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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Venus Dialogues | Chris Gray Deep For Life

Absolute Venus: Some people enjoy just being consumers of great music, what inspires you to create house music?

Chris Gray: Consumers are in the best position to just consume I think.  For many of us it takes sacrificing an extraordinary amount of time to make music. Then you have to deal with the toughness and ugliness of the music business. It can truly destroy a person and rob an artist of their beauty. Well in the late 80's it was not easy to get ahold of underground music if you did not live in or near major cities in the U.S.  Since I was born and raised in Mississippi and this was before the masses had cable/satellite TV, smartphones, wifi and email and web browsers, it was tough to explore.  I had to rely on people coming and going from Chicago and other places, in hopes that they would bring back cassettes recorded from radio, etc.  My cousin Tracy provided my first house music cassettes, which were likely from her big brother's collection. I do remember a few people refusing to share their cassettes, even when I begged and offered to make the copies in their presence. People were very guarded over their obscure music collections back then maybe because tapes easily tangled? It's not made sense to me why people would be so stingy with something that they did not create. How can they feel so comfortable hogging something as beautiful as art and music?

So long story short, I took the cheap music keyboards that I could afford and cheap boom box tape recorders and attempted to create my own house music songs. I was desperate! I had to keep exploring this sound and that's the only way I knew how to do it, since I didn't have any house music vinyl records of my own and remember... there was no world wide web back then and the radio stations wouldn't touch house music outside of major cities. Only a few college radio stations would occasionally play major record label 'dance' mixes of their artists and in the late 80's those mixes were suspect.

There are artists like Larry Heard/Mr. Fingers, Marshall Jefferson, Tyree Cooper and the list goes on of people who came up with what I felt was sort of melodic and compassionate dance music...  I needed to create this music also as I felt a calling.

Absolute Venus: What are your favorite records/projects that you have worked on thus far?
Chris Gray: Truthfully, I am happy that I've been able to do everything that's been released. It's truly a blessing and an opportunity! My songs are almost always about deeply personal things going in my life and so to pick one over the other is like choosing your favorite child! It can be said that my first releases on Subwoofer records (Moonchildren EP, Very Moody) both made a splash as I was based in Chicago and at a time when disco sample tracks were the flavor of the day... whereas my music at that time was likened to the people I mentioned earlier.  Also when I launched my own music label Deep4Life back in 1999, that was a huge marker in history because besides perhaps Guidance Recordings and Vibe Records, people argued that we were losing our Chicago deep house labels. I wanted to provide a clear outlet for brand new artists to showcase their talents, because there was definitely a void. Concentrating predominately on new artists is what set us apart.

Absolute Venus: Who have you not gotten a chance to work with that you would like to work with?
Chris Gray: Most of my music has been produced in private, usually in my home. Though many artists had equipment at home, they usually went to a commercial music studio to finish their songs. I hated that though I did it for my first EP and was greatly dissatisfied with the final recording quality and felt that I could do much better at home. So I bought whatever recording equipment I could afford at the time, which included some of the first portable digital audio recorders so that I could keep that personal feeling from A-Z.. from beginning to end.  There are a few people it would be cool to sit in a studio with, but I'd be intimidated by their great skill and in the past would have felt that my presence was useless haha. I would like to someday sit down in a studio and spend more time recording with my friend DaRand Land. He's a great guy, we have a strong friendship and there has to be comfort in the recording studio. I suppose the idea of working with brand new artists has been quite appealing to me as it's a dazzling opportunity to be exposed to people who may not know what the rules are and can't follow them. That opens up the chance of risk creating something completely different. Don't get me confused, establish artists can do this as well but there's a special spark about a new, hungry artist finally getting a chance that appeals to me.

Absolute Venus: Any upcoming projects on your label Deep4Life Recordings?
Chris Gray: Deep4Life is basically about licensing previous releases these days, but who knows? I have been itching to do something a bit more different sounding and may do something if all things come together. :)

Absolute Venus: Your autobiography, Mechanics of Me, chronicals your life as well as Chicago House Music culture, why did you decide to write it?
Chris Gray: It had to be written because I'm getting older and it's harder to remember the details of the rich encounters I've had in and out of the music business.  When I decided to quit my corporate job back around May 2005, it was necessary to embrace a complex personal project so that the time away from a regular job would be meaningful on many levels. The book's true purpose is to encourage house music pioneers -- both musicians and dancers alike -- to step up and tell their experiences so that our library will grow. We can't afford to wait for professional writers to tell our story, especially if they were not there!

Absolute Venus: Where can house fans find your book and recorded works?
Chris Gray: It's best to check and

Absolute Venus: You have a very laid-back rasta/reggae vibe in your dress and style, are you a reggae fan? If so, who are your favorite reggae artists/albums?
Chris Gray: Long before house music existed and certainly before I was aware of it, I was affected by the Bob Marley commercials that would sometimes pop up on local TV. They would be commercials about selling whatever record, 8-track that was available at the time and I wondered what the strange music and hair was all about! I was likely curious and freaked out by it all. In the late 80's as a teen, I got the opportunity to work at the soul radio station next door to where I grew up in Mississippi and began to receive a variety of promo records from Island Records, just as dancehall was also blowing up. We received Marcia Griffiths, Yami Bolo records and a variety of compilations like 96 Degrees in the Shade, which changed my life. That one compilation set off an explosion and hunger for reggae like never before and is obviously dominated by the genius of Lee Scratch Perry. 

