When Osunlade released his debut LP, Paradigm, it moved through House music echelons like a breath of fresh air. At a time when House music was moving into charts and MTV, he took the genre back to its roots and beyond with an album that was culmination of his ancestral roots and his depth-defying skills as a producer. Osunlade stepped out of the majors and into the underground, shaking off the commodified business of music to get back at the soul and funk that originally informed House music.
His record debuted on Soul Jazz, and set a precedent that he took into creating his own label, Yoruba which has perpetuated a musical ideology that has remained unwavering through Osunlade’s discography, up to his latest LP Aché. Aché has been a realisation of a dream for Osunlade, which has all the makings of a great pop record on par with something like Sign O’ the Times, because of the kaleidoscopic musical flavours that imbues the record.
Like every Osunlade record, Aché channels something ancient through the music, something that extends beyond roots music and is contained in the spirit of the artist. There is often an organic element to Osunlade’s music imparted by the physical act of playing his instruments and on Aché it’s honed to a fine finesse with the appearance of an orchestra and Osunlade’s voice on this record. More Soul than House music, Aché is a record that has all the qualities of a timeless record with elements of Jazz, Soul and to some fine degree House music, channelled through the Osunlade’s unique artistic voice.
It was in the shadow of the release of this record that Osunlade arrived at Jaeger for a set during our annual Oslo World festival. Living between Santorini and St. Louis and with an extended stay in Japan after his set at Jaeger, Osunlade is the definition of a worldly artist, and when he arrived in our booth it was all business for the US artists and DJ. With his sights set on the dance floor, we hit the red record button and then reached out to Osunalde when he landed in Japan to ask a few more questions about the set, his unique touring lifestyle and of course Aché.
You’re constantly on the road at the moment, staying in one country or region for extended periods at a time. What kind of effect (past the logistical) does this kind of lifestyle have on your music?
It has a major impact on my music as music is simply a diary of my life, my experiences, the places, people and moments are what creates the stories I tell musically.
You tend to record your music in set locations, so how do you feel your music migrates between your studios in Santorini compared to St. Louis?
It’s totally different as both are specifically different set ups. Santorini is definitely a quieter setting so the music tends to be a bit more open in approach as there is much more room to breathe whereas St. Louis is more an insular creative space. I lock myself in the studio there and tend to create more content as my studio there’s is a more a cave and is underground so I have no concept of time or the outside world.
You were raised in St Louis, and Missouri has an incredible music history. How much did that history spur you on in learning to play the piano when you were seven and eventually developing your own voice as an artist?
It was and is everything! My influences are directly from the funk, soul and jazz I heard growing up. St. Louis is like mostly midwestern cities in the fact that musically we heard a multitude of sounds that may not have reached the major cities in the country so our influences are wider I think.
I believe Prince was also a huge influence. What era Prince was this and what was it about the purple one that you developed into your own style?
Prince is in fact my biggest influence to date. I first heard “Soft & Wet” in 78. Even at an early age id been into music yet had never heard a sound like his. This overall is the impact. His ability to alter all the sounds I loved and make them his own. That appeal is my approach. To never copy and to create a style of my own.
On your last LP, Ache’ you seem to pay special homage to him. Some of the vocals are very Prince-esque and the overall sound has that Paisley-park-funk to it, while I can’t help but see Prince in the artwork. What was Prince’s influence on this LP specifically?
Not at all, I never think or have any artist in mind when creating. My voice is what it is and is catered around all the funk bands of my era, not only Prince. Growing up in bands in the Midwest was about funk so the style is bigger than just one artist. The fact that most only know my house material (which is the lesser of my work) tend to hear only part of the full experience of my sound. St. Louis has its own funk and I claim that my music is St. Louis funk, not Minneapolis at all. But this is something you’d need to experience as a whole to understand.
When did House music first capture your attention and how have you always strived to interpret the music through your own history?
I spent most of my summers in Chicago growing up so house was also a part of my upbringing. My take on house was funk soul music at a faster rhythmic pace, nothing more. If u slow them down you will hear a soul record first. It all starts with the song and for me it’s funk first.
You followed a very unorthodox route into House music compared to your contemporaries, starting out on the business end of the music industry, which you eventually left, to strike out on your own as an artist. What was the catalyst for this?
It’s simple, I hated the music business and the music I created during that period as it wasn’t from my heart. I needed a vehicle to create what was true to me.
What sort of work were doing for the majors… were you already producing at that point?
I was producing for several major labels.
