Christopher Thomas: The D.C LaRue interview

Christopher Thomas from Columbia university in NYC had a conversation with cult disco figure extraordinaire D.C LaRue.  Overfitting Disco is now privileged to present the interview to you, with permission by Christopher and Mr LaRue himself.

In the picture: Danny Krivit and D.C LaRue – who recently spinned his first dj set!

Christopher Thomas: You initially designed record covers, right?

D.C. LaRue: I did, that’s how I met a lot of the people [in the Record Industry]…I came to NY to pursue a recording career, but luckily enough, I had an art background…so I got a various jobs for record companies designing sheet music covers, song folios, album covers…I met Janis Ian when I designed her Aftertones Album Cover, I met the producer for Cathedrals, Aram Schefrin when I designed his cover for Ten Wheel Drive…So all these people I met…It’s interesting, I got art jobs in the record industry by virtue of the fact that I was around these people all the time, I would then sneak demos to the A&R guy. It was a back door.

Was your initial ambition to be a recording artist though, despite this artistic segue?

Oh absolutely, I was discovered and recorded my first record when I was in High School. In 1961, in Connecticut, Cheshire High. I wanted to be another Fabian…It wasn’t in the cards, but yeah.

You were briefly discovered in high school –

Well it wasn’t so briefly because, through the years I had a lot of singles, I had three different names, I did a movie…but it was a different time, it was a pop time, and it was singles and 45s. And you never did an album until you had a big hit…you know it was that kind of record market. Oh I had about 7 or 8 singles.

I had given up completely by 19…I really had, I had signed with Donnie Kirshner, I had done some creative work for Donnie Kirshner…I got to see his A&R guy, Wally Gold, who produced Kansas and the Archies and Barbara Streisand, and I said, “Oh Wally, I write songs, you know!” It was a different time in music too so I went up to his office and I sat down and played a couple tunes, he said “Oh my God!, It’s another Elton John!” so he signed me right away. And I had two records, two releases with Kirshner records. We signed a distribution deal with Columbia, but Wally told me we weren’t doing that pop stuff anymore, they were doing rock stuff.

And really over the 12 years I was recording those singles, the session with him was the best single session I ever did, and I knew it, it was flawless, it was everything I wanted it to be.

Is this early work on Spotify or any streaming service?

No…Well, I just posted the first record I ever recorded with the four seasons doing the background on my soundcloud, called Jane []. To listen to more of DC’s earlier work, please check out his Soundcloud Disco Show, Disco Juice:

What was the music of your high school years?

It was 59,60,61…It was Frankie Avalon…

Rock n’ Roll, right?

Well, White Boy Rock n’ Roll…I made my own set of greatest hits for the 50s and 60s…that was when top 40 really was top 40. You had Jane Powell, Chuck Berry, Fabian, Danny & the Juniors, the Cleftones…It really was what top 40 was about.

Do you have an opinion on the way musicians become popular now?

I wonder how they do it. I have people asking me to give them advice on how to break through, and I really don’t have a clue. I know that if I were 18 now and wanted to record, I’d figure it out. But there are only three companies that control the industry. Harder than ever. My entire career prior to Cathedrals, even during Cathedrals, the way you’d get a record deal was you’d go into the A&R guy, and sit down at the piano and play the songs…

Really? They’d just hear you out?

They’d hear you out. Or I’d submit a demonstration record. You can’t even get in today. I had an appointment at Polygram, and I have to make the appointment and they have to leave my name at the desk and the guy has to physically come down 18 floors to verify who I am and take me up in the elevator personally, It’s ridiculous. Before you’d go to Broadway, and go from record company to record company. If they had the time, they’d listen, live, or have the secretary say, ‘Oh, leave some nibbles and I’ll have someone listen to it.’…and they’d pick up the phone and say hello, and then they would actually give you an answer when they didn’t like it, they’d say “Oh, we’ll pass.” Today they don’t do any of that, they don’t pick up the phone, you can’t get through to them, it’s all texting, it’s all if you’re lucky enough to have their number…it’s all emails, but they never answer.

But I understand that too because they must get a hundred thousand emails from all over the world, every day. Like I said, I haven’t got a clue. I can’t give anybody advice, it’s a whole new record industry. And since people aren’t making money from selling recordings…even a Rhianna, a first burst of money…but there’s no CD sales anymore…it’s all online, the company has to be excited enough to spend 3 million dollars on mounting a show for you. They have to believe in you that much. They really sell your soul.

