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"I wanted to stay focused on making music and when I was introduced to the computer... I was like, this is it."

Interview: Johnny Fiasco

After 20 years in music, Johnny Fiasco has become one of the most recognized producers and remixers in his local Chicago scene and well beyond. His latest project was producing Nectar Vol. 2 for Agave records, a rising house label from Orlando, Florida. The album is full of Latin Jazz beats and sultry salsa sounds that have been revved and tweaked for the techno and dance scene. Blogcritics is currently running a giveaway for Nectar, Vol 2.

Recently, Fiasco took a few minutes out of his busy schedule, before running off to catch a plane, to talk to me about the Nectar CD, the music, and his plans for the future.

You said you’re getting ready to go to the airport. Where you headed?

I’m headed to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Fresno for the weekend.

For work, I assume.

Yes, it’s part of the tour.

Tell me a little bit about the new project, the Nectar, Vol. 2 CD.

Basically, it’s a compilation of 13 or 14 songs. As far as the music selection, it’s something you would play in your living room, something you would hear in a restaurant or a club. I didn’t want to get too crazy with it because of this whole electro frenzy that is going on within the industry now. I chose to stay sophisticated with the selections.

So far, based on the reviews we’re getting, it seems to be doing pretty well. It’s definitely a house per se.

Are there any plans to follow this up with a Volume 3?

I think we have three and four done already. We have pretty good producing DJs in line to come up with the next releases. It’s just hard to find someone who carters to such a niche market. Obviously, with minimal and electro being the mainstream right now, we want to cater to that.

Your early musical background started in rock ‘n’ roll, so how did you migrate toward what you call the niche sound?

The fact that I didn’t have to deal with six band members, coordinating band practices, and the whole alcohol/drug deal, that was counterproductive for me. I didn’t want the drawbacks. I wanted to stay focused on making music and when I was introduced to the computer to make music, I was like, this is it. Not that I put the guitar away at any point, but there is certainly a lot more programming involved as opposed to playing in a band with other people.

So everything you put together is actually… synthesized… as opposed to live musical tracks?

Yeah, but not even synthesized. Basically you bring the key players in to play their part, so you do still have both sides of it. And you can work conveniently from your living room couch or an airport lounge.

It certainly is portable, isn't it? My son is getting into the Pro Tools and Garage Band sort of home recording.

There are a lot of things people can be doing at a young age, and this is a productive one to be in, as far as you can be productive and creative at the same time.

The PR sheet for the CD said you worked hand-in-hand with a team to come up with the track list. What were some of the factors and influences you applied to the choices you made for Nectar Vol. 2?

I think every label gives DJs pretty much free reign with the track choices. For me, it was trying to get material that hasn't been released and was a quality product. Those were the two big factors, because we don't know the release date. It gets pushed back; you can almost count on that. You don't want material that is too old, and you want it to be able to hold the test of time say five or ten years down the road. It's really just about that, trying to find music that stands out, holds its own weight, and you'll be able to listen to later on, but still be something for a trendy market.

Balance the business end with the creative end?

Yes, absolutely. And the oldest track on the compilation is ten years old. No, it's over ten years old and it still fits with a track that was maybe released last week.

Yes, the CD does sound very up-to-date.

Without sounding too crazy. You know, I really fought with myself about doing something a bit more mature, or more underground, or something a bit more trendy. I really fought with that for a good two weeks. You just can't do it that way.

Is it hard to still stay unique without getting into something that five years from now will sound very dated?

It is. It is. And you have to mix those factors along with the fact you have X amount of people in the industry who give you product. So you go ahead and create a wish list, and from the wish list you get your actual sources for the mix.

People are notified when they make the wish list, but if they don't make the final cut, you really find out who your friends are.

I imagine people get a little upset.

It's unbelievable. I didn't really expect to get the brunt of it like that when the CD came out. You do this for the love of the music and if that's not your motive, you might as well be doing something else.

You literally worked all over the world. Do you have a favorite house, venue, or city for fan energy?

There's actually two. The number one is going to be a tie between anywhere in Tokyo because there clubbing is not a clubbing experience it's a religious experience. They don't go for the lights; they go to literally cut-a-rug like you wouldn't believe. And there's a club called the Sub Club in Glasgow which was one of the first clubs I played overseas. It's amazing. I've never seen five hours fly by in what seems like forty-five minutes. When it goes by that quickly it's just amazing and you know everyone's had a great time.
What are some of the artists in heavy rotation in your iPod when you're not working? What do you listen to just for fun?

This whole business kind of cuts into the pleasure of it. I'll listen to anything jazz. I have a ten-year-old daughter so the Kids Pop series is quite popular. My son is 3, going to be 4 in a couple weeks, so I've had to get another iPod so he can keep his musical tastes in check.

The Wiggles or whoever three year olds are listening to now?

The Wiggles. Have you ever heard of Crazy Frog? Oh my, he just lives for that stuff. He's obviously following in big sister's footsteps when it comes to music. But, personally, I have to listen to so much new product coming in, unfortunately it kind of makes you immune to it. It's hard to find something that takes you out of that frame.

I noticed you're only official Web presence is a MySpace Page. Is there a reason you went that route and not something more flashy?

It just got to the point I ended up forwarding my domain to my Myspace. It's just much easier to deal with. It works. You get the traffic. You can see how much your music is played. It's fairly easy to maintain. It's more difficult to responds to everyone who messages you, especially since I try to limit how much time I spend online.

What's next?

An album, for sure. It's been about 11 years since the last one. I keep doing projects that get the attention of labels who want to put it out. Right now it's a slew of remixes. It seems like it's the year of the remixes. I'm doing stuff for Mathew James. I have a lot of future remixes for Ohm Records. Agave and I are talking about doing another single release. But that is the ultimate goal and I want to at least have 20% to 30% of it done by the end of the year.

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