Ron Trent

Following the release of ‘What Do The Stars Say To You’ – a collaborative album under his WARM moniker – Chicago house legend Ron Trent opens up about his formative influences

MIAMI VICE

“The TV show ‘Miami Vice’ was shot like a movie – heavily stylised. It was high fashion and high art. I think it was Don Johnson who said that it was like an MTV cop show. Everything looked like a music video. Jan Hammer did the score, but they also used a lot of the new music that was coming out at the time. It was very hip and edgy.

“I look at that and think about the music content, the architecture, the buildings, the water – it’s this vision of an urban paradise. I wanted to be an architect when I was younger. I started studying in high school, but the music just kind of took over. There were new synthesisers, tools and technology in the studios for creating a new world of music. What I do now is sonic architecture – building with sound.”

PRYOR ENGAGEMENT

“At one time, comedian Richard Pryor was the tone-setter. I don’t recall a moment growing up, where he wasn’t present. He was highly influential in terms of how Americans, especially African Americans, looked at things, and he humourised our experiences and pain. He changed the way people thought.

“I’m sure he had his influences too – Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory or Moms Mabley – but he totally took the thing and flipped it. Comedy allows you to look at the world differently, and let off some steam.”

CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER

“My father and I had very deep conversations. I’ve always been into philosophy. When I think back now, it’s like, ‘Damn, I was talking about that shit, and I was only seven or eight!’.

“As a kid, I was really big into archaeology and history. Before I wanted to be an architect, I wanted to be an archaeologist. And I was really curious about history, in particular Kemetic history, pyramids and artefacts. I wasn’t a strange kid, it was just really interesting to me, this big world.”

THE BEAT GOES ON

“The conga drum was the first instrument I was introduced to as a child. My father was a percussionist. He studied at the University of Massachusetts, and one of his professors was the jazz drummer Max Roach. My father had a band, and he would also play with Max from time to time. So I grew up studying rhythm, and rhythm is why I got involved in DJing.

“As I developed my skill, it became about music being matched, beat-wise, but also about melodies and being able to tell a story. My father was a DJ too. He would bring records home, and we’d listen to stuff together and play along on percussion and drums. I got a lot of ear training out of that. The drum is actually one of the original methods of communication – a sacred thing.”

RIO VIBES

“It was 2010, and I was in London on my birthday. I got a chance to see my favourite band in the world, Azymuth, live at the Jazz Cafe. It was everything. The great José Roberto Bertrami… one of my biggest inspirations in terms of keyboard players. It was the first and last time, unfortunately, that I saw him perform. That concert was like, ‘Wow!’. They were playing all the classics – ‘Jazz Carnival’, yeah! – but the tune of the night was ‘Last Summer In Rio’. Those chords, man, that groove!

“I got into Azymuth back in 1984. I started playing records and DJing in 1982, but I’d begun collecting as a kid, around 1979. My father ran the record pool, so we had access to music that other people didn’t have through that, but we would still go to stores to buy stuff. I bought everything by Herb Alpert, Spyro Gyra… when I was a kid I was into jazz and fusion – that’s what everybody called it back then. Azymuth fell right into that.

“I like groups, musicians and producers who can paint pictures when they play. You’d listen to ‘Last Summer In Rio’ and be like, ‘Is that what Rio sounds like? Shit, I want to be there now!’. I’ve seen a lot of folks coming up – The Jackson 5, Eddie Palmieri, Fela Kuti – but for me,that concert was just, ‘Yes!’.”

ALL THAT JAZZ

“As far as musicians go, two guys I admire so much are Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie – I have both of their pictures in my studio. I love Dizzy not just because he represented bebop and everything, but because he was such a character and so innovative. He was really interested in his roots – stuff like ‘A Night In Tunisia’, where he was exploring Afro/Cuban rhythms.

“And Miles was constantly fusing things, challenging people, breaking that ceiling. When I saw his paintings, I was like, ‘Yeah, now I really get it’. These guys obviously had a certain aesthetic – colours, sounds – that when put together had real power. When you look at how Dizzy and Miles approached music, you can see what palettes they were working from. With Miles, you can tell he was reaching for the gods.”

FEELS SURREAL

“An artist who has highly influenced my own palette, if you will, is Salvador Dalí. His use of colour, symbolism, surrealism… José Bertrami was also into surrealism – the art and the approach. When I knew that, it explained why I was attracted to his music because he creates these surreal pictures with his chords. There are only a few people who can do that, lay a chord bed that creates these other worlds.

“Dali has that visual power to create other worlds too. I know that later he experimented, creating on LSD and speed, but he naturally had access to such colours, totally unique at the time he was doing it. A different way of thinking, breaking boundaries, trying new things, fusion – that’s where high art happens.”

WARM’s ‘What Do The Stars Say To You’ is out on Night Time Stories

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