INTERVIEW: Kevin Saunderson (Inner City) (ADE 2011)
Together with Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Flashin’ Eddie Fowlkes, Kevin Saunderson is one of the founders of the Detroit Techno sound. His underground records under the guises of Kaos, Reese, and Keynotes helped definite the early sound. Together with singer Paris Grey as the group Inner City, he created the masterpieces “Big Fun” and “Good Life.” Fast forward nearly twenty-five years and Kevin Saunderson has teamed up with respected house label Defected for a phenomenal mixed CD and new music from Inner City.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: How did you hook up with Defected?
Kevin Saunderson: I had worked on The Inner City track and was sitting on whether or not I should release it on KMS, my label, or if I should take it to someone else. I started thinking about what labels were out there that could do a good job. My manager Judy and I went through a list and there were not that many on there. I asked her to set up a meeting and get a feel for Defected. At the same time they were actually contacting us because they wanted to license some music for a compilation and do some other things as well. It happened hand in hand. They actually contacted us first before we went down there and we just initiated the meeting. My manager went and played them what we were working and told them some of our ideas. It spring boarded from there and seemed like an instant connection right away.
RS: So is this new, original music by Inner City?
Kevin Saunderson: Yes, it is new music by Inner City. I also did two In the House mixed CDs for the Best of Kevin Saunderson. There are a couple things going on with Defected.
RS: Are the mixed CDs a single-, double-CD set, or two separate mixed CDs?
Kevin Saunderson: It is two separate mixed CDs, but it is one package.
RS: Is one of them a daytime and one a nighttime? How are they vibed?
Kevin Saunderson: Similar vibes, but one gets a little more techno. The second CD has more techno towards the end. The other CD is a little more groovy and deep, it goes into a bit of tech house and elevates.
RS: You mentioned the new Inner City single, is there a full album coming? Is this a one-off song?
Kevin Saunderson: We have worked on several songs, but we have not determined if there is going to be a full album. We will work on enough material for an album. It will be determined on how our partnership with Defective goes and if we feel like we want to move into an album phase. Sometime it’s good to release a few records and let it flow. We plan on doing some touring and other things next year. If we were going to do an album, we would need to be in the studio heavily right now. If we end up doing one, it will probably be a little later. There will most likely be three or four records that come before that though.
RS: Are you still doing the High Tech Soul Project with Derrick May?
Kevin Saunderson: Yes, we have the West Coast to hit. We actually haven’t hit hardly anywhere in America. In November we are going to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and maybe Vancouver. We are also coming back to Europe to do some more dates, we will be in Barcelona.
RS: This is from a ZTT fan. There was rumors of a project called Intellects which was you, Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and supposedly Trevor Horn. What ever happened to that, did it ever come to fruition?
Kevin Saunderson: That was very early in our career. One thing that we enjoyed was our freedom to create whatever we wanted to. Derrick told Trevor that there were a lot of things related to promoting that he would not do if he was asked, such as a TV show if the record were to get big. I don’t think that sat very well with Trevor. At the time we were all busy. I had Inner City going on and other underground things as well. We felt like if it did happen, it happened and if not that would be okay as well. It did not ever end up happening.
RS: Is the Inner City lineup you, your ex-wife Ann, and Paris Grey?
Kevin Saunderson: Yes, Ann has written for many years with Inner City, she did “Pennies from Heaven” and “Blackwater.” She used to be moreso in the background, but she is now officially added to the team, and is in the front now. She will perform with us, and if we do an album she will be on a few songs as well. Paris Grey is an original and is on there as well.
RS: Last night you were probably here for the DJ Mag awards. I wanted to ask you how you think that the world of DJing has changed from when you started to where it is now.
Kevin Saunderson: I think it has changed because technology has changed and so has DJing. There are all these great programs, anything from Ableton to Traktor to Serato. It changes the way a DJ approaches things, some is positive and some negative. For me, I am from the old school but without technology I would not be where I am today. I definitely always push the levels of technology. I love a lot of the new technology. I try to make myself play with tables as well, but incorporate the newer technology. It definitely makes it easier for a DJ to get out there and play. Sometimes the downside is that DJ’s do not know how to feel a crowd, they just want to get out and show what they think they can do. Overall I think it is a good thing that we have all this great technology. I do not have to carry tons of records anymore and it has saved my neck and back!
RS: Are you currently DJing with vinyl, CD, or laptop?
Kevin Saunderson: I am actually using Traktor with my laptop. I use the vinyl part of Traktor and sometimes CDs and controllers. It depends on the event, venue and sound.