As an artist, I always say that I look at a Justin Bieber or a Miley Cyrus and I don’t know how they stay sane. Because Justin Bieber is responsible for an industry…he’s KMART, he’s a mini-empire, and he’s responsible for now…hundreds and hundreds of people and their income and their lives and they’re sending their kids to college because of Justin Bieber. They’re paying for their home in Calabasas, they’re going on vacation, they’re buying a new Mercedes for their wife…because of Justin Bieber.

I don’t know how they stand the pressure; I don’t know how they do it.

I remember when I had the celebrity and the fame…it was nerve wracking. You had people around you…it was a whole different era. You had people touching you, and feeling you and touching your hair and telling you what to do and what not to do and augh, it was awful.

What would you say is your general perspective of fame, having been so famous in the 70s?

Well that’s interesting. I wasn’t so famous in the 70s. I wanted to correct you on that…about my music. First of all, what I experienced…see I never made records to be famous or to perform. I made records because I loved making records. I loved making records. The first time I made that demo [Jane] I loved singing and making records and hearing my voice…and even to this day, I remember, I wasn’t so much Jane….but it was the experience of making the record that was magic to me.

The production part of it?

Yes…I’d write the song, on piano in the basement or the guitar, I played the guitar too, you’d bring it to Bob Crew, he’d love the song, and then you’d hear the final result…I’d take those records and play them for hours…I couldn’t believe it, and I was happy. I loved performing, not that I didn’t like it, but I didn’t have that burning desire…I recently did a show with Melba Moore…she was wonderful, terrific. We did some New Years Eve stuff together, and she’s talking about performing and how she loves performing all the time…I said, do you love it that much and she’s like “I live for it. And when I’m not performing I’m unhappy.” I’ve never felt that way. I’m happy at home with my cat. Watching good movies. I really am, I have wonderful friends, I’m happy going to Paris.

[Performing] was more uncomfortable…This one disco in queens, I went there, the place was jammed, and it was a line to get in, it was a big hit, it had gotten onto disco radio here in New York City and it was really a successful record, and they announced me as the performance of the night and I went there with the people from the record company…I couldn’t get through the crowd, people were grabbing, touching, grabbing, touching –

Sounds terrible –

It was awful. A lot of people like that!

To be tended to, to be guided –

That’s right. I remember one fan, he’d gotten in touch with me, and he was a big guy in a motorcycle, a big disco fan, and he came, and he was so excited, and he got backstage, he started touching me…I was so uncomfortable with that kind of attention, I like being touched by people I want touching me.

I didn’t like being touched…I remember I was in London, and I was a big disco show, and I remember screaming and yelling and girls with photographs and I went down to the edge of the stage, signing autographs, and they pulled me into the audience, and the bodyguard had to come grab m…and I was scared, and then they whisked me into my Mercedes limousine….and the girls were backstage and they got on top of the hood, bouncing and bouncing and bouncing…and I was inside and I was saying ‘This is like Elvis Presley time!” and I don’t like it.

I felt threatened.

You were never seduced by the fame?

I was never seduced by the fame, even today, [When I stream my music online] I don’t look, I don’t look at any of the figures [of how many people listen].

I had a listener in every country on the face of the earth…every country! I don’t get stats from North Korea or Afghanistan [laughs], but I’ll bet someone is listening there too…if they’ve got disco lovers.

If I really thought about the fact that 250,000 people listening…I don’t know…I don’t how I’d process that. Especially if I’m alone in a studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I’m there all alone. And to think I’m reaching all those people around the world…it’s great and whatever, but I don’t let it get to me.

Part of the fame thing, I would love it, but there are a lot of people who…I remember Carly Simon discussing it, she hated it too, she hated performing, she had terrible stage fright, she hated that touchy-feely thing too…she just wanted to make music.

Most time the fame is more important, the fame is what drives the musician.

Going back to Disco, What do you think differentiated it from earlier Rock N’ Roll?

Disco Records were totally conceived and created in a different way. The trouble was that at that time I couldn’t help but write songs. They were just a part of who I am…and I used to walk around with a little cassette recorder, and I’d record something and tuck it away.

