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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Exclusive Q&A with Dance-Music Producer Matt Consola

It was very exciting to have the chance to interview dance-music producer Matt Consola as I am a big fan of his and of his Swishcraft productions. Here, we talk about gay dance music, divas, dancefloors and Matt gives plenty of good dish. Thank you, Matt, and thanks again to Barbara Sobel for putting us together to buzz and blab.
Dj Buddy Beaverhausen: Greetings, Matt. So happy you could do this Q&A! I understand you're from Brooklyn (which is where I now call home) but San Francisco your current hometown. How long ago did you move there? 
Matt Consola: Thank you for having me. That's correct, my family hails from Brooklyn and Queens where much of my extended family still lives. But I've spent the majority of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, first in San Jose from middle school through college. And then quickly I moved up to San Francisco where I've been a good 20+ years now. 
DBB: When you were growing up in Brooklyn, what kind of pop music were you exposed to and what influenced you as a dance music producer?  
MC: My mom was a big pop standards person, The Ink Spots and Johnny Mathis (who she went to school with), and my dad was a Jazz lover and a lover of Jazz & Blues-influenced scores like Porgie & Bess. Plus my mother's brother was also in street corner quartets and cut a few records. So music with strong vocals and complex chord structures and melodies were always around me and around the house. It definitely molded the type of music I'm drawn to, play out and like to produce. No matter what the genre (circuit / house / trance), it has to be grounded in a great chord structures and must have a moving vocal.
DBB: You write on your web site that you joined the music scene at sixteen. Could you tell us how that came about exactly? 
MC: Around the time I was about 14 or so, I started going back to New York for the summers and stayed with my relatives. I was obsessed with New York as a kid. My cousin, Michael, was a working DJ who started in the club scenes in Manhattan and out on the island and played all the big clubs from Studio 54 in its final days to the Palladium. He gave me my first tastes of vinyl beat mixing and helped me develop my obsession with seeking out and purchasing vinyl. Often we'd spend 5-6 hours a day just walking Manhattan from one end to the next, hitting all the best record stores and DJ hang-outs listening to and buying records. The end of each summer, I used to have to Fed Ex my music purchases back home. But then he and I took very opposite paths. Gigs were not easy to get in the Bay Area growing up. So I started in Mobile DJing, playing weddings and corporate events, then added radio and small club gigs once I got into college. Eventually, when the gigs paid more than the mobile gigs, I cut ties with mobile gigs, which I never enjoyed doing to be honest, and have been a club DJ and eventually a producer ever since. My cousin, on the other hand, took the opposite path. He started to settle down, got married and had a family. So he slowly slowed down the club scene and went into mobile work.

DBB: You opened for the Pet Shop Boys for two nights in 2009. What was it like? How did you get that gig? And were you nervous in the days leading up to these shows? 
MC: That was definitely a milestone moment for me and really and exciting and humbling experience. For the last eight years or so, I'd been headlining the big Pink Saturday party in The Castro for SF Pride. While they would have stages all over The Castro, I've always had the one in front of The Castro Theater that started very small and now is basically a huge stage on the back of a truck and the entire Castro Street from Market St to 19th is my dance floor. One of my most favorite gigs to play each year. One of the organizers of that event was also a talent booking agent for the iconic Warfield Theater in San Francisco where the Pet Shop Boys were to play. The Boys were looking to use local DJ talent in each city they played. So, about a month or so before the gig, I got an email asking if I'd like to play one of the nights. "Abso-freakin-lutely!" I believe was my answer back. Who would pass that up? Then a day or so before the event, the other DJ got sick and they asked if I'd play both nights. Another no brainer. I was not nervous so much about the "gig" as I was about what I was going to play (and wear - - - I have no fashion sense.)  I'm known for Big Room Vocals and they wanted darker, tech housey music that, while I play a bit each night in my opening sets, I'm not known for full sets of it. So I spent about two weeks crafting the skeleton of a live set and it turned out amazing. They recorded it and I was able to put it up on line on my Podcast.  Meeting The Pet Shop Boys each night back stage, to say the least, was a thrill. But seeing the sheer size of the operation of how these shows happen from beginning to end is awe inspiring. And each night, my partner and I got to hang out behind the scenes for about two hours before the show, perform my set, then go sit up in the balcony and watch the showst. If that could be my permanent gig, playing for acts who come to town each week, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

