Interview with Dj and Producer QUENTIN HARRIS

di Michele Valente (Courtesy of Valentina Cecchini and Judy Weinstein).

 

Hi Quentin,

thanks for being our guest on VS! You’ve been within the scene for so many years and are considered one of the most talented international dj and producer, what can you tell us about how you started your brilliant career?

Well, I come from a very musical family. My Father played trumpet and my Mother sang . My Grandmother played piano and organ in the church and my Aunt had a blues band in which I was a member of when I was 13 Years old. Growing up in Detroit, music was just about everywhere and my Father had very eclectic musical taste and If he liked he played it . Artist such as Lightening Hopkins and Howlin’ Wolf, James Brown, Wes Montgomery, Horace Silver, Miriam Mareeba, Huge Masikela, Iron Butterfly,Van Morrison, Cerrone, Madonna and Prince just to name a few.

It really didn’t matter what genre of or style of music it was. So growing up in a home around all this music, I started to teach myself to play piano. I was around seven or eight years old. My grandmother had purchased a piano with the idea of teaching my sister. Unfortunately as the old story goes if someone feels forced to do something they naturally reject it. So my Sister never learned to play. I of course was fascinated by the piano and wanted to play, but my Grandmother was too busy to teach me.

I took matters in to my own hands and taught myself. I used these little guides that you put over the keys to tell you what they are and the sheet music had each key letter on each note and that is how I taught myself piano. Later on I pick up the trumpet after finding my dad’s old trumpet form high school in my grandfathers closet. As I got older I started picking up other instruments and learning to play them. I had tunnel vision and music was all that I could hear.

I was about 11 years old when my uncle and his friend started getting into hip hop and soon they going to the recording studio to make demo tapes. He took me with him because I knew how to play piano. I would play bass lines and keyboard parts for him until soon I started putting more input on the way he should make the music sound and taking more control in the music making process.

I didn’t know then that I was performing the job of a producer. Once I got out of high school I started hanging at the HIP HOP Shop, which was made famous in the Movie “8 Mile”.

On saturdays they would have open mic and I bring my trumpet and improv over the beats that the DJ played during the open mic session. It was there that I met and started building musical relationships with the best of Detroit’s Underground Hip Hop scene. Then Unsigned artist such as J-Dilla, Royce the 5’9, Eminem and Slum Village this got me more involved into making beats and producing hip hop. It was around this time that I started interning with producer and songwriter Micheal J. Powell. He produced all of Anita Bakers grammy award winning albums. It was here that I got to see and work around really big artist such as Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle, Lurayn Hill. I actually sat in on the session when Aretha Franklin and Luryan Hill recorded “A Rose Is A Rose”.

It was interning at Micheal’s studio that I met my soon to be friend David Morales. Soon I became a studio musician and Micheal Powell’s young ears for him. I was doing this all while producing various Hip Hop and R&B artist in Detroit. Eventually one of my beat tapes ended up in the hands of the manager of a New York based Hip Hop group called the Masterminds. They liked my tracks so much that they asked me to join the group. So I moved to New York City. I became one of the producers for the group. We also went on a national tour where I was the touring Dj of the group. After the tour finished I left the group to pursue my real passion, producing. I started working at Satellite Records in which I met Ben Johnson and we became friends. At work I would play a lot of the productions and remixes that I was working on in my small bedroom studio.

When I started playing some the house stuff I was doing, Ben Really became more intrigued. I played him a remix that I had done for India Aire called “Ready For Love” He liked it and ask if he could have a copy. I told him yes. I didn’t know that he took the CD to Club Shelter and let Timmy Regisford hear it. Timmy liked so much that he started playing the record at the club. I was soon asked to do a remix of Motown/Giant Step artist Donnie’s “Cloud 9” by Carmen Caciitori at FlyLife Inc. I gave the mix to Timmy Regisford he loved it so much that he played it 12 times in a night at Shelter the same weekend. And the rest as they say is history! That started my career in Dance Music. Since then I have Released 2 artist albums “No Politics” and “Sacrifice” and 3 DJ Mixed CD’s Southport Weekender Volume 3 with Dimitri From Paris and Jazzie B. from Soul II Soul, Coast2Coast forNRK, Mix The Vibe (A Timeless Re-Collection) for King Street Sounds. I have produced and Re-Produced such artist as Shaggy, Justing Timberlake, Leela James, Mary J. Blige, Chirs Cornell, Monique Bingham, Byron Stingly, Black Coffee, Jill Scott, Ultra Nate, Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, Louie Vega, Blaze and worked with some of the most creative and amazing singer, songwriters, DJ’s and producers.

