Seven years ago, I saw Tortured Soul live and said to myself: “This is the future I’m looking at.”
Everybody I knew that kind of wanted to DJ kind of started to DJ. It seemed that live music was going to be what differentiated some artists from the mass of DJs, what set them apart. There were already examples on hand at the time: Mark de Clive-Lowe, Mr. ALI, Madd Soul, UNEAQ…
And of course, I was totally wrong. The onslaught of live bands (I think Tortured Soul’s criteria of “live” requiring an actual percussionist is a useful one) never happened.
In this outtake from our Man+Machine interview with Tortured Soul in our January print issue, Ethan White and J. Christian Urich of Tortured Soul speculate as to why – and a question they’re often asked.
Ethan White: … As far as what we do, we keep thinking we’re going to see it. We keep thinking we’re seeing signs of a “live group”. It never seems to happen.
Ethan: Well, I think that you can do the CDJs thing or now Serato or whatever – and from Day 1, you’ll probably make money at it. Maybe not a lot but you’ll probably make money. You can become very well known as an artist and DJ, but the minute you decide to bring a band with you, you go back to losing money.
In an interview we did with Miguel Migs a few years ago, he cited that with his live band. That clubs or bookers or whatever would come back at him and say, “Well… how about you just DJ?”
Ethan: We hear that all the time.
J. Christian Urich: All the time. We don’t do it or consider it, because… well, it’s a slippery slope. It’s REALLY hard to do what we do. For me to maintain practicing the drums every day. It’s hard for us to bring four people on the road and a sound guy.
Ethan: And the amount of alcohol I have to consume? It’s hard. You don’t even know.
You have to train for weeks to get ready for that! Wake up at 5am like Rocky, grab a bottle…
Christian: It’s true. You have to keep your liver in shape year round.
But in my heart I feel like there’s something special about what we do. I guess let other people be the judge but in my heart I feel that’s true. I love it and special and think it’s cool and fun, but we’re not going to have quadruple the amount of people pay quadruple the fee that a DJ/producer will get to play to the same people. We play to 1000 people, and they play to 1000 people and there’s a pretty similar fee. We might be able to charge a little bit more to the people who recognize what we do as something special but we’re never going to be making the same amount we would make if we decided to split up and each go off DJing on our own.
Ethan: But I don’t think we’d have it any other way. It’s tempting of course when people offer you good money to DJ. But we’re not DJs. That’s a whole separate craft that neither Christian or I have spent much time working on. Still tempting, though: I could work on it and get better or get, you know, “good enough”, would be the description I’d use. But I think the love would be gone for us of the performance.
This special thing that you get from playing in a band that’s tight and has a sound – there’s no other way I know to get that feeling. For us it would be selling out. It’d also hurt the band, longterm. People going to a concert wouldn’t know what to expect.
I’ll use an example without citing the person by name. We played a concert opening up for a well-known group and he did a DJ set and people were upset. They were excited about our show but they were let down when we walked off and there was just a single guy standing there instead of a band. If we started doing the same thing, I think that would actually hurt our careers.
I’m actually surprised there aren’t people on trust funds or something who don’t need to make money trying to steal your mojo. There have been some but they haven’t seemed to have lasted.
Ethan: The thing we see most often in the house scene is people who bill themselves as live, but it’s a DJ with any number of live musicians. Our basic standard is that there isn’t a drummer, it’s not live.
Christian: I’ve been in the business a long time and I think there’s a really important quality to having a drummer be a driving force in the band as well. There are some drummers who are sidemen and they get hired sometimes to play 5 or 6 other gigs or play with this collective or this. But Tortured Soul is basically the only thing I do. I don’t know what the fuck else to do. I can’t do anything else. Help!
But the point is that I’m totally focused. This is my heart. Questlove from The Roots is another example of somebody that helped drive the band to where they got. Maybe even Lars Ulrich from Metallica. If it’s the band and the drummer’s the driving force trying to make the band everything that it is, that’s different than a collective getting together and trying to make music that “sounds House” or “sounds Disco” or whatever.