Eines der legendärsten House-Alben ist dank Rush Hour wieder erhältlich. Zeit, für ein paar Fragen an die beiden Produzenten.

Rush Hour, das Amsterdamer Konglomerat aus Label, Plattenladen und Vertrieb, profiliert sich immer mehr mit Reissues lange verschollener und zu Unrecht vergessener Klassiker. Auf die Balihu- und Frictional-Anthologien folgt jetzt eine Serie von ausgegrabenen und vergriffenen Meilensteinen der Chicagoer House-Keimzelle Trax Records. Nach der Wiederveröffentlichung einer der wenigen Produktionen von DJ-Legende Ron Hardy, ist jetzt das oftmals als “best house album you have never heard” betitelte Album von Virgo von den Trüffelschweinen bei Rush Hour ausgegraben worden.

Virgo (nicht zu verwechseln mit der damals ebenfalls auf Trax veröffentlichenden House-Supergoup um Adonis, Marshall Jefferson und Vince Lawrence), oder auch Virgo Four, bestand aus Eric Lewis und Merwyn Sanders, Freunde seit der Grundschule, die Ende der Achtziger nach einigen erfolglosen Anläufen eine Hand voll zeitloser Tracks, die nicht zuletzt auch die Warp Gründer Steve Beckett und Rob Mitchell zu ihren wichtigsten Einflüssen aus der Zeit zählen, auf Larry Shermans Label Trax Records (und kurz darauf als England-Lizenz auf Radical Records) veröffentlicht haben – und danach wieder in der Versenkung verschwanden. Dass Eric Lewis und Merwyn Sanders heute nicht einen ähnlichen Status wie zum Beispiel Larry Heard haben, ist aus musikalischer Sicht kaum nachvollziehbar. Aber wie die beiden in den Linernotes zu dem Rush Hour Reissue freimütig zugeben: “We were horrible at networking”. Es ist also an der Zeit, die Magie von Virgo noch einmal neu zu entdecken. Wir haben den beiden ein paar Fragen per Email geschickt. Hier sind die Antworten. Heute mal im Original ohne Übersetzung.

Were you surprised when Rush Hour showed interest to re-release your music?

Merwyn:  Very surprised.  And it was nice to hear.  It all started with Jacob Arnold at Gridface it seems, then everything kinda trickled down from that interview.  Big thanks to Jacob Arnold and Christiaan Macdonald at Rush Hour.
Eric: Yes. When Merl called me to tell me about interviews and re- releasing of the album I was surprised as well.

How did the whole deal go down?

Merwyn:  I contribute our connection to Rush Hour to the power of Facebook.  Christiaan Macdonald (Rush Hour’s Label Manager) and I became friends on Facebook at the moment they were working on reissues of Trax Records material.  It went from there.

What was most memorable about Chicago in the mid to late 80s? Musically, socially, politically?

Eric: Musically, it was the parties. Mendel Catholic was an all boys high school which had a large gym with a lower level. The parties would be packed with at least a thousand teens (not an exaggeration). Listening to the very latest music. Often times music that would never reach the radio. Socially, we noticed this is when alternative lifestyles became the norm. Since we grew up with these social norms we never thought anything of it. The House culture and music was considered alternative  and hip. It was cool to be called,”House”. There was a dress and attitude that was very distinct of the House culture in Chicago. I’m not sure that anyone outside of Chicago quite understands the impact House had on the city at the time. I imagine, from what I know, it would be similar to Punk musics affect on London. Politically, Chicago was grappling with the idea of its first black Mayor, Harold Washington. He later died, in 1987, under great suspicion. He too was alleged to have an alternative life. It  was a wild and great time to grow up in Chicago.

Your first record came out, when Trax was already past its prime. The big names of the first wave of house like Farley Jackmaster Funk, Marshall Jefferson, Lil Louis etc. were travelling the world and had hit the charts with their tracks. How was it for you as an unpcoming production-team back then? Were you close with other producers? Who were your main influences?

Merwyn:  It was cool.  We were doing tons of tracks during the prime of Trax Records, but that’s when Larry wasn’t interested in what we were doin’.  So we kinda’ just kept to ourselves.  Trax was accessible, and really the only label at the time in our minds, except DJ International and we just never thought to try to go there.  The only other label we approached was State Street Records, and we got the same thing from them, the commonly heard “not my cup of tea” phrase.  We weren’t close with any of the house music or dj producers back then.  My influences were abundant.  Everything, jazz, rock, rnb, classical.  I should also mention I liked a lot of the stuff by say, Telex, Gary Numan, Klein And MBO, whom I haven’t mentioned in other interviews.  

Did you have the goal to make a living with house music back then? What made you change your minds – and careers?

