robert hood talks pt deux
Continuing our chat with Robert surrounding his debut Floorplan album ‘Paradise’, this time round we found out about his inspiration behind starting his various different aliases, the change in attitude towards religion and the way that people use music as a way to get a message out to the world.
So you’ve got this new Floorplan album coming up. Am I right in thinking the first Floorplan release was ‘Funky Souls’ back in ’96 right?
Yeah, that’s right.
How did that come about? Where did the inspiration come from to start this new project?
It was just a desire to show a different emotional side to Robert Hood, I’d done the Night Time World stuff and Minimal Nation and Internal Empire and some experimental stuff and you know, there’s a Robert Hood that appreciates disco, and appreciates house and gospel you know? And so it just sort of turned into this new entity and this new animal where I had a platform to express my more stripped down tech-house dimension of Robert Hood. And then I began to listen to some old Kool And The Gang records and some old Harold Melvyn and the Blue Notes stuff, and at the time I was listening to Phyllis Hyman and just some old Philly Stuff, Gino Soccio and it all just made sense that I should do a dancefloor record. You know, that people could dance to. I started to think about why don’t people dance with each other? I remember you used to have to ask a girl to dance and you’d look pretty silly just being out on the dancefloor by yourself, and I come from a time when we used to party when we were kids. In middle school we used to party like grown folks man, you know in the basement with the blue lights and everything, and we took it seriously! We were serious about our partying man. I don’t even know how I even got my mother to agree to let me out as a 13 year old kid past midnight at these parties, but still I was there man and that’s how I got party sensibilities. And I remember going to backyard parties in Detroit neighbourhoods and seeing Mike Huckabee when he was with a group of DJs and hearing, ahh what’s that group called… the Peach Boys
What the Beach Boys?
No no, not the Beach Boys. The Peach Boys with a P! There was a song they plated called ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’
Ahh yeah the NYC Peach Boys
Yeah that’s it, progressive stuff man. And like I said we took parties seriously and I was just trying to bring back those sensibilities, you know, from lesser known disco records. I mean everyone knows Chic and Donna Summer and all that but what about the obscure stuff.
Well you’ve recorded under a number of different aliases, do you feel like it’s important to compartmentalise what you do like that? Like one day you say ok today I’ve got my Rob Hood hat on but the next day you’ve got your Floorplan hat on or Monobox or something? Or do you just start working on music and see which way it goes?
This is just how I pace myself, and so I kind of divide myself up into 3 different individuals through Monobox, Floorplan and Robert Hood. And so it allows me to explore different perspectivesd in electronic music so I don’t just wear myself out on trying to be Robert Hood, it gives Robert Hood a rest. It gives Monobox a rest and then I can concentrate on Floorplan. The same thing with Night Time World, which is kind of a world within Robert Hood and so it just gives me a chance to space myself from doing just stripped down minimal dancefloor bangers and I can just sort of invent new planets, and not wear one out. Listeners, let me take you somewhere else. Ok we’ve been there, we’ve worn those pants that hat and those shoes now let’s try on some new clothes. And so I don’t just bog myself down and put myself in one corner.
Tell be a bit about this new album. Did you work on all of the tracks in one go or did it come together over a period of time?
Over time. From a spiritual perspective it started out as just some ideas and tracks and then it began to take on a whole other life that I never even envisioned. And when praying about this project I asked God ‘what do you want me to say to people through this Floorplan record’. I want to say something that means something, and not just have a collection of tracks. And I was listening to some old Aretha Franklin, she did a recording in a church out on the west coast, about ’73 or ’74 or something like that, and it was taking me back to my roots of church and gospel and I thought about the idea of paradise. And my manager Oliver Way sent me a book called ‘Love Saves the Day’ and it’s talking about Paradise Garage and it’s talking about disco and I said wouldn’t it be a great idea to talk about paradise but not in the sense of the Paradise Garage but ask what is paradise? What is the true meaning of paradise. And really all it means is God’s covering you and knowing that he has his wings over you and no matter what you’re going through you can have paradise right here on earth. You don’t have to wait until you die and go to heaven and have eternal salvation. You can have all that and also have peace here on earth. And so I say, how can I say that because of the nature of this music is mostly instrumental of course. And so I was trying to get that message of hope and that feeling of a tranquil state of mind into this recording. Again I was listening to a lot of disco and gospel such as Detroit’s Clarke Sisters and trying to get to that sensibility that He is the source of all of our needs if we can just trust in Him. If we trust in God we can have true paradise right here on earth.