RS: Who are some of your favorite DJs right now?
Kevin Saunderson: That is hard to answer because I can always go back to the past. Presently I do not hear DJs like I used to. I seldom hang out at gigs, so right now I do not have too many DJs that I could name. I was inspired by Ron Hardy, Larry Levan, and even Derrick May. Even though Derrick and I were around the same age, he started before me and gave me a boost.
RS: Here’s a question from the past. You did the version of “Rock to the Beat” as Reese & Santonio; it was a massive house anthem. At the same time, there was 101 with the New Beat version on Speed Records in Belgium and Wing/Polygram in the US, then Lisa Moorish did an acid house take on it with Juan Atkins and DJ Pierre for Jive in the UK. In your mind, how did that play out and how did you react to three different versions of your song going on at the same time?
Kevin Saunderson: It was interesting because it was so popular, people just wanted to try to redo it. People could not get it for a license. Originally I did not license it and I ended up giving it to ffrr. It was just one of those records that people wanted to recreate the best that they could. It had darkness, energy and drive to it. It was a form of flattery; it tells me that people just loved what I was doing and they were trying to emulate it. It was a song that you could emulate it because it was just strings. Compared to other songs it was harder to do.
RS: Do you have any funny or interesting anecdotes of your time with the Wee Papa Girls?
Kevin Saunderson: I do not know, that was so long ago. That is going back about twenty five years. I do not remember much, but they were cool little chicks that rapped.
RS: What remix of yours was the most fun to do?
Kevin Saunderson: The Wee Papa Girls – “Heat It Up.” It was the first remix, but I still think its one of my better ones. It was definitely a challenge in those times because to remix a record you would reedit. The remix was not like it was until I did the first real remix. When I went and listened to the original I did not think it would be any fun to re-edit it. I just said that I was going to use “it’s like that, yeah; it’s like that- so heat it up.” I made a whole new song with it. It was fun because when I looked at the end results I had shaped a whole new record based off of it, it was just a great experience. I was in this super big studio, I felt like the captain. I had never seen a studio like that. I was in Zomba studio and they had a board that was out of this world. It was new to me because I had been working on 8-tracks and 4-tracks and things like that since it was the early days of my career.
RS: Of all the remixes that you have done, what has been the hardest or most challenging?
Kevin Saunderson: The hardest was probably The Christians’ “The Bottle.” It has a lot of vocals and harmonies in it so it was very difficult. It came out great but it took a long time for me to be happy with it. Back then we had problems since we were still using multi-tapes. We had to sync it up and get it to lock. We would spend hours upon hours not being creative, trying to get to the creative process.
RS: Yes, the technical side of things which kids don’t have to think about these days.
Kevin Saunderson: Yes, today it is all taken care of.
RS: When you are in the studio now are you working with Logic, ProTools, or Ableton?
Kevin Saunderson: I actually work with all three of them; it depends on what I am trying to do. A lot of times I mix out of ProTools or Ableton. Usually when I am done with the body of what I am trying to go with I put it over to Logic and finish off in Logic. I then make stems and put it over to Pro Tools and mix it.
RS: As the legendary DJ producer that you are, what advice would you have for the next and newer generation of producers out there?
Kevin Saunderson: If you really believe in what you are doing, you have to work hard at it. You have to work hard to improve every week and day and become better at what you are doing. It takes time and you have to be patient, and you can’t think it is going to happen overnight. You need to stick around and be a part of this music that you love; a lot of people come and go. You can be successful and then be gone just like that. To have a long career, you need to be passionate and get better at what you do.
RS: When you mentioned touring, you mostly mentioned European and British dates. Why do you think that you are more successful and better known in the UK and Europe versus your homeland of the US?
Kevin Saunderson: It would be nice to be known in the US. I think that at the time that we had our most success, America was not ready for it. I think that it is more ready than it has ever been before, due to satellite radio and social media. I am hoping that we can have a run in America and an opportunity to spread the word of what we have done with Inner City and Kevin Saunderson. It is all a new generation and new people.
RS: Speaking of Social Media, what do you prefer to use?
Kevin Saunderson: I use Facebook the most. Twitter (@kevinsaunderson) is the easiest because of its quickness, but I use Facebook a lot.
RS: What would you like to say to all your fans out there?
Kevin Saunderson: I am very glad that I am recognized and have fans for all the work that I have put in. I love my music and I plan on doing this for at least eight more years. I am glad that I can continue to be inspired by fans because I inspire them and they do the same for me.
Interview conducted October 2011 during Amsterdam Dance Event.
Image from Kevin Saunderson Facebook.