I was at Disco 12 West and I was there and Donna Summer came on…and that was a long record. I mean, the Doors had 18 minutes records, Cream had 18 minute records, Hendrix had 18 minutes records, it wasn’t the long cut….and they played Giorgio, and they dropped out the strings and brought back the strings…the way he layered it and unlayered it…it was…God, I had never heard records made like this. So it was stuck in my head…and I looked to do a concept album, and then several weeks later, and this is an old story, but it’s true, I was with my friend Steve DeChristo who had taken me to one of the early Disco Spots, in 1975…and I was there, and I was very high, he didn’t blend records, he’d butt them – butt to butt, and sometimes, when he was searching for a record, there would be a momentary pause in the music, and it’s 3 o’clock in the morning, and the dance floor…you could feel the floor move, and you feel the walls sweat, and the music stopped…and when you’re high like that, 3 seconds can feel like 3 hours…I don’t know how long it was, but the crowd was wild, screaming, and so he went to another track….and then there was dancing again, after that pause, after having all that energy, stopping, screaming, then having the music slamming back again…DeChristo goes] ‘Discos…are the Cathedrals of now, Disco is a religious experience!!!’ Honest. And as high as I was, I thought, I’m going to remember that. That would make an Album, and I came up with the songs, and I peddled the songs.

The lyrics of Cathedrals were shocking for the time, and when Cathedrals came out we couldn’t get it on radio stations, in Europe yeah, but it was too x-rated….and there wasn’t anything they could beep out …. and conceptually it was too blatantly raw, sexual or whatever….and I would never let them … I wouldn’t change, I was honest about it, and if I wrote about anything, I’d write from here [points to chest].

I was messaging Janis Ian on Facebook, and I said “understanding you and how you wouldn’t prostitute your art and how you would refuse to be anything but honest…changed the way I wrote lyrics.” She said “oh I knew that”, [laughs]. “As soon as I heard the change in your lyrics” she said “I knew” because her lyrics were never about anything fluffy. They’re about interracial romances, which was shocking for the time. I was never able to get on the radio because I refused to write the lyrics I didn’t want to write.

And so you got pressure from recording companies regarding your lyrics?

Never, which is interesting.

Face of love is my favorite song by you, by the way.

Oh Good…you know the title is attributed to John Lennon…it’s a lyric…at one point he says “Face of Love” in his song “Instant Karma.” But Face of Love is about having sex in pornoshops…”all the trappings you run around in” – drag queens. All the x-rated bookstores. It’s all about sex. See, aren’t you disappointed now that I’ve told you what it’s about?

So I played the song for Aaron, I played a few more tunes for Aaron, and I played Deep Dark Delicious Night – which is about getting screwed in the back of a car. “Into the Wicked, Deep Dark Delicious Night.” Everyone thought it was about anal…no, no It’s about any kind of [sex]…[like] getting screwed in the back of a car!

That’s why I’d never get played on the radio. I never had this broad acceptance like you think I did in the back of your mind…my audience was a niche audience…I have more people now, with the internet, [that are fans] and the kids now are so sophisticated and wordy or whatever, that they understand pretty much what I’m saying, and they get it and dig it.

And people always say “your songs are too gay” and I say “no they’re not too gay.” They’re sexual, but they can be applied to heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals…listen to the lyric, I don’t say anything specifically gay, I say sexual stuff, and real-deal stuff.

I never got the impression that you were making specifically gay songs.

Well I’m glad, because…it started off that way because in NYC, when we distributed it, the big important discos that broke records were gay discos. And the first five discos that got it were …99 Prince, Infinity and …. and 12 west. And over night, they were standing online here on commerce street every Sunday morning, waiting to buy records. And because it came from that gay disco space, only for a couple weeks because then it spread everywhere, but it kept that tag, that identity. And people who didn’t like disco or like me…would say “oh that fucking gay disco…” But it wasn’t. Listen to any of my lyrics it’s not gender or sexuality specific.

What’s the inspiration for the Tea Dance?

I had come up with the Tea Dance around the same time I came up with Cathedrals…it was a salute to dance music throughout the ages, starting out with tap dance

It feels quite narrative –

Yes! starting out with the tap dance…and I put it out like it was a Broadway revue…which it never ways, people think it was, but it was never a production.

Is that you on the album art?

Yeah, my brother in law did the album art.

It was a salute to the slow dances, bad news, sambas, belly dancing…a lot of hits came off it too. We did a re-edit, and it was a part of one of the first two or three hip hop records.

How do you feel about your influence on hip hop?

It’s interesting…you’d think because I was a white gay boy, and I have this record, and my face was on the label, and there was only 2000 records, and limited edition, only to DJs, and you’d think those macho black DJs, hip hop DJs – well, this was before hip hop, at that point they were just playing street parties in the Bronx and upper Manhattan…but they heard that, and they didn’t give a fuck what I was…and some of them would take black magic marker and black out the label, so people came up to see what they were playing and go “oh shit, what’s that break?” they wouldn’t be able to see it was a white boy.

