Behind the Beat: GH
It’s often said that the album domain is the trickiest pitfall to navigate over when it comes to electronic music. While not typically a sound that’s associated with the full length, it’s also one that – when done right – has the potential to really take the proverbial breath away. One such individual who’s recently crafted an album of such gems is American native GH, aka Geoffrey Huber. His album, Audio Democracy, is an example of how to work different sounds of music under one roof – and might just be the finest album we’ve encountered this side of 2015. Here, we caught up with him recently to find out what’s what…
So how has the winter been so far? Many highlights?
It’s been really busy actually with lots of projects keeping the timeline and schedule just about as full as it can get. I just had a release on BC2 Records come out on Feb 9th called ‘The Presence’ that is getting great reviews, and my last release of 2014 ‘ Exordium’ made the top 100 across 3 genres on Beatport for a few weeks, so that was certainly a highlight!
How do you look back on your early years as a raver? How have your tastes changed since then?
I was never really a proper ‘raver’ per se. I found my way to electronic music through a friend that knew someone who owned an after hours club in Pittsburgh called “Touch”. At that time (early 2000’s) electronic music was on a popularity cycle in our city, and you could hit just about any club in the city and catch commercial type electronic music. While I did like this music, Touch was one of the establishments that played more underground, darker, progressive house, which was something I hadn’t heard before being exposed to ‘Touch’. Without question, I gravitated towards the dark and simple sounds that I found here, and its safe say this initial exposure fueled my tastes for many years, and in some respects still does. As far as tastes changing over the years, I feel my evolution is very similar to many others. I was exposed initially to more commercial dance music, but eventually my tastes matured and I began seeking out the massive amount of quality music that you just couldn’t hear anywhere in the mainstream.
So what sort of music did you grow up with then? And when did you become interested in house music?
I really listened to everything growing up. I remember one of the first groups that I “locked” on was Depeche Mode, which my older sister introduced me to. I remember wondering why I liked what seemed to be generally “melancholy” music so much. In hindsight, I think I always had a thing for the electronic elements, but just didn’t know it yet. I decided that I wanted to learn to play guitar in my early teens, and that basically took over my teenage years musically. I would hear a song, and either figure out how to play it, or go onto the Internet and find the tablature to learn it. That was actually fairly cutting edge back then, because the Internet certainly wasn’t what it is today back then. I was the only musical person in my family, but they were always very supportive of my involvement with it.
As for house music, it was ironically AFTER I moved from my hometown in Michigan, just south of Detroit, to Pittsburgh that I found it. I moved in 1998 to Pittsburgh to attend art school. At the time, I was a competitive bodybuilder, and found house/dance music to be ideal for fueling long cardio and gym sessions. I grew up far enough away (1 hour) and was just young enough that I didn’t even know that Detroit was making and shaping the sound that would become proper techno.
Was there one moment where you realized this is what you wanted to do then?
My progression into DJ’ng and then production is really like so many other areas of my life. I don’t do anything halfway. I am obsessive. When I am into something, I am ALL IN. It was only 1 or 2 years into being in clubs that played Techno and House that I decided I “might” be interested in trying to DJ. Remember I had already became totally immersed into this music, so for about 3 years prior to ever going to clubs to listen to it played live, I was going to the few record stores that sold “mix cds” like the Global Underground and Fabric series and buying up everything I could find. Eventually I would go to the few clubs in town that played anything “like” this music, and would be disappointed to just hear watered down, pop type, Top 40 remix dance music. Nothing against that, but it was never my thing. Armed with what I thought was a solid sense of my taste in the music; I began to think maybe I should try the DJ thing. So I dove in head first, and having met so many people and promoters from attending the clubs and events around Pittsburgh, I was able to land a gig after a year or so, and that was it. 3-4 years into DJ’ing, my obsessive nature took over again and I decided that I had to try producing my own music, and dove into that.
So how did you learn to make music? Did you take classes? Or just through trial and error on your laptop?
I never had any formal training. Even back to my first experiences in music, which was guitar, I was completely self-taught. Producing was no different. I got into it before you had the massive receptacle of YouTube tutorials and such, so I bought books on production and arrangement and things. That being said, the lion share was just old-fashioned trial and error. I’ve always had the ability to recognize things that are in/out of key and understood the basics of song progression and such from learning the guitar, so I am sure that was a huge help, but totally un-intended.
How long did it take until you got to a stage where you were pretty assured with your sound?
That’s a tough one to answer. Being my own worst critic, I know that it took years before I would ever consider playing my original productions out during a DJ set. Eventually that phobia passed, and I was able to realise that I was producing music that passed the dancefloor test. Then it became time to start sending demos out to try to get some of my production work signed. I think my nature is to assume I could always do better, so to ever admit that I am “assured” of anything may be a fool’s errand. This day and age, even getting labels to respond to your demo can be a pretty tall order. I attribute this largely to the overflow of producers due to the general accessibility to DAW’s and audio technology, so when I finally started getting responses and then ultimately my work signed, that was a huge confidence boost.