It seems that in these days when less people are churchgoers a lot of people look for something in this communal expression through music on dancefloors in clubs that they would maybe have got on a Sunday in church? Say you mention somewhere like the Paradise Garage where the people who went there talk about it in this evangelical way.
My thing is, if you won’t go to church we won’t cast off anybody. Those people who don’t go to church and are in the clubs that’s fine but then we’ll bring the church to you. But we won’t forget about you. We have to show love too man, and this is where the church is missing it. A lot of times we can get caught up in so much religion and the law and the Old Testament that we forget about what Jesus is really about which is love and grace and mercy and spreading the Gospel. And I think how can I be used to spread the news to people who don’t necessarily go to church? And it’s simple, just bring the church to the clubs. And that’s what the Clarke Sisters did. The Clarke Sisters were asked to perform at Studio 54 but their mother forbade them to go. And they said, well they won’t be doing that, but why don’t you meet us half way and come to a church where they’re performing. And again that recording of Aretha Franklin at that church in California. You had a lot of people that were followers of her RnB career coming into that church with the curiosity wanting to hear what she’s talking about and you know she tore the roof off that place singing gospel and ushering the holy spirit into that place of worship, so you had people from this world having a supernatural experience. It’s all about a balance and spreading Gods message and finding creative ways to get the job done.
It seems that a lot of the time, especially in this day and age, religion gets a bad image with people because that’s all they see on the news is just these people sending negative messages in the name of faith but then you come back to music that comes from spirituality and it has a more positive effect and it gives people a more positive impression.
At the end of the day man love is the message and this music, techno music, electronic music, all of this emanates from God, this is God’s vision. The thing is, what are we saying with this gift? What are we saying with this opportunity? You know we can preach death or we can preach life. Like with Tupac Shakur he talked so much about death that the very same thing he was talking about came to pass. Same with Biggie. What are we talking about? Are we talking about living in excess with drugs and women and cars and money? What are we telling to the next generation, to the impressionable children coming up? Again you can lay seeds of life or you can lay seeds of death but understand that if you lay seeds there will be a harvest. Something will grow negative or positive you know? A black rose or a ruby rose. And so that’s what we have to keep in mind as artists as producers as innovators of sound. What are we using this to do? And so I choose to use my platform in this way where I can speak to people to tell them about God and hopefully they can be inspired, to turn their lives. And not me preaching, and looking down my nose in a manner of condemnation. Cos you see that’s what’s wrong with the church, is often times we come from a standing point of condemnation. Yes we have to tell the truth but lets tell it through love. Again – love is the message. And in pop music and disco music thats always been at the core but at times that’s become perverted and twisted on it’s side. Let’s keep it pure, let’s keep it minimal let’s keep it simple.
Going back to something you said earlier when you were talking about wanting to have a message but the music being predominantly instrumental. How do you come up with names for your tracks? It always strikes me as a hard thing to do when the tracks are stripped down dancefloor music.
Well it’s just simply about how the track feels and what it’s saying to my heart. Sometimes I can come with it right away, sometime it can go untitled for days or even weeks until I can finally find a name that says what this track is saying to me and what I want to say to people. With the track ‘Confess’ the track I got (the piano) from was by English Beat called ‘I Confess’ but that was really a no brainer just taking that piano line but again how do I get it to speak about what confession really is in Biblical Terms. Just allowing the music to speak to me and tell me how to shorten that word or that title in a way that people will get it. Sometime people will get it in a short time and sometimes it can take years. And you know it can be tricky with electronic and instrumental music and everybody doesn’t always get it right off the back. It’s like chapters in a book. The first chapter’s ‘Let’s Ride’ and then the next one’s ‘Above the Clouds’ you know. I try to frame that like the chapters of a DVD and I want it to read like a movie and read like a book and when you put all of these chapters together it sort of spells itself out without me hardly even saying a word.