Through the years that black hip-hop macho community never stopped appreciating me…they treat me like I’m royalty, and I go up to some of these park jams and they get start [D.C. mimics prostrating, genuflecting]…and they don’t give a fuck that I’m white or gay or whatever, and I think they’re so healthy in that respect….the only thing I take exception to is that the kids who are writing the books about hip hop, that are doing the research today, leave me out. They don’t mind putting in James Brown, this or that, but a gay white boy…and they don’t acknowledge me, but it’s my only complaint.


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Interview With Mike Tramp (Mabel)

Mike Tramp during the Mabel days (Left) and today

Mike Tramp during the Mabel days (Left) and today

Mike Tramp is a Danish born musician, famous among rock fans all over the world for his bands White Lion and Freak of Nature. Many will also remember him as the (very young) lead singer of the 1970’s band Mabel, who represented Denmark at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1978. Mabel were the only Danish group to record an album at the legendary Europasound Studios, during the heydays of European disco. A week ago I did an interview with Mike about those very days – how Mabel ended up there, what role disco played for their music, and how he views it all in retrospect. The following is a condensed version of that conversation.

Vomatron: Hello Mike, how are you doing?

Mike Tramp: Hey bro, I’m doin’ good! I’m currently on tour in Denmark, and in between shows I stay at my brother’s farm and help him out with things.

V: You left the country at a very early age, and eventually made a career for yourself in the US. Now you are back and living more steadily in Denmark…do you feel like you have somehow found your roots again?

MT: Well, the thing about me “back in the days”, was really that I was just a kid who wasn’t at all prepared for the music business. It was very much a learning curve for me, and I learned it the hard way.

V: Yes, I realize that the subject of this interview concerns a time in your career, that you may not have the fondest memories of…so thanks a lot for agreeing to it.

MT: Hey, it’s cool, I’m all up for it. It’ll be something different to talk about than I’m used to.

V: Great. Ok, so I first heard your song Wonderful Copenhagen about 5 years ago, in a mix by a Dutch DJ named Loud-E. It surprised me because of its heavy production, which is quite different from most of the other Danish disco “attempts” at the time. When I finally got the album, Mabel 4 Ever, it became clear why: It was recorded at Europasound Studios, and produced by Bernt Möhrle. How did this partnership come about?

MT: In retrospect I think there were a few things that led up to it. First there was the place we were coming from as musicians, and then there was the discovery of that whole production style itself. Mabel used to be a much harder band, inspired by groups like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, and known for rockin’ it out and getting drunk at shows. When i came into the group in ’76-77, the band was already starting to move towards a “lighter” image…not directly pop, but more inspired by Queen and Boston and bands like that. At some point our label boss Johnny Reimar (owner of Starbox Records) came to us and said, “hey, maybe you should also try and move more in that direction…”. And as soon as we stepped into that world, it was like a machine just turned on. Soon came the Eurovision song contest of 1978, which we entered into with the song “Boom Boom”. The exposure that followed that took us even further, and suddenly we found ourselves doing concerts all over Europe, as well as promotion events, TV shows…getting more and more into the world of showbusiness…and playback. We experienced places in Germany where there weren’t really any proper intruments put up, not even a drumset…your music just played out across a sound system, while you were expected to jump around on stage and mimic the songs. It was around this time that we were introduced to a German band, who weren’t really a band, named Chilly.

V: Chilly were quite big at the time, even in Denmark…

MT: I think they became so a bit later. We first heard them performing For Your Love – which is of course a cover version of an old rock song – at an event in Germany. And I distinctly remember that we were all very impressed by the powerful sound coming from the speakers. The guitar sound, the way it was produced, sounded a lot harder than it actually was, and that was when we as a band started realizing: “Damn…our sound is really thin compared to this stuff”. This led us to contact Chilly’s producer Bernt Möhrle, and began discussing the possibility of him producing our next album.

