Delano Smith interview by Kevin Reynolds. Photos by Torrence Allison
KR: I had the pleasure of meeting you at Transmat maybe some fifteen years ago via Derrick May. After you left Derrick told me that you were the original DJ. What inspired you to get into DJing and producing? I’m sure at the time you started it was a rare sight to see a DJ with two turntables or was that not true in Detroit? Was Ken Collier the only one?
DS: First off, I’m not the original anything LOL! I’m just the original me. I just happened to be around when Ken Collier introduced mixing to the straight scene in Detroit and was able to learn how to beatmatch as a youngster prior to the inception of house and techno. That’s all. It’s hard to say if Ken was the first one but he did make mixing popular in Detroit… actually he and Duane Bradley of Todd’s Nightclub on Detroit’s east side. Ken inspired me, along with countless others, to become a DJ. Derrick May, Mike Slade and Norm Talley were my inspiration to start producing music.
KR: How would you get records when you first started? Was it record pools locally or a lot of trips to Chicago?
DS: I was a member of Dance Detroit record pool early on before I went on hiatus for a few years. After that I shopped at the stores like everybody else. I never took many trips to Chicago to buy records. There were good stores here in Detroit.
KR: How has that changed from now? Is it more a digital files these days or is vinyl still a major player?
DS: Shopping for vinyl nowadays is a lot different as there aren’t many vinyl shops in Detroit that sell new records. So now I buy primarily from the online shops unless I’m traveling. When traveling I try to get in the stores as much as I can. DJ camaraderie in the stores is truly missing from the DJ culture in Detroit now. I buy digital too. Whatever sounds good and what I like. I don’t get mixed up in the vinyl vs. digital thing.
KR: Detroiters seem to pride themselves on finding the deep cut on the most out there, far removed album. Is this somehow burned into a Detroiter’s consciousness via Mojo’s airwaves or something more inherent?
DS: Yes. Mojo had a lot to do with it I think, but it had a lot to do with trying to stretch what you already had. I never did buy an album for just one song.
KR: Is this something that plays into your performances today? Trying to find an obscure rare track?
DS: Always! It’s a daily thing.
KR: Can you talk about how you balance the gigging, the traveling, the airplane, the studio and family time?
DS: A lot of times people don’t realize how difficult this life can be because they only see the glitz and glamour of it. There is never enough time and it can be exhausting if you don’t rest properly. I try to take a month or two off in the beginning of the year and again at the end of the summer just to finish some production and enjoy my family and home. It’s a constant waiting game when traveling and it can wear on your patience. I try to remain in good spirits when I meet the folks that come out to support me. People don’t realize the stress that constant travel can bring.
KR: It is refreshing to see a guy that started out before anyone I know in this music succeed and be known by people all around the globe. We all know music and the industry has high hurdles. How did you overcome them? It seems your career blossomed around 2012. I was wondering was there a catalyst, a magic pill, a mantra or just plain old hard work?
DS: It was plain old hard work and turning out decent DJ performances I think. Things really took off after The Odyssey album so I was kind of prepared. I had a few successful EPs prior to my first album so the traveling I was doing prior prepared me.
KR: I have to ask. Do you ever have a Charivari moment when touring? “Bread and cheese and fine white wine”. Does it put a smile on your face?
DS: All the time!
KR: I think one of the most progressive things of the Detroit scene is the sense that you have to try your best because you never know who is listening or watching. Critique by peers is integral, friendly competition. Sadly I think it is bit lacking these days, too many pats on the back without critique. Direct Drive versus Deep Space, was the competition fierce? Do you feel it is important to have competition and critique?
DS: Absolutely! Constantly giving praise for mediocrity is part of the problem with parts of the music and scene nowadays. Generally I don’t comment or critique an artist’s musical taste or style – everything is not for everybody. Everyone thinks that what they’re doing is the best. As for the competition you mentioned, I was not there nor was I a member of Direct Drive at that time. At the time of that event the founding members of Direct Drive had all but disbanded and I’ll just leave it at that.
KR: Speaking on the studio, a lot of artists tend to approach it one of two ways. Either having a set concept in your mind and attacking that concept or two or just sitting down at the equipment and experimenting to see what happens. Are these ways you work?
DS: I generally have an idea and direction I want to go in from the start. If I’m thinking of an interesting bassline, I’ll start that first and work and build around it. Rarely do I go in with no direction. There’s a concept to my projects I like to think.
KR: I notice a lot in your music as well as your performances that you seem focused on creating a vibe, an enveloping air of groove. Sonic pleasure comes from folding into your music to say the least. It’s music for the long haul as opposed to the whizbang, tricknology, A.D.D. state of current music. Do you think this plays into the fact that a lot of young millennials are drawn to your music as a way to escape the instant gratification society we live in now?
DS: Absolutely! The tricks and constant EQing is a U.S. thing. Constantly trying to get some kind of reaction from the crowd is not building any suspense or excitement in your performance I don’t think. It’s not educating. We must constantly educate while we entertain. The attention span of some in the states is limited however, IMO, they want what they want NOW.
KR: Also when listening to your music, I can’t help but notice dub and disco play roles in your sound. There are funk and soul vibes as well. What draws you to these structures?
DS: Hey, I like what I like! But, if you notice, that’s the kind of stuff I do on Sushitech. I think it sounds more modern than traditional techno. It’s kind of my spin on it. I like to draw more of a distinction to my sound.
KR: Let’s talk on what’s happening right now with Delano Smith. What are your upcoming works and events? What can we look forward to?
DS: I’m currently working on my next Mixmode release and trying to stay healthy while touring. It’s been very consistent and I’m grateful.
KR: As a main player at some of the largest festivals in the world, I’d like your take on Movement Festival?
DS: It’s one of the best and professionally organized in the world. It makes me proud that the guys at Paxahau pay attention to detail and quality. They may miss a few times with the bookings (i.e.: Snoop Dog), but hey, they can’t be right all the time.
KR: The Charivari Festival is something dear to your heart. Tell us about this up and coming festival in Detroit.
DS: Yes, very dear to my heart. Sadly we recently lost one of the festivals founders and close friend of mine Steve Dunbar. I think this year will be the best one yet and I hate that he’s not here to reap the rewards of his hard work. We’re working very hard to make it a very good festival for Detroit artists.
KR: We just lost one of the greats, some words on Prince?
DS: I grew up with Prince. His death was the hardest on everyone I think. The greatest that ever lived!
KR: What are some of your current favorite artists out there right now?
DS: I listen to so many different styles and genres, it’s really hard to say. Right now I’m digging a lot of 60’s stuff when riding in my car. I try to take a break from house and techno from time to time as of late. It can burn you out if you’re not careful.
KR: The word on the street is that if you get picked up for a gig in a nice car you often ask to drive. Are you a car guy? When overseas, is it hard driving on the other side of the road?
DS: HAHA!! That happened maybe twice when the driver has a car I like, but I never drive though. Yeah, big car guy! You see a lot of cars in Europe that you don’t see here.
KR: Doberman or Rottweiler? (I know tough question)
DS: Come on now Kev! I have both, but I will say that this is my first Doberman and it’s by far the most intelligent dog I have ever owned. I freakin’ love that guy!