DBB: Wow! Let's talk Swishcraft. Your own label. How do you classify or categorize the music on it in your own words? 
MC: Well, I started Swishcraft - The Radio Show (which is technically called Swishcraft: Magically Gay Dance Music) because a lot of my fans, in the later 2000's, who've traveled with me over the years, especially the ones from my Circuit T-Dance era of the early to mid 90's, kept saying to me, "Why don't we hear all that fun, happy, hands-in-the-air music we used to dance too?"  And my basic answer was that so little of it was being produced anymore. And when it was, you really had to search for it. So much of the happy vocal diva circuit music became dark, druggy, sampled vocals over tribal beats. So I started a radio show, which eventually spawned the Swishcraft label (and later the imprint label BOUNZ! Music), that searched the on-line DJ shops around the globe and the promos I was being sent and established a radio show that only featured fun, happy "gay" dance music. And it wasn't easy. I remember one of the number #1 DJ sites I sell through today actually tell me, "No, we don't sell gay club music. There's no audience for it and it doesn't sell." So while Swishcraft and other similar labels have proven them wrong and shown there is a very big audience, the reality is, so many people are used to taking music off the internet and not paying for it, that it's hard to put out tracks quickly since it's so hard to recoup the cost of production. I often say to my Facebook fans, "If just half of you bought one $1.29 single (not even the whole EP) for each new release, we'd at least break even." We are not a major label where our artists can perform big stadium or medium size club shows to make their living off performing and merchandising. So they all get paid up front and then the label has to try to recoup its cost in sales and licensing. 

Swishcraft, the label, as I said, came about when I decided I wanted to do more than just feature Big Room Vocal Happy tracks, I wanted to produce them as well. So I teamed up with one of the best producer / programers on the West Coast, Leo Frappier (aka LFB) and he helped me flesh out my "sound." Then, in 2012, as Tech House, Nu-Disco and Funky House, often referred to as Bounce house due to it's baselines and rhythms, became to explode all over the globe, Swishcraft started an imprint called BOUNZ!. And before I'd had a chance to put out my first BOUNZ! release, I got hired by Wayne G & Debby Holiday to do a BOUNZ! Nu-Disco remix for their eventual #1 hit "Dive," which topped the charts in 2013.  

DBB: I have been so into Swishcraft music since I bought Brenda Reed & LFB's brilliant cover of "Midnight" from Perfect Beat years ago. On your web site, you mention launching the label in 2011. Yet, that surely had to be after Perfect Beat folded. Could you explain that or tell me the history of Swishcraft? 
MC: Oh God, don't ask me numbers. I have no head or memory for numbers. Half the time I can't remember how old I am. But with that said, I looked it up and "Midnight" came out Tuesday, November 15th 2011. At the time, Perfect Beat was still in business as an on-line & mail-order store only. Back in the 90's when I was co-owner of Redzone Records, he was one of my best retailers. In fact, while I set out for Swishcraft to be a digital only record label, he was the only retailer who got to sell CD copies of the Midnight release. I gave him a two-week exclusive to start selling it on the 1st before it hit the digital stores. I always liked him and that store, and was eager to help him survive the huge shift from physical to on-line music, since he was developing a big on-line store. A store like Beatport or iTunes, but just for our kind of dance music. Unfortunately, it never completely got off the ground. 

With that said, when I set out to start producing tracks, I decided that my first three releases, "Midnight," 'Feels Like Heaven" and "Coming Back," would be the three tracks that most influenced me during my DJ career. But I wanted to put my own spin on them. "Midnight" is a Yazoo (Alison Moyet & Vince Clarke) classic ballad from my days in college radio. Tony Moran & Robin S did a dance version during the T-dance circuit days, which was a mild hit for her, but I don't think most people outside the US knew it even existed. So I wanted to put my own imprint on "Midnight" with all kinds of genre remixes for various floors, while having the original be a bit of an updated homage to both the Yazoo & the Robin S versions. The first thing to do was find my Alison Moyet. Brenda Reed was recommended to my by Leo Frappier. At the time, she was a Jazz and Blues singer (and still is) who also did cover work for Leo. As soon as I heard her, I knew she was my Alison (Moyet). She's amazing and I hope more people will use her. Her vocal diversity blows me away.

DBB: Swishcraft has featured HiNRG superstar Vicki Shepard multiple times and other fabulous divas like Brenda Reed, Diane Charlemagne & Caroline Lund.  What do you look for when it comes to "that voice" to put the song across? 
MC: Beside the obvious, a vocalist that can actually sing, unaided by studio tricks and effects, I am also looking for a vocalist that sounds like and can sing the track the way I am hearing it in my head. So, that often takes finding a singer that can sing more than one genre. As I mentioned, Brenda Reed is a Jazz and Blues singer who can sing husky blue-eyed soul like Alison Moyet or sing sweet and lite like a classic early Americana standards singer. Many don't know that Vicki Shepard is also a Jazz & Blues singer, and that's how she started her career, and continues to play Jazz and Blues clubs around the globe. We met in the late 90's during my days at the iconic Club St. John in San Jose while she was there as part of a artist showcase with Jeanie Tracey, Lonnie Gordon and Kim Syms. She and I hit it off immediately and have been working together in one capacity or another ever since. 

