BACK TO THE RAW
Joe Claussell is a bone fide Faith hero who graced our cover back in the Strobelight Honey era of our fanzine. From watching him work the isolator at Body & Soul to collecting his deep percussive excursions on his legendary Sacred Rhythm music label, we've been fans forever. Much sparser, tougher and trackier than the Spiritual House he is known for, his new LP Raw Tones is in his own words the "unforgiving sounds of sirens, uncertainty, fear, resentment". On the eve of new LP we asked our friend of Faith Matt (Radio Slave) Edwards to talk to House with Joe.
You’re back on Rekids after a break of 10 years. Can you please give us an overview of the forthcoming LP and how your “raw tones” project came about?
Raw Tones is the result that came from a need to keep my creative juices flowing during the early period of isolation during initial period of lock down in NYC. It’s basically a short diary of what was going on in my head during that period of darkness. I was not in a good place mentally, and to make matters worse, I couldn’t go into the studio due to everything being closed or forbidden to visit. Fortunately, however at home I had my vintage Tascam 4-track cassette porta studio that I haven’t used since the early nineties. With that machine, along with a few other pieces of gear at my disposal, I was able transport what I was feeling into sound and onto cassette tape thus Raw Tones / Pandemic Blues came into existence.
With things returning to normality in the USA what’s your feeling on the current state of dance music in America and do you feel that there’s more awareness with what you’re doing in 2021 or less than say 20 years ago when the house music scene was exploding in New York?
Things are just now beginning to gradually re open, it’s way too early to tell where life currently stand in the US, especially as it pertains to music and entertainment. There are however a few events that are springing up, especially in Brooklyn. Like the rest of the world, we’re all here starving for club culture to return in full strength or as close to it as possible.
I generally don’t put much attention to who’s observing my movements as an artist, and I place no value whatsoever on outside opinion. But as far as I can tell, the interest in what I do is continually gowning. I am aware of, and am fortunate to have a deeply rooted dedicated fan base who really understands, love, appreciate and continue to invest in my overall vision. My gratitude towards them also never waivers.
Also have you missed touring since the Pandemic hit and is there one club outside of the states that you miss the most?
To be honest no. But if there was a place that I miss, then it would have to be Precious Hall in Sapporo Japan. The entirety of that music institute is something that’s incredibly special.
Faith fanzines roots go way back to the early days of acid house. Were you following what was happening in the UK at that time and do you think the UK rave sound had a direct impact on New York and what you were selling at “Dance Tracks”?
Acid House was big for sure. But Dance Tracks taste was rarely dictated by trends nor the happenings of the moment. Rather we focused on carrying the dopest music period and no matter what genre it was.
Personally I’ve learnt so much from having time at home during lockdown and in the studio and I feel that I lost some skills from always being on the road. So I’m super interested to hear your thoughts on this and about road testing your music and is this necessary?
Creativity in embedded in my DNA. And so usually I only need to tap into my inner visions and daily experiences to be inspired. Outside influences and musical trends very rarely make an impact to my creative flow. It is something that I believe comes from an understanding that I am only an instrument for something much higher than self. It is that way of thinking that grants me access to a world of ideas that are plentiful.
Can you give us some insights into your current studio set up. Are you recording everything in one place and has it been possible to do sessions with another musician’s during the pandemic?
I can go on forever listing all the equipment that I have at my disposal. Truth be told, I can make music with pretty much anything that’s put in front of me. Raw Tones is living proof of it. However, almost everything I produce is mostly made possible by my having an extensive and fruitful imagination, and a willingness to become vulnerable and unafraid to venture into the uncharted creative territory of the mind. And so, for me it all begins and ends with imagination, and how well I can tap into the endless possibilities that creativity offers. I then transport that frequency of soul into the machines to bring them to life…
I’ve always wanted to come and visit your “Cosmic Arts’ space in Brooklyn. It looks incredible and so how are things looking for events and gallery shows over the summer. Do you have much planned now the restrictions are being lifted?
If you want to know what my saving grace really has been throughout the darkness, and part of the reason why I don't really miss touring; It would be due to Cosmic Arts. We've created a sanctuary, a place where love and a sincere appreciation for the arts and for those who come to visit takes precedent over everything else... It’s sort of how when I used to run and was half owner of Dance Tracks Records; People really look forward to Saturday coming primarily to go to Cosmic Arts.