Merwyn:  We had the idea of making a living off of MUSIC, not just house music.  Growin’ up together, we had our own band, house music was just another side, or what became the main side.  So we never changed our minds in a sense, we were always into other things as well.  I had my artwork, Eric was pretty good ball player in grammar school and high school, and we went to college.  So we just figured what happens with the music will just happen.  When I think back it seems we were just not into trying to get these record companies to listen and so forth.  I’ve learned it is a talent being able to recognize something in someone else.  The record labels that have been successful or have changed music in ways, have all had that talent of recognizing:  Motown (Berry Gordy), Jive Clive Davis).

Eric:  Sure. But the “starving artist” thing did not float for me. I wanted to make a consistent living, have a family and so forth. Music has always been great and a creative release for me, I recognized that it was not going to be able to sustain me and a family I elected to go into something more stable.

You were both trained musicians, how did you approach house music back then – as a band effort or as sequenced music?

Merwyn:  Definitely as a band effort.  We loved playin’ everything.  As kids we were always trying to emulate different great musicians.  I was always tryin to emulate Buddy Rich or Neil Peart, or Nile Rogers or Eddie Van Halen on guitar, Eric had his too, I think Stanley Clark, Brothers Johnson.and Bernard Edwards of Chic.  So we only started sequencin’ stuff later and that was mostly just triggering notes through our drum machine, not sequencing a complete song through an actual sequencer.

Eric: I’m not sure how you sequence a complete song. I guess we always just thought of ourselves as a couple of friends that make music together. A band always seemed so formal. It also implies that we get together to “practice” in the garage or something.

Larry Sherman, the label-boss of Trax, changed your project-name without you knowing it. He was known for his, let’s call them creative business practices. How was your relationship with him back then?

Merwyn:  Actually our relationship with Larry was good.  On a personal level we were great for some reason.  On a business level he used to drive me nuts.

Eric: Larry was cool. He may have been bad to a lot of people but cool to us. We would drive his car, hang out at his home and play video games. We though he was odd and we would make fun of him a lot but we felt we could come to him when we needed something.

In the linernotes to the album you say that you never stopped making music. But you stopped releasing things in the early nineties. Why did you never try to sign anything to another label than Trax – or started your own label?

Merwyn:  We thought about and talked every now and then about it.  But it seemed like everything just never fell into place, and we were also doing other things at the time.  What’s interesting is that over the past year we have been talking about putting out our own music because of the way technology is now, so it’s funny how things happen sometimes, like with Rush Hour.

Eric: We just got busy with life. People are always telling us to put out this song or that song. We would agree with them but never do it. Now it looks like we have an avenue in which to release a great deal of music.

How did you experience the slow decline of Chicago house in the early nineties? And did you follow the development of the music throughout the years including the worldwide success of house and techno?

Eric: We really did not experience it. We were not as connected with it at its decline. We lost contact with Larry, Rick Barnes (label-boss of Dance Mania) and Derek Brand (who also recorded for Trax), which were our main connections to the music. We also were not involved in the clubs scene as much. As for following the development of the music, we paid attention to the music but not closely. A good friend of ours, DJ Johnny Key, has his own live radio website called Newagesoul.com, which I frequent to keep up with what’s going on.  Other than that, I do not know  much of the development of dance.

What are you doing now, if you don’t work on music?

Merwyn:  We still work on music.  But I’m an artist also.  I’ve done a lot of murals commissioned by the city of Chicago and I do work as a scenic artist in Chicago.  I have also performed in plays in Chicago, and done some work as an independent filmmaker.

Eric: I am  married and a father of three girls. My family is my focus now. Professionally, I’m an assistant principal at a great middle school in Chicago.

When you listen to your early tracks like “Going Through Life” or ” In A Vision”, what do you hear?

Merwyn:  I hear what I think are cool tracks.  But I also hear what I could have done, what we could do now with it. It’s like a painter workin’ on a painting.  You gotta’ learn how to let it go, or you’ll work on it forever ’cause you always see somethin’ else.

E: I have always loved “Going Through Life”. Our songs are born from either Merl or me, then the other person adds on or compliments the original piece. This song was born of Merl. I thought is was a great song from the start of the piano. In a Vision makes me smile, I not sure why. Maybe it reminds me of having fun.

With that revived interest in your music, are you going to release new material? And if so, how does it sound?

Merwyn:  We actually plan on releasing “new old music”.  Music we recorded back in the day that was never heard. And, also release new material.  We just have to figure out the best way to go about it.

Eric: Sure! If there is an interest. We have tons of music. The older music sounds like the Virgo album to me. The new stuff is slicker, cleaner.  We have fun making it and we hope have fun listening to it. I would like to introduce some slower music that is created like house music. Ultimately the music has to sound like us, because it is born from us. The newer stuff may sound different to people but its still us, done in the same way.

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