Feature: Larry Heard

Picture of Larry Heard

Interview by Marc Kets

There isn't much that hasn't already been said about Larry Heard. Along with Robert Owens under his Fingers Inc. guise, he came to prominence, releasing timeless classics such as the "Can You Feel It" and "Never No More Lonely" that left their marks in the annals of clubbing history, and which still sound as good today as they did when they were initially released all those years ago. He has undeniably influenced far too many people to mention's own personal output with his warm, digital and spiritual music. He has achieved all the success that he has achieved, and there is far too much to mention over the course of this short introduction, by staying true to himself, his strong sense of faith and the ideals that he has set for himself over the years. Like he says, it can be useless in trying to describe to people what they are meant to be listening to without letting them hear it first, and you could do a lot worse than put on any number of his albums and spend a few hours in this great man's company as every great note plays out.

You've moved from Chicago to Memphis, do you find that life in Memphis is more conducive to your music, with records like "Missing You" being a clear indication that it has worked, or was it a case of getting away from the hustle and bustle of Chicago and clear your head so that you could develop musically and spiritually?

I moved to Memphis from Chicago because I really needed to take stock of what was going on with my life, and really take some time to think of where I was going with my life. It wasn't solely a "music" decision, but rather a "life" decision, because where I lived and what my personality is like were very different. Chicago is fast-paced and hectic, whereas I'm more of a laid-back kind of person, so things were spinning out of control for me personally and I needed to take some action, and that action turned out to be getting to somewhere where there was a smaller population and a more laid-back kind of a lifestyle somewhere that I could take some time to think about my life, and what I wanted to do with it. From a more personal perspective it's been a good decision as I am more mentally and spiritually grounded now since I have some room to think and breathe and hopefully the music is conveying the same feeling to the people that listen to it and buy it.

You're a spiritual man. How important is your faith to you, and how does it inspire the music that you make?

Yes, I am a very spiritual person and faith it of the utmost importance to me. If it wasn't then I'd just be another person making doom and gloom songs about how bad things are - how hopeless things are, and I just don't feel like that. That's where my faith comes in, which tells me that there is always the possibility of things getting better, and that is what I choose to convey with my songs, especially the ones that have something being conveyed in a lyric form. Without hope what reason is there to even live? We might as well all buy coffins and bury ourselves if we feel that there is no hope for the future and nothing to look forward to. It's also a pretty bad thing to put into children's minds; you want the children to have a future to look forward to.

You famously took a break from the music industry, citing reasons such as a lack of financial and psychological stability for your departure, are you still on the break or are you balancing life better now that you're in a city that lets you take every day on its own merits?

My infamous break from the music industry got turned into a retirement by sources unknown, even though I never said that. Making music is pretty much like any type of job that a person does be that a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor and any other kind of profession you take a vacation, and nobody says that you retired just because you took a vacation, so that's pretty funny to think about how things get blown out of proportion. That break did allow me to do all the planning for my relocation from Chicago to Memphis. It's amazing that so many people took it to heart because there was still music being released during this time and you would've thought that someone would've figured it out at some point and said, "This guy hasn't retired, every time we turn around there is a new project coming out."

Tell us about your relationship with Brett Dancer.

I started working with Brett at Track Mode in more of an advisory capacity, just discussing what was going on with his label and sharing my thoughts and feelings that I had, and as things progressed we began working more and more together with joint ventures coming out between our two labels. There were quite a few people who were curious as to what was going on because they knew that I was working in some kind of a capacity with Brett's label and we just decided to go public with the information in around '99. We're still working together to this day, we're two like-minded individuals and we try to make sure that the quality of the releases is true to what we stand for.

On your albums you tend to cross a lot of styles with not only house but also r'n'b being prevalent. Have you found that being so closely associated with house music has made people less prepared to deal with your other forms of music?

The music I heard in my upbringing and my childhood have played a big role in my music, and that was soul music, jazz music - my father was a pretty big jazz buff and into big bands like doo wop and that kind of thing, my mother was more into soul, people like Sam Cooke, and gospel, she sang in the choir. Both of them had piano training in their upbringing, and we had a piano in the house, so my parents and older relatives played a big role in my music. It's not something that I consciously try to convey, but rather it's embedded in me, and unfortunately myself being associated with the whole house music movement has made people less prepared to understand the more r'n'b and smooth jazz flavored music that I do. I think it's that the house music was a little more publicized, so people tend to know more about the deep house. Its like I said in my bio I get the best results when I let people hear the music, as opposed trying to describe it to them. Sometimes, with these new genre categories, and there are a just tons of new ones, people just don't understand that. The people who are associated with the various genres understand it, but people who just look at music as rap, r'n'b, country, rock or classical just find it all way too confusing, and it even gets confusing to me at times.

