For our 69th episode of the podcast we welcome one of Chicago’s finest Andrew Emil – he provides our guest mix and sits down for an in depth look at his music and studio.
Great to have you on-site for a mix and a chat, we have been fans for a while and you just keep taking things to new levels. Your latest compilation of reworks is something else, so many classics I don’t know where to begin.
Andrew: Thanks so much for having me, I really appreciate the kind words about the work and the support! It means a lot that the music is connecting to you with an enduring resonance.
How did this come about?
Andrew: I have known Shanon Syas aka DJ SKIP for many years through the midwest rave scene of the 90s—Shannon used to run a crew/promotion company/DJ collective called PUSH PAC Ent.—and we were always in touch over the years. Then, when he and Steve started S&S Records, he would reach out about a project he was looking for mixes on here and there, passively for a few years and I would work on the ones that I thought I could add something to creatively.
Steve and Shannon believe not only in the music, but also in the people who make the music, so after about ten years of doing this, I had ended up remixing around 16 various projects and singles for their family of labels, including S&S Records, Inc, Silk Entertainment, ID Records, etc.
Remembering that they had done a featured remix artist type compilation album before—I believe this is the second or third compilation of this type for S&S, where a collection of work from a significant remixer or hometeam artist makes sense to highlight as such—we all thought it would be a great time to highlight all the work I have done for the label, and simultaneously be a great reason to release all the extra mixes, dubs, and instrumentals that never made it to the singles.
I chose the things that I felt would be good for the project, and Steve, Skip and I had a few meetings and were able to compile the final list of all the pieces. It was a very collaborative process. As I look back on this collection of works, I am very honored that my paths have crossed with the two great men of music behind this profound catalog of music with a spiritual refrain – Silk & Skip from S&S Records Inc.
Working with legends must be a scary thing?
Andrew: Most icons of the musical genre, for the most part, blazed their own trails and with that came the very desolate life of commitment to becoming the best craftsman/artist possible.
Therefore, I tend to find that these types—like Steve and Shannon—are real artists, contributors, and creators, who look to foster culture through musical statements by constantly taking creative risks.
This is exactly why Steve and Shannon are the best to work with, they are some of the most accomplished in their entire industry, and are still excited, ambitious, and exploratory in their approach to creativity and A&R.
Having grown up in the Orchestra, Jazz Band, DJ Culture, Punk Rock, and House Music cultures I have seen and played with some of the best in the world, and those exact people still feel that they have SO MUCH more to learn. To me, it’s this mindset and the quest that continues to compel you down a path of mastery, living your own truth, now THAT’S Legendary.
You have always been quite prolific under your various guises, how do you produce – tell us a little bit about your process?
Andrew: I work on a lot of different kinds of music all the time—anywhere from 20-40 projects at any given time are being incrementally developed—so the ability to flip between so many sessions, with everything just the way I left it, was the biggest change to my workflow in the last fifteen years.
I came into music as a child, traditionally, through the band and orchestra programs in the public school system in Kansas City, MO, where I spent the first 18 years of my life. It was when I moved to Chicago in 1999 that I was working at Midwest Stereo DJ Store on Clark St., and one day I went back to a co-worker’s house and he had an MPC60.
This programmable playback device was mind blowing! This was the first time I had ever heard that you could write, perform, record, etc without need for more than just yourself, if you choose.
The combination of this newly discovered sequencing concept and that interfacing with that particular performance-based sequencer—Akai MPC series—made so much sense to me. I was determined to explore this idea of programmability, and that quest is still changing my life.
For the first ten years or so, I began to make records with just an MPC2000, a Roland Juno-106, Fender Rhodes, and my record collection (source material). This was a process that worked, somewhat efficiently, until discovering the wide-world of Digital Audio Workstations.
The next level in this constant consolidation initiative—scale down the physical gear, as acceptable audio virtualizations are available—as I began to really understand the amount of work I could do with just a few pieces of gear or instruments, along with instantly recalling any mix—Anytime!—the possibilities are endless.
All of my production techniques come from the schools of traditional large format studio production practices. Having cut my teeth in the studios of Chicago—starting with my first studio job, working for Vince Lawrence at Chicago Traxx—things like group and parallel processing, inserts, sends, group bus mixing, etc are all still a part of my workflow. It’s just much easier to do with Logic Pro than track sheets, SMPTE, out-of-sync clocks, etc.
Tell us a little bit about your studio, any go-to gear or plugins that you use all the time?