V: And that is how you ended up recording at the infamous Europasound Studio, at a time when disco was at its creative peak…

MT: Yeah, this led us to Europasound, which was located in Offenbach, on the outskirts of Frankfurt…where of course people like Frank Farian had his Boney M project, and other things, going on. But our first step was writing all of the songs for the album. We did this in Denmark, and sent them off to Bernt Möhrle so he knew what he had to work with beforehand. Now, none of these songs were actually based on that disco beat that Chilly were so famous for. That wasn’t our intention. We just wanted thatsame production sound. Anyways, we eventually packed our things and left for Germany. And this is where things just went…WTF. Because when we arrived, we learned that Bernt Möhrle had employed 5 of Germanys top studio musicians for the album, who at the time were completely enmeshed in very specific production details…how to make exactly that snare drum sound or that electronic sounding hi-hat sequence….and so on. And suddenly we just entered the studio, which was actually very oldschool for its time – really old speakers and equipment…really strange. But these studio musicians had by now become totally specialized in producing via this equipment, and it became clear that in many ways it was really just a machine running along, and that everything had been planned in advance before we came. As a result, we ended up having no real influence on the recordings.

V: Yes, I read in your official biography, Vagabonden, that you don’t even appear on the album?

MT: Well, I ended up singing on a few songs. But in Bernt Möhrle’s opinion, I just wasn’t a good enough lead vocalist for the type of sound they were aiming for. So they ended up using our bass player Otto (Kulmbak), who had had also written many of the songs, and who sang backup vocals on the demos we had sent. That was when we realized that things were pretty much out of our hands, and we spent a lot of time just hangin’ around in the Europasound kitchen in between vocal sessions. It just seems so weird looking back at it now…we travel all the way there to make an album, are booked into a fine hotel…everything…only to be confined to the kitchen most of the time (laughing). When Johnny Reimar came down to check on us, and found out that I wasn’t even singing lead vocals, he was bewildered…and frankly not very happy about it. In his world, I should of course be singing…I was after all the frontman. He was thinking about TV performances and videos that I was gonna appear in…how would that all work out? We never made any of those things, but that was what went through his head.

V: Understandable. So how long were you there? Was it just for a day…a few hours?

MT: No no, I think we were there about 10 days in total.

V: Ah, OK. And how was the general atmosphere there? Did you meet Boney M or any other of the recording artists connected with the studio?

MT: No, it wasn’t really like that. Bernt had given our tracks to three different arrangers. One of them was Christian Kolonovits, the other two I dont exactly remember…but we met them, and of course some of the other musicians.

V: So what about Wonderful Copenhagen…did it have anything to do with the PR company of the same name, dedicated to promoting danish tourism?

MT: No, not at all. I mean, we wrote the track, but the instrumentation was completely Europasound’s. I have to check the early demo of it some day, but I personally think that Christian Kolonovits, who was one of the most bigshot studio musicians at the time…

V: Oh yes.

MT: …created the string arrangment, and based it on “Tango Jalousie” by Jacob Gade. Especially in the beginning of the song, you can hear that this is where the inspiration came from. But even though I wasn’t involved in the song, I could still appreciate the qualities of it. It’s a powerful song that would still work today under the right circumstances, with the right artist and musicians. It wasn’t just some soft song in my opinion. Well, except for the lyrics, cause they are what they are, but the production has a lot of depth and creativity to it.

V: I agree. Many of those studio musicians might have been working like hit-machines, but they had been involved in for example progressive rock projects throughout the 70’s…some heavy stuff. So they had an interesting background.

MT: Yes, exactly.

V: Now we are at it, would you care to explain the cover art of the Wonderful Copenhagen 7″ single, where you are standing together with the whole band, and….a horse. Who came up with that idea?

MT: (laughing) Oh that one, yes. Actually, I think it was just a picture lying around in the photo archives over at Starbox. It was taken at an equestrian facility, where we had visited some girls earlier in the year…and suddenly they had pressed the singles using one of those images. Unfortunately we didn’t have much control over that part of the process either, and if there is one thing I could go back and change now, it would be the damn cover art of some of our records. It was very far from being the Danish version of Sex Pistols, lookin’ back on it now, as an old rock n’ roller!

(both laughing).

The notorious "horse cover"

The notorious “horse cover”

V: Ok, now I’m digging a little bit in the dirt here…I read in your biography that you had an affair with one of the girls from Chilly. Can you provide us with some juicy details regarding those exploits?

MT: (Laughing a lot) Unfortunately it was a very short affair…it happened on the last date of a tour we were on with Chilly, shortly after the release of Mabel 4 Ever. I was just a really young guy, only 17 years old, completely inexperienced…so there isn’t much to tell I’m afraid.

V: She must have been a bit older, right?

MT: Yes she was, but nothing much really happened, sorry to disappoint (laughing).