Mike Pickering called you "an absolute genius", and many others across the world hold you in as high esteem. Do you feel flattered by this, or do you find than it has hindered you in the past trying to live up these lofty expectations? Did you go through a period of trying to live up to these expectations or did you just create and hope that people will come to love all work?

Anyone would be flattered or complimented if someone called them a genius, but I can't really let statements like that go to my head or sway me because that is that person's personal individual opinion and every person living with have a different opinion of what is genius and what is not. Yes, I am honored, complimented and flattered, but there is a danger in trying to live up to it. Music is constantly changing and with that viewpoints will also change as time goes by. I did go through a very short period thinking that I had to live up to some of the statements that were being made, but I got over that very quickly as there was too much pressure and I've always felt that you can't live your life for everybody else, you have to just be yourself and either people are going to like you or they are not. The question at the end of the day is if they like you for who you are, or if they like the part the part that you are playing.

You've said that you listen to jazz, reggae and more jazz. Do you adhere to Juan Atkins' idea that jazz is the teacher? What is it about these forms of music that captivates you?

I don't know if I would be as extreme as to say that jazz is THE teacher because everybody's learning abilities are different, so you need more than one teacher. It takes a whole lot of teachers, you have teachers, society and life itself, but I would say that jazz is a teacher because there is something to be learned from all of them. What captivated me about jazz was the sheer musicianship. The ability to speak to you through the music without voices I appreciated greatly coming from the background that I had come from having a musical family with parents playing the piano, brothers playing guitars and bass, which I also played before moving onto the drums, so there was some time sacrificed in becoming technically proficient in any one instrument, so I can really appreciate hearing someone like Jaco Pastorius, Herbie Hancock and the like because you have a pretty good idea of what sacrifice it must have taken to get to be that caliber of musician.

How important is working with someone like Robert Owens to you? What is it about him that makes you able to create such incredible music with him in the studio? And is there a chance of hearing more from the two of you under your Fingers Inc. 'guise?

Working with Robert was a very important experience for me, of course neither one of us knew that when were working together. We were both just enjoying making music as we had both come from situations that had stifled us creatively, mine being the position of being a drummer in a band and the rest of the band not being that receptive to the drummer having some creative ideas and Robert's being that people weren't understanding his style and approach. I think in retrospect it was meant to be that was meant to happen. As for the songs, I can't really give you any analytical information because I had come from being a drummer in many different styles of bands and Robert never mentioned being in any organized type of situation with regard to leaning how to sing, so we were pretty much ad libbing, but I guess I did have the advantage of having been involved in these bands gave me the whole rhythm section style of approach to the music that still holds true to this day. I don't think we'll ever get to the day that the whole concept of the rhythm section needs to be rethought, but I hope that it won't happen. I can't really make predictions about the Fingers Inc. project that we worked on. I have spoken to Robert and we have talked about it, but I live in Memphis and he lives in London so it's very hard logistically, but I'm going to wait and see how that plays out like everybody else, because I just don't know at this particular point in time.

You're a multi-instrumentalist, having started in a rock band doing Yes covers many years ago. Do you play every part of your records, or do you get a sample and play around it?

I have been told from time that I am old-fashioned or old school in my approach to music and I don't really understand the question of sampling, because coming from my musician background I've always felt that there is a pride taken in the fact that you create something from nothing and that's what I do, I start with nothing. It also means that I have less legality to deal with and that is one less headache. I've always had the confidence in doing it in that way. I have used samplers before. I have sampled bit of percussion, but I won't sample other people's songs. For me personally, I feel like it's cheating. It's about creating from scratch and it also means that I don't need someone's permission to get a release out.

How much music is in your vault of magic at home? Why haven't you released more of it?

