New York City’s Ian Friday is a modern-day troubadour – a poet, DJ, producer and – as rare as it gets in this era of churn-and-burn dance music singles – a songwriter par excellence. His background is in the arts: in 1994, he founded the non-profit Tea Party organization, providing a platform for up-and-coming and established artists such as Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Vernon Reid and the Last Poets as well as one of the most prominent open mic nights in the city. In 2006, the budding producer launched Tea Party Music, which has released fire-in-acetate-form including “Ghetto People”, “Everything” and “Life Starts Today.”
Simply put: Ian is one of the guiding lights for soulful House Music, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give a platform to a man who has given the spotlight to so many others.
What was your first exposure to House Music?
House was fresh and exciting. I mean I dug hip hop and reggae and music in general, but House appealed to who I was and reflects who I am today.
I’m a New York City guy so Tony Humphries and Timmy Regisford were my early influences. I have mad cassette tapes of their radio shows. And in those days you could meet women on the dancefloor if you could dance. House was the music we danced to.
Have your views changed since then?
Everything is different when your hobby becomes your work but what can I say – House Music has been very very good to me. I have met incredible people and seen incredible things all over the world because of this music.
What was your involvement with Kevin Hedge and Josh Milan from Blaze? I believe that’s how I first came across your work.
Those are my people! Incredible producers and great men. They invited me to their studio (I call it “mecca”), enticed me to get in the game (hope I am doing them proud), mentored me (that was no walk in the park as they have the highest standards for excellence) and gave me an opportunity to work on some of their music (I mixed the instrumental version of “We Are One” for King Street.)
We interviewed Josh in July, and he sees the lack of proper A&R as one of the reasons he’s unsatisfied with the scene.
At Tea Party Music we do our best to nurture the artists on our roster but its tough because the economics have changed so dramatically. Even the major labels have issues so you know what it is for us indies.
The culture around this music has changed as well. This digital age has sped things up so much that it is so difficult to have music that sticks on the wall and has staying power. Short attention spans and limited budgets don’t make for dope A&R conditions but I have been supporting artists my entire adult life.
Tea Party has a rather family/collective vibe to it – it’s refreshing these days, when many labels appear to be “solo projects” or purely economic endeavors. Can you tell me how you started it up?
Tea Party Music stems from a non-profit arts collective that I founded called The Tea Party Inc. in Brooklyn in the 1990s. Being born out of a collective, the label is based on that type of vision. One person can knock on the door of opportunity but a crew can knock that door down!
My whole vibe is about building community so I bring that wherever I go. My Tea Party Music family is closely related to my Libation family. They are extensions of some of what I want to do in this life: throw a dope party, drop dope jams and build an institution with my people.
I think you’re one of the most brilliant lyricists on the scene today. Do you come to the studio as a producer crafting a song around beats or as a songwriter?
Thanks so much for the kind words. I have always been into writing and poetry so songwriting was a natural progression. When I write a song, it’s about the lyric and melody first before the beats. As a producer/remixer, you get into the beats. I wear both hats. I love to collaborate and am around artists and musicians all the time so we just vibe out and try to be creative.
I always thought that your music would be ideal for the leap from playing a record to a full-on live performance jam. Have you performed any of them with a live band?
Chris Rob (of Chicago) has performed our songs live (“Ghetto People” and “Found Myself”). I would love to put a band together to perform when I drop my album. Most of the songs that are on the label have been rocked by the singer in some club round the world though.
Where do you think Neo-Soul ends and House begins? Or do you see any difference at all (is it just marketing?)
Is “Neo-Soul” still being used to describe Soul music? Mel Cheren of West End Records (where I dropped my first solo project) said that he never used the word “Disco” to describe the music back then. He saw it as danceable R&B. Artists like Peven Everett show that great music and performances defy categorization. Great records can be appreciated by any crowd.
House (I call it “global soul”) needs to be more artist-driven so that the wider public can attach the genre to the people singing the songs. Videos would help us out tremendously and we are working on getting into that.
How did you come to produce Tea Party Music Live on CyberJamz? I’ve heard some rumors a few years back that you were looking into jumping into radio?
Ian Rock asked me to do some guest spots on his show on CyberJamz and it evolved into us sharing the Wednesday afternoon time slot. I did college radio and it would be fun to do it professionally (I did a couple of mix shows for WRKS FM NYC some time ago.)
How does playing on the internet compare with, say, DJing a club? You might have a larger and more invested audience on the air, yet that audience is sitting at a desk or in their living room rather than dancing.
Thank God for the internet because we have so few media outlets to get this music out there. Both formats are geared toward entertaining an audience. Playing live you get an immediate response – ain’t nothing like it. Radio gives me an opportunity to play some music that I might not play at the club. Both are great ways to promote music and artists.
You mentioned that you have new material coming out pretty much every month through the end of the year.
We are releasing another set of remixes for “Found Myself” (which y’all reviewed), a single by Miranda Nicole called “When I Kiss You”, another Libation Global Soul Session and I am finishing up my album entitled Life Starts Today. We’re doing our best to add something of quality to this culture that we love!