House Hunting #4 – Walt J Talks


It’s only been a month since my column commenced and I’ve already broken my house hunting rulebook as:

a) I’ve not featured an old house record

b) not visited a second hand record shop and

and c) bought a limited hand-stamped 12” – the horror!!!

However, on this occasion it’s an exceptional circumstance as:

a) the record is by Detroit enigma Walt J who has produced some of my favourite records of all time,

b) I bought it in house purveyors’ paradise Kristina Records

and c) the record sleeve is laser cut. ace!!!

Despite only releasing a handful of records in the mid-nineties, Walt J aka Walter Jones has attained mythical status amongst the more discernible DJ’s and hardcore house fraternity with his deep, ethereal productions for scarce labels including David Whiteside’s Dow Records and Vigilante. After the release of his LP ‘Reflection’ back in ‘97, Walt vanished into obscurity offering only brief glimpses now and again with Belgian stable Curle reissuing his Larry Heard sampling cult classic ‘Reborn’ (via their subsidiary Petite) plus Detroit imprint Fit raiding the Dow vaults and re-releasing his rare records such as the ‘Ascender’ and ‘Divinity’ EP’s plus selections off his ‘Reflection’ LP.

So when late last year I saw an unheard of and unheralded Parisian label called ‘Unlearn’ announce that they were going to release a brand new Walt J EP with fresh productions, I couldn’t contain myself… Agonisingly counting down the days until its release, finally the ‘Resurgence’ EP finally dropped this month and I managed to cop a copy at Dalston’s discernible house den Kristina Records when I jetted there this week with my co-house hunter Tomi. Though I’m not down wit da kidz in regards to nu houz vinylz or tekno rekkids I highly recommend you check out Kristina Records as it has established itself as one of London’s best sources of underground records with its superior interior and super-friendly yet knowledgeable staff contributing to a contemporary approach in record retailing that has gained a loyal following and devoted diggers…

Back to the record and instead of me doing a Churchill waxing lyrical I present to you a House Hunting exclusive in the form of an interview with the enigma himself! Comin’ back deep outta the shadows now is the time for Walt’s long awaited return – read on for the education…

So Walt welcome back! Your new ‘Resurgence EP’ for Parisian label ‘Unlearn’ is aptly named as it’s the first 12” you’ve released in nearly two decades. What have you been up to during your production exile and what was the motivation in releasing a record now?

Wow, where do I start? Well shortly after ‘Reflection’ was released I got married and my priorities sort of changed. Starting another chapter in life kind of shifted my attention away from producing but not the music. Over the years I had a couple of jobs to support my new family. I finally settled in my second love which is film/media. I was a Production Assistant which involved editing, motion graphics, post production effects, and some still graphics. I am even connected with a UK film company called ‘Cupsogue Pictures’ in which I've done visual effects for and is currently working on a feature that is in preproduction. My current full time job in between film work is the US Postal service. I only recently made my way back after people asked about my return when the old re-releases came to light. Unlearn finally took the time to invest in me and supported my efforts to get back in the saddle.

Naturally family will always take priority and your film interests sound great you should produce the scores! So your tracks on the EP sound like you’ve never been away and they manage to capture that aura and feeling that are identifiable on your earlier productions on Dow and Vigilante Records. Are these tracks from the archives or are they recently produced?

I started from scratch! I didn't have any of my unreleased stuff because it got lost in old equipment and software. I started producing the new ones in October of last year and got into a flow. I guess it's like riding a bike again, but I wasn't too confident in the beginning and I let my vocalist friend Astral T and a couple of others hear snippets to gauge the quality. So I guess in a way they were my confirmation that I was on the right track.

Well you’ve definitely not lost any of that magic with your new productions! Anyway the EP is a beautifully presented package so looks like you have found the perfect platform in releasing your comeback record and have found kindred spirits in the guys at Unlearn (Aurele Castel and Raphael Cesario). You stated that they invested time in you and coaxed you back in to producing so how did this relationship form – did they approach you to produce an EP for them?

The guys at Unlearn contacted me to be their second release on the newly established label. I did not have software or equipment to produce music because I've been doing media work for so long and that's the type of tools I have. They agreed to get me started with a couple of basic tools (software, keyboard), and some time to get reacquainted with the process and get passed a learning curve. They were very patient and let me take as much time I needed to craft something I felt comfortable with. Great guys!

That’s great to hear that they encouraged you to produce again and supported you – big ups to Aurele and Raphael! Though your tracks have a unique style they seem to be influenced by your environs of Detroit. Did you have any roots in any other genre or was Detroit’s emergence of being the epicentre of techno an influence in producing house and techno records?

I was big into hip-hop in my youth and was into Run DMC, LL Cool J, Fat Boys and so on. I still listen to hip-hop but I'm drawn to more abstract artists like Slum Village, Jneiro Jarel and Q-Tip. My adoptive father was a jazz musician and so my taste leans towards those types of artists. Jazz is also my second love in the music genre in which my next project will be an instrumental jazz EP. But my first exposure to house music was Eddie Fowlkes’ ‘GoodBye Kiss’ and after I heard that I was hooked ever since! So once I was exposed to that gateway drug everything else didn't matter, it was house music all night long. My idols were the Holy Trinity of Derrick, Juan, and Kevin, and all I ever wanted was to see my name on a label one day and I accomplished that. But I will never forget the day two weeks before I left for the army, I called Derrick May (their phone numbers were on the records back then) and he actually answered the phone and was really down to earth in his conversation and I carried that with me until I came back home and was able to produce myself. I definitely subscribe to God ordering your steps in destiny because only by chance meetings was I able to connect with Marvin Jenkins, Dave Peoples of Vigilante, and David Whiteside of DOW records that the chance to do the music manifested.