Could you tell me a little bit more about it?
We sell music there as alternative medicine and not a commodity. Turning people on to music for me is one of my greatest pleasures; Cosmic Arts allows that to happen in a very organic and spiritual way. For the most part, whatever records we carry at CA are there because we’re into them. And so, with that comes a level of dedication and attention paid to records that is seldom performed anywhere else. I work there every Saturday. A part of my job is working the cash register; I not only absolutely love it, but it also keeps me grounded. Brother Jay Locke, who by the way is a is a really dope DJ orders and sells the New Jams, and on occasion I do as well. We curate dope music shows, special in stores, and live band performances. The art programs are curated by Akemi Shimda (another super dope visual artist.) We host other things that fall under the banner of artistic and audio dopeness. Hopefully one day you can come and visit us- we would love to have you.
From speaking to other DJ’s from New York you’re known for your quality control and challenging the status quo. Are you still hungry for music and still digging the crates even in these days of Discogs and eBay?
Truly I challenge nothing; I’m just only into being around creative minds and creating dope shit. I’ve been hunting for records since I was 17 Years old, and that hasn’t changed till this day. I'm always starving for music.
Joel Martin (Quiet Village) and I used to frequent the WFMU record fairs in NYC which were amazing and buy records from spots like 21st century Music in New Jersey and it seemed like New York has always been full of records. Can you give us some insights into your early record buying days in NYC, as I’m sure it must have been an incredible place to collect music when you were growing? up?
For me New York was the mecca of music shops and records stores. There were so many places to hunt for jams that makes it impossible to list all the deeper institutions that supported my personal eclectic taste of music. Back in those days, I was purchasing 12Inch and 7inch singles that were basically ignored, but that are now priced at hundreds even thousands of dollars. There were also loads of whole in the wall and weird places that you wouldn't expect to find records at, but there were and in abundance. Sadly, all that has vanished.
We’ve seen a huge increasing in the price of producing vinyl over the last year, also with delays and are now facing difficulties with manufacturing due to lack of raw materials. Being a label owner how important is producing vinyl for you and do you see yourself moving more into the digital realm?
I’m not opposed to digital, and I do understand the benefits, especially as it relates to business; But I’ve never really given in to the whole CD and digital music boom, and I never ever swayed away for representing the music of Spiritual Life or Sacred Rhythm music on Vinyl.
For me digital is for those who are looking for a quick fix. Whereas with vinyl Records, you're making a true commitment to the music and with the artist. I personally want to see and feel what it is that I’m listening, because it provides me with another level of listening experience. For me other than listing to and spinning music from a Reel to Reel tape machine of which I still use till this day, there’s nothing like spinning or listening to vinyl.
Finally what else do you have lined of the rest of the year and can we expect more “Raw Tones” from you?
It’s funny, but just yesterday I took a proper count on how many raw compositions I created during the world lock down. I have 57 tracks in all. I would love to properly send them out into the world. Let me though take this opportunity to say that you sir Matt / Leon and the Rekidscrew; that you are all doing a wonderful job thus far with the first outing. I thank all of you for that.
With regards to other projects; I just create and so I often find it difficult to remember what I’m doing off the bat. What comes to mind right now is a concept that I named Residue. In the past, I released a short series of Residue 12' Inches and a 7”. The demand for more has initiated my going back into the studio to produce a full release. This will see light of day sometime this coming autumn and I am very excited about it. There's also work that I contribute to my pride and joy Sacred Rhythm Music & Cosmic Arts and Atypical Dopenessoutputs, both of which are doing amazingly well. Future releases will include an album of my cosmic jazz outfit named Hidden Revealed, full lengths by Slam Mode, Paul David Gillman, Roi Azulay, Teenage Music, African Basement, Dele Sosimi and so many other dope artists. And finally, a weighty collaboration with Ron Trent is also in the works. Mind you, I’m managing all this while being asked to produce remixes at a rate like never-all the while I’m managing a family.
Joe Claussell ‘Raw Tones’ LP is out now on Rekids