From 2000-2011 I worked with Timmy Regisford at Club Shelter. After wanting to do something different I was asked by David Morales to join Defmix Productions. I thought what a great honor I couldn’t say no. So here we are today. 🙂

 

 

We now know you got your music influences initially from your family, however what would you say inspired you, towards your style and sound features?

I can just say my style is a combination of the Funk James Brown/George Clinton. The Orchestral Soul & Jazz musical arrangements of Quincy Jones, The Rawness of Hip Hop, The Motown sound and the Classical music of Chopin & Bach I played on piano growing up. The Futuristic sound of Detroit Techno with some Rock and Pop sprinkles on top. With a splash of Left Of Center Craziness.

As you mentioned before, you’ve remixed and had collaborations with important artists such as “Monique Bingham Joi Cardwell, Mariah Carey, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and many others. According to you, how important are connections in the industry with other artists, in order to improve yourselves and understanding the change of music inclinations and trends?

First and foremost I believe that you should always do what makes you happy musically. But it is also important to leave yourself open to other people’s thoughts and Ideas .

We all travel different directions to get to the same place. You should be a student of your art which means learning and meeting new people. You should also try being exposed to other artist even if they my not make the same kind of art as you do.

You must know about your craft in all of its many styles because its all music at the end of the day and it all comes from the same source. You call always learn something from someone or something. Now as far as trends go, I personally feel that everything has been done already. We all are inspired by something.

Sometimes it’s very literal or sometimes is subtle there is always a point of reference. It’s Cool to be aware of what others are doing creatively but when it comes to understanding the changing trends in music it is best to stop trying to understand. There is always going to be someone with a different view on what is hot and what is not and what is going to be the next big thing. Like I said its good to be current but you shouldn’t obsess over trends. Just do you to the best of your ability.

 

Nowadays it’s much easier to broadcast and diffuse music also thanks to many ad-hoc built websites, promoting artists and their tunes. What do you think about this and about the fact that also a lot of people very easily can get into production, compared to the past?

I think that this is a great time for Music Lovers and Music Makers (somewhat). You no longer need a major label or radio to get your music out there to people. Technology has made this possible. I have a career because of technology. I do feel that what I miss about the past is the pace and shelf life of music.

I don’t really hear people say that often that this record is going to be a classic. I think this is due to the fact that everybody has been made to believe that you need everything super fast. This makes for short attention spans. I think that a lot of these sites such as MixCloud, Band Camp, Spotify and Soundcloud are great tools but It is so so so important to have your own site where people can engage directly with you. I learned this the hard way. I had 10,000 followers on Soundcloud and I was banned like so many others once they went corporate. They music that the algorithms were flagging just happen to be my own songs that I produced and wrote. But due the percentage that the record label controlled and the big pull these companies have I was constantly accused of infringing on the copyright of the artist. I was silly because I was the artist! So they terminated my account and I was banned. I started to think. “What if each one of my 10,000 followers purchased a song for 1 dollar?” Well, I am pretty sure your can do the math . So god bless the child that had his own. When you have your own site it makes it much easier to make sure your point of view is heard.

I am not saying that people shouldn’t use these sites because some of them are really good for selling your music and all kinds of exposure, and we all know that every bit helps! But those sites should always be used as guides that direct the traffic back to you. I also feel that Up and coming producers have to learn more about why it is they do what it is that they do. You have to know the rules in order to know how to break them.

For example just because Dj software has a beat matching sync button doesn’t mean that everyone can DJ because a monkey can beat match 2 records. Djing has never been about being able to beat match. I has always been about Programing . It about what you play as opposed to how you play it. Just because technology makes it easy is moving super fast doesn’t mean that you have to.

