There’s a story behind most records, or at least the good ones.
The Record is where we tell the stories behind records of note, both new and classic. The Record is an old feature that we brought back from the archives in response to one of the many dilemmas facing music writing in 2017: With such a tremendous amount of material released each and every day, how do you highlight the truly exceptional records you come across?
The way we used to do it at 5 Magazine was to let the creators tell the story directly into the microphone. We’ve done it with records from Cajmere and thatmanmonkz, and I think they’ve held up pretty well.
So we’re bringing it back with Preslav of Pittsburgh Track Authority & Love What You Feel about his new release, “Watch Your Step,” featuring Kenny Peagler and an incredible vocalist, Natalie Rogers. “What Your Step” is out now on digital and wax from Love What You Feel.
Tell us the story of how “Watch Your Step” and the people behind it came together.
Well, to start with, there’s a synth company in Pittsburgh that had asked me to do a demo for them. This was back in December 2015 or so. I did something really basic and real simple with a 909 and their synth. It was for their youtube channel. When I saw the rest of the demos there was a guy who was playing a synth and a Rhodes at the same time. I never met him so I asked a friend of mine, who was involved in producing these demos, who this guy was. He said “Oh, this is Kenny Peagler, he’s a really sick Rhodes piano player.”
I got in touch with Kenny and we did some basic tracks for what ended up being released as the 24 Hour Band record but at this point it wasn’t signed, I didn’t know what I would do with it. The first person I sent the record to besides Adam [of Pittsburgh Track Authority] and my wife was Wajeed. I had talked to Wajeed a good bit in the past few years so I sent him the record and he got back to me pretty quickly. He said I really liked the record, but what would I think if he did some alternative mixes? He’s probably one of my favorite producers right now and as far as a friend in music I have monumental respect for him. What ended up happening was his work really made that record more cohesive.
So that’s how the 24 Hour Band record came together.
After that, I was out one evening with my wife and we were having pizza at this place in Pittsburgh. I don’t know if it was an open mic or if a band was playing later in the evening but there was an opening act. It was a woman who was singing along to her laptop. She was singing along to the music and it was essentially house music. I’ve never met this person and it’s Pittsburgh and she’s singing to this music.
We got in touch and I said I saw your show, what do you think about working on a record together? This is how I met Natalie who is the vocalist on “Watch Your Step.”
Once I got in touch with her I got back with Kenny. We had a really basic sketch for “Watch Your Step”: just a Rhodes piano, a synth line that was kind of the hook and a drum loop. I emailed this basic sketch to Natalie and on Christmas Eve 2016 she sang the demo she had written live in the studio along to the sketch. And it was awesome.
About a month after the holidays she came back and we went back to the studio for a proper vocal session. This was all to the demo track, so once I had her full vocals, and the basic piano part and synth line, I went to the studio.
I didn’t necessarily intend to write a song with these lyrics. But I had the feeling when I started working with Natalie that I could trust her. Same thing with Kenny: we’ve worked a few times. I know can give him a rough backbone and he can take it from there. Kenny is actually Roberta Flack’s music director. She doesn’t perform a ton now but when she does he’s on stage and acts as music director. He lives in New York but is originally from Pittsburgh. Natalie is also from Pittsburgh so it’s kind of a Pittsburgh record minus the Lady Monix remix.
Both Kenny and Natalie are professional trained and you know that with people like that it’s best to have trust in the process. It was a few people I had a lot of trust in and just let it happen.
Just talking strictly about house music, there are plenty of sample-based records. We’ve done a few as PTA. There are disco edits. We’ve done a few of those too. But there are not a ton of records that really emphasize the musical element.
There are a total of eight separate mixes on the digital release. What was behind the decision to include multiple mixes of the song?
The reason it ended up that way is because of how we did the song in pieces – we had a fully developed vocal section from Natalie and a Rhodes section and a synth line but everything else had to be built around them. When I listened to those parts, I thought I could take this in a couple different directions. So instead of doing one, I wound up doing three different versions.
As far as the remixes, I’ve known Monica, or Lady Monix, for a few years now. We booked her to play at Hot Mass when we had our residency there. She does a residency at a place called the Temple Bar in Detroit. It’s a smaller place but has a really awesome DJ booth. Adam and I went to Movement together this year and we only stayed for a day. I really just wanted to see Wajeed and see Monica at Temple Bar. It was a really cool vibe and she’s an amazing DJ; she has a fun night and this is supposed to be a cool summer record. So she would be perfect to do a remix for this. Right after Movement I asked if she would be down for remixes. So that’s how we ended up with that remix.
I know you from Pittsburgh Track Authority, and I played this fully expecting to hear some bangin’ tracks. Instead I hear something that sounds in tune with someone like Amp Fiddler. It’s very soulful. Is this your sound? or is it a sound that you’re playing with?
That’s a very valid question. PTA touched on certain parts of this but without any question there was a conscious decision to make these two records [24 Hour Band and “Watch Your Step”] sound like this. When you’re younger, maybe you think that it really doesn’t matter if someone is doing something musically the same as you are. You can also do it, so you go ahead and make another record that sounds like it. But now, I feel like maybe there aren’t enough of THESE KINDS of records. You know?
Just talking strictly about house music, there are plenty of sample based records. We’ve done a few as PTA too. There are disco edits. We’ve done a few of those. There are not a ton of records that really emphasize the musical element. Obviously, the ones that do exist are, in my opinion, extremely good. I feel like if you’re gonna shoot for something, shoot for what you think is the best.
Yes, absolutely, Amp Fiddler is a huge influence. Kai Alcé – a lot of the records that he’s done lately have gone into that direction, from simpler house tracks to very intentionally “musical” tracks. We’re not necessarily talking about something with incredibly indulgent solos here, but something that’s really thought-out musically. Kai is a great example, and without any question, Dego from Marc Mac from 4Hero are a huge influence on me and were on PTA. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t listen to every record that comes out from 2000Black immediately. These are some of the influences behind it, for sure.
Had you done solo releases under your own name before 24 Hour Band and “Watch Your Step”?
This year was the first year with the first solo releases I’ve had. When Adam and I first started producing – even though we were good friends and working together, we were initially planning to do solo records. I’ve always had a much bigger amount of solo studio sessions than ones with people. But as far as what winds up getting released, though, it’s been entirely work I’ve done with other people rather than a solo record. I think there are a couple of reasons for that but as far as purely solo releases these are the first two. I actually did do a track on a compilation for DJ 3000 earlier this year which was technically my first solo release. That one is under my name and it is drastically different record, a techno track that I don’t think you could recognize was done by the same person that did this.