There's much to learn about what happened in Jamaica and people need to know that Chinese, Indians and Ethiopians along with natives in the Caribbean merged mento, calypso and R&B that was said to be played from U.S. military boats that influenced the creation of ska, rocksteady and reggae. I am fascinated with this historically and try to get my hands on documentaries and concert footage to absorb the beauty of this period in history as I think they went through what many struggling artists have also dealt with in genres like blues, rock, hip hop, house, jazz, etc.

Besides Lee "Scratch" Perry, Bob Marley and The Wailers, King Tubby, Gregory Isaacs, Jacob Miller, Inner Circle, Third World I am exploring a variety of artists like The Congos, Toots Hibbert and the Maytals and even local Chicago artists including bands like Gizzae and Rocket.

Absolute Venus: Any chance of a reggae album from Chris Gray?
Chris Gray: That would be super! Since reggae feels so good using a live band, it's not easy for me to produce the traditional roots sound that I want with electronic musical gear.  It's not impossible to do but I need to do it in a style that's comfortable and that's quality.

Absolute Venus


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Venus Dialogues | DRAGON

"Unearthed in Chicago. Raised in North Carolina. Schooled in Atlanta. Chiseled in New York. Polished in Los Angeles. Although he comes from humble roots, the raconteur known as Sum is no common hip-hop story." - Artist Biography

Absolute Venus: What is the album entitled?
Sum: The year 2012 was the year of the black water dragon in Chinese astrology, and I am a red fire dragon by that science. I called the project DRAGON as a way of embracing what it means to be a Dragon. It's a simple and powerful title, and I wanted simple and powerful to be the approach of the project. Spiritual, commanding, diverse, ferocious and compassionate are all things that describe the Dragon, and this project.

Absolute Venus: Is there an overall theme for Dragon Vol. 1?
Sum: I guess the theme was that I wanted people to understand that Dragon is not just the title of the album, but it's my lifestyle. I study nature and the cosmos, I'm in a constant state of physical training, I seek understanding... it's my own personal warrior lifestyle and I was trying to impart that on the book. Doing a book like this was uncharted territory for me, so I winged most of it and maybe the theme didn't come across cohesively. I wanted to give people a glimpse into how I'm living.

Absolute Venus: How is this project different ones that you have done in the past?
Sum: For one, this is my first solo album since The Lil Folk, which came out in 2006. Every other project I have worked on was a collaboration, and has it's own soul and sound. The Nobody Hole is a sci-fi opera collaboration with Badtouch. The Lone Wolf is a semi-autobiographical storytelling and confessionals collab with producer Belief. My band The Milky Wayis space-funk. Batmilk was a weird, short EP produced by QZR. They're all collaborative. In the years since I worked on those projects, I've become an entirely different person and a much better writer, and Dragon reflects this evolution. I'm not just a rapper now... I'm now a leader, a family man and somewhat of a creative business maverick. My roles are very defined. Dragon is also more straightforward in it's attitude than most of my previous projects. Most of my old stuff is at

Absolute Venus: What specifically inspired you to do this album?
Sum: I needed to take some pressure off of my band, The Milky Way. I love them, but they can move maddeningly can drive me up a fucking wall. I'm definitely a workaholic when it comes to my music, but not everybody is like that, and I have to respect that. I was putting unnecessary expectations on my bandmates/friends, so I needed something of my own to work on to keep things cool. Also, The Milky Way is a group project and the songs should represent more of our band's overall mentality, and not just mine. So, I needed an outlet where I could write songs strictly for me. That's how Dragon started.

Absolute Venus: Are there any collabs (lyricists, producers, etc.) you would like to mention?
Sum: I want to shout my dude Badtouch, who A&R'd the whole project with me. He helped me conceptualize the project, pick the beats, find the right engineers and was the voice of reason all the way through. Without him, Dragon may have happened, but it wouldn't have been nearly as dope. He's been with me every step of the way since I started on my first album back in 2002.

Absolute Venus: What was it like to work with legendary producer Ski Beatz?
Sum: For me, one of the greatest things about working with Ski Beatz was watching how he handles his business. The moves he makes are so progressive, especially compared to a lot of cats at his level. He knows how to use social media to drum up business, and it's always professional. The partnerships he makes, the artists he collabs with and the way he brands himself are all brilliant. He's mastered the art of staying relevant. And then when he sent me that beat and I heard it for the first time, as an emcee who grew up listening to his music....nothing can really describe that feeling. I could feel my vibration turn up a few notches. He has high vibrations in his music and I didn't really notice until he sent me a naked beat that no one had ever heard before. That shit was surreal and instantly inspirational. Another great thing was, he didn't just toss me some throw away beat that he didn't give a shit about. I knew he worked on it and put his heart in it and was excited about it... he was like "yo, I fucking love that beat", and that was an honor.

Absolute Venus: What are your favorite record(s) on the album?
Sum: "Assholio", "Gun", "Sandman".... I wrote Dragon Vol. 1 and Dragon Vol. 2 at the same time, so I think about them as one long album. Most of my favorite songs are on Vol 2. I personally think it's the stronger project out of the two.

Absolute Venus: Where can hip hop heads buy the album? What formats (i.e. MP3, CD, vinyl)?
Sum: Dragon, Vol. 1 is a free mp3 download, you can get that at my website

Absolute Venus: Any upcoming concerts/performances? 
Sum: I'm working on booking shows that will be about Dragon & The Milky Way as one cohesive live show. We'll probably start on that in February/March in the year of the black water serpent, 2013.

Absolute Venus: Are there other projects that you are working on that you would like to mention?
Sum: Dragon, Vol. 2 might be out by Spring. The Milky Way is working on a new project too that will be more visual oriented. We're piecing together details now.

Check for more from Sum Killa at...
Official Site:
The Milky Way site:
Twitter: @sumkilla , @themilkywayans