Twenty five years strong. Let that sink in. Nervous Records is celebrating their 25th anniversary. To help usher that in, we sat down with the man behind one of music’s forefront labels. Michael Weiss started Nervous in 1991, and has navigated the landscape with levels that are rarely seen. Below is our chat about where the label has gone, how he has managed the changing music formats, some of the strongest bonds that he has formed and we even touch on his recent foray into DJ’ing (you know, because he must have somehow found some spare time!)
Nervous Records is celebrating an incredible 25 years this year! What was your long term goal when you started in 1991? Did you ever think that the label would have this longevity?
When I started I was spending lots of time in vinyl shops and nightclubs, so my goals were very much connected to those two areas. I saw the way hot 12”s would fly out of Vinylmania and Downtown and Rock N Soul, so I wanted to have that experience with a nervous release. That came pretty quickly with our first few releases, cause we came out of the box big, with releases from Louie Vega, Kenny Dope, Todd Terry and Roger Sanchez. And then with clubs, I wanted to experience seeing a nervous track played at peak hour and blow up a dancefloor. And those are moments you don’t forget. Like seeing the crowd response when Louie Vega playing Loni Clark’s “Rushing” for the first time at Sound Factory Bar. Or another time I was with David Morales when he played his mix of Sandy B’s “Feel Like Singing” at The Hacienda in Manchester. Or Junior Vasquez playing Josh Wink’s “Don’t Laugh” over and over and over again on New Year’s Eve at Sound Factory. The place was going berserk!
And then after that I wanted to hear our songs on the radio. And that came as well, especially with the hip hop releases. 8th Street in Manhattan back in the 90’s was a big gathering spot on Saturday afternoons. And I remember walking down the street hearing Mad Lion’s “Take It Easy” blasting out of a jeep that was tuned to Hot 97. And then after radio I wanted to see our releases on MTV, and that happened with all the Black Moon videos. And each of those plateaus never get old. I get the same thrill now seeing Louie play his remix of “Bourgie, Bougie” at Cielo that I got 25 years ago hanging with him at Sound Factory Bar. Regarding my expectations back when I started, I was thinking more in terms of releases as opposed to years. We always had a bunch of releases lined up, and I remember thinking, “well if all these releases flop, then I’ll guess I’ll just stop.” And there were a few times when it felt like we were on a cold streak. But just when it felt really bad, one track would break through with sales and licensing and we would just keep it rolling. And I guess I’ve just kept it rolling for 25 years!
Starting with dance releases, Nervous was always very forward thinking. Later, you signed some of the most iconic hip hop releases of the time period. How did you first think to shift into a different genre and what was the reaction from fans of the label?
I was always hitting lots of different clubs at night, so my movement into hip hop was just a reflection of the soundtrack to lots of New York nightclubs at that time. On any given night I would be at Zanzibar in Newark hearing Tony Humphries, or at Club 2000 in Washington Heights hearing Funkmaster Flex. And then also you had a bunch of parties where all formats were being played. I was going to the Payday parties, and the Building, and you would hear house and hip hop and reggae all night. The other house music labels really were not like that. They pretty much stayed in the dance realm. That worked for them, because it made their brands that much stronger in the house music community. But for me, I always loved hip hop, so I wanted to release those tracks as well. When we came with Black Moon’s “Who Got Da Props,” it made a lot of noise, and did a lot to elevate our profile both in the music industry, and just in New York City as a whole. Our offices were in Times Square, and I lived on 22nd Street. I remember one night walking home wearing a green nervous bomber jacket. I think I got stopped five times by people asking where they could get the jacket, and saw Nervous stickers blasted all over walls and telephone booths and fire hydrants. I knew our shit was popping off.
Damn, I bet someone would love to get their hands on that jacket now! The Nervous logo is one of the most iconic symbols in music, how did the logo come about?
Back in the early 90’s none of the bigger New York labels had cartoon logo’s. Def Jam, Sleeping Bag, Profile, Select…mainly just words and no other strong graphic elements. So I figured this would make us different. I was a fan of comic books growing up, so I just liked the idea of having my own character. The character connected with people immediately. The merchandise back in the 90’s was as big as the music. I went to a Ministry of Sound party in 1992, and there was a huge Nervous flag in front of the club, and it seemed like half the people in there were wearing Nervous shirts and caps. At one point, right around the time Beavis & Butthead were peaking, MTV asked me if I wanted to develop the character into an animated series about a DJ living in New York. This was 1994, way before DJ’s became such famous entities in America. We got as far as picking out a name – Neil Nervous – but then I was so caught up in the record label stuff I just never had to time to move ahead with it. But hey…still could happen one day.
Would be interesting to know what Neil Nervous is up to these days! Obviously the label began on vinyl and is now one of the leaders in digital sales. Has this format change changed the way that you think about releases and operate? (or has it)
We can release more titles now, because we don’t have to deal with the manufacturing process. But the overall philosophy is the same. Market the label in such a way that the buyers have faith that the music will represent the genre properly, so they support all or most of the releases. And the way to do that is keep the release schedule consistent, which for us means 3 or 4 new releases weekly, and keep the profile of the label high, through Nervous branded events and social media postings and just over – all visibility in the community.
Nervous is synonymous with NYC, but your releases have worldwide appeal. How has being based in NYC impacted your global success?
