Name: Teddy Douglas
Occupation: Producer, DJ, Co founder Basement Boys Productions / Save Your Soul Productions
Current release: Teddy Douglas presents Monday Night Studio Sessions Live @ Rockwell is out via Basement Boys Inc as a 2XLP or digital.
1. Q On Producing (Book)
2. Gregory Porter "All Rise" (Music)
If you enjoyed this interview with Teddy Douglas, stay up to date on his work on Instagram and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing and producing music in 1986. The year before, in 1985, I'd met Jay Steinhour and Thommy Davis, and formed the production trio Basement Boys.
My early influences were my love for all kinds of music as a kid. I loved Jazz, Funk, Soul, Motown and Philadelphia International, and as I got older, I fell in love with Disco.
As a kid, music was a big part of my existence. I had found my 'bag' and my purpose, so to say. It's something you can not describe; you are either born with it or not.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
As an artist, I like music that is uplifting and speaks to the soul as well as a good beat.
Over the years, people would say that The Basement Boys has a sound. The sound comes from the influences of Gospel music that I grew up with ... Jackson 5, Soul Music and Disco.
I like heavy kick drums, Melodic bass lines, and memorable hooks in the studio - those are the formula.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I am generally a happy person, and I believe that is the reason I only can produce happy, uplifting music. I like music that uplifts you.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning, there were many creative challenges. The main one was equipment.
As Basement Boys, we started out in Jay's basement (hence the name) with limited equipment. It's not what you use, but it's how you use it. I learned this over time. We eventually purchased an SSL console with all the bells and whistles, a proper studio.
Nowadays, it seems like the big room studios are fading. With all the technology available today, all of the gear is in your computer.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
The first studio I started making records in was Basement Boys Studio. Jay, Thommy and I built a studio in Jay's Basement. The need for samplers and drum machines were critical in the eighties. We were crafting what would become The Basement Boys sound. Heavy kicks, melodic basslines and a hooky chorus.
The SP 1200 was the drum machine we used on all our early productions, including Ultra Nate's "It's over now" and Crystal Waters's "Gypsy Woman".
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
To be honest, I'm not a fan of how we're forced to make music these days. In the early days, we sat at a console and crafted the mix through levels, mutes and compression etc., based on how it felt.
With the new technology, those big buck big room studios are not cost-effective anymore, and it has changed the way we make music. Most sessions are with my engineer and a computer with all the software of a big buck studio, without the big room maintenance of keeping all the gear in working order. I feel it has changed music forever.
Drummers became obsolete. Drum machines were dominant, but nothing replaced the drummer. In my opinion, this is why music is so disposable these days. Anyone who has a drum machine, a sampler and a computer can make "MUSIC" today.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
When I collaborate with someone, primarily singers, musicians, songwriters, it has to be mutual respect for the music. My role is to bring out the best in someone when I am in the studio. We also have to have love and respect for each other, or else it doesn't work.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
A day in the life of Teddy Douglas is a morning routine at the gym (recently, I've been trying to be more healthy) followed by the studio at 10 am. All day. After the studio it is dinner time - I cook quite a bit - and then bedtime around Midnight.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
The breakthrough for my career would surely be Crystal Waters's "Gypsy Woman".
The production gave us international success, securing a place in one of the top house records of all time. But Crystal Waters "100% Pure Love" was special because after the success of "Gypsy Woman" everyone thought that Crystal was a fluke. A one-hit-wonder. Well, they'll have to think again.
After seeing the spoof of Keenan Wayans "In Living Color" skit of Crystal Waters "no talent", it made it all the sweeter when "100% Pure Love" also went gold for the second LP, "Storyteller".
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
My Ideal state of mind is inspiration; it drives my creativity. It can come from anywhere. A bad love affair can inspire me to go into the studio and put all that pain or joy into my music. A commercial, an old record ... most of my inspiration comes from my record collection.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Using music to heal is something I feel every time I am in the DJ booth. I can see first-hand how music can heal and touch someone's soul.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
My thoughts about today's cultural appropriation is that there has been a history of appropriation in music for as long as I've been alive. Black music was considered race music in the U.S. until Elvis stole it from Chuck Berry.
I am not a fan of copying someone else's whole melody groove etc., and then changing the words and calling it my composition. There are records out there like that I find shameful.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
That's a great question. When I am creating or even listening to music, I always say that the best songs overlap all of our senses.
There are far too many songs out there today that move only one of our senses and move my feet. The beats are great, but my other senses, like my heart and head, are left unmoved. There are so many tunes today that stop short of provoking a connection to the heart.
For example, an outstanding vocal performance that has a great story is an excellent record.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
My approach to art is that this is who I really am. The artist that is Teddy Douglas is that person in real life.
I eat, breathe and sleep music. Ever since I was a kid, music was the thing that made it all make sense to me. I spent all of my allowance money on LPs when I was a kid. Me being an artist is being myself.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music can express joy and pain. Music can evoke emotion at a church service or funeral, and music can also inspire happiness at a party - a powerful tool.