What other challenges are you faced with at the moment from a music point of view?
I think my biggest challenge, as well as many others is getting your content in front of the right people, and getting noticed. From being Co-Owner of Stem & Leaf, my home label, I can tell you without hesitation that there is an incredible amount of talent out there. There is also a lot of “static” as well, again, largely due to the “ease of entry” into becoming a producer. A copy of a garage band and a soundcloud page seems to be the “self imposed” requirements to label yourself a producer. What’s unique about this is two fold. First it creates the “static” I referenced earlier, plugging up label’s demo mailbox with a lot of stuff that’s just not there yet, and making it easier to get lost in the pile, if listened to at all. That’s the part that’s tricky as an artist I think. As a label owner, that same problem takes a separate spin however. I know for a fact that I’ve sent many a demo I wish I could “unsend”, because in hind sight, I wasn’t ready. I was part of that static. It’s part of the natural evolution of an artist. The trick for labels is to try and cut through the static and find not only those that are shining today, but find tomorrow’s next big thing, even though they aren’t ready today.
I think another unique challenge is the requirement to be so many things at the same time. While not 100% required, I feel to put yourself in the best position to be successful you really need to be a DJ, a producer, a graphic artist, a movie editor, a social media guru, a networking technician and a promotional wizard to keep at the top of the endlessly growing list of talented individuals out there.
When was the last time you heard a track that was really stunningly produced? What made it stick out for you?
Eelke Kleijn – Universal Soul. I heard this while on a car ride and seeing a promo post about the upcoming release. The thickness and space of the mix on the track is awe-inspiring. It shifts around and creates moods with the pads and synth stabs, and manages to be beautiful, energetic and dark, at different times and sometimes ALL at the same time.
From that point of view, which track of yours was the biggest challenge to put together?
Honestly, this album really came together without incident. The project as a whole was a challenge, as while I have several releases across many labels, I had never done a full-length album. If I had to choose one track though, I would say ‘Persistence’, solely because I was after a big, open sounding track that had nostalgic, progressive house feel. Not the EDM fueled progressive house of today, but the progressive that first grabbed me back in the early 2000’s. Creating that vibe isn’t all that difficult, but the challenge was that I wanted to capture those attributes while maintaining a sound that aligns with the tastes of today as well. I was very happy with the result overall, but we will have to see if the world feels the same way or notJ
And when you’re coming up with a new track, what do you start on? The samples? The bassline? How does that all work for you?
I typically start with some basic percussion, kick, snare and some other elements to establish the cadence, and then dive into writing the bass line. I find that I am always chasing that “groove”, the sometimes-indescribable element that a good track has, that simply compels the listener to want to move. While I can’t tell you the specific recipe, my on the job research seems to suggest strongly that the ingredients to this “groove” reside in how the bass and percussion mingle with one another. After capturing this elusive element, I move onto more clinical drum programming and mood builders like pads and synth riffs.
So can you explain the album release to us a bit then? What was the vibe you were going for with it?
If you look through my catalogue, you will find a lot of deeper, slower compositions. Obviously this is an area that I really enjoy sonically. ‘Audio Democracy’ from the beginning was created with a DJ mix in mind. I actually created the tracks in the sequence of the track list on continuous dj mix that will be available. It was an opportunity for me to take both Production and DJ’ing and combine them into one. The production process itself was like a very long dj set in some ways. The beginning of each new track was started with the last 1 or 2 minutes of the preceding track loaded in the project as a guideline to the progression and sequencing of the next track. This was totally new for me, so it made the process very exciting as it progressed.
What do you see as the future of your productions? Would you ever make music that’s not house and techno?
I definitely have an affinity for this music; so to say I would move into completely separate areas of music would likely be a stretch. That being said, I had a release back in December of 2014 called ‘Exordium’, which was a three track EP that included a tune called ‘Lost Protocol’. This was a last second addition to the EP, and represented my first foray into a proper ‘Chill out’ tune. It ended up being one of my most popular releases to date, and grabbed a lot of attention, including my own. I don’t have anything distinctly planned just yet, as I have some other remix projects and releases to complete first, but I do believe my next album very well may be a chill out collection.
And what else have you coming up that you’d like to shout about?
Stem & Leaf, the label that I am co-owner of along with Michael Hanlon, has a really nice stretch of releases leading up to Audio Democracy’s official release date on April 20th, 2015. We have EP’s coming from all new artists and places, with music originating from France and Argentina. Also, the labels next release is a 5 track bombshell coming from Mr. Stitch from our hometown of Pittsburgh in the form of 3 originals and 2 remixes, with the one and only Jay Tripwire, me and Michael Hanlon’s collaborative project, ‘EdgePlay’, on remix duties.
GH’s Audio Democracy LP is out soon on the Stem & Leaf label
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