So there’s a lot of music around at the moment that harks back to more ‘Classic’ sounds in house and techno and things are getting recycled a little. I noticed a while ago you saying that everybody needs their chance to tell the story. What are your thoughts on that? Are people saying the same thing in a different way and is that how music evolves?
People are saying a vast array of different things and expressing different emotions. I mean people in the gabba scene have an angry sound and emotion, and then you have happy house music, or drum and bass music and the string arrangements. It’s the emotion. I think the emotion is coming back to music and I think that’s really important. I’m thinking of Frank Ocean and the emotion coming out of his music and the emotion that’s coming out of Janelle Monet. People are gradually realising that this pop music and RnB music has become kind of empty and devoid of feeling. If you go back to the ’70s then everyone was all about expressing their emotions. Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Marvin Gaye and really getting back to soul music. And it’s not all about having to be funky all the time. I can remember Richie Hawtin saying exactly that, it doesn’t have to be funky all the time and he was exactly right. But, at the same time music does have to have feeling, and it has to say ‘I’m in Love’ or ‘I hate my boyfriend’ or ‘I’m mad at the world’. It has to make me feel what the artist is saying. Bill Withers was the master of getting people to feel what he was saying and that’s what I think is really missing from music as a whole. Be it hip-hop or techno or house music or whatnot and I think people are getting back to that.
You mentioned Richie Hawtin back there. It seems that while the pure minimalism of techno was your creation he kind of took that on and took it to the world. Does that sound fair?
Richie approached minimalism and electronic music from his perspective and from where he grew up. I mean he’s a white dude from Canada and I’m a black dude from Detroit so you’re going to have a difference in sound. I mean Kraftwerk coming out of Dusseldorf their perspective is going to be different to Roger Troutman coming out of Cincinnati Ohio. There’s going to be an industrial sound coming out of where they’re from with an artistic lean on it whereas Roger Troutman is based in the funk, in that rhythm section and so it’s going to be a different way of speaking and interpreting and rendering music. Abba is not going to sound like the Staple Singers. Now you got people like Ben Klock, you got Loco Dice and their sound is reflective of their upbringing and of their surroundings and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s all good. As long as you’re saying something. In my sound the bass lines were more Detroit Chicago progressive and that doesn’t mean that minimalism has to sound like this. My sound borrows a little bit from Gino Soccio, from old funk records, from old chicago records and past Detroit records and just sort of breathed new life into it. You know what I mean? But at the same time though these copycats and cats that are jumping on the band waggon and think we’ve got a bassline and a 909 and a high hat you know, that’s not being real.
So how healthy do you think the electronic music scene is at the moment? Who is inspiring you?
It’s pretty healthy, but I can see where we can fall in that comfortable box where we once were 6 or 7 years ago. It’s kind of where hip-hop is now, it’s almost gone. I’m a dude who came up listening to A Tribe Called Quest, Gangstar, Big Daddy Kane and then Wu Tang and Nas and now that sensibility of making that boom bap hip-hop is gone. And I understand that sounds are going to change but media and social networking and the way we distribute it is going to influence it but then it influences it too much. And we got to be careful in techno and electronic music not to let this culture be driven by social media and hype and we have to really control it’s creativity. And I really like what I’m hearing from Mark Broom and from Ben Sims, and I also like what RZA is doing through scoring movies and making movies and he’s stepping outside of his familiar familiar box and getting into doing something unfamiliar and that’s what we need to do. Not just thinking as a DJ you know. Our minds can be so programmed, let’s try to think in the sense of being artists and pushing the envelope and doing other things that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable so we don’t get lulled into a false sense of security and that’s when we look up and realise that this music has gone and ask what has it turned into. And we don’t even recognise it any more.
And finally – what are you planning now and what’s your next project?
I really don’t know, it’s just a matter of now preaching the gospel through music or any format that I can. Just about getting the message of love and grace and mercy out whatever way I can. Where it’s taking me next I don’t know but I know that it’s going to be powerful. And all I’d say is stay tuned, and keep the faith and be ready!
Cool – thanks a lot for that Robert!
No problem, be blessed man.