DBB: "Swishcraft both the label and the radio show is dedicated to bringing positivity and excitement back to the dance floor through uplifting vocal house tracks driven by powerful lyrics and melodies," reads the promo on Swishcraft's web site. What, exactly, do you feel is missing from club music today?  
MC: Well, I think what was missing, as you stated in the question, is missing a bit less today in 2014 then it was in 2010/2011, when I started creating Swishcraft. Songs with happy chord structures, positive and meaty lyrics and an actual "song" there is what has been missing for so long. Songs that are more than a catch phrase and a vocal loop. And songs that not only make you smile when they come on, but compel you to sing along. So much of the music of the Circuit scene became darker and angrier after Vocal Trance died out from our club scene. Today, EDM is all about construction kits, loops and sampled vocals. And when there are vocals, it's still mostly phrases. No real stories there like there used to be. Don't get me wrong, I love EDM, like I do so many other genres. And if I thought I could make it as well as these EDM producers, I might tackle a few EDM tracks. But I'd love to see someone take a real vocal story like you get in a "Midnight" or "Dream of Me" and craft an EDM track that can give you the best of both worlds.

DBB: Gay dance music. It's a distinct sound. Swishcraft captures it and I know you're very aware of that fact. People love it, gravitate to it and you don't have to be gay to love gay dance music. (But it helps.) How would you describe this sound?  
MC: Again, today, I think it's harder to answer that question than it would have been just 10 or certainly 20 years ago. Back then, you'd hear a "I Will Survive", "Use It Up, Wear It Out", 'It's Raining Men" or "Supermodel," there was no mistaking who it was written for. But as the LGBTQ communities around the globe have become more accepted and mainstream, so have the songs and the artists making them. I'm sure if gay artists like Teegan & Sarah, Lorde, Lady Gaga tried to make it 15 or 20 years ago, they'd have to hide their sexuality and their subject matter, not to mention their public life. Now they are far more free to not only explore subject matter like same-sex relationships without hiding behind asexual pronouns, but they can make music in any style and any genre without it having to be a dance track, show tune or a torch song ballad. And where dance music is concerned, I think people, both gay and straight, still turn to "gay" dance music for fun, excitement and a sense of freedom that mass marketed, cookie cutter mainstream dance doesn't supply as well. And I hope that Swishcraft & BOUNZ! has added to that fun and excitement.

DBB: You're part of the Internet's newly launched and already successful Dance World Radio, Saturday nights 8-9 pm. What can listeners expect from your hour? 
MC: A little bit of everything, just how my tastes lie and my club sets are played live. As I talked about, my common thread is vocals and a feel-good chord structure. So, whether I'm featuring Big Room Vocal Circuit House, Tech House, Nu-Disco, EDM or UK Energy, there is always going to be a common feel-good party thread. And I like to feature remixes by friends and especially up-and-coming remixers that I feel deserve a global ear. Many remixers that joined Swishcraft Music in the early days of both of our careers, like Liam Keegan, The SpekrFreks, Nick Bertossi, Edson Pride, have all exploded in the last year or two. I hope Swishcraft Music and the radio show played at least a small part in that or was a springboard for them in showcasing their talent.

DBB: Last year, Swishcraft released a Gay Pride compilation and it was so hot! Can we expect one in 2014? 
MC: You can. It hasn't been started yet, the planning that is, because a lot of exciting things began to happen in 2014 that caused me to have to delay working on several new releases. With the success of the Swishcraft mix on Abigail's last hit single "Surrender" by Bouvier & Barona and the BOUNZ! mix on the Wayne G & Debby Holiday track "Dive," I got the ability to remix for several major labels. All of which should start coming out in a few months (finders crossed). Unfortunately, you're not allowed to discuss who you've remixed until it's released (if it's released), so mum's the word for now. But, for one of them in particular, I could not be more excited as this person is a icon for the Gay Community. So, to be able to say I did and official mix and not just a bootleg is exciting for me.

DBB: Two new tunes on your label. Can we talk about "Let the Music Take Control" with the great Zhana Saunders and the just-as-great LFB? And Caroline Lund's "Come with Me"?
MC: Well "Come With Me" is out now on our BOUNZ! Music label. I had done a Nu-Disco remix for Caroline and Leo's release back in 2012, and as I was thinking about the launch of BOUNZ!, I kept thinking, "God, that mix would have been the perfect first single on the label."  So I talked to Leo about revisiting the mix, as well as remastering the Original, and hopefully turn our ever-growing fan base around the globe on to a track they may not have heard back when it was big in the US club charts. 