I couldn't even estimate how many pieces of music are in my personal archive here at home. It must number well into the thousands. I have writings that I did with Robert, Chris Coleman, Ronald Wilson, Harry Dennis and all the other people that I have worked with over the years. We didn't just write one song, we wrote a whole selection of several songs and the decision about what to release was taken. I've always created a lot of music and tons and tons of ideas are in draft form are sitting there in the archives. I've done hip-hop with a selection of guys and I have work from that sitting in there, too. Why hasn't it all been released? Mainly because there is only so much that can be released, and especially the different styles of music, so it'd be too confusing for the people that know and receive the music that I am known for now if I brought out a country or a classical album. Also, there is music that I have done with other artists in mind that I have mind with thoughts of contacting them somewhere down the line and pitching them a song.

You've famously stated that America isn't as open-minded as say Europe, have you ever considered moving? If so, then where would you go? What is it about the states that have made it so frustrating for you over the years?

I have contemplated about the idea of leaving America, and we do have examples of people who have moved from America to Europe but whose situation hasn't really changed that much or improved significantly. It's not like being an actor and having to move to somewhere like LA or New York. There is no real defined place to be for music. It always shifts from place to place. I had thought of it, but I didn't see people leaving and being humungous stars, they were pretty much doing exactly what they were doing here but in a different place. I find that finding out about new music outside of the mainstream isn't that easy. I admire someone like Mr. Ali, who isn't a new artist but he has been around for quite a while doing session work for other artists that you may know of. He seems to be making quite an impression at the moment under that name, Mr. Ali. Rasmus Faber would be another one who seems to consistently come out with musically solid releases, and that's what I look for out here. Other than that I can't really think of anyone off the top of my head because, like I said, it's not like we're getting this influx of things to choose from, especially in the part of the world that I live in. It's not like it's given to us, anything we find is done by our own ways and means, and when you're constantly working you need something like the radio to open your ears a bit. You can't really stumble upon something and it's too haphazard, which is dangerous for the scene because it means that people who aren't able to go the clubs for various reasons aren't exposed to the music and it doesn't mean that they wouldn't like it, it just means that they are unable to hear it and therefore are unable to support it. The main frustration I have is hearing the same old songs every day of the year on the radio and it cuts off all the other music that is coming out, so it doesn't really hold up to the ideal of freedom of choice, because if you don't have an informed choice then how do you have the freedom to choose?

Tell us about your new album, Soundtrack From The Duality Double-Play. It seems to be divided into two clear halves, was this a conscious decision or did it just evolve naturally?

Everything I do as far as music is concerned is important to me, I mean, what kind of sense would it make to utilize your time to make something that isn't important to you, it would be a kind of insanity. The idea of dividing the album into two pieces came gradually as I was picking out the songs came down to a kind of beauty contest between the 25 finalists and feedback based on information received from our complaints department that we have here. There are times when you put on projects that are mostly instrumentals and people want to hear vocals and there are times when you put out mostly vocal albums and people want to hear the instrumentals, so that pretty much summed it up that you need to have a certain amount of both. Hopefully they'll be happy this time around.

We've spoken in the past about Kenny Dixon Jr. performing behind a sheet, and that you said that you wanted to do it initially. Are you still naturally shy when it comes to performing or have you gotten over that fear? Do you feel that by making a barrier between yourself and the crowd that you're able to play with more freedom or do you rely on the crowd response to get you to play as well as you possibly can?

I'm not really as shy as people have made me out to be, it's not a phobia or anything like that. I commented jokingly about the Kenny Dixon situation, but I am not really that comfortable in the DJ setting with people being so close or trying to start conversations and I'm not really that comfortable with that. I need to focus on finding the tracks and creating the mood that I want to create on the night. I think that some of it does go back to the era that I come from where the DJ booth was an isolated space to do what they needed to do, and I need a bit of space to do that. They can come up to me afterwards and I'll gladly talk to them.

What trait do you admire in others?

I admire honesty. If you're honest and not fake then I feel that you are being true to yourself and those around you.

Larry's new CD "Soundtrack From The Duality Double-Play" was released on Aug 23, 2005. Under the name "Larry Heard/Loosefingers". The 16 track CD is split into two distinct areas; the first 8 tracks are jazzy, warm and organic, while the next 8 tracks are more techno oriented house tracks. A unique angle that pays off well for lovers of Larry's smooth side and house/techno side. This release also contains select tracks from the recent Loosefingers vinyl-only EPs. http://www.sondexter.com/larryheard/ http://home.bellsouth.net/p/s/community.dll?ep=16&groupid=122149&ck= http://www.discogs.com/artist/Larry+Heard


Marc Kets, Nov 2005

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