Josh Milan and his cohorts from Blaze have been the musical masterminds behind many monumental moments on the dance floor. Now striking out on his own in the guise of a classic-style record executive, Josh is looking to make an even deeper impression and bring something new to dance music with the inception of his new label, Honeycomb Music.
Tell me about that church moment when you jumped on the organ?
I’m in church – I must be 12 years old – and up until that point I had always watched my cousin Arnel; he was the organist and music minister… Ever seen how the spirit gets really high and people start running around the church? Well, he jumps off the organ and he just starts dancing and now there’s no music and man… that was my opportunity to shine, brotha! I felt like the shit was going and nobody was at the wheel, so I grabbed the wheel and did the best I could do.
I embrace Christianity. I’m a musician and I do this for the love and I feel like my talents are definitely a gift. I feel like it’s a gift of God and I wanna give it back. Being a minister in church is me embracing my gift and giving it back. I always came home after tours and went right to church.
The main goal is to draw people to this side of life – draw them to Jesus Christ. Create an atmosphere that lends to people that are hurting and show them that they can have a better life – let God figure it out for them. We’re not like those famous churches out there, the famous gospel churches. We’re not musically focused. Our focus is more on the gospel, but the music is a catalyst to get people to come. It’s a new family. No brainwashing here.
Where’s your church and does your music career affiliation boost attendance?
I’m in Newark, New Jersey at the Clear View Baptist Church. I don’t even talk about my career and what I’m doing while I’m there because I don’t want to distract anyone. A lot of times when you tell people you produce it becomes, “Oh man, I got a cousin. You gotta hear him!”
I don’t expose it too much in my church. People are still people, especially in the church. That’s one of the misconceptions that hurts the church – they come here and they think everyone is supposed to be perfect. That’s not the case.
What’s your story with how Blaze got signed to Motown?
Chris Herbert was a great singer at my church. He knew a DJ named Kevin Hedge, and Chris introduced me to Kevin. I had to be 15 at the time. Man, we got two tape decks, formed our own way of tracking and man, we wrote a song! Kevin would play these cassettes at parties. It became a thing in the underground House community.
We shopped and we got signed to a label named Quark Records. We ended up getting radio airplay. Timmy Regisford at the time was pretty big and here we were a little group getting radio play. Tim heard about us. We got the call from Tim’s company (Motown) saying they were interested. Tim was Kevin’s idol.
By this time I was 16 years old. All I knew is that we were gonna get a big record deal. Still to this day artists get that, and they know nothing about the business. Here I am at 41 today and I’m just now kicking off and coming into my own, doing my solo thing. If the guys new to the game would stop for a second and learn about the business of this music, they’d come out better.
I’d be a millionaire if I did things differently. If I could do it over again, I would have talked more about marketing before releasing a project. What we did with 25 Years Later was way before its time, it was innovative. But Motown at the time was very into New Jack Swing, brotha – that was what was up back then! That kind of music wasn’t what we were into. Motown didn’t really know how to market this group Blaze and the album completely flopped in their eyes. Meanwhile, in the House community, many consider it a classic.
Why did Blaze end?
The beginning of the end was when our lead singer Chris Herbert quit. He has a brother who does R&B named Vincent Herbert. Vincent is one of those huge, well-connected, LA kind of guys. Vincent offered Chris an opportunity with a major label. We wanted him to do what was right for him. He signed and nothing happened.
In the meantime, we were still producing and I started singing. We kept putting out singles, staying alive.
But now I’ve moved on. I don’t wanna just do dance music. At the core I’m a House Music producer, so whatever I do, you’re going to hear that element in there. But for the most part, I like to consider my music Soul. Not like Neo-Soul, but like the Earth Wind & Fire kind of Soul. And with this new project, with the music that you’ll hear, you’ll hear that kind of influence, only it will be for today’s audience.
I’m not marketing the music to a dance music crowd. I love my House Music folks, but they know me already. I wanna market to people who don’t know who I am. It’s going to be a challenge!
But really, I don’t know if Blaze has officially ended. I’m not interested in doing anything Blaze right now. If Kevin and I should decide to link up and do an album, great. But right now it’s not my focus. And Kevin is doing some great things on his own. He owns a gym, he’s big on real estate, owns a couple of houses, still has the club night with Louie Vega which has even spawned into a radio show.
Tell me about your involvement with The Shelter.
About five of us guys collaborated on the idea. We came up with concept and made it happen. The club was definitely in the spirit of the Paradise Garage. After the Garage there was nothing. There wasn’t a club that captured that spirit – that musical freedom. At the Shelter, beyond House Music, you might hear Hip Hop, soft rock, a Latin record. Most of the clubs were just straight-up “boom boom boom” all day. The musical freedom at Shelter was definitely there. And unfortunately today, that spirit doesn’t resound as loud as it once did. The generation now – I feel like they almost only wanna hear just straight “bang bang” all night. And those that remember those times, we got older and don’t support the clubs as much as we used to.
At first Shelter was very much “we.” But after awhile it got a little political and I’m just not that kind of person, so I respectfully pulled out.
What will Honey Comb Records sound like?
The first single is going to drop at the end of July by ChinahBlac. She’s known to be a background vocalist. You can catch her on any one of Jill Scott’s live CDs. She’s a Neo-Soul/R&B type singer. I love working with her. I can put on a Chaka Khan, “I’m Every Women”-type song and she kills it. That’s the kind of thing I’m bringing. Other artists I’ll be putting out are Sandra St. Victor, Lamone, Honey Sweet, Don Corey Washington, T’zelle, Crystal Johnson and Alexis P. Suter.
I’m hoping I can get the attention of the R&B and Smooth Jazz world. I’m bringing what dance music is missing. The soul is so gone these days – it’s almost disappeared.
How can you tell the soul is missing in dance music?
One of the signs is the lack of lyrics. The music that’s coming out – there’s no thought process behind it.
And there is a horrible myth that exists in House Music. The myth is that every House record has to have a quarter note kick drum and that’s not true. That’s not true at all! People started labeling House Music to be this cheap processed music… You know Stevie Wonder’s “Do I Do?” That was dance music! But unfortunately we’re not producing dance music anywhere near that level and it’s causing us all to suffer.
The people today that are really leading the charge… Peven Everett gets it. Vick Lavender – he gets it. Osunlade definitely gets it. But for every Peven or Osunlade, there’s about 50 Tiëstos. Now I’m not knocking Tiesto, but his music is very, very electronic. You really don’t have to play a sax or bass to reproduce his music. Everything is technology.
I can’t afford to distance myself from House Music, but I am going to try to introduce good music to the House world as well. The stuff I’m working on is almost new – well it’s old, but it sounds new because it hasn’t been done in so long.
The first release by Josh Milan’s new Honey Comb Records imprint will be a compilation CD featuring eight artists. “Til You Go Home” featuring ChinahBlac is the first single off the CD, in which all songs are written and produced by Josh Milan himself. For more info, visit facebook.com/joshfromblaze.
Interview by Brent Crampton