V: Was it the blond girl?

MT: No, it was the dark skinned one. Her name was Andrea.

V: How was the tour with Chilly, was it regular concerts or…?

MT: We kind of did our own thing and they did theirs. We played as a band with instruments and equipment from Denmark, and they made a show based on playback. They were the support band for us.

V: What did you do regarding the songs from Mabel 4 Ever? Much of the power must have been lost when playing the songs live? And what about the synths?

MT: Oh, but we didn’t actually play any of those songs. The album was out at the time of the tour, but we didn’t play any of them.


MT: (laughing) I know, it was a bit of a mess.

Chilly went through a complete change in frontmembers some time after the release of For Your Love. This is the original line-up, with "Andrea" on the left

Chilly went through a complete change in frontmembers some time after the release of For Your Love. This is the original line-up, with “Andrea” on the left

V: Alright, so as you know, I originally contacted you because I had a specific question about a somewhat obscure Mabel song, Space ABC. I discovered this one last year on a Starbox compilation. Can you talk a bit about it?

MT: Sure thing. Ok, so after recording Mabel 4 Ever, and returning to Denmark, we ourselves actually tried to experiment with the production techniques that we witnessed at Europasound. And over a few studio sessions we tried to specifically make songs that were built around a disco beat. A number of tracks were recorded from this session. One was the song Baggy Pants, and another was Space ABC.

V: Who was the producer on this?

MT: Well, that was just us actually. We did it at Werner Studios on Frederikssundsvej in Copenhagen. I had completely forgotten about the song until you contacted me! But Space ABC was really just an early version of…what would you call it…a sort of bonus track. A kind of theme song just built on a beat, with a synthesizer, and someone reciting the whole alphabet over the beat throughout the song…playing around with the sound and putting the guitar more in the background, and the beat more up front.

V: Funny that it was just like an “extra” song, cause it’s the song I like the most – and I’m not the only one!

MT: (laughing) Yes, well..i guess you can say, that it was an early attempt of what happened later with techno producers, working more “backwards”…that is, starting with the beat instead of the melody. This was new for Mabel at the time, because we were more oriented towards classic songwriting, in the tradition of Dylan, Lennon/McCartney etc.

V: What equipment did you use for it? There is something on the vocals that sounds like an old vocoder or voice box or something…

MT: Oh, that wasn’t a vocoder…I don’t think the vocoder was even around at the time. No, I believe it was a harmonizer of some kind. Maybe an Eventide Harmonizer.

V: Was Johnny Reimar still around at this time and had any influence?

MT: Yeah, but Johnny was always completely supportive about what we were doing. He didn’t interject at any point during the Mabel days, he just took care of the business side of things. But some of the songs from the Space ABC session resulted in a 4 track single cassette release called 4 Hits, and this was an idea that Johnny came up with. In that way he was really ahead of time, compared to most people in the Danish music industry. One song called “Saturday Show”, which became our entry song for the Danish Melodi Grand Prix in 1979, was another one of the songs on the 4 Hits release. But that one was actually a leftover from the Europasound session. It was supposed to have been included on Mabel 4 Ever. I just remembered that now, while we were talking about it.

V: Do you know anything about Johnny Reimar’s other German disco projects? I know he had a producer working for him, named Horst Lubitz or “John Lou”. Did you ever meet him, or hear about him?

MT: Hmm…I’m not too sure about that. We didn’t have anything to do with him, that much I know.

V: Do you remember a Danish production from the late 70’s called “Typewriter Disco”, then? It was made under the moniker of one of your Starbox labelmates, Tore, but released on Mercury Records.

MT: No, that doesn’t ring a bell either, sorry.

V: What about Danish music scene at the time in general, was there anything that caught your interest…any artists that you could relate to?

MT: Well…these days, when I am visiting the far corners of Denmark and playing, I feel really at home. But in the Mabel, days, I mean…we were completely different from everything else going on in the country. We were really outcasts, which is strange since we were so popular at the same time. We sometimes felt that we stood completely alone against the rest of the music industry. This is what made us finally leave the country for Spain. You can say a lot of negative things about the music business today, with everyone wanting to become famous and whatnot…but in contrast, Denmark of the 1970’s was really limited. There was one tv station, one radio channel…very much a streamlined thing, where what we represented was looked down upon, and attacked again and again.

V: Interesting…I myself have tried to figure that part out. I mean, Mabel may just have had a short disco adventure – you were mainly a rock band – but this thing about the music industry in Denmark…it seems like it was so much in opposition to new things, while still trying to cash in on the trends.