 

You’ve been working and performing in the industry for many years now, one of your main features is to be able to adapt to genres, going from hip hop to underground and house. Would you say a good dj nowadays, in order to be appreciated, needs to adapt to the latest music tendencies or has to foster his own attitudes instead, regardless of what the market requires?

A Dj’s job is to Entertain, Inform and Educate, nothing more nothing less. We as Dj’s have to bend sometimes. You have to keep them dancing while getting your unique point of view across. The listener should feel as if you are communicating with them through the songs you play. I believe in playing many genres but this is kind of hard playing 2 hour sets. So you got to Entertain, Inform and Educate. Entertaining being the 1st.

 

How do you consider US Dance music environment compared to Europe and other countries also considering the latest music trends?

The US Dance market on a commercial global level is behind unfortunately. That had always been the case. Dance music had be considered to be the bastard child of the music industry. Dance music traditionally had been Dj Producer driven, faceless music that is hard to market outside of the club environment. It is even more difficult currently when the bulk of most dance music is not song based. Unless there is something that people can sing along to or and artist like a Adele or a Beyonce (just and example) that people can masses can associate the music with it will be viewed this way. The good thing is there are more dance music artist that break thru because there is something more to present.

Artist like Hercules & Love Affair and Disclosure are not only putting a face to the music they are really putting on live shows with electronic instruments for a new generation of dance music lovers to see. Now dance music in Europe has always had the upper hand as far as visibility and sales and exposure not only on a commercial level but on an underground level as well. Most of my peers from the States spend most of their time overseas. This is great but I personally wish that I had more time to play when I travel. There is so much more that I could offer to the listener if I played more then 2 hours. That is a US thing for the most part with in my circle of peers. Its what we come from. I also would love for a lot of the vocalist to who sing on many dance records get booked for shows just like Dj’s It is not only fair but more exciting to me. I know that seeing and hearing artist like Jason Walker or Monique Bingham sing live is much better then hearing the producer/dj of the record play it. South Africa seems to get this. Its quite interesting that a lot of the music that I play is the pop music there and in my own back yard it’s underground club music.

 

If you could, what advice or suggestions would you give to new djs and beginners, in order to help them to express their best abilities?

Learn to play and instrument it can help you more then it can hurt you. Listen to your favorite artist and musicians and djs and make the music you love to listen to. When I started making music I tried my best to emulate the sound of the artist that I loved. This is ok to do. When you are just starting out it very natural for producers do this. As you continue to progress, you will find that you will start to make those emulated sounds your own till you start sounding like you!

 

 What can you tell us about your next projects and plans for the future?

I have coming in the very near future My album collaboration with Ultra Nate’. It is entitle Ultra Nate’ & Quentin Harris As BLACK STEREO FATIH. She and I have been working for about 10 years on this record. I am very proud of it. When Ultra and I got together many years ago to work on some music the stars just seem to line up in a way that we decided that we should become a band or duo somewhat like Eurythmics.

The music that we were making didn’t sound like anything she was known for and I didn’t sound like the sound that I am known for. Its very organic. It is very live as far as instruments go. There is 2 songs that have 20 piece string arrangements. The BlackStereoFaith album should be coming out sometime around March or April of this year.

As far as myself as a solo artist I have started putting the finishing touches up on my tribute album to my dad entitled “Songs Of My Father” it is a very personal album for me. All of the songs on the album are song in which the first time I heard them was when my Father played them. As I stated earlier my dad had a very eclectic musical palette so this album of essentially covers is a big tribute to my Father who passed away 4 years ago. This project should be out sometime around December of this year.

 

Thanks Quentin, for your time. Voce Spettacolo wishes you the best for your life and career!

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Michele Valente

Editor in Chief at Voce Spettacolo
Michele Valente è Editor in Chief di Voce Spettacolo. Laureato in Economia Aziendale all'Università di Parma, si occupa di Spettacolo e soprattutto di ambiti legati alla musica e NightLife. Una delle sue peculiarità è intervistare dj famosi nel mondo.
Michele Valente
Follow Me

Michele Valente

Michele Valente è Editor in Chief di Voce Spettacolo. Laureato in Economia Aziendale all'Università di Parma, si occupa di Spettacolo e soprattutto di ambiti legati alla musica e NightLife. Una delle sue peculiarità è intervistare dj famosi nel mondo.

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