Andrew: It’s been a very long time/process that I have been making recordings and one that has seen me progress from atoms to bits. I released my first professional recording at the age of 18.
I am pretty much all in-the-box these days, except for a few key outboard pieces I use for effects processing, pre-amplification, and some classic sound modules for reference.
Check out Andrews essential studio gear and production tools below:
With your roots firmly in the Chicago scene, who has been the most influential artists on your productions?
Andrew: Well, as I am drawn to the deeper sides of many things, what I had come to appreciate about the evolving “Chicago House Music” sound was that when I started buying house records, I was buying the early music of, IMO, the most important generation of artists.
This “Golden Era” of Chicago Dance Music saw some of the most stylistically diverse works being positioned alongside one another. I was fortunate to have found the life-affirming releases of Cajual, Relief, Prescription, Balance, Guidance, Large, Classic, IHR, Dance Mania, to name a few.
Giving the most comprehensive picture possible of how vast this House Music sound was being interpreted in the city of it’s birth, early artists—that are still in heavy rotation today—such as Glenn Underground CVO, Boo Williams, Cajmere, Gemini, Chez Damier, Ron Trent, Mark Grant, Paul Johnson, Jammin Gerald, Parris Mitchell, Iz & Diz, Derrick L. Carter, Johnny Fiasco, Jordan Fields, K Alexi, and Larry Heard.
Which of the tracks on the new album were the most tricky to get right?
Andrew: The hardest part of most of these mixes was asking myself the question of how many should I be doing on each. As there are never any creative restrictions given to me by the guys, I would always just start and go until I got close to the idea I had for the song when approached with the remix offer. This is why I never take on remix projects that I don’t think I can add to the release or the musical conversation being had, or possibly should be had. However, if I had to pick a couple, that would be these two:
Malik Yusef Feat. Kanye West, Common & JV – Wouldn’t You Like Ride (Andrew Emil Dub) – When I heard the acapella and remembered the original track, I immediately had this idea—which I was sort of keeping in the scratchpad for some time—which was to present a house track that felt like a golden-era Hip-Hop sampled style beat, a la Pete Rock, DJ Premier, etc.
This combination of the three very young MCs would bode well for this idea and this remix came together precisely this way. From start to finish, the vision of the aesthetic was in place here, but getting it all to sync, mix well, and feel right, for some reason while making this, felt like pulling teeth.
Tommye, Jump Chico Slamm – I Need To Go Away (Andrew Emil Dreamix) – This is really one of my favorite remix projects I have ever worked on. I have really loved this original for a long time and it’s a total piece of music that I confide in.
The subject of the song Tommye wrote is so personal to me and one that I very much have a close relationship with as a person who uses music and art for therapy and an escape. I ended up flipping a a few different versions of this song for the guys to check out, and I just didn’t know which one I liked anymore, and if they were still really effective.
This is one of the challenges of working on a song that you know really well, already had a strong connection to, and then made multiple versions of as it was becoming too much of a roadblock to find something that worked. I have certainly abandoned remix projects in the past mid-stream and gave the advance money back and everything, as I just didn’t feel confident anymore with my initial ideas.
Tommye, Jump Chico Slamm – I Need To Go Away (Change Request Introspection) – Another one of the many remixes of this song that I made as a personal piece of therapeutic art that I can use, return to, and store as a tool of mood shaping when I need it.
I was working on this track for another project the same week I was making the house mixes of Tommye, and I noticed as I was working that the phrasing and vibes aligned, but just in half-time. So, I took a shot and went for it. This mix here is what came out from this creative chance.
I turned it all in and Steve got back to me with his feedback on this particular remix, “This is baby-makin’ music and this version will be responsible for the creation of some children Andrew is accountable for, so it has to be on the record!”
I mean, you can’t say “No” to that, even if you wanted to. And, it was done.
If there was one bit of advice you could have shared with your young self when it comes to music production, what would that be?
Andrew: I really wish earlier on in my recording career that I would have been able to separate these things better: Art, Business, and The Business of Art. It takes so much just to figure out where to concentrate your energy on and what is the best use of your limited time. I have found over the years that setting reasonable, but ambitious goals—that are written down, spoken out loud—that you hold yourself accountable for has been a very valuable strategy for remaining focused and consistent.
The second thing that has had the greatest impact on my productivity has been using a calendar religiously for EVERYTHING. I am talking about personal stuff, walking your dog, meetings, sleep, etc. After a few years of doing this, what I say, with absolute certainty is that I am able to find more time in my life for the things I want to do, as it’s all there in the calendar, and I don’t have to guess what I am doing, or worry about if I have enough time to be there for my work, friends, family, etc. I am able to manage my life with a lot less stress. Everyone should give this a try and let me know how much your productivity increases in just six months.