MT: Yes, that’s how it was, and you still see shades of it today. But it’s a lot less like that now than back then. Regarding the disco, we didn’t completely leave it behind. Even later, when making the album We Are The 80’s, we were inspired by disco. I remember we were trying to imitate the snaredrum from Donna Summer’s Bad Girls. It is present all over that whole album.

V: What do you feel about songs like Wonderful Copenhagen and Space ABC being discovered so many year later, by a new generation of record collectors and DJ’s, going to fleamarkets etc.?

MT: I think it shows what music stands the test of time and what doesn’t. When I heard Space ABC again after you had contacted me, it was a strange sort of recognition, and a rediscovery of some qualities that we werent concious about at the time.

V: Well, in my opinion the sound holds up so much better than that of the 1990s, which today sounds really bland and cardboard-like by comparison.

MT: I completely agree. I’ve also been seeking that 70’s sound again recently, because it’s so much warmer and more pleasant to listen to. I’ve been setting up older equipment, and I’m listening much more to vinyl these days than ever before.

V: Excellent. Well Mike, thanks a lot for your time. It has been very informative and entertaining.

MT: My pleasure! It’s been fun to do. If you need anything else, you know where to reach me.

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The Päivi Interview

We are thrilled to present the Overfitting interview of the reigning Queen of Finnish Disco Exotica, Päivi Kautto-Niemi alias Päivi. In this part one of the special we got the text and a couple of video clips. There’ll be more exclusive music later.

Jussi: I was just listening to the biggie Kuuma Heinäkuu / Hot July from 1984. Before we actually go on one quick question about the synths. What kind of machines did your band use back in the day?

Päivi: The Yamaha X7s became available In the middle of the disco heyday and they revolutionized the scene. The machines were used a lot as they could reproduce sounds of an orchestra. One objective was to imitate the strings. The results turned out somewhat plastic and robotic but then again, this was actually the desired effect. If we wanted some brass, a single “instrument” would still come across as rather horrible but when you built a whole section with trumpets and so on it all started to acquire a very interesting sound. Real drums were still employed a lot but electronic equivalents hit the stores around that same time too, like those from Simmons. The drummer in my band got himself one of those in red to serve as the second kit, he was in fact among the first to do get them in the country.

Drum machines became more and more widely used both in the studios and during live gigs. Maintaining the tempo is essential in disco as danceability is all-important. Back in the day 120 was the most common bpm whereas they’re faster now – probably due to the overall more hectic vibe of everything these days. Maybe the current video styles have something to do with it as well.

The drum patterns were basic and effective with bass drum laying down the four-on-the-floor and with hi-hats zipped on the twos and the fours. Add an octave bass and voilá: the disco beat.

Jussi: Okay, going back to the roots now. You not only were there to experience the disco phenomenon during it’s peak era but you also actually contributed to the sound by making records. Do you personally enjoy disco and if you do, what does the word mean to you?

Päivi: Yes I’m part of the original disco generation. I remember well when they brought a copy of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack to the recording company I worked for. I heard it first at a party there and ever since, disco has been my thing. And, I got to contribute to the sound, what could be cooler than that? While I was a student I went dancing in the clubs and I recall seeing my picture all along the streets, dancing with a friend of mine – someone had taken a photo without my knowledge and used it for a poster.

Jussi: You cut your teeth on Sunny, originally Boney M’s version of the Bobby Hebb hit. The breakthrough came with Liljankukka (Lily Flower), a track with a full, Ritchie Family-style orchestral arrangement. What were these sessions like, did you sing over a pre-recorded backtrack? Did they give any instructions how to deliver the tune?

Päivi: I still think Sunny is a fine disco track. I remember one time when it gave me a real frisson. I was at a gym dancing and the first tune we got was Sunny. I was electrified with the first bars of the intro and whispered to my friend with pride that I actually recorded this in Finnish. The feeling overcomes me every time I perform Sunny during my gigs. However it’s the Lily Flower tune that means something even more special and grand to me. I’m happy to have interpreted it and I’ll never tire singing it no matter how often. Everyone thinks the arrangement is excellent even though it was tricky to pull off, especially for the string section. At that session we had the best available violinists, a total of eight of them if I remember right. I was present some of the time when they were laying down the instrumentation but the actual singing was done later over pre-recorded tracks. The arranger guided me thru it but can’t recall what actual dos and donts he gave me for my interpretation. I do remember me trying out the song at home and feeling this one is going to end up something new and special.

