Malcolm Moore started Altered Moods Recordings in 2006 as both a vinyl and digital label specializing in electronic based music without boundaries. The only characteristic essential to the label’s output has been its artistic passion for honest music that is rooted in the soul. That, and the fact that Moore prefers to take a nurturing approach to A&R, focusing on artists that are under the radar and developing their talent to the point they are ready to bloom. Artists such as Rezkar, Trackmachine, and 2Loop. Never heard of them? Well, neither had I until a few months ago. But when I finally did, I became a believer. These are artists with releases on AMR that could easily fit on several more well known labels in terms of the level of quality. And in some cases I would argue they’re even better. Why, because while Moore takes a chance on new, unknown artists, he’s doing so because he hears something truly special in their work. Moore took on my questions about how he came to this place and why he does what he does. Lend him your ear.
Q: Can you describe a little about your introduction to electronic dance music from listening to KMOJ in Minneapolis? What were the major influences on the city at that time?
A: Back at that time (late 80s), KMOJ was THE urban contemporary radio station in Minneapolis, so there wasn’t anywhere else you could go to hear anything other than Top 40 pop music. Which was fine, it just wasn’t my thing…I was big into jazz, hip-hop and house. Anyway, on Saturday nights, they would have DJs on there spinning a mix of Chicago style house with some deep house mixed in, and ever Saturday night I’d be recording it to cassette tape. I still have a few of those tapes.
Q: You mentioned in another interview that you were originally into deep vocal house, how do you compare today’s house music scene and what was going on when you started?
A: I would have to say that today’s scene is a lot more fragmented than that of the late ’80s, early ’90s. Back then, it was just ass-shaking, deep house, some of which had vocals. Nowadays, you have a genre for practically every hour of the day, in house music alone. Hell, I even made one up: Deepcore. I’m torn on whether this helps or hurts house music as a whole.
Q: You didn’t start DJing until 2001, what took you so long? Had you always been collecting records prior to starting?
A: Money! A DJ setup went for about $1500 in 2001. I didn’t want to be cheap, so it took me a while to save up the cash to buy one – a pair of Technics 1200s and a Vestac PMC-170A mixer. And I’m glad I did – I’ve since replaced my mixer with an Allen & Heath Xone:32 but my turntables run flawlessly to this day. I started collecting records seriously in the mid-to late 90s. I never really got serious about wanting to DJ until 2000 or 2001 but I just wanted to have the records in my possession, had I decided to take the final step and get a DJ rig.
Q: Altered Moods Recordings has quite a bit of range in terms of the genres covered, was that always the intention of the label?
A: Yes, that has always been the idea. While deep electronic music with a strong bent on house has always been the focus, I didn’t want Altered Moods Recordings to get pigeonholed into any specific type of genre. This is why we have so many different types of releases on the label right now, and why that will continue in the future.
Q: What other labels are out there that share a similar ethos to yours or that you respect?
A: Let’s see…Deep4Life, obviously – it’s what Chris Gray did that inspired me to start my own label. My man Estimulo with Mixomat Recordings is holding it down big time. I wouldn’t be where I am right now without Jus-Ed and Underground Quality. I like what Patrice Scott and Keith Worthy are doing with their labels. Gotta give a shout out to Aaron-Carl and Wallshaker Music as well – he’s been in the game since 1996 and still manages to stay hungry and open.
Q: You have shown great leadership in focusing on talent that is as you have said “diamonds in the rough.” Why have you gone that route? What is the biggest challenge that has come from that decision and what has been your proudest moment?
A: I went that route because, in my mind, everybody deserves a chance. Obviously there are some limits to that, but my feeling is if you have the potential and – most importantly – you are hungry enough to let someone both teach you and learn from you – then why not? So many labels these days want to be able to cherry-pick tracks off the shelf, that they go for what’s easy rather than taking someone who has a lot of potential and reaping even bigger successes down the line.
The biggest challenge is knowing when it’s appropriate in getting people to understand your vision, particularly when they may not be completely on board with it. For example, they may like something a certain way on their track and I may find that it doesn’t work at all for my ears, and that’s led to a few arguments. Sometimes I let it go, other times I don’t. Like I said before, some of this is about the artist teaching ME, rather than me teaching the artist (and as an artist myself, I know how important that is).
Q: I only recently came to discover Altered Moods even though the label is 5 years old and I don’t know that the label gets much attention for being how good it is. Has focusing on newer artists hindered the label’s growth potential or popularity?
A: I don’t believe so. The thing is, the people out there who have established their careers are only going to be doing it for so long, and then it’s time for the new cats out there to step up and shine. And that’s where I’m at – I want to be able to give these folks a platform to show their stuff. Because when they shine, Altered Moods shines. Of course, I’m more than willing to have big names sign up and do some music, but the younger, newer talent is really where it is at these days, in my opinion.
As to our obscurity, it’s both a blessing and a curse. I’m not really interested in seeing AMR become a front-page label because I think our ethos is the underground and I think we operate best there. I think it keeps us honest. Mainly because I see a lot of other labels go that route, get big and become very bland and complacent in what they do, and complacency is not a state that I ever wish to see this label in. Of course, the curse is, “out of sight, out of mind” – if people don’t know who you are, they are simply not willing to take a chance on you. So the key for the AMR team and me is finding that balance – stay underground, yet be well known enough to have doors open for us (rather than me having to use my boots to kick them down).
Q: What has been the biggest challenge to releasing vinyl in 2009 and why?
A: It’s a combination of things: money – a lot of it is needed to manufacture them, don’t let anyone fool you! – And distribution: A TON of distributors are losing their shirts nowadays, particularly in this economic climate. Unfortunately, your records will sit idle unless you have someone willing to take the risk of sending them out to the stores. The advent of the Internet has not fixed that issue.
Q: As a record buyer one of the most frustrating things for me has been finding records here in the US either at the local store or even in major cities or online. What makes it so hard to find records domestically? Is it purely distribution bias or just lack of demand?
A: I don’t believe it’s a lack of demand – look at various websites like Discogs that have groups devoted to vinyl worship. I’m a member of a vinyl-lovers group on Facebook that is 15,000 strong. Part of it is the distributors – even before the bottom dropped out of the economy, distributors were hardly wont to put your stuff out, unless you were a big name or “vouched for” by a big name. Distributors’ first and foremost goal is to make money. And that’s fine, I think that’s all any of us really want. But that desire to make money makes a lot of folks in the industry unwilling to see the forest for the trees. And unfortunately that’s a big reason why you don’t see a lot of records on the shelves here in the US. The fact that the economy is in the toilet does not help things at all.
Q: Rumor has it that the most recent release, First Scene EP by Mr.
Done! is you. It’s a gorgeous piece of deep house. What took you so long to release something solo?
A: You’ll have to see my publicist about that. I’m kidding. Yes, Mr. Done! is in fact, a pseudonym of mine. It’s just one of the styles of music that I plan to introduce…the Mr. Done! moniker is my throwback nod to early ’90s house.
I’m not sure why it took me so long, really – too much good music by other artists that I wanted the world to hear, perhaps? Maybe a little self-doubt that I could pull it off? Don’t tell my girlfriend that.
Q: The track “Extra” is particularly interesting. Its warm melodic start changes and the tracks intensifies with a drum roll and acid line before re-booting back to its original state. It’s a very clever move that will leave dancers mystified. What was the intention in doing that? Was it a statement for/against any part of dance music history or simply meant to challenge our expectations?
A: You wanna know the real reason? Mainly, just to see if I could do it. I’m always learning, always trying out new things. And in this particular instance I was listening to some folks work on a track, and they were doing something similar (particularly, that acid breakdown) and I thought to myself “I should try that, and see if I can pull it off.” Ergo, “Extra.”
Q: “Diamond” sounds a bit like Larry Heard’s work or maybe something on Guidance during the mid ’90s? How much has his work or earlier house informed what you do or your direction?
A: Larry Heard, beyond Chris Gray, has been my biggest influence in doing this kind of music. The fact that Larry still has it 25 years later (I know you’ve heard his latest release) is even more of an inspiration to me. And the fact that he’s so low-key and so humble are icing on the cake. In my mind he should be one of the biggest divas in the biz because he EARNED it. But the fact that he isn’t is just awe-inspiring.
Q: What other styles of music do you see yourself producing in the future?
A: Right now I am working on an ambient CD similar to the T*raumfrequenz CD that AMR released in 2007. T*raumfrequenz is a beautiful artist, and the only problem with that release was that it was simply too short at 45 minutes. This piece I expect to be at least 120 minutes. I was planning on releasing it last year but it just was not (and still remains) not ready yet. I’m also working with a couple of folks on a techno project, but that is only in the early stages at this point.
Q: What can we expect next from Altered Moods Recordings and Malcolm
Moore in the next year? What is the luv.renaissance release?
A: Right now there are 4 AMR projects nearing completion: A double-vinyl compilation with Mixomat Recordings (that is, if Estimulo doesn’t tell me to F off and release it himself, he’s been waiting on me for 6 months!
LOL), a vinyl release starring Jenifa Mayanja of Bu-Mako, Underground Quality and Clairaudience fame, the luv.renaissance release you mentioned above and my own double-vinyl, “Yours in Deepness.”
About luv.renaissance: This release is gonna be all about love, and the sounds are going to be deep and lush and soft. luv.renaissance is another extension of me, quite different from Mr. Done and me, yet unique in its own right. I really think people who hear it will enjoy it. I’m hoping to have it complete in a few weeks.
Q: You’ll be playing at Made Like A Tree here in Seattle on July 10th.
What can we expect to hear from you?
A: You can expect the raw, emotional, butt-shaking deepness that those who have seen me play have come to know and love.
If you’re in the Seattle area on Friday, July 10th, you can hear out Malcolm Moore along with 2DeepSoul (Trackmachine and Serendipity) DJing at Made Like A Tree. See here for more details.