Moon Boots – the mystery man and French Express artist who in the last few years has produced some of the smoothest, sexiest soulful R&B/Disco-infused House – speaks to 5 Magazine about his music.
So you’re originally from Chicago, and then you went to Princeton for your bachelor’s degree? Tell us about your background: were you out and about in the local Chicago club scene or not so much?
I actually grew up in Brooklyn and Connecticut and moved to Chicago after school. Up until midway through college, I was heavily into playing keyboards – piano, synths and organ; in all styles – and hadn’t given production much of a thought. Princeton was a pretty stressful and intense place, and at a certain point I had to take a break from it. When I was getting ready to go back, something clicked and I just became obsessed with Disco and House and wanted to learn everything I could about DJing and producing.
As I was wrapping up school, I kept getting calls from my friend Jonathan (Rogue Vogue/Hey Champ) to move to Chicago and play in his band. Even though I’d barely been to Chicago at that point, I knew it would be the perfect place for me to start fresh and learn my craft.
A lot of the places I played the first few years I was in Chicago were more in the “indie dance” scene, mainly in Wicker Park. When I moved up to Wrigleyville with Kyle Woods (the artist formerly known as “Kid Color”), he introduced me to a lot of the community at SmartBar and Berlin and that was a real eye-opener for me. This was before Primary opened up, but when they did I would catch as many gigs there as I could too.
I was told you used to practice mixing at both the Mid and Primary a few years back! When exactly did you start DJing? I’m assuming this was after you were already heavy into production.
Yes, both Derek and the guys at React were really gracious and let me practice at their clubs so I could learn how to mix with USB keys. That was really awesome.
As for when I started, my first DJ gigs – this was well before Moon Boots – were at places like Betty’s Blue Star and Liar’s Club on weekday nights. That was around six years ago. Though Moon Boots started purely as a production project, I’ve actually been DJing as long as I’ve been producing because one feeds into the other.
On the genesis of Love Strong – you were making music before that and already had a following, but for many that seemed to be the “star-making” vehicle for you so to speak. What made you decide to make it a free download and what transpired after that release? Was it a slow burn or instantaneous?
Even though Michael Serafini would play the hell out of “Off My Mind” (which really boosted my confidence as a producer, by the way), most of my tracks before “Love Strong” were in a Nu Disco vein. So that song was probably the first to resonate in the House scene.
I made it a free download because that was the M.O. at French Express, both to spread our music as widely as possible and to show our appreciation to the listeners and fans. Things have progressed more quickly than any of us would have guessed, but it’s been a “quick burn” rather than instantaneous.
I remember hearing that song and thinking, Holy shit this is just good music – it’s very likable all across the board. I played it at a southside bar and everyone was grooving to it. Can you tell us where the vocals are from? It sounds so familiar and yet no one can seem to identify the source.
Thanks, and I hope this doesn’t sound like a cop-out, but I couldn’t even tell you myself. The acapella I got it from is mislabeled and I’ve tried to find the original a bunch of times with no luck. All I can tell you for sure is that it’s from a ’90s R&B/dancehall song.
Moving to Berlin seems to be the unwritten code for every successful Chicago producer. Why exactly is it Berlin over any other European city? Or am I mistaken and you still live in New York?
I lived in Berlin for a little bit but I’ve since moved back to Brooklyn. I think the reasons producers move to Berlin are pretty obvious though: cheap rents, a club scene unlike any other city, and easy/sensible immigration laws. Also, you can get by in 90% of situations just speaking English.
As a member of French Express, how would you define its style and sound? Do you only put out music from the four of you or do you also take in outside artists?
The sound of French Express has been evolving over the past couple of years. We’ve done all kinds of combinations of House, R&B, Disco and Pop, but I think “protectors of the feel good” has always been the best way to describe what we do.
As for guest releases, they make up a really small portion of the output of the label, and that’s always up to Perseus, who started French Express and still runs everything on his own.
You’re booked for Spring Awakening. When I saw that I knew that electronic music has definitely changed and matured. Was it challenging for you initially to get younger people to listen to a much slower bpm or were they already primed for it?
Playing the festival circuit is still a very new thing for me, so I’m still trying to figure that out. To some degree, you just can’t play the same kind of set at a primarily EDM festival than you would at a 300 person club. The trick is to find the happy medium where you can push yourself to do something slightly different and make it enjoyable for you and the audience. And not by pandering, of course, because then you shouldn’t be up there in the first place.
I remember talking to the guys from Soul Clap and they told me initially it was tough to present music at a slower pace to some audiences and venues that were used to just loud obnoxious electronic dance music. Did you ever encounter that challenge and how do you build an audience to learn and appreciate something different?
Soul Clap’s a great example: they have a deep knowledge of Disco, R&B, Garage, House, you name it… but they play whatever they want and educate their audience without it seeming like a history lesson or just plugging one sound. They’re fearless. I love those guys.
As for me, it’s usually not an issue but like everyone I’ve been in some iffy situations. Especially in my early gigs, I was occasionally paired up with dubstep or electro-house DJs and it was a mess. Working with the right promoters and venues in each city is extremely important. Also, you really can’t “build an audience” per se, you can only produce and play music that’s true to yourself and hope that more people will follow each time around.
What are your future plans for musical projects and any plans to collaborate with other artists?
I have a single coming out in early June on French Express along with an official remix of Nile Rodgers that’ll be coming out on CR2. CR2 is also going to be releasing my track “Don’t Ask Why” mid-Summer with some remixes I can’t wait to hear.