I got the chance to talk with producer/DJ Sharam, who is also one-half of legendary house duo Deep Dish along with Dubfire. This upcoming summer looks to be a big one for the house veteran as he releases his sophomore solo album Retroactive today. It’s his first solo release in seven years. The DC native will also be embarking on a summer long North American tour in support of the album. Sharam gave us some insight into how he came up with the album, the freedom he has an independent artist, and why he hates pre-programmed sets.
First off, tell us about the inspiration for the new album Retroactive. You mentioned that it’s kind of a retrospective of earlier influences in your career. Is this an idea you’ve had for quite some time or did it just kind of strike you to do an homage’ to those sounds?
“I think the idea was there all along subconsciously and it took me actually finishing the tracks one by one to arrive at that inevitable conclusion. During the process of making a record I almost always refer back to something I loved (or love) and use it as an inspiration point and there I realized that there is a thread to all the tracks I was choosing to have on the album, and that was the history of my influences. I had one leg in the past and one leg in the future.”
Of course, there’s a twist to the album. Retroactive is not the original title, you changed it after you had a dream. If you don’t mind, tell me a little about your dream and what led you to the decision the change the title of the album mid-stream?
“Yes. I had a dream! I had this dream that was quite hypnotic and “science fiction-y”. I don’t remember much about it that makes sense except that I woke up with the urge that I needed to change the album name to Retroactive. It was quite weird but I knew instantly that it was the right name. We had already announced the “A Warehouse” name, but it’s a better name for the album really, because of its content. It’s a retrospective look at all of my influences from early 80s Giorgio Moroder style dance records, to drum ‘n bass records, to soul records, all the way to early techno and house records. So I’ve taken all those influences and glued them together and there you have Retroactive.”
You very much wanted to release the album on your own terms, tell me how this is different from back in the day when you were doing Deep Dish and were tied to a major label? How does an artist lose control when a label is calling the shots?
“Well, for one thing ‘success’ is measured differently from an independent record label’s perspective. Majors obviously have a different threshold and whether you like it or not, you are always compared to big pop or crossover records. If your first or second singles don’t ‘work,’ the whole project is done. Also, the attention span in a major system is shorter because usually in a couple of weeks the next artist with the next album is coming through and they need all the focus and attention of the system.
Advancement of technology and having access to a lot of the resources that independent labels were unable to have like 10 years ago has made it possible to release an album via all the channels that a major would these days. We have access to most, if not all, the resources to push and market an album. The sky is the limit, it just becomes a question of finances. So it would be great to have some early success to help finance the future. Also, as an independent, we can keep the focus and effort for longer periods of time since we only release two to four albums a year. We are also more versatile and agile in terms of being able to make quick decisions and do different things that are not normal in a traditional record set up. For example, I’m planning on having all 13 cuts on the album out as singles – some with my own remixes. That can expand the life of the album and you continue to curate a bigger audience over time. You can never do that on a major. You are pretty much done after two to three singles, sometimes after one single if that single doesn’t work with their expectation. Majors can be good if you have a buzz record and we have those contacts in place should a record become a runaway hit, then we are able to work it upstream in a majors system.”
You’re going to be doing a pretty extensive North American tour in June and July, what can the fans expect to see? Do you have any surprises up your sleeve?
“For my last album (Get Wild) I did a live show with full-on singers and dancers with crazy Cirque du Soleil-style performances and visuals. I even had Tommy Lee on piano on some of the shows! Because of the magnitude of the shows, everything had to be planned like a rock concert and there were so many intricate things involved, so I had to do a pre-programmed set. As a DJ, that goes against my DNA to have a prepared set. I had never done that. I usually go to the club check out the vibe and off I go with a drink in my hand. I improvise like most real DJs do. So during first few shows I was quite miserable because even though the fans were getting an amazing show, I didn’t feel like I was giving them my all. So what we did was we created sections of 2-4 songs that needed to be sequenced and then we added ‘freestyle’ to the program, where I could just do my thing as a DJ playing all kinds of records for 20 minutes and then we would go back to the ‘regularly scheduled program’. It was very interesting because you got the best of both worlds and people really enjoyed it, and I felt fulfilled as an artist. I’m going to experiment with that idea in a smaller scale, so I can play a lot of the cuts off the album but still be able to do what I do as a DJ. That’s going to be phase one, and phase two is that I’ll be working on expanding the show more into a live environment, but no matter what you will never get the same show twice from me.”
What would like fans to take away from the album and tour as a whole?
“Just to have a good time and experience an alternative style of DJing to the same shittiness of what’s out there these days.”
That’s not all, Sharam is also giving away a pair of tickets to one lucky fan to attend the Retroactive tour stop at iconic Webster Hall in New York. ENTER TO WIN HERE and make sure to check out Sharam’s new album “Retroactive” and take a journey through a decade of house music.