Do you have a favorite production of your own from your whole catalog?
Andrew: One that has always stood out to me, as it was a sort of “pushing up” in a direction of being able to tell an emotionally engaging musical narrative and development over the eleven mins of “Conscious Conclusion” from the Kinetic Propulsion EP on AstraVox Music (AVX005).
I am also very proud of this album that finally came out last October on the Minneapolis avant-garde imprint, Abstrakt Xpressions. The Change Request – Theoretical Certainty LP is the most ambitious musical project I have ever released. It spans multiple genres, moods, and musical abstraction over seventeen tracks. It features some of my favorite musicians and guest artists to write with from Belgium, San Francisco, and Chicago.
I was also very honored and fortunate to co-produce and perform on four songs off of my dear friend Evan Weiss latest album “Figure” as Into It. Over It. We worked on the songs “They Built Our Bench In Palmer Square”, “Breathing Patterns”, “A Left Turn At Best Intentions”, and first single off the full-length, “Living Up To Let You Down” (Video Linked Below)
Into It. Over It. – Figure LP
Are there any upcoming producers you are loving that we might not have heard of?
Andrew: I am always looking for inspiration in the world around me, be it peoples, places, or things—there are certainly some strongholds of artistry that I will always come back to for reference—so I am naturally always going out of my way to explore the unknown as much as possible.
I mean, isn’t that why we do this?!
Here’s a shortlist of artists and musicians that I am feeling what they have to say about it, artistically. Starting with locals in Chicago first, and then globally:
Chicago-based artists—some are well established, but I am still loving what they do—who inspire me with the moves they make and the music they create: Elbert Phillips, Jeremiah Meece, William Kurk, Shmoo, Ed Nine, Kid Enigma, Anthony Nicholson, Glenn Underground, Boo Williams, Iz & Diz, Evan Thomas Weiss, DJ Jes, Jordan Fields would be at the top of my list. Artists outside of Chicago whom are really doing it for me: Claude Young, Glass Slipper, Cuillère, Audio Angel, Penelope Antena, Ka§par, Dego, Kaidi Tatham, 2000 Black Family, Tatham·Mensah·Lord·Ranks, SG Lewis, Harry Griffiths, Black Loops, Dabeull, Jessie Ware, BlackSoul, T.Markakis, Olga Wojciechowska, Aymeric, Bella Boo, Ricky Razu, Mark Isham, and Dustin O’Halloran to name just a few.
What’s next for you, where can our readers hear more?
Andrew: Always jamming on a large variety of productions, be it solo works and collaborating with folks I love to write with, across many genres, moods, tempos, and emotive content. I have listed some recent and upcoming projects that I am really happy with, as many of them are realizations of intentional changes to my creative practice and compositional process over time:
Theoretical Certainty LP & New Videos – These are newly created videos for songs from my last full-length album—Change Request | Theoretical Certainty LP—which is a 2×12” record of musical abstraction and lucid songs. Released last October, I did a full album breakdown for Attack Mag’s Track By Track series—Change Request – Theoretical Certainty LP Track By Track—recently to support its release, and these videos are just now being released:
New Originals & Features – Some recently released or upcoming scheduled records featuring original works, or original works created in collaboration with other artists. This list also includes previews of the next Change Request full-length—All We Have Is Time, The Self-Titled Single & LP for Dallas label, New Math Records:
New Remixes & ReVisions – Some recently released or upcoming scheduled remixes of a few artists that I love and many are great friends, as well as folks I have worked with for long periods, including William Kurk, Elbert Phillips, Andre Espeut, and Gavin Hardkiss as Hawke.
New Chicago DJ Residency – As the world reopens, one of my fav spots, not only in Chicago but anywhere—Primary Nightclub Chicago—is finally reopening for business after a few arduous years of being held down by the city for code violations not caused by them.
They used that time and this downtime to regroup and rebuild to come back better than ever. I truly love the two partners, Derek Specs & Pedro Cervantes, who truly run the club from their passion for house music. I have been asked to be one of the new resident DJs on the new team, alongside Chicago legends and mainstays, such as Paul Johnson, K Alexi, Hyperactive, Blu 9, and more. It’s gonna be a fun one!
Primary Radio 006 – Andrew Emil // Change Request (Promo Mix)