Interview: Scott Ferguson (Ferrispark)
Scott Ferguson has made some of the most captivating deep house records of recent times, from his collaborations with Marvin Belton to his own solo productions that echo the likes of Theo Parrish and Moodymann. In a revealing interview, the Ferrispark boss spoke to Juno Plus editor Aaron Coultate over a pint of Guinness in one of Camden’s backstreet boozers…
Tell us a bit about your upbringing…
I grew up in Clawson a few miles outside the Detroit city limits, in a very lily white suburban atmosphere. It was a wonderful place for my childhood and teenage years but it eventually became boring to a certain extent. Around 14 I started going with my older brother into Detroit to explore the Cass Corridor, Greek Town, Highland Park, and sometimes just search random abandoned buildings. I moved to Detroit in my early 20’s.
Did that move shape your approach to music?
For sure. It seems of all the cities in America I’ve visited, Detroit is the most segregated. I was fortunate enough to befriend a lot of people from the actual city of Detroit at a young age, and this is what I believe had the biggest impact on myself and the music I produce. Through my friends I was able to witness the injustice, mistreatment, and daily struggle that is a reality for a lot of black Americans. Witnessing this reality made me want to know everything and anything about the historical injustices of America as a whole. The more I read, witnessed, and sympathized, the more emotional I became. My music became a positive way for me to release these emotions.
Who were your major musical influences?
Theo (Parrish) and Kenny (Dixon Jr aka Moodymann) changed my life. It would have been around 1995 when I first saw those guys play. I kept asking my friend Adriel (Thorton), “who’s this track by”, and he’d say, “it’s by Moodymann, the one who’s playing it right now”. That’s when I decided electronic music was definitely something I could get into. Kenny would play tracks like “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones and Theo would play “Another Star” by Stevie Wonder along with house and techno, they’d show an appreciation of all sorts of genres, and that is a major reason I became a fan of theirs. I usually don’t like it when DJs play the same genre all night – I want to hear records I’ve never heard before and records that make me think and feel as much as dance. For me, it’s good that certain songs make me think or make me cry, it means I still have a soul. Without a doubt, black Americans have had the biggest influence on me mentally and musically, especially guys from Detroit.
“Theo and Kenny changed my life. Kenny would play tracks like “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones and Theo would play “Another Star” by Stevie Wonder along with house and techno – they’d show an appreciation of all sorts of genres“
You have a very classic production style – what music have you been digging lately?
When I first started buying records there were about 20 producers who you could rely on, and you’d buy their records without even hearing them first. KDJ, Theo, Kerri Chandler, Ron Trent, MAW, GU, Larry Heard, Terrence Parker… Over time the market has gained a lot more artists which means you have to sift through a lot more music to find something you really want. But that’s not to say there aren’t some great new producers around too, guys like JuJu&Jordash, Fred P, San Soda, Anton Zap, DJ Q, Jitterbug, Dubbyman, Above Smoke, Lerosa, Jus Ed…then there’s all the Detroit guys, Kyle Hall, Delano Smith, Reggie Dokes, Rick Wilhite, Malik Pittman, Omar S… and the recent Walter Jones single on DFA – that was timeless and soulful.
How did you come to start Ferrispark Records?
I started Ferrispark in 2001, mainly because I really wanted my own productions on vinyl and as an outlet for my friend’s music. I wanted to produce music and share it with the world and because I’m a bit of an entrepreneur due to the fact that I never really liked working for anyone (laughs). It’s never really been about money, it’s a creative outlet, but if I make some money doing it then, that’s fine too.
The new Marvin Belton release is out on Ferrispark Records – your past collaborations have been amazing – does this one match up to them?
I hope so. We’ve had it ready since 2004 so it’s been a long time coming. But I think “In The Light” is probably one of my favorite tracks I’ve ever done, production-wise. Marvin’s singing is always amazing. It’s had some mastering problems so it won’t be out on vinyl until February 2010.
How do you go about finding acts to release on your label?
Well I’m at the stage where I want 90 per cent of the music on the label to be my own. It takes a large part of the business side out of it, you don’t have people asking you for figures or money all the time, and no one wanting you to make them a star. I can just make music. There’s not much money in vinyl, and very little money in independent music as a whole so, if you want to be a star come up with some gimmick, or sign to a major, not Ferrispark Records. I can’t even make myself a star (laughs).
And why the move from Detroit to London?
Love of course! My wife is Italian and she lived in London when we met. I would move anywhere to be with her. Also as I mentioned before, as much as I love the US, it’s always been a sort of love/hate relationship. I read too many lefty books about the mistreatment of Native and black Americans. There’s a saying in America, “Love it, or leave it” – I guess it’s true.
“I go to emotional extremes, and I think that’s why my music comes out the way it does”
Why do you think we are seeing something of a renaissance in the deeper side of house music?
I couldn’t say why exactly, but I definitely think it’s a good thing. It might be because of UQ and Jus Ed’s popularity. His productions are so simplistic and so emotional, it really gives me hope that there are still people out there who want to hear raw, meaningful, beautiful music. I think a lot of us owe Ed for rekindling interest in our sound, he’s basically an underground pop star pushing really great music.
There is so much emotion in your music, does that come from what you are like as a person?
I’m a huge romantic (laughs) and I’m very passionate about people, and equality, and justice. I believe in the greater good. I think I go to emotional extremes, if that makes any sense. I can give an example, In 2004, I was literarily door to door campaigning for John Kerry, and I didn’t even like John Kerry that much, I just could not sit there and let Bush be re-elected. It’s like letting Voldemort run Hogwarts for the love of God! That day when George Bush was re-elected I lost all hope in humanity, I lost hope in the greater good. On the other hand, when President Obama was elected I was in awe of humanity and the greater good. I came to the realization that we needed the worst president ever in order to make real progress. I cried on both occasions, once out of sadness, once out of joy. I feel those extremes, and I think that’s why my music comes out the way it does.