhaps the most challenging thing is timing and scheduling around deadlines, relying on other artists to adhere to schedules. Creative types aren’t typically known for their punctuality and business acumen, so managing to maintain the professionalism required to run a successful label, while showing the flexibility to work around others schedules is probably the most tricky aspect at this current moment.
What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing up and coming DJs and producers?
Standing out. Like the album name suggests, we are living in an Audio Democracy. Barriers to enter the music world are fairly easy to scale these days, so there are so many more folks doing it that its easy to get lost in the shuffle. The characteristics I see continually from those who manage to stand out is tenacity, determination and acting “as if”. You may not be the next big thing, but if you ever want to be, at some point you are going to have to “act as if” you are. I am not talking about being arrogant and having 30k fake soundcloud listens, I mean getting your brand right, showing up, meeting deadlines, respecting your peers, and learning how to handle as many aspects of your business as possible. It is just not enough to be a DJ anymore, or even a producer. You have to figure out how to be a swiss army knife, or renaissance type, with some knowledge of several essential aspects to your success. Of course, your main focus needs to be on making the best music you can possibly make. Hey, if you make the most amazing track ever and no one hears it, did it even happen?
Are you full-time in music then? Or what else takes up a lot of your time?
I am a bit of an avid exercise type. I used to be a competitive bodybuilder, and habits, good or bad, or hard to break. I am also co-owner of another company that is heavily engineering based, focusing on the design and manufacture of safety and fall protection equipment. Parallel to the growth and efforts in my music career, I have always been passionate about safety and ergonomics in the work place, and leverage my design education in that field to help people get more done while at work, and make sure them come home safely when they are done.
Set to arrive April 20th via Stem & Leaf you can check out the teaser video for Audio Democracy below.