Wow, I mean…Where do you start in talking about what makes New York so special? I was born in New York City and have lived most of my life here. It’s a unique experience. The energy is non-stop, and I’ve always been one to roll on that non-stop pace. And I’ve been fortunate to meet other people who not only have similar energy, but who also have amazing musical talents. So the combination creates an aura that what we are doing is unique to this city. Even though the internet has made the producer world a smaller universe, there is still something special about an east – coast based producer creating a track that is the result of all of his years of dj’ing, buying records, going to clubs, and just living this American urban life. And when the music comes together in the right way, it works everywhere.
Tell us a little bit about the sub-label Nurvous.
I’ve always been big on sub-labels. Because whenever a certain genre becomes popular, then you’re gonna have a new crew who want to recreate that genre but more specifically for them. On a business level it probably is better to have one imprint, so you continually make that imprint bigger. But that’s the corporate world concept, and I’ve been fortunate in never being forced to compromise to any generic business world practices. Yes it can confuse the audience if you create a new imprint, but a little confusion is good sometimes! Back in the 90’s we had Nervous for house, Sorted for Techno, Wreck for Hip Hop, Weeded for Reggae and even a few more. We started Nurvous around five years ago, and while the original concept was to represent the indie dance / nu disco sound that was emerging, I feel like it was also something that would represent Brooklyn, which was starting to became a major hub of nightlife, with a sound that was distinct from the big room house sound that you would hear in Manhattan nightclubs. Andrew Salsano is head of A&R, and he does a great job keeping the Nurvous and Nervous brands distinct.
To celebrate 25 years, some of the biggest heavyweights in music have been showing their love with charts on Beatport with their favorite Nervous releases of all time. When you take a step back, how does it make you feel to know that you are responsible for signing some of the most influential tracks that still stand the test of time and continue to sound fresh on the dancefloor today?
I don’t really focus that much on the catalogue, because I’m still constantly looking for the new hits. As I mentioned above, the thrill of being involved with something that moves a crowd in a big way never gets old. But I am especially glad that most of the bigger tunes from the catalogue are from producers whom I am still working with to this day, and those working relationships have evolved into lifelong friendships.
Your recent partnership with MURK, as well as your relationship with Oscar G, have lead to some incredibly memorable releases and events. How did you first link up with Oscar and forge this bond?
Oscar and I first worked together in the 90’s, when he produced a great track called “Beautiful Night” for Byron Stingily’s first album. And then in 2006 I signed Ralph Falcon’s track “I Need Someone,” and his album “From Hollywood to Hialeah.” And we all felt good about that project, so we kept working together. Nervous produced 2 DVD’s with Oscar djing’ at Space Miami, and released some of his bigger solo artist hits like “Back To You” and “Movin’ On.” Oscar and Ralph were longtime friends going way back to elementary school, growing up in Miami one block from each other. And for whatever reason there was a strong commonality among the three of us, so it’s almost like I could have also grown up a block away as well (lol)! So it seemed like a natural evolution for us to work together on distributing their Murk label, and as Oscar emerged as one of the most popular DJ’s in America’s biggest nightlife centers with an extremely ambitious touring schedule, for me to work with him in that part of his career as well.
Already being a label owner and successful promoter, you (alongside Benny Soto) have added DJ to your already incredibly busy schedule. What have been some of the challenges that you have come across? And what have been some memorable parties for you behind the decks?
The DJ thing has been so positive and enjoyable. Benny has a great sense of what will work for a crowd at any given time, plus he has some secret musical treasures (that he won’t share!) (lol) that always go over big. And for me, having spent so many years hanging out in dj booths with some of the most talented dj’s in the world, just a tiny bit of that has to rub and I’m good! It’s been pretty organic. Our attitude has been…as long as they keep asking us (and keep paying!) we will keep playing. We opened at Output for Chris Liebing. That was a thrill. And we opened for our long time friend Boris at the season opening for Ravel last May. That was equally amazing, as was playing with Kenny Dope at our ADE party this year. We have played a bunch of afterhours parties in Brooklyn for smaller crowds, and those are especially fulfilling because we get the immediate in-your-face response to what we are doing. We have some incredible appearances coming up. We are opening for Chus + Ceballos at Output on Saturday Nov 26, and playing with Oscar G at the Made In Miami party at Heart in Miami in Dec 30.
It is pretty safe to say that between you and Benny, there is no shortage of special tracks in your crates! Looking towards the future, what is in store for 2017 for Nervous?
This past summer Louie Vega did unbelievable work on a remix of one of our titles from our disco catalogue called “Bourgie, Bougie,” by John Davis & The Monster Orchestra, and there will be more magical remixes from him coming through. Kenny Dope has added his inimicable touch to some choice items in the disco catalogue as well.
We are very excited about the compilation we are doing with Hector Romero. It’s been so good to see how his talents and profile have risen over the past few years, to the point that now he is one of the premier ambassadors of American house music to the world. He is primed to take everything he is doing next level, and we feel confident this compilation will help make that happen. Exclusive bombs, hidden treasures, new production talents…that is what this compilation will be about. Seamlessly mixed by Hector himself.
And we are distributing Made In Miami Records, which is a new label created by Oscar G representing the distinct musical culture and heritage of Oscar’s hometown Miami, and he already has a heavy arsenal of high impact releases lined up for that imprint.
Andrew Salsano has also been working closely with a rising star from France named Mark Lower. His release on Nurvous called “Bad Boys Cry” has over 45 million streams on Youtube. And he has much more great work coming.