Ha amazing story regards Derrick and I can see how you got hooked with that Eddie “Flashin” Fowlkes record – a defining track of the era on Juan Atkins’ Metroplex and only natural the Belleville Three were an influence. You mentioned being in the army – did this experience have any influence on your productions?

Can't say that it did, but listening to Baby Ford’s Ford Trax and AL B. sure got me through the days and nights.

I love that Ford Trax LP! So you referenced the jazz composer Marvin Jenkins who collaborated with you on one of my favourite EP’s of yours (‘The Walt J Project’ 12” on Professional Records) which must have felt a major achievement considering your love of jazz. However, I’m really interested in knowing what happened to Dave Peoples aka ‘Dirty Dave’ and who featured on this and on the Vigilante releases as like yourself seems a mythical figure who has vanished and been left in the shadows…

Dave Peoples is alive and kicking and has never stopped working the scene. He had a couple of releases some time ago but most recently does live performances with Tech Beat Collective. He also is working on a release through the VCN network in which I have contributed a track to.

That’s great to hear he’s still producing! So when you’re in the studio do you have a specific methodology when producing or do you lay a track down more on ‘feeling’?

Well, my method goes by my philosophy on EDM. Every track is like a person, it has a soul (type of track, Minimal, Hard Techno, House, or a hybrid). DNA (building blocks of, type of kick, Hi hat arrangement, percussions). Then character (tones that are used for the melody, bass line and other elements that make up the song). So depending on the sound or sample I start with, guides the process on how I flesh the song out.

A positive production philosophy! Considering it’s been nearly 20 years since your last releases and with the emergence of new software and advances in technology has it been a challenge in re-engaging with producing?

Not really. Since I work with video editing software and post production tools. It took me about a month to learn the basics of music production software, but what I don't know I can find online ha! Besides, I embrace new technology and seeing the old stuff I don't see how I used it!

Is there any particular piece of equipment or hardware/software that you love and has been a regular feature in your productions?

My Mac! But right now I'm loving Logic Pro X, and hope to expand to Native Instruments Maschine.

Regarding your productions, do you have a favourite or one that you’re particularly proud of?

I don't really have a favourite because I usually critique and wish I have done something different with each track. But if I had to choose what I'm proud of it would be ‘Reborn’. If I had to choose a favourite it would be what I have not released yet which is a track called ‘Simplicity’ which I have laid the ground work on.

Yeah I love ‘Reborn’ and this cult classic deservedly received more attention with Curle’s reissue complete with the DJ Qu remixes. With Detroit label Fit recently reissuing your scarce Dow discography and the release of your new EP for Unlearn you seem to be going through a renaissance reaching out to new generation and wider audience. Does it feel like you’re getting more attention and worthy recognition now compared to the mid-nineties with your initial releases?

As far as recognition, I guess I really did not think about it until people started telling me that other people were inquiring about me if I was ever going to do something else. I guess I only got into it for the music I was completely satisfied with having a tangible product out there and people like it. Now that I'm older, you think about how you could have marketed yourself better or pushed a little harder to get your name out there, but these days I believe in God's timing on everything. I may not have been mature enough to handle any fame or notoriety back then, but I feel I can pace myself now and use it to my advantage. Hopefully I can remain relevant enough to have the music work for me and enjoy any fruits from the labour. This is of course if the people find me worthy. I will always exercise humility within the craft because its people that fuel the legacy and I'm more than happy to be a part of it.

Lovely words Walt – you are very modest considering your production legacy. In terms of your peers are there any producers you’re currently feeling?

Wow, where do I start? Let me think a moment… Danny J. Lewis, Jimpster, Polar Pair, DeeJay D-Former, Peven Everett just to name a few plus I’m fond of the classics like Bjork, 808 State and Rick Wade. There are too many to name, but I am drawn to the deeper melodic styles with jazz influences.

Some great mentions there with a couple I need to check out! Finally, as well as the aforementioned instrumental jazz EP you’re working on and the unreleased ‘Simplicity’ that is coming to fruition are there any other future projects that we should look out for?

Future projects will come after the Jazz EP, but I will not force it. Just keep your ear to the ground for ‘EJM’ (Electronic Jazz Music) from ‘Staccato’.

Walt, it’s been a pleasure and good luck with the new EP. Anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?

I would like to add thanks to my wife Stephan (pronounced 'stef-fan') for her support in all my endeavours.

The ‘Resurgence’ EP by Walt J on Unlearn is available now at all good record shops including this week’s choice emporium Kristina Records – only 300 copies don’t hang around…

Aiden d'Araujo

The record is also available to buy from the label directly – hit ‘em up here

Listen to the full EP here: