Born in Tehran, Iran before moving to Chicago at the age of 12, Mazi (aka Audio Soul Project) began releasing music in 1994, and is credited with hundreds of his own original productions and remixes, each with Mazi’s own unique sound and style. In addition to his productions, Mazi has been a DJ for over 20 years, and has played the world over. Somehow he has also found the time to be an A&R for several well respected labels, including his own Fresh Meat Records. We sat down with Mazi for our latest interview.
Your career began in the 90’s in Chicago. How much of the house scene during this time has influenced your sound?
What I make is definitely influenced by Chicago during that time. But I’m more effected by the lens through which DJs and producers at the time gauged the music they created and played. I wasn’t just listening to house made in the city – none of us really were. What effected me is the freedom and openness that people used to have in Chicago in the 90s, both in DJ sets and with music they created in the studio. I loved how records on Cajual, Large, Guidance, Afterhours, Moody, Prescription, and other labels from outside of Chicago had tracks that were deep, hard, minimal, vocal, or abstract all on the same EP. People tried different approaches, they experimented – and I’ve tried to keep that spirit alive in what I do.
That spirit certainly shows in your sound! How did you come up with the name Audio Soul Project, and what does it mean to you?
Audio Soul Project was originally the name of an EP I recorded with Daniell Spencer on Moody Recordings. I think the second ASP record included tracks that Daniell, Jon Monteiro, and I produced together. The release that really broke the name was the Spirit Repair EP which I produced in a weekend with good friend Freddy Montanez. We locked ourselves in my old studio for three days and finally went home Monday morning after I FEDEXd the demo to Grayhound. Because of those first few releases I originally thought of “Audio Soul Project” as a name reserved for collaborations. But as records kept coming out, and specially after the first full length on NRK Sound Division, I had essentially become a one man band. As for it’s meaning, it’s hard to say exactly. At this point ASP feels like it’s my middle name. Asking me what ASP means is like asking what does Mazi mean. It’s my name – that’s it.
You don’t always produce under the Audio Soul Project moniker. Many releases are under, Mazi. How do you choose which moniker to use for a particular project?
For the last few years I have been exclusively writing music and remixing as Audio Soul Project. There used to be a time when I did things under many pseudonyms. I used Mazi for more earthy or traditional house. Audio Soul Project was more atmospheric or what we used to think of as West Coast. Studio Nova was a name I used for sample based tracks. And I had a few other names too – some of them I’d use just for one release and move on. Now everything is ASP. I do appreciate the tradition in house music of having many pseudonyms but with so many releases coming out on a daily basis now I feel that keeping my music under one name gives it the best chance of being heard. ASP has grown to encompass whatever it is that I want to make.
Dan Ghenacia got a hold of me and asked about licensing the track. We went back and forth the old fashioned way – via email. I remember when we first released Scene Shifter on Gourmet; it was always one of Dan’s favorite tracks to play. I heard him play it at Batofar in Paris and a couple of other spots so I always associated the track with him. I wasn’t at all surprised when he contacted me and asked to put it on the Fabric compilation. I think the Apollonia gents did a great job working it into the tapestry of their mix. They know what they’re doing.
The Apollonia boys certainly do a great job. With over 200 records under your belt, your sound is not an easy one to peg – yet your work is identifiable as your sound. How would you define your sound?
It’s hard for me to describe the end result but I can comment on the process I go through when making something. I might start with a specific experience in mind or a story I’ve read, a movie I’ve watched and so on…from there I get one part in mind that I want to start with; it could be a bass line, a percussion line, a melody, or even something as simple as a specific snare sound. I like to impose artificial rules on the process I set for myself – for example, while writing the first few Audio Soul Project records I used to set a ten record sample rule. This meant that everything in the track had to come from ten other records I was sampling. And the process through which I picked these ten records was very haphazard. I would grab a stack of twenty or thirty records out of my collection, start listening, and as soon as I felt I had a few interesting things I would click the record button on the DAT and just take any odd sound bytes that might have potential. Then I’d pull it all into the computer and using a two track editor would chop up samples. I’d finally export everything into an MPC2000 and start writing the track. If it was a remix I’d have to try and pitch the tonal samples to the parts from the original. Maybe this process made things more difficult and esoteric but I found the limitations would drive me to certain conclusions sonically that if I wasn’t forced to work with a limited palette I might not have achieved. Nowadays, I might limit myself to only using outboard gear, sequencing on the MPC instead of what I normally do which is sequence in Logic, or just make up general guidelines like ‘no reverb, no delay’ or only reductive EQ on a given track or parts of it and so on. I don’t know if that answers your question. My guess is that my ‘sound’ is an amalgam of whatever I’m hearing, thinking, and feeling at a given moment. It’s house usually because that’s what I know best.
We understand that your productions rely heavily on live instruments, what are some key pieces in your studio?
My favorite things to hammer away at in the studio are the ARP Odyssey, a Roland TR-707, another rompler drum machine called an Alesis HR16B and various percussion pieces that are laying around. There is a guitar and a couple other synths here too but they don’t get as much love as they used to. I work quite often with saxophonist Jimmy Tripp and keyboardist Richard Gow. If you count the human voice as an instrument, I work with vocalists every possible chance and just finished cutting vocals with good friend Brett Barton for a future ASP single. He writes his own music as Mean Sea Level and it’s really beautiful stuff. I was a fan of his music the first time I heard it. What really excites me about working with Brett is that he’s ridiculously talented and comes from a different background than I do musically so his voice sparks ideas in my head that I don’t think would otherwise enter into the equation for me alone. I’m eager to get some studio time blocked off and finish the thing we’ve got going together.
It’s always nice to be able to collaborate with such talented people. In addition to your work as a Producer, you have toured the world over as a DJ. What are some of your favorite stops?
I’ve always had a good time playing in London, Amsterdam, Varna, and Lima. My three favorite places are Paris, Istanbul, and playing at home in Chicago. There really is no other place I’d rather play than home. The crowd here is familiar but also tough to please, which keeps me honest. I love being in Paris and Istanbul because playing there is really an excuse to hang out with friends.
There certainly is no place like home! You have also been an A&R at several labels, including your own Fresh Meat. How has your experiences as an A&R with other labels helped shape the vision of Fresh Meat?
I don’t miss working as an A&R for other labels. I learned a lot by having to manage communications between artists and operations people – but the job included lots of stress. I tend to be hands on when putting a release together and many of the artists I worked with were friends, so having to balance the vision of the label, friendships, egos, the bottom line (which no one on the sales side ever let me forget), and separating your own personal taste from what is right for the label all added up to a daunting juggling act. But the experience did teach me to trust my instincts. Even if a song isn’t exactly where it needs to be – working as an A&R for years has taught me when to help an artist get their music to where it needs to be and when to let the artist get there by themselves. What I do at Fresh Meat is less of a struggle. Nathan Larsen, who I run the label with, helps with all aspects of the business including A&R. The two of us making decisions is a simple process. With Fresh Meat, we’re really free to do what we want. Neither Nathan or I draw any profit from the label. Our goal is to run a label that can support itself and get our artists and music heard. With that kind of goal in mind A&R because an act of intuition instead of a job.
Fresh Meat’s latest (available now on Beatport) Lomez’s “I’m Yours” feat. Symbol, is a full on vocal track bringing back some old school vibes that has had us grooving in the Forward Disco HQ. Tell us a bit about how this project came about.
Lomez contacted us several months back with a series of tracks and “I’m Yours” stuck out. The truth is we liked several of the tracks on the demo but “I’m Yours” was so good it eclipsed everything else. We signed the track and really took our time getting the remixes right. I kept the remixes close to home. I did an Audio Soul Project version. Our good friend Scotty Brandon, who also does music as The Cushion, did a killer machine sounding dub. Another Chicago friend, Danny Hernandez, aka Arm The Natives, did a dub of the track which we’ve gotten a lot great feedback about from European heads. I’m hoping Arm The Natives gets some original material to Fresh Meat soon. We have a couple of versions of “I’m Yours” which won’t be coming out with the initial release but might see the light of day either as a part two of the single or in some other fashion next year. Symbol’s vocals are so good it’s easy to want to remix the song every which way imaginable.
Lomez “I’m Yours” is out now exclusive to Beatport, and will be available at all other shops later this month. For all things Audio Soul Project and Fresh Meat Records, check out the links below.
Photo Credits: Chrissy Laing