Tevo Howard may not be the first artist that comes to mind when Chicago’s revered name is mentioned, but the DJ and producer is a bona fide member of the city’s electronic music dynasty, with an immersion in the scene that spans three decades, since his exposure to his brother’s crate-digging hobby in his teenage years. Fast forward twenty-five years, and his passion is undimmed. While his much-vaunted Beautiful Granville imprint is now framed in posterity, Tevo Howard Recordings carries on his legacy, and the new year sees him make a rare appearance on a UK label with a return to Buzzin’ Fly after his first EP in the summer of 2011. We caught up with him to find what inspires his music, and his passion for his home city.
So, how are you and where are you? Very well. I am in Berlin, Germany at the moment and I already miss my home, Chicago. Nonetheless, I am excited to be here and continuing my study of the German Language in the mornings, as Berlin is a beautiful town too.
You’ve got a new EP out on Buzzin’ Fly next month, following up last year’s Age Of Compassion. It’s rare to see you on a UK label. What drew you to Buzzin’ Fly? I have looked highly upon what Ben Watt has done in music for quite some time. I actually own at least 25 singles of his older work with Tracey Thorn and Everything but the Girl. Some of my favourites by them include Rollercoaster, Dyed in the Grain and Two Star, truly masters in musicianship and production. Honestly, this was an obvious answer to work with Buzzin’ Fly as I believe in the spirit of their music.
It’s a trio of tracks that unashamedly nails its influences to the mast. Do you feel that your music will always be connected in some way to the era in which you first started making music? I have been through an array of music genres in study from Funk bass guitar to Jazz to even Classical. But, as a Chicagoan, I feel nothing more natural and thorough than House music. House music calls a spirit that is a symbol and celebration of where I come from.
As a resident of Chicago, do you feel that you’re flying the flag for the city with every track you make? There’s so much rich heritage is there ever any pressure to feel you have to continue its legacy? This is an absolute pleasure. We Chicagoans celebrate our heritage in music regularly as House music has made its way internationally. I pay all honors to the greats like Fingers Inc. and Robert Owens who I once thanked for helping to carve the valley that I walk through, both as a musician and as a Chicagoan. All respects due to the greats while knowing your history is important for the future.
What’s changed most in the city over the years? Beautiful Granville, the area that I refer to in Chicago as my home and nesting place was referred to in the 80s as GWGD territory. GWGD stood for Granville and Winthrop Gangster Disciples, which was the name of the gang that occupied the main intersection there. At the eastern end is a park called Berger Park that was nicknamed back then ‘Murder Park’ because it was where many people were killed. In other words, Chicago was a very rough town growing up. I usually tell people that bricks were thrown at the bus I took home from school, everyday: us Chicagoans still have it rough, as Chicago was the Murder Capital of the United States just a couple of years ago. But, the violence is nothing like it was growing up with neighbourhood nicknames like the Twilight Zone, and K-Town. The only places I know not to go today are some places on Chicago’s south side like parts of the Englewood neighbourhood. Under all that, I still think that Chicago is the most beautiful place in the world, even with all my travels. The oppression and anti-violence discourse can be acknowledged in the music from Chicago during the 1980s with house tracks like ‘Don’t Want it’ by Kenny Jammin’ Jason, and it is true that the spirit of the people is also heard in these tracks. Tracks like these give us Chicagoans great hope and definitely represent looking toward better days. So, once again, Stop the violence in Chicago and beyond.
Which local artists should we look out for this year? Noleian Reusse is an up and coming artist who will be appearing on my label shortly. I absolutely think that he as a Chicagoan has great material for the forward movement in House music. As well, I have a project with Lionel Melgar coming up under the band name RUBY. RUBY as a band is compiled thoughts between Lionel and I and some of the friends I grew up with playing music. This project, is one of my favourite side projects because it involves old friends at the musician’s table.
Taking it back to the beginning, what did you listen to as a kid before you were DJing? The first Cassette tape that I ever purchased for myself from a store was Erasure’s ‘Wonderland’. But growing up I was a huge Vicious Pink fan. I bought everything I could find by them, and I still think their sound is ahead of it’s time in the perception of what Popular music is today.