'Let The Music Take Control' is an original track written by my former Redone Records partner Keith Haarmeyer and dates back to the old label. In those days, he was writing, producing and remixing for all kinds of big name talent. But song writing is what he loves. He had just written this track, along with a few he'd written with the Pussy Cat Dolls in mind to record. Zhana, who at the time was working with him under the name Inda Matrix, having several huge hits both for Kult Records and Peter Rauhofer, recorded the demo vocals. And to even call it a "demo vocal" doesn't do it justice since this woman gives every performance 110%. While I was looking for new material to record as a follow up to "Dream of Me, " Keith reminded me about these three demos he had in the can. He even had an unreleased Danny Verde mix of "Let The Music Take Control," that has never seen the light of day, that was made before Danny became the remix phenom that he is today. "Let The Music" was written and really represents a specific time in the gay Circuit club era that I really miss. So, when I heard this track again, I knew I needed to re-record it. And my intention was to re-produce the Original close to how he did it back then; a bit on the darker side. Then do an Anthem Mix a bit more in the uplifting Swishcraft style. But the problem was the vocal. I'd only ever heard Zhana sing it and I just couldn't get her version out of my head. So, eventually, I got in contact with her about her being the vocalist on the official release. And we have an amazing set of remixes including Wayne G & LFB, Division 4, a remix team made up of Jose Spinnin' Cortest and Chris Stutz, my partner with #WhiteLadyProblems, James Torres and EDM superstar dj  NIKNO. The plan is to have it out in time for White Party Palm Springs. Then I hope to jump on the other two tracks. One I have earmarked for Brenda Reed, the other for a big name talent I can't mention yet.

DBB: Exciting! What's the dishiest thing you can tell us about someone you've worked with? (No need to get into names... unless you want to.) 
MC: Wow, well I used to own a San Francisco club magazine called Playland Magazine in the early 90's, so we had a dish section and we used to write about a lot of them. But I know better than to use names. I still need to work in this town. [Laughs] Plus I'm not the best story teller. But one in particular that always comes to mind was a performer whom I toured with. Back in my post Gus Presents ... Metropolis SF days when I used to travel the circuit in support of my Circuit Grooves albums, my manager used to team me up with artists from the international talent agency we were all represented by, and we'd go out on a string of dates together like mini tours, with them performing their hits and me Djing. I'd gone out with Tina Cousin, Sunscreen, Thea Austin, Lonnie Gordon, Vicki Shepard, Amber, SM-Trax to name a few. All of whom were amazing to work with. While, usually, we'd all just show up and perform dates several weeks in a row in various cities, when an artist was really hot, they often had us doing Friday, Saturday & Sunday gigs several weeks in a row and we actually traveled together leaving Thursdays and coming home on Mondays. One huge dance artist I traveled a string of shows with, flew in from her home in NYC to meet me for a photo shoot in a resort town that we were doing a shoot for the cover of Dance Music Authority Magazine. I'd known this particular artist could drink, but boy was she in rare form this day. She shows up poolside for the shoot, reaches in her designer shoulder bag and pulls out a Costco size Vodka bottle in one hand and a bottle of Dom in the other and yells "Who Needs A Drink?" Then she proceeded to just openly pour the Vodka into any open glass on every table or in anyone's hands, no matter what you were drinking. No one ever touched her Dom, though. If you went anywhere near it, she could cut you to pieces with a glance and a three-inch studded index fingernail. How she was walking in stilettos the whole time is beyond me! And her entourage of shirtless gay muscle boys in matching white track suits (seriously that's all they ever wore) literally traveled with a case of Vodka and Champagne no matter where we went. But, what I found fascinating was that no matter how drunk she got before our gigs, and drunk is an understatement, the moment she had to go on she was electric, never slurred or forgot a word and always brought the house down. 

DBB: Matt, thanks so much. So very looking forward to your new Saturday night spot at Dance World Radio and future releases from Swishcraft! Any last shout outs to your international fans
MC: First off, thank you to everyone who supports these releases, especially with a purchase and with streaming. I know we harp on this a lot, but as a small label, the best way you can support us, besides telling your friends about us, is to make sure people buy the singles and don't trade them. I'd also like to mention that, in the coming months, with the release of 'Let The Music Take Control" we'll also be launching a fresh new Swishcraft Music website (www.swishcraftmusic.com) and we are in the process of making a music video for our single #WhiteLadyProblems. So, a lot of fun stuff in store for 2014. Thanks you again!



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