The industry has never really been a nurturing environment for artistry, but what did you take from the experience into your solo career?
Although not great for artists, the industry back then was a great way to learn the business. How to nurture artists and most importantly the art of A&R. My label is different to most as I to this day follow the model of what I learned from the majors. I mentor every artist I sign and it normally takes years before I release anything on any artist. Whereas most labels simply sign things for the hit or name factor and usually the music is original or special.
I think for most, including myself, your debut LP Paradigm is enshrined in House music lore as a classic today. What is you relationship with those early pieces today?
I still love them today! I think at the time this was a special event as again there’s was nothing out that sounded like me. As I’ve grown older, of course these are less exciting as my tastes have evolved.
You continue to utilize the same tools and practises to make music today, but there’s still an evolution in your work between Paradigm and Ache’. How have you perceived the development of your artistic voice through your career?
Absolutely! This is my aim when writing anything. The tool change always which is what brings the evolution however, the practices stay the same. The approach is to never repeat myself.
I know you don’t watch television and don’t pay much attention to any popular media. Where do you find your inspiration beyond music?
I watch quite a shit ton of movies, mostly rare or obscure as my travels keep me alone it’s entertaining and educational. I especially dig biopics or anything related to previous artists be it music or otherwise.
Each album seems to contain its own musical universe, both in concept and sound. Is this something that you always do on a conscious level like you did on Pyrography LP?
100% I make music for the time when I am no longer. As artists we never receive our full due until we die. Something about humans tend to care more after life. I guess it’s because we realize there will be no more. I’d like what I left behind to be a full and complete story of my journey so every song, every ep, every album hasn’t to be its own chapter per say.
I’ve read that Ache’ is the album you dreamt of making. In what sense was that album a fulfilment of a dream?
Mostly because I was able to afford an orchestra. When working for the majors I was blessed with this for other artists but it’s such a daunting effort financially so when I set out to commit to saving for this album it was a serious effort. One that took 7 years to complete. It’s definitely my mostly complete work as an artist. It’s closest to where I am today.
I’ve always considered you an album artist (even though you’ve been prolific in releasing EPs and 12 inches too). What is it about the LP format that you personally prefer?
I like the story. Again each album is another’s chapter. I can go back and relive exactly where I was, who I was in love with etc.
On a side note, will there be a physical release for Ache’?
Yes the vinyl will release in January as well. There will be a limited colored vinyl box set with extras like a certified print of the cover art which is one of my collages.
All you’re albums have a very organic sound to them, most likely due to the fact that you play your instruments. But listening back to your DJ set from Jaeger, you seem to favour a more mechanical sound. How do approach music differently in the context of a set and how do you relay something of Osunlade the artist through your sets?
They seem two totally different things to me. Djing is a skill and not a talent which is why there are so many today. For me it’s about making people dance and educating simultaneously. Also in today’s house the more electronic stuff is simply more interesting. I hate nothing more than listening to an artists catalog and it’s basically the same song over again.
What did you think of the experience at Jaeger?
I enjoyed Jaeger immensely! The sound was great and everyone there was lovely As well as Oslo. I must return soon :)
As a DJ that travels so much and plays all over the world, you must be aware of a kind of movement in the scene that has shifted towards industry more than community. What are your thoughts on the scene as it is today and what keeps you motivated to keep playing to audiences out there?
I hate the scene as a whole as it’s white shit and not about music whatsoever. I stay away from all the hype bullshit. As well I normally never listen to house music until I’m going for a tour. It can be quite boring for me. Jazz, Funk, Soul and World music are my bag. I need real music with real musicians playing real instruments to excite me. If it’s something I can achieve or create I’m not interested at all.
What I’ve always admired about your music and again on Ache’ is how you are able to make music that is completely out of step with any zeitgeist, and yet somehow it thrives beyond it’s time. How are you able to maintain that distance between what’s happening around you and still find some form of music that speaks to contemporary ears?
I guess that’s just my instinct and clarity of self. I kinda live in my own world really so as music as I’m in the world I’m sort of an alien in truth. St Louis and Santorini are both grounding for me and helps me stay in my fantasy land internally.
Ache’ was the first LP for you since 2014, and I imagine you took your time with that one to specifically get that theme across. So what of this LP will inform you future project/projects?
I’ve already another album compete. I write a lot and actually ache was 17 songsmith to begin so some of those are on the next one with newer things. Who knows maybe they will never be heard as I tend to remove songs frequent depending on what an album needs or turns out to be.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. We look forward to having you back at Jaeger sometime soon and safe travels.