What was the first record you bought that you thought ‘This is house music?’ Intensity – Mickey Oliver
Buying vinyl is such an important of the experience of finding your own musical identity. Do you feel that’s something the new generation of artists playing now have lost when their interface isn’t a guy in a show that gets to know you, but a computer screen? I think everyone has their own unique experiences with music, dislikes, likes, and discoveries. That, to me, happens no matter what. The one thing that also happens that many don’t acknowledge is development of taste, dislikes, likes, and discoveries. For me, it is narrow minded to like only one genre ever, and as well unlikely that a person would remain only in one genre from early years through old age.
For someone that’s been immersed in music since you were a kid, what keeps your creative fires burning? I am in love.
Having passed so many ‘golden’ periods in electronic music, how do you rate the current decade against former ones? Or is it a case of not looking back, always looking forward? Forward progression is a must. But if I had to rate these years with the ones in the past, I’d have to say that Alexander Robotnick’s ‘Problemes D’Amour’ sounds better than what’s coming out nowadays.
Do you think you’d be where you are today if you’d not stacked on your skateboard all those years ago? Absolutely. Ultimately, I couldn’t stay away from music for too long in my life. Skateboarding is the second love of my life, but it can be a painful cruel love over time and hospitals. Some people say that if you’re good you don’t fall, and some people say if you don’t fall then you’re not trying hard enough tricks.
You also took a break in the early 2000s to go to law school. Had you grown disenchanted with making music, or was this a case of being inspired to a new path at the time? Law school was near the end of my break from music, and I would have gone with it, but found the educational system at the school that I chose to be unfair. I have had thoughts of going back, but to a different school. Nonetheless, my break from music was prompted by my thinking to learn more about the world. Thus, I attended my B.A. in International Studies at DePaul University in Chicago. I still look fondly on my studies in that program at DePaul, and would change nothing.
You presided over the legendary Beautiful Granville Records in the last 00s, but stopped when you hit double figures. Was it always about signing it off at the top? Tevo Howard Recordings took its place in 2011. Where does this imprint differ to its predecessor? I did want Beautiful Granville Records to be a small rare collection ten records that will some day be looked back upon as one complete catalogue of the early works. This was a fairly dusty bass heavy imprint in sound, and I insisted on it being that way while representing a softer aesthetic beauty. To me, the third item on this record was one of the catalogues most significant and defining moments. It featured the track ‘Without Me’ and the track ‘Single’ which appeared on Side A, a synth track with no beat that was meant to displace the identity of me as an artist. I definitely think of Beautiful Granville Records as one complete idea despite its inner working parts or individual tracks. All together, the catalogue is an impression of the beautiful three block radius of where I live in Chicago. In sound, Tevo Howard Recordings is less of a bass heavy platform and pays more attention to tonal structures rather while leaving aside atonal insistence. As well, the platform is to carry more artists from Chicago and beyond. The name of the company is also meant to deter predators from legal exploitation of me as an artist as well as to provide a medium for those that are associated with me or my label. The name itself is to represent the recording sessions of my work and my work with others today, tomorrow and beyond.
What else can we expect from you in 2012? With more work planned with other artists as my NYE resolution, I do plan exactly that. I have a project with Kate Simko coming up under the band name PolyRhythmic, which I am also very excited about. Kate and I also have a small tour lined up for this project, which we are formally working to orchestrate through Uzuri Bookings and Air London. Personally, I can’t wait to be on stage with Kate, and I think it will be a monumental experience to be on stage with such a great musician.
If you had to give it all up tomorrow, how would you like to be remembered? I would definitely like to be remembered as a musician/composer rather than just a producer/DJ. I am in love with music in general as it reflects the world in all its colors despite genre, and I simply would want a true imprint of me to be known.
Tevo Howard’s Monument EP is out now on Buzzin’ Fly records (www.buzzinfly.com). To get the lowdown on Tevo Howard, Beautiful Granville Records and Tevo Howard recordings head to his website: www.tevohoward.com.