Jussi: What was it like hearing your voice blast out thru the speakers in clubs? Did you dance to your records? The forever-outrageous Grace Jones blurted out back in the day that she only danced to her own stuff…

Päivi: Well yes, I was there when they played my music and to be honest I did dance. I do prefer getting down to records made by others though – a certain Finnish sense of modesty perhaps, here?

Jussi: You also recorded Johnny Guitar. Even though that was not done disco like the Sling track it’s got the Spanish guitar vibe, just like your version of the Judy Cheeks classic Mellow Lovin’ called Suoraan Suoneen (A Shock To The System). Do you remember who was it that chose these titles for you?

Päivi: Johnny Guitar is such a special song, it sounds good arranged any which way. Whatever the frame the guitars got to be in there though. I do perform the tune still but usually as a slow song. I remember when I first heard Mellow Lovin’. The company gave me a copy and enough time to get inside the song, well before they made the instrumental backtrack for the Finnish version. I liked the tune a lot and thought that this calls for a true Diva Delivery and that’s the way I deal with it, too. Often I also get into that whole larger-than-life act during my gigs as well, already when introducing the song. I usually add that hey, have had a few years to tweak this thing to perfection, too.

People do their Karaoke versions of Suoraan Suoneen but I have to say that song is a bit of a challenge. Still get lot of requests for it while gigging and I do like the tune. It’s never off the radio for a long time, either.

Often when I heard something I did think whether it would be a tune for me. If I remember right it was Kim Kuusi and Esa Nieminen who picked the titles, and as an artist in the making I did trust their judgement.

Jussi: By 1978 disco had become a musical form in it’s own right. You recorded Vie Paratiisin, a version of Kelly Marie’s Take Me To Paradise that now works way better than the original, with a more exotic feel. A year later you did the legendary Asha Puthli’s Lay A Little Love, as Leikitään Vain (Let’s Play, Alright). However, Pakoon (Running Away) was no longer a cover song. The sublime Sillä Siisti (That’s it) was another wholly homegrown one. Was there ever talk of doing English versions of these?

Päivi: Lay A Little Love is another one I always liked for some reason though I never included it in my repertoire while gigging. Something to do with the arrangements, probably. Pakoon/Running Away was composed by Esa Nieminen and had lyrics by Pertsa Reponen. That’s the one that landed me with a number three spot at some competition but in fact the record was played as much on the radio as the winning entry. Right about that time I recorded the Sillä Siisti/That’s It track that has the intro which filled the floor in a flash. I performed the tune in Soul in South Korea too, and Frank Robson translated the lyrics into English. During that period nobody here did any singing in any foreign language. Luckily I have always belted out tunes in English plus in Swedish and in Italian, too. Would have been perfectly okay to have been able to record using those languages as well.

You mentioned “exotic” – now that’s a good word to describe the stuff we did back in the day. I remember how I so tried with my limited experience to get the pizazz in the lyrics to show in the singing too.

All and all, it’s great to go down the memory lane, back to those days.

Jussi: Come the 80s synths took over the sound. At the same time your voice acquired additional depth to compensate for the lack of live instruments. The 1984 release Kuuma Heinäkuu / Hot July was already bona fide Finlando, our own take on the then happening – and now again much en vogue – Italo sound. It’s all there with the excellent synth riffs and the aural scenes of scorching hot days on the beach. Incidentally, that track was penned by your husband Jussi Niemi.

Päivi: Yes, the backing tracks were increasingly synthesized and the whole sound of disco changed. In a way it was cool but it did seem to lack that something special. I’ve been lucky to have had brilliant players in my band as I always thought it is essential to get the rhythm just right. My husband Jussi is a musican and he has naturally been seeing that the band stays in the groove.

Kuuma Heinäkuu was composed and arranged by him as you mentioned. Even though synths were used during the sessions Jussi did employ Anssi Nykänen and Harri Rantanen, in other words real drums and a bass guitar were also used. As for the arranging process, I remember the endless sounds of violins coming thru the workroom door in our house, started to get to me a bit eventually.

Jussi: What is playing at your house these days, and who do you idolize?

Päivi: I never had a single specific idol but I did sing a lot of Donna Summer to mention one. I love Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, for example. So many fabulous bands and artists but none really all above the others!

Jussi: Thank you Päivi for this interview and – like those Swedes put it Thank You For The Music!

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